The Ordinariate: a glimpse into the future of Christian unity

I'm filing for next week's America on the world's first Ordinariate, which is swelling in these days from 20 members to over 1,000 (including 64 priests) as former Anglicans are received into the Catholic Church in England and Wales in low-key ceremonies across the nation. A whole new chapter in the story of Western Christianity -- I've said this before, but I really feel it now -- has been opened, and, having walked a little of the way with one group of 16 received last night in central London, I feel something of the excitement of it.

Part of the joy of journalism is getting behind the tags, monikers and agendas and discovering the "real" story, the one not told in the easy headlines.


Being with these very ordinary but deeply impressive people I've been able to nail three big myths about the ordinariate squarely on the head.

The first is that they are "disaffected Anglicans" -- people switching denominations because they disagree with the Church of England's positions on women priests and homosexuality. In reality they are passionate advocates of Christian unity who have long prayed for corporate reunion between the two Churches. But over the years - since the 1992 decision to ordain women, of course, but more especially following the 2008 General Synod and Lambeth conference -- they've watched that dream vanish. Not only has the Church of England demonstrated that it has no internal mechanism for enabling that corporate reunion, but it has also given the message firmly to Catholic Anglicans that it is no longer willing to make room for them. In the midst of this sad realization, Pope Benedict in September 2009 made his dramatic offer, making possible that dream after all. Many of the central London group spoke of how the offer came as a challenge as much as an invitation: this is what they have been asking for; how could they now refuse?

The second myth is that they are high-up-the-candle traddies whose taste in liturgy is far too refined to fit in with modern Catholicism, and so need to keep apart. That idea has been vigorously advanced by certain conservative Catholics, who see the Ordinariate as much-needed reinforcements in their own battle with what they see as as a sell-out to modernity, especially in liturgy. But nothing could be further from the minds of the members of the Ordinariate I met, and from what I can gather, they are representative. They are a very mixed bunch, some coming from evangelical and low-church backgrounds. Liturgy, for them, is not the issue; it is church unity on the model they have always sought -- being unified without being absorbed. The Ordinariate liturgical books, when they are approved later this year, will preserve what is important to them and what they have grown up with: the language of the Book of Common Prayer, for example, as well as Anglican hymnody. But they are quite at home with modern (Roman) Catholic liturgy.

The third myth is that the Ordinariate is a kind of halfway house, a second-tier form of membership of the Catholic Church. This reflects parochialism on the part of Roman Catholics who see the diocese as normative and regard structures which differ from that (as do ecclesial movements, for example) as a kind of "church within a church". "Why can't they just be ordinary Catholics?" is a question I've heard from many of my correligionists. But what they are asking, of course, is: "why can't they be Catholics like us?"

But there are many ways of Catholic belonging, as the astonishing variety of rites, movements, orders and so on attest. Fr Mark Woodruff, a passionate ecumenist -- and himself a former Anglican -- told me last night: "If we are the universal Church, why do we limit ourselves to being one manifestation of it? If we are universal, then it’s no skin off our noses to create an additional space or to give space so that other kinds of Christians can be the Christians they are within our fellowship". 

It's an excellent point. As long as the purposes and the apostolic faith of the universal Church are served, and people consent to all that the Catholic Church teaches are true, almost everything else is relative. A visit to the Middle East, and the astonishing variety of sometimes small but vigorous local Catholic Churches -- whose liturgies and languages are so different from each other they can look and feel quite "other" -- makes the point. The Church has always expanded its boundaries to accommodate cultures, languages, traditions; the coming-into-being of the one universal Church will necessarily mean the expansion of the diversity of forms and structures of belonging.

Or as Fr Woodruff puts it: "Our distinctiveness is a richness which God has given us; we don’t need schism for it to be there."

