Damian Thompson has written an explosive article about the Ordinariate for this week’s Catholic Herald and it has got tongues wagging. Good for him, that is what excellent journalists do and, love him or loathe him, the marmite of the Catholic press certainly has a flair for eye catching headline and thought provoking analysis. What then to make of his article? It seems some wish to congratulate him on astute and honest observation whilst others feel the article was too negative and unhelpful. Here is my take.
First there is a difference in life between constructive and destructive criticism. Between a challenge from a friend who desires to help and the chiding of an enemy who seeks to wound. And who can argue that this is healthy criticism when both the Herald and Damian have championed the Ordinariate from its inception and would still love it to flourish long term? We would be wise to listen then; for this challenge comes from friends even if it proves uncomfortable in places.
And the over-arching message- which I agree with- is that fear, pessimism and weak leadership will sink us -and is already sinking us in places- whilst strong leadership, risk taking and pioneering vision will help us survive beyond a generation- as is also witnessed at present where the Ordinariate is effective. NB: it was nice to be singled out for that praise but others deserve it too.
Damian is also right to note instances of low morale within the Ordinariate at present. This needs to be addressed because dispirited souls do not build up the kingdom. But let us not be overly critical of those who have struggled because the reality is that many have been asked to minister with very little by way of support, reward or encouragement.
This journey, whilst exciting and full of promise, has been bruising at times. It is not easy pioneering a new chapter in the life of the church with no tangible resources and with disdain or hostility from certain local hierarchs and clergy. Change, as happened in Pembury, goes hand in glove with conflict. Should we really be surprised then that the more robust have coped whilst the more sensitive are struggling? Not every one is built for pioneering work. What then can we do to better support Ordinariate clergy- that is the point to take from the article. Not a delight in pointing the finger at those who might be failing.
As regards hostility of hierarchs a valid point was made but with too much force! It is not quite fair to state that all Catholic bishops have been unfriendly. Not so. A few have been truly horrible, most have been steadfastly neutral and a few gracious and friendly. Here in Southwark I can have no real complaint.
As regards lack of generosity the article is spot on. Despite papal requests for generosity none has been shown. Not a single building handed over- despite many closing in Britain each year. And where presbyteries have been purchased or churches loaned understand that the maintenance falls on the Ordinariate group whilst the asset remains firmly with the diocese! Who wins there? Here the lesson seems obvious- our own leadership must learn to be braver in negotiation for we have a resource the dioceses need- clergy- and they have resources we need- buildings and cash.
Instead of meekly rolling over we must adopt a tougher stance; if you want Father X helping you at St. Z then please give us this parish due for closure for our cause. If you want Father Y working there, give me a solid and reasonable sum to cover pension provision. To date we have been far too meek and have therefore allowed every situation to favour diocese and not Ordinariate. And it has led to ludicrous situations in which our priests are working 90% for the diocese and only 10% for our own cause; little wonder in such settings the Ordinariate is failing!
But again let us not be too quick to point fingers in this regard. Our leadership has itself had little by way of support and its first priority has been ensuring clergy families are housed and provided for. In theory my advice is sound but in practice it isn’t surprising to note caution when gambling on people’s livelihoods. The power, in truth, is with the diocesan clergy and it is they who need to be heroic and generous in helping establish the Ordinariate. Which is why Benedict spoke to them of this need at the outset and not to our own people. And I do think that the struggles we have faced begin and end here- with the response or lack of it by the English Bishops to the request of the Holy Father.
As regards liturgy I think Damian is, again, correct. We must move away from the nonsense that encourages Ordinariate clergy to choose between Divine Worship and Novus Ordo on personal preference alone. If you don’t like it tough- this isn’t about you! A deal must be struck that if a diocese benefits from free priests via the Ordinariate then in that parish the principle Sunday Mass will be Divine Worship. And Damian is also right to note that the Ordinariate is not well served by those of our clergy not convinced about its vision. If some need to be released to the diocese- because they are novus ordo to their core- let them go. We need focus and shared practice and we need people on board who are pulling in one direction.
We begin to see that the article in the Herald touches on many truths even if the tone is occasionally out. And it is here I feel I must make the most obvious corrective. For whilst I delighted in being singled out for praise it isn’t fair. Here in Pembury the story is manifestly not the Ed Tomlinson show; it is a collective work in which laity deserve fulsome praise, to say nothing of the delightful eccentric that is Father Nicholas! Nor is ours the only parish in which positive news is found. At Precious Blood in London, in the West Country, in the Midlands and in many other places besides one witnesses genuine growth and cause for optimism. It was I who suggested that the Oratorian model is one to emulate. And I remain optimistic that in the next decade we will have at least five or six centres of excellence in which our mission can be established.
Furthermore we should be encouraged that the points raised in the article did not come as a surprise. The reality is that Ordinariate II – as Damian names it- has been a work in progress behind the scenes for some time. It is what occupies our recently elected Deans and the Ordinary’s council, which led them to write the report ‘growing up and growing out’. A report which notes how when we first arrived the priority was simply to get clergy housed and cared for- and it is only now, five years on, that we are strong enough to ask more pertinent questions. How is the Ordinariate served in each situation? What needs to change?
Which is to say the baby Benedict delivered is becoming a toddler under Francis. And we are only just now able to begin the real process of growth and development. That would be my caveat to this article- things in their infancy are rarely as strong as they will become in maturity! Doubtless smaller groups will vanish and mistakes will and have been made. But the miracle is that we are still here- we do have successes to celebrate and we do exist at the heart of the reform of the reform. And – best of all- where we are allowed to flourish we bring growth and health. Hurrah!
Ultimately then I welcome the article. It is full of insight if a little off in terms of tone in places. But the bottom line is that I remain very optimistic. God has called us to something extraordinary and he will not abandon us…so long as we are brave and insightful and ready to take risks. Message received and understood in these quarters. Onwards and upwards we go…