Was Philip North right? – five years on

Prince Charles visits Churches in camdenWithin the context of a conference at Pusey House, Oxford, on Anglican Patrimony and Anglicanorum Coetibus, on 24th April 2010, Fr. Philip North, now C of E Bishop of Burnley, famously suggested that he had decided not to take up Pope Benedict’s offer of November 2009, which he had described as “unprecedented” and “an extraordinary event”.

After dismissing or at least relativising a married clergy, a distinct liturgy, our cultural heritage as decisive elements of Anglican patrimony, he went on to say:

“… in the context of the Church of England we need to look elsewhere. Instead we need to consider pastoral and evangelistic practice as it has been lived out through the history of Anglicanism. We have to look to the shape and substance of our ministry and in particular to the way it has been put into practice in the context of the Parish.”

He then explained the historical background of the ecclesiastical and statutory responsibility of C of E priests “for the salvation of every man, woman and child who lives within the boundaries of the parish” and maintained: “Still today, in a secularised, post-modern culture, the Church of England feels very deeply that same sense of responsibility for the spiritual life of the nation.”

There followed an elucidation of the symbolic power of the church building, which “in its history and beauty evangelises”. The implication throughout is that other denominations lack the same sense of responsibility and the physical resources.

He also placed significant stress on the importance, especially for the Church of England, “the faith default position of 70% of the population”, of the occasional offices of baptism, marriage and funerals as an opportunity to evangelise.

Further aspects of pastoral ministry which he described were the role of the C of E in schools and the care for the poor and vulnerable, concluding that “this all demonstrates that the heart of our patrimony as Anglicans in the Church of England is pastoral practice. It is pastoral responsibility for communities rather than gathered congregations.”

His principal question was then: “Is that patrimony importable? Does the Ordinariate, as constituted by Anglicanorum coetibus, constitute a structure which would enable us to retain that element of our patrimony whilst at the same time being in full communion with the See of Rome?”, and he admitted that he was then entering the “realm of speculation”.

To cut a long story short, his answer was at least an implied “no”, leading him to decide against full communion with the See of Rome through tbe Ordinariate. He even went on to suggest that entering the Catholic Church by the traditional diocesan route,  is “surely the best way” to achieve the goal of “calling a nation back to Christ”. (As it turned out, he took neither route, despite having, at the beginning of his talk, spoken of his “desire to be fully a part of the Catholic church” and described himself as a “die-hard Anglo-papalist”.)

The first reason for his negative answer was the lack of sufficient finances for the priest, who needs a house, a stipend and a pension, costing £64,000 a year, so that he can “spend six days a week ministering to people without having to wonder about where the next meal is coming from”. Further reasons were the loss of the Church, the school, the occasional offices, the legal standing, the “cure of souls”, and he concluded:

“My heartfelt fear is that the Ordinariate can offer priests only a diminished ministry, for the majority of us a part-time or voluntary ministry, and for all of us a ministry that lacks the opportunities, the depth and the riches of what we know at present. And for laypeople, I’m not sure what it offers at all.”

 – o – o – o – o – o – o –

We are now five years further down the line, the UK Ordinariate has been in existence for well over four years. What is the verdict today? Would our Ordinariate priests really state that they are living a “diminished ministry” without the “opportunities, depth and riches” of their C of E ministry? And what about us lay faithful? Are we also not sure what the Ordinariate has offered us?

I would truly be interested to read the comments of our priests and people. Please give us your point of view.

David Murphy

The quotations are from the text of Philip North’s talk as printed in “Anglicans and Catholics in Communion”, The Messenger of the Catholic League, No 292, 2010. You can still find an audio recording of this talk (and the other conference presentations) plus the Q and A session on the old Anglo-Catholic blog.

(P.S. Please do not read this post without the appended comments!)

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9 Responses to Was Philip North right? – five years on

  1. William Tighe says:

    One would think, reading his incoherent rationalizations, that the pretended ordination of women had never happened in the Church of England, or that it was a trivial and inconsequential matter that makes no difference to the credibility of an Anglo-Catholic “witness” within the Church of England. One might also observe that his rationalizations would suit equally a clergyman of Catholic inclinations desirous of hitting upon an excuse to retain his position within one of the other Northern European state churches, or former state churches, as, e.g., Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and so forth.

    There is nothing Anglo-“Catholic” (and certainly not “papalist”) about any of this, just the old whisperings of the Father of Lies insinuating reasons for following “the broad way.”

  2. Pingback: Why be a priest? | New Goliards

  3. Edwin Barnes says:

    If only Philip were right! Alas 70% of the population now has no default faith position – and all of us seeking to present the Good News of Jesus Christ are having to do it from scratch. This is where the Catholic Church scores – for it has a Gospel to proclaim, which in many other churches is fuzzy to the point of incoherence. I find many long-time Catholic priests are encouraged by hearing from us in the Ordinariate that we should all break out from our ghettos and (to quote another catholic-minded Anglican) see that “the world as our parish”. Far from narrowing or diminishing ministry, what I have found (and I believe many Ordinariate priests have discovered) is that the opportunities opening up to us now are far greater than ever they were in the dear old Church of England.

