Monday, 14 July 2008

The Church of England ....

I have been thinking to post on recent events in the Church of England - namely the vote of the Synod to allow women to become bishops, and the reaction of the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England to that vote - but have been finding it very difficult to find the appropriate way of doing so.

Blog by the Sea has a comprehensive post on the different responses from within the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Church. Drawing on her own experience, Blog by the Sea reflects an aspect of my own thoughts on the situation that now exists with regard to the Church of England and possible moves to join the Roman Catholic Church:

In the U.S., the hope for Anglo-Catholics to move in unity after the Gene Robinson vote was not a realistic hope in the end. Different people had a different way forward in mind. Over time, some became Catholic, some became Greek Orthodox, some became Protestant, and some moved toward a more Protestant/Evangelical form of conservative Anglicanism.

In the end, I was left to sort things through on my own, eventually entering the Catholic Church with a group of people I had met for the first time at my new parish. Among them were 2 or 3 other former Episcopalians, none of them from my former Episcopal Church parish. Around the same time, I heard from a few others I had known as an Episcopalian that they had become Eastern Orthodox. I knew when I left that some were leaning more toward Protestant churches or toward a more Evangelical form of Anglicanism.

In the process, I realized that the need to sort things through for myself, in itself, differed from the pattern of the Early Church described in Acts 15. The process itself entailed "a matter of one's own interpretation" of Scripture (II Peter 1:20) that an individual, in the Early Church, was not supposed to have to do. The process itself made clearer the value of the Church's magisterium and the papacy, and the [Roman Catholic] Church's greater similarity in that respect to the way the Early Church resolved conflict. Once that became apparent, the other issues faded in importance.

Anglo-Catholic parishes who have been living under the supervision of "flying bishops" face this same question of magisterium; it is a question that they have been, at least implicitly and perhaps explicitly, avoiding during their time under the guidance of "flying bishops". Implicitly, they have been living an Anglican style of magisterium - or rather, lack of it - in the sense that there is nothing in their scheme of things that allows a decision binding on all members of the Anglican Church to be made. As Blog by the Sea's post suggests, Roman Catholicism is not the only answer to this question of magisterium that an Anglo-Catholic might arrive at, and in some ways it is the answer that is most difficult for them. A recent post at Standing on my Head seems to verify this.

Suggestions that Anglican bishops might come into the Roman Catholic Church and "bring their folk with them", or that Forward in Faith parishes might come into the Roman Catholic Church as corporate identities, seem to me to risk continuing to beg this question of magisterium. The request for "magnanimous gestures" from the Vatican and from the Roman Catholic hierarchy of England and Wales seems to me to be a request to agree to some sort of arrangement such as these. And, whilst it is certainly correct that Roman Catholics and their clergy in particular should respond in a charitable and understanding way to the dilemma facing Anglo-Catholics, to give an appearance of welcome to solutions that involve these styles of corporate receptions into the Church appears to me incredibly naive.

A "conversion" is necessary. And I do not mean by that a rejection of the Anglo-Catholic heritage that many in the Church of England, and particularly Anglo-Catholic clergy, have held in good conscience (cf the post at Standing on my Head). What I do mean is a "turning towards" the fulness and completion of that heritage. I find it difficult to see how that "conversion", with its genuine recognition of a binding and universal magisterium, will come about with the models of corporate reception that seem to be being suggested.

What might provide more viable models for a style of corporate reception into the Catholic Church might be the moves into the Roman Catholic Church of the Society of the Atonement and some of the monks of Caldey to found Prinknash Abbey. I am suggesting that a large scale style of corporate receptions, even at whole parish level, is unrealistic; perhaps a series of smaller scale arrangements might be possible. Canonically, these would be a group of individual receptions; but they could be accompanied by a smaller, corporate association along the lines of one of the "new movements" (though not a "formerly Anglican parish"), to which Roman Catholics could be very welcoming.

And the other question is that of ordination of former Anglican clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. Whilst the decision to seek to join the Roman Catholic Church is one for Anglicans to make themselves, in response to the grace of God and in discerning his will for their lives, the subsequent decision about ordination is one that rests with the Roman Catholic bishop. The request for "magnanimous gestures" and some sort of corporate reception seems to have an implicit assumption that Anglican clergy will become Roman Catholic clergy to serve the new corporate body - blurring the different loci of the two discernments present in this situation. Which, of course, does involve an experience of magisterium, perhaps more in its juridical aspect....

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