The purpose of Benedict XVI’s visit to England in 2010 was not only the beatification of John Henry Newman but also the establishment of personal ordinariates, which he claimed were a prophetic gesture in which the mutual exchange of gifts from respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to all. Fast forward to 2019 and Newman is no longer a Blessed but a saint, and it is now 10 years since the ordinariate was first announced.
First we must understand that the point of the ordinariate is a revival of an English spirituality – something mostly lost to Catholics at the Reformation when recusants clung to faith even as their patrimony got swept into an emerging Church of England. By the time Catholicism resurfaced in the 19th century, the national patrimony was largely gone. The Church was being rebuilt by immigrants. Yet as the Church regained a foothold in English society the question had to be asked: how to restore an authentic English spirituality without loss of multiculturalism? The ordinariate was Pope Benedict’s answer.
So how is the project going 10 years later? The answer is mixed, but one thing has become clear. For the ordinariate to flourish, control of sanctuaries is essential. Wherever this has occurred, one finds success in varying degrees. In Pembury where I minister, for example, we have overseen the transformation of the building to an English gothic style and numbers have nearly doubled. In the last decade we have averaged a vocation a year and our parish of around 150 members is now served by two deacons and four priests. In almost every parish where the priest has autonomy a similar tale is told.
But where pastors have been put to work as assistants in diocesan settings, the experience is different. It is not easy erecting an Anglican patrimony when lodging in someone else’s home, when the only available time for ordinariate Mass is a graveyard slot. Furthermore, clergy cannot commit themselves to the ordinariate project if already working full time in a purely diocesan setting.
This is why Benedict XVI requested generosity in establishing the ordinariate. For wherever generosity has been shown, the ordinariate is doing well. But where generosity has been lacking, and our clergy simply used to plug gaps, the vision flounders.
As we now look to the next 10 years, a vital question emerges: how can our groups gain the autonomy they need? At a symposium held at the Gregorian University in Rome earlier this month, Mgr Keith Newton was asked what he needed to make the vision flourish. Resources and buildings were his simple answer, but will they be forthcoming? Please pray for us as we seek to be faithful to the vision entrusted to us.
Fr Ed Tomlinson is priest in charge at St Anselm’s, Pembury, in Kent