Why I remain optimistic about the Ordinariate


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…

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39 thoughts on “Why I remain optimistic about the Ordinariate

  1. A strange article and, like many things Ordinariate-related, will be completely baffling to most readers. It must be August silly season for the Catholic press as well as the mainstream press!

    I think Damian T likes to find “political intrigue” in whatever he sees. A waste of 3 pages and the cartoon on the front displays the real reason for the article – a dig at the Bishops. Thank you for balancing that point Father.

    Bishops and buildings are not the reason for the Ord being the size it is. Reason = people aren’t interested in joining it.


    1. Ah Bill- ever the voice of nay where the Ordinariate is concerned. If people aren’t interested in joining explain five vocations in our parish within the last five years, the rise in number of young people and in giving? Seems to me that where the Ordinariate is enabled to flourish it does.

  2. I think your response is gracious, Ed. I have been critical of some of your observations over the last five years as you well know, but I admire your courage and faith.

    We may see the current landscape a little differently but trusting God in the face of opposition is something we both value.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Well maybe the voice of Nay, but just trying to encourage an understanding of what is going on so that a way forward can be rationally determined. Otherwise your blog can sound too much like a PR campaign in the face of the bare facts and the numbers.

    Vocations ? Well you’ve not said that on here before and sounds like a result to me. Are these other than you and other ex-vicars then?

  4. Free priests? I think, in most cases, Ordinariate priests working in diocesan parishes are well paid by parish and diocese (as well as retaining all the usual fees).

    1. Free in that they cost the diocese nothing to train, and incur no pension or health care costs. e.g. zero risk to the diocese as all costs fall to the parish and Keith Newton.

  5. I work as a Diocesan Financial Secretary for a diocese where five parishes are served by Irdinariate priests – parishes that we could not continue to serve with resident priests of our own. I can assure you that the Ordinariate is a very good deal financially for us. The cost of training a priest these days works out at about £250k per man (c£30k per year for six years and about 1/3 not completing their formation). The cost of simply training the Ordinariate priests serving communities in our diocese would be of the order of £1.5m. Add to that the cost of providing in retirement and these men look like a very good deal for us indeed, even if the enhanced stipend and housekeeping we pay is taken into account.

  6. Dear Fr Ed, some good points here and of course I’m aware that other outstanding priests are part of the renewal. (One for two would not have thanked me for naming them.) Having attended an Ordinariate Mass just last Sunday, I’m convinced that it lies at the heart of what the new movement has to offer, and can’t see the point of the Ordinariate using the novus ordo. As a cradle Catholic who has had zero exposure to the BCP, I find that it does have an unfamiliar feel – but *some* of what is unfamiliar is straightforwardly Catholic and has been lost to the mainstream Church. There’s a lot of talk about the Ordinariate bringing an “Anglican patrimony” – but it’s also bringing Catholic patrimony with it, and no Protestantism at all. (For Protestant liturgies, just attend a Catholic parish church in a moribund European diocese.) Anyway, Fathers of the Ordinariate – illegitimi non carborundum!

    1. Thanks Damian- and I totally agree re the bringing home of Catholic culture. Our singing of the Angelus after each Sunday Mass being a case in point.

      1. The singing of the Angelus was never a part of [Roman] Catholic culture, Fr Ed: it was only ever found within Anglo-Catholicism. I’ve no objections to it of course, but to us it is a introduction, not a ‘bringing home of our culture’.

  7. Can this thread really get any more bizarre? I admire your commitment to the cause, and keeping the blog open to all comers like me. But from what I can make of what I have read – you like working in your parish but really want to be given an Ordinariate church (still don’t understand – and nor do you – how that would be maintained or paid for) and that would be much better than the second best you have been given for the time being.

    Secondly, you have tried to pass off ‘5 vocations in the parish in 5 years’ and when challenged it is nothing of the sort. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    I am sorry to challenge on these, but feel a responsibility to do so when the facts are just not quite right

    1. I have no desire to leave the parish but would value assurances that what we are building here will have roots- and wont just be closed by some officious prelate down the road. So having some stake in the parish would really help us.

      As to vocations there are five men now serving or training as priests for the catholic church who would not be here but for the Ordinariate. That is five vocations in my book how about yours?

  8. They are NOT five vocations from the parish – which is what you said originally. That would be a completely different proposition (and a truly remarkable one at that) in a small parish. And that was the point you were trying to make: “where the Ord is allowed to flourish, it is a success”.

    This kind of thing happens a lot on this blog.

    1. Myself, Father Nicholas, Jack Lusted, Fr Gibbons and Alisdair Ferguson. I count that as five men who are either ordained as Catholic priests or else moving towards that goal- all of whom are only serving in Catholic parishes because of the Ordinariate and all of whom came via Pembury in some form or another. What is that if not five vocations?

  9. I had the privilege of deaconing Ordinariate rite Masses in Florida recently… I look forward to more Ordinariate parishes and priests in England. The conversion stories of some of these people are nothing short of heroic!

