“I thought you’d already gone through the exit door a long time ago. Unless you actually want to stay and fight?” tweeted the Rt Rev’d Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, in response to former Queen’s Chaplain the Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden, during a discussion about liberals vs Anglo-catholics and the rise of the “intolerant exclusive ‘inclusives'” who seek to take over the Church of England. “Any hope for a Continuing movement in England to preserve Anglicanism, or are all true Catholics destined for Rome?” asked a passer-by. “I think the continuing Anglican church is called the Church of England!” Bishop Pete responded categorically. “This is no time to hand it to the liberals.. If there is no future for the catholics, we’re all in deep trouble.”
It was an interesting exchange, not least because the opening sentence evidences a certain episcopal ignorance, if not complete indifference to the departure of Gavin Ashenden, who has indeed now left the Church of England, though he had not done so on March 9th when the exchange took place. That Bishop Pete Broadbent had thought that a Chaplain to the Queen, as he was until January 21st, had “gone through the exit door a long time ago”, suggests that the hierarchy didn’t particularly care whether he had or not: the head can indeed say to the big toe, “Sod off.” But he hadn’t gone, so the challenge remained: “Unless you actually want to stay and fight?”
Gavin Ashenden has decided that he doesn’t want to stay and fight, so he has gone through the exit door – departed, quit, deserted, scrammed, gone. He has terminated his legal relationship with the Church of England, though he is at pains to point out that he has not resigned his orders, which are, he says, “indelible”.
“Have you ever given thought to joining the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham?” enquired one Eduardo Revero.
“I have given it a good deal of thought,” responded Dr Ashenden, with the weight of Newman on his shoulders.
“Go for it!” exclaimed journalist and Roman Catholic convert Dr Tim Stanley, as though conversion from Royal Chaplaincy to Roman Catholicism in two months were as simple as just going for it. What of the gospel? What of salvation? What of the Eucharist? What of the witness of the Reformation martyrs?
But the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has been circling like a vulture ever since Bishop Philip North was forced to decline the See of Sheffield, and Anglican traditionalists have been wondering if the Church of England can still offer them a spiritual home. “The CofE’s trajectory is now obvious. Orthodox believers – you’d be very welcome here”, trumpets convert Mgr Andrew Burnham, formerly Bishop of Ebbsfleet, in the Catholic Herald. But it’s a distasteful inducement. Here’s what Mgr Burnham really thinks of Anglicans:
The missio dei in the Church of England amounts to nothing more than flogging broken vacuum cleaners and swindling lost souls out of the Pearl of Great Price. The Ordinariate spies what it believes to be a dead and rotting Anglican carcass, and drools (if vultures do) over the tasty morsels being thrown up by the internecine battles over matters of gender and sexuality. Forget all the soothing talk of joint mission and mutual respect and the shared worship of ecumenical exhortation: Anglican order remain “absolutely null and utterly void”, as Pope Leo XIII promulgated in his encyclical Apostolicae Curae. When an Anglican priest or bishop crosses the Tiber to the Ordinariate, if they wish to minister they must be ordained. Not, please note, re-ordained, for the Roman Catholic Church believes and asserts that they were never ordained in the first place.
Which is why the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham can offer no natural spiritual home to the eminent Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden, who insists that his orders are “indelible”. He cannot “Go for it!” without publicly repudiating every sacerdotal act he has performed in his entire life of ministry. And, being married, Dr Ashenden will find that he has less chance of ever being appointed a bishop in the Ordinariate than he has in the Church of England (which is, sadly, as close to zero as it is possible to be without being so).
It would be strange, if not a little ironic, that he might exchange a church with gender issues for a church with gender issues; a church in which being a woman is a boost to higher office for one in which being married to a woman is a bar to higher office.
It is strange indeed that shepherds of the sheep like Mgr Andrew Burnham have dedicated the best part of their lives to the belief that the Church of England is the authoritative continuing Catholic Church in England, albeit reformed after the break with Rome, and then cross to Rome over questions of the exercise of that authority. If the Church of England were ever part of the One Holy and Apostolic Church, and Andrew Burnham and Gavin Ashenden were ordained into it, in what sense was their ordination so “absolutely null and utterly void” that they require ‘re-ordination’, which is really a primary ordination?
Such faithful men have long been a bulwark in the Church of England against liberals, progressives and the more robust Protestants. It is sad indeed that Gavin Ashenden has chosen to depart instead of determining to “stay and fight” his theological corner. We pray for him, of course, and hope that he might soon find a home in which he might dwell with peace, and from which he might venture to continue his ministry to the nation.
But to join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham would be to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. They can holler ‘valid orders’; and hover, pick and scavenge all they want. But do they really believe that intelligent, thoughtful, discerning men like Gavin Ashenden will proclaim the utter and total invalidity of their Anglican Orders – and thereby negate and nullify a lifetime of ministry – over the trivial, ephemeral, worldly obsessions of gender and sexuality?