Fr Mark Vickers, our parish priest at the Holy Ghost and St Stephen in west London, is also an author and has recently published a fascinating new book, Reunion Revisited: 1930s Ecumenism Exposed.

Hitherto, it had been assumed that there was no discussion about the reunion of the Catholic and Anglican communions between the Malines Conversations – sponsored by Cardinal Mercier in Belgium in the 1920s – and the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) following Vatican II. Fr Mark’s diligent research has discovered that further discussions did in fact take place in London between “papalist” Anglicans and eminent Catholic priests such as the Jesuit Fr Martin d’Arcy and the Dominican Fr Bede Jarrett.

As Fr John Saward says in his introduction to Reunion Revisited, “One of Fr Vickers’s most significant achievements in this book is to show that the Anglo-Papalist critique of official Anglicanism was directed as much to its aberrations in morals as to its deficiencies in dogma.”

This aberration in morals was the ruling of the 1930 Lambeth Conference that the use of artificial contraception was not sinful. This break from “what up to that moment had been the universal teaching of all Christians, Protestants as well as Catholics”, provoked Henry Fynes-Clinton, the Anglo-Papalist rector of St Magnus-the-Martyr in the City of London, to publicly express his “abhorrence and entire repudiation and disassociation from the lamentable sanction given … to the deadly sin of contraception”. It also led, at the end of the same year, to Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on Christian marriage, Casti Connubii, in which the sinfulness of artificial means of contraception was confirmed.

One of the pleasures of Fr Mark’s book are the portraits of the somewhat eccentric Anglican Papalists who sought reunion with Rome: the above-mentioned Henry Fynes-Clinton, “Don Quixote in a biretta”; Sidney Scott, who in the photograph printed in the book looks like a prizefighter; Spencer Jones; Robert Corbould; Leslie Simonds and William Monahan. The conversations, though secret, were approved by both the archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Bourne (of whom Fr Mark has written the definitive biography), and also in Rome – though there was an obvious question to be put to the Anglo-Papalists: why, if they accepted the teaching of the Catholic Church and the authority of the pope, did they not become Catholics, like Newman and Manning?

The conundrum was that the Anglo-Papalists, like many Anglo-Catholics, believed that the Church of England was merely schismatic, not heretical; that their orders were valid; and there was a strong attachment to the Book of Common Prayer. An ordinariate was an idea whose time had yet to come.

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