It seems an eternity ago; another age; but in reality it's little more than three years. Back in those Church of England days I had the considerable privilege of sitting round a table in a basement in Gordon Square with half a dozen others in a Working Party, putting together a statement about our theological position (Consecrated Women). There was a great sense within that group of a mission: to fill up and then to guide a lifeboat to the rescue ship. Most of us are now in the Ordinariate; but others, including some of those who seemed most enthusiastic and vocal about the 'Roman Option', are still with the remnants in the Church of England, gratefully scavenging whatever scraps Christina Reese lets drop from her table. They include one who was, as well as being a member of our Working Party, also the secret Theological Adviser to an initiative unrelated to the Working Party: a secret group of Anglican bishops (seven diocesans and at least a couple of others) who made secret dead-of-night visits with secret overtures to Rome but who drew their secret and trembling toes back up out of the water when Benedict XVI made public his offer of an Ordinariate. (I wonder if those bishops - especially the five of them who are now associated with the Society of SS Wilfred and Hilda - feel at all ashamed about how they treated that dear good old man as they sit - only one of them is still in post - in their retirement homes, nothing to do now except to polish carefully each day their Reasons For Not Going and to feed the cat and to go to Waitrose with their wives).
I often think about the still-Anglican members of that Working Party, and my other friends in the priesthood and episcopate of the provinces of Canterbury and York, with great affection, mingled with sadness at the thought of how much fun, how much sense of real purpose, they are missing out on; how much real talent is being wasted on a dead end; how very much some of them could offer to the great project outlined by Aidan Nichols, of repatriating to Catholic Unity all that was good in Anglicanism. So far, we haven't attended to much more than the liturgical side of things; I claim that I am doing my humblest best but there's work here for dozens (especially, but by no means only, those with academic skills). And there are others ... Fr Brooke Lunn; Fr David Holding; many more ... who have spent decades talking about Unity with the See of Peter ... what is one to say ...
I ought to make it clear that I am not 'proselytising'. I do not have in mind younger clergy who have, with a good conscience, discerned a particular ministry to be completed within the Church of England. I am not thinking of those who are not and never have been 'papalists'; those for whom going to Rome is as problematic (or even more so) than staying. I have in mind solely those who, when we were together, by their words and body-language, made clear that Rome, 'the rock from which we were hewn' as one of them repeatedly put it, was the answer to our pressing need; those who cheerfully said to a PEV 'Give us the lead, Bishop, and we'll follow'; those who told us that they would just put in the few more years necessary to secure their pensions and then join us; and, inexplicably, have been nowhere to be seen since the publication of Anglicanorum coetibus.
Of one thing I am sure. When their time comes, it must be made easy for them (and indeed also for those ex-diocesan bishops, if only they can be man enough and humble enough). There must be no unpleasant nonsense about how they missed the opportunity when the 'terms' were easy. Men who have spent 50 years in the Sacred Priesthood, who are priests to their fingertips, must not be told that they are "too old" for the presbyterate of the Ordinariate; that never again can they expect to stand at an altar holding in their hands the Adorable Sacrifice, that vocation which in the Mind of the Eternal was theirs before the ages began. There must be no subtle (or unsubtle!) systems of discouragement. The spirit of Benedict's gracious intentions must be honoured to the full. The doors must be widely and generously and permanently open. These are good and able men, fine priests, who are called by God to give service in His Vineyard. To treat them in any way otherwise would be very wicked.
But I do urge them not to hang around. We're Keeping The Home Fires Burning until you are ready to Come In From The Cold! Risky, however, to leave it! Do you really want to die in the C of E as it is now, let alone as it will be in a couple of decades? What would you lose by making discreet enquiries?