Fr Peter Geldard, Catholic Chaplain of the University of Kent
This address began as a talk to the Catholic League’s annual pilgrimage for Catholic Christian Unity at the Beguinage in Bruges, Belgium, in September 2010 (see left). A shorter version was delivered at St Agnes’ Church, Kennington, on Saturday, 11 December 2010, and this at St John’s Church, Sevenoaks, on Wednesday, 15 December 2010.
I don’t know if many of you do remember me from the past, when I was the National Secretary of the Church Union. But if what I say could be of use to you, it is not only in the sense that I have been involved in the Ordinariate in the last six to nine months, but also that in some ways (when I tell you my life story briefly) you will see that I have been involved in it for perhaps the last thirty or forty years.
First of all, I am going to say just two things that, as it were, I am not going to say - but will refer to. The first is that I do not believe it is right or possible for me here to persuade you, or try to encourage you, to make a decision in your own lives that may not be appropriate, or may not be timely. Important spiritual decisions are always acts of faith and it is one of the mysteries of God that He gives that gift of faith to people at different times and in different ways. There are in each one of us on our pilgrimages the Nicodemus, as well as the St Paul. So it is very important that none of us get into a judgmental situation, let alone a rhetorical argument (whether within ourselves or with regard to other people), where the position you find yourself in demands that you must make a certain decision right here and now, or that you should have made it five years ago, or that you should be making it in a fortnight’s time. I say again, it is one of the mysteries of God that for different people at different stages they come to different conclusions.
We have seen that in our Church life’s history, particularly in England over the last 200 years, for some people there comes “a bridge too far”, or “a straw that breaks the camel’s back”; and sometimes it may seem almost insignificant in terms of the weight it carries. For John Henry Newman, you may remember, the great founder of the Oxford Movement, it was the Jerusalem bishopric. We may find it rather obscure today to think that that debate in 1841 about who should or should not be bishop in Jerusalem – an English Anglican, or a Prussian Lutheran and whether they were interchangeable - was the crucial issue; but for Newman it was the final moment. For Cardinal Manning, of course, it was the Gorham Judgement, the judgement of the Privy Council that overturned the Bishop of Exeter’s and the Court of Arches’ rulings that it was contrary to Church of England teaching to insist that baptismal regeneration (of infants particularly) was conditional upon a personal profession of faith – and this permitted a vicar to be appointed on the authority of the secular power without regard to episcopal authority. Different crises have confronted other people right up to the present day. After the Second World War there were some who found the Church of South India scheme too much, in that it provided for the gradual assimilation of Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian ministries in one united Protestant Church with a threefold ministry, by means of mutual recognition regardless of whether ministers were ordained by a bishop. For me, it happened when I had been for 20 years on General Synod, on 11 November 1992 at 5 o’clock – I remember it well –and the decision was made by the Church of England unilaterally to ordain women to the priesthood by a majority in the House of Laity of one vote. For me that was the bridge too far. But the crucial thing is, and I hope I have kept my word in this, that I have never judged anybody who came to a different conclusion, or who thinks differently at any given moment.
Part of my work, particularly in dealing with students from all over the world (I deal with about 18,000 students at the University of Kent), is to respond every year to the many students who come to me asking if they could be reconciled with the Catholic Church, some from Anglican backgrounds, some from other very committed backgrounds and some from none at all. I learnt very quickly that you never say, “Well, it depends on where were you last week, or what your position was the week before.” You simply just say, “The door is open; you’re welcome; come in”. In this way, I want to say something even more positive as well, and that is that all that has gone before is usually God-given. So one of the crucial things I always want to emphasise - and I hope this has been prominent in your thoughts and discussions - is that there is to be no denial of the past. The past and what God has done in it is something that he is building on, making it into something better and bigger. There is no question of you denying the Anglican sacraments you have received or the baptism you possess – all these things are God-given. And it is that grace that we build on: it is a going forward, not a looking back.
