Saturday 12 December 2020

2020 - December update

 Owing to the successive lockdowns and other restrictions resulting from public health regulations during 2020, we have not been able to conduct an Annual General Meeting, which has had to be postponed until an early opportunity in spring 2021. Since far from all members have online communication means, we decided to wait until it was possible to invited all to a physical meeting as usual.

In the meantime, we have taken forward a further research on recently uncovered archive material on the Congregation of the English Mission, the Vincentian-inspired structure proposed for a scheme of corporate Anglican-Catholic reunion in the late 1980, which was a precursor to the format that took shape in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.

We will communicate with members and supporters praying for organic unity in a Newsletter for the run up to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2021.

Friday 10 May 2019

Look to the Rock - New History of the League and its 100 years of contribution to Christian Unity

A history of the Catholic League, the movements that led to it, its life and longer term and wider significance is now published by the Canterbury Press.

Written by the distinguished papal and Catholic historian, Dr Michael Walsh, it also has a foreword from Bishop John Hind who led on Anglican-Catholic dialogue for the Church of England as Bishop of Chichester.

All members of the League receive a complimentary copy. For others, and to order further copies, here is the flyer from Canterbury Press.

Alternatively, here is the link to purchase on Amazon. And here the link to order from Canterbury Press.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Bruges Annual Pilgrimage - The Holy Blood & Our Lady of the Vine - 6-10 September

Every year for at least 25 years, an ecumenical group - Anglicans, Catholics, and others - have been going to the Beguinage in Bruges, to live and prayer for the visible unity of Christians. We stay with the Benedictine Sisters at their monastery in the beautiful setting of the Begijnhof. We always go at the time of the Patronal Festival on September 8th - Our Lady of the Vine, and honour their 14th century image of the Mother of God bearing her Son, Himself the Vine. We also visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood for its Friday principal sung mass, and venerate the sacred relic of the Lord's Passion.

Each evening there is a talk of Marian, historical, ecumenical or other spiritual interest; we worship with the sisters at their offices (Gregorian chant in Latin), and there are celebrations of the Eucharist for both Catholics and Anglicans.

Full board. Travel & insurance not included. Euros 230, payable on arrival.

Download Leaflet here.
Download Application & Booking Form here.

Saturday 20 January 2018

May they all be one: the vocation of Lambert Beauduin & Chevetogne. A film by Alexia Veriter

Part One

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Part Two

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Whole Documentary

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Tuesday 9 January 2018

Catholic League History: Lecture by Dr Michael Walsh

January 29th 2018 - 7pm

The Catholic League and the Second Vatican Council

Dr Michael Walsh

St Clement Danes Church Crypt, The Strand, WC2R 1DH

All welcome: register with the Secretary of the Anglo-Catholic History Society - Mr Brent Skelly,

Saturday 6 January 2018

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018

As the Week of Prayer 2018 draws close, we recall that its founders were driven by a Catholic understanding of the Church's unity, and its need of re-integration and reconciliation. It is not a Protestant device, for its roots have grown alike through Protestant renewal movements, Catholic teaching on the Church and human society, and Orthodoxy too, towards an ecumenism that should serve none other than the visible and organic unity of Christ's people in His one Church. To this is integral both sharing in Catholic faith and living, and unity in communion with the Bishop of Rome as successor of Peter. Unity is never the missing piece of the jigsaw, the last step in the process: unity is where we have come from, just as it was prayed on the night before Our Lord died: a prayer, a command and a promise that we all be one, as the Father and the Son are one, so that the world may be convinced that Christ was sent so that the world might believe and live in hope.

Please look at our websites that tell the story of Prayer for Christian Unity.
  • gives the history, the movements, the people and the resources that continue the work
  •, tells the story of the remarkable Fr Paul Couturier, who re-founded the Church Unity Octave to enable all Christians (indeed all people) to share in the Catholic Church's prayer for unity, to live by spiritual ecumenism, and to hope for the reintegration of the whole Church in one people of God
  •, our work over many years to honour the martyrs on all sides of the Church's divisions, as witnesses to reconciliation in Christ not only in their own pursuit of faithfulness, but also in the fruit of repentance, new memory, and reconciliation for today and the future.
Also, here is the link to our annual prayer sheet, based on the writings of Paul Couturier, promoting closeness in personal prayer and repentance towards unity, which can also be used in services in Church, especially at the Prayer of the Faithful:

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Film - Chevetogne's Ecumenical Vocation

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018

May they all be One
The Monastery of Chevetogne and Its Ecumenical Vocation
A Film by Alexia Veriter

Friday 19th January 2018
6-30 pm (after Mass in the Church of Our Lady Immaculate at 6 pm)
With discussion and a reception

Mount Street Jesuit Centre,
114 Mount Street, London W1K 3AY
By kind invitation of Fr Dominic Robinson SJ and the Jesuit Community and generous support from the Catholic League

For the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, KTOTV (French Catholic TV) has made a documentary about the Benedictine monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium, founded to promote Christian Unity, by mutual encounter, understanding, dialogue, prayer and worship. The Chevetogne community continues to be closely involved internationally in Catholic-Orthodox, Catholic-Anglican and Catholic-Reformed dialogue and friendship.
Newly subtitled in English, the 52 minute film hears from the monks and their friends about their work in the monastery, their study and ecumenical engagement, and their spirituality and worship of the community in its two churches - Latin rite and Byzantine rite.

All are welcome. Admission is free but a donation is requested.
Tickets: (search Chevetogne)

Friday 1 December 2017

Church Unity & the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: Unitas Newsletter, December 2017 - Priest Director's Message

True Ecumenism is the answer to Division in pursuit of Truth

All Hallows’ Eve 1517 – the day when a young Augustinian friar, Dr Martin Luther, posted a notice in the church door at Wittenberg, questioning the way the Church made use of “The Treasury of Merit”.  Such a treasury is the image for the inexhaustible and ever accumulating virtue of Christ, and - by the grace of God – of His Saints. It can be drawn on, so as to compensate for the sins and shortcomings of the rest of us who seek forgiveness and to be close to God in this life and the next. Rather some bank account to debit or lending credit, however, it is an unceasingly abundant well.

That evening in Fra Martin’s community church, First Vespers of All Saints would have called upon the intercession of the saints in glory. The following day, Mass would have been offered in their honour, and for our good in their name. The day after that, Luther would have said his three masses for the repose of the holy souls and the early completion of their sojourn in the purifying heat-lightening of purgatory. Luther began his religious and theological journey without argument against the teaching of the Catholic faith, but against the way the official Church seemed to be playing upon the misunderstanding of that faith in the part of the people. Instead of a bottomless treasury of God’s grace - a loving gift for repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and renewed faith and trust in Christ – there was connivance at people’s impression that it was commercial treasury:  you paid in, you drew out; if you got into debt, you made up for it. The appearance that indulgences for remitting sin in return for lay people’s payments - to reduce their own future time and punishment in purgatory or that of the dead – was not challenged, at least not sufficiently. Nor, so Luther thought, was the true Catholic explanation taught.

Indulgences, like the recent Holy Year of Mercy, are meant to be assurances of God’s free bestowal of blessing and mercy, a response in love to those who, from their hearts, piously and penitently practice their faith and frequent the sacraments.  This can include an act of pure charity, like helping the work of the Church and its proclamation of God’s Kingdom. In 1517, the largest practical work of the Church was the vast capital cost, requiring international support, of the replacement of the collapsing St Peter’s Basilica in Rome over the resting place of the Apostle Peter. It seemed fitting that the successor of Peter, to whom had been entrusted the power of the keys to bind and loose the guilt and consequence of sin, could assure God’s mercy and freedom to those who were generous: heart speaking to heart, grace upon grace. However much this was explained, to the sixteenth century mind however, especially in the prosperous trading north, this looked like a straight-forward transaction: “Tell me how much you want, and I will pay it, if it gets me off purgatory - and my loved ones too”. Realistically, the Church needs assets and resources to fulfil its mission, and the Lord provides. But people can tend to imagine that “the water without price” in the Kingdom can also come free of cost in this. Was Luther objecting to nothing more demanding than the sixteenth century equivalent of the Planned Giving or Stewardship Campaign? Or was a more fundamental principle at stake?

