It is twenty five years this year since the world's leading Anglophone Catholic theologian, Fr Aidan Nichols read, at Littlemore, a thoughtful paper on the situation within English Christianity in the aftermath of the decision of the Anglican English General Synod to permit the purported ordination of women to the Priesthood.
Fr Aidan had already published The Panther and the Hind, a theological history of Anglicanism which concluded with a strong recommendation that there should be created an Anglican 'Uniate' Church representing the Anglican Patrimony yet committed to the totality of doctrinal truths which the Church of Rome preserves and proclaims.
How well I remember that dreadful day when the Synod vote was taken. I remember even more the following morning, when I made the regular walk across the fields to Nathaniel Woodard's great Minster Church at Lancing, to offer the most august Sacrifice of the Mass. "Can I do this?" Well, I did do it. But for so many of us, we never had another day of unclouded happiness in the Church of England.
And so the question arose of a group movement into full communion with the See of S Peter. Cardinal Hume began by asking whether these events might represent that Conversion of England for which so many prayers had been offered. But something ... or somebody ... caused him to change his mind. The May statement of the English Catholic bishops went out of its way to be offensive. We were a group which had adhered vigorously to the entire doctrinal package of the Catholic and Roman Church. But the English bishops, who had never seemed to be particularly draconian in their enforcement of orthodoxy, decided to start lecturing us on the need for those entering into full communion to accept everything ... an everything we had been teaching for decades. Fr Nichols expressed our misery with his customary elegance ... and not without a felicitous dash of irony: "That statement of the Catholic bishops leaves little to be desired where it speaks of the necessity of whole-hearted adhesion to the complete teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. If, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic episcopate in England has been, on the whole, a pastorally rather than doctrinally engaged episcopate, the statement represents a new quality of articulacy and firmness on what Cardinal Hume called the 'table d'hote' rather than 'a la carte' nature of the menu at the Cghurch's banquet".
To be continued.