What a joy it is that these dear old Anglo-Catholic verbs still survive. A famous poem by Sir John Betjeman asked "And has Sam Gurney poped?" (Sam Gurney never did.) Time was, when so many Anglican Catholics, cleric and laic, seemed to be hanging on in the House of Bondage (S J H Newman's turn of phrase) by their finger-tips, keeping all in suspense. Dr Mascall's Ultra Catholic, in that exquisitely snide final line, revealed that he "would have gone last thursday week, had not my wife objected".
But when Pope Benedict issued his Great Invitation, the Ultra priests who had always said that, if Certain Things happened, they would be off, mysteriously seemed all to be still in place. It was the more solidly Anglican clerics who sheepishly turned up with Dossiers to be sent to Rome.
And now the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Jonathan Goodall, has joined that noble procession of poping clerics. He deserves genuine admiration: it is no secret that the numbers of poping clerics has slumped since PF gave a new twist or two to the Petrine Ministry. Bishop Jonathan has demonstrated that the divine imperative to be in communion with the See of S Peter remains as strong as ever, whether in the times of a good pope or of, er, a Pope Francis.
Ebbsfleet has a striking history. When the C of E made 'pastoral' provision for the irreconcileables, the See of Ebbsfleet (a suffragan see of Canterbury, named not after the Railway Station or the Sandbank but after the spot where S Augustine landed) was invented, and its first 'Flying Bishop' was John Richards. He had been a solid member of the Exeter Mafia ... clerics identified with that distinctly Catholic diocese ... and had become one of Exeter's Archdeacons. This meant that he was in charge of clergy discipline and ensuring that the parishes paid their "quota". It was assumed that he would keep his iffy clergy in order; in fact, his gifts and energies were immediately refocussed on defending Catholicism against the liberal bullies. He was a very great pontiff; 'flying bishops' had little canonical authority, but 'JR' had immense auctoritas. His District contained more than a hundred parishes. When, on my retirement from teaching, I came on the market, he very wisely snapped me up.
His successor, Michael Houghton, soon died of heroic over-work. The next Bishop, Andrew Burnham, was also dogged by health problems (and so, for some years, JR continued to 'look after' the South West). But when he got going, Bishop Andrew focussed his attention on RITA (Rome is the answer). He knew that our movement needed a teleology; he reorganised the District as 'The Ebbsfleet Apostolic District' with Romish structures and terminology, and did an enormous amount to organise the movement which resulted in the 'appeal' to Pope Benedict and ... what happily followed.
Let us hope that there will be a long succession of "Bishops of Ebbsfleet", after whose names one will append in brackets the proud information "(poped)".