Dr Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, in an interview with Sarah Montague on the 500th anniversary of the Wittenberg event, gave a characteristically fascinating account of both the consequences that we still live with (not just a divided Church, but also a disastrous theological justification of anti-Semitism) - and the missed opportunities. Why did both sides see it as a zero-sum game, he asked? How is it that Christians, of all people, massacred each other in the aftermath? Why were those who tried for a solution other than the schism unsuccessful? What if Luther had not placed his beliefs and his resentment of the “Catholic establishment of his day” above the visible and organic unity of the Church? What if the Pope, instead of seeing Luther as a dangerous force to be shut down, had distinguished between some fair comment and the erroneous ideas advanced in an academic disputation: what if he had said, “This man has a point. There are real abuses and we need to sort them out.” Sarah Montague asked the great question: “If that had happened, would there have been a need for your Church to exist at all – would you be a Catholic?” Dr Williams said that he would be a Catholic indeed, but that the Catholic Church would also have developed differently had there been no schism, and today’s Catholic Church would be different from what it became.

He did not elaborate on this and it rather invited speculation as to where he thought the 16th century’s abuses have led it still to be wrong to this day. Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Dr Williams’ predecessor but three, taught that the Anglican Church is not an end in itself; it is provisional on the way to the re-integration of the unity of the whole Church. Thus, while we are in the times of disunity, its tradition is providential, so that it may witness, he believed, to what was essential to the Universal Church but was not yet manifested in all the other Churches. By the same token, Ramsey believed, there were aspects of the fullness of the Church not present in Anglicanism that impelled it to seek unity.

Heart speaks to heart: Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism says that, for as long as the baptised remain separate from one another, the Catholic Church fails to manifest her full catholicity in all her bearings. So, even the Catholic Church, which is provides all that is necessary for the fullness of Catholic life, faith and unity, is lacking in some way. St John Paul II, picking up a luminous element of the work of Paul Couturier to animate the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians (in which the founders of the League were involved), developed this by identifying the need for the true spiritual ecumenism. This does not stop at getting to grips with the hard questions of theological dialogue, but burrows deep into the hardness of hearts and religious mentalities. Nor does it rest at respecting and valuing the riches in the traditions from which we are separate. It also demands that we exchange them among us. We can make them our own, with integrity and fidelity to our own tradition and the one binding truth of Christ. Thus they are enrichments, when they express - as they do for others from whom we are separate for the moment – our own faith and witness to His work of salvation.

The Price of Reformation

The irony of observing the genesis of the German Protestant movement in England is that it was rejected by the Reformers in England. King Henry VIII famously denounced Lutheran sacramental theology, and English Protestants shaping the formularies, doctrine and polity of the reformed Established Anglican Church looked to Strasbourg in France and Zurich in Switzerland more than to Luther’s approach in Germany and Calvin’s in Geneva. Or at least they were careful to take from each what was suited to their English conditions from a range of available examples, rather than allow one theory to dominate. The term “Elizabethan Settlement” is famous for the relative harmony struck among English Christians in that long reign, which tolerated many shades of Reformed belief – from crypto-Catholics to Calvinists, Episcopalians to Zwinglians - on condition of outward conformity. The price was, of course, the religious and civil exclusion of Catholics faithful to the Church’s unity with Rome, and particularly the doctrine of the priestly sacrifice of the mass.

Another uniting factor was the need for reformers to follow through on their teaching about the religiously legitimate power of the earthly ruler to govern the Church on his territory (i.e. to the exclusion of the Pope). So, when Henry VIII needed a different wife to provide a male heir, Thomas Cranmer obligingly broke up a sacramental marriage with a spouse still living (Catherine of Aragon), and Philip I of Hesse’s bigamous marriage was accepted by Luther (who had benefited from his protection), Melanchthon at Wittenburg and Bucer in Strasbourg. The indissolubility of Christian sacramental marriage remains to this day a defining belief of Catholics, on which the Church’s Catholicity stands or falls.

How necessary was the Reformation – where was the good?

In such lights as these, the observances of the 500th Anniversary have scrupulously avoided the word “celebration”, out of concern for Catholic sensitivities and a genuine acceptance that the Reformation led to half a millennium’s division among western Christians that shows no sign of healing, despite our ecumenical efforts and a newly discovered mutual, appreciative friendship between Churches. There has also been extensive expression of repentance for the suffering and damage caused in the history common to us all. But there persists an assumption that is false: that the Reformation was necessary, and that it was a necessary good to correct abuse. It may have been a consequence of abuses that were not addressed, it may have been the unstoppable result of persons’ behaviour and theoretical attitudes put into practice. But necessary?

Archbishop Rowan stressed how indispensable repentance on all sides is, as we approach our histories and our futures. We have to face the violence that tore Christians - supposedly the paragons of love - apart, as well as embrace the determination not to veer for any reason from the painstaking steps to the unity which Christ commanded, “so that the world may believe”. He also said that the shock of the Reformation divide directly led to the Catholic Church’s own comprehensive programme of purification, self-correction and reform emanating from the Council of Trent beginning from 1545. He saw the Counter-Reformation as a good result of the Protestant Reformation, even if it failed to achieve the repair of the separation.  Except, of course, that England under Mary I (1553-58), instead of turning the clock back to the Medieval Church, served as the laboratory for the Catholic reforms of Trent. They won positive acceptance and also a measure of reconciliation in the Church and the country. This was because the Counter-Reformation was not the product of a “necessary” Protestant Reformation, but because both were fruits of the movements of spiritual renewal that had gathered pace for centuries.

Consider the trajectory of the Devotio Moderna from the 14th century onward:  the rediscovery of lay people’s desire for the practice of simplicity and purity in personal life, as well as that of the Church and clergy, leading to hopes of reform in the Church and to a new sense of people’s interior spirituality. We know this from The Imitation of Christ (not so much “What would Jesus do? What would I do if I were in Christ’s place?” as “What would Christ do if He were in my place?”).We also trace it in the Beguine movement in the Low Countries, the outlook of Erasmus as well as St Thomas More, and its effect not just on the instinct of key reforming figures like Luther, Bucer, Melancthon and Zwingli, but also in the Carmelite reforms associated with St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, and the remarkable force unleashed in the Catholic Church’s renewal thanks to St Ignatius Loyola. It is worth bearing in mind here that, when Henry VIII began the arrests and executions of those who were faithful to Catholic unity and belief in Christian marriage, it was not those blamed for abuses that he targeted, but those who were at the forefront of England’s Catholic spiritual renewal. He went for the Carthusians (and in time their disciple, St Thomas More) and the Observant Franciscans, because their renewing influence threatened the system he inherited and needed to control.

In other words, at the time of the first breach in Catholic unity in England, reform was already a movement bearing fruit, all aided by the printing press, in the devotional life of the people, the pastoral work of the priests, the life of the monasteries (which were closed for their spiritual depth as much as for their assets), and the deepen internalisation of the Catholic faith in the life of regular individuals. As Sara Montague perceptively asked, “If reform within the Church had happened, would there have been a need for your separate Church to exist at all – would you be a Catholic?” Well it was happening and so the answer of the Catholic League has always been, “No necessity for separate Churches. Vital necessity of “endeavouring to keep the unity in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.3), and where there is no unity, to rebuild it.

The first good that we can extract from the history of the Reformation, then, is our desire for those whom we miss in other Churches and without whom the Catholic Church in which we believe is no not complete. The second is the impulse toward the true and truthful ecumenism of which Paul Couturier, the fathers of Vatican II and St John Paul spoke: the enriching and purifying exchange of God’s gifts of Himself in the Church for the benefit of all humanity, so that all are bound to and nothing may separate us from unity in Christ.

In everything I have written about ecumenical matters as a Catholic, I trust that what shines through is my deep love and gratitude for the Church of England and all that its history and patrimony have offered to wider Christianity, and for the witness to Christ’s truth that, as Michael Ramsey (who was such a friend to me), said, it has “providentially” stood for. God has likewise bestowed on the Protestant and Reformed Churches, from above our human wranglings and our inability to be at one, gifts and insights that He truly destined for us all. But no new idea, no personal principle, nothing - despite what the Reformers said - stands above the imperative for the disciples to be one, to be faithful to the Truth of Christ that binds us, and to be obedient to the Spirit who leads us not off on our own but into that which Christ calls “All Truth”. This “All Truth”, which impels toward unity of faith in the Universal Church of Christ, subsists in fullness in the Catholic Church.

