There have always been different sorts of Anglo-Catholic: ritualists, papalists, high churchmen and women; those who loved the Prayer Book and those who “borrowed from Rome”. I’m not going to list them all but on the whole there have been those who have believed that their ultimate goal was simply to remind the Church of England that she is Catholic, and there are those who have only ever dreamed of re-union with Rome. Alongside both there were the high church latitudinarians who shared much with both. Honestly, I guess most of us were a bit of all three. It is not necessarily the case that the first lot are in “SSWSH” (the group who are staying in the Church of England whilst opposing the consecration of women Bishops); or that the second lot are in the “Ordinariate” or the third in Affirming Catholicism (who embrace the possibility of Women bishops) but these three groupings roughly correspond to earlier, more nuanced divisions within the movement. For our purposes, when I speak of “traditional catholics” I will mean the first two groups.
As something of an aside, it is worth noting that many (especially priests) who might well be described as “Romanisers”, remain in the Church of England keeping a watchful eye on the Ordinariate. The Ordinariate will need to woo these guys carefully over the next few months and years. There are also many who would have been loyal “Prayer Book Catholics” in an earlier generation, who will no more go to Rome than they would become Methodists. It seems to me, as an outsider now, that these folk will have to broke a deal with the Affirming Catholicism camp; somehow!
Until 1992 (or perhaps a little earlier) these people all belonged together. The vote allowing women priests was the watershed which gave rise to the expulsion of the Affirming Catholics from our midst. Since 1992, it has to be said, this group has flourished reasonably well. It is the group that the Archbishop of Canterbury would, I think, most happily identify with. To the extent that “Catholicism” has any sort of future in the Church of England it will be because these people are holding the Catholic torch. At the same time as the “AffCaths” were being denied a place at Anglo-Catholic Altars, a few hundred papalists took themselves off to Rome.
For those who were left in the traditional Anglo-Catholic movement, an organisation calling itself “Forward in Faith” was formed to defend and promote the Catholic cause. It was going to be the one organisation around which all who called themselves Catholic could rally (that is “Catholic” now defined to exclude the AffCaths). Indeed, all who held the traditional faith which denied the possibility of new inventions such as women priests would find a home there. Even evangelicals were wooed and brought into the organisation. But although all were supposed to be welcome into the organisation, the anger, nay fury, of the initial leadership over the ordination of women drove them into a very hard-line position. Almost immediately, it seemed to me, they alienated very many people who should have been the grass roots of the movement. It was reminiscent of 70’s Trade Unionism: the militants were in charge and the moderates were left, on the whole, voiceless.
As for me? Well, I became a Roman Catholic but a year later I came back to the Church of England. I could not find a home anywhere. The only place where I was truly at home in the C of E was in the Company of Mission Priests. Why? Because this group had within itself guys from all three camps; yes, even AffCaths and certainly papalists. It was home because it was Catholic. And the great thing about the Roman Catholic Church today is that one can sit alongside Tablet readers (AffCaths) and Catholic Herald readers (papalists) and know that all are Catholics!
The formation of Forward in Faith took place almost immediately after the vote allowing women priests in November 1992. Very quickly the leadership produced a “Statement on Communion”. They had defined who was in and who was out. Over the next seventeen years F in F became a loathed organisation in the Church of England; not, possibly, down on the ground where good catholics worked hard in their parishes, got on well with neighbours and flourished. But at a national level the organisation was hated. I am sure that is why General Synod gave Traditional Catholics such a hard time in July 2008: they wanted to punish Forward in Faith who were seen as “the enemy”, opposed to all the legitimate developments that the vast majority in the Church of England wanted. So bitter had the fight become that folk were very openly saying that it would be better if we were gone from the Church of England.
Traditional Catholics, it must be stressed, were not, at this stage, opposing legislation allowing women Bishops. All they were asking for was that when the Church of England had women Bishops they might be allowed to be a “church within a church” where no woman Bishop could have jurisdiction. General Synod is overwhelmingly opposed to this option – or to any option, that will allow a Traditional Catholic with integrity to believe that he or she is not totally compromised. We have seen this coming: one day there will be women Bishops in the Church of England and there will no provision within the Church for those who believe that women cannot be ordained. Legally these people may well find themselves under the jurisdiction of one whom they regard as a lay person.
So what to do? Simply, at least at a psychological level, there have been two possible answers:
- “In order to stay what I am, I must find a way of remaining in the deepest possible Communion with the Church of England despite her dreadful act of schism. I think the vast majority of Anglo-Catholic laity are in this place.
- “In order to stay what I am, I must find a way of putting a great distance between myself and the now schismatic Church of England”. The leadership of Forward in Faith, on the whole, was in this place.
It is obvious how these two positions correspond to the very old divisions in the movement. And although, as I have said, none of us belonged exclusively to one group rather than another, the tensions between the two tendencies has been more obvious and unbearable in the last decade than ever before.
Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Apostolic Constitution which allows the erection of “Personal Ordinaries” for Anglicans entering into full Communion with the Catholic Church, was just what the second group was longing for. They could distance themselves from the Church of England and remain the same and be in Communion with the See of Rome. All the fighting was over – they had everything. They could not believe how generous the Holy Father had been! So excited were they at its publication that some quite forgot themselves. We even had an Anglican Bishop speaking on the radio days after the publication of the document saying that he had no trouble with papal infallibility! He obviously could hardly wait! I have observed elsewhere that the months between the publication of the Apostolic Constitution and the departure of that Bishop and others were extraordinarily stressful. It was not fun having a bishop who was obviously going and a congregation who were, mostly, firmly staying put. I have never known a situation where a Bishop was so disliked by a congregation!
It is in the light of all this that we must understand the recent scandal of the liberation of the assets of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. It is clear that the leadership of that organisation very firmly belong with those who have believed that in order to be loyal to everything they have been they must, somehow, distance themselves from the Church of England. This is crucial: to stay in the Church of England once the “schism” happened would mean being disloyal to everything. By April 2009 (just a few months after the crucial Synod in July 2008) they did not know what the “way out” would be, but they knew that they would have to go somewhere. And so, they changed the Constitution of the Confraternity in such a way that it could easily slip out of the Church of England with them. Whatever we might think of this, it is vital that we understand that the motivation for this move was so that they could remain faithful and the assets of CBS could be used for the work for which they were intended and not be spent by schismatics.
I hardly need to say that most members of CBS were unaware of what was going on. If they had been I think that they would have strongly disapproved. I am as sure as I can be that most members of CBS on the ground, in the parishes, belong to that group of traditional catholics who will stay in the Church of England until the absolute end. They now feel that the money that belongs to them - and which they now need more than ever to fight the good fight of preserving the Catholicity of the Church of England – has been stolen. They will see this as a crime of dramatic proportions. Not only have their fellow Anglo-Catholics deserted them at the crucial moment; they have taken the fighting fund too!
Who is right? I have tried to write this in such a way as to imply that it has everything to do with perspective. But, in the end, it still seems quite obvious that those who joined the Ordinariate should have gone and taken nothing with them. It is the Gospel imperative: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts”. But more than this, in their obsession to get out of the Church of England, they completely failed to notice that many (indeed, the vast majority) of their brothers and sisters were not leaving. The money belonged to the Catholic movement as a whole and not to just to the most powerful minority. I have to say; surely Rome is not so poor that it cannot care for these folk?
So, it was wrong to take the money. It was also totally stupid. By taking it they have alienated the very folk who should be following them in the next few years. I suspect that the decision to take the money will be the death of the Ordinariate.That is the real betrayal and that is very sad.
© Peter Bolton