TO START with, a trip down memory lane. The archives of Damian Thompson’s Holy Smoke blog have disappeared from the internet, and I stopped reading and clipping it many years ago. So there is little evidence of his prolonged campaign to promote and encourage what became the Ordinariate.
As recently as 2014, he was suggesting to Spectator readers that Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali would join, and assuring them that “it will not be undermined by Pope Francis who, now that he knows about the Ordinariate and has met its English head, Mgr Keith Newton, a former Church of England bishop, has extended its remit to incorporate a mission towards non-Christians and ex-Catholics. . .
”The Mass I attended was concelebrated by two ex-vicars, neither of whom had been faux-papist Anglo-Catholics. They were traditional High Churchmen who did not want to leave behind the loveliest of Cranmer’s prayers, Evensong or lusty Anglican hymn-singing. Thanks to the inspiration of the Pope Emeritus, they don’t have to. Which makes me wonder. . . could Bishop Nazir-Ali be tempted by the Ordinariate?”
The answer, apparently, is “no”, since Thompson’s piece for the Catholic Herald last week shovelled dirt all over the corpse of the scheme. “The experiment has not been a runaway success, as members of the Ordinariate readily admit. Ever since the body came into being five-and-a-half years ago, I’ve been listening to Ordinariate clergy predicting that it can’t last.”
Even in 2011, he writes, “lots of us had our doubts. And, sure enough, here we are in 2016 and this revolutionary structure has just 1,000 lay members in this country, scattered in tiny communities.
”So it’s the size of a large parish, but one with around 80 ex-Anglican priests to support. Which it cannot do.”
He goes on: “When the Catholic Herald asked me to write this article, I wasn’t enthusiastic. Having noisily championed the Ordinariate from day one, I wasn’t keen to hear — yet again — its own faithful tell me that, well, it was a nice idea, but everyone hates us and even some of our own priests aren’t really on board.
”Sure enough, that is exactly what I’ve been told and I’m now convinced that the Ordinariate in its present form will wither away.”
Of course he never pretended to be an objective reporter, but you have to savour the claim that he had his doubts from day one, even while “noisily championing” the scheme. Now he thinks the answer is for the Ordinariate congregations to raise money to buy a few of their own churches, where the excellence of the liturgy will bring new believers flocking.
In a spirit of self-criticism, I note that I myself wrote that I would be very surprised if as many as 1000 priests took up the offer to join when it was first made; so I was only out by a factor of ten. The Times at the same time had: “Thousands of worshippers are expected to follow bishops and clergy to Rome in an exodus that could see the Catholic Church begin to reclaim its pre-Reformation status as the Church in England. . .
”The Church of England will not want to be left with hundreds of churches abandoned by the majority or all of their congregation.”
IN WHICH spirit, The Guardian’s first attempt at a follow-up on the latest schism story, compiled by a hapless news reporter, had three dioceses threatening to leave, though this was swiftly corrected. Ruth Gledhill’s piece on the Christian Today website contained an instructive listing of all five of the bodies now threatening schism over the issue.
The original story itself was a nice piece of work by John Bingham at the Telegraph, who had found a vicar in Tonbridge Wells who is planning a whole new synod on which as many as 12 parishes will represent the true Church of England if the official line on homosexuality changes. It’s a perfect Bank Holiday story.
BUT even the most clichéd stories need a human touch, as Facebook discovered over the weekend, when it sacked the human editors who compiled its list of “trending” topics, and replaced them with an algorithm to find what its users were really talking about. The answer turned out to include an entirely false story about a Fox News television anchor praising Hillary Clinton and being sacked for it, and a video of a McDonald’s chicken sandwich in a compromising position.
If this is what the great non-newspaper-reading public really wants to know more about, it’s easy to see why only the most sensational religious stories force their way to our attention.