Our diocesan seminary doubled in size in the 1960s to accommodate the sons of Irish immigrants who wanted to become priests, at the same time English bishops would go on fishing trips to Irish seminaries to invite surplus seminarians to come to their diocese. Ireland then had so many young men who wanted to be priests it couldn't accomodate them.
The ratio of priests to practicing Catholics in England and Wales was always about 1:300. Only Malta surpassed England and Wales. Now the priests of that generation are on the verge of retirement or are dying. The Catholic Church in this country is going to change drastically, it is going to be harder and harder to find a "convenient" Mass. Already parishes are being amalgamated, in rural areas priests are having to travel vast distances to celebrate Mass for dwindling congregations, in the cities churches are sharing priests who are increasingly infirmed, aging and tired. If you are pickey about who supplies for you it can be impossible to get away from a parish. Soon, if a priest is sick the only alternative will be a Sunday Distribution of Holy Service with a lay-leader, the same when he needs a holiday or retreat.
England and Wales has never been able meet its need for priests from its native sons, now Ireland is on its uppers, there is a call to amongst some circles to import priests from abroad: Poland and Africa. Whether that is actually fair to Poland or somewhere in Africa is not discussed. Those who put forward this suggestion really don't want change, they want their Mass for communities that do not have the spiritual fecundity to produce there own vocations. No where in the world has the luxury of so many priests for so few lay people as England and Wales.
In my diocese things would be much worst than they are if was not for incoming former Anglican clergy, both married and celibate. Our diocese is dependant on them, in some diocese they together a smattering of Anglican laymen form the majority of seminarians, where this is not so they certainly form a very significant minority. Most come from the Anglo-Catholic Tradition, a few are Evangelicals or come from the charismatic movement.
Despite their numbers currently converts are excluded from the bench of our Bishops, I think there is only one, Bishop Hopes, an Auxilliary, in Westminster. As Bishops are nominated by Bishops it might be taken as significant that their importance and value is not recognised by those with power. Perhaps it is orthodoxy that is a bit frightening, or simply being outsiders. Things will have to change.
Up until now ex-Anlicans have joined dioceses and occassionally religious orders but what will happen in the future when the Ordinariate is established? I find it difficult to believe Anglican clergy considering leaving the C of E are going to become members of an English diocese, are they not going to join the Ordinariate? And those potentially poping St Stephen's and Mirfield men are not going to leave the arms of Anglo-Catholicism to join the English southern cone, they are already going to be in the Catholic Church but in the Ordinariate.
For some dioceses that is going to leave them with hardly any seminarians, ever, for ordination, yet the Ordinariate is likely to be top heavy with clergy.
Is it possible that within a few years in our country the non-Ordinariate Catholic Church will cease to be, unable to sustain itself, top heavy with beaurcracy, unable to attract vocations or to serve the plant it has built up. If that happens won't our dioceses be increasingly seen as chaplaincies for foreign immigrants, whilst the Ordinariate becomes increasingly seen as the mainstream representative of English Roman Catholicism? Its orthodoxy and romanitas will make it attractive to so many existing Catholic laity.
Some of our bishops got in a bit of huff over the CDF dealing directly with their Lordships of Burnham and Ebbsfleet, the press suggested that those in negotiation didn't quite trust our own bishops, I suspect that was a bit of hyperbole but I think it is quite likely that the Ordinariate will wisely want to steer a wide course away from the suffocating edifice of the Bishop's Conference.
I offer my prayers and good wishes to The Bishop of Richborough, the Right Rev Keith Newton and The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Right Rev Andrew Burnham.whose resignation from the C of E is expected tomorrow