Two days ago we witnessed a divide in the direction in which English Anglo-Catholics are heading. There are those who will accept the offer of an Ordinariate, a neat ecclesial solution to the thorniest ecclesial problem. This option has the advantage of being strong in vision, and comes with genuine sacramental assurance via full entry into the Roman Catholic fold. Then there are those who, for whatever reason, are forming a new society which aims to grab what the hierarchy has thus far refused. Without clear authority or sacramental assurance, the ‘Society of S. Wilfred and S. Hilda’ is therefore a more rickety option even if it is brave in attempting to provide an ‘in house’ option for those not wanting unity with Rome. Anyone doubting this uncertainty should note of the manner in which it was presented. Even its most passionate advocates were speaking of it as being problematic and seemed less than confident of its long term effect.
It is because I am convinced that this society cannot deliver, resulting in further pain and distress for its members, that I was negative about its implementation at the Assembly. These doubts remain but one sentence in the FIF press release has made me pause and take stock. Let me quote:
The crucial issue is the ministry of the Pope himself, as the successor of St Peter. Anglicans who accept that ministry as it is presently exercised will want to respond warmly to the Apostolic Constitution. Those who do not accept the ministry of the Pope or would want to see that ministry in different ways will not feel able to accept Anglicanorum Coetibus.
Perhaps the venture was not launched with enough clarity? You see it was presented using quotes from Newman and Pope Benedict alongside firm assurances that this was a move to "shore up the bridge on this side of the Tiber." And we were led to believe that the society would care for those who want the Ordinariate model (but not yet). What then do we make of the statement above which speaks of difficulties with the papal office? It suggests to me that this society is less a holding house for Roman wannabees and more akin to the continuing churches of America.
I would suggest that in the interest of clarity, fairness and honesty the society should be crystal clear about its intended destination and ultimate vision from the outset. Otherwise it might be claiming to be something it is not and could lead people into blind alleys. If it really is a holding house for those awaiting the Ordinariate, it should be established in partnership with the bishops entering the Ordinariate and full communication channels should be left open. Furthermore it should set time scales for its members and regularly meet to discuss how to fulfil its clear ecumenical purpose.
But if the society is intended for those who cannot ultimately accept Papal authority, then this should be stated and a separate loose federation set up for Ordinariate enquirers. People can always move between the two at any point according to matters of conscience.
How dangerous though for those wanting to be late additions to the Ordinariate if they start looking to those whose real desire is to keep them sitting still! No society can hold together or deliver if pulling in opposite directions and for that reason any pretence that the society can serve more than one agenda needs quashing.
Furthermore, clarity on behalf of its leadership would allow it to be greeted warmly. If it is for those remaining Anglican at all costs, then I am certain that no Ordinariate enquirer would want to do anything other than wish it well. It would also please the House of Bishops and General Synod who would have a clear statement of Anglican allegiance and thus be more sympathetic. What would be outrageous, and I do not use the word lightly, is for the society to be set up on false promises. If the use of "we look to Rome" language masks a truly protestant intent what use does it serve? It will only confuse, hampersand bewilder the laity and clergy alike. These are serious times and we do not have time for games. I urge the society to make its destination crystal clear at its meeting in October. We have been asked to be gracious to those with different conclusions to our own. I honour that — but we must be allowed to ask questions!