The Curious Case of Fr Hunwicke

Something like this was inevitably going to happen. The plans for the Ordinariate ordinations were so well publicised, and expectations were so high, that there were bound to be disappointments along the way. What makes the particular case of the postponement (hopefully that is all it is) of Fr Hunwicke’s ordination as a Catholic priest so interesting is that it is bound up with the Church’s struggle to come to terms with the activity commonly known as “blogging”.

I have more than just a little sympathy for Fr Hunwicke. A protestant clergyman (or woman, for that matter) converting to the Catholic faith is faced with a decision, for the sake of his conscience, that requires a relinquishing of a vocation central to his own self-identity: the call to the ministry of word and sacrament. As Anglicanorum Coetibus acknowledges (by allowing the Anglican clergy who are re-ordained as Catholic priests to date their priestly ministry from the time of their Anglican ordination), a certain priestly character is formed even by the exercise of a ministry arising from an invalid ordination.

But no clergy convert to the Catholic faith – not even under Anglicanorum Coetibus – is given any promises ahead of time that they will be ordained to the priestly ministry of the Catholic Church. An authentic conversion must be with no strings attached. One cannot say to oneself: “I will submit to the authority of the Catholic Church IF they ordain me.” The submission to authentic authority must always be primary. It is a submission which is carried out in faith, a submission which requires one to trust that God calls people to their rightful vocation through the institution of the Church. This is a decision I had to make ten years ago, when I was not even certain that I would ever be able to be confirmed, let alone ordained.

As it was, I never sought priestly ordination, but I did put myself forward as a candidate for the diaconate. I then had to face the question of submission all over again when it was gently indicated to me that this path was not my vocation. The anguish caused by that decision lasted all of about six hours. In the years since then, I have been able to experience God’s grace as he has led me deeper into the discovery of a lay vocation within the Church.

Our ways are not God’s ways. What our heart wants is not always what God wants. I have just finished reading the “Gethsemane” chapter of “Jesus of Nazareth: Volume II”. In it, Ratzinger discusses the necessity for our human will to be aligned by grace to God’s will. If this was not easy for Jesus, how can we expect it to be easy for ourselves? But it is necessary. The path to true blessedness and holiness will not be found in seeking a vocation which is not from God.

All that said, I do pray that Fr Hunwicke will one day have his Anglican orders fulfilled by his ordination to the Catholic priesthood. If I am not mistaken, I believe he has already been ordained to the diaconate – and if this is so, then at least, to that extent, he is now in valid holy orders.

But of course, there is another side to all this, and that is the issue that has delayed his hopes of priestly ordination: blogging.

Blogging is a very new phenomenon in the modern age, barely a decade old as a universal means of communication. The Blogosphere has changed the way in which information and opinions are disseminated. I now read more blog articles than newspaper articles. Usually by the time a newspaper picks up a story, I have already read all the information and opinions on which those print articles are based. The remarkable thing about blogs is that they are direct, immediate, universal and unpoliced by editors or peer reviews.

And this raises a difficulty for the Church, which has only been highlighted by recent attempts of the Holy See to reach out to Catholic bloggers. On the one hand, the evangelising potential of blogs is obvious. Catholics now have an avenue for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and for defending the faith against its detractors in public which was previously very difficult to access. On the other hand, blogs are powerful means for the dissemination of ideas and opinions which may or may not be in line with either the Church’s magisterium or the interests of the local Church and its agencies. The power of blogging cuts both ways.

In this sense, coming to terms with the Blogosphere is a challenge at least as great for the Church as coming to terms with the printing press was five hundred years ago. During the Reformation, it was the printing press which disseminated powerful ideas that challenged the established authority of the Church. In the end, the Church came to terms with this invention. What could be used by her enemies could be used in her favour by the Church as well. The Church responded by requiring all books by Catholic authors to have an “imprimatur” from ecclesiastical authority. It also used the idea of an “index” of banned books. These approaches worked for a time, but neither approach will work for the Blogosphere.

For faithful Catholics, and especially for Catholics who have any responsibilities to the Church arising either from vows of holy orders or consecration or from employment by the Church, the only really viable approach is self-regulation by the blogger himself. The blogger has to realise that what he writes may (and almost certainly will) have consequences. He has to remember his obligations to the Church in everything that he writes. He has to seek not to serve himself or his own glory, but rather the greater interests of the Church whom he serves out of love for Christ and his Gospel.

