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Is the Vatican Creating an Anglican Petting Zoo?

I’m not a big fan of setting up faith communities that are ideologically homogeneous. So on the one hand I am uncomfortable with groups like Dignity that are made up entirely of “liberal” members, and on the other groups like the Society of St. Pius X that are made up entirely of “conservative” members.

To me, the idea of the catholic Church (with the small “c”) is that everyone is welcome. And when we look at being “conservative” or “liberal” as tendencies rather than ideologies, we have to admit that both viewpoints are necessary for a healthy faith community. It’s wrong for “liberals” to want to drive out “conservatives,” and vice versa. Again, here I am talking about basic approaches being conservative or liberal, not the rigorous ideologies we associate with these words today. A healthy community has both people who are averse to change and people who advocate change. That’s how we strike a balance between becoming either rootless or irrelevant.

This give and take is an organic, dynamic process that makes our communities alive. I remember that in the early days of the historic preservation movement, for example, preservation often was no more than an occasional cry to “save” some individual building. Sometimes these buildings would all be moved to a vacant lot, where buildings of various styles, periods and neighborhoods sat awkwardly together without historical context in what preservationists referred to disparagingly as “architectural petting zoos.” Now preservation movements seek to preserve neighborhoods and districts with actual people living and working in historic structures and even (oh my!) adapting them within reason instead of the structures being empty stage sets with docents leading people through excruciatingly correct period interiors.

So I have to admit I am a bit concerned about the news today that an upcoming Apostolic Constitution will create an organizational structure for “conservative” Anglicans within the Catholic Church. Naturally, we’ll have to wait and see what the document actually says, but some initial indications from Rome are somewhat disconcerting.

My first concern is that this initiative does not appear to be in line with true ecumenism. Oh, yes, various people have tried to put a brave ecumenical face on it, but it’s telling that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was apparently not involved in the decision (unless you count expressing concerns and having them ignored—as some news reports indicate happened—as involvement).

The new proposed structure for Anglicans is not true ecumenism because it does not involve an authentic historic Christian tradition bringing its entire membership to unity while preserving its heritage intact. Rather, the proposed initiative is Rome building an Anglican-themed structure, presumably telling a certain number of Anglicans what they may and may not retain from their tradition as they submit to the centralized control of Rome. The Vatican proposal appears to closely follow the old practice of “uniatism,” which is not—or up to this point, was not—considered the proper approach to ecumenism. “Uniatism” is a method despised by the Orthodox, who are wary of Roman control. This new outreach to disaffected Anglicans will no doubt strike the Orthodox as the Catholic Church returning to the uniate model despite decades of assurances we would not. That would certainly cool enthusiasm for Christian Unity among some Orthodox, who rightly maintain that Christian Unity should not mean that patriarchs of Churches will be subjected to the minute regulations of the Roman Curia.

My second concern is that this creates a new body within the Catholic Church to which only “conservatives” need apply. There will be no diversity of thought within the new structure, which will either (a) become calcified and rigid, a museum-piece, or (b) become balanced and vital only after several generations of faithful have grown up within it and can create a more inclusive environment. Of course this new outreach to “conservative” Anglicans may become a new strategy extended to other groups, like the Society of St. Pius X, which will most likely not be required to change anything about their practices, teaching or dismissal of the Council, but merely be given their own little corner of the Church to do what they like, occasionally lobbing bombs into the wider Church.

I’m very interested to see what the Apostolic Constitution actually says. I hope the outreach bears good fruit. I hope it does not set back the cause of true ecumenism, increase rigidity in the Catholic Church or create a sort of Anglican petting zoo where we can see neat Anglican things as curated by “conservative” museum-keepers with a curial imprimatur. I hope my concerns are unfounded.

11 Responses to “Is the Vatican Creating an Anglican Petting Zoo?”

  1. Other than getting an email from Amazon telling my order will be delivered sooner than expected, I do not feel like I got much in the way of good news on the computer today.

    Then I read this post. It is not good news, but you have language that I simply do not possess at the moment and I am grateful to read it.

    Thank you for your eloquent and clear voice.

  2. Ryan says:

    Deacon Eric,

    I appreciate your desire for authentic Christian unity, but I think your analysis is wrong in this case. As Catholics, we should be celebrating the Holy Father’s generosity in making it possible for Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Church. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church clearly states, “In explicit terms [Christ] Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. ***Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved***.” An increasing number of Anglicans are recognizing that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, even while their own communion drifts further and further away from the apostolic faith. These Anglicans should not have to wait for their own leaders to reconcile with the Church before they themselves do. To quote again from the documents of the Second Vatican Council: Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community,” that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic… This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”. Again, as Catholics, we should rejoice whenever separated sisters and brothers return to the “one Church of Christ.”

