Saturday, October 24, 2009

“Anglo-Catholic? (Wherein I Discourse upon the Anglican Issue)” OR “My Two Pence (Which Isn’t Very Much these Days!)”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols speaks with Archbishop Rowan Williams

"We are profoundly moved by the generosity of the Holy Father [...] May I first state that this is an act of great goodness on the part of the Holy Father. He has dedicated his pontificate to the cause of unity. It more than matches the dreams we dared to include in our petition of two years ago. It more than matches our prayers. In those two years, we have become very conscious of the prayers of our friends in the Catholic Church. Perhaps their prayers dared to ask even more than ours." (full text here).

There is similar joy at St Therese Little Flower—a parish in my hometown of Kansas City, where Fr. Ernie Davis greeted the new Constitution with these words:

"Who could have hoped for as much as has been offered? Is the miracle of medical healing attributed to the intercession of John Cardinal Newman any less spectacular than the healing of the divisions in the church? Wasn't it clear that something amazing was about to happen when the relics of St. Therese spent her feast day at York Minster?" (Follow links for more on these two events!)

The “New Evangelization,” passionately preached and promoted by Pope John Paul II, certainly seems to be taking root and flourishing in the Anglican world. Even the secular media has caught wind, and the Wall Street Journal published an article heralding a “new” Church full of renewed liturgical diversity (see: "The Pope Lets a Thousand Liturgies Bloom"). St Therese Little Flower could be seen as a front-runner in this “new” brand of Catholicism (though if you read a bit deeper in history you’ll find that such liturgical and racial diversity is very ancient!). St Therese, a historically African-American parish, now hosts two extremely different liturgical communities, continuing its commitment to active community involvement and social justice, worshiping with a well-established and vibrant Gospel Mass---even as it introduces a second liturgy in the Anglican Use: a solemn High Mass complete with incense, candles and medieval chant.

As a former Episcopalian myself, I too rejoice in the Pope’s invitation. As the TAC bishop says above, this is a gesture of great generosity on the part of the Holy Father. The Church will be richer for the beautiful traditions and ancient faith of Anglican Christians. I pray that many, many come into the unity with the Church in the years following this announcement.

Yes, there has been much rejoicing. But there has also been much anger, much confusion, much uninformed gossip, and much ingratitude. I don’t want to go into all that in this post. But I do want to highlight a few controversies surrounding the Anglican Issue in the Church, and also a few of my own concerns.

The first small point I want to mention: There has been an angry tone in many of the media reports concerning the Vatican’s announcement. Headlines like these are only a google search away: "Vatican Moves to Poach Traditional Anglicans," or "The Pope's Anglican Blitzkrieg," or "Pope in Bold Transfer Swoop for 8 Million Anglicans," or "Bishops invite Pope to Park his Tanks on the Archbishop's Lawn."

Notice the rhetoric of aggression: the Church is “poaching,” She’s “parked her tanks” in Canterbury. She’s bringin’ out the Big Guns! This not-so-subtly-implied accusation (actually, not implied at all) of “aggression” on the Church’s part fails to take into consideration the thousands of requests which Rome has received from Anglican groups over the past decade—appeals for full, visible communion with the Catholic Church. This action on the part of the Holy father is a response to a plea for help--not an aggressive initiative. You can read about one such appeal (from the TAC) here. After the TAC sent this particular letter they heard nothing for two years. Many began to think that the appeal of such a small, unimportant group must surely have been lost in the long corridors of the Vatican. Not So! Back in Rome learned men were working to create a radical new structure that would allow not just the TAC but MANY other groups—even whole diocese—to come into the Church while still retaining much of their own traditions and hierarchy. As we can see from the excerpt at the beginning of my post, this Constitution was MUCH, MUCH more generous that anyone was expecting. Aggressive? Perhaps aggressively generous. SO—first small rant on my part, excuse me.

Next: The secular media (and some super-dissenting “Catholic” papers…i.e. the National “Katholic” Reporter) has implied that the REAL issue behind the Vatican’s offer and the Anglican defection is “homophobia” and “mysogyny.” These, apparently, are the "real" issues. (Over-simplification alert!)

Now I have no time at the moment to write a dissertation on the Theology of the Body, women’s rights or roles in the Church (I’m thinking about Mary…), or sex in the scheme of salvation. I will only say this: For most “Anglican defectors,” of whom I am one, the PARTICULAR issues of womens’ ordination and the homosexual lifestyle are only SYMPTOMS of the larger problems inherent in Anglicanism as a whole. These concerns include, but are not limited to: lack of a legitimate, Spirit-led teaching-tradition consistent with the teaching of the Church throughout history, and lack of consistent scriptural interpretation in the hierarchy (i.e. lack of what Catholics call Magisterium). Also, concerns about sacramental legitimacy, loss of Apostolic Succession, and desire for unity with the visible Church (One, Holy, Apostolic) on earth. The ordination of women, the endorsement of the homosexual lifestyle, the proliferation of unorthodoxy even in the highest levels of the episcopacy (ahem! Bishop Spong!), only appear as SYMPTOMS of the problems listed above. Jeffrey Steel, a former Episcopalian priest who recently was received into the Church, says this of his reasons for leaving his former ecclesiastical home:

“Let me state clearly that I did not leave the C of E over women’s ordination or homosexuality though in regards to both of these issues I hold the Catholic orthodox line. I became Catholic because being Catholic was true, the primacy of Peter and his infallibility is true and the lack of the Magisterium in Anglicanism leaves the priest with nothing other than his (or now her) own opinion.”

