A Statement issued yesterday on behalf of the Bishop of Blackbun, the Bishop of Chichester, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, the Bishop of Beverley, the Bishop of Burnley, the Bishop of Edmonton, the Bishop of Horsham, the Bishop of Plymouth, the Bishop of Pontefract, Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS and others.
Anglican Catholic bishops have announced that in addition to the provision of an Ordinariate offered recently by Pope Benedict there is to be a new Society [of St Wilfrid and St Hilda] for bishops, clergy, religious and laity in order to provide a place within the Church of England where catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater churches of the East and West.
At two upbeat gatherings this week of over 600 clergy and religious from the northern and southern provinces of the Church of England, there was unanimous condemnation of proposed legislation to allow the ordination of women as bishops that will soon go to the dioceses for discussion, debate and approval.
The unveiling of The Mission Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda reflects a determination not to accept a Code of Practice as currently suggested by the General Synod but to work for and create a more realistic approach which allows the integrity of those who cannot accept this innovation to be preserved, to flourish and grow within the Church of England. This development represents a constructive initiative on the part of those who cannot accept the innovations proposed in legislation and who are hurt and frustrated by the General Synod’s inability to provide for their theological position.
The Society has been named after two English saints with a passion for the unity of the church and is expected to attract thousands of members. It was quite clear during the gatherings that many wish to remain loyal to the comprehensive nature (within the confines) of the Church of England despite the legislation and are unlikely to join the Ordinariate at least in the foreseeable future.
As with the Ordinariate further details about the Society and its life will emerge in the comings months. In the meantime a group has been asked to do some theological reflection about the identity of the Society, its common life and the way it might have the potential for ecumenical dialogue directed towards the goal of full visible communion with the rest of the Church catholic, both Eastern and Western.
The meetings were called by catholic bishops to allow those with concerns about the future to consult together. The gatherings were united in their concern about the disastrous implications the proposals will have for the cause of Christian unity with the Church both East and West and for the genuine comprehensiveness of the Church of England should the legislation pass. However it was clear that participants at the conferences are likely to take divergent paths in the future. But all are committed to a “parting of friends” and the maintaining of the closest possible relationship.
The Bishop of Plymouth, John Ford, on behalf of the Catholic bishops, said today: “It was greeted with utter incredulity that this debate should be allowed without any clarity concerning the promised provision for those unable to accept this innovation.
The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, published on 4th November 2009, was positively commended to the Sacred Synod of Anglican priests from the Southern Province, meeting at Westminster on 24th September, 2010. The Apostolic Constitution offers Anglo Catholics the way to full communion with the Catholic Church for which they have worked and prayed for at least a century and it is a way in which they will be ‘united and not absorbed’. Pope Benedict spoke warmly about the Apostolic Constitution when he addressed a meeting of Catholic bishops at Oscott College, on 19th September 2010, during his recent State Visit to the United Kingdom. He set the offer firmly within the developing ecumenical dialogue when he described it as ‘a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics’. This, then, is an exciting initiative for those for whom the vision of ARCIC of corporate union has shaped their thinking over recent years.
The crucial issue is the ministry of the Pope himself, as the successor of St Peter. Anglicans who accept that ministry as it is presently exercised will want to respond warmly to the Apostolic Constitution. Those who do not accept the ministry of the Pope or would want to see that ministry in different ways will not feel able to accept Anglicanorum Coetibus. The decision to respond to the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution is not dependent on the decisions of the General Synod or on any particular issue of church order. The initiative should be judged on its own merit. It will require courage, and vision on the part of those who accept the invitation, particularly amongst the first to respond. Although there are few practical details at present in the public forum, discussions have already been taking place as to how the vision of the Apostolic Constitution can be implemented. It is expected that the first groups will be small congregations, energetically committed to mission and evangelism and serving the neighbourhood in which they are set.
The website of the Society of S.Wilfrid & S.Hilda can be found here.