An article by Dr. William Oddie was published recently in the Catholic Herald. He began with the great news of the diaconal ordinations of seventeen men which will be taking place at Westminster Cathedral. These men are being ordained for service in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
So far, so good.
After reporting that happy news, Dr. Oddie immediately segued to making the point that these ordinations shouldn’t be taking place at Westminster Cathedral. No, says Dr. Oddie – they should be taking place in the principal church of the Ordinariate.
There is no such principal church, you say? That’s exactly the point he wants to make.
And why is there no principal church for the Ordinariate? Because Archbishop Nichols and the other Catholic bishops in England haven’t given them one, Dr. Oddie says. And he takes this as proof that the English hierarchy isn’t being as supportive of the Ordinariate as might be expected.
I have no first-hand knowledge about the support being given to the Personal Ordinariate by the English bishops, nor am I casting myself in the role of apologist for Archbishop Nichols. I’m just trying to figure out why anyone would think that a principal church should be given outright.
Much has been made of the fact that the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was “given” a principal church. What is neglected to be mentioned, however, is that the Houston parish of Our Lady of Walsingham had been planning to enter the Ordinariate as soon as it was erected. The parish was already Catholic, having been established a generation ago as an Anglican Use parish, and its property would be transferred with the people. It was a simple matter to declare it to be the principal church. I’m sure the same would have happened in England if there had been a group entering with its property. But there wasn’t.
To make it sound as though the American hierarchy simply cast an eye around and randomly selected a church to give to the Ordinariate, so therefore the English hierarchy should do the same, is (to use a cliché) like comparing apples to oranges.
And that’s all preface to the more important point; namely, simply giving a church to the English Ordinariate isn’t going to help it, in the long run. The principal church in Houston didn’t fall down from the sky. That congregation of Anglican Use Catholics spent years worshipping in a rented convent chapel, and for a time even in a rented store-front. Through tremendous sacrifice they built a church which was very modest, and now serves as the parish hall. And what they did, other Anglican Use groups did. Our Lady of the Atonement began in rented facilities, and through patience, thriftiness and sacrifice, was able to construct what it has today – and even that was done incrementally over several years. None of us had any particularly wealthy donors in those early days, and we certainly didn’t expect our respective dioceses to hand a church building over to us – nor did they – just because we had become Catholics.
It’s a pretty simple principle, immediately evident to anyone who’s had teenagers. If a young man wants a car, he needs to get a job to pay for it. Just because a father doesn’t hand his car keys over to his 16-year old son doesn’t mean he doesn’t love him and support him. Quite the opposite – because a father loves his son, he helps him by giving his son the responsibility of accomplishing it himself.
I’m as eager as Dr. Oddie is, to see a principal church for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. But I believe they need to work for it, sacrifice for it, save for it – which will make it all the more beautiful to them – and I have no doubt they can do it. Many of us have.