Romeward Anglicans: a case of too much politics?

It has been a week of movement in the often arcane world of Anglican traditionalists seeking a home in Rome.

The Australian branch of Forward in Faith -- the main association of Anglo-Catholic priests -- has become the first group within the Anglican Church to vote to accept the Pope's ordinariate offer (their 15 February statement is here). FiF Australia, which has 200 members and 16 parishes, will join the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) -- which is not in communion with Canterbury, and has already voted to accept the ordinariate proposal -- in a working party set up by the Australian Catholic bishops to negotiate terms.

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This means that Australia will become, in effect, the test centre for the new ordinariates envisaged by Pope Benedict's Anglicanorum coetibus.

It will be watched closely by the much larger and more significant FiF in the UK, which has postponed its vote on the ordinariates pending the outcome of the Church of England's review of its episcopal oversight for priests and their parishes opposed to women bishops.

It was confirmed this week that no group has yet applied to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales for an ordinariate.

The Anglican traditionalists' decision to postpone the vote, which was originally scheduled for next Monday (the Feast of the Chair of St Peter), is a typical political move on their part. They don't want to undermine their negotiation position within the Church of England. Fair enough. But it was they who asked for the ordinariates in the first place, allowing them to be in communion with Rome while preserving their "Anglican patrimony". It wasn't conditional on what the Synod offered. As long as they procrastinate, the suspicion will be raised that their request for an ordinariate was also an essentially political move -- one designed to bolster their negotiating position within Synod.

The Anglo-Catholics are deft operators, although their machinations often end up alienating everyone.

Earlier this week, for example, the Guardian was leaked a sensitive email from the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham (pictured), who was one of those who originally approached Pope Benedict seeking an ordinariate, to Peter Elliott, the Australian Catholic bishop in charge of negotiating the ordinariates down under.

What it reveals is the way in which Bishop Burnham has been negotiating closely and directly with a CDF official, Mgr Patrick Burke, under the radar of The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnhamthe bishops' conference of England and Wales. Here's the money quote:

"I am taking the liberty of mentioning, in confidence and with his permission, that we are in touch with Mgr Patrick Burke at the CDF. It has all felt a little bit like Elizabethan espionage but, truly, the informal contact with the CDF has been invaluable, and, if ever Mgr Burke got into trouble, I should write to the pope and say how splendidly helpful he has been. 

This is not known about fully in England and Wales because we are trying to ensure that the whole Anglicanorum Coetibus project, which will begin in small ways, is not smothered by the management anxieties of a hierarchy, some of whom think that Anglicans are best off doing what they are presently doing and some of whom think the project would impact adversely on the Catholic Church in England. Needless to say Fr Pat's help, and the support of Archbishop DiNoia, need, to a lesser extent, to be protected from disapproval at higher levels of the dicastery [Vatican department]. Hence the cloak and dagger."

Anglicanorum coetibus was a CDF creation on Pope Benedict's orders. It bypassed the Archbishop of Canterbury, the English & Welsh bishops, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and virtually everyone else. It was the result of secret talks between CDF officials and Anglican bishops looking to defect. So it's hardly surprising that Bishop Burnham has closer contacts with CDF officials in Rome than with the English and Welsh hierarchy.

But the decision to create an ordinariate -- and its terms -- will be taken by the bishops of England and Wales, not Rome, as Mgr Andrew Faley of the bishops' conference told Andrew Brown at the Guardian: "the authority of the Church in working this out rests with the bishops' conferences and not with the CDF". 

Sooner or later, therefore, the Anglican traditionalists in England and Wales are going to have to build bridges with the pastors of the English Catholic flock. The longer they leave that task -- out of suspicion of a post-Vatican II hierarchy, or a desire to play politics within the Church of England -- the harder it will be. 

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