Tuesday 8 March 2016

"She says she's the Monsignor's wife. It's a bit odd..."

This is a full transcript, in the original English, of my interview with Monsignor Keith Newton, of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, who was recently in Portugal. The news report, in Portuguese, can be read here.

Esta é uma transcrição integral, no inglês original, da minha entrevista com Monsenhor Keith Newton, do Ordinariato de Nossa Senhora de Walsingham, que esteve recentemente em Portugal. A reportagem, em português, pode ser lida aqui.

What numbers are we talking about nowadays, both in terms of Our Lady of Walsingham and of the three ordinariates together? Is this within what you expected when Anglicanorum Coetibus was announced?
There are currently three ordinariates, one in America, one in Australia and one in the UK. And the one in the UK is still a very small structure. We have 90 priests, but only a couple of thousand lay people, altogether, and they are divided over about 40 groups of varying sizes around the country. 

So that is the size of it. But of course some diocesan Catholics often come and worship us because they quite like the community and the feel of the liturgy, so there are a number where that happens, and there are a couple of parishes which we are looking after in which the Ordinariate group and the local diocesan Catholic group worship together, so it’s difficult to say what the actual numbers are worshiping with Ordinariate priests, but the actual registered number is about 2000.

So that is 90 priests including the six former bishops?

How about worldwide?
I think there are probably a bit less in America, because they started a year after us, so I think there are about 60 or 70 priests in America and about 20 in Australia. I don't know about the numbers in the USA, they are probably a bit bigger than ours, but not enormously bigger.

Obviously, all this has very much to do with internal strife in the Anglican Communion, which you as a bishop experienced first-hand, and which I imagine you still follow closely. The Episcopal Church was recently suspended from the communion, what do you have to say on that?
I don't think they were suspended from the communion, what they have decided to do is not to allow the Episcopal Church to send any representation to any major dialogue or any commission within the Anglican Communion, so they have not actually been suspended from it, and it’s only a temporary arrangement for three years. And they have done this before, actually, so it is not unusual. I think the Archbishop of Canterbury… I understand he is desperate to keep the communion together, but whether he can achieve this, I rather doubt it because you've got two groups which are going in very, very different directions. 

We know that many of the more disgruntled and conservative minded Anglicans are from the African churches. But there has been no enthusiasm from Africa for the Ordinariate… Why is this?
Because most of the people in Africa and some parts of Asia who are particularly upset about the direction of the Anglican Communion do not come from an Anglo-Catholic background. They come from a very Evangelical background. So although they would agree with the Catholic Church on many questions of morals, attitudes to marriage and sexuality, generally, and they would agree with the Catholic Church in terms of what we say in the Nicene Creed, their ecclesiology would be very different and their sacramental life would be very different, so I don't think they would naturally move towards the Catholic Church.

Having said that I think there are some who see that the Catholic Church may be the only place in the long run which will actually defend the faith of the apostles. 

So should we expect more ordinariates in the future?
I don't know. There has been some interest, I know, from some Lutheran countries which want something very similar, with small groups of Lutheran Christians. I suppose that another ordinariate could be erected in some parts of Africa, like South Africa, or India, but not that I know of at the moment.

Having established the ordinariates, is there not a danger that within a few generations these will be assimilated into regular Latin Catholic communities?
Well that is certainly a danger, but that was not the vision of Pope Benedict. I think the vision that he had was that there should be a structure within the Catholic Church which would value and recognize legitimate patrimony, so long as it was compatible with the faith of the Church, which could enrich the life of the Church.

Now, we've already got that in the Catholic Church, within the Eastern rites, which are quite separate jurisdictions. This is the first time it’s happened in the Latin Church, so it could be very easy for that to happen, but I think it’s very important that Ordinariate priests and people realise that we have two things to do. One is to try and maintain a distinctiveness, because if there isn't a distinctiveness, what's the point of the Ordinariate? 

They've got to maintain that distinctiveness while also cooperating and being fully part of the wider Catholic Church. Now that is a balance we have to work at, and who knows, in God's time, what will actually happen, but the vision, I think, is a vision for unity. We talk about unity, we have lots of commissions and meetings and documents produced, but this is an opportunity to show what realized ecumenism is, the ecumenism which has actually taken concrete form, could be like. Where people are in communion with each other, they believe the same faith, they share each other's sacraments, you can go to mass at one place or another, but it shows there is a recognition of the gifts that other ecclesial communities have brought to the wider Catholic Church. Now I think that is a great vision, and it’s a great hope for unity, so we have a big job to do. So, what will happen in the future? I don't know, I'm not prophetic in that sort of way. 

