The Daily Telegraph of England reports that fifty Anglican priests in the C of E are expected to be received into the Roman Catholic Church early in the new year, along with "hundreds" of laity. The number of converts is expected to double after the new structures are in place.
I have made it clear to readers of my blog that I am committed to the future of orthodox Anglicanism and that I have no plans to avail myself of the pope's kind offer within the Ordinariate. I simply have too many theological differences with Rome to make it an option for me. But I am glad that my brothers and sisters whose theology aligns with that of the Vatican will have their path toward full communion with the See of Peter eased for them. I wish them Godspeed and blessings on their future ministries.
I cannot help but wonder, however, if the Vatican is starting to be disappointed with the numbers that are likely to take up the pope's offer. Fifty priests and three sitting bishops (none of whom is a great surprise--the two other bishops are retired) out of the entire Church of England is a respectable number of clergy, I suppose. But the number of laity who have been attracted so far does not seem great. In fact, of all the small number of Anglican parishes world-wide I have heard about that have declared their desire to enter the Ordinariate none of them yet has an average-Sunday-attendance over fifty.
Surely there are some larger parishes in the "Continuum" that will join the Roman Catholic Church in the future, but I cannot help but wonder--even if those "hundreds" of laity doubles to become one or two thousand lay people opting to join the Ordinariate within England, how precisely will those fifty converted Anglican priests serve their quondam Anglican flocks? Will Rome chose to divide them up between thirty new Ordinariate parishes with an ASA of 50 Anglican converts? (Remember, the Apostolic Constitution makes it clear that only Anglicans who convert can actually become members of Ordinariate parishes--"normal" Roman Catholics who might be attracted by the beauties of Anglican liturgy cannot become members of Ordinariate parishes.) How would Rome financially support all these married, former-Anglican clergy serving micro-parishes in light of the fact that most RC priests in the West serve huge parishes for little pay? Or will Rome settle for forming about a dozen parishes of a more financially viable size served by large staffs of part-time, "tent maker," former-Anglican clergy?Time will tell the answer to these questions.
On a tangentially related bit of news: today in Bishop Iker's address to diocesan convention (delivered by Canon Hough in the bishop's absence) it was estimated that it may well take up to four more years before the shadow of TEC lawsuits over property will be finally settled in our diocese by having all issues litigated and every appeal exhausted. In practice this means that no parish in our diocese that might dream of leaving for the Ordinariate along with its building and church-owned vestments and furishings could possibly do so with a clear title until four years from now. I personally don't imagine there are many Fort Worth parishes hoping to join the Ordinariate en masse, but those that are thinking in these terms probably will not relish so long a wait for their dream to come true. It is most unfortunate, but I doubt TEC will give up their punitive course of legal action until the last possible appeal has been followed through to the U.S. Surpreme Court sometime after 2014. UPDATE: Catholic On-line has a fascinating report about an upcoming conference on the Ordinariate available today. In it is this paragraph:
In the United States there are at least 20 identifiable Catholic, Protestant Episcopal, Traditional Anglican Communion, Missionary Episcopal, and Anglican Use congregations, societies and religious orders, incorporating thousands of individuals, who are seeking membership in the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States. Now a unique opportunity has risen to allow all these various individuals and groups to begin to intermingle and start to become one Catholic spiritual family in the Anglican Ordinariate which is starting to take shape in the States.
I note that if the average size of the "at least 20" congregations and groups seeking entry into the Ordinariate is an ASA of about seventy-five persons (a bit larger than the ASA of the known parishes who have openly declared for the Ordinariate up to this point, but I know at least a few of the existing Anglican use parishes are larger than ASA 75 so this is plausible) this would give the organization a starting size of around 1500 lay people. That is very much in line with what we have seen in England so far. Is it possible that the entire Ordinariate in the United States may not be any larger than the largest Latin Rite Roman Catholic parish in my home county at the time of its launch?
About 30 groups from across the country are believed to have registered an interest in joining the Ordinariate. This would mean an estimated 500-600 Anglicans, including about 50 priests, will be in the first wave of converts to join the Ordinariate when it is established in the first half of next year.
So it appears that the "thousands" of a few days ago may must be about 600 in the "first wave." Will it be 600 lay people served by about 50 priests? Interesting.