  10. My parish, that belongs to an English diocese, had annual decreases in attendance until we got an Ordinariate priest. Now the numbers continually go up and up and up. Those who need home visits get them, on request, no longer any need to prove the reason. That never happened before the Ordinariate priest came here. The church, grade II listed, has been renovated, and made fully accessible to people who used to stay away because they could not get in due to disability. I have known quite a few priests who used to be vicars, and find them more approachable than the typical diocesan priest. They are not the sort to be on pedestals. Hey, we pray the Angelus if we get to weekday evening Mass.

  11. Too many Ordinariate priests are still Anglican in mentality … and just don’t ‘get’ the Catholic Church. They insist on training Anglican terminology and in behaving like Anglicans. Whilst a few former Anglicans have come over because of the Ordinariate, the number is pretty negligible. With the rise of the ‘reform of the reform’ among so many now, the Ordinariate feels like a spare part at best and, at worst, a red herring. As for Anglican Patrimony …. no one seems to know what that even is! I was very pro the Ordinariate in the early days and went out of my way to write to, and encourage, many new converts, and joined the Friends. But I do not see any growth or renewal and I get tired of very newly-ordained Ordinariate priests thinking that they can tell the rest of us how to be Catholics! It just gets boring and predictable … and is, in the final analysis, rather less than humble.

    1. Of course we are Anglican in mentality- that is the whole point of the Ordinariate!!
      As to newly ordained telling others how to be Catholic- well maybe some need to be told. It is hardly our fault that so many in the dioceses are unfaithful to the actual teaching of the church and seemingly content with risible liturgy owing more to protestant chorus traditions than actual Catholic liturgical praxis. Maybe a look in the mirror before slinging mud- we can all be nasty!

  12. The CH article, your blog and then the comments have been an education. I must get along to an Ordinariate Mass and see for myself. My nearest one is at Holy Rood, Oxford (an awkwardly modern building to stage a beautiful liturgy in)

  13. “If people aren’t interested in joining explain 5 vocations in our parish in the last 5 years”

    There were NOT 5 vocations in your parish in the last 5 years, as you have now explained. Nothing of the sort. 5 ex vicars from all over. All worthy people, etc etc but not what you said until challenged, and an entirely different proposition from the original one you tried to put forward.

    1. I still don’t get your issue here Bill. Five people becoming priests- all who were worshipping at St. Anselm’s and all of whom would not be there but for the Ordinariate. How is this not a case of a parish inspiring five vocations? If St Patricks Soho had offered five priests would you be asking for birth certificates to check where they originally came from? What is your point about our previous employment?

      1. Given that the Pembury congregation constitutes one eighth of the entire lay membership of the English Ordinariate, surely you should have ten priests, not just five. You’re slacking!

  14. I think leave this one as closed Father. You’ve now explained what you meant very clearly and it isn’t that Pembury has produced 5 vocations……any more than the village of Wimbledon has produced all the world’s tennis champions (!).

    “All of whom would not be there but for the Ordinariate”. Is the Diocesan route closed now then (that is not a rhetorical question I promise!)

      1. The point which Bill is making is that these are not ” new” vocations. That is obvious. They are of course no less valuable for the fact that the men concerned were previously clergy in another denomination. And they are of course vocations. But it’s not the same as five blokes in your parish getting the call and going up the day jobs to toddle off to the seminary which is what one could have been forgiven for understanding you to be saying Father!

  15. Catholicism has always stirred up debate and the Ordinariate will be no different. As a member of the Canadian Ordinariate I believe it will take time. Jesus’ ministry was not “off the ground” for many years. My experience is that many of the younger generation are thirsting for the foundations of the church and tradition. I meet many and they are always interested in my experiences as traditional Anglican prior to my joining the true church. I have never been happier. And, yes there have been times when I wondered if I had done the right thing. However, I am now certain I did. I love the richness of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and can never thank Pope Benedict XVI enough for his effort in formally establishing the Ordinariate. It will not fail, God will not let it.

  16. Give Fr Ed a break!
    I’m sure in due time Pembury will produce young seminarians from among its congregation – there is no doubt about it.. What St Anselm’s has achieved in a few years is a remarkable story which deserves to be heard, and it has been instrumental in producing five new Catholic priests, most of whom are also holding diocesan posts and rendering valuable service in the name of Christ.

  17. Fr. Masaki please don’t understand me. Of course what Fr. Ed has achieved in Pembbury is stunning. And of course there is every prospect that there will be new vocations in the years to come. New in the sense of never having been clergy previously. Just not yet. And it does no harm to concede that does it?

    1. None at all. Though do please note that the Ordinariate does have men in seminary – so it already has inspired lay to priest vocations.

      1. That’s really good news Fr. Do you have any statistics – just out of interest – for men in seminary who have come in though the Ordinarite who are lay to priest vocations?

  18. It would seem that since the “progressive” Anglican clergy essentially abandoned its communicants during the past fifty or so years and the laity responded by abandoning the Anglican Church, the example would encourage a bit more unity among the Ordinariate. This is certainly not the time for internal turf wars or arguments about nonessential externals. There is any number of disaffected former attendees of Anglican churches, including many who may not be fully aware of it yet, that are searching for a spiritual home. Let us make ever effort to provide it for them.

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