In a sense, even though the event of 1517 has shaped our history, it is irrelevant to speak of what might have happened if Martin Luther had been less intransigent towards a Pope who might have been more willing to address his concerns; it is also irrelevant to ask whether the Reform within the Catholic Church, rather than splitting it, could have won all hearts, such that the shape of European Christianity would have been very different. For what matters now, as we approach the 111th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity together, is what we do with the situation we have received. Christ in the Garden prayed we would be one. On his Cross he gave to Mary His Mother and St John the concrete pattern of how it must always be from that moment on: One House. Not a collection of varied opinions, but “all the believers of one heart and mind” (Acts 4.32).

Sunday 16 July 2017

Annual General Meeting, 3rd July 2017 - Priest Director's Report and Address

Report on Activities, 2016-17

To review our activities as a charity on the members’ behalf, the pursuit of our historic objectives and the wider public benefit that they serve, it is most convenient to categorise them in terms of

(a)   External grants

(b)   Pilgrimage work

(c)   Publications

(d)   The management of our historic movement devoted not only to Christian Unity but also to the reconciliation of the Churches and all Church Bodies.

A. External Grants
First, we have made several grants, as usual. These include:

i) The Anglican Centre in Rome, for bursaries so that Anglicans from parts of the world with fewer resources can benefit from study in Rome and a deeper encounter with the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith at its heart

ii) The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, towards the refurbishment of the Catholic League’s Chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Victories and the Holy Cross, with the Chantry for Fr Fynes-Clinton, the founder. Our trustee

iii) The Sodality of the Precious Blood, a constituent society of the League for celibate Anglican priest members in pursuit of holiness of clerical life and the promotion of the Catholic faith, life and worship in the pastoral work of the Church.

(Declaration of interest: One of the League’s trustees, Prebendary Graeme Rowlands, is a Guardian of the Holy House at Walsingham and Priest-Director of the Sodality, and took no part in the decision to award the above two grants.)

iv) The Society of St John Chrysostom, which we support to advance East-West unity and the reconciliation of western Christians and Orthodox Christians in fullness of communion with the Apostolic See of Rome, in pursuit of the League’s objects

v) The Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust, which we support to promote the spiritual life and Catholic faith in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the reconciliation of all Christians in fullness of communion with the Apostolic See of Rome, in pursuit of the League’s objects.

(Declarations of interest: One of the League’s trustees, Fr Mark Woodruff, is Chairman of the Society of St John Chrysostom and Secretary of the Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust, and took no part in the decision to award the above two grants.

Another trustee, Mr Cyril Wood, is Treasurer of the Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust, and took no part in the decision to award it a grant.)

B. Pilgrimage
Secondly, to promote the spiritual life and the reconciliation of all Christians and their Churches, we actively promote ecumenical pilgrimages.

i. The League is an official sponsor of the biennial Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust’s pilgrimage to Walsingham and other Marian shrines, in view of the League’s foundational involvement with the restored Pilgrimage to the Holy House. Two trustees of the League are also trustees of EMPT, namely Fr Mark Woodruff (Priest Director) and Mr Cyril Wood (Treasurer). Other trustees are also actively involved as supporters and pilgrims.

ii. The League’s annual pilgrimage to Bruges, visiting the Basilica of the Holy Blood and Our Lady of the Vine at the Beguinage has been a permanent feature of the League’s devotional life for over two decades. 16-20 pilgrims attend each year, drawn from Anglican, Catholic and occasionally other traditions. This covers its own costs and only exceptionally draws on the League’s resources. The addresses in the past few years have been given by Fr Philip Corbett, Brother Theodore De Poel osb, Abbot Hugh Allan o.praem, Ian Knowles, Fr Thaddee Barnas osb, Fr Peter Geldard, Fr Michael Woodgate, Fr Tim Bugby, Fr Andrew Walker, Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, Canon John O’Toole. 2017’s addresses will be given by Brother Henry Longbottom SJ.

Owing to the advancing years of the Benedictine nuns at the Beguinage and their reducing numbers the pilgrimage will sadly only last a few more years.

iii. With the developments and improvements at the Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, it emerged that the former Sue Ryder House was to be reopened as the Dowry House, a place for retreats and spiritual support work for pilgrim groups operated by the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham. The building contains the Walsingham Martyrs’ Cell which the League once furnished with an altar in memory of Geoffrey Wright, the late and long-serving General Secretary of the League. Therefore, now that the building is restored to Church use, the altar has been recovered from its place of interim storage and restored in the Cell for the priests of visiting groups at the Dowry House to celebrate the Eucharist. As previously, this is on condition that its use be available alike to Anglican and Roman Catholic groups, which has been readily agreed by the Bishop of East Anglia in the spirit of hopes for reconciliation. The League has also purchased sets of vestments for use in the chapel.

C. Publications
Several publications are in preparation. These include:

i) A collection of articles and essays gathered over the years since the foundation of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, to which the League gave considerable support in its first years. This will follow up on a Special Edition of The Messenger in 2010 marking the Ordinariate’s foundation and supporting the case for it from the perspective of the League’s historic objectives.

ii) A collection of articles and essays to summarise work conducted by Fr Philip Gray when he was Priest Director, on themes of reparation, martyrdom, restoration and reconciliation. This too will be a Special Edition of The Messenger. Long in preparation, almost all papers have now been collected.

iii) Father Michael Woodgate’s booklet on devotion to the Precious Blood will fill a gap in contemporary devotional provision. This will join a small number of books of prayers developed by the League for wider use.

iv) Dr Michael Walsh’s complete history of the Catholic League. This not only gives an expert Church historian’s view of the first fifty years, already covered by two earlier histories, but a comprehensive review of work and influence since the time of the Second Vatican Council, and the League’s work to commend the documents and reforms of Vatican II in Anglican Catholic circles but also ARCIC, from the 1960s into the present day and the League’s Centenary. It is hoped this book may be adopted by a mainstream publisher and available in 2018.  

A copy of each publication will, as usual, be supplied to each member and complimentary copies will be presented to each Anglican and Catholic bishop, the seminaries and theological colleges, and significant libraries. The Executive considers that with the release of these publications, especially the history following on from the Centenary, the work of the League will largely have been completed.

D. Management of the charity, towards Christian unity and Church reunion
The management of the Catholic League’s work for unity has largely been manifested in the activities of the trustees in various parts of their extensive ecumenical networks. The Priest Director serves as a member of the Department of Dialogue and Unity at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, with a special focus on Catholic-Orthodox unity, but in the same department meeting serves Mgr Keith Newton of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, together with others charged with promoting good Catholic-Anglican relations and rapprochement. Fr Mark is also chairman of the meeting of the Bodies in Association with Churches Together in England and with Churches Together in Britain & Ireland, which coordinates with these official ecumenical instruments the work and advocacy of ecumenical societies.

The Priest Director was invited during the year to represent Cardinal Nichols, Vice-President of the Council of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Europe, at the biennial meeting of representative bishops of the Catholic and Orthodox bishops of Europe. The League generously made available some resources to enable preliminary consultations in advance of the presentation he made.

Two officers directly assist the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, either in its management or in the production of its online monthly magazine, The Portal. The Priest Director currently writes, too, a monthly column on diversity in the Catholic Church’s life, of which the Ordinariate is a notable instance, with particular reference to the Eastern Catholic and other Christian traditions.

Mention should also be repeated of two officers of the League who serve as trustees of the Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust. Three officers have also been closely involved with the Catholic Walsingham Association and one is a Guardian of the Holy House. Thus the League enables a certain strengthening to the ecumenical ecology, both in the official and the spiritual spheres.

