Sunday, November 07, 2010

End of the Church in England and Wales

I have written on this before, forgive me repeating myself and developing my thoughts.

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


1569 Rising said...


The illustration is of St Aloysius' Chapel in the Junior House at Ushaw, abandoned in the 1970's and left to rot, along with the rest of Newhsam's Junior Seminary of 1850.

My own spiritual formation was in that chapel, and I weep every time I see the complete dereliction, and the lack of care demonstrated by the authorities.

Will the rest of the College go the same way? We must pray that the governors (the Bishops of the Northern Province) will not close their collective minds to approaches being currently made by Traditionalist Orders to take over Ushaw.

We must pray for wisdom. and for a miracle. I write in great sadness.

Terry Middleton

Dominic Mary said...

What a very powerful - and as far as I can see almost wholly accurate - assessment and commentary on such an important issue.

In particular, Amen to your last comment : the Ordinariate will, I believe, be a valuable thing of great value, and I hope and pray that many will join it . . . I'm sure that it will do a lot for the Faith in England, and no doubt worldwide as well.

We should all keep this whole issue in our prayers, especially at this significant time.

Giorgio Roversi said...

I’ve noticed that the picture you’ve chosen for the post, quite significantly, is from Ushaw.
My hope is that the LMS plan to set up a traditional seminary at Ushaw will succeed. It would mean that things are really starting to change and there is still a future for the non-Ordinariate Catholic Church in this country.

Mike Cliffson said...


Sadie Vacantist said...

In the North of England the situation is terrible. All the seminaries are now closed. The Catholic Church is now a branch of the Anglican communion for people with Irish names.

Zephyrinus said...

The Comment from 1569 Rising was spot on (and heartbreaking). Let us pray for a successful outcome of "The Ushaw Situation". Please God, let the Northern Bishops' hearts and minds be moved to agree to the Latin Mass Society (LMS) approaches.

Misericordia said...

I wish Pope Benedict XVII would show the same loving concern for Traditional Catholics, as he has for Traditional Anglicans, by establishing an Ordinariate for us with our own bishops who would be independent of the current diocesan ordinaries.

If the Traditional orders were able to use Ushaw at which to train their seminarians, whose numbers are increasing to such an extent that their own seminaries are overflowing, I think we should see the Church vibrant again in this country.

The Novus Ordo community could continue on its own sweet way, with more and more lay-led services and various liturgical abuses, and would doubtless be perfectly happy.

Jacobi said...

The Pope has said that we might have to accept a smaller Church.

Is poaching priests from other countries a proper, or indeed ultimately, a fruitful investment, given the many souls elsewhere anxious to be saved?.

I suspect we are only half way through the post-Vatican 2 reformation, or whatever future historians will call it. After all it took up to 100 years before the Protestant reformation was recognised as such.
As ageing heterodox liberals die off and many of the badly cathecised generations drift away, the future of the smaller Church may well lie with the clergy of the Ordinariate and of course the growing numbers from the Traditional orders.
And would fewer parishes be a bad thing? I can reach 8 parishes inside 30 minutes by car.

It will take time, but remember, that Christ's Mystical Body on Earth has been here many times before, since the Resurrection.

Athanasius said...

Trads at Ushaw? How many would it need to make it viable? I just can't see it.

A Catholic church in this country which is re-formed: I can see that happening with young priests who have a sense of continuity, with former Anglicans eager for authentic faith, with a committment to Christ. Yes, that will happen and is already starting.

An English Pastor said...

Father, a great post but a word of dissent. We have a former Anglican clergyman in our Diocesan presbyterate and he holds a very high position in our Curia -but he is as far from Traditional Catholicism as you can get. He is, therefore, a candidate for the Bench of Catholic Bishops... he certainly has much respect from our own Ordinary. Oh dear...

Pastor in Monte said...

Living as I do in a seminary right now, I can tell you that there are some signs of an upturn, at least in the south—these signs were there even before the Papal Visit. There is anticipated a larger intake next September, though of course whether that will continue remains to be seen.

pelerin said...

