Over the past few days on social media, I have been the subject of attacks regarding some questions and concerns I’ve raised about clergy members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (OOLW), one of three personal Ordinariate structures in the Church. These Ordinariates were established by Pope Benedict XVI to allow former Anglicans to retain their religious heritage and traditions while being in full communion with the Catholic Church. Among the accommodations made for the Ordinariates has been the ordination of married former Anglican priests and Divine Worship: The Missal, which was promulgated in 2015 and is “a way for the Ordinariates to celebrate the sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church with an ‘Anglican inflection.’ The missal uses Prayer Book English—language derived from the classic books of the Anglican liturgical tradition—that is fully Catholic in expression and content.”

The reception of married former Anglican clergy into the Church is not new. Pope John Paul II approved a “Pastoral Provision” in 1980 allowing for the priestly ordination of married former Protestant clergy on a case-by-case basis and permitted the use of a modified Book of Common Prayer in personal parishes of former Anglicans. The Ordinariates, however, provide a distinct canonical structure across traditional diocesan boundaries, each with its own ordinary (either a Catholic bishop or a Catholic priest who is a former Anglican bishop). The OOLW is the Ordinariate based in the United Kingdom, the other two are based in North America and Australia.

Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus was published In November 2009, and the Ordinariates were established across 2011 and 2012. A decade after their establishment, the results have been decidedly mixed. Recent figures have shown that their numbers are modest. In 2019 the OOLW was reported to have 97 priests and 1,850 lay members, meaning that for every priest who has joined in Great Britain, only 19 laypeople have done the same. The ratio is higher in North America’s Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (OCSP), which reportedly has 74 priests and over 6,000 members, as well as Australia’s Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross (OOLSC), which reportedly has 23 priests and 1200 members. All three groups reported dramatic drops in membership between 2016 and 2019, according to the numbers in the 2020 Annuario Pontificio.

Unfortunately, the Ordinariates have not been free from scandal. In the OCSP, for example, a priest in Indiana was removed from ministry in 2018 after kidnapping, beating, and sexually assaulting his wife. Another ordinariate priest in Maryland raised controversy in 2020 for bombastic homilies about US politics. A third ordinariate priest, in Minnesota, was excommunicated in 2019 by OCSP Bishop Steven Lopes following a homily that denied the liceity and teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

In Great Britain, the problems with the Ordinariate seem to be doctrinal, theological, and ecclesiological, rather than rooted in personal scandal. I first became aware of some of these concerns  about priests of the OOWL when I discovered the personal blog of Fr. John Hunwicke, a former Anglo-Catholic priest whose ordination to the Catholic priesthood was delayed by a year (from 2011 to 2012) due to posts on his blog. Fr. Hunwicke has, by his own account, been championing the theory of the “Dutch Touch” since 1973, which argues that Holy Orders in the Anglican Church are sacramentally valid. The reason is that for many years, validly-ordained priests of the Old Catholic group—which broke off from the Catholic Church in the 19th century—have been participating as co-consecrators in the ordination of Anglican bishops. By extension, ordinations performed by the priests and bishops “infected” by the Dutch Touch of these Old Catholics would also be valid. Fr. Hunwicke repeatedly made the case that he was already validly ordained, and that if he was to be ordained in the Catholic Church, the ordination would be null.

Fr. Hunwicke has debated the ins and outs of this question on his blog many times. He wrote in 2010, “If ‘Ordination I’ was valid, then ‘Ordination II’ is as a matter of fact a nullity. If ‘Ordination II’ is valid, then ‘Ordination I’ must have been a nullity.” At various stages, he publicly advocated his case that his previous ordination was valid and even pushed for conditional ordination. After his ordination was delayed, he stopped blogging until he was finally ordained to the Catholic priesthood. Then he started up again, such as in 2014, when he wrote a four-part open letter on the “problem” of former Anglican priests being “reordained.”

Even more serious and problematic is Hunwicke’s relentless and open hostility to Pope Francis. He has signed two poorly-reasoned but highly-publicized open letters accusing Pope Francis of heresy. As recently as September of this year, he wrote about the “urgent canonical question of proceedings against popes whose orthodoxy has been called into doubt,” stating that “With regard to Pope Bergoglio, the Heavy Lifting has been done already.”

But with Hunwicke, that’s only scratching the surface of his opposition to Church authority and the pope. He not only holds Pope Francis in contempt, but apparently sees him as evil. Keep in mind, this is a Catholic priest, who claims to be orthodox and in full communion with the Holy Father. It leads me to wonder why writing sentences like these has not been met with any public reprimand from his ordinary: “Bergoglianist ultrapapalism is a heresy every bit as deadly and as evil as all the other heresies which have assaulted the Church Militant. What makes the present situation arguably more serious than any other in history is the circumstance that Bergoglianism is now favored in the highest places and enjoys the power to utilize the Church’s machinery of government. Bergoglianism is quite simply Satan’s masterpiece.”

Hunwicke may be the most outspoken of the OOLW priests, but he is hardly alone in his opposition to the pope and his initiatives. And nothing has brought out this opposition from the ordinariate more than the current global synod. Despite what seems to have been a good-faith effort by OOLW ordinary Msgr. Keith Newton and Vicar for Evangelization Fr. Paul Burch to get the synod off on the right foot, the Ordinariate’s report noted skepticism and suspicion among the participants, reporting, “A modest percentage of members submitted responses, via groups and individually. This might be explained in part by people’s perception of the process as resembling synodical government, which was not a satisfactory experience for them as Anglicans. Resources sent to groups did attempt to draw a distinction between a ‘synodal way’ and synodical government, but the consequences of democratic governance of Anglicanism remain stark to members of the POOLW and are not easily forgotten.”

