Former Anglican Archbishop Is Happy to be a Catholic Parish Priest

Fr Peter Wilkinson. The National Catholic Register:

VICTORIA, B.C. — When Peter Wilkinson returned to his home town of Victoria,  British Columbia, 42 years ago, with five years of service in the Anglican  Church in England under his belt, he was deemed too “Catholic” by the local  bishop and never got an Anglican parish of his own.

But as an Anglican-Catholic member of a world-wide communion of dissenters  from liberal trends in Anglicanism, he rose swiftly to bishop and then to  Metropolitan for Canada — before giving that all up earlier this year to be  received as a simple layman into the Catholic Church.

On Dec. 8, at the ripe age of 72, he was ordained a Catholic priest and  immediately assumed his duties as priest and pastor of St. Columba of Iona  Church. Father Wilkinson’s flock comprises 22 former Anglican Catholics who with  him were received into the Catholic Church early this year, and at the same time  into the Personal Ordinariate  of the Chair of St. Peter.

The Ordinariate, which is headquartered in Houston, Texas, was  created on Jan. 1 to provide a North American structure for Anglicans coming  into the Catholic Church who wish to retain distinctive elements of their  theological, spiritual, and liturgical patrimony as Anglicans.

Father Wilkinson’s ordination was the first in Canada for a former Anglican  cleric who has entered the Church though the Ordinariate of the Chair of St.  Peter, and it coincided with a key announcement for these new Catholics and for  other Canadian Anglicans who are considering following in their footsteps.

On Dec. 7, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, the leader of the Ordinariate, jointly  announced with Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto that the Holy See had approved  the establishment of a new deanery for groups of Anglicans and Anglican clergy  in Canada who have come into the Church.

In a  statement, Msgr. Steenson announced he had appointed Father Lee Kenyon,  administrator of the first Ordinariate congregation in Canada at St. John the  Evangelist Church in Calgary, Alberta, as dean of the new Deanery of St. John  the Baptist.

Cardinal Collins, who is the ecclesiastical delegate for the Ordinariate in  Canada, and Msgr. Steenson jointly petitioned the Holy See to create the new  deanery after receiving unanimous backing for the proposal from the Canadian  bishops in September.

It’s Not About Me

“I’m loving it,” Father Wilkinson told the National Catholic Register when  asked about his membership in the Catholic Church. “I haven’t regretted this for  a moment.”

As for his demotion in ecclesial rank, he laughingly commented, “It  isn’t about me. I simply want to be a holy priest and serve out my remaining  years in that capacity.”

Anglican Catholics like Father Wilkinson are part of a spiritual revival that  was initiated in the English Anglican Church, whose leaders included Blessed  John Henry Newman before his conversion to Catholicism in 1845. It looked to the  restoration of pre-Reformation liturgy, celebration of the full range of  sacraments, devotion to Mary, communal religious life, and, for some, ultimate  reunion with Rome.

But Father Wilkinson believes that from right from the time of the English  Reformation (when King Henry VIII nationalized the church in 1534 under the  authority of the English crown), there was a movement within Anglicanism for  reunion with Rome.

Many of today’s Anglican-Catholics broke away from their national Anglican  Churches in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere when these churches voted to ordain  women.

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” explained Scott Vannan, a  Victoria Anglican Catholic who joined the Catholic Church earlier this year  along with Peter Wilkinson. Anglicans who were praying and working for reunion  with Rome saw women’s ordination as an insuperable obstacle, given Rome’s  adamant rejection of women priests, not to mention the similar stance of the  Orthodox Church.

“But there were many other doctrinal issues which pointed to the question of  authority,” said Vannan. “Anglicanism has never had a Magisterium, but it did  believe that it shared a common deposit of faith which nobody was authorized to  change. Now they do change it.”

Some of the disaffected Anglicans left for Catholicism, the Orthodox Church  or Lutheran churches as individuals, but many left their national Anglican  churches within whole parishes. These then coalesced into two distinct, and  sometimes competing, traditional Anglican communions in North America.

The one Wilkinson and Vannan joined was the Anglican-Catholic Church of  Canada, which became part of the 240,000-strong worldwide Traditional Anglican  Communion (TAC), as did the like-minded Anglican Church in America.

Wilkinson became the pastor of Victoria’s traditional Anglicans, then the  Western Canadian bishop and finally the Metropolitan of a scattering of 38  parishes comprising 1,500 individuals across Canada.

In 2007, Wilkinson and two other TAC bishops proposed to Pope Benedict XVI a  package deal: bring in the Anglican-Catholics en masse, but with  provisions for the retention of existing parishes, those elements of the  Anglican liturgy compatible with Catholicism, and the married priesthood.

Benedict’s Inspiration

Pope Benedict was as enthusiastic as the TAC leaders had hoped.

“Some of our bishops had been meeting with him personally since the 1990s,” said Father Wilkinson. “They really liked him. And I had corresponded with him  myself — in fact I wrote him a fan letter. I even had an appointment to meet him  but it was the very week Pope John Paul II died and he couldn’t see me.”

Father Wilkinson’s own personal road to Rome was partly paved by Pope  Benedict’s 1986 book, Seek  That Which Is Above, which “spoke in a reasoned way but also from the  heart in a way that was fresh. It revealed the whole man. I hadn’t found that in  other Catholic books.”

He said that the Pope shares the Anglican Catholic belief “that the saints  and beauty are the Church’s two great converting forces.” This is why the Pope  permitted the Anglican-Catholics to keep their traditions centered on the Book  of Common Prayer.

“It is in our bones,” said Father Wilkinson of the 463-year-old prayer book. “It is written in beautiful, sacral English, intentionally using a higher  register of language.”

After the Pope issued his invitation to Anglican converts in November 2009  through his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum  Coetibus, many Anglican-Catholics turned out to be less enthusiastic  than the leadership for communion with Rome. Of 38 parishes Canada-wide, only  three have entered into full communion, with 150 members.

The parish Father Wilkinson started in Victoria has split twice over such  issues as the authority of the Pope and the loss of local autonomy. In the  second split it lost its pastor. A similar reduction in expectations has  occurred in the U.S.

But this is not necessarily a bad thing, said Vannan. “Before, the tension  was always there under the surface. Now we are completely united. There is a  great sense of peace.”

Warm Welcome

On the other hand, some Catholics have had difficulty grasping the  Anglican-Catholic attachment to its liturgy and wondered why Wilkinson’s group  could not simply have converted as individuals. But most have been “very  welcoming,” said Wilkinson. He praised Victoria Bishop Richard Gagnon and Father  John Laszczyk, the rector at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria, for their  support.

“Everybody has been wonderful,” said Father Wilkinson. As for Father  Laszczyk, who stood in as pastor for the past few months and is a strong  proponent of beauty in liturgy, he described his experience with the  Anglican-Catholics as “profound.”

The small parish of 22 people now has its own home in a former Anglican  church. And instead of Father Laszczyk celebration of the Mass in a deep  baritone, they will again have Peter Wilkinson’s tenor chanting.

Looking ahead a few days before Father Wilkinson’s ordination, Scott Vannan  commented, “It’s a wonderful time for us. I am looking forward to his next Good  Friday sermon on the Crucifixion. It is the same every year and each time I  understand a little more of it.”



One thought on “Former Anglican Archbishop Is Happy to be a Catholic Parish Priest

  1. Fr. Peter, a dear friend , who I have not seen since our meeting in Portsmouth, were we signed the CCC, at the Altar, is now
    in a “Safe” harbor.. It has been a journey in faith and the Holy Father, has welcomed us Home…PAX Lou Campese, Former Anglican Bishop

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