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, in other words, lifts the veil from what the journey to Christian unity will look like. As it happens, the Ordinariate Catholics look a lot like the rest of us -- even if most of their priests will be married, and they have some distinctive structures (the future Ordinary, for example, will not be appointed by Rome but elected by a pastoral council). But what if the Methodists or the Baptists sought to be in communion with the Holy See? What might their liturgies look like? What room would canon law -- which has an almost limitless flexibility -- make for them?

The men and women  -- of all ages and backgrounds -- I watched being received last night spoke afterwards, as all who make this journey do, of coming home, of being more deeply themselves. They are delighted to be in communion, and see themselves as the first of many future waves. They are proud of the ecclesiola they have joined and are creating, and have great ambitions for it: they see themselves as missionaries of Christian unity, invited to serve the deeper cause of Anglican-Catholic unity by bringing with them the gifts of their patrimony.

One young woman told me that this was "a time of renewal" and they feel privileged to be part of it. Another, who is conducting a talent audit of the group, spoke of preparing for mission once their priest is ordained at Pentecost and they are allocated a church.  They spoke of feeling freed for Christian witness to the outside world. As he put it: "We want to put behind us all this bickering and do what our Lord asked us to do, which is to go and make disciples of all nations".

This is no tribal enclave. It's a vigorous new local Church, which has gently, quietly come into being -- a visible sign that Christian unity is, after all, possible. It's not Easter yet. But last night it felt like it.


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Eric Stoltz
9 years 3 months ago
Austen, you wrote that one myth about the ordinariate is "that they are "disaffected Anglicans" - people switching denominations because they disagree with the Church of England's positions on women priests and homosexuality."

I wonder if you could go into this a bit more. Certainly a look at any of their pre-ordianariate websites and documents or an understanding of their actions within the Anglican Communion, previous statements and so forth would seem to indicate that they began negotiations with Rome precisely because of these issues and as I understand even held out for a better "deal" with the Anglican Communion when Rome's offer was on the table.

I don't want to be argumentative, but I'm wondering how the documented record over the past several years was all somehow a misunderstanding of people who actually were devout apostles of Christian unity. 
Todd Flowerday
9 years 3 months ago
"This is no tribal enclave. It's a vigorous new local Church ..."

Which is a wonderful thing, no doubt. Would that Rome was as good at facilitating this for long-time Catholics.

Along those lines, I wonder if this "Easter feeling" is more a function of intentional Christianity. When one is focused on the Gospel with every fiber of one's being (as much as our flaws permit) indeed, all things seem possible. Sometimes, it seems, devoted Catholics have a set of unpalatable choices: go stomping off to the front porch while the fatted calf is roasting out back, subsuming ourselves in obedience to incompetents, search out our "local vigor" in alternate communities under the ordinary's radar, or look to wholly new ways of faith-without the assurances we're not leaping off some cliff following a celebrity to our spiritual death.

While I'm glad and grateful for the experiences of my Anglican sisters and brothers, do they have any encouraging word for the rest of us, who see unity in decay all around us?
Austen Ivereigh
9 years 3 months ago
Eric, the point is that these are the "presenting issues" rather than the "cause" of their moving. It was the unilateralism of the moves - unilateral, I mean, in relation to the wider Catholic Church - which brought home to them the impossibility of the Anglican Church being able to pursue the goal of unity. The problem with saying - as media reports do - that they have "left the Church of England over women priests" is that it fails to capture this deeper issue. The question is one of order and authority, not theological disagreement per se.

On the timing point, it was the 2008 Synod decision not to create a third province, or separate ecclesiastical oversight, for the Catholic Anglicans, which caused them to go to Rome to ask for a scheme of corporate unity - not the decision to ordain women as priests or the Anglican Communion ruptures over the consecration of Gene Robinson per se. As I say, these were for many important presenting issues - symptoms, if you like, of the deeper problem. But the main trigger for them was the realization that corporate unity was now impossible. Pope Benedict's offer made it possible again - in a way. Whether the Ordinariate does prove, in the long term, a means of securing that unification or whether it will fade away over time - that's hard to predict.
Anne Chapman
9 years 3 months ago

Eric Stolz's summary is right. They sought ''unity'' with Rome because they share Rome's view that women should be barred from Holy Orders.  This became urgent for these few Anglicans when the Synod of the Church of England voted to allow women to also be bishops. As Eric noted, many waited to see what the Synod would do before deciding to change affiliations. The issues related to homosexuality have also damaged Anglican unity, and are not yet resolved.   However, the disunity within Anglicanism may pale next to that within Roman Catholicism.  Fewer than 1000 new English Catholics will not stop this. Tens of millions of Catholics have left the church in recent decades in Europe and North America.

