One Australian Catholic Bishop is watching current developments in the Anglican Communion with great interest. He has a special reason for understanding the difficulties for all concerned. Anthony Barich reports.
Leaving Mother Church was not easy for Roman Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore in northern NSW.
Born in Kyneton, Victoria, Bishop Jarrett worked for several years in the film unit of BBC Television in London before studying for the Anglican ministry at the Theological College of the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham, Nottinghamshire.
He was always attracted to the style of Catholic Cardinal Basil Hume, the former Archbishop of Westminster who accepted hundreds of Anglicans into the Catholic Church and ordained many as priests when they left the Anglican Church when it started ordaining women in the early 1990s.
“This could be a moment of grace,” the Cardinal said on his 70th birthday in 1993. “It could be the conversion of England for which we have prayed all these years.”
The Cardinal’s vision of a re-unified Catholic Church including former Anglicans seems identical to the model members of the Traditional Anglican Communion imagine – one which retains its strongly English heritage and liturgical beauty while being in communion with Rome. It’s also the same model that helped lead Bishop Jarrett to the Catholic fold.
However Archbishop John Hepworth, the Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion currently seeking communion with Rome (see main story), says that many of the approximately 700 Anglican priests who became Catholic priests in the ‘90s found it too difficult emotionally, and eventually returned, begrudgingly, to Canterbury
“The spiritual gap was too great,” he said. “They felt they’d been stripped of their Anglican identity.”
“Many of them would’ve said that there was no unique Anglican ethos 20 years ago, but now there is, and we need to take that into account in conversion processes.”
The Primate says there is an Anglican spirituality which needs to be fused with the idea of Papal authority – an authority which the TAC fully respects and has submitted itself to in requesting communion with Rome.
“For that reason, thank God for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as we can give it to our people,” Hepworth says.
“Many of our parishes have bought a hundred or more Catechisms and have weekly studies of it to more fully understand what the TAC bishops have promised over the past 12 months.”
Bishop Jarrett, meanwhile, knows the pain of leaving Mother Church including the concern that friends and family will cut off or disassociate themselves from the Anglican who decides to become a Roman Catholic.
He also found himself compelled by his searchings to join the Catholic Church. But he also knows the joy and utter contentment once he found his “home” in the Catholic Church.
Therefore, he urges Catholics who encounter TAC faithful to welcome them as they would anyone who wants to join the Catholic Church.
“Like most converts, it’s a struggle to become a Catholic,” he says. “There are many very difficult questions that are not easy to resolve, and you come to the point, as I did, that you can’t do anything else but become a Catholic.
“When you come to believe what the Catholic Church says about itself, it’s still hard to go forward when it’s impossible to go back.
Bishop Jarrett believes a “re-alignment” is currently occurring within the Anglican Church. Despite many of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide still remaining technically in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church also shows signs of threatening to unravel due to internal tensions over theological issues. The realignment has some notable features.
“What is most assertive in the Anglican Communion at the moment is a strong evangelicalism, and it’s very Bible-based, very much out to win people to Christ. That side of Anglicanism has a fair bit in common with Christian outreach people, that’s where the strength of Anglicanism seems to be at the moment,” he says.
Then, he says, there are ‘High Church’ Anglicans whose liturgy is very close to that of the Catholic Church, but having chosen to ordain and consecrate women as priests and bishops, “you couldn’t say they’re re-aligned with sacramental order, the teaching of the Church or respect for the authority of the Pope”.
He said he noticed a strong Anglo-Catholic side of Anglicanism – of which he also became part – while studying in England. Many of these are strongly ‘Catholic principled’ with many – both priest and lay – choosing eventually to become Catholic.
Then there are others, he says, who have ‘Catholic inclinations’ but prefer to stay where they are as it appears too great a hurdle to leave Anglicanism, especially when generations of their families have stayed.
“There are a number of Anglicans who are just hoping against hope that everything will turn out all right,” he says. “They’ll continue in their parish life and hope that somehow they’ll be able to continue as Anglicans even though they resist the ordination of women and other decisions.
“They are the ones who, if the Catholic Church was able to bring about a reconciliation with a substantial group of Anglicans, could well also come across with that body. It could tip the balance for them.”
As these faithful are already familiar with everything the Church believes and teaches and have, in fact, suffered for their beliefs, Bishop Jarrett says: “Catholics can only be sympathetic towards these people.
