For a long time, there have been some in our midst who have been livid – first about the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, then about women in holy orders, and more recently about gay men and lesbians in holy orders and the blessing of same-sex relationships. Many of them have talked about or yearned to “swim the Tiber.”
This week, the Roman Catholic Church made it official: a systematic way to welcome Anglicans into Mother Church. Strangely, they will allow Anglican/Episcopal male priests to come into the church with their wives. [Apparently, you can be a married male priest if you’re an Anglican, just not if you’re a Roman. Go figure!] But they will draw the line at married male bishops. And, of course, no girl-cooties and no queers.
As Bishop Christopher Epting observes, this merely “formalizes what has already been happening informally ….” The media are having a feeding frenzy anyway.
I was grateful to find this statement from the Very Reverend Sam Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Phillip, Atlanta. I commend it to you:
I welcome the news of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican to make provision for the conversion of certain Anglican Christians to the Roman Catholic Church.I think Dean Candler has it exactly right: There has been a minority within the Episcopal Church who have yearned for a rule-based faith firmly ruled by a father figure. Now they have a formal way to enter into it. Godspeed to them.
In the past ten years, I have noticed many of my disenchanted Episcopal and Anglican friends drifting toward Roman Catholic structures. They have been arguing for more ecclesiastical order and authority. It has long been my prediction that our current Anglican controversies will be cleared up, finally, with a choice between distinctly Anglican and distinctly Roman ecclesiologies. Much of our current controversy, having been precipitated by sexuality issues (ordination of women and homosexuality), is more accurately about authority, uniformity, and legal order.
The Roman Catholic tradition, certainly a long and esteemed tradition, is very good on these very issues: authority, uniformity, and legal order. The Anglican tradition (in my opinion having begun in the fourth century A.D., and thus almost as old as the Roman tradition) is very good on other matters. In particular, the Anglican tradition of Christianity is very good at allowing local authority and jurisdiction to exist in partnership with wider authority and jurisdiction.
Many disenchanted Anglicans and Episcopalians have actually been arguing in the last ten years for more centralized and universal jurisdiction, when the Anglican tradition of Christianity has always resisted such universal and centralized jurisdiction. Thus, it is gratifying that the best centralized and universal jurisdiction in the world-the Roman Catholic Church-has been able to make provisions to welcome such disenchanted Anglicans.
I note, too, the gracious words in the joint statement of the Archbishop of Winchester and the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is good relationship between these two branches of Christendom, the Roman and the Anglican. Fruitful ecumenical conversations have certainly enabled the Vatican to allow go forward with these provisions, and I salute all those who have beeninvolved.
I believe there is room in the kingdom of God for various ecclesiastical styles, and I pray that God will direct us all to a place where we can more freely preach the gospel and work toward the kingdom of God.
20 October 2009