There are around 28 million nominal members of the Church of England, and about 2 million regularly attend church services.  The ordinariate - with all the publicity and fanfare it has received, has drawn fewer than 1,000 people - hardly a stampede , and future additions to the Roman Catholic population via the ordinariate are likely to be even smaller.   The ordinariate drew 64 C of E priests out of more than 11,600 stipended C of E clergy (in the last five years at least 14 Roman Catholic priests have had their applications to become C of E priests accepted).  In 2009, the Roman Catholic church ordained 16 new priests, whereas the Church of England ordained around 560. There are roughly 6 times as many (nominal) members of the C of E as nominal Roman Catholics, but if the percentages were similar/head, the C of E would have only ordained about 96 new priests instead of more than 550.  The Roman Catholic population is around 5 million, helped by an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and other nations in recent years.  Many of these Catholic immigrants are Polish.  All in all, more Catholic attend mass regularly (as a %) than do their C of E neighbors.  How long will this last?  According to today's Tablet, the drop continues.

''Weekly Mass attendance in Britain is predicted to drop by a quarter to 850,000 in a decade's time, according to new research. Currently the Massgoing figure stands at just over one million - a drop of around 500,000 over the last two decades. The research, 21 Concerns for 21st Century Christians by statistician Dr Peter Brierley shows that outside London and the southeast, church attendance in any Christian denomination is poised to decline to under five per cent of the population in most areas.''

Perhaps both the Anglicans and Roman Catholics should stop worrying about luring disaffected members of the other church into their own, with the at times unchristian gloating that has occurred over this in some quarters of the Roman Catholic church, and worry instead about the possible extinction of Christianity in the U.K. before the middle of this century.
Maryann Emery
9 years 3 months ago
Christian unity?  Based on the continued discrimination against women and homosexuals?  I don't think so.  In my small, rural Canadian Anglican parish there are three former RC women (this includes me) and their families.  I left precisely because of the RC Church's position on women's issues.  I could no longer be complicit in supporting policies of discrimination and death, especially related to AIDS in third world countries.  I voted with my feet and my money.  One woman, her husband and three children are with us so that a strong role model for her two girls can be demonstrated by our female priest.  The fact that her RC rural parish in eastern Canada had a convicted sex abuser for a pastor was also a big consideration.  Another woman and her family have a story similar to mine.  It amazes all of us that women remain in the Roman Catholic church, but we understand it because we had to overcome the indoctrination we had all received as children. 
Margie Walsh
9 years 3 months ago

I agree with you - unity that is based on injustice is not desirable.  Unity between Rome and Canterbury will never happen because most members of the Anglican communion will refuse to give up their belief that it isn't Jesus who doesn't want women to be priests, but human men who want to keep them out.  It also doesn't seem to occur to anyone that the stubbornness of Rome is an obstacle to unity.  Ordination for women is one issue, homosexual issues are another, but another really big one is the ''supremacy'' of the papacy and the requirement to believe in infallibility.  That last requirement (Pope over all other bishops and infallibility) means the Orthodox don't want reunion with Rome, even though they don't allow women to be priests either.  I no longer go to church because I can't support it in my conscience.  I still care what happens in the church, and pay attention, but I doubt I will ever go back to being an active Catholic.
ed gleason
9 years 3 months ago
Sadly we have 17000 Catholic married deacons in the USA slurping around the sacristy while no bishop would think of ordaining even one. Meanwhile the bishop either closes parishes or brings in an 'international' nobody can understand for a least 5 years. not an ounce of evangelical courage they go on about..  Deacons "arise the only thing you have to lose is that useless sash."  
Eric Stoltz
9 years 3 months ago
Austen, thanks for that note. I guess I never heard that their principal motivation was Christian unity and that they only opposed gays and lesbians and women because these were impediments to eventual unity.

