John Allen Interviews Fr. Mark Woodruff

Many thanks to Fr. John Jay Hughes for calling to my attention this article written by John Allen. It appears in the National Catholic Reporter, and is found here, starting about half-way down the page.

John Allen writes:

While I was in London recently, I had the chance to speak with several people about the new “Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham,” a structure provided for by Pope Benedict XVI two years ago to welcome groups of Anglican clergy and laity into the Catholic fold, which is now a going concern in the U.K.

The ordinariate currently numbers roughly 900 laity and 60 clergy, including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.

One of the more interesting conversations came with Fr. Mark Woodruff, a former Anglican who entered the Catholic church long before the ordinariate, but who has served as an advisor for some of its groups. A veteran ecumenist and a deeply thoughtful soul, Woodruff sketched some of the promise, and the challenges, facing the new venture.

Woodruff not only took the time to answer my questions in person, but he also fleshed out his thinking in e-mail correspondence. The following are excerpts from our exchange.

* * *

What does the ordinariate mean?

I think it’s genuinely an attempt to signal that in the universal church, which we believe subsists in the Catholic Church, there is endless space, with the possibility of embracing Christian tradition in its entirety and its integrity. … This is an immense affirmation of Anglicanism and its riches. It’s possible for them to be in communion, united not absorbed tout court. Furthermore, we as a Catholic Church to some extent internalise Anglican tradition and make it our own. This is an immensely valuable tool ecumenically that we have not had before. It’s not about poaching, it is about internalising in the Catholic Church what already belongs to it, the ultimate dimension being the visible unity of the whole of Christ’s body.

What’s the background to the ordinariate?

The practical shape and detailing of it has been under discussion for twenty years or more. There were negotiations for something along these lines in the late 1980s. A grouping called the Congregation for the English Mission was involved in discussions with Cardinal [Basil] Hume when there was a crisis for Catholic-minded Anglicans and papalist Anglicans in those days.

At that time, the Catholic bishops here didn’t want a multiplication of jurisdictions. They wanted an integrated diocesan structure. The effect was that, when there was an influx of Anglicans in large numbers in the early 1990s — since that time we’ve had about 500 priests in England and Wales who have come from the Anglican tradition — it broke up relationships, traditions and shared outlooks, as people made their own way. They did so in great number, but you lost that esprit de corps.

What did that say about what we really thought of ecumenical reconciliation? Our message was that, to be in communion with the Catholic Church, you had to relinquish your old life together and simply ‘convert’ to Roman Catholicism. As we lost sight of the principle of corporate reunion, we also lost sight of our own principle that the church is a community of communities. That communion has not been broken up this time around. You’ve got some kind of ecclesial, Eucharistic, corporate identity, and that’s something to build on.

There are 900 laity and 60 clergy in the ordinariate. Ten years from now, what will those numbers be?

Partly, it depends on finding resources and buildings from which the Ordinariate parishes can conduct their mission. Perhaps there will be some sharing with other denominations, or existing Catholic parishes. A big concern is how to pay the clergy too, not least those with families. There are hospital, school, and prison chaplaincies that can help with this, and some have arranged to take secular employment, as permitted by the norms.

The liturgical rite is being developed and hopefully will be in use early next year. In my view, it’s a risk not to have it ready now, as inevitably people may drift from their groups into the parishes where they are now getting accustomed to church life. But when it is in use, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a draw to other Christians who want to be built up in this way. Other Catholics will be free to attend and take part and, it may even be that, with this rite as normative, the Ordinariate will be among the most enduring manifestations of the Anglican tradition in this culture and country.

I believe that God has not gone to all these lengths for something that is merely transitional.

Is it an open question how large the ordinariate may become?

I happen to think that if the ordinariate project gets its liturgical life together, and it maintains a distinctive Anglican theological and spiritual tradition, it will be a great addition to the Catholic church in this country. It will embody something to which people will respond. It will have classic Anglican liturgy, it will express Catholic faith in a classic Anglican way, and it won’t have the sort of dichotomy within itself between orthodoxy and relativism that I think is troubling the Church of England.

Are the members of the ordinariate right-wing ideologues?

