Thursday, October 22, 2009

Be careful what you wish for!

The ecclesiastical air waves have been full of commentary on the initiative undertaken by the present Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, to facilitate the integration of dissident Anglican communities within the communion of the Roman church. While some of the provisions are new, the initiative is not new. Since the nineteenth century both individuals and communities have sought re-integration either through submission and absorption as embodied by John Henry Newman or through accommodation of congregations who could not accept the ordination of women and the introduction of revised liturgical rites.

From an Anglican perspective such movement should be greeted with compassion and pastoral respect. Since Anglicans believe themselves to be Catholic Christians gathered in national churches, the decision of some Anglicans to seek communion with Rome is similar to choosing to live in a different neighbourhood that one finds congenial to one's values and lifestyle. However, given that the Roman Church does not share this Anglican perspective on the nature of the visible Church, the submission of Anglican communities to the discipline of the Roman tradition has a different public face.

I want to say that those who are fleeing what they understand to be questionable decisions within Anglican Communion should be careful in what they wish for. When one is running away from what may seem to be a mad dog, it is important to watch where one is going so as not to fall as unsuspecting prey to a lurking wolf.

In today’s Globe and Mail the Dean of Ottawa, the Very Rev’d Shane Parker writes: “For decades, the Anglican Church has welcomed Roman Catholics who feel called to be faithful to a tradition that dates back to St. Peter but who wish to do so in a church that has democratically elected bishops, male and female clergy, married clergy, provision for remarriage after divorce, and the courage to be affected by the dynamic interplay of scripture, tradition and reason. We haven’t made a public announcement for fear of offending our sisters and brothers in the Roman Church.”

Sandra Fairman from Toronto writes in the same issue, “I can see why conservative Anglicans might want to convert to Catholicism. They have inadvertently found themselves in a church where they are being asked to practice the teachings of Christ.”

To the comments of Dean Parker and Ms Fairman I might add that the Roman Church denies any meaningful role to the laity in decisions relating to the faith and order of the Christian community. Anglican clergy who choose to respond positively to the Bishop of Rome’s invitation will discover that they have taken up residence in an ecclesiastical cul de sac. They will not find themselves called to the episcopate and, unless specific provision is made for the theological education of new clergy in the Anglican tradition in a Roman key, subsequent parish pastors will reflect Romanitas rather than a genuine Anglican ethos. The experience of other so-called ‘Uniate’ churches, mostly Eastern Rite churches that have sought integration into the Roman communion while preserving their unique customs and heritage, has not been universally positive. Anglicans seeking communion with Rome may discover that their heritage will disappear within one or two ‘generations’.

So long as Rome considers itself to be the Catholic Church and to deny full ecclesial respect to non-Roman Western Christians, Anglican communities fleeing what they consider to be the ‘mad dog’ of so-called ‘liberal’ Anglicans will discover that they have fallen prey to a lurking Roman wolf who will consume them bit by bit. They will lose their Anglican ethos, an ethos that threatens the existing Roman hegemony. When faced with such a subtle threat, the Roman authorities will work quietly but assiduously to reduce the threat posed by these refugees.

In the meantime I shall pray for the genuine visible unity of the Christian Church, one that respects the diversity of peoples and cultures that have found hope in the Gospel while proclaiming the good news of our faith: Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for your insights. Pax. Br. Shane