Members of the San Luigi Orders: Archbishop Geoffrey Paget King

Archbishop Geoffrey Peter Thomas Paget King (1917-91) was a Prelate-Commander of the Order of the Crown of Thorns and the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross. The office of Prelate-Commander was introduced in the 1930s, and Archbishop King was the last known appointee under Prince-Abbot Edmond I as well as the last living holder of the office. He served as Archbishop and Primate of the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain between 1971 and 1982.

King was born in Haslington, Cheshire, on 25 May 1917, and was raised as an Anglican. In 1931 he received Confirmation from Bishop Luke Paget of Chester and two years later became an Anglo-Catholic. He attended Nantwich and Acton Grammar School (Matriculation Certificate, 1933; Higher School Certificate, 1935) and then Cheshire County Training College (1935-36). In March 1938, he joined the Church Army, and between 1938-40 attended the Church Army Training College.

His service with the Church Army proved a turning-point for his journey in faith. The Bishop of Chester suggested that he should seek ordination in the Church of England; but this King rejected as he was increasingly coming to recognize that the Anglo-Catholic position was unsustainable. In 1943 he made the major decision to leave the Church of England, and on 29 August of that year he was received into the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain by Fr. George Aubrey St John-Seally (1898-1959).

The Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain, using the sub-title Pro-Uniate Rite, was at that time under Archbishop Bernard Mary Williams (1889-1952), who was second in succession from Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919) who had been consecrated in 1908 as Old Catholic Regionary Bishop for Great Britain. In 1925, Williams had promulgated a new Constitution which repudiated the 1889 Declaration of Utrecht and Old Catholicism (the position on faith of Archbishop Mathew) in their entirety and brought his church into a strictly ultramontane stance. It now differed from Rome in two matters only: in permitting its priests and deacons (but not bishops) to marry, and in permitting the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular. Although Williams and a number of those who would be involved in the ORCCGB were traditionalists, there was thus no organizational commitment to a Catholic Traditionalism and the call was instead to allow as little separation between Rome and the ORCCGB as was practicable. This conformity was to serve the ultimate purpose of establishing the ORCCGB as a proto-Uniate Rite in Great Britain, and, as will be seen, would set in place an essential tension between traditionalists and modernists within the ORCCGB that would later be crucial in its history.

In December 1946, King was confirmed in the ORCCGB and between March and May 1947 he received the minor orders, diaconate and finally the priesthood on 18 May. Ordained priest alongside him was Wilfrid Barrington-Evans (1903-71), a former Anglican lay reader with whom King would have significant later contact. At a Synod at West Drayton in October 1947, at which the recent hostile publication of Henry R.T. Brandreth (Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church) was discussed, Williams approved the text of an open letter to Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, that was sent to him and to every bishop in the world-wide Anglican Communion. This letter called for an end to the open persecution of the Old Roman Catholic movement by Anglicans.

Williams vacillated for years concerning the provision for a successor in his Rite. He wrote, “I have been greatly pained and shocked by the number of Priests whom Archbishop Mathew was urged to raise to the Episcopate in order to make our Apostolic Succession secure. I have no intention of consecrating an Auxiliary Bishop until that step becomes imperative. In other words, until the Movement provides more work than one Bishop can perform. In the event of my leaving no successor through some unforeseen mischance, the Archbishop of the Old Roman Catholic Church in America, Mgr. [Carmel Henry] Carfora, whose Orders are derived from the late Archbishop Mathew through the Archbishop and Prince de Landas Berghes et de Rache, whom he succeeded, has bound himself to consecrate one who shall be elected by the Clergy in England from their own number.”

Carfora had nominated Bishop James Christian Crummey of his movement to arrange for a successor to Williams. Crummey nominated Fr. Matthew Butroyd (1888-1970), the most senior of Williams’ priests (and also Lay Secretary to the Guild of All Souls, a body that was, it would appear, entirely unaware of his status as an Old Roman Catholic clergyman), who would be consecrated at the time of need. Butroyd was therefore appointed Grand Vicar as well as a Canon. Williams at various points favoured Butroyd as successor, but then again turned to Barrington-Evans. Matters were complicated by the fact that Williams, in the open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury of 1947 referenced above, broke communion with Carfora and excommunicated both him and those bishops deriving their orders from him.

