A recent ceremony of ordination in Westminster Cathedral in London marked an interesting development in the Roman Catholic Church. Four bishops of the Anglican Communion were ordained as Catholic priests.
According to reports, their defection from their old church was prompted by the fact that the ordination of women, and of gay people, is now an accepted policy in Anglicanism. The bishops disagreed with that policy, and so decided to give their allegiances and their services to Rome. Hence their ordination in Westminster Cathedral.
It would appear that several more Anglican priests are waiting in the sidelines, and are currently under what is described as "instruction," with a view to becoming priests in the Catholic Church.
In the report on the ordinations (or re-ordinations?), it transpired that at least two were married and had wives and children. All indeed may have been married with wives and children, but only two were mentioned in the report.
Their wives participated in the ceremony, and at one stage, obviously as a symbolic gesture, handed some of the regalia of a Catholic priest to their husbands. Their children occupied the top pews and were an integral part of significant changes in the status of their fathers - from that of bishops to ordinary priests, and that in a church in which the children themselves had not been baptised.
Such changes in allegiances from High Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism are not new. They have happened before at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, when John Henry Newman led an equivalent movement, to be followed by intellectuals such as Chesteron and Belloc.
In an interview after the recent ceremony, one of the bishops, in speaking for the others, said they did not know what the future held for them. They had given up their beautiful cathedrals, their historic little churches, their homes, their stipends, their communities, their friends. They did not know where they might now be deployed as ordinary Catholic curates. They had stepped into the unknown.
In some cases, depending on how "high" their particular form of Anglicanism was, they did not have to give up the fundamentals of their doctrine nor the beauty of their ceremonies.
Some years ago, I attended a Celebration of the Eucharist in a college chapel in Cambridge on the Feast of the Assumption. In the, admittedly, very "high church," the liturgy of the ceremony differed very little from the Catholic Mass, the quality of the music was superb, and the rituals very impressive. Following the ceremony, the Litany of the Saints was recited. (When last was such a recital heard in a Roman Catholic Church?). Leaving the chapel, I found myself whispering to my husband - "They are even more Roman than the Pople!"
None of these Anglican bishops have been asked to adopt celibacy, nor abandon their responsibilities to their wives and children. Their status as husbands has not been changed. They have merely transferred their loyalty from Queen Elizabeth as Head of Church of England to the Pope of Rome.
The fact that that transferrence of loyalty was taken because their old church now ordains women, underwrites the Catholic Church's continuing exclusion of women from any ordained ministry. That exclusion filters down to that of Deacon. In a recent recruitment for that ministry in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore - only unmarried men or widowers were invited to apply.
The new status of the bishops' wives (and the Anglican priests' wives) also raises issues. Wives in the Reformed Churches actively participate in church and parish work. They are acknowledged as giving practical support to their husbands at every level of ministry. Will that support now be disproved of, discredited, rebutted? Will they be given the official brush-off?
But even more important is the total exclusion of many good and decent Catholic priests, who have given outstanding service to their communities, but who, at some stage felt they could no longer comply with their vow of celibacy. Some, at least, would have liked to continue in their ministry and would have been welcomed to the laity. But they were despatched into the wilderness.
Yet, the actual pragmatic facts are that the Catholic church can, when it is expedient, accommodate married clergy. Even bishops! That accommodation can be made, indeed it can be marked, with ceremonial as in the recent events at Westminster, while at the same decent priests have been banished.
The Cathlic church has been rocked to its foundations by the scandals of child abuse. It has not been rocked by the wives and children of married clergy.
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