As in every year, the League issues liturgical and prayer materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, based on the principles of its re-founder, Abbe Paul Couturier. These are specially designed to be used within the prayer of the faithful at daily Mass. It bears repetition that the English co-founder of the Week of Prayer, then known as the Octave, was Spencer Jones, an Anglo-Papalist priest, whose influence led to the foundation of the League towards Anglican-Catholic reunion, and indeed played a part in its early work.

The League’s work of regular prayer is also sustained by its constituent body (composed of all members and other supporters), the Apostleship of Prayer. We are grateful to its own Priest Director, Fr Christopher Stephenson, who brings great diligence and thoughtful care to the production of the regular Newsletter which contains the prayer intentions of the Holy Father and other objects of intercession, including prayer for our deceased members.

The League maintains four websites in pursuit of its objects. These are:
  • The League's own website, a basic information and history website with occasional updates of news and documentation, at;  and linked from it:
  •, a website to promote the story and observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
  •, website in honour of Father Paul Couturier, re-founder of the modern Week of Prayer
  •, a website concerning the martyrs of Christian disunity, reparation for the blood of Christians shed by Christians, the mutual “healing of memories” called for by Pope St John Paul and the reconciliation of life and memory commended by Pope Benedict.

In association with the League’s project to set out its own history, we gave access to our archive to the Revd Dr Mark Vickers, a Church historian and priest of the diocese of Westminster, to look at various initiatives in the 1930s from a number of quarters, including leading figures in the Catholic League, notably Fr Fynes-Clinton, towards Anglican-Catholic reunion. The resulting book, Reunion Revisited, was published by Gracewing in June 2017.

Finally, the League is always very grateful to Prebendary Graeme Rowlands, Priest Director of the Sodality of the Precious Blood, who is always a generous host for the Executive’s meetings and our General Meetings at his Church of St Silas, Kentish Town. His support, and that of all the other members of Executive – David Chapman, Secretary, Cyril Wood, Treasurer, Fr Chris Stephenson, Membership Secretary and Priest Director of the Apostolate of Prayer and Mrs Mary Bacon – is invaluable. It is especially good to give thanks for him on the occasion of his fortieth anniversary of priestly ordination. Many congratulations, Father Graeme.

Priest Director’s Notes

Normally, and throughout its history, the Catholic League has concentrated on matters of ecclesiology and reunion; in other words, the nature and purpose of the Church, its order and composition, and its re-integration.

My predecessors as Priest Director and the past editors of The Messenger, notably the much loved Prebendary Brooke Lunn, have all provided penetrating critiques of how the Catholic faith - in teaching, discipleship, spirituality and worship - is to be presented in its entirety as an integral whole to our society. It is essential, they have said, for the Catholic Church to be the means to unify all Christians in our society, if its vitally needed witness is to be credible and embraced by all.

It is with this firmly in mind that we regularly promote three of our objects: the encouragement of fellowship among Catholics, the union of all Christians with the Apostolic See of Rome, and the spread of the Catholic faith. But we have another object: the deepening of the spiritual life. This concerns not just prayer and spirituality, but the way follow Christ  in our inner lives, our homes and families, and also in public at our places of work and within the wider community as public citizens.

Recently, the Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby exhorted Prime Minister Theresa May to pursue her policy of the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Union only in a way that overcomes the recent polarisation and mutual recrimination in our society, so that British people stay together at a momentous turning point in our common history. Yet this patently Christian perspective aroused indignation. A correspondent to The Daily Telegraph remarked that Dr Welby should stick to religion, just like Norman Tebbit told the Anglican and Catholic bishops to stick to saving souls after the Faith in the City initiative and in the wake of insistent concerns from the Church over the effect on the poor of social and economic policy at the height of Mrs Thatcher’s government (N.B., not the politics themselves but their clear adverse effect). But what is religion, and what is having your soul saved, if none of it has any bearing on how individuals pursue their lives in the civil sphere of the world, if none of it has any bearing on the conditions and ongoing course of our Christian civilisation? Living our lives before the world is living our lives before God, just the same. Our life in the so-called “real world” is no less about deepening the spiritual life than the enrichment of our personal prayers and communing with God in Church. For it is always our concern that by our lives as individuals and as the mystical Body of Christ we also deepen the spiritual dimension of the whole world. Pope Benedict on his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 underlined this time and again: faith has bearing on public life, society and the way we reason; and public life, society and reason have bearing on our faith. Religion has bearing on our personal, political, social and economic life, just as all of these conditions, in the midst of which we find ourselves, bear down upon our religion and our discipleship of Jesus Christ in His Church.

At the moment, the crisis point on which this encounter between faith and reason, religion and society, is balanced has formed into a three-pronged piercing of the side of the Body of Christ and the future of our world alike. First, there remains the morality in commerce and politics lying behind the current economic emergency which Pope Benedict directly addressed and which continues to cast its shadow. Secondly, there is the environmental and climate emergency confronting the very future of our common home, which Pope Francis has addressed in his encyclical in honour of his namesake St Francis, Laudato Si’. His teaching reflects the teaching of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, the considered views set out by the Anglican Communion and the World Council of Churches, as well as leading figures in the Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu religious worlds. Third, there is an assault on the sacramental institution of marriage and its integrity. Pope Francis has attempted to address this through two sessions of the Synod of Bishops, a reform of the canonical procedures for investigating cases of possibly marital nullity, and an enormous Apostolic Exhortation arising from the two Synods, Amoris Laetitia, the Delight of Love.

Every priest knows a number of cases of good and honest people in their parishes, people seeking to be faithful to God and the Church, yet whose histories, experiences and situation do not match the provisions in the Church’s discipline of the sacraments, and the express command of Christ that marriage is indissoluble. Almost every family has members or knows relatives who have seen the heartbreak of a marriage that failed. Rightly in the Church, these are not matters for public judgment and are to be addressed with compassion and mercy by wise and faithful pastors. And it is just as difficult to make general rules to take account of every hard case, as it is to apply a general rule in the same way for exceptional cases. This is why Pope Francis has made the assessment of most marital cases pastoral rather than judicial, entrusting the decision to the bishop personally.  He has clarified the grounds on which a marriage can be judged to have been null from the outset after all. He has placed checks and balances in the procedure, so that there is consistency among the bishops overseen by the metropolitan archbishop, and therefore between dioceses there is to be no such instance as a hard line in one, and a soft line in another. He is trying to do two things. First, he is trying to make a full life in the Church possible, for those who seek the Lord in good faith, as they approach His mercy with their regrets and repentance, but also with hope and trust when the way ahead seems barred. For this, people need to be able to have confidence in both the Church’s pastors and the Church’s laws that they will clearly expound the Gospel of Christ and the wholeness of Catholic faith, as well as manifest in every way the light and mercy of God. Thus, secondly, the Pope is saying that if there is a way to be found through the immense pastoral and personal difficulties facing those who desire with all their heart to be free of sin and failure, and to be faithful to Christ, it is the Church that is to find where the light of God shines from the Kingdom to show the way through.

Pope Francis has said he wants not a change in Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, but a change of attitude to people among the lawyers and pastors.  Yet this has led to the supposition that he wishes effectively to relax the rule that you cannot be united to Christ in the Eucharist if you are in a second marriage while the partner to whom you are still united in your first and sacramental marriage is still living. In other words, he is said to be encouraging communion for those divorced and in a second union. The Pope says he absolutely insists on the fundamental Christian dogma of the indissolubility of marriage, but no less insists on mercy and compassion in applying that very teaching and the canon law, when it comes to making a judgment about a marriage’s original nullity. Meanwhile, a judicial vicar in one of our dioceses in England observes that, whatever the good faith of those who entered into their marriages at the time, as Christian marriages probably 80% in his experience are nullifiable because the couple lack a full understanding of the commitment they were making and the Church’s faith about marriage: their “informed consent” was lacking or not freely given. Elsewhere, Pope Francis has agreed with interpreters who have drawn the conclusion that the breakdown of a marriage may be an indication that it was not quite there to begin with, and so the principles of sacramental and pastoral discipline are superseded by those of mercy in a rather different situation. Thus the principle of indissolubility of marriage is maintained where it applies, but not where the unbreakable “gave way”. In straightforward cases, a nullity procedure to the bishop and his marriage tribunal has been simplified; in cases which are impossible to resolve, is it possible, then, to overlook the marriage bond and tolerate the admission of those divorced and remarried to Communion?