Can you point us to any previous documents/statements stories that will help us to see this as their foundational concern from the beginning? I find this very interesting. 
Anne Chapman
9 years 3 months ago

I focused on the numbers because of the author's statement that this ordinariate introduces ''A whole new chapter in the story of Western Christianity.''

This seems to be more than a bit of an overstatement.

The idea that this ordiniariate represents a vision of future Christian unity takes the focus off where it should be in the church, playing up this event as if it will be the salvation of Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism. There is an unspoken implication that it will begin to make up for the hemorraging of Catholics by the millions, especially in western Europe and N. America, and is just a small indicator that the very serious problems in the church that are causing the bleeding-out will continue to be brushed aside, as the hierarchy concentrates on a relative handful of people who are joining the Catholic church for somewhat questionable reasons.  As Eric continues to point out, the people leaving the C of E for Rome are really doing so for negative reasons - even if unhappy with women priests, most would have stayed put had the Synod not approved women bishops.  The  C of E voted to begin ordaining women to the priesthood in 1992.  The new ''ordinariate'' English Catholics have had almost a decade to convert if they really wished to convert to Catholicism.  They did not feel so drawn to be part of Catholicism that they did so until the pope bent over backwards to assure them that they would be allowed to be a new form of ''cafeteria'' Catholics - retain the married priesthood, call their own priests, have a voice in the appointment of their bishops, etc.  Their drive to ''unity'' had some strings attached.

When will the focus be on the deep and pervasive divisions within the church?  Bringing in a thousand new Catholics here and there by creating new ''forms'' does not address the body count that Rome prefers not to look at too closely - tens of millions of former Catholics.
Crystal Watson
9 years 3 months ago
Deacon Eric,

You might want to ask around at Thinking Anglicans - -  to get another perspective on why they chose to leave the  Anglican church for the Ordinariate. From what I've read, women becoming bishops in the CofE is a paramount  reason.
john collier
9 years 3 months ago
Thank you Austen, 
My wife and I are former Episcopalians who have come into the Church last Easter. You are quite right, the real issue, however disappointed we were in our old denominations actions, is unity. We were waiting, hoping, that one bright day a miracle would happen and somehow our lovely old parish would come home to Rome. It still might happen, but Shirley and I might not live that long.

I agree with your assessment of what those coming in are looking for but want to add my one years experience to the conversation. The Catholic Church is hard on us come Sunday. As one priest convert said, '' I love being a Catholic every day except Sunday.'' I hope we  are not snooty types but we sorely miss  the beautiful and dignified way the Lord was worshiped in of our old parish.  We are not about to leave; but the Holy Fathers offer to allow us to have our own parishes is the miracle we were waiting for. Perhaps it will happen even here in the USA!