Both King and St John Seally had been excommunicated by Williams on 31 January 1948 for breach of canonical obedience and the promotion of schism. Seally retired from active ministry at this point. King, however, placed himself under Carfora and by 1951 was leading a body he also, confusingly, called the Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain. In early 1952, King began talks aimed at reconciling with Williams.

In a letter of 25 October 1948, Williams gave an account of the turbulent situation that had arisen, “although Seally had been giving trouble for years, it was because of my firm stand that Jenkins should be given a fair hearing, which Seally was determined to prevent so as to exclude him from the Rite, which was the immediate cause of Seally and his one and only supporter in the Rite [King] leaving the Rite. [Aloysius Stumpfl, an Austrian bishop] said that he had been told that I had upset everyone by refusing absolutely to consecrate a successor, and that Seally was the desired man. So he has the truth about that. He said that I had been very high-handed with Carfora, and so he has got the truth about that also…”

Meanwhile, Wilfrid Barrington-Evans led a group of Williams’ remaining clergy who found the uncertain position of Williams regarding a successor intolerable, and consequently seceded to form the Independent Old Roman Catholic Church, later known as the Old Roman Catholic Church (English Rite), through a Deed of Declaration on 22 September 1950. Included were all Williams’ remaining priests save Canon Butroyd and Fr. Arthur J. Bennett (d. 1958), who had sympathy with the dissenters but remained on account of their oaths of canonical obedience to Williams. Barrington-Evans wrote of these events, “This feeling of defeatism took hold of [Williams] strongly in 1950, and caused a breach between him and a number of members of the Church who saw that if the ideals which they believed in were to be preserved at all it would be necessary to take the action which Mgr. Williams refused to take, and provided a means for the work which they were engaged in to continue.” Barrington-Evans, a married man, was consecrated by a Dutch bishop, D.L. Thomas Tollenaar, on August 5, 1951. The question of Tollenaar’s orthodoxy and validity (given that his consecrator was of staunch Protestant views), and thus of Barrington-Evans’ episcopate, was to prove a bone of contention among Old Roman Catholics in the ensuing years. Barrington-Evans was to define his mission in the following terms, “The sole aim of the Old Roman Catholic Church is and will be the restoration to Catholic Unity of all those who are for any reason held back from submission to the Latin Rite and especially those Protestants who because of their long separation from the Holy See are prejudiced against the Latin Rite and the Papacy, it being our conviction that such may be brought back to the Faith by a Rite that is thoroughly English in character than by a Rite which is so often thought of as “foreign” or “continental”.  In pursuance of this aim it will be the task of the Church to build up a body of instructed Catholics who will be capable of being formally constituted as an English Rite when the Holy Father can be persuaded of the necessity for such action.”

Barrington-Evans’ insisted that – in stark contrast to Williams – his clergy should see their vocations in terms of practical mission. His clergy were required to reach a demanding standard for ordination, with examination papers required of them that were equivalent in standard to those required for entry to the Anglican ministry. But with no prospect of a seminary to prepare them, and even books for training in short supply, those who succeeded in meeting the requirements had already shown an unusual degree of determination, particularly in light of the fact that they were also faced with the demands of earning a living. A further obstacle was provided by the fact that of those who entered the ministry of the English Catholic Church, several were men who had previously fallen into bad habits, and had been in prison for various crimes. Barrington-Evans, who was a man of integrity and stable character, was prepared to give a second chance to men whom he judged to be serious in their intent to serve God, but while the majority of those whom he ordained priest proved themselves to be worthy of the office in his estimation, it was rare that the popular press was similarly prepared to judge those men by the renewed condition of their lives after their debt to society had been paid. These issues were the cause of conflict with King’s branch of the ORCCGB, which held, most unfairly, that Barrington-Evans ordained “with some rapidity and without testing [the ordinands’] fitness or assuring himself of their suitability for any type of ministry.”