In search of an answer to this complex question that has now arisen since the opposing interpretations and reactions to Amoris Laetitia have emerged, we can consider the experience of the  Anglican and Orthodox worlds. Here, the same principle of indissolubility of marriage exists, but its strict application is in effect mitigated. Yet the indissolubility of sacramental marriage has disintegrated as civil divorce is recognised by Church authorities, and new marriages in Church permitted and celebrated. Of course, in the Anglican Communion marriage is not fully recognised as a sacrament but as a divine ordinance; but the same belief in the permanent bond of marriage between Christians, and by extension to others, applies. Nonetheless, there is an effectively institutionalised system of divorce, re-marriage and admission to Communion that does not necessarily depend on the justice or pastoral circumstances of the cases concerned and the soul-searching of all the parties involved.

So a confused position now obtains in the Catholic Church. Some, including certain national hierarchies, favour taking the same path as Anglicans and Orthodox. Others - including those whose faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and the sacramental discipline of the Church is nothing short of sacrificial - are concerned that here we face a defining question as to what the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church are. Yet there is one interpretation that cannot be: it cannot be concluded that there is any change to doctrine, or that the changes to canon law and Pope Francis’ pleas alter how our faith “demands my life, my soul, my all.” Theology is faith put into words, it is said, and morals and ethics are faith put into practice. Thus the clear teaching of Christ is to be followed with mercy and without mercilessness, with compassion and without hard-heartedness, yet always with integrity and not out of commending ourselves to the passing values of the world, and heedful constantly to the express words of Christ.

It surprised me in the late 1990s when beloved Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s picture in the National Portrait Gallery was labelled, “Liberal Churchman”, and Henry Chadwick’s biography of him denied him the title Catholic Anglican, both on the ground that he justified ecclesiastical recognition of divorce and remarriage other than on Catholic canonical rules. He would have been wounded to the heart to see this, as he saw the approach of the Eastern Church, which forbids divorce but sees that some marriages die or fail and that it is best to recognise this with penitence and move on to a fresh attempt, as an important witness from the wider community of Churches no less apostolic than that of Rome.

Yet marriage is, according to the Book of Common Prayer, the “honourable estate, instituted of God Himself signifying the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church”.  Our concern for sacramental marriage, its practice and the protection of its bond, is in the end, then, not only a pastoral matter, or a matter of personal conduct and moral responsibility. Those who have personally been through the ordeal of a broken marriage and family above all know this from the wounds they bear and then offer up in sacrifice, in hope of a redemption of their situations.  For it is indeed a matter of the bearing of faith on life in public, and the way Christians deepen the spiritual dimension not just of Christ’s followers but of all society. It is a sign about how humans are in families and communities, and how human society is supposed to be as a reflection of the Kingdom of God’s love.

It directly affects our vision of the Church restored in fullness of communion, our efforts of ecumenism, and the reintegration of Christ’s society made perfect and complete in the Kingdom of God, that we must serve, on earth as it is in heaven.

Thursday 1 June 2017

Unitas Newsletter, June 2017 - Priest Director's Message

2017 has seen Pope Francis visit Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. He both traced the positive aspects to Martin Luther’s religious thought and personality, praising him as a great Reformer, as well as warning Catholics of the present day of the dangers five centuries ago that contributed to the split, and that threaten the peace and future reconciliation in the present time: worldliness, corruption, greed, lust for power in the Church rather than the Church’s life of grace, the simplicity of “faith alone” in the power of God, and absolute hope and trust in the love of Christ for sinners, his forgiveness and our redemption.

Since all these virtues can be recognised in the lives of spiritual Catholics we know, and saints we venerate, and all the vices likewise penetrate all sides of humanity’s condition in the world, not just one Church or another, the large unanswered question is: why was it necessary to divide the Church in order to pursue the good and drive out the bad? What conviction, what principle is so inviolable that it stands above the Church’s unity in faith?

Advocates of the benefits of the Reformation have in recent years said that the breach was the result of a misunderstanding. At our events ten years ago to commemorate the martyrs on both sides, seeing that they were faithful unto death and paradoxically reached union with Christ in His sacrifice as they indicated the concrete possibility of our reconciliation in the world, one Anglican speaker remarked that Thomas Bilney, the first to lose his life under Henry VIII for Reformation ideas -and a heroic figure to the Protestants who came after him - would not have turned a hair at Vatican II, with his suggestions of reading the Bible in Church in English and the correction of abuses in spiritual matters (for unimpeachably Catholic reasons). Recently, the Catholic journalist Peter Stanford wrote a book that imagines how Martin Luther would have looked to us if he had emerged today. The case he proposes is that the perspective of today’s Catholic Church would have been able to address his concerns and embrace him through dialogue within the Church, welcome the spiritual renewal Luther wanted, correct Church governance and sponsor other good developments in the Church’s life. It would also re-balance his more extreme views, without disruption to communion. What if? Vatican II indeed called for the People of God to discover the Scriptures for themselves, expanding the amount read in the Liturgy, and permitting their proclamation in the vernacular. Under Pope St John Paul an agreement was reached between Catholics and Lutherans (since assented to by Methodists and Anglicans) on our justification by faith: that it is on account of the gift from God of faith in Christ that we are made righteous, not by good works - these are the essential fruits of faith and righteousness, for goodness in thought, word and deed are indispensable if our faith is real, thorough-going and authentic. The future Pope Benedict oversaw this agreement to overcome the great argument that stirred the Reformation movement; he later turned on a group of Protestant theologians from Germany and said, “If you had been truly Lutheran, we would have been one by now.”

Yet Luther went further than the desire for spiritual renewal, reform to governance, and better participation of the people in worship and sacrament to their daily conversion. He re-cast the Eucharist so that it appeared the same way as before, but concealed the loss of the Roman Canon (which was never heard by the people), and so removed the Eucharistic sacrifice and the core purpose of priesthood. There is an echo in England among Catholic recusants who still say, “Protestants think that our forebears died for the Pope; we know they died for the Mass.” Luther rejected not only the activities of the papacy of its day, but the need for a universal pastor cementing, ensuring and providing for the Church’s unity altogether. He envisaged the universal Church on earth to be an association of local churches, differently reformed and reshaped with a united confession of faith, rather than as a visible, organic whole. Yet his common confession could not be agreed. Identifying Catholic bishops as temporal lords, he viewed the episcopate as not essential for apostolic succession, but merely beneficial for pastoral organisation and the better preaching of the Gospel. He also found that, because his Reformation movement relied on protection and nurture from princes who used it to flex their independent muscles from the authority of the Catholic Emperor, he needed to back Philip of Hesse, and emboldened him to marry again, even though his wife yet lived. The Reformers Bucer and Melanchthon concurred.  The assault on the bond of matrimony was famously emulated in England by Cranmer and directly led to the martyrdoms of the Carthusians and Thomas More.

To summarise: even if there were great misunderstandings on points of belief and the interpretation of the Scriptures, there was a deliberate intention to alter the fundamental faith and order of the one Church across time and place; and this translated into practice and thus into division with pain and suffering on all sides.

It is sad to reflect that this division could have been avoided because reformation was already a vital movement of spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church. The popular Devotio Moderna, the Imitation of Christ, the piety concerning the passion of Christ and His redemption, the reform of the Carmelite Order with St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, the emergence of St Ignatius Loyala and the Society of Jesus all bear witness. They rest on earlier renewal movements in the Church which are still potent to this day as well: the Franciscan and Dominican preaching friars. And it is often claimed in English history perspective that the Reformation took hold here to correct corruption and abuse, and recover the Church’s pristine purity. Yet those who were at the forefront of pastoral, spiritual, and theological renewal in the life and mission of English Church people in the1530s, well aware of the breach that had arisen in Germany and now the Low Countries and France, were the Carthusians, the Brigettines and the Franciscans who were among the first to lose their lives under Henry VIII. He shut down a Catholic renewal because a reinvigorated Church, articulate with its own Catholic mind, could challenge dependency on royal power and policy. When the Carthusians in London met in chapter to weigh the consequences of their decision to oppose Henry’s marriage outside the law of Christ, the account describes what can only be described as a charismatic renewal as the Holy Spirit came upon them. They knew they faced their deaths. One wonders what might have happened to England and its Church had the renewal been allowed to proceed. Eamon Duffy, in his book Fires of Faith, describes how, under Henry’s daughter, Mary I, England becomes the laboratory for implementing the reforms emerging from the Council of Trent. The lessons of the Protestant Reformation had been observed, and here was to be a proper reform in continuity with the common faith of the Church, clarified, freshly re-proclaimed, with integrity.  No turning the clock back, but a fully Catholic reformation of the Church, its preaching and teaching, the celebration of the sacraments and the presentation above all of the Mass. But the rupture had already happened, and with Mary’s death her popular movement died too.

