I picked up this story from the religious affairs blog Titus One Nine.
Here is the story: sometime in the last month or two, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth (this was Cardinal Ratzinger) made overtures to certain Anglicans (Episcopalians) around the world to join the Roman Catholic Church under terms that amount to a special consideration for their unique practices.
This group of “Anglo-Catholics” would be invited to keep their worship service practices, their priests (married or not) and assistants. In short, everything that makes their religious experience what it is. In turn, they would be leaving the administration of the current Episcopal Church, which, as I’ve said, is an institution embroiled in constant controversy and scandal.
It isn’t everyday that the Pope makes a nice overture to your religious group. But the pebble of an offer has caused some ripples in the pond.
As it goes, the party he addressed, the Anglo-Catholics, are a tough lot to please. This is a group within greater Anglicanism that developed their own special small-c catholic liturgy and style of practice welllllllll before (maybe 130 years before) Vatican 2 rolled around. And it also became a kind of non-conformist strain within the Anglican/Episcopalian Church. (Let me just use “Episcopalian”.)
Since the Episcopalian Church had little concern about the Anglo-Catholic eccentrics among their midst, they have been a presence within Episcopalianism for 150 years. Related to this, the Anglo-Catholics have been able to write their own rules about practices within a very broad liturgical field. The bossiest of the bossy among the group is then, effectively, pope for that parish.
So how Anglo-Catholicism is structured is that it attracts people who must have their own way. The “alpha” Anglo-Catholic is like I said, the one who gets his or her way. Maybe they should be referred to as the “alpha-Catholics”.
The overture by the real Pope has caused two small difficulties.
One, the several petty alpha-Catholics in the Anglo-Catholic movement haven’t considered what happens when the authentic alpha-Catholic becomes the final arbiter of the things that go on in their parish.
I have seen this up front. When you have a parishoner who thinks he is Thomas Cranmer or coming up with one innovation after another like he’s some kind of dessert chef. Or one who likes what he invented in 1984 and like hell is anyone going to challenge it.
The unspoken truth is that the Anglo-Catholics are subject to nobody’s discipline—which is why they focus so heavily on the “ancient catholic traditions” and “ancient practices”. Because no one who was in authority of those times is still around to assert it.
This is a reason they end up in court so much these days, too. They just know what the original property donors wanted for their parishes!
And that the Episocopal Church had been the home for many of America’s coastal upper middle class at one time, enhanced this get-my-way sharp edge of these folks.
So I could see the Pope not wrapping his fingers too much on the arm of the throne waiting for a response from the ACs.
But a second problem appeared too, and that’s that the people who were doing “ecumenical dialogue” between the Church of England and the bigger one in Rome are upset that the Pope has been actively recruiting membership for his own thing.
“Hey buddy, go someplace else to find adherents! What’s the matter? Don’t you have enough already?”
The idea of ecumenical dialogue, is that you’re just supposed to talk about the utopian future when everyone is considered the same denomination. It’s the religion version of the corporate junket, or academia’s conference. “We go and have nice trips to exotic cities and someone else pays for the ticket and hotel!” They rarely do “ecumenical dialogue” by phone or e-mail, because it takes from the whole atmosphere of the faux reconciliation.
The Pope is saying, hey, wouldn’t it just be easier if you folks carried on your parish work under my banner? Which is about as ecumenical as it gets in the Western world. And the people who would be getting left from are upset because why? Because they thought everyone was going to agree first, sometime in the 2250’s AD, to all join hands and sing kumbaya?
No, no, what it is, is that the side that loses the members has to ask for more from those who remain for the next ecumenical conference ticket. Things like that.
The ecumenism wraps up, like it did with the Episcopalians and Lutherans, when the money starts running out in the coffers of both. Then, all of the sudden, those subtle points of difference about the nature of the communion host and what color the vestments were supposed to be on Maundy Thursday aren’t so relevant. Because the only color the people running the show want to see is a lot of green.
The Pope does not have these considerations. For him, the Church of England is still a “start up”, still “the New Prayer Book” even if it was from 1549. They are all the new prayer book.