Fleming reveals role in Anglican unification request

13 Aug 2008

By The Record

A quiet lunch between two Anglican bishops and Catholic priest at a restaurant in Parramatta led to over 400,000 Anglicans on six continents seeking full corporate and sacramental communion with Rome.


Fr John Fleming



By Anthony Barich
AUSTRALIAN Campion College president Fr John Fleming has revealed his crucial role in the global Traditional Anglican Communion  seeking full communion with Rome.
Fr John Fleming, speaking exclusively about his new book, Receive the Power: Converted through the Holy Spirit, said that the global disintegration of Anglicanism was intertwined with his own conversion and the authority of the Catholic Church.
The book, to be released by Connor Court next month, covers his own “spiritual odyssey”, explaining how the “global disintegration of Anglicanism” helped lead him to the Catholic Church, and tells why Catholicism alone could satisfy his need for the synthesis of faith and reason.
The Mass being a crucial factor in his own conversion, he tells of an exchange with a young couple – one a Catholic the other not – on the reasonableness of Transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Fr Fleming said that the first chapter of the book is a letter to his three daughters, now aged 27, 25 and 22, who never knew the full story of his conversion, though his reception into the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church changed their lives.
This chapter details his conversion from youthful agnosticism to finding his faith by having his intellectual doubts resolved and being converted during his exposure to an Anglican Solemn High Mass.
This awakened in him why the valid priesthood is so important. The next two chapters, he says, are a letter to the young couple he refers to.
Fr Fleming told The Record that the ordination of women denies people the right to having their sins forgiven and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.
This problem is deepened as priests ordained by women bishops are also invalid, making the sacraments they distribute invalid.He says the issue of women’s ordinations within the Anglican Church was catalytic to his conversion. 
“In the end, I was left in the position that I was clear in my own mind that the ordination of women could not be permitted as Christ did not permit it; but I recognised there were some very intelligent people, including my own (Anglican) archbishop, who thought it could be done,” he told The Record.
“So that begs the question, who’s the umpire? Not the Anglican Church, but the Catholic Church.”
Quoting Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on religious freedom), he said the highest truth was to be found in religious faith, and “once you’ve discovered that truth you’re under a moral obligation to conform your life to that truth”.
“So in conscience I was left with no other alternative than to abandon Anglicanism and become a Catholic,” he said.
“I’d been intellectually converted without knowing I had.” He concludes the book with an account of how the Traditional Anglican Communion came to seek, without condition, full corporate reunion with the Holy See and his own part in this history-making episode.
A frustrated Archbishop John Hepworth of Blackwood, South Australia, the primate of the global TAC movement and a long-time friend of Fr Fleming, and Bishop David Chislett SSC of Brisbane, sought the priest’s advice on how to proceed.
As the three took lunch at a restaurant on Parramatta’s trendy Church Street on December 28, 2005, Fr Fleming knew that the TAC, which numbers 400,000 around the world, acknowledge deep down that the Pope is the head of the Church.
He advised them to pass several motions through their various synods in each constituent diocese around the world:
l That there no longer exists any theological or moral difference between the TAC and the Catholic Church.
l That the TAC accepts that the Catholic Church consists of all those churches which are in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
l That the TAC accepts the infallibility of the Pope in teachings of faith and morals and his real and immediate jurisdiction in every part of the Catholic Church.
l That they then approach the prefect for the congregation of the doctrine of the faith – who at the time was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and is now Cardinal William Levada – seeking full corporate re-union with the Catholic Church without condition.
l When they secured all that, the bishops of the TAC should sign a declaration of faith, which should be the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
They agreed and followed Fr Fleming’s advice. The process culminated in the bishops of the TAC signing a letter and the Catechism and The Mass celebrating it was held the Church of St Agatha, Portsmouth on the feast of St Therese of Lisieux in 2007.
The Holy See knew this was happening and were ready to receive a delegation of bishops in Rome immediately following that occasion.They received the letter and the Catechism, and the Holy See is now considering its response.
Fr Fleming says this will take some time as the Holy See must work out a legal structure in which they could incorporate such a group so the TAC can maintaining enough of its own English cultural identity.
“Historically, this is the first time an ecclesial community that separated from Rome during the Reformation has sought full corporate reunion with Rome without condition,” Fr Fleming told The Record.
“In other words, the TAC is saying to the Holy Father, ‘here we are, this is what we’re asking for, tell us what to do next’.”
Among the Holy See’s considerations regarding the TAC’s submission is the issue of married bishops.
In the Eastern Orthodox churches bishops are chosen from celibate, unmarried priests.
Fr Fleming says that the TAC fully accepts that if Rome considers its orders invalid – including priests and bishops – and that they will have to be re-ordained, they are willing to do that.
He called this humility of approach to the Holy See “heroic”.
“They (the TAC) have understood from the very beginning that they will do what they are told; and I think Rome will be very generous and warm, as they have always been,” Fr Fleming said.
‘Receive the Power: Converted through the Holy Spirit’ is available through Connor Court Publishing.
Go to http://www.connorcourt.com