Saturday, 23 October 2010


An esteemed future colleague, who right now is in his ecclesiastical swimming trunks, running up and down the bank in his track suit, touching his toes and generally limbering up, worries about the reception that he is going to receive on this side of the Tiber.

His concern is perfectly natural and understandable, and so I thought I might put a few ideas down to reassure him.

1) I was already a priest in 1992, and I remember the concern that there was then in the Catholic Church about Tiber-swimmers shaking things up. Everything has changed now. I think of the many former Anglican clergy who have become part of this diocese since then, and can say with absolute assurance that they (and their wives and children, where applicable) have become valued and loved parts of our diocesan family. Indeed, it is hard to imagine life without them. I have never heard a word of complaint about them—well, all right, about one of them, but the problem is personal, not ecclesiastical.
What I mean is that these early-adopters have prepared the ground, and the clergy in the Catholic Church know now what to expect (which we didn't in 1992) and, on the whole, are positive, though curious, about what might develop over the next few months.

2) What is different is that new Tibernauts will not join dioceses, but have their own arrangement. In practice, we all know that we will be working very closely together. Some of you chaps no doubt will have your own congregations who can support you full-time. Others will help out in Roman-rite parishes, which will be of mutual benefit—hard-pressed parish priests like myself will appreciate the assistance, and you guys no doubt will appreciate the financial return (to say nothing of the fraternal and pastoral support). On this subject, please be determined not to hold yourselves aloof from our fraternity; that would cause problems (for obvious reasons). And deanery meetings (=chapters) are not at all what they are in the CofE: you might actually enjoy them. When we all share the same faith (more or less), there is far less to worry about.

3) I expect that the bishops and their cohorts are genuinely a little apprehensive. This is because they don't know really how this is going to work out in practice. Perfectly naturally, they are worried about this group that is going to be pretty independent, a sort of loose cannon possibly, in our midst. And so they are seeking to tie down the cannon wherever they can. However:
(a) Catholic bishops are not Anglican bishops. I mean that here there is a real respect for the authority of the Holy Father (in practice, even where it is not heartfelt), and if he (the Holy Father) establishes the Ordinariates as independent, they will be independent. We really do respect Canon Law. But you can't blame the bishops for trying to keep things as manageable as they can.
(b) The people appointed to deal in this matter can be relied upon to be sympathetic. Bishop Alan Hopes clearly knows where you are all coming from, and Archbishop Longley, too, is a warm and good man; I have known him for a good quarter of a century. There is a real wish to make this work. If the bishops wanted to make trouble, believe me, there would have been other people appointed. These are good guys, and sympathetic to you.
(c) I expect that you might be worried about the requirement that you approach your own Anglican ordinary before making any move. This requirement is a realistic thing. The Catholic Church is still in ecumenical dialogue with the Church of England and has no desire to make enemies. The fact that we now know that any prospect of Church unity is put off to a stardate that none of us can guess as a consequence of the recent Synodical policy does not change this. Personally, I genuinely wish to remain on good terms with my Anglican opposite numbers in the Adur Valley, and the bishops wish to remain on good terms with their Anglican counterparts. Actual unity may not be a near prospect (=understatement of the millennium), but there is lots of other good work that we can and should do together. You (understandably) may feel anger and resentment toward them, but we don't feel it in the same way, except on your behalf. To us, the CofE has always done its own thing and always will.
The Ordinariates came from Rome simply because the English and Welsh hierarchy could not have established anything of the sort without causing offence. But that doesn't mean that they don't think that it is a good idea. It just means that they need to soften the blow for the CofE bishops, and make it work all round. Saying a polite goodbye to one's existing superior is not an unreasonable thing to ask, however badly one may feel that he has treated one. One can listen politely to his efforts to persuade one to remain, and then politely explain (again, I know) why that is impossible. Give him a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates for his missus, thank him, and come home.

Perhaps some of those who have already swum the Tiber since 1992 might care to add comments.


Fr James G. Leachman OSB said...

I traversed the Tiber in 1985 and have never regretted it.
Fr. James Leachman OSB, monk of Ealing Abbey

St John's, Horsham said...

I, too, made the journey from Canterbury to Rome. Best thing I ever did ... But what I really want to say is that if there are any future members of an ordinariate out there who would appreciate a sympathetic and understanding ear, then please do contact me. I did the personal conversion thing (the ordinariates then, of course, didn't exist) but I can certainly tell you what it's like sharing in the gift which is the priesthood. I won't rush you or be impatient - but I'll happily tell you how it is. I left the CofE having been told that I would always be a "stranger in a foreign land". Believing that that might be true, still I had to follow my conscience. Actually, nothing could have been further from the truth. It was, as Fr Sean says, a deep deep joy to come home at last.

Be assured of my continued and supportive prayers.

Fr Terry Martin, Parish Priest, Horsham, A&B Diocese. Click the link at the top of this comment to go to my blog and contact me via email.

Mike M said...

For those worried about the reception you will receive, I've been part of two Roman Catholic parishes with pastors who were Anglican converts. That's never been an issue. Both pastors are, in fact, quite well liked!

Potential "Tibernauts" should also know that there are an awful lot of Catholics who are really excited to have you. I know a lot of the Catholics in my area will be willing to go way out of their way to help out our areas incoming Anglo-Catholic parish!

We can't wait to welcome our new brothers home!