Priests of The Society
Colin Podmore encourages priests to sign up and make the Society Declaration.
Catholics believe that both women and men are called to different ministries in the Church. But for theological reasons, we are unable to receive the sacramental ministry of women as priests (presiding at the Eucharist) or bishops (ordaining priests to preside at the Eucharist).
So when the Church of England has women bishops, how can we know that a priest has been ordained by a bishop whose sacramental ministry of ordination we do recognise? How can we be confident that when he celebrates the Eucharist, we really do receive the sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood?
The need to offer an easy answer to that question of ‘sacramental assurance’ is one of the reasons why our bishops have formed The Society. As it says on the Society website, the Society provides ‘ministry, sacraments and oversight which we can receive with confidence’.
Priests are now invited to make a Declaration which says that they:
- believe and teach the catholic faith
- are currently entitled to minister as a priest in the Church of England
- have been ordained by a male bishop in the apostolic succession of bishops at whose ordination male bishops presided
- will themselves not receive or join in the sacramental ministry of women priests and bishops or those whom they have ordained
- will place themselves personally under the oversight of a Bishop of The Society (although they will remain under the legal jurisdiction of their diocesan bishop).
When the relevant Bishop of the Society receives a Declaration from a priest, he will welcome him as a Priest of The Society. The Welcome Letter will serve as proof that the priest is someone whose sacramental ministry we can receive with confidence.
Of course, there will still be validly ordained priests who are not Priests of The Society. Clergy (and, during vacancies, churchwardens) will need to ask some delicate questions about their orders before inviting them to say mass. With Priests of The Society, that research will not be necessary.
Catholic parishes naturally want as their priest someone who is in full communion not only with his bishop, but with all the priests whom that bishop has ordained, and who will support the resolutions passed by the PCC. When advertising for, or interviewing, potential new parish priests, asking them whether they are Priests of The Society will be an easy way of finding out where they stand.
Being a Priest of The Society costs nothing, although the bishops hope that priests and people of The Society will join Forward in Faith, because it is the membership organization which administers The Society on their behalf, and helps to pay for it. Being a priest of The Society involves only the basic obligations of relating to one of our bishops, and looking to him for sacramental ministry we can no longer find elsewhere.
So if a priest has not made the Declaration and become a Priest of The Society, why not?