Of course, the participants in the Synod might be forgiven for being misled by papal critics’ dishonest charges that the synod is a parliamentary or democratic process. But their clergy should know better. The Catholic Church is not a religious denomination akin to the Anglican Communion or the United Methodist Church where policies and even major points of doctrine are subject to majority vote or left to private individuals to decide for themselves. And yet many Ordinariate priests apparently do not realize the difference.

In 2021, one OOLW priest wrote on his parish website, “We have to say ‘not in my name’ whilst refusing to be fobbed off or seduced by false assurances that synods will never be abused in this way. As a former Anglican I have heard that chestnut before. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!” Near the end of the post, he writes, “Let us pray then and resist changing the governance of our Catholic faith. Because if we don’t the Catholic life as we know it ends and we will be delivered into a liberal and protestant future.” It is problematic when a Catholic pastor writes to his flock that a Synod called by the pope threatens the indefectibility of the Church, then makes a public call for resistance against it, and equates the Catholic Church—founded by Jesus Christ and with its unity protected by the Successor of Peter—to the Anglican Communion (founded by Henry VIII).

What I sense in this case is a defiance rooted in genuine fear, unlike Fr. Hunwicke’s prideful rejection of magisterial authority. It perhaps speaks to a deficient formation in Catholic ecclesiology, which one might expect when ordination to the Catholic priesthood immediately follows reception into the Catholic faith.

Another, albeit more erudite, example of this was brought up by Christopher Lamb last week, in a report on a recent speech by Msgr. Michael Nazir-Ali, a former Anglican bishop who was ordained to the Catholic priesthood last year only four weeks after his reception into the Church. Lamb wrote, “Nazir-Ali did not mention the word ‘discernment,’ nor did he reference Pope Francis. ‘The Catholic Church has a way to settle these matters,’ he told the bishops, referring to the disputes within Anglicanism on gays and women, ‘and you must not give that up. Because the lesson from what has happened to the Anglican Communion and also some liberal Protestant Churches is that that way lies confusion and chaos.’” Once again, the fundamental differences between the Catholic Church and Anglicanism are overlooked, and Msgr. Nazir-Ali, seems to believe that the principle of synodality could lead the Church to somehow “give up” its claim on Christian truth.

Other priests of the OOLW rarely have anything positive to say about Pope Francis on social media, but instead portray him as an object of snark and ridicule, such as Fr. Benedict Kiely, who once tweeted “’Pope Francis says something nice about faithful Catholics’  now that would be a news story!” Some mock the very concept of synodality, such as Fr. Mark Elliot Smith, who tweeted in 2018, “Remember: if someone ever says to you ‘I quite like the idea of synodality’, don’t walk away. Run, very fast.” Fr. David Palmer initially joined Fr. Hunwicke as a signatory on the so-called “filial correction” of Pope Francis’s heretical teachings, but withdrew his signature.* There are many more examples, some of them much more cynical and inflammatory, but the point is not to single out priests, most of whom are fundamentally sincere and have good intentions. But clearly there’s something lacking in their formation about the Catholic Church.

Certainly many critics of Pope Francis will see these actions and this lack of respect as good things. But this, of course, is based on a flawed understanding of the papacy and Catholic ecclesiology. It’s certainly bad enough that disgruntled traditionalists, including a few scattered members of the clergy, engage in apocalyptic and paranoid rhetoric about the destruction of the Church. It’s even more frightening when a concentrated group of clergymen, called to take up a very important mission in the Church­—to help bring former Anglicans into full communion with the pope and the Catholic faith—pick up traditionalist tropes and graft their protestant fears onto the Church founded by Christ himself.

This has not gone unnoticed. The National Synthesis Document of the Church in England and Wales reported on this problem:

17. The resistance of a portion of the clergy to the synod process is remarked on in many reports. Special mention is made of the mistrust of some former Anglican priests who cited negative experiences of synodical parliamentary-style governance of the Church of England, with its motions and votes, pressure groups and campaigns, which “are not easily forgotten”. Others expressed fear that the Catholic Church would end up going in this “Anglican” direction, despite the differences between the two synodal traditions. Many who voiced that fear claimed to see an “agenda” to change or undermine settled Church teaching and disciplines, which led them either to avoid the synod or take part primarily in order to voice those fears.

Later, the document says, “There is a felt need in the UK context of a clear account of Catholic synodality in the past and in Pope Francis’s teaching, one that shows both commonalities but also contrasts with the synodical governance in the Anglican tradition” (37). This is certainly true.

The priests of the Ordinariate have the potential to do tremendous good in service to the Church. They bring with them a rich heritage and a beautiful liturgical tradition. Their missal, for example, is a unique expression of a cultural tradition, restoring to the Catholic Church elements of the Sarum liturgy that was common in England prior to the Reformation. I do not doubt that the desire of these priests to serve the People of God is real and that in most cases their priestly ministry is a response to a genuine call from God. Still, the Ordinariates will not succeed unless their clergy embraces what Newman described in The Grammar of Assent as “the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic.”[1] I believe that such a change is possible, because we are always called to deeper conversion. The story of the Ordinariates is only beginning, and if their members prayerfully heed God’s call with humility and trust in his Church, the future will be bright.

*Correction 14 Nov 2022:

Although Fr. David Palmer was listed as a signatory in articles published by The Tablet and National Catholic Reporter, he was not an official signatory of the document. According to a tweet he posted today, “So firstly I am not a signature on that letter, I was asked to sign it… I said I would, then a day later thought better of it… which is why I’m not one of the official signatures. However I withdrew my support more because of the tone than the content.”


[1] Saint John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, p. 240.

Image: Ordination to the priesthood of members of Ordinariate, 2011. © Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0, Source: https://flic.kr/p/9Sioec

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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