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Tue Dec 18, 2012, 09:47 AM


Conversion of members of one of the first Anglican religious orders heralds end of Anglo-Catholicism

The sisters will follow the Rule of St Benedict (Photo: Fr James Bradley)

The sisters will be received into the Ordinariate; their avoidable expulsion from their convent has been a heavy price to pay

By William Oddie on Tuesday, 18 December 2012

It was announced last week that at 10am on January 1, eleven Anglican Sisters, members of the Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage, one of the first post-Reformation Anglican religious communities to be established in England in the wake of the Tractarian movement, will be received into the Catholic Church. They will be received into the ordinariate by Mgr Keith Newton, leader of the ordinariate in England and Wales, at St Aloysius, Oxford, the Church of the Oxford Oratory (which, as it happens, is my own parish church).

This will, of course, be a wonderful and joyful occasion. But this is a group conversion for which a heavy price has been paid: there will also, I am sure, have been some distress, distress which so far as I can see (and I have been told nothing, I simply read between the lines) has been inflicted by the lack of good will of the Anglican authorities. The sisters had hoped that those becoming Catholic — who are the core of the community, those most active in its life — could stay on at the convent in order to care for the remainder of the sisters, who are mostly old and frail, and for whose care they have thus far been responsible. Anglican and Catholic sisters would have continued to sing the office together, but there would have been “appropriate Eucharistic provision”: the Catholic sisters would have had their own Mass. That way, says the community’s mother superior (who is leading the group of sisters soon to be received into the Church) they could have continued to look after the older sisters. But, writes the superior, Mother Winsome: “After considerable discussion with the authorities of the Church of England and the ordinariate, it has become clear that this would not be possible.”

This means, I speculate, that the (Anglican) Bishop of Oxford has said no: for, if he had been prepared to cooperate with this proposed solution (the community, after all, owns its own buildings; they don’t belong to the C of E) this eminently sensible, and irreproachably ecumenical, scheme could have gone ahead. If I am wrong, I hope someone will correct me: but I bet I’m not. The fact is that the bishops of the Church of England hate the ordinariate with a passion, and will go to any lengths to do it down (and that, I repeat, is my judgment, and not that of anyone to do with the sisters or the ordinariate).

Who will now look after those left behind? It looks as though solving that problem has not been easy, and it may be that in the future the sisters now leaving will have to return as outsiders to carry out this work. As Mother Winsome explains, the 11 sisters joining the ordinariate “are in the main, but not exclusively, the able-bodied members who provide the work and management to keep the community going, so, since the ordinariate community do have to relocate, considerable time has been spent and will continue to be devoted to ensure that the remaining members of CSMV will be well cared for: spiritually, physically, emotionally as well as financially.”



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