If you’re paying attention, the Pope is rolling out the red carpet to Tiber-crossing Anglicans. Having been offered a special corner in the Latin Church called the “ordinariate,” conservative (who like to be called “traditional”) Anglicans can now flee their postmodern Church, that Babylon where even women can be ordained priests and bishops, and not have to worry about their souls turning pink. It’s all good.
According to The Telegraph citing (the Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols:
“Hundreds of Anglican churchgoers will join [five bishops and uncounted numbers of priests] in the Ordinariate – a structure introduced by Pope Benedict XVI to provide refuge for those disaffected with the Church of England. The number of worshipers who leave the Church is predicted to double as the new arrangement finally begins to take shape.”
Of course, this is not what John XXIII and Paul VI had in mind when they talked about “ecumenism” in the last century. But two things have since become clear: One is that the Catholic Church is still the “Hippopotamus” of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem on the topic of slow change. –Not quite the rock of ages, but ageless in other ways.
The second is that the Church of England has other ideas. Change and adaptation to the culture prevent religion from ossification. (Look at the religions that don’t change, runs the argument). And if consultation with Rome was ever a condition of implementing change, it hasn’t been evident in the last generation of stalled “unity” discussions between Canterbury and Rome. Given the choice between As in Rome and As at Home, the English as a rule will pick home.
In fact, the C of E has always been more protestant than Catholic, in a uniquely British kind of way, since its sixteenth-century founding. It was born of dissent, tested in the political fires of the English reformation, and doesn’t necessarily regard its martyrs as any less Christian than the ones Rome stubbornly insists on canonizing for their fidelity to the Catholic cause–a cause that included in its day a hit list with the Queen’s name on it.
So let us not be fooled by the pointy hats and outward appearances of Christian charity that were on display during the papal visit in September. The Pope and the Archbishop do not like each other. Why should they? The pope was in town to beatify the nineteenth century’s most famous escapee from the Anglican Church, John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman and to reinvigorate devotion to the English martyrs like Edmund Campion and bishop John Fisher.
If you ask me, the cameras didn’t hide the tension very well: at the entrance to Westminster Abbey–the first pope ever to set foot in the place, the media intoned with wearying regularity, serenaded by the vastly-superior-to the-Sistine-Choir Westminster boys–the pope looked for all the world as though their rendition of Max Reger’s postmodern, atonal “Benedictus,” was a musical joke. (Has he tasted the liturgical wares in Detroit recently, I wondered.) And I have no doubt that when he prayed side by side with the Bish at the tomb of Edward the Confessor, whose bones are the centerpiece of the whole stone pile, Benedict was praying for the conversion of England–or at least for the success of his scheme to poach traditionalists from his host’s field.
But never mind all that. Ecumenism isn’t dead simply because, when confronted with an invitation to snuggle up with foreign princes, the English heart flies back to the passions of the Reformation. All over, that. Time to make up, have done, move on–stout fellow. After all, the English do not hold grudges. Not like the Italians, I can tell you. And the Germans! Don’t mention the Germans.
Ecumenism is dead because in Rome’s view the English church has an obedience problem. It isn’t simply that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pontifical figure in the “worldwide Anglican communion” (cough), but that he is not a significant authority-figure in the Church at home or anywhere else.
Who was surprised when after the Pope’s third reference to himself as the “successor of Peter,” sitting opposite the splendidly mitred Rowan Williams, the Archbishop took a tutorial moment to remind his guest that “Christians differ as to the significance of the Petrine office.” Unspoken: (Pope) “My bloody predecessor sent Augustine here when the people on this soggy island were worshiping stones.” (Archbishop): “We’d have kicked your sorry arse back to Rome two centuries earlier if Becket hadn’t managed to get himself killed and become so damned popular.”
Of course the immediate reasons for the death of ecumenical dialogue are meant to be much more obvious: saith the Telegraph quoting Bishop Andrew Burnham, one of the episcopal poachees whose bags are packed:
“…Clergy have become dismayed at the liberal direction of the Church of England and the way traditionalists have been treated…There’s only a certain amount of time you can accept being described as the National Front of the Church of England…We’re seen as out of date for not accepting women’s ministry as equal, but the debate concentrates on sociology rather than theology… [And] there is no doctrinal certainty anymore. It has become more relative. “I’m sad about leaving as I owe a lot to the Church of England, but this [the Ordinariate] is a joyful opportunity.”
The creation of the ordinariate, created unilaterally with no conversation between Rome and Lambeth Palace on the move (though discussions between disaffected Anglican bishops and the Vatican had been going on for some time), is probably just a lid on the pickle barrel of a nice 1960’s idea: ecumenism belongs to an era of poster-philosophy and the cozy belief that there’s more that unites Christians than divides them.
All over, that. Have done, move on–stout fellow.