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.