19 October 2010

Anglicans and their Offer from the Pope


Pope Benedict XVI
The recent news of Bishop Broadhurst leaving the Church of England for the Roman Communion, as well as the intent of a parish in the Archbishop of Canterbury's own ecclesiastical backyard to leave en masse for Rome made the news, as have several other high profile conversions over the years. For the last year, the Pope's offer to Anglican had been the subject of much talk. Some welcome it with open arms, while others are skeptical. What does it all mean, and what should Anglicans do? 

First, the ability of Anglicans to become Roman Catholics is nothing new. Anglicans could cross over and join the Roman Communion like anyone else. Even Anglican clergy could often become Roman Catholic priests, serving in the Novus Ordo liturgy. They could even be married if they were married before their crossing over. Then John Paul II established the "Anglican Use," allowing the use of Anglican-style liturgy within the Roman Communion at special parishes. Now Pope Benedict XVI has continued this trend by allowing the establishment of Personal Ordinariates for the use of Anglican liturgy. The specifics might have changed, but the concept is certainly nothing new. 

This has been a welcome invitation for many, and some have taken advantage of it. The new plan is not without its problems, though. It seems some high-ranking Roman prelates have claimed that the traditionalists Anglicans not in the Anglican Communion are not really Anglican, and they don't know whether or not this new plan applies to them or not. This was certainly not welcome news to the several traditionalist Anglican Churches who wanted corporate reception into the Roman Communion. Still others are finding that the local Roman authorities are not so welcome to them. Not every Roman Catholic seems to think this is great...particularly the part about the married priests crossing over and remaining priests. There is the danger of the newly-converted Anglicans being treated as second-class citizens, particularly if they wish to continue using Anglican liturgy instead of "getting with the times" and using the Novus Ordo liturgy. None of this should come as a surprise, though. Just because the Holy Father is wise doesn't mean that his wisdom is shared by all Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI & Archbishop Rowan Williams

And this is the danger in all of this. Devout Anglo-Catholics sit on the outside of the Roman Communion and look in. They often see a perfect world of spirituality, free from all the strife they are experiencing in their present church. It is a very jaded view. It is nothing new that some convert, only to find out that, once they are on the inside, the same problems persist that they tried to get away from. The Roman Communion has been plagued with problem after problem. The Novus Ordo, particularly after the changes implemented by Paul VI, has resulted in a watered-down liturgy and has eroded the theology of Rome. Indeed, traditionalists Roman Catholics have long called for a return to the traditional values, theology, and worship of the Roman Rite. Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged their needs by giving a universal indult for the use of the Tridentine Mass. Not surprisingly, though, some local authorities have ignored this and have not permitted the use of the Tridentine Rite. Those who prefer and attend the Tridentine masses that are provided are, even after this indult, often treated as red-headed step children by the local Novus Ordo establishment. This gives even more pause for thought in terms of how Anglicans who wish to continue using Anglican liturgy will be treated once in the Roman Communion. In short, a change in jurisdiction is something that should be done only after careful, prayerful consideration...and for the right reasons.

So how did this new plan get started? I like to think that Pope Benedict XVI issued this offer out of a genuine desire to see unity and to reach out to those in the Anglican Church who wish to be in full and visible communion with him as Holy Father. A more cynical person might suggest that the numbers were down, so this is really an attempt to fill the pews. Perhaps so...but then, isn't that what we're all trying to do? Otherwise we would just end up preaching to the choir.

Whether this new offer will be effective in the long-run is harder to tell. The news reports of "mass conversions" paint one picture, but the data say something different. A recent article in Faith and Economics shows that frequency of attendance at religious services by catholics has been below that of protestants in the US for almost all the time since about 1980 (not surprisingly, just after the Paul VI "reforms"). Since the news of the priestly sexual abuse scandal has hit, the gap widened dramatically. In the late 1990s, protestants were seeing a dramatic rise in attendance, while catholics, already well below the attendance level of protestants, were seeing a further marked decline. In the last period of the data approaching 2004, there was an increase in attendance by both protestants and catholics, but the numbers for catholics were still considerably lower than that of protestants. One of the several propositions in this article is that it is strong doctrine and strong church leadership that provides higher numbers in the pews...not to mention better well-being for the flock. Pope Benedict certainly provides strong leadership. As for the rest of the Roman Communion leadership, particularly in the US, it is a mixed bag leaning towards the weak side. I have only found a few RC bishops in America (and really in the world) who are strong shepherds. This is one of the main problems the Roman Communion must deal with, not just for the recent offer to Anglicans, but also for its own health.

Whatever the outcome of the Pope's offer will be, there is one thing that is certain. We need more unity; true unity in Christ. We need to express far more love to out brother and sister Christians, regardless of Rite. We need a lot less arrogance.
De Leire, Thomas; Thomas D. Jeitschko, Seamus O'Connel, and Rowena A. Pecchenino. "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself: Community Formation and the Church." Faith and Economics. 2010.