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Friday, 22 January 2010

Report on Anglicanorum Coetibus meeting at Reading


A correspondent has kindly sent me a summary report that he made at the meeting to discuss Anglicanorum Coetibus which was held at Holy Trinity, Reading the other day. I was going to post it on Scribd but thought better of it, hoping that you will excuse a longer than usual post:
Meeting at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Reading on the subject of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus

The meeting was chaired by Fr David Elliott, parish priest of Holy Trinity. Most of the attendees were from Holy Trinity though there were representatives from elsewhere. Among those visiting were a priest with expertise in canon law of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, an Anglican seminarian, and two priests of the FSSP in Reading, Fr Armand de Malleray and Fr Leworthy. This meant that a greater number of questions could be answered from people with expertise in different areas.

Fr Elliott began the meeting by introducing the Apostolic Constitution using the headings What? Why? Where? When? and How?

The following is a summary of some of the topics covered in the meeting:

An Apostolic Constitution is the highest form of document which can be issued by the Pope and this emphasises how important it is. It is unique, and that is why it has an Apostolic Constitution. Some of the references may be like other things, but it is unique.

AC has come about because it was asked for from the TAC and other Anglican groups including in our own country from Bishops including our own Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough. It would be wrong to think that AC is designed only for Churches in the C of E – it is for various Anglican communities. The reason such representations were made to the Holy Father is that over the past 30 years or so the Anglican Communion has made many decisions which has made it difficult for catholics to remain in full and visible communion with other elements, both liberal and evangelical. It would be wrong to assume it was all about women bishops – that is a symptom not a cause. It is no mistake that over the 40 years of ARCIC discussions that many useful documents have come to fruition, but that there have been three on the topic of Authority with many issues outstanding. It appears that catholics within the Anglican Communion are anti-authoritarian, but that is because they believe that decisions have been made in the Anglican communities which have no authority. If there are to be such innovations as women priests and bishops, lay presidency at the Eucharist etc this could only happen with the consent of the universal Church. How can we say in the creed on Sundays and solemnities ‘we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’, then allow local decisions to break communion. There was a period in the late 70s early 80s when reunion with Rome was a real possibility. This is what the catholic movement in the Church of England had always worked for. The issue of women’s ordination stopped this process, and no-one now sees any possibility of reunion. Given this situation many now feel that we cannot be united with Rome as a church, and there is never going to be any prospect of this. We have the choice of remaining increasingly marginalized as a group within the Church of England or become in full communion with people with whom we already agree, respecting those with whom we differ in the Church of England as workers in God’s vineyard rather than seeing each other as opponents on the floor of General Synod, and getting on with the business of mission in our churches and the communities which we serve. This is why we have to consider the AC very seriously.

The Ordinariate can happen anywhere where there is already an Anglican presence and where there is a demand for full communion with Rome. In England there could be more than one Ordinariate if the need arose. It was most likely that it would be small in the first instance. A group of a dozen or so parishes geographically spread would be ideal. This may in time grow if other parishes thought they may follow. The important thing to understand is that there is no deadline, so no parish has a date on which they must decide. Perhaps the most important decision is to ask ourselves how we can best flourish and carry out God’s mission at Holy Trinity. We need to pray earnestly for guidance from the Holy Spirit.

There were inevitably concerns people had as to how this could work in practice. Would we be able to keep the church buildings? It was believed that there would be discussions at a very high level as to the possibility either of being given church buildings where a community of people needed them, or of sharing Church buildings. The FSSP priests in Reading share William of York Roman Catholic Church with the mainstream RC but are responsible for their own finances. In the case of Holy Trinity Church sharing in the sense that there would be two congregations probably would not arise, but there may be an expectation because of laws concerning the Consecration of Churches and the legal implications thereof that Anglicans not in the Ordinariate may still be able to request baptisms, marriages, and funerals to take place there is they so wished. There would need to be discussion between the Anglican hierarchy, the proto-Ordinariate and the Catholic hierarchy, especially the three RC bishops who are charged with setting the ball rolling in this part of the world (Bishops Alan Hopes, Bernard Longley, & Malcolm McMahon OP).

Although the Ordinariate would begin small this was not necessarily a bad thing (Mustard seeds etc). The Pope had said recently that sometimes the Church has to shrink first before it can grow again. The FSSP started 21 years ago with 17 priests and there are now well over 300 priests and seminarians, and had funded it all from their congregations as well as building two seminaries – one in Europe and one in the US. In the thirteenth century Pope Innocent III responded to Francis of Assisi’s request and took a leap in the dark which may well have failed. Look at the Franciscans 800 years later.

Both the Ordinariate itself and the individual churches within it would have to work hard to secure funding. There would be hardships – especially for many clergy who may be giving us houses, salaries and pensions. In parishes in very poor areas like Holy Trinity it was important that congregations are aware of the change in circumstances and bear some of that burden. Regardless of the Ordinariate, people must consider their church in their will, and especially at the moment ensure their bequests are restricted so the Church of England cannot get hold of the money. Damian Thompson in his commentary had encouraged former Anglicans who were now RC to consider helping to set up the Ordinariate. Ideally each church’s priest’s post should be wholly or partly endowed to take the pressure off a congregation. Current Anglicans and organisations need to look to their funds, and property should be put in trust away from the Anglican authorities. It is important however to try to work with the C of E to ensure the best result is achieved for all.

Although AC provides for NSM priests to exist this should not be seen as a way around paying for priests. Priests who are stipendiary now should continue to be ‘Full-time’ in the Ordinariate. The Ordinariate is not there for churches to mark time or provide terminal care; they are to provide flourishing communities of catholic Christians born out of the Anglican experiment. This can only happen if priests are there to provide care and ministry as their first and only calling. Without a pension it may be expected that priests will have to continue to work as long as they have breath.

There will probably be more priests than parishes. There will be all sorts of innovative ways in which this could work, establishing communities or using existing ones, and the seminary could well be a community as well as a teaching college. There could be a situation where a presbyter is shared with two or more priests one of whom may well be in secular employment and therefore is able to defray day to day costs.

At the end of the day Holy Trinity has to consider how it sees the future. Is its future to become increasingly isolated in a Church which has changed beyond all recognition, perhaps with no provision of a like-minded bishop? What is it to do when neighbouring churches begin to have lay presidency? Will any catholic priest be able to accept a post as bishop knowing that he will be in a college of bishops with women in the knowledge that the college of bishops is the very symbol of a united church? Are young catholic-minded young people any longer going to emerge from Church of England parishes? Would life in the Church of England be more like terminal care than the mission-minded zeal of our catholic forefathers in the Oxford movement?

The possibility of an Ordinariate should not be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to women bishops. Indeed, whatever happens, it important that those who do remain in the Church of England are properly catered for regardless of whether we will be around to benefit. There are many things to consider and many sacrifices will need to be made. With sacrifice however comes blessings, and often we look for happiness in what we know. A journey of faith is necessarily a leap into the unknown, and unless that leap is made the blessing which lay in the unknown remain uncovered. We must continue to pray.

On 22nd February on the Feast of the Chair of Peter the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed from 4-6pm. There will be Rosary at 5.30, and Mass before the Blessed Sacrament Exposed ending with benediction. We hope other catholics both Anglican and Roman will do something similar so that in our various places we simultaneously ask guidance from the Holy Spirit and we journey towards unity under the See of Peter.
Do continue to remember this parish in your prayers along with all other Anglicans who are considering the way forward in the light of Anglicanorum Coetibus.
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