We still attend RCIA at our new parish. That is an important help for any convert ,I recommend it to everyone coming in. You will learn some things and, as important, you will meet some Catholics! Fellowship is essential to unity. We have friends now. We aren't so lonely.  In fact, I say, make any excuse you can to return to your old parish and let them know it isn't your friends there that you have abandoned, rather you are helping to make a soft place for them to land when they too come home. Unity- Jesus asked for it. Finally we get to answer one of His prayers!
ed gleason
9 years 3 months ago
As for Unity, I and maybe you will watch as three Catholic cardinals  crowd into a pew and worship with Anglican women bishops at the royal wedding soon. And their bishop counterparts in Rome will 'throw out' a Maryknoll priest [Roy Bourgeois] for holding women can be ordained. We can all watch hypocrisy in action on all the TV channels..  nice?.
david power
9 years 3 months ago
John C answered for Austen.
I think there was an amazing amount of bad faith towards the author  in some of the comments on here about the ordinariate.
 I was not surprized as people have got a big beef with Rome and they maybe miss the woods from the trees.
Austen is English and so has a deeper experience of what is and what is not and putting american optics on the subject is to be guilty of the same mistake that we all accuse Rome of making.  
The instinct of many in England was for a swimback to the barque of Peter(I know, it ain't all it's cracked up to be!)but that was a major factor. It was clear that the Anglican Church had broken the possibility of that.Depending on your ideology you will view it in various ways. 
My tuppence  worth is that the real move of the supercynical Ratzinger is this and not the 1st of May.Cynical in Italian terms means twofaced which will be a virtue at the end of the day.Nobody noticed that this Pope more or less sanctioned contraceptives in his interviews with Seewald because he put it in a spiritual plane which is chinese to most people.
Married priests?Never gonna happen!
This bavarian has liberals foaming at the mouth even when they already have what they wanted.
When Ratzinger described the canon of liberals he was pointing out that they were more dogmatic than him.He was right.
If people knew which side there bread was buttered on they would rejoice at this ordinariate and history will vindicate Austen Iveriegh's view!!        
Craig McKee
9 years 3 months ago
Anxiously awaiting the author's sequel to this article, when he attends a reception service into the current pope's personal ordinariate which is on the drawing board for the SSPX!
ed gleason
9 years 3 months ago
"This Bavarian has liberals foaming at the mouth even when they already have what they wanted' He [BXVI] and his allies have lost Europe. SA is next.. married priests are the ropes for change. all delays are fueled by cowardice not Faith.
I write what I write because clamor is the only noise that the hierarchy can ever hear. If you think reasoned augments and discourse is the answer I  give you the abuse crisis and the 3 billion dollar bill. Now at last most of the 300 US bishops are starting to pay attention. Clamor works..but it has taken 25 years..  Patience is good but waits for eternity.
PJ Johnston
9 years 3 months ago
"[The Church of England] has also given the message firmly to Catholic Anglicans that it is no longer willing to make room for them."

I'm not so certain that this is true, or at least that it is the whole truth.  It may be true of conservative Catholic Anglicans, but that particular sub-species of Catholic Anglican is not the only kind of Catholic Anglican there is, and it is unclear from which direction (maybe both) its difficulties within the Church of England arise.

Within Catholic Anglicanism there's also the Affirming Catholicism movement (, which is on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, is not marginalized by the Church of England, and is I believe somewhat more prevalent within the Church of England than the other kind of Catholic Anglican.  Many of these Catholic Anglicans still work, hope, and pray for Corporate Reunion.  +Rowan is a broad supporter of Affirming Catholicism and won the Campion Award from America for (despite?) his statement of ecclesiological and ecumenical principles reflective of the the theology of this movement.  (

This doesn't mean that the other Catholic Anglicans didn't need a home and didn't have good subjective reason to feel that Corporate Reunion was out of reach or that they needed to take matters into their own hands.  I wish them the best.  It's just that treating them as the only Catholic Anglicans leaves out an interesting chunk of the Catholic Anglican story - much, I suppose, as the Vatican itself does by prioritizing the Ordinariate and sidelining ARCIC.

david power
9 years 3 months ago

Never were truer words said.

