Ordinariate parishes or diocesan parishes?

Fr. Tomlinson continues the discussion about the relationship between the (UK) Ordinariate and the dioceses with the following post:

The balancing act

It is clear from comments on recent posts that certain people still imagine the Ordinariate exists outside of diocesan structure and is in competition to the wider church in this land. Nothing could be further from the truth. Critics and friends alike do well to remember this; the Ordinariate is part of the Latin Rite not a separate structure disconnected from it.

Which is why our priests were ordained by diocesan bishops having attended formation arranged by Allen Hall. As one bishop remarked to a layman questioning our validity – ‘if he isn’t a proper priest nobody else is either!’ We begin to see why it was easy for Ordinariate priests to transition into parishes to serve any Catholics who worship there. At the most fundamental level we are priests like any other. And so Ordinariate members are free to attend Mass in any church; just as diocesan Catholics are welcome to worship where our priests operate too. We are one despite having our unique mission to fulfil.

Take St. Anselm’s. It is now served by Ordinariate priests but it remains a diocesan  church. The parish having the same status as any other in the deanery. Of course it is distinctive; our priests are beholden to the Ordinary first and diocesan bishop second … as would be the case for any parish run by religious. And our charism and patrimony provides distinctive gifts. As is true for Benedictines, Augustinians, Jesuits, etc etc… So we might offer Divine Worship as well as the Novus Ordo but the parish is a parish like any other.

Oh that our critics would get this into their heads! When we seek resources and buildings and control we are not wrestling them away from the Latin Rite. We are the Latin Rite. It is not therefore hostile action but the offer of help. Akin to an organisation moving an employee into that place where they can be most effective for the overall gain of the company. Our vocation is to help the Church as part of the reform of the reform. We are not a breakaway schismatic group called to dwell in the ghetto – and should this ever happen we would have failed our mandate. But nor are we called to simply function like all others. Difference can be healthy where unity exists.

Back to Pembury and we might eventually seek some sort of agreement, say that appointments be made at the discretion of the Ordinary, to ensure long term Ordinariate flourishing (as has occurred at Precious Blood) but we would never seek a break with the diocese. That would be pointless. We are called to be a body breathing with two lungs and we would not have it any other way.

Why then a call for our own buildings? Because where smaller groups are under the control of non-Ordinariate priests, and/or unable to book slots for worship conducive to growth, there our mission is struggling. Only an idiot would fail to see that the Oratorians, for example, would struggle to thrive if forced to book services at Farm Street, as opposed to having their own building to reflect their patrimony. Yet that does not mean Farm Street is in competition with the Oratory. Far from it.

So why do people imagine granting the Ordinariate help is a negative move or a danger to other parishes? I suspect it is because what they really oppose is change; a fear of the reform of the reform itself. In truth it is not that we are too separate – as they state – that annoys them but rather that we are far too close…the liturgical vocation we have been given by the Congregation for Divine Worship proving an irritant and unwelcome gift to accept. But that discussion is for another day. Let us remain focused on our intended identity and belonging.

What becomes clear is that there is a careful balancing act for every Ordinariate priest and group to consider. We must remain distinctive and yet also a functioning part of that which we joined. Lean too far into diocesan inculturation and we fail to build the Ordinariate as the Holy See requires. Lean too far into the Ordinariate and we end up in a ghetto. Between these two pitfalls lies our true goal.

And the hard work isn’t only for those of us in the Ordinariate. The Catholic church called all Catholics to welcome the Ordinariate, to support it and be generous. It is hard to fulfil our mandate if begrudging cold shoulders are offered or meanness or nastiness is exhibited. There just isn’t any room for the sulking elder brother from the prodigal son! But where people have proved open and generous and accepting – there something beautiful has occurred. So at the end of the day it really does take two to tango! Stubborn refusal to dance – from either side of the relationship – must be resisted for it can only bring sorrow to God’s heart and a thwarting to the vision of Pope Benedict.

tightrope-300x218Consider this image. That is how the Ordinariate is intended to function. The balancing man being the groups where they exist. The rope being the support and resources we are given. The left hand is that of our Ordinary and the right hand is that of the diocesan bishops. We need all working together to avoiding falling by the wayside. A precarious position but with so much potential. Please pray that the balance is found.

Here is also a comment made by Mgr Andrew Burnham:

I am less sure that the problems of co-existence are theological or ecclesiological.

Every bit of the country is in a Catholic parish and, in most dioceses, the clergy depend on the income they receive for their ‘living’. Anglican benefices are also called ‘livings’, though nowadays the income of the clergy does not depend directly on them. Thus, when an Ordinariate priest takes over a diocesan parish he does not deprive anyone else of anything and generally is well accepted by fellow clergy.

If he is saying masses, or celebrating the sacraments, in someone else’s parish, then he is affecting the local priest’s income (or the diocese’s, where monies are sent in centrally). It follows that, in such cases, we shall encounter fear, saintliness, parsimony and generosity, according to whom we are dealing with.