There was much debate at the time of Anglicanorum Coetibus about the ecumenical implications. In hindsight, do you think it aided ecumenism or made it more difficult? Or was it perhaps a way of saying that ecumenism, with a goal to full reunion, with the Anglican churches is no longer seen as possible?
I think that is absolutely true. I don't think anybody would say that the hopes and dreams of the original ARCIC meetings, which began with Michael Ramsey going to see Paul VI in 1966, have actually borne fruit. The dream of a united church, of corporate union, has not been fulfilled. 

But I think that is what Our Lord prayed for and I think everybody recognizes that the ARCIC, which still meets, has a much more limited goal now. We want to try and understand each other, and there is nothing wrong with that, to understand how the Church governs, how it comes to decisions and all that sort of thing, but I don't think anybody thinks it’s likely that union is around the corner. Now that may the long term goal, but we are talking about a long, long, long, way in advance. 

I think the Ordinariate happened because of those conversations, I think they are a fruit of that, and wouldn't have happened without them, but they are also a pointer to what is possible in the future, for other people to look at. One of the interesting things about the Ordinariate, is that people may have been suspicious about it, but it has forced those who are still Anglicans to ask the question "what is our Anglican patrimony? What is it we would like to preserve within a united Church? What is important and significant?”

At the time we kept hearing about waves of Anglicans who might be ready to join the Ordinariate. There was a first which came in immediately, there were others who seemed to be waiting to see what the arrangements would be and came in later... Do you think there are still people waiting in the wings?
I think there are, but I think that now it will be more of a trickle. I think when it was something new, there were 1.000 in the first year and about 500 in the second year, and so forth. But it is much more difficult now for an Anglican priest who wants to explore this to do so publicly.

The Church of England bishops, for the most part, when we spoke to them and said some of us were thinking of doing this, may not have been happy, but they allowed it to happen. I think that now if an Anglican priest went to his local bishop and said he wanted to have meetings in his parish about joining the Ordinariate, I think he would be very unhappy. So it is very difficult for priests to actually bring a group together now, five years later. 

The norms of the Ordinariate say that the ordinary “may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See”. What criteria are these? 
Well, we haven't got any at the moment. One priest was ordained, who hadn't been previously an Anglican priest, and that was because when Anglicanorum Coetibus was published he was in his final year of seminary training for ordination and was already married, with two children, so we petitioned for his ordination, and we sent him to seminary for two years, he had already completed his training for the Church of England, at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, then we sent him on to Wonersh for two years and petitioned the Holy See and Pope Benedict signed his dispensation, and allowed the ordination to go forward.

So that was just one, there haven't been any others, we haven't worked out any criteria and I think at the moment it is unlikely we will be able to do that, but it is still part of the norms.

Ordenação de três ex-bispos anglicanos
na Igreja Católica
Do you see married clergy in the long term future of the Ordinariate?
Well, to be honest I don't know the answer to that. 

It's true to say that married clergy are part of the Anglican patrimony, I think everybody sees that. But I think if we had married clergy in part of the Latin Church, which the Ordinariate is, I think it would raise all sorts of questions for the whole of the Latin Church which are probably not ready to be answered at the moment. 

The Holy Father has talked about opening this question. I think if the question was opened we'd have a contribution to make. But I don't think it is for us to raise the question. 

Married clergy is one of the big and more divisive issues within the Catholic Church, with opinions usually split along conservative/liberal lines. In this debate you and other former Anglican priests are a bit of an anomaly, as you tend to be more conservative or traditional, theologically and liturgically, yet you are living examples of how a priest can exercise his ministry faithfully, yet have a family at the same time. What is it like to be in that position?
It's a bit odd...

I was talking the other night at a meeting here in Lisbon about Anglicanorum Coetibus, and I think that I was the first ever married ordinary in the Catholic Church. At least for centuries. Because every bishop, who are the ordinaries, and there are not many ordinaries who are not bishops, are all celibates. So it is quite unusual. 

My wife says she is the Monsignor's wife, which is a bit odd. 

But I have not found, particularly amongst the more traditional minded Catholic priests, that they find this difficult. They know it is a pastoral exception, it's the Church opening its arms to the difficulties of people who want to be in full communion and found themselves in a difficult theological place. The Church has been warm and generous and I think that many priests have gone along with that and become our friends and supporters.