The development away from full-time clergy echoed the worker-priest movement in the Roman Catholic Church that had begun in 1944 in France, but was later suppressed by the Vatican. The worker-priests were an initiative by the French Catholic Church under Fr. Jacques Loeuw and the Abbe Godin, whereby priests went to live and work among the working-classes (who were increasingly alienated from the Church at that time). The worker-priests wore secular dress and earned a living by full-time labour in the factories. During the 1950s, the Vatican became concerned that the worker-priests were becoming involved in left-wing politics. The Vatican ordered the priests to leave work, but some fifty chose to remain in their posts.

The difference with Barrington-Evans was not just in nomenclature (he adopted the term “Priest-Workmen”) but in emphasis, for “we in England have reversed Abbe Godin’s practice; we do not send Priests into the industrial field, but take workers and make them into Priests, and we believe this is the better way. Of course it is an idea that does not find favour with many Catholics, for it means that our Priests do not spend ten years in the seminaries, and so do not fit into the mould of Catholic Clerics. But we ourselves feel that this has its advantages, and we do not propose to alter the practice.” In the event, this was a practice that was also adopted, out of necessity, by King and the ORCCGB.

There was to be no direct successor to Williams. Williams declared that at his death, his Rite should be closed down, all his documents destroyed and his priests should submit to Rome. By the time of his death on 9 June 1952, he was reconciled with King, had appointed him to be Administrator of the See on the event of his death, and received the Last Rites from him; negotiations were also under way to heal the breach with Carfora. The other two priests still with him were Canon Butroyd and Fr. Bennett. These three decided not to submit to Rome but instead to continue their ministry.

On 3 May 1951, King’s church had acquired a three-storey house at 16 Aberdeen Road, Highbury, London N5, which was named Steenoven Mission House. Here a chapel was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury and, from 2 May 1959, a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Islington. A subscription Fraternity was set up to support this latter cult through daily prayer, with Mass being offered for all members on the first Saturday of each month. King lived in a flat in the building, while between about 1960 and 1965 his Vicar General, James Hedley Thatcher (1921-96), occupied another flat there. During the 1950s and 1960s, Steenoven House was the centre of activities in support of animal welfare, the peace movement, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Hymn Society – all enthusiasms of King – as well as of the Highbury Organ and Music Club and a full schedule of worship according to the Roman Rite. The Society of St Ambrose, headed by King, was described as “a group of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, interested in the study of liturgy and the ways of worship.” King was to write, “While our Headquarters were at Aberdeen Road we were deeply involved in many outside activities in which the witness of the Church should be seen. As a result we had much good publicity, we had an influence out of all proportion to our size, we made new friends, we gained valuable benefactors, we won new members of our congregation, we made converts.” Because Fr. George Tull, who would become Grand Prior and Vice-Chancellor for Europe in the San Luigi Orders, was a priest of the ORCCGB, Steenoven House and those associated with it were drawn into the work of the Orders with a number of occasional services of Solemn Vespers taking place there during the 1960s as well as the screening of a film about St Louis on 28 October 1963. On St Louis’ Day 1970, marking the 700th anniversary of the death of that saint, a special service took place at Steenoven House at which Mgr. Tull preached and Mgr. King gave Pontifical Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1974, Steenoven House moved to a larger property nearby at 23, Drayton Park.

All this energetic outreach ensured that the ORCCGB was held in high esteem by many outside its immediate adherence. Of King, we can record that he was regarded even by those who did not share his churchmanship as a bishop equal to any that might be found in the larger denominations. Douglas Fairey wrote of him that it was “hard to find a word too kind for simple men like the Right Reverend Geoffrey P.T. Paget King…a much loved figure in North London.”

On 18 October 1959, the ORCCGB promulgated its governing Constitutions, defining its outreach as “the restoration to Catholic Unity of all those who for any reason are held back from submission to the Latin Rite, and expecially those Protestants who because of their long separation from the Holy See are prejudiced against the Latin Rite and the Papacy.”

