A tough decision

I can appreciate how difficult this news would be for Archbishop Hepworth. I was never an ordained Catholic priest, nor was I an Archbishop, but in the end, the decision that Archbishop Hepworth (and some other priests in the TAC) will have to face is not dissimilar to the one I had to face: do you remain where you are in order to continue to exercise a ministry you feel that God has called you to, or do you accept God’s deeper and more fundamental call into communion with the Catholic Church? When it becomes an either/or decision, and not a both/and one, the rubber really hits the road. Please pray for Archbishop Hepworth, and for all Anglican priests considering the call to communion with the Catholic Church. It is a fundamental issue that they are wrestling with.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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21 Responses to A tough decision

  1. matthias says:

    I was under the impression that Arch Bishop Hepworth knew he was going to become a Layman.

  2. Stephen K says:

    Absolutely, David. I think I appreciate the difficulty and enormity of life-course-altering decisions. I think that if he proceeds to formally re-join the RCC Archbishop Hepworth may pay a great personal, existential cost. By this I mean that after close to 50 years of priestly ministry it may be like a musician forced to undergo surgery to remove his or her ears. He must feel called to sacramental priesthood in his very roots. There will be others in a similar position no doubt. Personally I don’t see why this has to be. But all that said, I happen to believe that degrees and quality of priesthood are things that form through ministry and understanding rather than by ordination, which I see as simply being the outer formal recognition of appropriate preparation and appointment. Thus, Archbishop Hepworth will have had his character altered by his experience, and though he may, like you, cease one particular form of ministry, he may recognise other directions by which and in which his mediating priesthood may continue to find expression. Either way, all courage to him.

  3. Pingback: A musician having his ears removed | English Catholic

  4. Peregrinus says:

    When Anglicanorum coetibus was issued it confirmed I don’t think anyone was surprised that it indicated that a Catholic priest who left the church and then married would not be readmitted to active ministry. Catholic priests who merely leave ministry and marry are never readmitted, and we can imagine the firestorm of protest that would ensue if priests who left the church and married were treated more favourably.

    And Archbishop Hepworth has the further problem that he is – on the face of it – in an irregular marriage. His first marriage was terminated by divorce, and his first wife is still living.

    Assuming that the usual standards are not relaxed – and I doubt that they will be – Archbishop Hepworth won’t be received even as a layman unless his marriage is canonically regularized through annulment and convalidation (and for all I know this has already happened). But, as we know, even the appearance of a former canonical irregularity of this kind is, well, an obstacle to admission (or in this case readmission) to priestly ministry.

    All in all, then, I don’t think Archbishop Hepworth will be too surprised that he is not to be readmitted to ministry. Whether you like the decision or not, it was entirely foreseeable, and I doubt he would have gone down this road (and taken his church down this road) without recognizing this and deciding that he would, if it came to that, accept it. Priestly ministry is above all one of self-denying service, and if Archbishop Hepworth understands that God is calling him to lead his church into communion with Rome, then he may feel that serving his church and the universal church by doing that may be the greatest achievement of his ministry, regardless of the effects on him.

    I can’t read the full report of this in the Australian, because I’m buggered if I’m going to subscribe to one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers, but the account in Fr Chadwick’s blog post does seem rather highly coloured. It suggests that he, at any rate, had a different expectation of how matters would unfold. He does say that he is in “a similar canonical situation”, by which I think he must mean that he is in his second marriage, and he may therefore be very heavily emotionally invested in this matter.

  5. Joshua says:

    Some pertinent points:

    1. Given that Hepworth was never, so far as I am aware, dispensed from his priestly commitment to celibacy, according to Roman Canon Law both his first and his second attempted marriages would be invalid, not merely illicit – and thus perversely enough it would be easy to convalidate the latter as part of his reconciliation to the Holy See since the former would never have been valid anyway; but of course it would seem very affronting to Catholics to see a man get ordained, leave, get married, and then come back to active ministry – Anglicans may disagree, used as they are to their having a married clergy, but they should also recognize Catholic sensibilities on this point, especially as Catholic (but not Anglican) clergy take a vow to remain celibate and continent, to the exclusion of marriage.