    In terms of one of your main concerns, I think it’s a bit misguided to play up the fact that those who return will be “conservative” Anglicans. In the case of the Traditional Anglican Communion, they have signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, explicitly stating that they agree with all that it teaches, and have promised fidelity to the See of Peter. These actions do not make them “conservative”; these actions make them Catholic. Yes, this group is perceived as conservative in contrast to other Anglican leaders, who have abandoned certain doctrines and practices of the apostolic faith. But, again, I don’t think it’s fair to construe them as conservative reactionaries on these grounds. As an example, rejecting the innovation of ordaining women is not a conservative position; it is a Catholic position. In short, we should not fault this group for upholding the ancient practices of the Church, especially in the case of practices to which we, as Catholics, are bound.

    Along these lines, unlike the world, the Church does not celebrate diversity for its own sake. Yes, there is a legitimate diversity in the Church. An obvious example is the diversity of venerable liturgical rites (e.g., Ambrosian, Latin, Byzantine, etc.,). But, diversity is not in and of itself a positive good. For instance, in Sacred Scripture, Saint Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “I appeal to you, friends, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” So, again, there are legitimate forms of diversity within the Church: ethnic diversity, socioeconomic diversity, liturgical diversity, etc., But, we should not yearn for or applaud diversity on doctrinal and moral questions. As Saint Paul says elsewhere, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” In this particular instance, Anglicans are actually bringing themselves into unity of doctrine and practice with the Catholic Church, thereby manifesting the kind of unity that Christ prayed his followers would have (Jn. 17:20-23). Ut unum sint! Soli Deo gloria!

  3. IT says:

    I don’t have a dog in this fight–left Catholicism 30 years ago and have no faith. But my wife is an RC swimming the other direction having realized the RC church is no place for faithful gay people. She’s found a welcoming home with TEC. Chacun a son gout: those who crave the structure of Rome, its rigidity regarding women and gays can find a home there. Those who see women and gays as fully included, can join the liberal Catholic diaspora elsewhere.

    But really: what’s the conflict. Same creed, same Christ. Walk a parallel road and find a common goal? Do you really think God is concerned about the route, or about the destination?

  4. Catholic means universal and I think that must be held in view at all times. I believe that Pope Benedict XVI has a vision of a restored church that is essentially good. The execution of reaching this restored church however has been difficult at best. Not that I would think it would be otherwise; things being born always bring pain combined with the force of new life.

    It strikes me that these actions are potentially far more divisive than they are unifying; that concerns me as I hear voices from all sides cry with joy or pain.

    My own view is not far from Deacon Eric’s regarding diversity. I find all this scurrying to be with the like minded in disheartening. If our faith practice as “catholic Catholics” means anything, it means the pursuit of unity in diversity, which is at the heart of our Trinitarian faith. Catholic with a big C and little c are really important to hold together here.

    As someone who very much wanted to be in the comfort of arms that held like mine, eyes who saw like mine, hearts that loved like mine and minds that…. minds that agreed with *mine* I really found that I was indeed in an impoverished ghetto.

    Politically as well as in the faith world, all this circling our own wagons is destructive and disheartening.

    We are many parts – we are called to be One Body. That means I have to put up with stinky feet, gassy intestines, dirty fingernails, runny noses and more.

    We are so conditioned to eliminate what ails or disturbs us, rather to to enter into wisdom it might provide. (My use of body parts etc is deliberate – we practice an incarnational faith and all of this messy body, fleshy business matters.)

    That does not mean putting up with the untenable. It does mean crying out for and discerning the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    This comment grows long. I’d like to say some other things about the history of the Reformation in the context of these actions, but I will refrain.

    To get back to the main point, exactly how is the unity to be achieved here? By gathering us all in or by splintering us out?

  5. FrMichael says:

    Unlike the Orthodox, whose origins are apostolic, the Anglicans stem from the extermination and exile of Catholicism from Great Britain. So equating the Anglican tradition with the Orthodox is a category error. One can see this is the canonical structure set up: a vicariate, not a separate Rite.

  6. MerciMe says:

    Ryan, thank you very much for your response to the post, you said it better than I ever can.

    I’m just surprised at your reaction to this news, Deacon Eric. Petting Zoo? Why such a negative and condescending slant on this good news? I know some Anglicans who’ve already converted to the Catholic faith and I welcomed them joyfully into our Catholic community. In fact, I rejoice when there are conversions to our Catholic faith!