The answer, it seems to me – and it will take some years and patience to get there – is for the Ordinariate neither to acquire premises in someone else’s parish – though we have a couple of good examples of that being the best way forward at this time – nor to convene Ordinatiate congregations at unsocial hours in someone’s parish, but to look for solutions where Ordinariate groups and clergy can staff and populate existing parishes, much on the lines of religious orders or the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. That will need patience and quite a bit more imagination than we have all mustered to date. I am very happy that Portsmouth is one of the three or four dioceses which is showing the way.

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6 Responses to Ordinariate parishes or diocesan parishes?

  1. EPMS says:

    A diocesan parish run by a relgious order draws its distinctive character from charisms of that order, which in turn are sustained by its communal life, local, national, and international, and the formation of its members. This does not exactly describe the current situation of Ordinariate clergy, although it could become more like that if the Ordinariates move away from ordaining former Anglican clergy and start forming their own candidates from within Ordinariate communities.

    • I do not understand this comment. The Ordinariates have a most decided charism – the Anglican patrimony. It is our task to identify, promote and embody this. (You are right if you mean that many priests working in diocesan situations do not yet have a clear vision of how to embody our charism in their current situation – this requires continuing formation and reflection.) The Anglican patrimony must also feature prominently in the formation of new priests. The laity also have an important part to play in maintaining, celebrating and sharing the patrimony (most religious orders don’t have their own laity).

    • Rev22:17 says:


      The ordinariate has a distinct character — its Anglican patrimony. That is not the issue.

      More fundamentally, each ordinariate congregation is in a particular situation that may differ radically from that of another congregation, and thus requires a solution tailored to its circumstances. Even congregations which superficially seem to be similar may in fact have major differences lurking below the surface.

      The ideal obviously would be for each ordinariate congregation to have its own parish church, hall, classrooms, rectory, office space, and other facilities — but a congregation that cannot even afford to pay a decent salary and benefits to its pastor obviously cannot afford the maintenance and upkeep of buildings, either, so some other solution must be found. The next best situation is to share facilities that are underutilized with a diocesan parish. This is the situation of the St. Athanasius community erected under the pastoral provision here in the Archdiocese of Boston, which meets in a church formerly belonging to a suppressed parish in which the receiving parish still celebrates one mass on each Sunday, so that each congregation can celebrate mass at a reasonable time. Several of the diocesan parishes entrusted to the care of clergy of Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham also seem to fit this model — most of these diocesan parishes seem to be small enough to have only one mass on a Sunday, so the pastor’s ordinariate congregation can have a mass at a convenient time in the same church.

      Unfortunately, such underutilized churches don’t exist everywhere. The result is that ordinariate congregations must work with what is available until they can find, or can develop the means to afford, a better situation.

      In any case, all ordinariate congregations must be about the work of evangelism to grow their ranks, as this will enable them to afford their own buildings in the future.


      • EPMS says:

        The fact that St Athanasius has stayed a community of about 35 for the past nineteen years gives one pause. Norm has suggested that the location, while convenient for the original members, has been an obstacle to growth.

      • Rev22:17 says:


        Yes, I believe that to be the case. The location is convenient for those who live in the Chestnut Hill, Back Bay, and Roslindale/West Roxbury sections of the city of Boston and in the suburbs to the west (including the town of Brookline), but it is not so readily accessible from suburbs to the north and the south of the city. If you look at a map of the region, you’ll see that Route 9 — a secondary divided highway (limited access in some segments but not in others) from Chestnut Hill westward, but city streets east of the Chestnut Hill area — provides direct access from the western suburbs, but residents of the northern and southern suburbs generally must take the inner beltway built as Route 128 and now officially designated as I-95 and I-93 around the city to get to Route 9 or muddle through congested city streets or winding secondary roads with lots of traffic signals to get to that community’s location.

        Practically speaking, it is not even viable to merge the St. Athanasius Community with St. Gregory the Great Church. Their meeting sites — St. Lawrence Church in Chestnut Hill and St. Patrick’s Church in Stoneham — are perhaps only ten or fifteen miles apart as the crow flies, but the most direct routes by motorcar are on congested city streets and secondary roads with a lot of signals. The highway route, described above, is over twenty-five miles — and St. Gregory the Great Church has already moved fifteen miles southward from its original location in the city of Beverly, Massachusetts, so the additional commute simply is not viable. Conversely, St. Lawrence Church has convenient access to public transportation, on which some of its members undoubtedly rely, and St. Patrick Church does not. Thus, they undoubtedly will continue as two separate communities for the foreseeable future.

        Realistically, I think that St. Gregory the Great Church is in a better position to grow substantially because it is accessible from either of two major highways — the aforementioned Route 128/I-95 inner beltway and I-93 which extends north-northwestward into New Hampshire from the city of Boston. This access provides outstanding potential for St. Gregory the Great to draw from a very large suburban area.


  2. EPMS says:

    Of course you are right about the Anglican patrimony’s being the charism, the raison d’être of the Ordinariate; it is just that it is more challenging for an individual pastor to identify and embody it than it would be for a Jesuit, say, not least because he is not living and working with fellow Ordinariate clergy. The question of the laity is interesting . Some articles I have read, for example those by Mrs Bogle, suggest that churches such as Precious Blood are attracting many new parishioners, but not primarily from among Anglicans, or former Anglicans. That is not to say they cannot embrace Anglican ways, of course. Something clearly has attracted them.

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