But I don't think they want us to raise the question, generally, about married clergy.

You were a bishop in the Anglican Church. Becoming catholic meant being “reduced” to priest and, as far I understand it, cuts in pension and payment… How easy was it to decide on moving? 
Oh that was easy! The decision was easy.

Once the Apostolic Constitution was published I could see no reason for not going forward and exploring this. It had been my prayer and dream, for all my ministry as an Anglican priest, that there would be corporate unity between Catholics and Anglicans, and I saw that, over the years of my ordained ministry in the Church of England, being frustrated in all sorts of ways, so that it was no longer a realistic hope. 

When Pope Benedict said “you don't simply have to come as an individual, you don't have to leave your history behind! You can bring that with you into the Catholic Church, to enrich the whole Catholic Church”, and I couldn't see why you'd say no to that, it just seemed to be such a generous and incredible structure that was being offered! 

So the decision wasn't difficult. And I'd been thinking about my future for some years, I have to be honest, and there were practical difficulties, but then you just trust in the Lord, I suppose... I remember we went through some fairly difficult times with my wife and at one point she said: “I don't know why you are worried about this, we have done this before. We went to Africa, the two of us”. I was a missionary, and we went with two young children, aged four and one, and that was pretty challenging, but it all worked out fine. You just have to trust!

There were practical things, such as where we were going to live, but the Church has been very generous and has found me somewhere to live, I took a cut in what I received, so I get paid the same as we pay the Ordinariate priests. I didn't lose much pension, only the few years I didn't serve in the Church of England, so I am in a fortunate position. Our younger clergy did not have that, but nothing was taken away, I have a right to that, so that was not too sacrificial.

And when people come to speak to us and ask what will happen to them, I say it won't be easy, and you go through some difficult patches, but none of our priests have been homeless, and none of them have been without food. So God provides.

Have any of the priests who came over decided to go back?

Would you have changed if your wife was not on board?
Probably. But she'd have had to agree with it, because part of the dossier you send to the Holy See is your wife's declaration that she is happy that you will be ordained a Catholic priest, so whatever happened, she would have needed to agree to it. One or two of our priest's wives have decided not to become Catholics, so it had to be her decision, and of course I was delighted when she did, it's much easier and better that we worship together and she's a Catholic as well.

It was probably made easier by the fact that my daughter became Catholic before we did, so that probably helped a little. So yes, I think I would have done it, but it wouldn't have been such a happy thing.

How many children do you have?
Three, and two grandchildren.

Were you ordained or conditionally re-ordained? 
I was ordained absolutely. There have been one or two former Anglicans who were ordained conditionally, like Graham Leonard, who was bishop of London. He had to prove that his ordination was probably valid, mainly because of the Old Catholic bishops taking part in his ordination.

But I think the question of Anglican orders (Cardinal Kasper said this at a meeting at the House of Bishops that I was at) might well have been opened and examined again, but I think once the Anglican Communion started to ordain women to the priesthood and particularly to the episcopate, I think that was then put on the back burner. So it was very clear that we were ordained absolutely.

But nobody asked me to deny that God had worked through my ministry, nobody had anything negative to say about what I had done.

And how does that make you feel about your former ministry?
I think God does work in all sorts of ways through people. So I don't think there was not grace there, I think there was grace, where people serve him with integrity.

I look back at it in a different way. I read John Henry Newman, when he becomes a Catholic, at the end of his Apologia, he looks back at the Church of England and you can't help seeing it in a different sort of light. So I do see it in a different sort of light.

I am a Catholic because ultimately I do believe this is the Church of Jesus Christ and I do think that the Petrine ministry is essential to the life of the Church.

Celebração numa igreja anglo-católica
Some of us who are not used to Anglican atmospheres have difficulty understanding the difference between Anglo-Catholics, and Evangelicals, etc. In your case, you are obviously Anglo-Catholic, is that a family thing?
No. There is a whole range of traditions within the Church of England. From Calvinistic Evangelicals to what used to be called Anglo-Papalists. You could come anywhere on the spectrum.

I was brought up in a fairly middle of the road Anglican parish. It was sacramental. We had sung communion every Sunday morning, and the priest wore vestments, but it wasn't extreme. It wasn't until I went to university that I became much more Catholic in terms of doctrine.

