The Anglican Bishop of Richborough told his flock that he plans to become Catholic because Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution “completely changed the landscape” for Anglo-Catholics and he now believes that he must lead the way to union with the Universal Church.
Bishop Keith Newton of Richborough, England said in a pastoral letter to priests and people in the Richborough area that he will resign as bishop as of Dec. 31. He will not conduct any public episcopal services. This “difficult” decision followed much thought and prayer, he remarked.
“I will, in due course, be received into full communion with the Catholic Church and join the Ordinariate when one is erected in England, which I hope will happen early next year.”
Pope Benedict established the proposed Anglican Ordinariate, a special jurisdiction within the Catholic Church, in his apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus.”
Bishop Newton explained that although the issue of the ordination of women as Anglican bishops has been an important factor in his decision, it is “not the most significant.”
Noting the “surprise” of the Pope’s action on Anglican-Catholic relations, he said that most Anglicans have prayed for union with the Catholic Church. However, this union has seemed less likely because of “the new difficulties concerning the ordination of women and other doctrinal and moral issues affecting the Anglican Communion.”
“Although we must still pray for sacramental and ecclesial unity between our Churches that now seems a much more distant hope,” Bishop Newton said. The ordinariates provide an opportunity for “visible unity” and Anglicans are able to retain “what is best in our own tradition which will enrich the Universal Church.”
“I hope you will understand that I am not taking this step in faith for negative reasons about problems in the Church of England but for positive reasons in response to our Lord’s prayer the night before he died the ‘they may all be one’,” the bishop continued.
While expressing sympathy with the position that Anglicans with traditional views need leadership at a “vital” time, he rejected the example of a leader who should “stay to the bitter end like the captain of a sinking ship.” Rather, he noted the scriptural image of the shepherd, who must lead his flock from the front rather than follow it from behind.
“This is what I hope I am doing. I am leading the way and I hope and pray that many of you will follow me in the months and the years ahead,” he explained.
Bishop Newton acknowledged those who want to remain in the Church of England, but he said he could not continue to be their bishop “with any integrity” and cannot provide the episcopal leadership they deserve.
“You need a new Bishop of Richborough who has the same vision as you have and one for whom a solution in the Church of England is a priority. My priority is union with the Universal Church,” he added.
He said he has enjoyed being Bishop of Richborough for more than eight years and is grateful for the support he has received from so many Anglican priests and laity. The bishop asked forgiveness from those he has disappointed and sought continued prayers for himself and his wife.
Bishop Newton is one of three active Anglican bishops who are joining the Catholic Church. These so-called “flying bishops” have been serving Anglicans in different areas who do not accept the ordination of women to the priesthood and other changes in the Anglican Church.
Two retired Anglican bishops are also entering full communion with Rome.