Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

united, almost

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 20, 2007

"Let's see, what can we give our little man to play with so he won't end up hurting himself or somebody else ...? Wooden toys are out. Toys with sharp edges are out. Barbie's OK unless he throws her and catches someone in the eye with her foot. Hey, I've got it: ecumenism!"

It didn't take long to see the headline was bogus. Churches Back Plan to Unite under Pope brayed Monday's Times of London. An overstatement. Perhaps understandably (given her dual loyalty as journalist and Rowan Williams-fan), reporter Ruth Gledhill plays the story as a potential breakthrough in Anglican-Catholic relations. Certainly the headline must have caused many an Ulsterman to choke on his morning egg. But halfway into the article we find this:

The latest Anglican-Catholic report could hardly come at a more sensitive time. It has been drawn up by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which is chaired by the Right Rev David Beetge, an Anglican bishop from South Africa, and the Most Rev John Bathersby, the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia.

Relax, monsignor. Back to your breakfast, Ulster. The alarm was only a drill. In the event of a real concordat, the name of Bathersby of Brisbane would be nowhere in evidence. Even on the elementary doctrines, Bathersby is one of the fuzziest of all bishops. I know nothing of Bishop Beetge, but from the Catholic side of the fence it's clear that IARCCUM was erected with the hope that its members would lose themselves in the alphabet and only emerge for new flip-charts every third year. As often, ecumenism serves as the sandbox in which you maroon the kids to keep them from interfering with the important work. The IARCCUM Agreement, with the reassuringly goofy title "Growing Together in Unity and Mission," is available as a PDF file here. The report states the main areas of controversy as matters of historical fact but glides over any discussion of the doctrinal problems themselves. So, for example, we read

The Roman Catholic Church points to the unbroken tradition of the Church in not ordaining women. Indeed, Pope John Paul II expressed the conviction that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women". After careful reflection and debate, a growing number of Anglican Churches have proceeded to ordain women to the presbyterate and some also to the episcopate. [§61]

And so ...?

Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree that the primary authority for all Christians is Jesus Christ himself. [§62]

True. But we somehow lost hold of the "growing together" thread. Not to worry, though. By the end of the report everyone's smiling again:

While not losing sight of underlying doctrinal problems regarding the mutual recognition of orders (cf. paragraphs 60 to 61 above), every appropriate opportunity can be taken to acknowledge publicly the fruitfulness of each other's ordained ministries, for example by attending each other's ordinations. [§113]

Sure, sure. That's a BIG help. "Dear Katharine, while your 'ordination' no more makes you a real bishop than my part in my sixth grade play made me a real duke, and though the sacraments you pretend to confect are void and serve to widen the breach between believers, I am only too pleased to attend the spurious ceremony to acknowledge the fruitfulness of your ministry and snarf down the smoked almonds at the reception that your own faith tradition tends to serve in preference to cocktail wieners." And while we're singing the Feel the Fruitfulness number, we might peer at IARCCUM's growth-filled discussion of, ahem, biblical hermeneutics:

Strong tensions have surfaced within the Anglican Communion because of serious challenges from within some Provinces to the traditional teaching on human sexuality which was expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. ... In the discussions on human sexuality within the Anglican Communion, and between it and the Catholic Church, stand anthropological and biblical hermeneutical questions which need to be addressed. [§86e]

In an article in NRO last November, Fr. Raymond de Souza put the problem in sharper focus: "Some argue that [homosexual acts] are sinful; others that they are sacramental. This is an unbridgeable gap and it appears impossible for Canterbury to straddle it, try as he might." One sees why Bathersby, and not de Souza, was named to co-chair IARCCUM. The real enthusiasms of the Commission come through in its call for "fostering a mission-orientated spirituality of engagement with the world and developing joint strategies of outreach so as to share our faith" -- arguably the highest level of cliché-density attained anywhere in the report. If Cardinal Wolsey had spoken this way in 1528, the Anglican Schism might never have taken place:

118. We recognise the intimate relationship between the unity of the Church, the peace and well-being of the human community, and the integrity of all creation. We urge our two Communions to work together globally with others to promote social justice, to eradicate poverty and to care for the environment (e.g. by supporting the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations).

119. We also encourage local churches to join together in making contributions to public life, giving voice to Christian perspectives on important social questions. We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics in their social witness to act upon the principle that we should do all things together excepting only those things that deep differences compel us to do separately (cf. the Lund Principle), particularly given the agreement in faith we have set out in this Statement.

Millennium Development Goals! Why didn't we think of that sooner? Gledhill assures us that Catholic bishops in the Holy See are preparing a formal response to "Growing Together." I hope it's true. I wish I could see the look on the face of the Vatican prelate when he barks his shins on IARCCUM's momentous conclusion that "we should do all things together excepting only those things that deep differences compel us to do separately." Wasn't that line stolen from the Ivana Trump wedding contract?

We're frequently reminded that work for Christian unity is not an option but a duty incumbent on all the baptised. Fine. But fair is fair. If you boast that Captain So-and-So developed a six-point plan to defend Holcomb, Kansas, against naval bombardment, you don't want us to take him seriously as an ordnance officer. And if you send one of the squishiest liberal bishops in the anglophone world to make common cause with the C of E on the environment, you're telling us you yourself regard the project as a long-winded joke. If senior ecclesiastics expect us to take them at their word in advancing the unity of Christians, they have to take the ecumenism business out of the hands of ecumenists and give it to serious believers instead. They need to throw the Bathersbys out with the baby water.

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