At Lent, 1960, King issued a Statement of the Position of the ORCCGB which set out its doctrinal stance and was circulated to all the Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops within the United Kingdom. He wrote “The Rite maintains its historic position and claims to teach and practice the true Catholic Faith of Old and New Rome, without diminution, addition, or alteration; it longs for reunion with its Mother, the Church of Rome, but is unable in conscience to accept certain modern developments in that communion, while it cannot deny its heritage by assenting to the Bull “Unigenitus”. The Rite works for the conversion of England in so far as so small a body can, but, while not, of course, refusing admission to those of other denominations who honestly and sincerely seek membership; it does not seek to proselytize or to work in any way in opposition to any other Communion, whether Anglican, Roman or Free Church, but attempts to work among those who have no religious allegiance. In no circumstance does it ever accede to requests sometimes received to ordain men outside its own Communion, or to “validate” the Orders, Anglican or otherwise, of clergy of other denominations. This Rite seeks to remain on friendly terms with all Christian denominations, but jealously preserves its own integrity.” This document went on to condemn, among others, Barrington-Evans, and set the tone for the antagonistic relations that were to persist between his body and that of King in the ensuing few years.

King had healed the rift with Archbishop Carfora, who recognised King as Archbishop-elect on 26 February 1953. Carfora’s position, however, was to become more difficult as he suffered serious ill-health that left him seriously incapacitated until his death in 1958. George Frankham Shell, known as Gerard George Shelley (1891-1980), one of Carfora’s bishops, had been deputed to perform King’s consecration. In secular life, Shelley was a translator at the United Nations, and a graduate of the University of Heidelberg as well as the Major Seminary and Institut Catholique of Saint-Sulpice in France. Although born in Sidcup, Kent, he was based in the United States but was frequently called to Europe on business, such that later in 1953 the ORCCGB had decided that it had no need to consecrate King since they were provided with sufficient episcopal oversight through Shelley. Shelley was elected as Archbishop of Caer-Glow in early 1954. By 1960, according to King, “certain elements of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church – which was excommunicated by Archbishop Williams – have been restored to communion with us. The only Bishops so restored to communion are the Rt. Revd. A. Vipartas, the Rt. Revd. Richard A. Marchenna, and the Rt. Revd. John E. Schweikert. No other Bishops are recognised as in communion with the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain.” On 25 August 1962, Shelley’s bishop Robert Alfred Burns broke with the ORCCGB and joined with Barrington-Evans, his followers becoming the latter’s American province from 2 February 1963; this numbered some 554 souls.

On 5 June 1960, King was consecrated to the episcopate as Shelley’s co-adjutor by Shelley and Bishop Willibrord (Hans Heuer), Shelley’s bishop in Germany (and also a member of the Order of the Crown of Thorns). The photograph at right shows (L to R) Bishops King, Shelley and Heuer outside Steenoven House after the consecration.

On 30 September 1962, it seems that, in a doubtless dramatic gesture, Barrington-Evans had appeared unexpectedly at an event at Steenoven House that was attended by King and his clergy. He proceeded to hand them a letter which protested at the attacks on his church, and called for the two Old Roman Catholic bodies to enter discussion and co-operation. As a result of this process, an Agreement was issued later that year that presented a united front and committed both churches to friendly relations for an initial twelve month period. Although a slow and by no means steady process, this was to mark the formal beginning of the thawing in relations between the two jurisdictions that would lead eventually to their union some years later. The moving force behind the initiative to bring them together had been King’s Vicar General, James Hedley Thatcher.

Meanwhile, King was increasingly at odds with the American branch of his church and the actions of Bishop Richard Marchenna, which he held to be in breach of the Canons and Catholic practice. In order to restore unity, King issued a new set of Constitutions and demanded that all clergy in communion with the ORCCGB should sign these. Being promulgated in February 1962, they entered into force on Easter Day, 29 April 1962. The only cleric outside Britain to assent was Bishop Robert A. Burns, who in the event would depart later that year. Significantly, both Shelley and Marchenna did not assent. King held that this meant that both men had seceded from the jurisdiction and that the See of Caer-Glow was therefore vacant. At this point, grave charges of a moral nature were alleged against Marchenna. King asked Shelley to investigate these, but Shelley refused to do so. Accordingly, King excommunicated Marchenna on 1 January 1963. King was already somewhat at odds with Shelley because Shelley had in 1943 founded in New York a Society of Our Lady of Port Royal, which propagated the traditions of Jansenism, to which King was strongly opposed. When King excommunicated Marchenna, Shelley proceeded to issue a deed excommunicating King and depriving him of his orders on 21 June 1963. After Shelley had headed an abortive rival movement in opposition to King under a former priest of Barrington-Evans, King excommunicated Shelley in turn on 7 April 1965.

