Skip to main content

Stephen Bullivant on 'How To Save The English Church'.

Photo: Giovanni Portelli/The Catholic Weekly

N.B. — Dear Bishops of England, please open your hearts and consider offering your vacant parish churches to the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Just as certain parish church buildings have been given to Extraordinary Form communities, and are thriving, so too the Ordinariate could receive the gift of a parish church and offer to all Catholics in a given area the beauty and goodness of the Ordinariate Mass and the richness of the Ordinariate Catholic experience, an experience that configures to the spirit and letter of the Second Vatican Council. The Ordinariate can lovingly preserve a building consecrated to the worship of God, a house built by families who offered their time and resources to build and sustain a parish home. The Ordinariate has the priests to help preserve that home for area Catholics.

+ + +

An excerpt from an article by Stephen Bullivant at The Catholic Herald: How To Save The English Church

"(I)f I were a bishop, cautiously willing to give the idea a go, what I’d really be praying for is a group with dozens of young and energetic clergy, thoroughly immersed in British culture, and with years (if not decades) of pastoral experience, as well as – why not, since we’re praying to Him for whom all things are possible? – already proving themselves to be excellent priests within my own diocese. Which brings us to the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

"Given the kinds of statistics I’ve outlined – that is, too many churches for the numbers of priests and worshippers we actually have – it’s no wonder that many bishops have readily borrowed ordinariate priests for their dioceses.

"Anglicanorum Coetibus was, in this sense, a unexpected windfall of additional clergy. There are, I believe, currently 60 ordinariate priests on loan to the English and Welsh dioceses, with most of these assigned to parishes.

"I recognise, of course, the benefits and expediency of such arrangements. As it happens, I have been glad of “borrowed” Ordinariate priests in two dioceses I’ve lived in. Bishops need priests, and priests – and their families – need stipends. Nevertheless, I don’t think the current model of plugging gaps in ordinary diocesan provision is, in the long run, a sensible one for either party.

"From my outsider’s view – I’m neither a member, nor eligible to become one (FYI - Any and every Catholic is entirely welcome in a parish or community of the Personal Ordinariate and can be an active participant in and contributor to parish life and the mission of the Church! A member of the Armed Forces is by virtue of being a Catholic in the armed forces a member of a Catholic military ordinariate and under the care of a Catholic military chaplain. Any non-military Catholic can attend a Mass on a military base and/or receive the sacraments from a Catholic military chaplain. Likewise, any Catholic and all Catholics can meet their Sunday Obligation by attending Mass in any of the communities of the Personal Ordinariate. Catholic is Catholic is Catholic! Click HERE for more information.) – the ordinariate offers the Church in England and Wales (Scotland too!) a significant pastoral opportunity: the possibility of a permanent structure, fully part of the wider Catholic community, but with its own distinctive liturgy, spirituality, musical traditions, parish culture and atmosphere. Rather than being simply a one-off fix to bring a wave of former Anglicans into full communion with Rome, it is genuinely sustainable. It is continuing to attract former Anglicans and others (not excluding other Catholics) on its own terms, while at the same time being a community in which children are brought up, who in turn bring up their own children in it.

"Christ’s Church has plenty of room in it for such a body, as is again amply proven by the Eastern Catholic churches. Such a thing will not, of course, appeal to everyone (including not all former Anglicans). But then why should it? This vision, of course, fits perfectly with the “Preston Option” I’ve been describing, with the Ordinariate offering a niche way of “being Church” that complements, rather than competes with, the default normal parish offering.

"I’ve even seen it work – in Texas, of all places. Last year I stood at the back of a packed vigil Mass at Houston’s Ordinariate Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. The next day there would be four further Masses, all using the Divine Worship Missal and all similarly well attended. Around a third of those present, I was told, were former Episcopalians and their families, a third were cradle Catholics of various types and a third were converts from other Christian denominations, other religions, or no religion at all. It had, admittedly, taken the congregation a long time to get to this point: 30 years, in fact. But in all seriousness, if such a thing is possible in Houston, then one might suppose there’s a fair chance of replicating it a little nearer to Walsingham itself.

"From where I’m kneeling, we seem to have a God-given cure to many a diocesan bishop’s headache. So why are our dioceses not queuing up for the Ordinariate to take otherwise under-threat churches off their hands, and on extremely advantageous terms? This is a genuine question, for I am genuinely puzzled."

—Stephen Bullivant is professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and a consulting editor of the Catholic Herald.

+ + +

P.S. — from the website of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter:

"Parish membership in one of our communities does NOT require one to be a registered member of the Ordinariate."

Read the full statement at the following link: