Pope Benedict XVI's homecoming offer to Anglican opponents of women bishops looks more enticing now that the Church of England Synod has rejected a proposal for a separate jusrisdiction to accommodate them. The scheme put forward by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York was voted down by the Church's ruling body at the weekend, following years of wrangling, politicking and threats.
Although there are still two more years of committees before the legislation is ready to go to Parliament -- and would need a two-thirds majority in 2012 -- the notion that opponents will be able to create a separate jurisdiction of refuseniks is now dead in the water. The Guardian's veteran religion reporter Andrew Brown wrote: "I have been watching this story, more or less, for nearly 25 years now, and in all that endless wrangling this is only the second time I can remember the synod making an unequivocal choice."
That doesn't mean that the 1,300 clergy and 10,000 parishioners in the Anglo-Catholic wing will be rushing into the Catholic Church; the term "exodus" in a CNS report is too strong. But there is little doubt now that an ordinariate in England and Wales will be set up: last week 70 Anglo-Catholics met the Catholic bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon, for a preliminary discussion.A number of traditionalist Anglican bishops have had talks with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome before now, but this is the first time the hierarchy of England and Wales have been seriously approached.
The ordinariate allows for the corporate reception of Anglicans into a special canonical jurisdiction -- such as exists for the armed forces -- which would make them full Roman Catholics but allow them to preserve their distinctive "patrimony". This means, in essence, a separate liturgy: according to Anglicanorum coetibus, "the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared."
That is the principle; what, in practice, is approved and not approved by Rome is still to be worked out, and will only become clear when it happens -- which is why only the keenest will jump first. The rest will stand back and watch how it turns out -- not just in England and Wales but in Australia and elsewhere.
But this weekend a threshold was crossed. Long stranded between the Protestant drift of their Church and a Catholic Church which refuses to recognises the validity of their orders, the Catholic Anglicans now find that the "halfway house" they have been inhabiting since 1992 through the "flying bishop" scheme is no longer feasible. It may take a year or two for them to decide, but this weekend the choice was crystallised. It's decision time.