On Easter Day 1965, the jurisdictions of King and Barrington-Evans were formally united, and King was appointed as Barrington-Evans’ co-adjutor. However, as part of the terms of reconciliation, doubt continued to be expressed as to the source of Barrington-Evans’ orders, such that he was bound not to participate in further ordinations or consecrations within the united church. Those clergy whom he had ordained were re-ordained conditionally by King. Barrington-Evans’ death in January 1971 left King as Primate.

Under King, the church accepted some of the reforms of Vatican II. Writing in an Ad Clerum of 1982, King reflected, “First, it is our tradition that we do not, except in very special circumstances, minister to ‘Roman’ Catholics, since we have nothing to offer them which they cannot find in their own Church. This rule has been ignored for years now, and I think probably rightly. But surely the proportion of members of what we used to call the ‘Latin Rite’ in our congregations is much too high? Are we not ministering to them to the exclusion of missionary activity among non-Catholics? Second, we have always insisted, in season and out of season, on our loyalty to Rome in Faith and Worship; and our forms of worship have always been those authorized by Rome. During my Primacy, after the new Rites became authorized in place of the so-called ‘Tridentine’ Rite, I allowed the occasional use of the old Rite (relying on the privilege gained for English Bishops by Cardinal Heenan) because it seemed a pity that the old Rite should simply disappear. But it was certainly never my intention that it should replace the authorized Rite (which is now Missa Normativa) among us; and this is what has happened with some of our Clergy. Which Rite we use, and in which language, in what used to be called ‘private’ Masses is at our own choice; for public worship our whole history demands that we conform to the use of the Church of Rome. There may well be occasions when it is good and appropriate to use the old Rite (which however is lawful only under the 1960 rubrics, not those of fifty years earlier which we were used to in our youth and which themselves superceded earlier ones); but these occasions should at least be balanced by the use of what is now the only Roman Rite, the new Missal. My own advice to the Administrator is that future ordinands should be allowed to use the ‘Tridentine’ Rite in public only with prior written consent in each case. What I have said of the Rite applies, mutatis mutandis, also to the language of the Rite. Our language has always been English and under my predecessors Latin was allowed only in ‘private’ Masses and at Clergy gatherings. During my Primacy I allowed wider use of Latin because it seemed a pity that the language should be allowed to disappear, but it should not entirely usurp the place of English among us. (It is permissable now, of course, to sing parts of the Mass in Latin even though the said parts are in English, for the sake of the music). Are we to remain the Old Roman Catholic Church, or are we to become dedicated to maintaining discarded ways, with all the schismatic tendencies that has [sic] already made manifest in many other groups?”

This position highlights the crisis in the Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II era and the fact that those seeking the Tridentine Mass as well as objecting to the other innovations of that Council would increasingly look to Old Roman Catholicism as well as Old Catholic groups for a home. Indeed, as would eventually become all too evident, the greater part of King’s clergy were pre-Vatican II in their sympathies, and sought to minister to Catholics, whether Roman or otherwise, who shared the outlook that Vatican II was an error of great magnitude and that there was a justified and legitimate place for a reactionary movement opposing it.

The financial position of the ORCCGB remained shaky although James Thatcher did much to bring matters onto an even keel. King wrote that in the late 1970s “it looked as if we were going to lose both Steenoven House and the Chapel at Crystal Palace [this consisted of two rooms inside the railway station that had once been used for refreshments; it was leased under Barrington-Evans from December 1962 and used by the ORCCGB for worship until 1982; in August 1987 it passed to the jurisdiction of Bishop Francis Glenn; the last Mass there was on 20 November 1994 after which the chapel became a minicab office]. If that had happened there would have been no doubt in my mind that God would have been telling us that our work was done. We did lose Steenoven House as a public place of worship and shall soon lose it altogether, but Crystal Palace was replaced by a far more suitable and more beautiful chapel [the Pro-Cathedral at Wittering] and congregations there began to increase: this I take it is a sign that we should continue.”