“They often feel alone and isolated. They’ve left their mother Church due to matters of conscience that have been very painful for them, yet have not been able to enter into communion with the Catholic Church.”
Archbishop Hepworth also sees another realignment within Anglicanism coming out of the current “extraordinary ferment,” which is not necessarily sympathetic to the Catholic Church but which has strong traditional Anglican elements of missionary fervour.
“There’s extraordinary growth there, and with it comes growth of opposition to contemporary Catholicism, such as Catholic doctrines about the Eucharist and the Mass.
“Meanwhile, Catholic Anglicans like ourselves find we have no place within the Anglican Communion; there’s a high level of intolerance but we’re also finding it possible to communicate with the Holy See in a way we couldn’t have done previously.”
Much is riding on the Holy See’s hoped-for decision to welcome the TAC.
Archbishop Hepworth believes it likely some among the Eastern Orthodox churches are also waiting and watching to see what happens to the TAC.
“They will be asking how Rome will cope with these groups; and if it can, how it would cope with groups like themselves. We’ve posed problems Rome has not had to deal with for 400 years as nobody’s actually asked in this way for that period. There are unknowns and fears on both sides.”
Whatever the case, Bishop Jarrett urges Catholics to welcome Traditional Anglicans into the fold. He knows; being received into the Catholic Church was the best thing that ever happened to him. Being ordained a Catholic priest and later consecrated a bishop made the experience all that more special.
“When you actually have the courage of your convictions (to join the Catholic Church), it all opens out beautifully and you’re at home,” he says. “You’re never happier. “
When he first travelled to England at the age of 18 he was a “practising Christian,” while work often took him past the Catholic Westminster Cathedral where he frequently popped in to pray.
“I’d never at that time even thought about becoming a Catholic. This is the way the Lord guides you. I would never have even dreamt of being ordained a Catholic priest, let alone being consecrated a bishop, when I was 18.
“That’s why I’d do everything I could to help someone in a similar situation (of transition).”
He’s had the joy of seeing many of his Anglican friends become Catholics and even become priests.
“The questions (he faced in converting) weren’t so much doctrinal questions; I didn’t find it hard to believe what the Catholic Church taught,” he says.
“The hardest thing in those days when I became a Catholic was the hurt that I knew I would do to my family and friends.
“When you join in a common cause, as I was with my classmates in the theological college, to become a Catholic was a pretty confronting thing to do in the mid-60s. But it’s become more common now.
“You tended to imagine [the suffering you would cause others], but it wasn’t as bad when it actually happened.
“People don’t cut you off. Some did, but they soon just nodded their heads and got over it.
“You have to keep going forward, the more you know about the Church and the more the truth takes hold of your mind, you can’t go back, you see the inevitability of where it’s leading and it seems hard to face up to. But when you come in, a whole new vista opens up, because you’re home, so I’ve always been very sympathetic to the Anglican Church as it gave me both my faith in Christ and a very catholic tendency as a result of the Tractarian movement of 1833.
The Tractarian movement was an affiliation of High Church Anglicans at Oxford who sought to demonstrate that the Church of England was a direct descendant of the Christian church established by the Apostles.
The most famous figure to emerge form the movement was John Henry Cardinal Newman who looks likely to be beatified in the near future.
The remaining beliefs in the ideals behind this movement led the bishop towards the Catholic Church.
“They were tapping into exactly the same sources of the Catholic Church itself,” the prelate said. “So Cardinal Henry Newman (himself an Anglican convert who copped vitriol from Anglicans when he crossed over) then the vicar of the Oxford Church, said at the time that the Anglican Church, despite all the reformation and revolution, is actually Catholic. So the Anglican Church went through yet another doctrinal and liturgical renewal that lasted well into the 20th century, looking to Rome looking for its doctrinal and liturgical guidance, but always staying clear of the question of the Pope.
“It’s a version of Catholicism without the Pope,” Bishop Jarrett said, “but it’s what led me ultimately to the fullness of the truth in the Catholic Church.”
That’s the difference between countless efforts at reformation and re-unification with the Catholic Church and the current efforts by the TAC – the latter is willing to submit completely to the Holy See.
Its bishops, including its Primate, Bishop John Hepworth of Adelaide, even signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to prove it.
They seek a communal and ecclesial way of being Anglican Catholics in communion with the Holy See, “at once treasuring the full expression of the Catholic faith and treasuring our tradition within which we have come to this moment”.