Recent posts by Fr. Hunwicke reminded me of how high the bar seemed to be set for us Anglicans coming into the Catholic Church. I remember my anger at all the hurdles we were required to jump over to become part of the Catholic family compared to what seemed to be incredibly lax standards for cradle Catholics. Now, I thank God for how rigorous it was.
The double-standard seemed so unfair because it focused only on us as individual believers and not on the communal nature of our parish families. It fractured our parishes and our Anglican Catholic Church of Canada because for many in our church family the hurdles were too high. I thought, gee, if these standards were applied to any Roman Catholic parish, how many could or would remain members? Catholics have a deep and understandable aversion to breaking up the family, that is made up of good and bad Catholics. But our parish family? It seemed no one cared. We lost a third of our members. It was awful. We could not bring one vestige of Protestantism into the Catholic Church with us as individuals or as a community.
This was apparently not just a Canadian phenomenon. Fr. Hunwick wrote [his emphases]:
It is twenty five years this year since the world’s leading Anglophone Catholic theologian, Fr Aidan Nichols read, at Littlemore, a thoughtful paper on the situation within English Christianity in the aftermath of the decision of the Anglican English General Synod to permit the purported ordination of women to the Priesthood.
And so the question arose of a group movement into full communion with the See of S Peter. Cardinal Hume began by asking whether these events might represent that Conversion of England for which so many prayers had been offered. But something … or somebody … caused him to change his mind. The May statement of the English Catholic bishops went out of its way to be offensive. We were a group which had adhered vigorously to the entire doctrinal package of the Catholic and Roman Church. But the English bishops, who had never seemed to be particularly draconian in their enforcement of orthodoxy, decided to start lecturing us on the need for those entering into full communion to accept everything … an everything we had been teaching for decades. Fr Nichols expressed our misery with his customary elegance … and not without a felicitous dash of irony: “That statement of the Catholic bishops leaves little to be desired where it speaks of the necessity of whole-hearted adhesion to the complete teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. If, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic episcopate in England has been, on the whole, a pastorally rather than doctrinally engaged episcopate, the statement represents a new quality of articulacy and firmness on what Cardinal Hume called the ‘table d’hote’ rather than ‘a la carte’ nature of the menu at the Church’s banquet”.
In other words, they hadn’t bothered much about doctrinal standards during the quarter of a century since Vatican II, but, with papalist Anglicans knocking at the door, the very highest standards should now be demanded. High and fancy bars to jump over; small and delicate hoops to squeeze through, were the welcome they wanted to be offered to us.
I had thought we had the hurdles and hoops applied to us in Canada (did the Australians come across the same thing?) because most of us were from the Traditional Anglican Communion, and considered by Anglican ecumenical partners the off-scouring of the Anglican world, “schismatics” or analogous to the Society of St. Pius X. So I found the comments of Fr. Hunwicke most interesting, since this was the experience of Church of England bishops and clergy—and Anglo-papalists to boot, who had been celebrating the Ordinary Form of the Mass—so they couldn’t possibly be considered “crypto-lefebrvian” like those of us were were drawn to more traditional liturgy.
During the period when we were being “formed” (surely, a horrid word) at Allen Hall … where the food was so very, very, good … we were taught very little about the Bible and the Fathers, but were endlessly drilled on the Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Magisterium. I still have all the voluminous teaching aids which embodied this teaching. They must have cost somebody quite a lot of money. It was apparently highly important for us to accept all those documents. I had no trouble doing so; they expressed what I had believed and taught all my life.
3. ANGLICANORUM COETIBUS
The Apostolic Constitution erecting the Ordinariates made clear that our doctrinal standard was to be the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was rational, since the CCC summarises the teaching of the Catholic Church. And it was promulgated as being, together with the Code of Canon Law, one of the major fruits of the Council.
5. THE PAST versus THE FUTURE
So, six or seven years ago, we were interrogated, indoctrinated, required to subscribe, the teaching Magisterially given in Conciliar and Papal documents, most particularly and insistently as regarding sexual matters.
So we went through the catechesis required of us. We assented to the full menu of Catholic teaching, including Humanae Vitae, the Marian dogmas and Papal Infallibility. I remember even hearing about artificial birth control from the pulpit!
What deep conversion was required of all of us—to say nothing of the deep trust required in the Lord because of the incredible uncertainty, coupled with what seemed like a lack of welcome in some quarters of the Church.
I remember complaining about all this to a cradle Catholic friend. “You’re lucky,” she told me. “We never got that kind of teaching.”
And in retrospect, I see she is right. As hard as it was; as grueling and painful as it was at the time, the experience forged a level of docility to the Holy Spirit and to the Catholic Church among all of us that bound us together in a deep sense of Communion among each other and with the wider Catholic Church.
I’m grateful now the Church was hard on us and required us to lay everything down in terms of any conditions in order to become members. I’m grateful, too, for the stress on solid doctrine.
The Catholic Church has been incredibly generous with us, though at the time of the hurdle jumping we had no idea whether our clergy would ever be ordained as Catholic priests; whether our liturgy would be patrimonial, whether we would be able to survive as a distinct community. Our dreams have come true. It’s all been more than worth it.