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Pastoral writings from the perspective of Traditional Old Roman Catholicism in the Anglican Tradition by Rutherford Cardinal Johnson Count of Sainte Animie

15 July 2012

Commentary on the Episcopal Church General Convention

J.M.J.

The community known as the Episcopal Church is the chief entity of the Anglican Communion in the United States and arguably one of the most influential in the world. What it says and does, therefore, has an impact on the Christian world. Though dissenters to the influences of modernism and liberalism in the Episcopal Church in many cases have fled and are fleeing to various schismatic Anglican sects that have broken away from the Episcopal Church, that does not lessen the influence that the Episcopal Church has or the strength of its voice in communicating to the world at large what Christianity stands for. Therefore, its actions are still important to those not in the Episcopal Church. In our Patriarchate, as Old Roman Catholics with Anglican heritage and tradition, it is important to us what the Episcopal Church says and does. This is even more true, considering our Patriarchate has worked diligently to foster positive, productive, and cooperative relations with the Episcopal Church, support conservative Anglicans, and build unity wherever possible without compromise on matters of Catholic doctrine.

Let us address one such relevant matter. It is not surprising that the Episcopal Church's recent General Convention voted to permit use of a new ritual for the blessing of so-called "same-sex marriages." This is a predictable outcome given that our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church have long been in the grip of the social justice movement that promotes the notion that the doctrine, theology, and practice of the Church must be governed by and modified according to current social justice trends rather than social justice being guided and governed by doctrine and theology. This idea, no matter who espouses it, is itself a form of the heresy of modernism that the universal Christian Church has had to endure for many decades. It leads to doctrine and theology being changed to suit the desires of those in the Church rather than the members and hierarchy of the Church humbly submitting to the authority of the Church and the immutable doctrine thereof. Ultimately this is a form of the sin of pride. The doctrine of the Faith is a bulwark against the effects of the sins of mankind, for no human being is without sin. When the doctrine is allowed to be influenced according to sin, it become far less of a tool for salvation and can even have the most deleterious effects possible on the faithful.

To be clear, this issue actually has nothing to do with accepting homosexuals in the Church, no matter how much the social justice movement has tried to make this an issue. All of God's children are welcome in the Church. We do not, however, change the doctrine, theology, liturgy, or the seven sacraments to suit individuals or factions. We state unequivocally that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony may be validly and lawfully administered only to a man and a woman who are canonically free to marry. Without those conditions, the administration of Holy Matrimony would have as much value and effect as the administration of Baptism to a house cat.

One argument that was made at the General Convention that bears specific mention was that this was no different than the Episcopal Church working through the doctrinal issues to allow divorced persons to re-marry. First, the issue of divorced persons re-marrying is significantly different from that of homosexual marriage, as the latter is always invalid, where the validity of the former depends on certain canonical conditions. Whether a divorced person (meaning a person with a civil divorce) can re-marry depends on whether or not any former spouses are still living and, if they are, a Church tribunal determining that the original marriage was invalid and hence not a sacrament. The process of a church tribunal determining a divorced person's original marriage was invalid is not rewriting doctrine, but upholding and applying doctrine for the benefit of the souls of the parties concerned. It is an entirely different thing to re-write or re-interpret doctrine in order to suit a new desired outcome. So, the General Convention voted overwhelmingly to allow this new so-called "marriage rite" for homosexual couples. In so doing, it appears they have had to re-write or abandon all sense of Catholic doctrine regarding the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In the end it has nothing to do with homosexual couples, but is a simple matter of doctrine. One chooses to uphold doctrine or one chooses not to uphold doctrine. There is no middle ground. We as a Patriarch cannot write doctrine or change doctrine. Rather, we are a guardian of doctrine. Likewise, all Bishops are called to be guardians of doctrine. 

What the totality of the ramifications of the decision of the General Convention will be for the Episcopal Church and for the Christian world overall is yet to be seen. What is troubling, though, is that such a large Christian community as the Episcopal Church making the decision to change fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith in order to conform to modern social trends merely gives fuel to the modernists and secularists who wish to see the universal Church weakened and brought under the heel of the world. 

We reiterate our dedication to the cause of Catholic unity and the opposition of modernism and secularism wherever they are found. We pray that the decision of the General Convention will not result in further schism and further division, for that also strengthens the secularist movement. Rather, let those in the Episcopal Church who hold the Catholic Faith in their hearts resolve to strengthen their own faith and put that faith into action in a positive way, not a destructive way, taking courage from the words of Saint Athanasius that those who keep the traditions of the Catholic Church, even though reduced to a handful, are the true Catholic Church. Let no one give into despair, but always and everywhere seek to build up the Catholic Faith.