The instinct against rupture and recovering a lost continuity within the one Church of Christ – one flock under one shepherd – was what caused the League’s founders to draw attention to the scandal and violence of schism and its consequences: in England, two provinces of the Latin Church were detached, and every evangelistic, sacramental and pastoral effort was needed to repair the breach. This was not only to reveal once more the essential unity of the Body of Christ in the world, but also to give a convincing account of the hope the lies within us. The gospel of reconciliation in Christ is hardly compelling when Christians themselves are unreconciled. Yet it looks more and more difficult to imagine how the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, nowadays with more pronounced differences on faith and order, can find the path of reunion. But we now call that “instinct against rupture” ecumenism, and we press on, because this is integral to Catholicity.

Thus Lund in Sweden was chosen for the meeting between the Pope and the leaders of the Lutheran and other reformation Churches for two reasons. First, it was in 1952 at Lund that the Faith & Order Conference of the World Council of Churches adopted the principle that Churches should act together in all matters, except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately. Subsequently, the Catholic Church has supported this at the local level and with the encouragement of the successors of Peter. Secondly, Sweden is a country in which Catholics faced civil restrictions on work and freedom of religion into the 1970s; so it is a country where rapprochement and reconciliation – the dialogue of love – has been hard won in very recent memory. It encourages us not to dwell on the failures of the past that we have been formed by, or to believe that the cause of Christian unity has become futile. Still less does it permit us to become further estranged from other Christians, seeing that the events of so long ago seem to explain why we still walk on divergent pathways. Instead, as Swedish Lutherans and Catholics found, the Spirit continues to come upon us, and surprise us with his power to bring us closer in Christ. The great Metropolitan Kallistos Ware often says that unity when it comes can only be achieved by a miracle; but that does not mean we are to be passive – ours is the task is to take down what barriers we can, because these are usually ones that we have erected. The miracle will come when we have faithfully done this good work by God’s grace.

So, marking the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation is a time to face honestly what happened, to thank God for any good and saving gift that emerged, to lament the divisions and the harm they have visited upon the Church and the world, but above all to love and long for the unity of Christ’s people, “that they may be one”, as indivisibly as the Father and the Son are one. As Catholics, our instinct is not to add to division and polarisation, but always to work for healing and reconciliation. MW

Saturday 31 December 2016

Unitas Newsletter, December 2016 - Priest Director's Message

Over Christmas, on Professor Brian Cox’s BBC Radio 4 witty scientific panel show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, was asked what the Church of England’s official position was on Christmas ghost stories, and the existence and positive or negative influence of ghosts. He redirected the question from what the Church’s settled position might be to the way Christian theology discusses it instead.  He made the good point that Christians attest to reality beyond what can simply be measured or what you can see. The work of scientists, he said, seeks answers to “What?” and “How?”; but theology helps science by addressing questions of meaning: “Why?” Thus, on ghosts, he began to say that the Church takes seriously that there is a huge dimension beyond what is merely physical, but corrected himself to say instead that it is Christian theology that takes this seriously.

While the bishop made a good and serious theological point in the midst of a fascinating but light-touch programme for the public awareness of science, it was striking that twice he declined to say, “The Church’s position is…” or “The Church teaches…” The reluctance to “give an account of the hope that lies within you” (1 Peter 3.15), which St Peter goes on to explain is through the resurrection of Christ who has gone into heaven where the spiritual powers are subject to him, seems to be a symptom not of timidity when it comes to declaring and discussing faith, but of presenting it as a matter of ideas and intuitions without their grounding in the concrete events experienced 2,000 years ago. Thus religion concerns matters of personal spiritual dispositions, rather than the certain explanation about how reality stands, in the light of Christ: “it’s all relative”, rather than “it’s all revealed”.  For it matters to the Christian faith, not whether it can provide human beings with a sense of meaning that appears reasonable in the twenty-first century over two millennia since Jesus was born, but whether the events and the Person that the disciples have consistently borne witness ever since rings true because that is how things were, and thus are. It comes down not speculation on the “non-physical dimension”, but to whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead and appeared in a new life to many witnesses. St Paul explains that the physical body of the crucified Christ, and that he himself met, had been “sown natural” but “raised spiritual” (I Corinthians 15.44). The flesh which Jesus took from Mary had clothed God himself; and now the “huge dimension beyond” clothes us in turn. It is no longer outside our physical world, because our natural life stands within the order of the spiritual.  They are no longer estranged, but reconciled. The kingdom of God is penetrating; it comes on earth as it is in heaven

As for “Are there ghosts?”, our older language answers that we concern ourselves with the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life who renders all things subject to the rule of Christ and thus the attractive force of love. “Do the dead survive for life after death?” The question is the wrong way round: now that we have seen the resurrection and ascension of humanity taken from Mary, the question is “Where is this life leading? From where do we start in order to arrive at it?” C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce portrayed the living as the shadows who haunt the earth, finally getting on a bus that goes journeys on and on, round and round, until people are able to step off and tread on the harder, firmer reality of heaven that they are not otherwise ready to endure. As always, the great questions of religious belief, that Christ answers, are not about whether we deign to “take seriously the huge dimension beyond”, but whether “the huge dimension beyond” takes us seriously, reveals itself as none other than The Person par excellence, taking birth in our flesh, sowing it natural, raising it spiritual, and showing us that the holy, the divine, the realm and sphere of heaven, and the principle of God’s person-driven Love on which the entire universe is powered are “not hereafter”, but here and penetrating through us now.

The beliefs that Mary Mother of God was conceived immaculate, by the grace of Christ’s redemption, and that she was assumed physically into heaven (“sown natural, raised spiritual”) were defined as dogma – the settled view taught by the Catholic Church – in order to protect the fundamental faith of Christianity that (a) there is one Redeemer and without him no religious faith or enlightened reasoning ultimately avails; and that (b) this salvation, like our creation and death and destiny in that “huge dimension beyond”, is worked out by God in our flesh and in no other way. In September 2016, at a brilliant lecture, as usual, by Archbishop Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, to mark the legacy of the Malines Conversations at the church of St Mary, Bourne Street in London (where the leading Anglican figure, Lord Halifax, had been churchwarden), he said that, while the Catholic Church had been accused of adding to the core of faith by imposing the necessity of these dogmas in the past, in its negative response to contemporary realisations about humanity that the Anglican Communion was, with difficulty, tackling – for instance he specified the extension of the Anglican priesthood to include both men and women, but what he said could apply to bio-ethics, the nature of marriage, and the indissolubility of sacramental marriage – he told Benedict XVI that the Catholic Church was now subtracting from the apostolic faith as it was authentically developing, narrowing it.

Presumably they engaged each other in a discussion of Newman’s theory of the development of Christian doctrine. Doubtless Pope Benedict remained unmoved by an argument against the See of Rome’s consistent bias against addition and innovation and in favour of the handing on - purifying and clarifying as necessary - and applying in the now the faith the apostles came to then, the consequences that follow from that, and nothing more nor less.

Two of the best and most thoughtful communicators among the Church of England’s bishops have thus reflected on what the Church doesn’t so much teach as discuss, as well as what the Church ought to teach, less “narrowly”. The contribution of the Catholic Church in this conversation is that there is a hierarchy in the truth, and that giving priority to the current - even pressing - concerns of the natural order upturns the position that the physical world in which we live has its context and true meaning that comes only from the direction of the spiritual. So, the priority belongs to God revealed in Christ, who in turn reveals us as we are truly to be. Furthermore, even in the layers of the hierarchy of truths, a lesser truth is not less true and a greater truth is not “more” true. The truth is one, and truth is not relative but binding.

