October 20, 2009

There’s No Place Like Rome...

The news appears adequately to have been aired abroad, but in case you haven't heard, the Vatican has issued an Apostolic Constitution providing an expedited course for Anglicans who want to become Roman Catholic en masse and retain some of their distinctively Anglican liturgy — and clergy. There are scads of links to various reactions at Thinking Anglicans and Episcopal Café. I've not yet found a link to, and hence have not read, the actual document in question, so my comments at this point are provisional. But in the best spirit of modern journalism, I do have a few general observations, and the facts can always be dealt with retroactively.

In spite of the press coverage and the cries of alarm or celebration in some circles, this "hydrofoil across the Tiber" is not an entirely new thing. In the United States at least, congregations along with their priests have occasionally made a transition to being Anglican Use Roman Catholics. The present offer seems closer to a Uniate arrangement, rather more ordinary than exceptional, with a tad more polish than the usual slightly used congregation.

Although married male priests appear to be part of this proposal, it doesn't appear that married male bishops are going to be allowed. That, it seems to me, will thin the flow of the exodus somewhat, at least the purple end of the pond. It also seems very likely that reordination or at least conditional ordination will be required for the priests (and deacons).

Some have wondered at Rowan Williams’ apparent calm acceptance of this new phenomenon. It appears he was not aware it was in the offing. This is strange since the proposal from the "Traditional Anglican Communion" has been talked about for some years, and it appears that the Vatican’s response, although it may seem sudden to the unprepared, is really not all that startling if you've paid close attention to what they've been saying about Anglicans over the last decade or so. Which is to say, as always, “The light is still on and you are always welcome to come home.”

I think three things may factor into the Archbishop's relatively calm response: First, what's he supposed to do? Second, this may well thin the ranks of some of the more forceful and tiresome opponents of the ordination of women to the episcopate, and obviate the need for the dehumanizing (and rather “federated”) scheme currently on the table in the Church of England. Third, he may finally have experienced the sobering reality that dialogue with Rome always has been in truth a one-sided exercise.

More can, and no doubt will, be said before long. I look forward to seeing the actual text of the official document. In the meantime, I imagine many of the most Romeward-looking Anglican clergy are now considering if they are willing to put their stipend where their mouth is, and do what they've so often said they would do if only they could. As Dorothy learned, of course, they always had the power to do so, as indeed many had, individually, before them. Just click the heels of the ruby slippers three times and say, "There's no place like Rome; there's no place like Rome; there's no place like..." And Anglicanism they will say, was just a colorful dream populated with familiar figures.

May they find peace in their new abode. I prefer this side of the Tiber Rainbow.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


rick allen said...

I think you're right that this is not so big a deal as some make it out to be. Those who cross over to this side are decidedly a minority of a minority--those who long fervently for union with Rome, but who are also so attached to certain elements of Anglican practice that they have not yet made the jump. That's not a lot of people, and certainly there will be a large number of those who, on consideration, will prefer the freedom of independence to the exasperation of joining the family and having to put up with what is an admittedly more authoritarian structure than the Canterbury family.

Much has been made of Archbishop Williams' "passivity," or even "humiliation." I think those are quite unfair. I rather admire him for thinking so little of what others think of him. What has almost broken him in these past years has been trying to keep promises to traditionalists in a national Church temperamentally progressive. His efforts have been greeted by claims that he is favoring "bigots." I think the old Anglo-Catholics understand now how untenable their position is, but whether they will abandon their historic churches and shrines for cinder block churches with tin roofs and an "Anglican Use" liturgy remains to be seen.

In America I imagine it will have no effect except possibly exacerbating tensions between evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in ACNA.

Not a reason not to provide the accomodation, but I wouldn't look for any mass exodus.

Closed said...

NIcely said. I had a few similar words to offer, though I'm inclined to see this as an opportunity to rethink ecumenicism and celebrate our distinctives as a tradition.

Tim Powers said...

Here, here, Tobias! "Dialogue with Rome always has been in truth a one-sided exercise;" this is almost always the truth. My respect for the ECUSA and the Anglican Communion comes from its ability to talk things out. Rome issues edicts, the rest of Christianity discerns. Best wishes to those who cross the Tiber...they may find that it's not the fairyland for which they were hoping. And, P.S., shame on Joseph, Bishop of Rome for pulling this out of his handbag with no warning to the ABC!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank's, Rick. Nice to know we can occasionally agree!

Yes, Christopher, new occasions teach new duties -- and create new opportunities. I hope this sobers people up about dialogue with Rome.

Amen, Tim.

June Butler said...

I do have a few general observations, and the facts can always be dealt with retroactively.

Indeed, as many of us are wont to do.