@ed, I agree with you totally.You can admit defeat in many ways and recognizing the truth is hard for most of us.
Recognzing the truth is difficult when you have it sewn up in your pocket.I hope you are right that the change is coming.
It reminds me of what Churchill said to the American diplomat who told him that the USA had
 done the right thing in the end with regards entering the war.Churchull"yes they did the right thing,after they exhausted every other option".
9 years 3 months ago
On this Good Friday morning, a friend sent me a piece from the Tablet by an Abbot in italy talking about his being worn down in the quest for unity in ecumenism in the Church. I thought it resonated.
I think Austen's post is valuable in that it makes us think beyond facile sterotypres of those coming over to Rome. At the same time, I find it hard to beleive that "liberal" Anglicans will soon beat a path.
My experience here is that many who remain Anglican are rather bitter about those who gave up to "join the Romans."
This is the other side of the frame with which one needs to look at the ordinariates as a move toward unity.
I'm sure at policy making levels in both communions, there will be a smoothing over of what's happened , but, on the ground, I suspect those who've come over seeing themselves as a wave of future unity may be making a bit of a self serving rationalization, instead of just stating they're folowing their belief.The numbers of the new ordinariate there is about the size of a parish here.
How much it will grow is a matter time will tell  as well as what impact this movement will have.
We don't need steotypes of these new Catholics, and we don't ned sterotypes of what the movement will mean.

Jim McCrea
9 years 3 months ago

David P re:  The Barque of Peter:
“He who travels in the Barque of Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room."   Msgr. Ronald Knox, as quoted in “The Knox Brothers” by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Remember that “Ronnie” Knox was one of those Anglicans with Roman stars in their eyes who “poped.”
“Cave Anglican”

Arnold Jessup
9 years 3 months ago
Word up to the Penelope Fitzgerald reference. A favorite writer.

Um, yes... Anglicans, and so forth...
William Wilson
9 years 3 months ago
It is naive in the extreme to claim that the main reason Anglicans are joining the ordinariate is some incohate desire to be reconciled to Rome. That may have been true of Newman and of Knox.
The message bringing the latest gaggle out of the Church of England to the banks of the Tiber is the implicit message: If you don't like women or gays, come on over.  This is the shoddiest instance of ecclesial corporate raiding in the history of Christianity.
Mark Crane
9 years 3 months ago
As a member of the Ordinariate, and in the central London group i thought i'd reply to some of these comments.

Unity is the key driving factor behind the decision of almost everyone i have met in the Ordinariate across the country. The CofE claims, every week, to be a part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. The women priests/bishops, homosexual clergy issues etc are presenting issues. The central fact is that the CofE is forging its own way, diverging from the teaching and belief of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. This may well be in line with what their conscience dictates, and it is not for me to second guess Synod or individuals in the CofE, but there are over 50,000 in the CofE who believe that the CofE cannot continue to claim to be a part of that one holy catholic church yet stop listening to the wider family of the church and go it alone. That is the principal factor behind my joining the ordinariate - I am seeking to live an authentically Catholic life with mainstream Christian beliefs, according to the teaching of the Church, i felt it no longer possible to do that in the CofE.

Why not be received individually then? I hear you ask. Indeed, i came close twice. I was raised in an Anglican parish, the CofE nurtured my faith and helped it grow. My conviction continues to be that the CofE and the RC and the Orthodox churches for that matter should be seeking unity in Christ; we pray for that every week at mass in the Latin rite. For many years, we have sought to bring into closer communion the CofE and the wider Catholic church; it has been made clear that this no longer seems to be possible, and yet the pope, in his generosity, offered us a way to initiate at least some of that wider unity we sought - and continue to seek.

As for the numbers, yes, we are small at the moment. But it has to be understood that this is a corporate structure where clergy are bringing people to the Ordinariate. Every single one has lost their home, income, pension and security and exchanged it for rather alot of insecurity. Many are watching and waiting in the wings, indeed some parishes have already stated they wish to be received in the next 'wave'. I don't think any of us see ourselves as great heralds, self seekingly or otherwise (as one poster suggests), but we are all aware that we MUST make it work so that those less sure of the way their own path is taking them can decide free from worries about security or where they will worship.

I understand some are negative about the ordinariate, as a member, all i can say is that we are passionately committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to living the life of the Church. I only hope that it goes from strength to strength and to all those who are unsure, or even completely against the ordinariate all i can ask, is of your charity, please pray for us as we continue to make our Christian pilgrimage.

@ Deacon Eric Stolz: - that might help a little.


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