Some weeks ago, Archbishop Hepworth called me and outlined an idea to me, of some way of “surviving” for those clergy who had received no response from Rome or a negative answer. I submitted some ideas, and above all something of a foundational purpose or reason for going about such a thing.
I kept all this to myself, but corresponded privately and confidentially with an English priest who had the same feelings, and he suggested this Saint Benedict Fellowship could be what I would term a kind of “palliative care unit” for former TAC clergy either in the “waiting room” or preparing for conversion to or reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church (the spiritual Green Mile?). It seems to be in line with the entire Romeward drive of the TAC over the past few years.
My own attitude was to keep an open mind, wait and see – but someone sent a copy of this letter, a revision of 11th June 2012, to David Virtue. It is now published as Confidential: Fellowship: Former TAC Archbishop Hepworth Seeks to Regroup, and those who send comments will certainly have a feast day. I find it deeply regrettable that this idea has been made public before it had time to mature and define its purpose more precisely.
My own concern was that its only justification was as a kind of metaphorical lifeboat for shipwrecked bishops and priests. It protests the way a significant portion of the TAC episcopate held a meeting in South Africa and took advantage of the resignation of Archbishop Hepworth announced for Easter 2012, now effective. Certainly, the Archbishop has in mind the way those bishops proceeded with his suspension from office as a TAC bishop in Australia, and further, wrote of its intention to take further action. I quote Archbishop Prakash’s recent ad clerum letter, which is a public document – “It is with deep regret that I have to inform you that further steps against Bishop Hepworth are being considered in the light of a document sent out by Bishop Hepworth openly advocating schism within the TAC“.
It would seem understandable that Archbishop Hepworth would reject a portion of the TAC that has rejected him. I am not going to enter the polemics, and I am tired of the “You’re either for us or against us” of blog enthusiasts. Having lived through all this over the past few years, I can only express being happy to live in a country that has emancipated itself from clericalism!
What is at the bottom of all this is a complete misunderstanding of the way Rome responds to requests for intercommunion or corporate union. In the case of Anglicanorum coetibus, it involves a total filtering of the clergy through a simple mechanism of receiving the men as laymen considered not to be validly ordained and then their being considered according to Ordinariate norms for ordination. Those in Roman Catholic orders would simply be offered reconciliation with their Church on condition of laicisation. There are no mitigating circumstances for leaving the Roman Catholic clerical state. Once you’re out, you’re out. The Anglican Communion will at its discretion accept Roman Catholic priests, as was the case with Archbishop Hepworth, and many years ago, Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew. There are hard cases, but all are equal in the eyes of Rome. As you see in Italian law courts – Le legge è uguale per tutti.
Archbishop Hepworth made allusions to sacrificing his episcopate for the interests of unity with Rome. He came public with his harrowing experience of sexual abuse at the hands of two or three Australian priests in the 1960′s and earlier. It didn’t wash, and the stories sickened most of us. We empathised with the Archbishop in his personal suffering but knew it would not save his priestly vocation. Rome does not deal with persons but with laws – they are applied every time.
I can understand the instinct of trying to form a group, as there are several priests and bishops in the “old” TAC who incurred canonical irregularities from having been Roman Catholic clerics. I am one of them. Whilst I have not received any communication from Rome, some have, and the letters were negative, as for a priest in Canada who had been a Roman Catholic seminarian. It is painfully simple, we can be Roman Catholic laymen (or laicised pariahs), join another mainstream Church or found something new. The “something new” is what is usually termed a pseudo-church consisting of its founding clergy, themselves termed episcopi vagantes. We sometimes come across the oxymoron Vagante Churches.
If the justification of the Saint Benedict Fellowship is to continue as a priest or a bishop in spite of having failed to be accepted into the Ordinariate or wider Roman Catholic clergy, then the foundational purpose has no more credibility than any vagante group. Some vagante groups, however, are committed to extraordinary forms of pastoral ministry and are worthy of praise. The tree is judged by its fruits. But, if we read of men full of their self-importance as major primates, metropolitans, cardinals, or even popes in a few cases – and they just dress up and have fancy web sites, then I have other things to do in life! I am not remotely suggesting that Archbishop Hepworth fits into this category, but I doubt that a clear idea has yet emerged, whether it involves some form of contemplative life, educational apostolate or pastoral ministry.