So that is the first point I want to be borne in mind, so we do not need to come back to it again. The second point to register, but that I do not want us to labour, is that I am not going to seek to convince you that it is the fulfilment of the Catholic life that we should be in communion with the successor of Peter. That I take as a sine qua non, something which, in the end, all of us believe is central. When I joined the Church of England - I came from a non-Church background as a young lad of 17 and a half, having grown up at Bexhill near Hastings, and I went to a church called All Saints, Sidley - almost within a matter of days of coming into that community I believed that the fulfilment of Catholicity was to be found in communion with the successor of Peter. I recognised it, staring at me in the face, in Scripture. In the little I knew then and have studied since of the Early Fathers, it stands out and it keeps being repeated. I also saw it being emphasised time and time again by scholars within the Church of England. I remember reading that great book by Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, The Gospel of the Catholic Church, written in 1936 and now too often forgotten, in which he makes that fundamental point that the unity of the Church and the wholeness of the Church are inseparable from the apostolic order and mission of the Church, by means of which it proclaims the Gospel and we live and bear witness as Christ’s disciples in the world. Thus he speaks not just of bishops and their role in the Church but of the one episcopate, the successor to the apostles, the organ of unity and continuity (p.220, 2nd edition, Longmans, 1956), which it is impossible to consider apart from its primate (p.228). He quotes the paper about the Papacy by Canon B. J. Kidd, Warden of Keble College, Oxford, at the Malines Conversations: “without communion with him there is no prospect of a reunited Christendom” (p.228). And he challenges a certain Anglican tendency to present the episcopate as just something that contributes to the bene esse of the Church, rather than what constitutes its esse (p.219). To Ramsey, this “one episcopate” of the universal Church, in which the Bishop of Rome is integral to its ever growing organic wholeness as the Body of Christ (p.220), is thus not just there for its benefit or wellbeing, it is of its very essence.
So, even though I knew that the Church of England led by the Archbishop of Canterbury was not united with the Catholic Church led by the Pope, I had that profound awareness of this one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of which the Church to which I belonged was clearly part, and by which God was able to work in us and and give us his grace, despite our divisions. I knew that in my life in the Church of England, first as layman and then as a priest, I was not in communion with the Pope, whose role and ministry is vital to the Catholic faith in which I believed and proclaimed; but yet I believed that God had his reasons and a purpose for me in the Catholic movement in the Church of England. Providentially and mysteriously he had put me in All Saints, Sidley, and he put me in the Church of England as he put you in the Church of England, because I believe categorically - and most of my life has been fighting for this - that our job was thus to do whatever we could to reconcile the whole body. As Catholic Anglicans, we were not saying that Catholicism was preferable to Anglicanism, we were not denying our Anglican sacramental life, and we were not denying our history. In fact we were attesting to the opposite. The great affirmation of the Oxford Movement, the Tractarian Movement, and the Anglo-Catholic Movement was, of course, to challenge the Church of England to recover her true catholicity, in her worship, her spirituality and in her history. And so the witness of Catholic Anglicans was not asking her to deny anything, but to affirm something that we believed was there but due to historical accident had sadly disappeared from view.
This is how I became heavily involved in working for unity within in the wider Christian Church and predominantly, of course, with the Roman Catholic Church. That was my aim and my ambition. I saw that the Catholic Church was the larger part of Christendom and that we Anglicans were western, but we broke away from it at the Reformation. So it was the duty of those Anglicans who realised this to try if we can to reconcile Christendom and heal our breach. Thus historically our job was to work within the Church of England to try to achieve that by every means - by getting the Lambeth Conference to pass resolutions in 1920 affirming this; and by encouraging the Church of England to become involved in closer relations and dialogue with Rome, notably through the theological dialogue of ARCIC, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. All that was to the good; all that was so hopeful for the cause of Christian Unity. One of the great joys I had when for ten years I was National Secretary of the Church Union was travelling all over the world, speaking, promoting and encouraging the ARCIC process, particularly in places where the bilateral discussions were being held - Australia, Japan, Korea, South Africa, the United States, a whole variety of places. I urged the case for ARCIC to come to fruition.
To cut a long story short, all this came of course to a climax in my life when, you remember, Pope John Paul II came to Canterbury in 1982. The stole he wore that day was one that I had presented to him personally a year earlier on behalf of the Catholic Societies of the Church of England. The greatest joy was when he came into Canterbury Cathedral with Archbishop Runcie and they stood in front of the throne of St Augustine. You may remember those historic words: “The successor of St Gregory greets the successor of St Augustine”. It appeared that there truly was a genuine chance that corporate reunion – as we referred to it – was a possibility within my lifetime. It is for that reason that I continued to labour within the Church of England. But then we fast-forward a little bit, only ten years, and that ideal, that hope, shattered. That was, of course, on that Wednesday afternoon in 1992, when I saw what came to be referred to as “an insuperable barrier” placed squarely in the path of the possibility of reunion. At that moment, whereas for the bulk of my life up until that point I believed that I was part of the wider Catholic Church, and the Church of England was part of the wider Catholic Church but contained within it (of course) people who emphasised Protestantism, in simple terms the circle turned. I realised that corporately the Church of England had become a Protestant Church, in which some people were desperately trying to be Catholic.
