Thursday, July 10, 2008

Time: Could the Pope Aid an Anglican Split?

By Brian Kopp

In a classic Time Magazine/ MSM spin on the situation, David Van Biema and Jeff Israely ask,

Could the Pope Aid an Anglican Split?

They try to make it sound as if the Pope is helping to create a schism within a co-equal religious "Communion," working with the Anglican "schismatics" and "dissidents":

Would they actually leave? This is where the Pope comes in. For an ordained clergyman to depart his cradle faith is a lonely endeavor, done individually. But that is probably not how things will roll out in this case. A Catholic Church official explained to TIME that the last time a situation like this arose (when the Church of England voted to allow women to become priests), "some 400 [dissidents] became Catholic priests or bishops." The issue, he says, is "whether there is some way for [the current crop] to come into the Catholic church in a corporate way, [with] their [congregations]." Along those lines, he notes, there are so-called "Anglican Rite" groups in the U.S. that maintain Anglican ritual, but recognize the Pope's authority and count as Catholics.

In fact, in a letter to the newspaper The Catholic Herald on Wednesday, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Eversfleet, announced his intention of converting to Catholicism — along with his diocese. According to the Herald, Burnham and another traditionalist Bishop have been discussing the migration of Anglo-Catholics with Cardinals William Levada and Walter Kasper, two of the Vatican’s most powerful prelates. Burnham’s letter requests "magnanimous gestures by our Catholic friends, especially the Holy Father, who well understands our longing for unity." According to the Herald, Burnham has been requesting a dispensation whereby Anglicans could remain in their parishes guided by Catholic bishops.

Terry Mattingly, for years an acute observer of the Anglican scene as founder of the popular religion blog, and a religion columnist for Scripps Howard says, "I expect some of the old-school Anglo-Catholics to pack up and go to Rome, period." But if Benedict were to sweeten the pot by allowing an Anglican Rite Church in England, "that's gotta be huge." And when Mattingly says "huge," he doesn't just mean for the Anglo-Catholics. Rather, he believes that an exodus of that size could affect the worldwide Communion after all, by giving other dissidents, with entirely different grievances, a model with which to unravelling the fabric of Anglicanism.

Mattingly points out that — more so than in other religious groupings — one of the things that holds the Anglican Communion together is the simple belief that the Anglican Communion must hold together. The case can be made that a dutiful sense of global unity, represented by four "instruments" — including the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams — is stronger than any Anglican doctrinal agreement. Mattingly suggests that the departure of 1,300 priests and bishops from the English mother church could act as a kind of spell-breaking moment, the first time during the Communion's current round of troubles when a significant number of Anglicans "are saying, 'I'm no longer in communion with Canterbury.'"

Such a defection, as it played out in terms of theology, finances and British law, would be a kind of seminar for all possible schismatics on how to break with the Communion, without the world ending. Other dissidents might then feel freer to go their own way.

And it could happen a good deal sooner than almost any other version of schism, primarily because it would take the key decision out of the hands of the Anglicans, who, as Mattingly puts it, "have a special knack for not making decisions." Rome, he notes, "doesn't usually act fast, either. But Rome — and especially, it seems to me, Benedict — has a knack for acting with clarity more than Anglicanism."

Mattingly's argument — which he would admit is only a possibility, not a prediction — may underestimate Anglican desire to stay Anglicans; or overestimate the willingness of the Roman Catholic Pope to play spoiler in the disintegration of another centuries-old international Christian body, even if he has his differences with it. But in this sour Anglican year, it is difficult to guarantee that the head-cradling, hair-pulling and weeping of the mother church might not become a worldwide epidemic.

Talk about headlines that eclipse our own struggles with so-called "schismatics." This imminent unraveling of Anglicanism makes the Church's internal discussions with Trads in irregular juridical situations pale in comparison. No wonder all the news about PCED "clarifications" and SSPX negotiations have all but evaporated; Rome has bigger fish to fry at present.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The grim wolf daily devours apace...