No, I don’t think they are. I think most people are ordinary Anglican churchgoers coming from the broad range of Anglican-Catholic traditions. Externally, some will be used to a fairly elaborate liturgy, others will be coming from more choral-civic ‘Prayer Book’ tradition, others will have been very consciously ‘Vatican II’ and not theologically all that different from Roman Catholics. Sociologically and demographically, they will have different perspectives, but from what I have seen there is both the sheer normality of the people and clergy, and also a range of views and their expression – from very conservative, to very academic, very ‘Anglican’, very pastoral, very spirituality-focused, to very social gospel-focused, to everything else that we can find in our regular Catholic churches.

What’s been the Anglican reaction?

I think there has been a great deal of neuralgia. In the English situation, the Church of England does not quite occupy the position in national life that it once did, but it still has this important position of leadership and engagement with the state and with civil society that is vital, I think, also to the mission of the Catholic church. We are absolutely bound to work together and, besides, we respond to different parts of society, and they respond to us. There has to be a partnership.

We mustn’t settle for the Ordinariate as the last word in somehow embracing an Anglican tradition within the Catholic community. The work that still needs to be done is the union of all Christians, and that has to be happening because it’s the will of Christ. The Church of England entire and the Catholic church entire have at some point to be in complete union.

I’ve stressed time and time again to these friends of mine who have come into the Catholic church: I do not want you to come in and pull the ladder up. This is not about you finding a safe haven. You are now somebody who is embedded within us, who adds something to us in terms of our understanding of Anglicanism, which helps us reach out and embrace and be friends and collaborate even more deeply. We want you, therefore, to be part of that ecumenical outreach and engagement.

It is clear to me, too, that the church in this country cannot simply go on as it is, with all of our ‘denominations’ experiencing a declining grip on the imagination of people. No one church can address the deepest longings in those imaginations on its own. We need each other, we relate to people differently, and even though we are disunited we urgently need to collaborate and realise more and more an ecumenism of life.

There’s also an ecumenical vocation to the ordinariate?

If it forgets that, it must fail. It has to be about unity, because it really does have to be about the struggle for the soul of Europe and re-evangelization. It has to be at the centre of that. Otherwise, it’s just going to be an ‘ecclesiastical granny flat’. No one wants that.

[John L. Allen Jr. NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail is]

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

13 thoughts on “John Allen Interviews Fr. Mark Woodruff”

  1. Wise words from the Acting Director of the ecumenical charity, The Catholic League which has been very supportive of the Ordinariate.

    There are those within the CofE who are seeking to pour cold water on the project. For example, Canon Andrew Goodsall (Exeter) wrote on Father Aquiliina's blog on 4th August: "Pope Benedict has simply opened a rather narrow door in an imaginary wall which has, so far, appealed to a small number of people and is probably on fairly shaky financial ground."

    But as Canon Goodsall ought to know, Father Aquilina has been appointed by the Archbishop of Southwark as Priest in Charge of St John the Baptist in Westerham and in the same Archdiocese Father Lindlar has been appointed as Priest in Charge of St John the Evangelist, Mongeham and Sandwich – both parishes very near to the Ordinariate Groups they also serve. Those are just two examples out of 60 or so. Others would include an Ordinariate priest being appointed to an academic post in a Pontifical University in Rome.

    It is perhaps understandable but unfortunate that the Ordinariate's web site has been allowed to fall behind in updating people about what is happening to its clergy and people. Thus far there is no public register of the clergy setting out what their appointments have been and very many groups have not posted since they were received into the Church.

    Were the Ordinariate website up to date, those clergy contemplating joining the "second wave" would be able to see just how well the English diocesans and the ordinary have collaborated to enable the Ordinariate clergy to be of service both to their Groups and to the wider Church. Likewise, more posts from the Groups would be most welcome.

    The Ordinariate needs to be "sold" to some "doubting Thomas" types both in the CoE and in the Catholic Church and the web ought to be very much a part of that process.

    1. I agree that more information now that Ordinariate it under way would be helpful. Many interested parties want to know how the new priests and parishioners are getting on.

      As for the Ordinariate website, it is getting a makeover this month. The new look will allow each group to update their progress themselves rather than submitting to the webmaster and waiting for it to be done. I hope that all the groups will take an active part in this as I see it as not only a form of evangelisation, but also a tremendous encouragement to all who have been supporting them and those contemplating a move.

      1. This is very good to hear.

        The lack of news does suggest the effort, i.e. the ordinariate, has run out of steam and allows it to drop from the news. This simple remedy should address both issues and limit the speculative naysaying of those opposed to the ordinariates.

