The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has now been established in England. By Easter this year, three bishops, sixty priests, and nearly one thousand lay people had left the Church of England to be received into the Catholic Church. Archbishop Donald Wuerl is working with interested parties to establish the ordinariate in the United States, and progress is being made in Canada and Australia for ordinariates to be erected there later this year.
What will be the future of this new ordinariate? It could be that it will simply bring into full communion with the Catholic Church a small number of conservative Anglo-Catholics. They were an eccentric church within a church in the Anglican Communion, and some predict that they will continue to be an eccentric church within the Catholic Church. Around the world, there will be small groups of traditionalist Anglicans who will differ from all the other tiny Anglican schismatic churches, in that they will actually be in full communion with Rome. They will keep to themselves and be viewed by mainstream Catholics as an eccentric rump of dissident Anglicans who like incense and lace, old-fashioned language and splendid old hymns, who somehow managed to worm their way into the Catholic Church. They will be regarded with bemusement and some bewilderment. Anglicans will shake their heads and wish them well and wonder why they didn’t become “proper Catholics” if they wanted to swim the Tiber. Eventually, the theory goes, they will die out. Their descendants will be absorbed into the mainstream of the Catholic Church, and the whole thing will be a footnote in the history of ecumenism.
A second possibility is that the Anglican Church herself will eventually disintegrate or morph into something unrecognizably Anglican, and the ordinariate will be all that is left of historic Anglicanism. In this scenario, an increasing number of Anglicans worldwide will see that, if they want to be historic Christians within the Anglican tradition, the only place to do that will be within the ordinariate, and they will flee the sinking ship of Anglicanism to join it.
This is almost certainly not going to happen, for several reasons: First of all, the Evangelical Anglicans are Protestants. After they have made the polite ecumenical noises, they do not really understand or appreciate the Catholic Faith. Secondly, many Anglo-Catholics also do not really want to be Catholic: They want to be Anglican. They honestly do not see the importance of being in full visible communion with the Catholic Church. They have serious misgivings about some of the Catholic dogmas, and they continue to believe that they are “Catholic within the Anglican Church.” Thirdly, the liberal wing of the Anglican church certainly has no wish to be in full communion with Rome. They dislike Roman authority, dogma, and moral teachings and are increasingly anti-Catholic.
However, there is a third way. The ordinariate could develop in a very different and exciting direction. The way to understand this more dynamic possibility is to see the ordinariate as a new bridge across the Tiber for a whole range of Protestant Christians…
Fr Dwight Longenecker writes on here