Jacobi asks: Would fewer parishes be a bad thing?

When I remember my first parish with three active Priests which I believe was once the norm, and compare it to today's parishes where one overworked priest has to do everything, I occasionally wondered what would happen if we had one large church for the town. It could replace some 8 or so churches at present scattered from one end to the other. And it could be served by 8 Priests.

However before everyone shoots me down I must say that for many this would be disaastrous. Apart from the very real attachment people have to their own church building, travel on a Sunday by public transport is dire - and we don't all have cars.

And for those without bus passes the cost of fares would be understandably a deterrent to many families to attend Sunday Mass let alone a weekday Mass. Attendances would plummet, yet again. Or if they attended they would not be able to contribute to the collection having spent so much on the bus fares.

Surely the answer is not fewer churches but to pray for more Priests and to preserve those we have by trying to make their lives easier.

St Jean-Marie Vianney OPN

georgem said...

Without doubt Pope Benedict, being well aware of the situation in E&W, has created the Ordinariate in large part to renew the Church here. Many of our new brethren will come with an intellectual rigour and commitment sadly absent in the present set-up As Christ rose from the dead so will the Catholic faith in the Dowry of Mary.
We may not see it in our lifetimes, nevertheless we are the foundations upon which which the Pope is building. He knows first-hand now how strong those foundations are. He came and saw for himself how the Catholics in this little island defied the myriad gloomy predictions of those who little understand the faithful in the pews that the Papal visit was a disaster in the making.
He witnessed and understood how short he and we had been, and are, being sold. This witness is being replicated in every country he has visited. Surely, in return, we can replicate his courage in striving for the future of the Catholic Church. Sad though the loss of our beautiful buildings are, of themselves they are not important and we have been there before and survived. We can, and will, do so again. Athanasius is right. It's already starting.

Dilly said...

I got a bit lost in the ins and outs of the negotiations.
Although a cradle catholic, would I be able to fulfil my Sunday obligation, while travelling etc or on occasion, by attending Mass at an Ordinariate church?

pattif said...

It seems to me that a creative solution to the Ushaw situation might be for a traditional order to be invited to establish a seminary there to run alongside the existing seminary. It wuld be an opportunity for the mutual enrichment the Holy Father hopes for to develop from the roots up.

Re. the importation of priests from abroad: as I understand it, it would not necessarily be a question of unfairly "poaching" priests. I met a newly ordained Polish priest a few years ago, who told me that his seminary and others were ordaining more young men each year than the dioceses could find jobs for; many of them would be delighted to come to the UK, partly, but not exclusively, to minister to the Polish immigrant community (just as the Irish did before them). Diocesan protestations that "they don't understand the way we do things" sound like so much orthodoxophobia to me.

While the reduction in serving priests might necessitate the closure of churches and amalgamation or parishes, can someone please explain why it is always the church of outstanding architecural merit, historical significance or deep emotional attachment that is targeted for closure, rather than the hideous sixties concrete box in the neighbouring parish?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Dilly, Of course.

canon lawyer said...

Can. 923 of the Code of Canon Law says that 'The Christian faithful can participate in the eucharistic sacrifice and receive holy communion in any Catholic rite.' As the Mass offered in the Ordinariate would certainly be a Catholic rite, any of the faithful could satisfy the obligation in this way.

Paul, Bedfordshire said...

There is something quite exciting about the possibility of attending an Anglican Mass that is in communion with the Catholic church- a return to continuity with the direct successors of a church that WAS the Catholic church in England until the accession of Elizabeth I.

Misericordia - I'm afraid I disagree with you. Groups like the FSSP are already part of the mainstream church so why do they need an Ordinariate any more than Redemptorists or Jesuits do.

The next step is for FSSP to run parishes like other orders. I think they will have to rethink their total ban on OF in oder to perform this role though.