      2. Terry, This is very good news.

        If you are in contact with those who are responsible for such things might I suggest:-

        (1) There should be an on-line register of Ordinariate clergy giving brief biographical details for each as well as (a) the locations of the Group(s) they serve and (b) any diocesan appointments they also hold – this should be searchable and readable: (i) alphabetically, (ii) by RC diocese (iii) by Town and/or postcode.

        (2) The group pages should not just give the bare details they now give but links to their own web pages and/or blogs.

        (3) There should be a page or two enabling interested people – (i) to find out where there are Ordinariate services and meetings, (ii) making it clear that non-Ordinariate attendees will be made welcome and explaining the form for "blessing instead of communion" for those not yet in communion.

        (4) If possible it would be good to have a selection of homilies on line.

        (5) There should be a good section for links to sites such as this one.

        As this very site shows, the WWW is a very, very powerful medium for evangelisation and there is surely enough talent within the Ordinariate to exploit this medium to the full.

    2. I had a little run in with the good Canon Goodsall on an Ordinariate priest's website. He more or less accused me of saying Catholic priests who have given him communion knowing he was CoE of not being saved. This was a complete distortion of my comments.

      I assume from his comments he believes that the Catholic Church has open communion, which by Canon Law is not allowed.

      Whether he feels that the door was opened only a small crack or not, as time goes by the crack will become wider and wider. As I recall there were few who followed Christ in the beginning and just as then, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Ordinariates will grow.

      1. Can I say that if priests have given a non-Catholic minister Holy Communion in full knowledge, then they are acting in error and, I have to say, usually out of misplaced embarrassment. I was delighted to hear recently of a meeting which concluded with Mass where a Priest tried to offer Holy Communion to a Canon of York Minster who refused and asked for a blessing. The greater integrity was shown by the Anglican priest than by my brother Catholic.
        If Canon Goodsall hadn't been given Communion, perhaps he would be more sympathetic to the essential nature of unity that receiving the Blessed Sacrament both signifies and demands.

        1. But it's okay to give Holy Communion to the divorced and pro-pansexual Andrew Cuomo? No matter the stripe, a Catholic is a Catholic, right?

  2. Absolutely splendid thoughts. Our vocation in the ordinariates must be ecumenical first and last. The statement that we must not "pull up the ladder" needs to be repeated and lived. Ut unum sint.

  3. Very good to see Fr. Hughes involved here. I am expecting a copy of his book on Apostolicae Curae to arrive shortly. His memoirs are also fascinating.

    1. Thank you for your very kind comment and I am glad you enjoyed my memoir NO ORDINARY FOOL: A TESTIMONY TO GRACE. It is the story of my very difficult journey to the Catholic Church 51+ years ago; and the story too of a man who, 57 years after ordination, is still in love with priesthood.
      I have TWO books on Anglican Orders: ABSOLUTELY NULL & UTTERLY VOID (published in both England and the U.S. in 1968); and STEWARDS OF THE LORD: A REAPPRAISAL OF ANGLICAN ORDERS (published in England only in 1970 by Sheed + Ward).

  4. I sense that there is a rather great expectation here on the English Ordinariate.

    So far, I can only say that everything has gone well though one may argue that they can be improved.

    As for unkind words on the Ordinariate from folks, this is to be expected. So, I'm not surprised that some people will pour unsympathetic words on members of the Ordinariate. I'm fully aware that they're eager to drive it to the ground.

    Members of the Ordinariate, stay on the course you're on. I pray for the granting of mental strength, faith and perseverance to all of you. Remember, it took our fellow Easter-rite Catholic brothers and sisters many long years to overcome the odds and establish communion with the See of Rome.

  5. The real problem with the ordinariate is that in England there are only about 800/900 lay faithful and 60 priests!!! It is suggested there may be a second wave — even more priests? A few laity will come over, but not many I think. We shall end up with a typical Anglican situation in the UK: All clergy and a few elderly people. There are far too many Anglo Catholic clergy serving almost no people.

  6. Thanks for posting this here Father Christopher.
    "I believe that God has not gone to all these lengths for something that is merely transitional. "
    That's the bottom line to keep in mind isn't it? Whatever the disparate views on open communion, and I fully respect the basis for those views; The Ordinariate is happening because we believe it is God's will, therefore we find a way.

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