I wish to all members of the Catholic League, who hold to this truth about God, and about ourselves, the creation and our place in it, redeemed for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, a truly hopeful and inspired 2017. We begin it with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in which we make Our Lord’s prayer our own, “Father, may they be one, as we are one, completely, so that the world may know that you have sent me.” And it is vivid that Christ produces this prayer out of another – that we following Christ in turn may be made holy by the truth of his Word, not ours (John 17). Christ founded but one Church, not divided denominations, and, as Metropolitan Platon of Kiev (1803-1891) said, “the walls of separation do not rise as far as heaven”. Let us pray that the sovereign unity of the Trinity, from which the Church receives its own unity, may penetrate from heaven the Church of Christians on earth. And, the Spirit making us holy, may we see “the unity of all humanity in the charity and truth of Christ” (Fr Paul Couturier, 1881-1952, re-founder of the Week of Prayer, Apostle of Unity). MW

Monday 11 July 2016

Annual General Meeting 2016 - Priest Director's Address and Report, 6th July 2017

Report on Activities and Future Plans

During the course of 2015 and 2016 so far, we have continued to promote the principles of the League:in short, the unity of all Christians with the Apostolic See of Rome - especially Anglicans and Catholics - and also the promotion of the Catholic Faith and its spiritual life.

From within the perspective of English Anglicanism, to which many of our members belong, Papalism has never been a mainstream cause, and the wariness with which it was viewed made it a badge of pride, an unmistakable mark of a strong identity. What frequently gets missed, however, is that this was not another Anglican identity over and against that of the Church of England. For the cause was that of a dual ecumenism – the first within the Anglican world, in which Catholic faith and spirituality was shared, and drew in other Anglicans to enrich and inspire them; the second an ecumenism with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox worlds. Thus, even in pre-ecumenical times, it was a drive to reunion, a movement to find how the provinces of the Church of England as it had developed, but in faithfulness to its truer Catholic identity, and how the Catholic Church, as it too had developed, could recover their old union within the re-composition of the wholeness of the Church of Christ’s inherent communion.

Today, Papalism is an unpopular cause for other reasons. A small but significant body of our members has entered into union with the Apostolic See of Rome through a new ecclesial body, specifically created so as to receive and promote the historic Anglican religious patrimony in a renewed mode, where it is to express the Catholic faith no longer in separation but in fullness of communion. Some therefore now think that the cause of Papalism within Anglicanism has reached its ultimate realisation – nothing more can be added to what the Petrine See has already discerned and provided.

Interestingly, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is very different from the caricature sometimes found in press and online comment. It is not a monochrome club for ultramontanist Anglo-Catholics; for here we find Prayer Book Catholics, Vatican II pastoral-renewal liturgists, William Temple’s Central Churchmanship, exuberant admirers of the Baroque, reserved middle of the roaders, and those who have made their journey from Evangelical Protestant to Evangelical Catholic. It is a young manifestation of the Church, as well as of the very late-in-the-day inculturation of Catholic faith and worship in the register of Anglophone post-Reformation religious culture, with its distinctive tones in preaching, music & hymnody, pastoral mission, liturgical texts and corporate life and governance. The way it lives with its patrimony, as a means for conveying the Catholic faith to our society and new generations, lies towards the future, not the past. So in some ways it can be a seedbank microcosm of the vanishing world of classic Anglicanism, but in other ways this is so that it can function as an experiment in the New Evangelisation. We, as the Catholic League, remain wholly committed to this work of divine Providence in the Church of this land. Currently, I write a monthly column in The Portal magazine, to promote the Ordinariate’s importance and potential as none other than God’s gift, comparing it with the other manifestations of Catholic Christianity in the Eastern Churches. I wish to thank my fellow members of the executive, David Chapman as general secretary and Cyril Wood as treasurer, who also support The Portal and the Ordinariate in numerous practical ways. The Portal has a considerable international readership – it not only commends the value of the three Ordinariates, it projects around the Catholic Church the immense riches that belong to Anglicanism, and specifically to the Anglo-Catholic movement in faith and practice, that have now become spiritually available in full communion with Peter to the wider Catholic Church beyond the bounds imposed by division.

Yet there are still others, including members of the League among them, who believe in conscience that their vocation is to remain in the Church of England, where they were set from their baptism, and to continue in faithfulness with their witness to the faith of the undivided Church that it once received and that they were raised in, whatever changes have arisen since in the polity and thus the teaching of most Anglican churches and their leaders. One cannot, after all, fail to notice the continuing gift of the Holy Spirit of ordinations to the Sacred Ministry, and vocations to the religious life. Thus, during the year, the League has been of help to two Anglican bishops in their work that perseveres with promoting the reunion of all Christians with the Apostolic See of Rome in the fullness of Catholic faith and communion. First, Bishop John Hind sought our help for a keynote speech at an international conference for Catholic Anglicans, in which he wished to set out how Anglican Papalism, far from being a marginal pursuit, had been an insistent influence leading up to the establishment of modern-day Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue and relations. After all, it was Papalists who brought about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; it was a Papalist who re-established the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to serve as the heart of Anglo-Catholicism ever after; it was Papalists who kept up regular contacts between Anglicanism and continental Roman Catholicism when no one else did in the first half of the 20th century for the two Churches to build on in the second half; and thus it was an Anglican Papalist, Bishop John Moorman of RIpon, who represented the Church of England at the Second Vatican Council, leading to the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the permanent establishment of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. Yet within a few years, Papalists were sidelined as these institutions became mainstream. It was Bishop Hind’s point that they thus lost their edge and impetus towards Catholic union. Thus the much expected progress towards reunion, almost in reach in the early 1980s, slipped from the grasp of us all.

We have also maintained a conversation to help another bishop who, in the light of this, wishes to consolidate a distinct set of relationships with Rome from among classic Anglicans within the juridical framework of the Church of England. These are those who are not seeking to join the Ordinariate, yet who wish to increase spiritual unity with the Catholic Church and – somehow – to seek closer communion. How this can be achieved is perhaps unimaginable as things stand; but we believe that good will be served through encouraging honest conversations and friendly, spiritual contacts. No good can come of anti-Catholicism, or taking refuge in baseless anti-Roman resentment to corroborate an alternative position, the mark of the old High Church approach that has no place in the times since the Decree on Ecumenism and the establishment of ARCIC. The anti-Catholic Anglo-Catholic remains a paradox for both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in their common ecumenical quest towards fullness in communion in life, faith and sacrament. Clearly, then, there is work for us still to be done in strengthening the resilience of the classical Anglican Catholics who continue, as always in the past, to hope and work for the unity of their Church with the Rock whence it was hewn, in completeness of Catholic faith. It will take a miracle to bring about such a unity, but that is for God. For us it lies to dismantle what divisions we can, rather than stand around pointing at the insurmountable barricades, regardless of who put them up and when.

In 2015, we were able at last to publish as a Special Edition of our now occasional Messenger, containing all the papers and addresses from our 2013 Centenary. I repeat our thanks to the remarkable contributions from Fr John Hunwicke, Judge Michael Yelton, Father Michael Rear, Canon Robin Ward, and Bishop Norman Banks. Closely connected with this publication and the celebrations that preceded it is the project to produce a thorough and honest history of the Catholic League and Papalism in the 20th century. This has been entrusted to the hands of the eminent Catholic papal historian, Dr Michael Walsh, to whom I am indebted for his keen interest and dedication to getting at the true purpose of this movement’s objectives, people, and influences. Also now in hand is an intention to collect the oral history of the League’s leading lights and personalities.

During the year, we published two editions of our Newsletter. I am grateful to Fr Chris Stephenson, membership secretary, for assuming as well the responsibility of Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, which he has taken to his heart. Not only does this commend to the members our regular prayers for unity. It also serves to unite the members with the intentions of the Holy Father, so that those in all the Churches, regardless of earthly divisions, may be of one heart and one mind, indeed one Body at prayer.