And so that, for me, was a dilemma. It was a dilemma which resulted, as some of you may know, in myself and six others being involved in very detailed negotiations with Cardinal Hume and other Catholic bishops of the time towards some kind of scheme of corporate reunion for Anglicans who desired it. These are now names that will be familiar to you – there was Bishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor of Arundel and Brighton , as he was then and successor to Cardinal Hume as he became; there was Cardinal Hume’s assistant, someone called Bishop Vincent Nicholls, who has now succeeded them both as Archbishop of Westminster; there was Bishop Allan Clark of East Anglia, who had been chairman of ARCIC; and there were one or two other ecumenical officers, such as Fr Michael Seed SA and Fr Anthony Nye SJ. On the other side there was the Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, myself and a few other priests, including Fr Brooke Lunn and Fr Michael Woodgate. I always say teasingly as I wrote in an article at the time, “I suppose in military terms we were rather heavily out-gunned!” But the reality was that we were there to negotiate the possibility of reconciliation. It happened, because of one of those quirks of history, that I had written an article in the Catholic Herald, a Roman Catholic newspaper, published on exactly the same day that the Bishop of London had written an article in the London Times. I described how I had become an orphan, how I believed that what the Church of England had done had destroyed something which to me was very precious; and that I was now seeking a new mother. Graham Leonard, using slightly different language, said he recognised the time had come for us to make our journey to the Catholic Church, that we were to come as supplicants and it was our job, perhaps, now never to talk in terms of demands respect for our position ever again. In the course of those discussions, of which books and articles have been written, with more and more coming out on the web occasionally, it was known that I was particularly involved in presenting details of something that was called the Pastoral Provision, which had already been set up in the United States. This was a unique arrangement, whereby individual Anglican parishes (or Episcopalian as they are known in the United States) might be reconciled with the Catholic Church, retain their own particular liturgy and, with their own particular ethos, remain as what were called pastoral parishes in something of their own right. They would come under the local Catholic bishop of the diocese in which they were situated and thus integrate with it, but at the same time they were to be allowed to retain all that they could of the past. Now admittedly in America such parishes have had the great advantage in many cases of already owning their building and being used to paying their own pastor. So if you made a decision to change allegiance, you could do so almost lock stock and barrel and the only cost involved in material terms was painting a different sign outside the door. For the most part, parishes carried on almost seamlessly - one week Anglican and Catholic the next.
I had been to the States many times and I had found out all the details they had about how this had worked. I presented everything to Cardinal Hume and the other Catholic participants at our meetings in England. I remember many weeks of discussing it. But one of the problems at that period of history - and many of you will know this because it came out afterwards - was that Rome insisted on unanimous approval from the Roman Catholic hierarchy in this country before a like scheme could be implemented here. Anything less than unanimous approval meant that things could not happen. No such unanimity was possible, so the result was that that concept of corporate identity among groups being reconciled could not in the end come to pass in England. Perhaps on the Day of Judgement we shall see the whole plan laid out and realise how the hand of God was at work in this. Whether, in fact, seeds were sown then that have borne fruit in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and the prospect of an Ordinariate that are now before us, I leave for history to decide. I remember the sixteen boxes of great big folders I had and, rather than see the waste of all my efforts, I said to Cardinal Hume that I hoped he could do something with all this work. He rather sweetly said he would post it all to Rome. Being still a young man, I was concerned about the cost of the postage and he said, “Peter, have you ever heard of the diplomatic bag?” So all this went off to Rome and whether or not this had any influence I don’t know. But what I do know is that, during my time as General Secretary of the Church Union, three times I met John Paul II and three times I met his assistant, someone called Cardinal Ratzinger. On something of shorthand terms, I once had a conversation of about twenty minutes with him and the concept of corporate reunion was something we talked about. So possibly seeds were indeed sown.