    2. Fr Chadwick is married but once, and one assumes validly! May he correct me if I am wrong, but I am given to understand that he was an Anglican until his early twenties, then converted to Catholicism, undertook theological studies and was a member of a Catholic religious congregation of a traditional nature, until unpleasant and seemingly most unfair barriers were placed in the way of his being ordained; having separated from full communion, he subsequently obtained holy orders from other sources; still more recently, he was received into the Traditional Anglican Communion, being placed directly under its Primate, Hepworth, as he is based in rural France, far from any T.A.C. jurisdiction; and he celebrates – in Latin or English, I am not quite certain – the Sarum Rite, taking the view that this is the traditional, never-suppressed liturgical Use proper to an English Catholic, as his blog title puts it. I trust and hope that Fr Chadwick, with whom I have had an occasional and courteous correspondence, will not be offended by this hopefully fair and unprejudiced summary, which I only supply in the intent that it may help others fairly appreciate him and his trials, given the pros and cons of Anglicanorum cœtibus, and beg his forgiveness in advance if I have expressed anything wrongly or written of him incorrectly.

    • Peregrinus says:

      My apologies to Fr Chadwick if I have misrepresented his position.

    • Schütz says:

      At least according to (1) that means Arch. Hepworth will not have to go through the annulment process to be received and have his current marriage blessed. He should count that as a blessing…

    • Salvatore says:

      My understanding is that Anthony Chadwick is in a similar situation to John Hepworth in that he has also attempted matrimony whilst in Major Orders – he was ordained to the Diaconate prior to his departure from the Catholic Church. Hence his concern with the decision on Hepworth.

      • Joshua says:

        Yes, that is correct – I forgot that detail. I have since heard from him, and he agreed that my statement above, plus this point, is a fair representation of his circumstances.

  6. Arabella says:

    Peregrinus wrote: “Catholic priests who merely leave ministry and marry are never readmitted”.
    I know of one case where such a Catholic priest was readmitted. He left his ministry to marry but the marriage failed.
    His bishop said as this was not a valid Catholic marriage it did not count.
    This happened within the last 10 years. This was done quietly and the priest is now in a small parish.

    • Peregrinus says:

      What I should have said, I think, was that a priest who leaves ministry to marry is not readmitted to priestly ministry as a married man.

  7. I thank Joshua for setting the record straight about me personally. After my “wilderness” years, I found something very fatherly in Archbishop Hepworth, even though I felt traits in his character that would be difficult to live with. I will be discreet. I have been up blind alleys, and I intend not to go up any others. When the Archbishop started out on all this, going for the old dream of “corporate unity”, it seemed to me like the story of Arnold Harris Mathew the erratic Old Catholic bishop in England at the beginning of the 20th century. I would go along with this if Rome would accept the TAC with all its warts and handicaps in a prophetic gesture. It was not to be, but what the ordinariate procedure has proved to be. We were all fools to believe it, but I am convinced that the Archbishop’s intentions were devout and sincere. He believed in it.

    I have received no letter from Rome, which means one of three possibilities: the postal service is slow, my file was never sent (because I refused on principle to send anything to Rome personally) or the CDF is not interested in sending me the only answer it can give me. They might as well save their paper, envelope and postage stamp.

    I am not interested in individual reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, though over the years I have learned to forgive. I may find another bishop within the remains of the TAC to incardinate me, or perhaps another Church. One can also find more beauty and holiness outside Christianity, where altruism and love are found, the things that make human life tolerable and which give hope. After this “bereavement”, I will certainly need a few months to discern my sense of faith and vocation, and not before my fundamental sense of love and freedom.

    Quoting from Berdyaev, No one who has left a Christianity based on authority can return to anything but a Christianity which is free. If my life, I have only been able to go forwards, never back to anything, because a “second experience” of something can never be like the first.

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Fr Chadwick,

      I thank you and welcome you to this discussion to add your own contribution.

      Again, I believe you choice is no different from the choice that any of us convert-clergy have faced. It is the question of which call is the most authentic: the call to ordained ministry or the call to communion with the Catholic Church? I made my decision in favour of the latter – I could not have considered any ordained ministry as valid except in communion with the Bishop of Rome (I restrict this comment to Western orders – I don’t included the East in this statement) . I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord etc….

