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.

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