Surely it is right that if the FSSP take over a parish and run it that they make provision, out of charity, for those parishoners attached to the OF. There will not be enough dioscesan priests to bus one in.

Apart from anything else, if they do offer such masses in a reverse "summorum pontificum, they can show how the OF should be done in a way that, aside from the likes of Fr Ray, is rare on these islands - not using extraordinary ministers, not doing the optional shaking hands at Pax Domini, Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem and parts or all of the proper in Latin are all wholly valid for the OF.

Dilly said...

Further to my original question - and allowing for the duty to support one's home parish - do you see cradle catholics attending services in Ordinariate churches which are more to their taste. (Not me - I'm one of the despised Irish papist immigrant stock). I live on the border between 2 parishes, and attend the one I feel is more orthodox (long story) but also go to the EF on Fridays and 3rd Sundays at a wonderful parish a couple of miles away. I think there may be an ordinariate parish within about a mile of here as well, fairly soon (maybe not in its current lovely building). I have some concerns along the same lines as you, but I am also very angry that the traditionalist orders and ordinariates are not being made welcome. My worries are along the lines that if the traditions are too separate, then the Church in this country will factionalise on class and race lines.

Independent said...

But will there be any Masses in either the EF ( as happens sometime in the C of E) or the Book of Common Prayer form of the Catholic Book of Divine Worship in the Ordinariate?

Will the Anglican patrimony as absorbed by the Catholic Church be merely the better performance by sometimes married celebrants of the OF plus a few hymns and Evening Prayer.

Misericordia said...


The trouble is, that the Bishops of E&W are very reluctant to allow the Traditional orders to set up personal parishes. How many such parishes are there? As far as I know there is only one, run by the FSSP, in Reading.

Rather than sell unused churches to these orders, the Bishops prefer to allow these building to stand and rot. Here in the North-West, the ICKSP has made offers for two different churches and have been refused.

The Bishops are totally hostile to the Traditional orders, who therefore need to be answerable only to their own Ordinaries and to the Pope.

CW said...

"The Novus Ordo community could continue on its own sweet way, with more and more lay-led services and various liturgical abuses, and would doubtless be perfectly happy."

When l sing 'et únam, sánctam, cathólicam' on a Sunday at our Novus Ordo mass l really believe it. But then l am a lay person now doubt committing countless liturgical abuses.

Since when was this 'them and us' stance acceptable in our Catholic Church? I belong to my local parish and l support it in everything (OF and EF.) This kind of divisive opinion in the Catholic church l find so distressing. The idea that a whole parish would only provide only one form of the mass is unimaginable. I don't understand why EF advocates don't spend more time educating the followers of the OF in the potential similarities of the rites rather than painting pictures of such disparity.

Get out there and teach people the chant. Encourage more Latin and pray for the abolition of 'Shine Jesus Shine' but please don't ever think that somehow you are superior to those celebrating the OF.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Our bishops seem to be anti-everything. All the recent appointments have been 'pastoral' men. This is a sure sign that they can't find any intellectuals to support their failed initiatives and projects for the simple reason the initiatives lack common sense or reason.

Fr Francis Marsden said...

Good article, Fr Ray. The only place I would demur is over the possible import of Polish/Nigerian priests. If the spiritually more fruitful parts of the Church are producing more vocations, maybe the transfer of clergy is God's way of shaking up the dying embers in those areas which have compromised with the Zeitgeist and are dwindling away. Vatican II asked for more mobility of priests to parts where they are needed. England has sent missionaries to Africa, India and S America for decades. Maybe now we need to be humble enough to accept their help, and stop worrying about cultural differences or using that as an excuse for the fear of orthodoxy.

The ratio of working priests to Catholics in Liverpool archdiocese would now be about 200:500,000 = 1:2500, and it is declining fast. Average age of working priests is 68/69. The average "life expectancy in good health" of a man in England is 68. So more than half the priests will have serious health problems. We are going into meltdown.

