Page last updated at 02:21 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Anglicans focus on home, and Rome

By Trevor Timpson
BBC News

Jim Cheeseman
Jim Cheeseman is concerned at the Vatican plan's financial implications

New rules on admission to the Roman Catholic Church have been hailed by some discontented Anglicans as an answer to their prayers. But not by all.

Anglicans in Sevenoaks, Kent, have given mixed reactions to the Apostolic Constitution published by the Vatican.

Since the Church of England first ordained women priests in the 1990s several hundred Anglicans have taken the road to Rome; many married Anglican priests have been ordained in the Roman Catholic church.

The Apostolic Constitution, holding out to Anglicans the prospect of their own hierarchies - "ordinariates" - within the Roman Catholic system, has led to predictions that whole congregations opposed to plans for women priests will leave the Church of England.

'Totally unacceptable'

In Sevenoaks - visited by the BBC News website earlier this year to discuss the women bishops debate, the parish of St John the Baptist is firmly on the Catholic wing of the Church and opposed to women's ordination.

But Jim Cheeseman, a parishioner of St John's and a member of the C of E's General Synod, finds much to criticise in the Vatican's plan.

Anglo-Catholics are a group in the Church of England who revere ritual and are close to Roman Catholic beliefs
Many, but not all, Anglo-Catholics oppose women's ordination, which the Roman Catholic Church bans
Since Anglicans began ordaining women priests in 1994 many Anglo-Catholic opponents have joined the Roman Catholics
As the Church of England went on to discuss making women bishops, some opponents still in the Church appealed to the Pope for help
In response, the Vatican proposes to put ex-Anglicans in "ordinariates" additional to the existing Catholic dioceses
It says they will be allowed to retain "those aspects of the Anglican patrimony that are of particular value"

For example, the rules issued by the Vatican say that lay Anglicans joining the ordinariates must receive the sacraments of initiation.

If that means submitting to a fresh ceremony of confirmation, he says, "to me that would be totally unacceptable".

He is also worried about finance, church buildings and housing for the clergy - which the Vatican's rules say the Ordinary, who heads the ordinariate, must provide for.

"How big's the ordinariate? How many people can it support?" he asks.

It might be different if life in the Church of England became intolerable for those who think as he does, Mr Cheeseman adds: "If you were made to say you'd accept any woman minister and accept a woman bishop of the diocese etc etc."

But after a lifetime of active work in the Church of England, he says: "I am loath to abandon ship whilst it's still floating."

His vicar at St John's, Father Ivan Aquilina, has greeted the Apostolic Constitution fervently.

The dream of being Anglicans in communion with Rome is now "tangible and real", he wrote in his parish blog.

The Reverend Anne Le Bas
There's a point when you have to say either women are ordained or they aren't
The Rev Anne Le Bas

He went on: "This is a journey that will take its time... we need to allow some years to make the journey as peaceful as possible."

The Vatican's ordinariates were equivalent to the separate dioceses which those of his persuasion had been asking for without success within the C of E, he told the BBC News website.

And, he added: "The beauty of it is that we are not asked to deny our Anglican heritage."

But Anglicans, including those closest to Rome, are still intent on the women bishops debate within the C of E.

That returns to the General Synod in February - shortly before some leaders of the Church's Catholic wing are expected to make an announcement on whether they are taking up the Vatican's offer.

The key issue is whether the special bishops who minister to parishes who reject women priests will derive their authority from the bishop of the diocese - who could in future be a woman.

Father Aquilina, though enthusiastic about Rome's proposal, says it is "an offer, not the offer" and the discussions in the Synod should continue.

It is important that those of his wing of the Church "should have options to choose from", for he recognises that not all may wish to go to Rome.

Second-class bishops?

Last month, the Synod's revision committee recommended that the special bishops should derive some of their powers from the law rather than the diocesan bishop.

This delighted opponents of women bishops, while their supporters protested that it would make them "second-class bishops" without full authority in their own diocese.

In the parish of St Peter & Paul in Seal, on the outskirts of Sevenoaks, priest-in-charge the Reverend Anne Le Bas thinks the appeal of the Vatican's plan will be limited.

But she is sure the Church must finally get to grips with the women bishops question.

She says: "I've spent 16 years since I've been ordained working under a system where it seems to be perfectly all right for individual churches to say 'We don't think you're really a priest' - and I don't think that that is sustainable in the long term.

Margaret Killingray
Are we really so concerned about the peripheries of church doctrine?
Margaret Killingray

"So I think it would be a backward step to have the statutory provision for discrimination, really, in this new legislation. There's a point when you have to say either women are ordained or they aren't."

Margaret Killingray is a parishioner of St Nicholas' church in Sevenoaks.

On the evangelical wing of the Church, she supports women bishops.

Still, she points out that for many Sevenoaks Christians, such controversies miss the point.

"Are we really so concerned about the peripheries of church doctrine, the differences?" she asks.

"We hold a 'bonanza' in the local theatre, with music and drama and a call to Christian belief.

"It's supported by 18 churches, which includes the Catholics, the Anglicans and the whole lot. Because all of them want people to come to Christ."

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