Now that the incense and euphoria of our Holy Father's visit are beginning to dissipate, our minds inevitably turn to the next thing on the agenda which is, I think, the prospect of the establishment of Anglican-Patrimonial bodies in communion with the Holy See as proposed in the Holy Father's letter Anglicanorum Cœtibus.
When, many years ago, I was an undergraduate, a friend (Anglican) then told me with great authority of Blessed John Henry Newman's misery once in the Catholic Church. He told me with great pathos of the aged Newman leaning over the gate at Littlemore and weeping for what had once been. 'People become Romans', said my friend, 'but they all come back'.
Some do, in fact, return to the Church of England, having failed to find what they sought in Catholic communion; I have indeed known some, including one who (to the surprise of all who knew him) went on to receive not just a mitre but also a wife.
After 1992, practices differed in different dioceses as to the various hoops that clergy being received into full communion were required to jump through. At the time, Cardinal Hume's arrangements in Westminster were considered particularly generous: clergy continued to wear their collars, and would attend what were facetiously variously called 'Confirmation classes' or 'Irish dancing classes'. Ordination would speedily follow. Some dioceses refused to make any concessions to convert clergy whatever and were consequently avoided. Others took a middle path. In the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, then headed by the man who was to become Hume's successor, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, clergy were required to sit in the pew for a minimum of two years, usually being associated with a particular parish and pursuing some studies in the seminary where I am sitting right now, with the view of topping up whatever had lacked to their studies for Anglican priesthood. This was perceived as being somewhat hard (indeed, I thought so at the time), but yet we must acknowledge that several of those whom Basil Hume ordained returned to the Church of England (with all the consequent scandal), and none of those (as far as I am aware) that Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ordained have done so. In the end, the tougher path was the better.
The reason, no doubt, is that greater knowledge of the church which one is joining is valuable, and in some cases essential, to make a good assessment of just what one is doing. Men building towers, and kings going to war, that sort of thing.
Potential Ordinariates, of course, are an unknown quantity. Life may be similar enough to what has been left behind to obviate any sense of profound loss or disorientation in an unfamiliar setting that unsettled those who waded over the Tiber in 1992. But there will be differences and (at least in this country) there will be need for some education in matters like canon law and moral theology. Perhaps this can satisfactorily be arranged within the Ordinariate itself. But it must not be assumed that a cleric, his feet still wet with Tiber mud, can easily settle into the new situation, 'because it is just the same, really, only with the Pope added'.
As to happiness, and the Blessed JHN, I am engaged, at the moment, in writing a book in which the late Francis Cardinal Bourne of Westminster (d.1935) features largely. I came across a letter written by Newman to Bourne's father, who had been received into the Church a few months before the Beatus. Bourne senior had been distressed to hear the rumours that Newman was profoundly unhappy in the Catholic Church, and the rumours were sufficiently strong to inspire Bourne to write to Newman and ask if they were true. Newman replied:
Dear Sir,I return an immediate, though necessarily hasty, answer to your inquiry, which made me more than smile.It is wonderful that people can satisfy themselves with rumours which the slightest examination, or even attention, would disprove; but I have had experience of it long before I was a Catholic. At present the very persons, who saw through and reprobated the Evangelical misrepresentations concerning me, when I was in the Church of England, believe of me things quite as extravagant and as unfounded. their experience of past years has taught them nothing.I can only say, if it is necessary to say it, that from the moment I became a Catholic, I never have had, through God's grace, a single doubt or misgiving on my mind that I did wrong in becoming one. I have not had any feeling whatever but one of joy and gratitude that God called me out of an insecure state into one which is sure and safe, out of the war of tongues into a realm of peace and assurance. I shrink to contemplate the guilt I should have incurred, and the account which at the last day would have laid against me, had I not become a Catholic, and it grieves me to the heart to think that so many excellent persons should still be kept in bondage in the Church of England, and should, among the many good points they have, want the great grace of faith, to trust God and follow his leadings.This is my state of mind, and I would it could be brought home to all and every one, who, in default of real arguments for remaining Anglicans, amuse themselves with dreams and fancies.I am, Dear Sir,Truly Yours,John H. Newman Maryvale, Perry Bar, June 13, 1848.
As for the person who told me of Newman's unhappiness in the Catholic Church, well, he is a Catholic priest now, too.