The harrowing reality now faced by Archbishop Hepworth is that of a Zweifrontenkrieg, a war on two fronts. Rejection by Rome of his aspiration to return to the Catholic priesthood and rejection by a significant part or even a majority of his own college of bishops. Setting up anything resembling a new jurisdiction would only make things worse, whether it is called a communion, a church or a fellowship. Distinctions will not be made.
The Archbishop wisely says – We resist the temptation to form yet another church among the myriad and scandalous world of Continuing Anglicanism.
There is a seed of a foundational purpose in the words – in order to minister to and sustain each other and those Anglicans who share our desire for the full, global implementation of the Apostolic Constitution. Is this a kind of temporary clearing house in the hope that Rome will come up with dispensations from the rigour of the law and allow some “fallen” Catholic priests to be reactivated in spite of having married after ordination and joined another Church at some time? My big question now would be – What is left after the exodus to the ordinariates of many of our bishops, priests and laity and the formation of the significant part of the TAC that re-formed around Archbishop Prakash and Bishop Gill in South Africa?
One thing that has occurred to me, with my experience of Rome and being a product of the Institute of Christ the King’s seminary at Gricigliano – the Anglicanorum coetibus process was precisely designed to prevent irregulars from finding their way back in along with the thousands of laicised and non-laicised married ex-priests in the world. It must have been a headache for Rome, but the Pope is no spring chicken. As Prefect of the CDF, he had long experience of dealing with “ratlines” coming in from the cold of the former Soviet Bloc. Could it be that the ordinariate process is not Roman fiddling or fumbling, but a precise and clever plan for giving exactly what was asked for with generosity and pastoral care? But, for genuine cradle Anglicans who have never been Roman Catholics – no false-flag “ratlines”!
If you read the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Bishops and Priests Ordained Secretly in the Czech Republic of February 2000, many things will become clear. I find it tragic that for some, there is no solution, and the drama is essentially the issue of clerical celibacy and the problem of priests who left their ministries and got married. Rome has gone a long way by granting case-by-case dispensations from celibacy – as long as marriage precedes ordination. Open the flood gates at this point, and you have all the other “inclusive” agendas following behind. So you keep the flood gates tightly closed and allow the occasional leak. The Roman Catholic Church is in a position of having to justify its clerical monarchy in the face of a world that would sweep both it and faith itself from the world. The problem for the Pope and Roman diplomacy is terrible and unenviable. That is the real issue.
The now publicised letter speaks of a meeting this coming autumn. I would hope that it can be kept quiet and private, and not be surrounded by a hubbub of screaming polemics. I could see a legitimate little fellowship for the purpose of education and contemplative life, and pastoral ministry where priests have a handful of lay faithful, engage in “niche” ministry or visit hospitals, etc. Will it happen like that?
Still, a lot can happen in only a few months. Only recently, I come across a contradiction in the case of Bishop Robarts in Australia who writes in support of the Ordinariate, yet who is claimed by Archbishop Prakash to be a bishop in the service of the TAC. Many things can only be verified by the crucible of passing time. I don’t want to make accusations, but there are still smoke and mirrors here and there, and face-saving…
I find it unjust to accuse Archbishop Hepworth of fomenting schism, as he simply seeks to gather the elements of the TAC who can neither join the ordinariates and be priests and who disagree with the Archbishop Prakash college of bishops in their decision to reject Anglicanorum coetibus and continue as a continuing Anglican church.
There are too many square pegs in round holes, and this project having been made public hardly helps matters. I have personally had to try to find my way in this morass, and find that I become increasingly alienated and detached. The ordinariate process continues, but I am not part of it. I am nominally under the Traditional Anglican Church in the UK – but I haven’t the foggiest idea of what is left of it. The website had been abandoned, and the priest who kept it has himself left the TTAC. I could be part of this Fellowship. But, to what end? There are still a few things to be waited out – the completion of the ordinariate process to see who will be on the beach after the 15th June, just three days from now. There is then the final Synod decision in England about women bishops which will define groups staying in the Church of England or leaving it to form alliances with the Polish National Catholic Church and the Union of Scranton. That option is up in the air. Becoming Orthodox has only been something extremely marginal and has become something of a stale joke except with a few American zealots.
Indeed, the dust has to settle, which it is doing. Lacking subjects for discussion, blogs and forums debate whether laymen should be using the Anglican Office as in the BDW or the Roman liturgy of the hours! It all floats in as I receive e-mails during my day of doing my translation work.
Well, something good will come out of this or it won’t. Time is the judge, and what happens will be plain for all to see. I live through an alternation of wrenched gut and hope in the future. And I make a few explorations of my own. We will see…