Saturday, June 15, 2013

When the Pope Met the Archbishop of Canterbury

William Oddie of The Catholic Herald had some questions about the value of the visit and said so in a column which received quite a few comments. His crucial question was, would the Pope and the Archbishop  "talk about the fact that since the ordination of women to the Anglican version of the priesthood, the possibility of reunion between the two churches has been made an impossibility for all time?".

Now he restates the issue:

I’m sorry to go over the same ground again, but it’s important that we should get this one right, and I confused the issue last time. The danger is not that the visit is happening at all: it is that because of the way in which it is taking place, and because of the very dodgy way the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is handling it, the impression is being given that in some way the Pope and the archbishop are equivalent figures, and that Welby’s beliefs about his Church and his office are understood AND RECOGNISED by the Holy See.

It’s essential to remember what those claims actually are. Catholics believe that Henry VIII invented a new church called the Church of England. But that’s not what Anglicanism claims at all. Anglicanism claims that it is continuous with what came before, that it is THE SAME CHURCH as the Ecclesia Anglicana of the Middle Ages and that Archbishop Welby is the direct successor of St Augustine of Canterbury: the Wikipedia article on him begins with the words “Justin Portal Welby … is the 105th and current Archbishop of Canterbury”. The liturgical book of the church which Catholics believe was newly invented but which Anglicans believe is England’s historic Catholic Church, reformed not invented by the Tudors, described itself as The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of THE CHURCH according to the use of the Church of England (My emphasis).

The consequence of all that is the Anglican claim, explicit or implicit, is that the Catholic Church in England is not what it says it is, because it’s the Church of England which IS in England what the Catholic Church claims to be. In less ecumenical times, the English Catholic Church was sometimes derided as “the Italian mission”.

Those claims are soft-pedalled now, but they are still there. Their modern equivalent is that Anglican bishops, and archbishops, are in some way equivalent and equal to the Catholic bishops: that in these ecumenical times they are somehow in business together.

He then goes on to identify the difficulties he sees with the ongoing Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) discussions:

Those on the Catholic side are there to represent a coherent doctrinal tradition the objective content of which is accepted by all of them. They would all, for instance, without even thinking about it, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church as being an authoritative expression of that tradition. On the Anglican side, opinions differ widely: some would also accept most of the CCC: others would reject much of it, and particularly what it has to say about the sacraments and the nature of the Church. The Catholic Commissioners represent the Catholic Church: the Anglicans represent only their own personal opinion. There is no consensus between them; how could any consensus emerge between them and the Catholic Church? That is why the ARCIC documents are couched in such vague and ambiguous language: and it is why the CDF has accepted none of them as adequately representing the Catholic view of whatever they were claiming to be about: some they have rejected as clearly heretical.

But what actual harm does ARCIC do, you may ask? Doesn’t it serve the admirable objective of fostering charity between divided Christians? Well, the harm it does is the harm indifferentism and reductionist ecumenism always does. We can see what has happened since the Sixties: the faithful in the pews are uncertain what to believe any more. Everyone always used to say, whatever you think of the Catholics, at least they know what they believe. Not any more they don’t. The pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI began to reverse the disaster of indifferentism: but they never disbanded ARCIC, though JPII did suspend it after the ordination to the Anglican episcopate of an openly and militantly homosexual man. As I wrote last time, “It was a moment in which reality asserted itself. What is unclear is WHY that assertion of reality was itself suspended. Why did ARCIC then recommence operations as though nothing had happened, despite the fact that throughout the Anglican communion, openly gay bishops are now seen as quite normal and there are thousands of women priests, several of whom are even commissioners in the new ARCIC?”

That last sentence does give me pause: how awkward for the ARCIC teams if they would ever discuss the Eucharist, the Real Presence, the priesthood--with such completely different views of the sacraments! And if they will never discuss those issues, how could the ARCIC ever say they really explored the crucial issues that divide Catholics and Anglicans.

The Catholic Herald also provides the text of Pope Francis' remarks at the end of the visit, and the second paragraph in the excerpt below is rather troubling as it seems like an apology, when certainly no apology is needed:

The history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church is long and complex, and not without pain. Recent decades, however, have been marked by a journey of rapprochement and fraternity, and for this we give heartfelt thanks to God. This journey has been brought about both via theological dialogue, through the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and via the growth of cordial relations at every level through shared daily lives in a spirit of profound mutual respect and sincere cooperation. In this regard, I am very pleased to welcome alongside you Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. These firm bonds of friendship have enabled us to remain on course even when difficulties have arisen in our theological dialogue that were greater than we could have foreseen at the start of our journey.

I am grateful, too, for the sincere efforts the Church of England has made to understand the reasons that led my Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church: I am sure this will enable the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican patrimony to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world.

Today’s meeting is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father. Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.

At the risk of sounding more Catholic than the Pope, I must say I'm disappointed in the rather diffident tone of that paragraph. What about the blessing to the Catholic Church of those who have come home to Rome, in what Blessed John Henry Newman called "the one true fold of the Redeemer" as a real example of true ecumenism? As the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham sums up its brief history:

This new structure within the Catholic Church is a generous and pioneering attempt to heal the wounds of sin and division between Anglicans and Catholics. The Holy Father [Pope Benedict XVI], speaking at St Mary’s College, Oscott, at the end of his 2010 State Visit to the United Kingdom, said the Ordinariate “should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all”.

No comments:

Post a Comment