I was never an Anglo-Papalist, I liked sacramental traditions and always valued good worship and ceremonies, and so forth. And when I was ordained I went to what you would probably call Anglo-Catholic churches, sung mass on Sunday, incense, statues of Our Lady and so forth. So that is the tradition I was brought up in.

But there are lots of Anglicans who come from very different traditions. It’s part of the problem, of course. There is one person who thinks that the Eucharist is the highest form of worship, that it is a representation of the Sacrifice of Christ, and within the same Church you've got somebody else who thinks it’s just a memorial meal.

Most of us just ignore the other traditions, but sometimes, when you seem them close at hand, you wonder how can the Church hold such divergent views about things you find so essential?

And of course, within the Anglican Church, not only have we got those views about sacraments, but you've now got a whole group of liberal people who deny basic Christian doctrines and are still ministering in the Church of England. There was one group, which seems to have disappeared now, called The Sea of Faith, in which most of them did not really believe in God in and traditional form that we might understand. 

And you have a well-known Anglican priest who was denying the Virgin Birth, in the newspapers over Christmas, so there is a whole range.

The Ordinariate was very much a brainchild of Pope Benedict and his papacy, and when Pope Francis was elected there was mention that, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he had been critical of the idea. As Pope he has since nominated an ordinary for the US Ordinariate, so he is obviously not denying the Ordinariate, but what feelings are you getting from Rome, under Pope Francis?
Well, under his pontificate the norms have been changed a little bit, to allow the evangelization to be recognized a bit more within the Ordinariate, he has said that people who belong to the Ordinariate don't have to come from an Anglican background, if they have completed the rites of initiation within the Ordinariate community then they can be registered as members.

So, that is a very positive thing, and the appointment of a bishop to be Ordinary of the American Ordinariate, shows that he is not against it.

I think the comments that were made to the Anglican Archbishop in Argentina, Greg Venables, were made privately, and I think Greg Venables was quite embarrassed about them when they came out publicly, in fact I spoke to him. 

What you have to understand is that Pope Francis comes from Argentina. The Anglican Church in Argentina is extremely Evangelical, therefore he would have found an ally in Archbishop Venables on moral questions, such as gay marriage, abortion and sexuality generally.

So it might have been very different if Pope Francis had been Archbishop of New York and what he saw of the Episcopal Church had been very different from his experience of Anglicanism in Argentina.

I think when you become Pope you have to have a much wider vision of things, so I suppose he has understood it a bit more, one hope's that is true, he has definitely not shown any negativity towards us.

O arcebispo anglicano de Buenos Aires com
o então arcebispo Jorge Bergoglio
How about your comment on the Papacy in general? There is clearly a very different style. Many of the members of the Ordinariate would, I imagine, have been very attracted to Benedict XVI's style in terms of worship for example. Has there been a shock there?
I don't think so. Every Pope is different!

Benedict was very different from John Paul II, his style and the way he taught. I think Benedict was a great teacher and in some years people will look back and realise just how great a teacher he was. His books are fantastic, his preaching was magnificent.

You've got a very different Pope in Francis, he comes from a very different background, he comes from Latin America. He is much more demonstrative. I think many of the things people have said that he has done, which have been received well, were things that actually Pope Benedict did, but nobody really recognized it when he did it. 

I mean, kissing children, this is not new. Going to the poor, visiting the sick... I think Pope Benedict did it, but he perhaps didn't do it quite with the panache, and I think what has happened is that Pope Francis is very popular with journalists.

I think every Pope brings something different and something new. Comparing one with another is not helpful, you have to thank God for what He has given you and the blessings we receive from that. No doubt the next Pope will be very different from Pope Francis.

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  1. A couple of talking points, first, as the article translates "into English"..."There is one person who thinks that the Eucharist is the highest form of worship, that it is a representation of the Sacrifice of Christ, and within the same Church you've got somebody else who thinks it’s just a memorial meal." An example of the so fuzzy nature of the C of E....in spite of the clear dictates of the "39 Articles of Religion" which does support the latter position. And this should be the primary reason to go over to Rome .... for their is no debate at all here for as dictated by "Transubstantiation" -- which the C of E derides (note : Article 28----you are to receive the real presence. And second when Pope Francis decries that, "to belong to the Ordinariate don't have to come from an Anglican background ". Is not that what it is all about? Or should be all about ?

    1. Thanks for your comment Viola.
      Not sure if I understood you correctly, but just to be clear, this is not a translation. The conversation took place in English, so this is a full transcript in the original language.
      All the best!