About 900 members of the Church of England have taken the first step toward becoming Catholics, the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales declared in a March 15 statement. The former Anglicans participated in a Rite of Election, the first step toward confirmation, over the March 12-13 weekend, the church said. Those embracing the Catholic Church will be joining the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Benedict XVI to receive Anglicans who have felt isolated since the Church of England decided in 1992 to ordain women to the priesthood.
Tensions have grown as the governing General Synod of the Anglican Church moves to allow women to become bishops while denying any specific protection for traditionalists. Converts joining the ordinariate will be allowed to keep some Anglican liturgy and traditions. The largest number, some 240, were reported in the Diocese of Brentwood east of London, followed by 167 in the south London diocese of Southwark and 100 in the central city of Birmingham. Converts included 61 former Church of England priests. "I am greatly encouraged that these people will be received into the Catholic Church at Easter as members of the Ordinariate," said Rev. Keith Newton, the priest in charge of the new group.
Each year those preparing to join the Catholic Church are invited to attend the Rite of Election. It is usually presided over by the Bishop and inaugurates the final period of preparation before being received into the Church near the end of Lent. The Rite of Election is an important part of a process called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) which is designed to support adults attracted by Christ and his teaching. In the months leading up to the Rite of Election it is usual for small groups to meet weekly to pray together and to find out more about the Catholic Faith.
The Church of England has 22,000 clergy and claims 1.7 million active members in the United Kingdom. In England and Wales, there are 25 million nominal Anglicans whereas there are reportedly 4.2 million Catholics. Catholic parishes are growing, having had their congregations swell with arrival of Continental immigrants and British converts.
Pope Benedict XVI caused a shock wave among Catholics and Anglicans when in October 2009 he gave them very late notice of his announcement that he was creating the ordinariate. The ordinariate takes its name from an 11th-century vision by a woman in Walsingham in eastern England, who was led by the Virgin Mary in spirit to Nazareth to see the place where the New Testament says an angel told Mary she would bear a son.
Bishop John Broadhurst, the shepherd of the Anglican Diocese of Fulham Diocese, and leader of the traditionalist group Forward in Faith, as well as a small St. Peter’s Anglican parish in Folkestone have decided to convert because they object to moves in the Church of England to allow women bishops. Bishop Broadhurst accused the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod, of acting in a ‘fascist way” by “marginalizing those who have been opposed to women’s ordination.” He plans to resign by the end of 2001, adding “I am not retiring, I am resigning,” he added. “I expect that I will enter the ordinariate when it is established.”
Following a public meeting in January 2011, many in the congregation of St. James the Great, in Albert Hill, Darlington, decided to join the Ordinariate. Father Ian Grieves, priest at St. James, who had already declared his plans to leave the Anglo-Catholic church, said it justified his decision. Father Keith Newton, a former Anglican bishop who was ordained as a Catholic priest to head the Ordinariate, addressed the congregation afterwards.
Fr. Grieves said that in the month since, dozens of people had decided to take up the offer to join the worldwide Catholic Church. They are expected to be among the second wave of Anglicans across the United Kingdom to leave the church on Ash Wednesday next year. They will spend Lent preparing to convert before joining the Ordinariate in Holy Week. St. James the Great has been an Anglo-Catholic church for more than 100 years. Fr. Grieves has been at the church for 22 years, increasing the number of followers from only 18, and helping to fund hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of improvements to the church. However, the future of the church building and members of the congregation who do not defect remain unclear. The congregation may need a new church and Fr. Grieves a new home.
Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the exodus in both Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells as worshippers opted instead to celebrate their first mass at Catholic churches.
In Tunbridge Wells, Father Ed Tomlinson led 70 worshipers to join St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church in Pembury leaving a congregation of just 15 at his former church St. Barnabas. Father Tomlinson said "The big day for us was Sunday when we said goodbye. Wednesday was the beginning of Lent and we are joining with the Catholic Church to celebrate that." He described this week as a "very quiet, tentative first-step" towards preparing to convert to the Ordinariate during the upcoming Holy Week.
"It makes its viability very difficult," Father Tomlinson said. "One of the really sad things is that I proposed to the Church of England we might share the building and work together, but the Church of England has been a bit sore about that so we’re leaving with nothing.” He added, "It is a beautiful building. We’ve not changed what we teach, what has changed is the wider Church of England, who want to worship in a new and different way, which is why in the end it was an easy decision for us because it was a matter of integrity and standing up for what we believe in."
In an 2010 interview, Father Tomlinson said: "Certainly it is fair to say that it would be very difficult for anyone with genuine Catholic convictions to stay, although some may try and do that for the time being. Catholicism in the Church of England is dead beyond a generation. People could stay and enjoy the last few years or could make a radical decision in the short term that would guarantee a better future."
More than 4,700 people of various faiths and Christian faith communities gathered in cathedrals across England and Wales this past weekend as part of their preparation to be received into the Catholic Church.