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I shall send you the Paraclete, who will lead you into constructive disagreements

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 22, 2009

In gauging the reactions to the Holy See's announcement of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglican converts, it's clear that, as is almost invariable in contemporary controversies, the rift in opinion reflects not church affiliation but one's alignment in the culture wars. The response of U.S. Episcopalians, for example, largely mirrors the divisions found in the responses tendered by U.S. Catholics. The higher clergy appear as rattled as everybody else and have yet to find their voices; the initial statements issued by the USCCB and The Episcopal Church are cautious to the point of contentlessness. TEC's Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations said, "We in the Episcopal Church continue to look to the Holy Spirit, who guides us in understanding of what it means to be the Church in the Anglican Tradition." Sounds pretty desperate. Ronald Knox tells the story of a worldly gentleman in a storm at sea, who asked the captain about their predicament. When advised to take to his prayers he replied, "Is it as bad as that?"

On the conservative side of the Anglican field, the always judicious Canon Kendall Harmon offers four reflections on the Personal Ordinariate initiative. The first and the fourth are of interest to me. Says Harmon:

  • [Rome's action] represents a huge indictment of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Many people question Rome's motivations, but I believe Rome, which has been watching Anglican developments like a hawk in recent years, wanted Anglicanism globally to succeed. Their response to the Windsor Report, for example, was quite favorable. This move to me shows they do not believe the Anglican moment in history to help global Christianity can take place sufficiently under Rowan Williams.

I can't believe that the person of Rowan Williams as such figured greatly in the Holy See's deliberations, or that an indictment of his leadership was a message intended to be communicated by its action. For all that, Rome's decision does point to Williams' failure, since those Anglicans who came pleading for incorporation were fugitives from the chaos he abetted. A conciliator by temperament, Williams can't hide his annoyance with those who don't share his "faculty meeting" approach to doctrinal controversies; he claims that his job is to "try and maintain as long as possible the space in which people can have constructive disagreements, learn from each other, and try and hold that within an agreed framework of discipline and practice" -- a great way to run a scholarly colloquium, but disastrous for believing Christians who need to know God's will on matters of (eternal) life-or-death importance.

Canon Harmon says further of the Holy See's move:

  • It represents a sense that only an external action will have any benefit to Anglicanism going forward. Let us not kid ourselves. Rome put a lot into ecumencial conversations with Anglicans because they believed that more internal mechanisms and persuasions were possible. Now, in their judgment, they are not. They don't see a future of greater Anglican unity they see one of greater Anglican splintering. At this level, it represents a shout which one wonders if any Anglicans will hear.

The Holy See has been exceedingly patient in waiting for the Anglican communion to determine what it stands for, and has made clear that the innovations of female priests and same-sex marriage would be insuperable obstacles to reunion. In other words, to proceed with the standard ecumenical venture, Rome needed reassurances of two kinds: 1) that there existed an authoritative body that could authoritatively state what an Anglican must believe; 2) that the content of this belief would be recognizably connected with traditional Christian doctrine. In both respects the situation within Anglicanism has worsened with time, and indeed the rate of delamination is increasing. Standard ecumenism -- what I call vegetarian lasagne ecumenism, an endless exchange of compliments between liberals -- proved futile, and the spiritual needs of real human beings became acute enough that Rome decided it needed to act for the good of souls -- a notion hard to grasp by most players in the ecumenism business and, it would seem, vexingly opaque to Williams.

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