WHEN the wives of three former Church of England bishops presented them with chasubles after they were ordained priests in the Roman Catholic Church in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, it was clear that this was no ordinary service.
It heralded the beginning of the Ordinariate and the appointment of its first Ordinary, Fr Keith Newton. The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, described it during his homily as “a unique occasion marking a new step in the life and history of the Catholic Church”.
Fr John Broadhurst, former Bishop of Fulham; Fr Keith Newton, former Bishop of Richborough; and Fr Andrew Burnham, former Bishop of Ebbsfleet, became the first clerics to be received into the Ordinariate, which was set up for former Anglicans. They expect to be followed by more clergy and lay people.
The three former bishops processed in to the hymn “Thy hand, O God, has guided”, with its refrain of “One Church, one Faith, one Lord”, most commonly heard in C of E churches (and written by an Anglican, E. H. Plumptre).
After his welcome, Archbishop Nichols read out a message from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, who was unable to attend. It announced the establishment of the “Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham”, the “first fruit of the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus”, which had been announced by the Pope in 2009 (News, 13 November 2009).
As photographers and cameramen clambered into the pulpit after the Gospel reading in order to get the best vantage point, Bishop Alan Hopes, another former C of E priest, presented the three candidates to Archbishop Nichols.
The Archbishop then gave his homily, in which he praised the three candidates for their “dedication as priests and bishops of the Church of England”, and affirmed the “fruitfulness of their ministry”. He thanked “so many in the Church of England who have recognised your sincerity and integrity in making this journey and who have assured you of their prayers and good wishes. First among these is Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury, with his characteristic insight, and generosity of heart and spirit.”
Archbishop Nichols also said that the Ordinariate could “contribute to the wider goal of visible unity between our two Churches”.
After the promise of obedience by the two former flying bishops and Fr Broadhurst, there was the laying-on of hands by the Archbishop and every robed RC priest present. After the prayer of ordination, spontaneous applause rang out among the congregation.
The three new RC priests then concelebrated mass with Archbishop Nichols, which was the culmination of the two-and-a-quarter-hour service.
Among the congregation was Prebendary David Houlding, a member of Forward in Faith and the Catholic Group in the General Synod, who said he was happy for the three former bishops, whose “time had come”. He described it as a “significant occasion”.
But he said he was sad that the Church of England was still “so muddled”. He would not follow them over to Rome, but, rather, stay in the Church of England to help to “sort out the mess” — although whether this would be successful, “God only knows,” he said.
The congregation was boosted by many supporters of the three former bishops, including the Revd John Hunter, NSM of St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road, in London, who was ordained by Fr Broadhurst ten years ago. He said he thought that the occasion was “marvellous”.
Speaking about his appointment as Ordinary of the new Ordinariate, Fr Newton said he was “humbled”, and regarded his reception into the Roman Catholic Church not as a “radical break, but part of the ongoing pilgrimage of faith which began at my baptism”. He also expressed thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury “for his patience and graciousness with those of us who have been exploring our way forward over the last few months”.
A statement issued by Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, explained that the Ordinariate would have a Governing Council of at least six priests, presided over by the Ordinary. Parishes would be “personal” rather than “territorial”, would be served by priests of the Ordinariate, and would “probably use their local diocesan Catholic church”, as it would be “unlikely” that it would be possible to use Church of England buildings.
The Ordinariate is expected to support its own clergy financially, but the RC Bishops of England and Wales have already contributed £250,000 to a fund for it.
Edwin Barnes, the former Bishop of Richborough, who is also joining the Ordinariate, will be ordained deacon according to the Roman Rite by the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Crispin Hollis, on 11 February, and priest on 5 March at Portsmouth RC Cathedral.
Unity encouraged. The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, and the RC Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Revd Thomas McMahon, have issued a joint letter, saying that the setting up of the Ordinariate “does not in any way deter us from the ultimate goal of that visible unity within the Church that is Christ’s prayer”.
They write that they expect any congregations that join the Ordinariate “to meet and worship in the context of their local Roman Catholic church”. They urged the five or six groups that, they believe, are considering the move to contact them.
The Bishops say that they hope the developments “will draw us closer together”, and they recommit themselves to “working together for the cause of the gospel in Essex and East London”.