  4. Father David Waller says:

    Philip’s comments were flawed at the time and seem even more ridiculous 5 years on.

    First, he discusses “mission” without first addressing ecclesiology; this is itself profoundly uncatholic. Christ sends his Church into the world to proclaim the gospel. This basic fact has 2 implications for Philip North’s methodology: a) he makes no effort to establish that the Church of England is part of the Catholic Church – that cannot simply be presumed – impaired communion and doubts as to the validity of the orders of some of its clergy raise serious questions about the relationship between the Apostolic Church commissioned by our Lord himself and the Established Church in this land. b) The Apostolic Church was not established! It had none of the privileges and infrastructure of the Church of England and yet it was considerably more successful in the proclamation of the gospel. Philip North’s suggestion that we need the established church in order to engage in mission is fanciful and unbiblical.

    Secondly, Philip exaggerates the importance of the Church of England. It may be true that the Church of England feels very deeply a responsibility for the spiritual life of the nation; what is far less certain is the extent to which the nation looks to the Church of England. The reality is that we live in an increasingly secular society. I would agree with Philip that schools, community engagement and a sense of ministering to a community and not a gathered congregation are important; what I would question is his linking of those characteristics with the Church of England. My own experience is that very few folk now understand the denominational composition of English Christianity: to the majority a church building is a church building and a clergyman is a clergyman. The patrimony is proving to be highly exportable. When an Ordinariate priest puts himself about in the local community, is a visible presence, takes time to be with people, he reaps the same rewards as he did as an Anglican. Indeed, he can engage in this missionary endeavour with greater confidence because he is confident in the Church he represents and knows that further down the evangelistic and catechetical road he will not be compromised by having to explain fractured communion and ecclesiological differences which mean the newly evangelised individual has to choose which segment of a fractured ecclesial body he wishes to join.

    Thirdly, Philip contrasts the Ordinariate with the traditional diocesan route. It is perfectly true that there are 2 routes and one is free to choose either of them. But, contrary to Philip’s implication and the mutterings one hears from others who remain Anglican, the two routes are not in conflict. Members of the Ordinariate are fully Catholic and welcomed as such and play a full role as part of the Catholic Church in these islands. So, by all means opt for the diocesan route if you wish; but do not do so as a negative reaction to the Ordinariate because once you are received you may well find that your parish priest, university chaplain, prison chaplain, hospital chaplain etc. is a priest of the Ordinariate. You cannot project the factions and ghettos of Anglicanism onto the Catholic Church; it does not work like that and, whatever your chosen route of reception, you are entering into the full communion of the Church of which the Ordinariate is an equal and valued part.

    Fourthly, Philip looks at material needs. This is rather distressing. The decision to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church must be about truth not personal security. Those who became the pioneers in joining the Ordinariate willingly gave up their security to venture out into uncertainty because they believed it was about truth and integrity – if those things are not of primary importance, stay where you are! That being said, the response of the Catholic Church has been warm and generous. All of our priests have somewhere to live. Those who are able and active are engaged in full time ministry whether that be solely within the Ordinariate or, more usually, combining ministry within the Ordinariate with ministry in the wider church, eg running diocesan parishes, chaplaincy work etc. I am not aware of any priest of the Ordinariate who is underused or who is worried about his next meal.

    Finally, we have the comment that, re lay people, “I’m not sure what it offers at all”. I have spent this past year visiting a number of Ordinariate groups up and down the country and I can report a clear consensus among the laity that the Ordinariate offers: Truth; Unity; a new confidence in talking about their faith; engagement with other Catholics; involvement in pro life activities; an ability to give and receive from the universal church. It enables the preservation and appreciation of much that is of the Anglican patrimony and places that as a gift within the wider church.

    Perhaps Philip would like to revisit his comments in the light of the circumstances surrounding his own consecration; the address of Cardinal Nichols to the 2014 festival and the address of Mgr Mark Langham to the Ordinariate clergy?

  5. Scotrhodie says:

    Fr North’s comments seem particularly incongruous after recent events. Compare the crowds of bishops gathering to consecrate the first women bishops to the two isolated bishops prepared to lay hands on a traditionalist male candidate. The pictures speak volumes about the place of orthodox Anglo-Catholics in the CoE — they are effectively pariahs who have voluntarily shut themselves into an ever-diminishing ghetto.

    As Mgr Barnes rightly says, the power of the CoE “brand” is greatly exaggerated. It has, in truth, only a vestigial presence in modern life, and much of its apparatus is paper-thin and run by staff who are neither competent or real believers in the product they are selling.

