Thursday, July 17, 2008

History repeats itself ...

As the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops from around the world begins, one UK newspaper reports that Holy Father is quite anxious that the Church of England should not fall apart.

The Pope is leading an unprecedented drive by the Roman Catholic Church to prevent the fragmentation of the worldwide Anglican Communion
writes the Independent, under the headline Pope rides to Rowan's Rescue.
The article argues, with some claim for authority, that the Vatican is by no means keen on another immigration of Anglicans - especially Anglican bishops - into the Catholic fold.

Of course, this is only one interpretation. The commentator Phil Lawler argues on the contrary, that the Pope is by no means discouraging converts, and indeed it is the timid English and Welsh hierarchy who are cautious about the influx of anglican refugees.

This is all so reminiscent of 1992, when after the vote in favour of the ordination of women (for ever known afterward to some of us as 'The Vote') many anglicans, myself included, 'crossed the Tiber' and became members of the Catholic Church, and some, joyfully in due course, were ordained to the priesthood.

Then too, we were told of an enthusiastic Pope/Vatican and an apprehensive local hierarchy. Then too we read (and encouraged the idea) that thousands were ready to cross, that many would come if they could remain together in a group. And many argued that the credentials of the Anglican supplicants should be accepted without question. I also remember reading about the wonderful liturgy of the Anglicans, and the poor liturgy and indeed ugly churches of the English catholics. Many anglicans told us that we would be unhappy in the Catholic Church, and that we would soon return. Many Catholics worried that a hoarde of narrow conservatives and misogynists were about to invade the Church arrogantly asserting their prejudices. Look back in the archives and you will be able to read it all.

However, while there was substance in some of this, most of it was untrue, or at least much too simple. The welcome I encountered from my Bishop was warm and generous, and many priests were reconciled happily with the Church. The desire for converts to remain as a group soon dissipated, and in any case the number of lay people who wanted to become catholics was far too small - ironically perhaps it was those who lost their livelihood who found it psychologically easier or more compelling to enter the Cathoic Church. The welcome we received highly respected our background and experience, but the Church was right to put all candidates for the priesthood through some kind of selection procedure, and I would be very ready to concede that not every former anglican clergyman who became a catholic was suitable for ordination to the priesthood. The liturgical question was more complex too. Remember that the immaculately precious anglo-catholic liturgy may be found in one or two places in each large town or city with small congregations - catholic practice does not compare unfavourably with that, and much more impressive - even nowadays - is the individual devotion and commitment of very many lay catholics, something not encountered on anything like the same scale amongst lay anglicans. We settled happily and well in the Catholic Church, overcoming some trials and struggles along the way, because we came for the right reasons - not because we could not bear the idea of working with women, nor even because we were particularly 'conservative' - but because we came to understand that the fulness of Christian truth is found in the Catholic Church. That conviction, and that only, can lead someone to be received into the Church.

In fact, I would assert that it was the most conservative, most beligerent, most narrow and misogynistic who could not countenance becoming part of a Church with variety and colour and a true universalism. In the early 1990s those who stayed with the Church of England developed a deeply rooted congregationalism, and though they claimed to be 'catholic', this was selective, focussed on a particular idea of liturgy and the sacraments, but less on moral theology and hardly at all on ecclesiology. I've no reason to think things are much different now.

I sincerely wish the Anglican communion well, though fear times are likely to be hard and bitter. And I encourage those who feel uncomfortable with the current Church of England to consider again the claims of the Catholic Church.

But do not come to us in order to escape your past, but rather to embrace your future.


G Buckby said...

Excellent post, I think it would be superb if any who express misgiving about converts were asked to read this!

Fr Peter said...

Thanks for your comments. If you know any - tell them!