We are still in early days. The relationship between the Catholic Blogosphere (which is vast) and the Church has a long way to go before it is properly developed. The Holy Father has been very encouraging of bloggers, and perhaps this – the path of encouragement – will eventually reveal itself as the way to go. The trust will have to work both ways. The Church needs to trust her erstwhile defenders in the Blogosphere, just as the bloggers need to learn to trust the Church and her guidance and abide by her directives.

Perhaps one sign of a new relationship is the fact that there are today many bishops, priests and deacons of the Church who have their own blogs, as they have found it to be an effective way of communicating with their people. But there are limits. As yet there are no bloggers from within the Roman Curia (can you imagine a “blogging pope”?). Priests who blog are especially aware that they blog AS priests, with a responsibility to their bishops and to the Church. Employees of Catholic agencies realise the same. There is a careful line to be walked here, and it is crucial for the growing mutual trust which is so essential for the beneficial use of the Blogosphere by Catholics of all callings that we carefully adhere to this line.

Please pray for Fr Hunwicke and a resolution to the issue that has arisen for him and for the Ordinariate. And pray for all Catholic bloggers and for all who are in authority over them that mutual trust will develop and be honoured by all for the good of the Church.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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4 Responses to The Curious Case of Fr Hunwicke

  1. Joshua says:

    Dear Fr Hunwicke, whom I was privileged to meet when in Oxford in January last year, is a fine fellow whom I commend to your prayers. Yes, his blogging has got him into trouble, it seems – but better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.

    His thus-far penultimate post on his blog, which has attracted over 160 comments, contains an illuminating exchange between an anonymous commenter and he himself, which I reproduce here:

    “Observer said…
    “I do not think that the Bishops said or implied that the liturgy was unfit for purpose or that English-speaking Catholics had been denied authentic worship for 40 years. They spoke more of a vernacular liturgy which was being improved (supposedly) by more literal fidelity to a Latin original.
    “Of course the Church does not seek to supress free speech, but there is a difference between what Catholic laymen might say to one another in private and what a priest in formation ought to say in a public forum.
    “Fr Hunwicke is accustomed to a liberal, tolerant environment, one where he had licence to speak and write more or less as he chose; now he must adjust to one which is much more authoritarian. He who has made his bed must learn to lie down in it.”

    “Fr John Hunwicke said…
    “I can’t understand what our anonymous ‘Observer’ is on about. I was under the impression that, provided one stays obediently within the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, articulated by the Sovereign Pontiff, one has liberty. Liberal clergy, after all, write letters and contribute columns to periodicals and newspapers in which they cheerfully deride the teaching of the Holy Father. Perhaps ‘Observer’ would like to explain carefully who it is that has set up this much narrower Magisterium which constitutes the ‘bed’ which Ordinariate clergy have deemed to have ‘made’ and in which they are supposed to ‘lie’. If I express views which have been espoused by the Holy Father himself, who on earth does ‘Observer’ think he/she is to give me pious lectures on submitting to some other Magisterium, different from that of the successor of S Peter??”

    “Observer said…
    “Dear Fr Hunwicke,
    “Thank you for your response.
    “I think that you may have fallen foul not so much of any imaginary “narrow Magisterium”, but rather of old fashioned Church politics.
    “The Pope’s writ does not run with absolute force in the Church, does it? Witness, for example, those who have experienced difficulty with the provision of EF masses, and where local obstruction appears to have been the cause. There are surely those in powerful positions who oppose Benedict’s thinking, and might seek subtly to frustrate it. Being a Benedict loyalist may well guarantee little.
    “Perhaps the arbitrary use of authority is something which is more prevelant in the RCC than in the CofE. Such authority may not in practice be directly that of the Pope. This is what I meant by the bed which some have made and in which they will have to lie. Illiberal liberals aside, the CofE is really very tolerant in my experience.
    “It also seems to me that as you have been a lay Roman Catholic for only a few weeks, yet you find yourself with the extraordinary privilege of being in formation for the priesthood, you could be more vulnerable than those who express their outspokenness from more secure positions.
    “I am amused and alarmed that you find me pious; that is not something of which I have been accused before. It is certainly not my intention.
    “Once again, I am sorry to hear of your problem and, along with many others, hope and pray that it may be speedily resolved.”

    I think this all too accurately sums up what has happened: Fr Hunwicke has been restrained from ordination for being too Catholic, and not obeying the de facto state of affairs in England.

  2. Joshua says:

    Or to apply the Chinese proverb to his situation (as it could have been applied to a certain diocese near Brisbane, and as it applies in many, many parishes and dioceses worldwide), “Heaven is very high, and the Emperor is far, far away.”

  3. William Tighe says:

    John Hunwicke has not been ordained to the diaconate.

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