Pope Benedicts visit with the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury yesterday, a warm and positive gesture , was an example of how much the two communions they lead have in commonand yet how far they remain apart. Both stressed areas of agreement and mutual appreciation; both spoke eloquent words about faith in the public square and of Christian unity. But the big elephant in the room, largely avoided, was their major areas of disagreement , politely referred to by Benedict as those difficulties . . . well-known to everyone here.
Two days before the meeting, the Wall Street Journal explored some of those disagreements , focusing on the Vaticans outreach to traditional Anglicans, disaffected by the increasing liberalism of their Church: Critics say the Vaticans overtures to Anglicans ultimately aim to poach faithful at a time when the Anglican Worldwide Communion is in upheaval over issues ranging from the acceptance of homosexuality to women priests, and now bishops ( as approved by the Church of Englands General Synod last July, though subject to further review).
But then, in the very next paragraph, we read:
Forward in Faith . which represents a large group of Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England, has expressed frustration with the vote on women bishops and made noises about leading an exodus to the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing will emerge until the pope is safely back in Rome, says Stephen Parkinson, director of Forward in Faith. But we are having lots of meetings to discuss the offer, and interest in the offer has certainly grown since the General Synod.
So, the popes outreach hardly amounts to a one-way maneuver by Rome.
Anglican traditionalists have fought a heroic battle trying to preserve basic Christian orthodoxy within their ranksmere Christianity, to quote C.S. Lewis. But their lack of success is testing their faith. Controversial figures like John Shelby Spong , Gene Robinson and Katharine Jefferts Schori , from the Episcopalian wing in America, are so far removed from historic Christianity that one can well understand how Anglican traditionalists might runnot walkto Rome.
The problem with contemporary Anglicanism is that much of its leadership has made accommodation after accommodation to moral and theological liberalism and yet simultaneously tried to keep traditionalists at bay. It hasnt worked, and efforts to try to square the circle, so to speak, have led to intellectual and religious chaos. Consider, as an example, the recent remarks of the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town:
Speaking at the USPG Annual Conference . . . the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba urged Anglicans to adopt the Indaba group reflection processused effectively during the Apartheid erato try to bring together those who disagree regarding issues of gender and sexuality in the Church.
He said: “Indaba calls community members together to share news of developments or discuss concerns. Indaba necessarily entails a degree of acknowledged interdependence, even vulnerability, towards one another. Indaba says leaders must work for the well-being of the entire community, especially those in greatest need. And debate is conducted through everyone being allowed to have their say, contributing their own perspective, so that the fullest picture can be drawn, and from it an outcome that is as consensual, and as win-win as possible, can emerge.”
Makgoba went on to assure his audience that Indaba is not an interminable talking shop, and that it does impose sanctions on those who transgress the life of the community, after every other possible option is fully explored. But what if no agreement can be found on where absolute lines should be drawn (you know, like Anglicans around the world fighting over issues like the morality of homosexual acts, and women priests and bishops)? And couldnt any expelled member simply set up shop elsewhere, with another Indaba group, and issue their own counterdecrees? More importantly, how does any of this reach back and connect to Christ and the New Testament?
Cardinal Newman, whom Benedict did mention during his interfaith address, decided that the only solution to such discord, as he saw it, was to convert to Rome. More recently, Edward Norman , an eminent Anglican historian, also decided to become a Catholic, predicting Anglicanism will tip into the sea. Commenting on the Church of Englands General Synod, Norman said: Every disagreement, in seemingly every board or committee, proceeds by avoidance of principled debate. Ordinary moral cowardice is represented as wise judgment; equivocation in the construction of compromise formulae is second nature to leaders.
A committed Anglican who disagrees might well retort that the Catholic Church is hardly free of scandal, division, and internal strifeall true; and one could even take it a step further and say (at least from the perspective of mere Christianity) that there are Anglican communities in far healthier shape than certain Catholic parishes. Still, Catholics believe they at least have the Magisterium and Benedict as the final, authoritative word to preserve authentic Christian teaching, and this is the Churchs saving grace.
Many Catholics applaud and support traditional Anglicans in their effort to uphold basic Christian truths. But if current trends continue, and Indaba replaces the purity and uncompromising demands of the Gospel, no one should be surprised if more Anglicans come to see Pope Benedict XVI, not as a threatening poacher, but as a spiritual lifeguard and friend.