Ironically in the birthplace of Anglicanism, with no hope of a Pastoral Provision in England for Christians of Anglican tradition owing to the opposition of English Catholic bishops of the time, there was no possibility of a structure to maintain or care for groups or parishes with their own identity. The only way open to Anglicans to become Catholics, individually or in groups, was what we called Individual Submission or Individual Conversion. I had finished in London at the Church Union and I was then serving as priest of a church in Davington in Faversham which is part of the Canterbury diocese, a sweet lovely medieval church which was actually attached to a house. This caused a lot of confusion because my name is Geldard, but the owner of the house was someone called Bob Geldof, so there were many times when our names got confused in the newspapers. It also got confused in the telephone bill and once I opened mine and saw that I had spent something like £8,000 on calls, before I realised that it was his bill and not mine. Surprisingly, the cheques never came the other way! Anyway, there I was at Davington in Faversham, and from 1992 I thought it right to spend two years with my people praying, reflecting and deciding what was right. For the situation which I faced then - and it may be one that many of you face now - was that “you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. If you act immediately, you are accused of being impetuous; if you delay and you think and you reflect, you are accused of being opportunist. In the end I felt it was right that we explore all the possibilities. We got speakers in to talk about what was then called “The Roman Option”; we got speakers from Orthodoxy; there were people begging me to create what we could almost call a Continuing Church, virtually a Congregationalist church; and of course there were others who said that, if we were part of the Church of England, then we must accept the decisions made. And we wrestled with all that.
After two years, I felt it was right that I declared my hand. But not knowing it fully, although I sensed it, I knew there were others in the parish that had been thinking the same as me. When I announced my decision, 34 others in the parish made the same decision - all the church officers and the whole parish council. Thus 35 of us were received into the local Roman Catholic church in Faversham. Then, in ways that I still do not fully understand, I waited to see what the outcome those discussions with Cardinal Hume would be. At the time I resigned, the possibility of a married man like me being ordained had never been talked about, let alone put into practice; and so I resigned and there was that long period of silence and worry and concern. After that, as far as the way that the Catholic Church often works, so the saying is, “the rest is mystery”. Suddenly the phone went and basically they said, “We’re going to ordain you and we’re going to make you the Catholic Chaplain of the University of Kent just down the road, so you can stay in the same house.” I have enjoyed that work that God has made possible and given to me for the last sixteen years.
And during those years it has been interesting to recall the many conversations with others who have wondered, as I had done, about what is right for them. All that wondering changed, I believe, last November in 2009, when out of the blue came this booklet, which I am sure you are familiar with, called Anglicanorum Coetibus. If you have not yet read it, do not worry. If you have already read it and it is not all that clear, do not worry either. In a sense it is like the telephone directory – there’s no point in just reading a document like that and thinking you will get all the answers. It is not a narrative, nor is it the story or the explanation. It is “legalese” and it is job is to describe the administration of the Ordinariate once it is created. Mysteriously, perhaps, it does not tell the story behind how the Ordinariate should be created or what its “patrimony” may look like, because this is a constitutional document to provide for all time for the creation of a number of different possible Ordinariates, whereas the creation of each actual Ordinariate which it provides for will be over in a whisker when it happens. And so we are in that interim period where the creation of the Ordinariate lies ahead; and once the Ordinariate in England is up and running, it will be run according to this booklet. It is like when I always say to my students, as I try to help them when they struggle with their exams and their essays: “In the last resort, don’t read the book, look at the picture!” And so, if anyone asks what Anglicanorum Coetibus is all about, I say, “Look at the picture.” And this is crucial. It is not a picture of an individual “swimming the Tiber”, it is a picture of a bridge. What has changed - and of course it is the initiative of Pope Benedict that has caused this change to happen worldwide and particularly here in England – is that there is now a bridge that makes it possible for groups of people with their pastors to move and be reconciled, staying together, maintaining their patrimony and their heritage and all that they love, but fully incorporated with the wider Catholic Church.