      Your comments – “I may find another bishop to incardinate me or perhaps another Church”, “one can find more beauty and holiness outside Christianity” (truth?), and the Berdyaev quote – make me wonder a little about what it is you are actually seeking. I sought the Catholic Church, the authentic, authoritative and continual Church of Jesus of Christ. There being no other Church, I said to myself what St Peter said so long ago: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

      May God be with you, dear Father, in your discernment.

      • Peregrinus says:

        There is, I think, a distinction to be made between Fr Chadwick’s position and yours. Your reception into the Catholic church was always going to be a personal and individual act. What Fr. Chadwick was contemplating was a reception which, while of course personal, would not be just personal; it would be a collective establishment (or reestablishment) of communion between the Eucharistic community in which he has found a home and the universal Catholic church.

        In this light, the issue is not simply whether Fr. Chadwick could realise the vocation to priesthood that he personally felt. It is also whether the Eucharistic community in which Fr. Chadwick ministers is received as a community, with its pastors. Obviously this would required (re)ordination of priestly ministers, and that in itself would be something of a hurdle for Anglicans to accept, but I think that by and large they had come to a point where they would accept that necessity. Fr Chadwick hoped for a “corporate reunion” in which the TAC would be accepted “warts and all”, at least to some extent. The decision that a man in his position will not be accepted into ministry doesn’t just frustrate Fr. Chadwick’s vocation; it also has implications for how the reception of the TAC is understood from the Roman side, given that he was accepted into ministry by the TAC, and is actively ministering within it.

        I was very surprised, reading around this subject over the past couple of days, to see that, of the TAC priests in the US who have applied for Catholic ordination, only about half have received preliminary approval. (Sorry, I didn’t bookmark a link to where I read this.) Now, I realise that this is just preliminary; perhaps some of those who haven’t been approved may yet be, but presumably in many cases there are concrete issues which have impeded approval. If nearly half of the applicants for ordination are being, at the very least, held up, this raises the possibility that the reaction Fr. Chadwick feels might be felt by others in the TAC – and not just by TAC clergy. Rightly or wrongly, it could be taken to imply that the process by which the TAC discerned vocations and ordained clergy was, from the Roman perspective, quite deeply flawed.

        • To Peregrinus:

          I don’t know where you are coming from, but I don’t like some of the implications in your writing.

          I am aware of the flaws in the TAC – but also those in the RC Church and in Christianity in general. Perhaps the flaws are fatal when we begin to examine the contradictions. For 95% of the baptised in France, the Church is discredited. Is such a high percentage wrong? I just won’t get started here because I don’t know where it will end.

          Will I still be celebrating Mass this time next year? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is the time to turn over the page and move on… I have no illusion about being “indispensable” – in which case I hope not to be around for too long on this earth.

          I will end my participation in this discussion because it is not constructive for me or anyone else.

        • Joshua says:


          Apparently a big issue in the way of approving such Anglican candidates for ordination is that, by Roman standards, they have not had a sufficient education. By that I mean – and no disrespect intended – that, compared to seven years’ study in the Seminary, at University level, whereby Roman Catholc seminaries obtain at least a B.Theol. if not an M.Theol., being schooled in philosophy and all the subsections of theology, Anglican clergy, even in the “mainstream”, study far less; and those in the Traditional Anglican Communion, if trained and ordained wholly therein, have often far less in the way of formal tertiary theological studies, and furthermore have no training in such disciplines as Canon Law.

          Curiously, Lutherans and Presbyterians have always had a good reputation for being formidably well-educated, whereas Anglicans – and again, no disrespect intended – are often startlingly ill-educated; I remember meeting the local vicar (who lives in the same street as I do) and chatting to him, and being amazed to discover that I, a layman, have spent three times longer studying theology, full-time, than he did! (I have a B.Theol., have studied some postgraduate units at the J.P.II Institute, and am to complete my M.T.S., God willing, next year – whereas the vicar only spent two years total in training for ministry.)

        • Peregrinus says:

          My apologies, Father Chadwick, if my post was badly worded. I didn’t intend to suggest, and I don’t believe, that the TAC is deeply flawed as regards the selection and formation of its clergy, or in any other respect. My poorly-expressed point was that the way Rome is treating the question of (re)ordination could give rise to the impression that Rome harbours such a view. If that impression is formed, it can only handicap the full and enthusiastic implementation of [i]Anglicanorum coetibus[/i]. (And if that view is actually held in Rome, that’s an even bigger handicap.)