For several years before then, the jurisdiction had not been a “happy ship” with increasing dissent concerning King’s leadership and quarrels over purpose and, more typically, personalities. As the ORCCGB became less of a visible presence in London, the clergy seem to have felt that much of the energy that had sustained their common life had been dissipated. Nevertheless, the early 1980s had in many respects been years of success for the ORCCGB, as it had by then built up a stable lay following, established a number of missions and continued to attract good candidates for ordination.

The initial petition to the Holy See concerning the constitution of the ORCCGB as an Uniate Rite had been sent to Rome in 1957 under Barrington-Evans. Despite an initial favourable response from the Holy Office outlining terms, negotiations with Dr (later Canon) Reginald Fuller (1908-2011), who had been deputed to look after the matter, soon foundered when it became apparent that Dr Fuller was at sharp odds as regarded the interpretation of a key point in the terms that had been set out. After this, further representations were made to Rome by the ORCCGB on a periodic basis. Some degree of reconciliation was eventually achieved many years later, when the then-Archbishop of the ORCCGB was accepted into union with the Holy See in 1998 and thereafter, his Holy Orders being accepted as valid, served as a deacon in a Roman Catholic parish until 2006.

Strong representations from some of the clergy brought about King’s retirement in May 1982. The issue then arose with some urgency as to what should be the future of the ORCCGB. The Vicar-General, Mgr. Thatcher, had been appointed Ordinary as well as continuing as Administrator, and the greater part of the clergy favoured a position whereby the remaining priests should work under his leadership until reconciliation with Rome – on whatever eventual terms – might be achieved, the most recent application for the same having been made to the Vatican a few years previously. King, however, believed that it was necessary to consecrate Thatcher. The consecration of Thatcher had first been proposed in 1978, but was then vetoed by the clergy, and in 1980 King mooted it again, this time receiving formal approval.

He wrote, “A long time has elapsed since the Clergy in Synod unanimously agreed to my intention to consecrate the Rt. Revd. James Hedley Thatcher to the Episcopate. At that time, my intention was simply to preserve the Succession. It was also agreed that no action should be taken in the matter pending the outcome of our negotiations with Rome, lest they might in any way be prejudiced. But those negotiations came to an unfruitful end some time ago, and nothing has yet been done about the proposed Consecration, which is, to say the least, very unfair to Mgr. Thatcher.

Moreover things have changed since my original announcement. In particular, my retirement from the Primacy has taken place, and this means that we have for some time been in a very anomalous position, our only Bishop no longer having any jurisdiction, and our Ordinary having full jurisdiction but not in Episcopal Orders. There is precedent for this, admittedly – the Celtic Church was always governed in this way – but today the position is anomalous and ought not to continue.

While it is true that at present I am available to fulfil any necessary Episcopal functions (though presumably those of you who exerted strong pressure to secure my resignation cannot wish me to do so), it is not necessarily true that I shall be so much longer, as my future is very uncertain. As you will know, I became due for retirement from my secular job [as a solicitors’ clerk] last May; but I found I could not afford both to retire and to stay in London. However, with the increasing rheumatic troubles in my joints I do not know how much longer I can continue my secular job. In any case it may not be possible for me to stay in London after the coming closure of Steenoven House since all efforts to find remotely suitable accommodation to rent in London are proving fruitless. Whether it will be possible for the Church to find me living-space I do not know, but if not, then again I shall have to leave London. If I do, I shall obviously try to go North to my home country and it will then be difficult and expensive for me to be of much practical help to the Church.

In these circumstances it seems advisable that the Consecration of Mgr. Thatcher should take place in the very near future…I am, of course, aware that some of you have reservations about all this. However, you have all of you given your formal consent.”

It was clear that by proceeding, King would risk a split with the majority of his clergy, who pointed out that to consecrate a bishop without a Papal Mandate would make a nonsense of the petition currently before the Holy See seeking unity with Rome. Nevertheless, King had the courage of his convictions and was unwavering in believing that he could not disregard the previous vote of the Synod, nor what he saw as the practical need of his church for effective oversight by a prelate who would not be rendered ineffective by his lack of episcopal authority. On 8 January 1983 at the chapel of the Holy Spirit in Steenoven House (in one of the last events to take place there), King consecrated Thatcher as his successor with Bishop Francis Glenn as witness (the photograph at the top of the article was taken on this occasion).