It is our intention that in the forthcoming year there will be two more editions of the occasional Messenger, completing long-term projects. The first will commend the healing of memories in our respective martyr traditions, a cause now dear to Pope Francis because of his vigorous ecumenical engagement. The second  will examine the progress of the implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus six years on and after five years of the Ordinariates’ life. Much has been written and considered; the League remains in a unique position to record and assess this as a service more widely.

Earlier in 2015, the League was a co-sponsor of perhaps the most significant regular event towards unity in Catholic life, and the development of the spiritual life. This is the biennial Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage to Walsingham, for which Cyril Wood, our Treasurer, and I both serve as trustees. Walsingham is closely associated with the purpose and history of the League; and the recent inspirational developments in the renewal of the Catholic Shrine, complementing those at the Anglican Shrine in the past, are something we have wanted to encourage strongly. I am glad to say that the General Secretary, David Chapman, and the Treasurer, serve as a trustee of the Walsingham Association at the Roman Catholic shrine, which continues to invigorate our constant links and involvement with England’s Nazareth, with its central purpose in pursuit of Christian Unity.

My predecessor, Fr Philip Gray did much to promote the role of reconciliation that can be played at Walsingham. Thus the League helped to furnish the Martyrs’ Chapel at the old Sue Ryder Home, where Fr Nicholas Mileham, sub prior at the monastery that tended the shrine, was held before his martyrdom for holding to the Catholic faith in the honour and powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The League’s members provided the altar, newly designed in memory of our much loved general secretary, the late Geoffrey Wright. The Home has now been acquired for pilgrimage groups by the Roman Catholic Shrine, and the chapel will be reinstated as a place of joint honour of the martyrs and of reconciliation for the Christians of today. I am again grateful for Fr Chris for faithfully maintaining the altar in his own guardianship, enabling it thus to be restored this year. The League is also paying for vestments to be used in this chapel.

Another work of the League in the past year has been the annual pilgrimage for unity to the Holy Blood in Brugge and to Our Lady of the Vine at the Beguinage. We are a regular group of about 20 – and the addresses of the speakers each year, together with the experience of time together, worshipping, enjoying good food and Belgian beer, as well as our deep friendship with the sisters, is – I am convinced – a powerful aid to the work of our respective Churches in maintaining contacts and friendships, and in making such steps as we can towards unity, even if for the moment it is so hidden from us. This last year, the speaker was Brother Theodore de Poel from the Monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium. It was good to be able to see Mgr Leo Declerck, rector of the Beguinage Church, and a friend of the group’s for 20 years, for the last time before his retirement. The sisters are now down to seven in number with three more in retirement at a nursing home in eastern Belgium. It is a privilege to accompany this community reaching the end of its faithful life and distinguished history – we pray for its future, and the future of the Beguinage as a place of spirituality for 800 years. After all, the community of Beguines almost died out 100 years ago, until the last Beguine became the mother foundress of the new Benedictine priory. We and they share confidence in God that, whatever happens in the world, in the Kingdom God is always bringing his new creation to perfection.

I should mention two other grants we have offered during the year. One is to the French Catholic TV network, KTOTV, which is to adapt into English a beautiful film on the life and work of the Monastery of Chevetogne in Eastern Belgium. It has strong links with the Church of England and indeed from its foundation it has sought to promote unity between Catholics and Anglicans, through a deep appreciation of the Anglican liturgical and theological and spiritual patrimonies. I am an oblate of this monastery and was asked to contribute to the documentary when it was filmed last year. We aim to make copies widely available on disc and online, so as to keep at the forefront of the Churches’ attention the importance of prayer, religious life, and a shared engagement in the beauty of life in Christ, since this is at the heart of our firm confidence that the unity for which Christ prayer as essential to his disciples will come to pass as he promised.

Secondly we have made a grant to the Anglican Centre in Rome for bursaries for students, especially from poor parts of the world, to be able to come to Rome to study and learn more about the Catholic faith, the Catholic Church and the importance of unity with Peter in full communion.

Finally, I thank Mrs Mary Bacon as a fellow trustee and executive member for her help and encouragement during the year. I also with to thank Fr Graeme Rowlands, as always, for his deeply appreciated friendship and the encouragement that he unfailingly gives to the search for Christian Unity and the solidarity and spiritual unity of dear and good friends. As Priest Director of the Sodality of the Precious Blood he is a member of the League’s executive and so his beautiful Church here at St Silas’ Kentish Town has long been a spiritual home to us – it is not only a sacred place, but also a delight to come here to enter a part of heaven on earth. Thank you so much.

Priest Director’s Notes and Address

I would like to close with some observations on the constitutional crisis in which the United Kingdom is now embroiled following the referendum in which a majority of those voting approved by a narrow margin withdrawal from the European Union.

It surprised me that in the weeks and months before this fateful vote, there was no guidance from the Catholic Bishops on the issues at stake in terms of Catholic social teaching or indeed the interests of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in this country. After the result was known, Cardinal Nichols called for calm and mutual respect, but there has been little setting of this decision and its aftermath in the context of Christian faith and discipleship. Since the League is devoted to the communion of all with the Apostolic See of Rome, the promotion of Catholic faith and the Spiritual Life, it is important that we look forward to the next year with its undoubted upheavals ahead with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus Christ our pioneer and the perfecter of our faith and the life we pass through in this world.

Today, I have heard of a French bistro in south London with its windows smashed; a charity considering a new office in Germany to protect its work across European borders; a Belgian employee confronted in public with a threat that her job was shortly to come to an end; and we have all heard of numerous incidents of physical and verbal assault ranging from the xenophobic to the unvarnished racist.

To this I would say that the Kingdoms of the World have become the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ, and that the Kingdom of God transcends all our ideas of patriotism, nationality, nationalism, state- interest. Here, says St Paul, we have no abiding city, for our true homeland is in heaven. The Lord Himself says to seek first the Kingdom of God. At Vatican II, the Church taught that the authority of the Church and of civil society are free of each other and operate in their respective spheres. This does not mean that the Gospel and the authority of the Church fail to apply to the world, and that the Church must refrain from interfering in the affairs of society. On the contrary, it is the teaching of the Church that the objective of both Church and State, Religion and Society, is to serve the realisation of God’s Kingdom on earth. It is thus the Church’s prophetic duty to call the world, its leaders, its governments, its cultures, and societies to constant repentance, to return again and again to the principles of the Beatitudes, to strain repeatedly to ‘hear the Angels sing’ of glory to God and peace on earth to those of good will, and thus to direct and orient the entire world to the blessed state that is ours by virtue of creation in the image of God.

Secondly, it is vital to recall that what has now become the European Union, whatever you think of it, was established largely by Catholic Christians intent on this Kingdom of God in the hands of people of good will, transcending states and languages and divisions, so that the resources of the world could never again be used in Europe for making war, or for oppressing the dignity of human beings to live to the full before God, in faith and hope and love. No more Fascism and Nazism; no more atheist materialist communism. Everywhere confidence in truth and justice.

What has emerged in the last few weeks has clearly been lying under the surface for years and now feels unbound and empowered to assert itself. Yet it must be the heartfelt duty of every Christian, who believes above all else the Catholic faith and the Universal Reign of Jesus Christ over all peoples and nations, to withstand all thoughts, words and deeds that contradict His design for humanity’s perfect liberty in Him, and that contradict the dignity of all human beings, regardless of colour, race, religion, age, sex, or language, or outlook. It must be that Christians who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness declare unrighteous, unChristian, all that stands against Christ’s will for us all to be both one in His own humanity, and to thrive as He has appointed us to be in His single creation with all our differences and backgrounds and origins, seeing that by the Holy Spirit and Providence He has both penetrated our society and societies so that they may become more like His Kingdom, and seeing that He is even now redeeming from all its ills, oppressions, cruelties and acts of spiteful pride and wickedness, by the power of His holy Cross.

I fear that this will require of us great strengths in the time ahead as we make a new history, and that this will involve the further vilification of the Church and of God’s Kingdom, indeed the profound sacrifices for the sake of the truth and for the love of God. But the evil that is now at work will not prevail. It must bow, for the earth is the Lord’s and the Lord alone is King. Him alone do we serve.