    To label Anglicans who converted to Catholicism as “conservatives” is a generalization that demeans their informed and inspired decisions to do so. It is not a fair nor just judgment, as if they did not pray over and think hard before they converted. It was not easy for them but they had the courage and conviction to do so.

    Ecumenism is the pursuit of unity for the greater glory of God. It was never the end-all and be-all for the Catholic Church nor was it a prohibition for the conversion of other Christians to our Catholic faith but rather the invitation for conversion – walking in the footsteps of Christ. Jesus Christ was always (and should always be) the center of ecumenical activities from our point of view.

    While the Catholic Church may bend like a bamboo to the strong winds of change, secularism or in this case, ecumenical dialogues, the Church will never be uprooted from its foundations even through a fiery storm because our Church is built on rock set upon by Jesus Christ the One Constant, the One God. We have to remember that as we love, serve and care for our fellowmen that results in pleasing them at times, the one we love and should please above all, is Jesus Christ. Jesus was never in for a popularity contest or was not going for being politically correct. What would Jesus do in the present case?

    To our Anglican brothers and sisters who want to join our Catholic community:
    WELCOME HOME!

  7. Deacon Eric says:

    Hey Merci, good to hear from you!

    We should always rejoice when anyone chooses to enter into full communion with our Roman Catholic tradition. I know you’ve been to Easter Vigil at St. Brendan and witnessed the immense joy in our community that greets those who choose to join us.

    There is a difference between an individual’s choice to become a Roman Catholic and the establishment of communion with an established Christian tradition. Our goal with Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants is not to make them into Roman Catholics, but for them to enter into communion with us, so that they retain their entire historic integrity while acknowledging the Petrine Ministry so that we can all receive communion from each other.

    To set up a structure for another tradition within the Catholic Church to accommodate some specific group that is a portion of a historic tradition, giving them certain “deals” and allowing them to retain certain aspects of their tradition as decided by the Roman Curia is a practice called “uniatism,” which has led to centuries of conflict with the Orthodox Churches. As a Church, we Roman Catholics promised not to do this in the Balamand Agreement in 1993.

    So while we are happy to welcome individual Anglicans into our faith tradition, is it worth it to renege on our promises to the Orthodox? That is the question I raise. Should we set back the possibility of unity with 350 million Orthodox perhaps for generations just to accommodate a few thousand disaffected Anglicans right now?

  8. Deacon Eric says:

    Fr. Michael,

    You may be right that the promise not to engage in uniatism does not apply to the Anglican Communion. However, it is a question of perception. If the Orthodox perceive it as uniatism, then it has the same effect. If they do not, then full speed ahead!

  9. Edward Green says:

    As an Anglican priest I am delighted that my colleagues and their congregations who have so longed for this possibility may find themselves ‘homed’ by this move.

    But they do represent only one part of the catholic movement within the Church of England. The decision to ordain women split the historic movement, and much bitterness and pain resulted. Those who affirm women’s orders in principle, whatever their initial stance on our synods authority to do so, are unlikely to be part of the process. Ultimately it comes down to authority, what authority the reformed catholic apostolic churches have to order themselves in this period of broken communion. Some would argue that as the Church of England re-ordered itself with vernacular liturgy and celebration amongst and of the people in the 16th/17th centuries, long before Vatican 2, we may re-order now in ordaining regardless of gender. I am one of them. Otherwise I would not be an Anglican.

    Having said that if the Church of England took a more reformed protestant direction, introduced lay presidency, or other measures, there would be further difficult decisions to be made. Yes even female priests have confided that they would consider moving, leaving their orders behind them. I feel such a shift is unlikely, as the majority of our evangelical clergy seem to develop a more apostolic understanding of the church as they grow in sacramental ministry.

    But this is a matter of doctrine and order not authority. To be part of the Church of England means that you do not accept the authority of the Papacy as understood by the Catholic church at present, even if you deeply respect the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. In this Rome has erred, and so perhaps we escape the condemnation of The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

    As to Anglican orders, I don’t think The Church of England has ever received a full engagement with our Responsio to Apostolicae Curae, although the Church of England has responded with the involvement of Old Catholics whose orders are considered valid. If pushed I can see our orders as having been ‘in doubt’ due to the variation in rites during the reformation, but that doubt having been met with the participation of Bishop’s whose orders and intention is not in doubt.

  10. Deacon Eric says:

    Father Edward:

    I believe you are entirely right in stating that the Vatican has never offered an acceptable response to Saepius Officio. In fact, I don’t know that they have ever offered any response at all. I’ve read this response from the Church of England and believe it was an objective and highly convincing response to the somewhat obscure arguments of Apostolicae Curae (which seemed to begin with a conclusion and then backtracked to justify it).

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