by Martin E. Marty, special contributor
Archbishop Vincent Nichols ordains five priests for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral on Friday, June 10, 2011. (photo: ©Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)
Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, famines, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, and many other natural disasters — supernatural disasters and signals to Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson — are prime global and local topics. They inspire prayer and practical responses, but they also provide metaphoric language for religion. Try this, from National Catholic Reporter: “NO EARTHQUAKE FROM OVERTURE TO ANGLICANS,” a story by John L. Allen, Jr. This week he could have communicated as well by writing “No Hurricane after overture to Anglicans.” “Earthquake” works better, so let it stand.
The overture in question is the new Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a two-year-old structure instituted by Pope Benedict XVI to make it possible for hosts of Anglican clergy — and, less-noticed, laity, into the Roman Catholic communion. Don’t know where and why Walsingham is? We don’t need to. Don’t know what an Ordinariate is? Neither did the authors of the Catholic dictionaries on my shelf, but you can figure it out, and may need to if this issue interests you. It made possible the group reception of clerics into Catholicism as opposed to one-at-the-time processing through “conversion.” By the way, Allen wrote on June 8 that the ordinariate numbered 900 laity and 60 clergy “including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.”
Some nervous Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and ecumenically-minded “others” had foreseen a surge — see how that metaphor creeps in? — of Anglican priests who oppose the ordination of women. Allen foresees some more ordinariateers when Anglicans welcome women into the priesthood. (By August 19 he revised the statistics to “1,000 laity and 64 clergy…” scattered across 27 different communities.)
Allen says “there’s scant evidence of a revolution,” so this earthquake has to be “downgraded” to near zero on Richter scales, since it represents “roughly .02 percent of the five million Catholics in England and Wales.” That number, he thinks, could go down, or a bit “up” if, as foreseen, Anglicans will begin ordaining women to the episcopate next year. By the way, Allen, when interviewing leaders, makes a point of describing them as “thoughtful” and not antic or frantic. Still, despite all the predictions: “No Earthquake.”
Such a judgment applies outside the U.K. as well. In 1952 when I was ordained, without the help of an ordinariate, we would hear on occasion of a minister in our communion or others who had “defected” from the Catholic priesthood and been “converted” to some Protestant group. Perhaps because the events were rare and the gulf between Catholics and Everyone Else then was cosmic, such pastors became celebrities. Like “apostates,” of whom Max Scheler wrote, they “spent their whole subsequent careers taking revenge on their own spiritual past.” The gulf between communions has now narrowed; the ecumenical spirit has taken the roughest edges off the old abrasions.
Now and then we hear of the move of a Protestant minister to the Catholic priesthood, news accompanied by predictions of a forthcoming surge of such moves. In some circles of the church these predictions create tremors. However, eased ecclesial relations, the sense that the vocation of others is sacred and not to be judged by uninformed people at a distance, and an awareness that even if the statistics rise to .03 percent, we must still say “No Earthquake.” The rumblings may even provide opportunities to listen and learn and not merely to yawn. Or quake.
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, including Pilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.