Moreover, should we not be comparing the ratio of priests not just to Catholics, but to the total population too? - aren't we supposed to be missionary, bringing the Word of God to all our fellow countrymen, not just the ethnically Catholic? That figure would put is far behind most European countries in the provision of priests.

Best wishes
Fr Francis Marsden
St Mary's Chorley Lancs

Anonymous said...

Chin up Father, it isn't all doom and gloom. We love you!

I didn't convert from Anglicanism for nothing.

The store of faith the Catholic faith has is so much bigger. Just use it, use it as much as you can.

There are a million reasons to be English and Catholic. Probably more.

Remember we are with you! fight the good fight!

Edward P. Walton said...

As far as the traditional orders go, there is fear among the local Bishops that this would result in loss of revenue.

In many places, the use of the confessional seems to be almost a thing of the past. This one seems to be accomplished thru omission.

With all the permanent Deacons and lay ministries,the priest seems to be only needed for confecting the Eucharist.

I am sure that in time; they will get around that one too.

Misericordia said...

"The idea thay a whole parish would only provide only one form of the Mass is unimaginable".

Oh really?

The vast majority of parishes provide only the Novus Ordo.

Michelle Therese said...

In our parish we only get Mass on Sundays and Monday at noon. We don't have the blessing of a resident priest. It's a bleak and empty spiritual life and very depressing.

Physiocrat said...

What sort of liturgy will Anglicans-become-Catholics have? Will they want to be doing the Sarum rite? It is a serious question. Apparently it has never been abrogated and I understand it has the same status as eg the Ambrosian rite.

And where does this leave us Catholics? What if we decide the ex-Anglicans are making a better job of things? What happens to people who are in two parishes at the same time, eg if St Nicholas went Catholic, which mass should we be going to? What happens to the buildings? Will these ex-Anglican parishes have to use ours?

Dilly said...


If you are talking about a Pugin church recently vacated by a dying order - in a Northern diocese, it makes me very distressed, as I know many parishioners would welcome a new order coming in - and the layout is almost completely un-wreckovated and suitable for the EF. Maybe a re-application under the new regime would be better received?

fr paul harrison said...

Here in the diocese of Lancaster in a few years time 50% of our priests will be 65+.

However, of even greater concern has been the collapse in Mass attendance. Some parishes will close not because of a shortage of priests, but because of a shortage of people!

Sadie Vacantist said...

@Fr Harrison

The ratio of priest to lay person hasn't changed significantly in decades. In other words there is no shortage in vocations but the shortage is exactly as you say, the Faithful itself.

The Church has become a southern phenomenon which, in part, explains why all the seminaries north of Birmingham have now shut.

Gladiatrix said...

I don't mean to be picky but is it possible for an edifice to be suffocating? I know an embrace can be suffocating but am not sure of the rules applying to buildings.

Lee Gilbert said...

I don't know about England, but we in the U.S. have displaced the culture of vocation (family rosary, etc.) with the culture of distraction (TV, movies, etc.).

The result is that 2/3 of the priests in the Diocese of Baker City (which is more than half the state of Oregon) are from the third world, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, etc.- countries not yet overwhelmed by the culture of distraction.

Our assistant priest is from Uganda, and he tells me that even now television hardly penetrates into rural areas, which suggests to me that rural Africa will be supplying priests to "The First World" for some time.

There is no mysterious, intractable "vocations crisis", not in England or anywhere else. The Culture of Distraction has overwhelmed the Culture of Vocation, that is all. We like it that way.

Television, movies, videogames, ipods, football, baseball, basketball, , crossword puzzles, soduku, gambling, drugs, pornography, work and hobbies of all sorts constitute much of the fabric of Western Civilization. Are we going to give all this up so that God can get a word in edgewise? Unthinkable.

Our prayers for vocations are in effect prayers that the Culture of Distraction be annihilated, at least within our own Catholic homes, but since this is something we do not really want, how can we expect an answer? Thus it is that with every passing day we are deciding within our own homes, in effect, that we do not want the sacraments.

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