This is so radical and so phenomenal that most people have still not got their heads round it. They can say what it isn’t, but they find it very difficult to say what it is. It is not a so-called “uniate” church, one of the historic Eastern Churches in union with the see of Rome, and yet it seems like a “uniate” church because of its own liturgical provisions and “patrimony”. It is not a bi-ritual church in the sense that it does not have a separate liturgy, yet at the same time it can have its own distinctive liturgical characteristics as well use the liturgy of the Western Church – which for many, of course, is the one they are using at the moment. It is not a specialist body for clergy like Opus Dei, although it does have an Ordinary who is going to be in charge of it in his own right, and the Ordinary will not be in Rome like a major religious superior, but in England close to his pastoral charges and as an integral part of the Church here. And so the whole thing in one sense is very confusing, yet in another very exciting. Above all, what it is - and I use these words carefully – is what I believe all of us, me in my lifetime and the generations who followed the Oxford Movement during the last 150 years have been desirous for. What we worked and longed for these long years has come about.
The greatest hope I had as an Anglican was for ARCIC to succeed. So one of the questions you have to ask is, “If we were all in earnest at ARCIC, and Rome claims it was in earnest in ARCIC, what would have been the result if ARCIC had come to an achievement within six months? What would have been the practical outcome?” The practical outcome would, of course, have been a corporate reunion of the whole. But the possibility of that in my lifetime I saw fading; and those who have known the Church of England since 1992, know that it has faded even further. But what has happened through the Apostolic Constitution is that Pope Benedict has revived the hope and offered the chance of corporate reunion along the lines that ARCIC might have achieved for all those right around the world who are desirous to have it. To use an analogy that others have used, he has sent a boat to pick us up, he has sent us a boat with extraordinary qualities, which will be our own. It is flying an ex-Anglican flag; it is being captained by an ex-Anglican Ordinary; and all the crew will be ex-Anglican. The hymns it sings, the ethos it has will be ex-Anglican. It has all the designs we could want and yet some people are saying there is one fault; and that is, if you go down into the engine-room, although the engine itself is ex-Anglican, you will see a little brass plate that says this boat was designed on the advice of ex-Anglicans, it was built by a man in Rome. Well, if that is the only fault that some people can find with it, it is like criticising someone for making the present you asked for. For it is in fact an offer which I believe we need to respond to as generously as it has been given.
It is also a challenge which all of us have got to reflect upon. You cannot blame it for not answering questions and addressing considerations over which it has no control. To look at one burning question at the moment, for instance, It cannot be blamed because it cannot categorically say, “You can have this building, bricks and mortar, lock stock and barrel”, because it does not own this or that building, or have any say over what belongs to the Church of England. I believe there are solutions to such questions with good will, perhaps an ecumenical Church Sharing Agreement, of which there are many examples in England already among different local denominations, to enable an Anglican parish and an Ordinariate Catholic parish to sustain their use of a cherished place together. But I beg you not to be locked into thinking too much of how you can take properties with you. Property is a liability. The pilgrim church must always travel light. Even so, there are possibilities in certain cases for people to be able to continue to use the buildings they know, because economic circumstances may tend to make that practical, even attractive, where it is difficult for an Anglican or an Ordinariate group to maintain the use of a church on their own. You do not need relations between Catholics and Anglicans determined and complicated when it comes to property. But with good will something may be possible.
The question I cannot answer is, “What is it going to be like in six months time?” What I can say is that the speed at which things are now happening is quite phenomenal. I stand judged if I get it wrong, but I believe that three of those bishops who have resigned will be ordained as priests by the end of January. I believe three or more will be ordained about a month later. I believe that groups will be starting to be reconciled at the beginning of Lent; they will be allowed to retain their pastor and they will stay working and worshipping together. There will be no question of taking the pastor away, as it was in my case, saying “Right, you go off to seminary for a year or two”. No; as I say rather teasingly, they will be resprayed very quickly in about ten weeks, they will be ordained, and they will continue their pastoral life, alongside any additional studies following on after that - exactly what happened in the Pastoral Provision in the United States and that we recommended for England as far back as 1992.
That is a phenomenal breakthrough. It is a great change of mindset for the Roman Catholic Church to commit itself to, and I cannot emphasise that to you strongly enough. But it has come about because of somebody with the exceptional qualities and insight that belong to Pope Benedict. He understands Anglicanism. He is a scholar of Newman, a lover of Newman and he is committed to Newman’s objectives Newman for the Church, for its people, and for Christianity in England.
I leave you with two quotations. The first is from Victor Hugo (Histoire d’un Crime, 1852/1877, end of chapter 10):
There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.And then those words of Brutus from Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat
and we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.
God bless you.