          Joshua, my understanding is that what you say about Anglican clerical formation is broadly correct. The reasons for the difference between Anglican and Roman approaches to this matter lie, as might be expected, in history. At and after the Council of Trent, the whole matter of priestly formation and the discernment of vocations was fundamentally re-imagined by the Catholic Church, and the outcome was a very serious seminary system which borrowed much from monastic life, and which was rigorous in both academic and spiritual preparation for ordination. But by then, of course, the English church was largely in schism, and it was unaffected by this development. The selection and preparation of priests remained, as it always had been, a matter for the individual bishop. It had no quasi-monastic component of any kind, and intellectual formation, such as it was, took place in public universities. No doubt, in those contentious times, if Anglicans had been asked to justify their process as against the more rigorous Roman one, they would have said that the lengthy Roman process served the purpose of thorough brainwashing; of ensuring that every priest had thoroughly absorbed the party line, and had acquired habits of unthinking obedience.

          That’s not to say that nothing ever changed in the English church as regards clerical formation; of course it did. But the differences which originated then still remain, at least to some extent.

          I think when Fr. Chadwick talks of “corporate reunion” and of embracing the TAC “warts and all”, he is suggesting that Rome needs to recognise and honour the Anglican tradition, and not see it as a defective or degraded Roman tradition. The Anglican tradition amounts to a good deal more than married priests plus some rather fine hymnody and vernacular liturgy. In particular, in this regard, the Anglicans have a different approach to clerical formation in which formation takes place a good deal less in the seminary and a good deal more in the world, in which less weight is attached to academic attainment and more to character development, etc, etc. And while this might in some respects be a weakness, in other respects can be is a strength. And, “warts and all”, it’s a part of the distinctive patrimony which the Anglican tradition offers to the universal church.

          If Rome looks at the Anglican heritage and sees [i]only[/i] the warts, we don’t have anything like a communion between Roman and Anglican traditions; we have individual Anglicans entering the Roman tradition and being graciously allowed to keep such parts of their Anglican patrimony as don’t look too warty to those in high offices in Rome. And that would be a missed opportunity.

      • Thank you again for your sensitivity.

        For your hypothesis that the only valid orders outside Rome are the Eastern Churches, this is arbitrary and seems not to be based on any theological finding. Sacramental theology is complex. Attempts to bind ontological grace by canon law and to make God obey man are dangerous. Where is the line drawn? I don’t think it can be drawn, not even to protect innocent people from having their money embezzled by fraudsters and charlatans. Rome trying to make it “safe” for the faithful is the whole theme of the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoyevsky.

        I have turned this stuff over in my mind for years, and I can no more entertain the RC Church’s claim (or the claim some faithful make of it) to be the only narrow channel for all than I could years ago. Could it be pride on my part – nemo judex in causa sua?

  8. Tony Bartel says:

    On a different, but related note, questions have also been raised about Father Peter Slipper, a TAC priest who apparently also has a day job as Speaker of the Federal Parliament.

    My understanding of Roman Catholic canon law is that clergy are not allowed to hold political offices. I have no idea if Father Slipper intends to apply for a dispensation to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. He may well be looking for other career prospects after the next election.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Canon 285 s. 3: “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.”

      Canon 287 s. 2: “They are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labour unions unless, in the judgement of the competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the church or the promotion of the common good requires it.”

      So if Mr. Slipper wishes to be accepted in to ministry in the Catholic church, he will not only have to leave parliament (an outcome which seems likely to be forced upon him at the next election, regardless of his wishes) but he will also have to withdraw from all active involvement in politics.

      In fact, on his election as Speaker, he resigned from the Liberal National Party, with which he already had a fairly frosty relationship. In theory he could stand again as an independent candidate but, leaving aside the canonical problems this might cause him, it’s unlikely that he could win in the electorate of Fisher against an LNP candidate.

      If he does withdraw from politics, and enters the Catholic church, he can of course seek ordination. However in the ordinary course a candidate who has been associated with the various personal and financial public controversies that Mr Slipper has been involved in would have little chance of being accepted for ordination.

      Although Mr Slipper was ordained as priest in the TAC in 2008 (and as a deacon in 2003) I think his principal role in the TAC is that of Chancellor, a position which can be held by someone who is not a cleric. It’s possible that an analogous position might be open to him in the Ordinariate.

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