Will the headline writers never tire of proclaiming: “Church of England Split Imminent”? The  General Synod of the Church of England is meeting in York this week, and despite the fact that the church has been moving relentlessly towards women bishops, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury put together a proposal that would offer the traditionalists a ‘safe system’ of male only bishops. The proposal has been defeated. Details here.

Anglo Catholics now really do stand at a crossroads. They must stop dithering and decide whether they really want to be Catholics or not. I can remember facing the same decision after the vote to ordain women priests. I went to a clergy meeting of those opposed and one of the leaders, quite wisely said, “Gentlemen, we must face facts. We are not Catholic priests, nor have we ever been. We are clergymen of a Protestant state church who appreciate Catholic culture, spirituality and liturgy. The sooner we go back to our parishes and get on with ministry on those terms the happier we will be. The only other real choice is to become Roman Catholics.”

I turned to my friend and said, “Right. That’s well put. I’m out of here.” He was aghast. “What? Rome?” “Yep.” And off I went, and was received into the Catholic Church nine months later. This is the same choice now faced again by many Anglo Catholics. They must decide whether they want to stay in the Church of England and finally accept that they are Protestants who like to do things in a Catholic way and accept female bishops and the homosexualist agenda, or else become Catholic.

The difference now, which these men have which I did not have is the possibility of the Anglican Ordinariate. Now is the time for the Vatican to act, and with the Anglo Catholic bishops and the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to establish the Ordinariate as quickly as possible. Catholic dioceses and parishes could enable this to happen very quickly and effectively if they want to. This is how it could work:

An AngloCatholic priest and his remnant congregation who want to come over should immediately be offered hospitality in a local Catholic parish. The Bishop should assign a priest (preferably an already established Catholic priest who is a convert Anglican priest) to train these men while their cause for Catholic ordination is processed. At the same time the people should be catechized and all of the should start attending the Catholic Mass. Once they are received the Catholic parish should provide them an altar and time for the Anglican Rite Mass to be celebrated.

Once the congregation is established they can begin working together to obtain their own building. It might be a dis used Methodist chapel which they do up. It might be an Anglican Church that is redundant. It might be a Catholic Church that is redundant. It might be an old village hall or some other suitably ecclesiastical building that can be converted.

What will be needed is a positive, missionary mentality. This is a fresh opportunity for Anglo Catholics to do what they have (traditionally) done best–to step out in faith and do something beautiful for God–to proclaim the gospel with vigor and zeal and simplicity and to do so with the graces provided by being in full communion with the Holy See.

Will Anglo Catholics step up do this? Will their leadership forge ahead with the Holy See to make this happen? Will the Catholic bishops of England and Wales seize the opportunity? Will individuals have the courage to make this happen? Let us pray for our brothers and sisters who face the decision and pray that the faithful steps they take will help with the much needed conversion of England.

Finally, let us pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury. More often than not I have portrayed him as a muddle headed academic liberal. I’m not saying he’s anything different, but I do feel that beneath the muddle there is also a man of prayer who has a heart for unity in his church and that his best efforts at compromise have only left him isolated and distrusted by both the liberals and the conservatives. I should think he feels pretty miserable right now.