    That reality completely undermines Fr North’s breezy assertions about the platform for mission offered by the CoE. What he and SSWSH represent is akin to a dying product line in a large corporation. The small market for that product will be serviced until it goes out of business, but it will receive no support or investment and will be starved and isolated from the main concern — which is itself not healthy. Orgtanizational and business studies suggest that the only way out of such a fix is innovation, conducted outside the constraints of the company. All alternative companies and products start out small and have to find their market — but if they are better than the competition, they end up taking over the market. The orders of the Catholic church have, over the centuries, proved very powerful examples of this kind of innovative renewal and change. They succeeded because they had visionary, Christ-inspired leadership and because they could operate freely outside the normal channels of the diocesan church.

    I do not believe that the Society has either the necessary liberty or the visionary leadership to allow it be a successful disrupter within the CoE. The Ordinariates have far more freedom of action that they have so far exercised and are constituted in a vehicle well designed for growth and positive change. Their potential is enormous, though not at all guaranteed.

  6. Joseph Golightly says:

    The Conference at Pusey House I note includes Jonathan Baker. He was intimately involved with the preparation of the document which the Holy Father published in 2009. He was heard to say that he would be the first in line for joining the Ordinariate (together with other “leading” Anglo Catholics) but none of them made the act of faith. I just wonder whether Philip North had other concerns which others have had difficulties with.

  7. EPMS says:

    Plenty of attacks on Fr North etc but a dearth of positive messages, so far.

    • I’m sorry, EPMS, but I will not allow you to put a damper on discussion. For the first time in a long time, there are some comments on this site from other readers than Norm and yourself, and you try to put a spoke in the wheels.

      Criticise by all means what you may consider to be attacks on Fr. North, of which there are certainly more than I had hoped, but to maintain here that there is a dearth of positive messages is disruptive. to say the least, and I do not want the commenters to have to come back here and justify themselves (which is why I have deleted a couple of their subsequent comments).

      Here are some of the positive comments again:

      – “what I have found (and I believe many Ordinariate priests have discovered) is that the opportunities opening up to us now are far greater than ever they were in the dear old Church of England” (Monsignor Barnes)

      – “The patrimony is proving to be highly exportable. When an Ordinariate priest puts himself about in the local community, is a visible presence, takes time to be with people, he reaps the same rewards as he did as an Anglican. Indeed, he can engage in this missionary endeavour with greater confidence because he is confident in the Church he represents and knows that further down the evangelistic and catechetical road he will not be compromised by having to explain fractured communion and ecclesiological differences which mean the newly evangelised individual has to choose which segment of a fractured ecclesial body he wishes to join.” (Fr. David Waller)

      – “Members of the Ordinariate are fully Catholic and welcomed as such and play a full role as part of the Catholic Church in these islands.” (Fr. David)

      – “the response of the Catholic Church has been warm and generous. All of our priests have somewhere to live. Those who are able and active are engaged in full time ministry whether that be solely within the Ordinariate or, more usually, combining ministry within the Ordinariate with ministry in the wider church, eg running diocesan parishes, chaplaincy work etc. I am not aware of any priest of the Ordinariate who is underused or who is worried about his next meal.” (Fr. David)

      – “I can report a clear consensus among the laity that the Ordinariate offers: Truth; Unity; a new confidence in talking about their faith; engagement with other Catholics; involvement in pro life activities; an ability to give and receive from the universal church. It enables the preservation and appreciation of much that is of the Anglican patrimony and places that as a gift within the wider church.” (Fr. David)

      – “The Ordinariates have far more freedom of action that they have so far exercised and are constituted in a vehicle well designed for growth and positive change. Their potential is enormous …” (Scotrhodie)

      OK, EPMS? May we now continue?

      May I encourage more priests and people to give us some more feedback.

      David Murphy

  8. Fr Masaki says:

    Having recently become priest-in-charge of a diocesan parish, and having been ordained as Ordinariate priest for 3 years, I can honestly say that my ministry is truly fulfilling and I am fired with zeal for souls and evangelisation, which led me on the path to ministerial priesthood as a young man so many decades ago. I was in the Church of England ministry for 34 years, and for the most part as incumbent and in charge of a parish, and I now find my opportunity to preach the gospel, to minister as pastor and draw people into full sacramental life greater than ever. My sermon now has extra bite, coming no doubt from conviction of having taken the right path and assuredness of what I and the Catholic Church believe. I no longer have to make excuses for being in a church that has abandoned apostolic order and teaching, being led by secular mantra of equality and interchangeability of gender and doing disservice to the dignity of every human being, born and unborn. I will for ever be thankful to the Church of England for nurturing me in the faith and giving me opportunity to serve, but I am even more grateful to the Catholic Church in her generosity in accepting me and raising me to the priesthood so that my soul’s yearning to celebrate the sacraments and preach the gospel may find full expression and, God willing, may lead to a greater harvest of souls.

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