The former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was the Catholic chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commission, ARCIC, for 16 years. His speech last night at a Benedictine monastery, Worth Abbey -- 'ARCIC: dead in the water or money in the bank?' -- had been planned since long before Rome's invitation last week to disaffected Anglicans to enter into communion with Rome through "ordinariates". Not a few people were wondering what he would say -- especially as the announcement had appeared to take him by surprise. Assuming that he would be very uncomfortable with the announcement, the Times religion correspondent mischievously suggested he should call in sick -- or "pull a sickie" as we like to say on this side of the Atlantic.
As it happened, my old boss -- who has just been appointed to two key Vatican congregations, Bishops and Evangelization of the Peoples -- did an impressive job of managing to be positive about the move while at the same time defending why it didn't happen before. The full text is here but I'll quote the key passage referring to the ordinariate proposal:
There is much that has been written and spoken about this matter over the past week but I would just want to emphasise that this response of Pope Benedict is no reflection or comment on the Anglican Communion as a whole or of our ongoing ecumenical relationship with them. Indeed, I think it true to say that this was one of the reasons why this particular provision for Anglicans who wished to enter into full communion in 1993-94 was not implemented. At that time, Cardinal Hume, Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia, the then Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster – now Archbishop Vincent Nichols – and myself were responsible for the on-going discussions with the leadership of a movement called Forward in Faith, as also with the then Cardinal Ratzinger and his advisers in Rome. It is true to say that some special provision for the Anglicans who wished to come into full communion with the Church, a provision such as the Personal Ordinariates, might have been very helpful at that time. But after much discussion, it was finally decided that it would not be appropriate to take this initiative. The reasons for this were two-fold. The first is that in 1993-94 the we bishops were dealing solely with clergy of the Church of England, and any such response as is now given by the Holy See would naturally have had to be offered to the whole of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. It did not seem within our remit to engage in such a response. The other reason, however, was even more important. If the Holy See had offered such Personal Ordinariates then, and in particular here in England, it might well have been seen as an un-ecumenical approach by the Holy See, as if wanting to put out the net as far as one could. Both Pope John Paul and the then Cardinal Ratzinger would have been against such a move as, indeed, were the four of us. Matters have moved on since then and the repeated requests by many Anglicans, not only from England but from other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, have necessitated a new approach, which is why I think that the Personal Ordinariates offered by the Holy Father can be seen not in any way un-ecumenical but rather as a generous response to people who have been knocking at the door for a long time.
I wasn't at the speech, but one who apparently was -- the Telegraph's Jonathan Wynne-Jones -- describes the Cardinal as downbeat about the prospects of many Anglicans taking up the offer. “I don’t think anything will happen immediately and not that many Anglicans will be involved", he quotes the Cardinal as saying during Q&A.
The Tablet out today has thorough coverage of the Anglican response to the papal gambit, which is generally rapturous. But if Rome clarifies that future seminarians in the ordinariates would have to be celibate -- see Fr Jim's post here and mine here and this Times report from Rome -- this could have a sudden chilling effect. In a Tablet interview with Archbishop Hepworth, head of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), it is clear he is under the impression that Rome would allow the new Catholics to continue to marry. Elena Curti and Christopher Lamb write:
On the subject of married clergy, Archbishop Hepworth said the provision would allow the new Catholic Anglican body to continue to ordain married men in perpetuity, although only celibate men could become bishops. "The provision for married priests is very important because Anglicanism has had five centuries of the family at the heart of the parish. I have written to Rome that when the family is under such threat the charism of the priestly family might actually be treasured."
So how will he -- and the other traditionalist Anglicans who are under the impression that this is what Rome is offering -- react if the CDF says no?
Will the anticipated exodus turn into a dribble of embarrassingly small proportions?