On the same day, a letter to Thatcher was issued by four priests and a deacon of the clergy of the ORCCGB resigning from the jurisdiction. Their withdrawal left the ORCCGB with Thatcher, King,  a deacon, a cleric in minor orders and a very small group of laity. Although some others were to join in the following years, numbers were never to return to their previous strengths. Those who had seceded formed the Tridentine Institute of Our Lady of Walsingham under Vicar General George Saintsbury (1911-2006) and Fr. Stephen Warnes-Prebble (1929-99), based at 11, Hetley Road, Shepherd’s Bush, London W12 (where Saintsbury and Warnes-Prebble were resident),  and under the episcopal oversight of Bishop Georg Schmitz in Germany, who had been consecrated by King in 1968.

When Thatcher had retired from his secular employment as a clerk with British Gas in the early 1980s, he had gone to live in Stevenage. In 1983, Steenoven House was eventually sold. Bishop Howard Weston-Smart writes, “its various collections, library, archive, plate and vestments were scattered or sold. A new church property closer to the home of Mgr. St Pierre was purchased at Wittering in northern Cambridgeshire [the former Pro-Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and Our Lady Immaculate, Townsend Road, Wittering, which would in turn be sold in May 1999], but for the first time in its history the jurisdiction was without a public place of worship and an active presence in London…All of this contributed to a serious decline both in numbers and in impact which has never been reversed.”

Thatcher did not make a great success of his tenure as Primate. Bishop Weston-Smart writes, “Ultimately he was to embrace wholeheartedly the teachings of the Second Council of the Vatican and was to interpret them incorrectly, thereby perpetuating the errors first made fifty or so years before by Abp. Bernard Mary [Williams], making of his jurisdiction a pale, a very pale indeed, copy of Rome, as well as isolating him from the substantial majority of the clergy and people of the Jurisdiction, who much preferred Latin and traditional theology and devotions, and who were in fact enjoying a measure of success unparalleled in the history of the church. In London alone, there were five missions, three using the older form of the Mass.”

Thatcher consecrated Dennis Matthew Peter St Pierre (1932-93) as his auxiliary and Titular Bishop of Cilvelai on 2 July 1988 at St Peter’s School, Huntingdon, assisted by King. St Pierre had left the Roman Catholic Church in protest at Vatican II. He then joined the Church of England and was accepted as an ordinand, but again found the church too beset by modernism and left for the ORCCGB. He and his family ran a printing business at Woolley, near Huntingdon, and at the Manor House which he shared with his four brothers he established the Chapel of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. This was a free-standing and substantial small church that was beautifully appointed and set in the most attractive of surroundings.

During the late 1980s, both Thatcher and St Pierre became ill with cancer, and King’s retirement was marked by the degree that he was willing to place himself unstintingly at the service of his church in her hour of need. In private, he maintained a full schedule of personal devotions and remained intellectually active until the last.

King died on 24 January 1991 of lung cancer at the London Chest Hospital; he had been living in a flat in Mildmay Grove, Islington and although he had been unwell with what was believed to be a chest infection since the previous December, his death was unexpected. His will, made the previous year, left his entire estate to Dennis St Pierre. His Solemn Pontifical Requiem was celebrated at Wittering by Thatcher and other clergy, as well as by Fr. George Saintsbury, present in his capacity as Superior of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham (in the event, the Society would not survive him). King’s body was cremated and the ashes scattered at Woolley Manor.

In 2007, a reconciliation was effected between the ORCCGB under King’s eventual successor, Archbishop Douglas Titus Lewins, and Shelley’s eventual successor as Archbishop of Caer-Glow, Archbishop John Joseph Humphreys of Florida, thus healing a breach which had endured for over forty years. Subsequently, co-operation was entered into between Archbishop Lewins and the jurisdiction that had succeeded Archbishop Marchenna, which had likewise been separated since 1963.

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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