Why Anglo-Catholics don’t join the Ordinariate

The congregation arrive for the enthronement of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21, 2013 (Getty)

Last week on this site, Francis Phillips noted the many “traditionally Catholic features” of some High Anglican parishes, and wondered why more Anglo-Catholics (like me) do not join the Ordinariate. We have our theological reasons, of course. But there are also more practical and immediate considerations which Catholic readers may not have considered.

First, the system of alternative episcopal oversight allows our parishes to place themselves under the supervision of a male “flying bishop” who does not ordain women to the priesthood. On both the Anglo-Catholic and conservative evangelical wings of the church, “church within a church” structures are growing and flourishing. These structures are likely to become even more powerful over time.

Second, despite the best efforts of Pope Benedict, it is an open secret that the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales has never been keen on the Ordinariate. It has become something of a disfavoured ghetto. Even if a priest or parish has a dubious relationship with the CofE hierarchy, crossing the Tiber is unlikely to improve matters.

Third, CofE clergy are allowed a certain latitude to run their parishes as they see fit. Many of the more Anglo-Papalist parishes use the Roman Rite, entirely unadapted. A few others still use the English Missal, a singularly marvellous liturgy that combines a beautiful translation of the Tridentine Rite in a 16th-century hieratic dialect with the highlights of the Book of Common Prayer. This is all almost certainly against canon law, but the bishops generally look the other way. Such freedom is generally not the practice of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, which, from the outsider’s perspective, seems rather more controlling of its priests and parishes.

Fourth, Anglo-Catholicism has its own martyrology, a source of huge pride. Go to the great Anglo-Catholic shrines and someone will inevitable pin your ears back with the story of the 19th-century priest who went to prison for such offences as putting candles on the altar and wearing eucharistic vestments. Men such as Fr Alexander Heriot Mackonochie (the “martyr of St Alban’s”), Fr Arthur Tooth and Fr Pelham Dale fought heroically for their vision of the catholicity of the Church of England. Their successors are not likely to walk away from such a past easily.

On top of all that, of course, any priest going to Rome has to sign up to Apostolicae Curae, admitting the invalidity of their previous ministry. Is it a surprise that most do not?