Now, moving on to issues surrounding Anglo-Catholics. Over the years many groups of traditional Anglicans have united in a heartfelt prayer for renewed unity with the See of Peter. These groups, separated from the C of E to one degree or another, have been, in many ways, “wanderers upon the face of the earth,” with little or no connection to the Body Catholic which they so strongly desire to be in union with. Some of these groups asked for corporate reunion with the Catholic Church (I have heard estimates of somewhere around 1,000 bishops). Now the Pope has presented a radical, new pathway to unity. The core of what is particularly Anglican will be preserved. It is possible that Anglican seminaries will appear throughout the Catholic world. The discipline of celibacy will be suspended for those who wish to be ordained. Diocese will remain under Anglican jurisdiction wherever possible. If you have been Catholic even for a little bit you realize how radical this all actually is.

Now I hear members of these same groups murmuring amongst themselves and asking questions like: “will we have to accept papal authority?” “will we have to accept the Marian dogmas?” Hmm, I think. The Pope is being very generous, I think. He is moving ecclesiastical mountains to get these people on board. But, in the Catholic Church, some things can never, ever be changed. Dogmas of the faith are one of those things (Marian dogmas included). And the Church’s converts throughout the centuries have always understood that they must accept “all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, holds and teaches” in ORDER to become Catholic. (At least that was what I said when I was confirmed.)

So it may not be so easy for all the Anglo-Catholics to come in after all. Despite their professed desire to be Catholic, there seems to be some important and not easily surrendered precincts in their theological imagination. Let us pray that this hesitancy is not mere stubbornness. If it’s only explanation or rationale for the Assumption of Mary or Papal Infallibility that they require we will win them over yet!

Now I would like to briefly (yes! I’ll try!) address one last bit of the Anglican puzzle. We all know that the more liberal “progressive” types of Anglicans will happily remain in the C of E or her American counterpart. They will probably not consider the Pope’s offer for themselves. The Anglo-Catholics (both inside and outside the C of E) have their own set of issues which I have addressed, in part, above.

But there is one more group within the Anglican Communion (or Dis-union) who seem, in my opinion, curiously neglected in the current discussion—neglected, in fact, by the secular media, the Anglican discussions and the Catholic blogosphere. This is the Anglican tradition from which I have sprung: namely the Evangelical wing of the Anglican body. This group is represented by associations such as AMIA (Anglican Missions in America) and the Continuing Anglicans. While I was an undergraduate at Wheaton College in Illinois I found myself at the crux of the “Continuing Anglican” movement. When I was a Junior my Episcopalian church split and soon-to-be-Thomas More and myself went along with the “more orthodox” split. All Souls AMIA parish was (and, I trust, is!) a lovely, warm community with an Anglo-Catholic liturgical style and a good foundation of the best of Evangelical theology and zeal. Many of these Evangelical Anglican parishes are affiliated in some way with Anglican bishops in Africa (our bishop was, I think, Rwandan).

Now in the States and in Africa especially, it is this evangelically oriented, theologically and morally conservative strain of Anglicanism which represents the most explosive growth and spiritual vibrancy within Anglicanism in general. In addition, within Continuing Anglican circles there is wide recognition that the church is shifting south and east—away from a soon-to-be post-Christian Europe and North America. Catholics, watching our own growth and development, are seeing the same trend.

My question is—how will these burgeoning groups respond to the Pope’s invitation? How should Catholics approach these groups, which seem to suffer inordinately from internal strife and church split upon church split? It makes sense to me that High-Church Anglo-Catholics might be drawn into communion with Rome naturally and organically. But the conversion of Anglicans of the Evangelical stripe must, in my opinion, look very different. I am not saying that such a conversion would not be possible. Many, many Evangelicals have become Catholic and have found the Catholic Church to be, in the end, the protector and defender of the truths they hold most dear—the truths they always thought were the special property of evangelical Christianity! I am one such example. Thomas More another. And I could list many other thoughtful, zealous evangelicals who sacrificed much to come Home to the Catholic Church.

So to conclude: I will continue to watch events unfold with the greatest interest and with much prayer. Let us all pray with Jesus “that all may be one.”

Here ends dissertation!!

Bl. ohn Henry Newman, captain of the Tiber Swim Team, pray for us!!


  1. Thanks, M of E! I can't stop rejoicing, either! The last report I heard about the TAC request was rather gloomy: gosh, the bishops are married, the CC only accepts individual conversions, not hordes, yadda, yadda. It IS an amazing, elegant and generous solution! Wow! Our Lady returns to Walsingham! Mary's Dowry restored! St. John Fisher rejoices (he's my man)! God bless you. The Empress Helena Julia Flavia Augusta

  2. Sister--thanks for your happy response! We will all be praying for increased unity and Zeal for the Gospel! Our Lady of Walsingham--Ora Pro Nobis!