Friday, October 23, 2009

Duh

I understand that there are some folks in the Catholic Church who do not agree with everything the Church teaches, but this one goes beyond mere dissent to the level of sheer stupidity. Maureen Fiedler, a Sister of Loretto with a PhD from Georgetown, writes in the online edition of the National Catholic Reporter (where else):
Imagine for a minute that it’s 1954, as segregationists faced Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Supreme Court case which mandated school de-segregation. And imagine that the Vatican, or the Catholic bishops, said to Protestant segregationists in the South, “You can come to our schools, to Catholic schools, and we’ll provide you with a home.” Most Catholics would have been outraged, I daresay. (And of course, precisely the opposite actually happened, as many Catholic bishops were outspoken against racial segregation, and integrated Catholic schools -- thank God).

But it’s a different story with gender segregation or sexual orientation. This is not a perfect analogy, granted. But the Vatican’s overtures to dissident Anglicans sound like those “imagined” 1950’s with a different twist. The Vatican is opening Catholic doors wide to Anglicans who believe in “segregation at the altar,” for women, and for openly gay/lesbian clergy.

Where is the outrage at this policy? I have heard some of it. I attended a small liturgy with friends this week, and they shared this sentiment: We have enough Catholics who have not come to terms with human equality and gospel equality… why would we go searching for more? We should welcome newcomers who wrestle with issues, yes… including these issues, … but why establish a policy that give special place to those with segregationist credentials?
Let's pass over in silence the rather laughable attempt to claim moral equivalence between racism and faithfulness to the Magisterium regarding admission to Holy Orders and sexual activity outside the Sacrament of Matrimony. Much more to the point is this: in admitting these particular Anglicans into the Church, the Church is admitting people who actually believe what the Church herself has always taught. In other words, it isn't like a non-racist Church admitting new members who are racists; rather, it is a faithful Church admitting new members who are also faithful. I'll tell you where the outrage is: it's at the National Catholic Reporter.

"Not a perfect analogy." Duh. More like, not analogous in the least. Ironically, just as Fiedler and her ilk ask themselves questions like Why welcome people like this into the Church, I ask myself, Why do people like Fiedler stay in the Church? One possibility is that they seriously believe these teachings may change, hence the talk of "human equality" as though it is the least relevant to the question of admission of women to Holy Orders. To think this way is to be seriously out of touch with reality, but it was not an uncommon way to look at things forty years ago. Just as one might claim that dinosaurs are not really extinct but rather have evolved into birds, so, too, the dinosaurs of academia are still with us even in this more enlightened age. What they have evolved into, unfortunately, is nothing quite so beautiful as a songbird. Instead, they have become like shrill harpies, continually shrieking about the same range of dead-letter issues. A quick perusal of the entries in Fiedler's blog is sufficient to show that her understanding of Catholicism is not only seriously wrong, it is seriously outdated.

And yet. Imagine for a minute that it is 1954, and a group of segregationist Protestants from the south seek reconciliation with the Church. I can think of no reason to say to them, You cannot come home--people like you fill us with outrage. Rather we should say: your desire to come home is like that of the Prodigal Son! Do penance for your sins and come on home! Fiedler writes as though, by welcoming these Anglicans home, we are "giv[ing] special place to those with segregationist credentials", without even considering the possibility that those whom we welcome are coming to us with humble and contrite hearts. Of course, if you look at the world the way Fiedler does, assenting to Church teaching is orthogonal to being humble and contrite, since the Church teachings themselves just are the "segregationist credentials" that she bemoans. So for people like her it's a lose-lose proposition: the teachings on Holy Orders and Matrimony are not going to change, and the people who are welcomed home are going to be continually diluting the influence of the heretics of Loretto.

It Depends on What You Mean by "Forward"

There has been some consternation among bloggers both Anglican and Catholic about what's happening at the Forward in Faith UK general meeting. Fr. Jeffrey Steel blogs about it today at De cura animarum. He writes, in part:
To be perfectly honest, it almost feels like a bluff has been called. Sitting and listening to those speeches made me sad and realise that for many in the C of E, the issue that alone makes them 'feel' Catholic is being against the ordination of women or so it seems. Let me state clearly that I did not leave the C of E over women's ordination or homosexuality though in regards to both of these issues I hold the Catholic orthodox line. I became Catholic because being Catholic was true, the primacy of Peter and his infallibility is true and the lack of the Magisterium in Anglicanism leaves the priest with nothing other than his (or now her) own opinion. I am afraid that this sort of approach has nothing to do with true Catholicism. This approach has nothing to do with the theological idea of communio in the writings of the Holy Father either.
I have a great deal of sympathy for this--my own reasons for conversion were similar. Indeed, women had already been ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal church when I was a member of it, but that was not really what tipped me off that the boat was about to start sinking. It was rather the bizarre individualism that is the artifact of the phenomenon Fr. Steel mentions here, the lack of any sort of counterpart to the Magisterium.

But on the more personal level I also feel very deeply the same sort of sadness that Fr. Steel mentions in his post:
Many might ask me why I care. The answer is, because our Holy Father and pastor just extended a hand of welcome for reunion and reconciliation beyond what any could imagine and they have to think about it...I hope the Vatican isn't listening to that assembly.

What I feel is most problematic is that so many claim to have been praying for the very thing that the Holy Father has given and even more and now what is in reality a lovely piece of fish seems to be treated as if it were only a stone.
When I think back to the mid-1980s, when I was myself yearning for this very thing (along with some of my Anglican friends), I can't help feeling a little like a parent watching a talented young child drop out of medical school to join the circus--if I had had back the then the opportunity that they have now, etc.

Some might suggest that it is far better, for those who are not fully prepared to accept the Magisterium, to stay out of the Church, rather than to join it and become irritating dissenters. After all, some may say, there are enough of that ilk in the Church already, and some of them cause real harm. My own view is that those who do choose to make the conversion will make it for the right sorts of reasons--the sorts of reasons that prompted Fr. Steel to make the change, or Fr. Al Kimel. Such persons only strengthen the degree of orthodoxy in the Church by their presence in and contribution to it.

The folks at Forward in Faith seem remarkably reluctant to move, well, forward, preferring to remain in the stasis of separation. What the advantage of this could possibly be only they can imagine.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sursum corda!

A very literal translation of sursum corda might be something like "Up with the hearts!" Personally I prefer the more standard "Lift up your hearts", which is one of the many places in which the English translation of the Latin Mass matches the English of the Book of Common Prayer used by Anglicans. I mention all of this because I have always thought that there is a great deal of commonality between Roman Catholicism and what is best about Anglicanism (in the interest of full disclosure I will remind my regular readers--both of them--that I am myself a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism). I have blogged often about the reasons for my conversion, so I won't go over all of that again, but in light of what happened yesterday I felt as though some sort of effusive outburst on my part would be appropriate.

So what happened yesterday, you ask? Well, let me begin by saying that if it had happened twenty-five years ago my conversion story might have been very different. Yesterday the Vatican announced the creation of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglican Christians, allowing as many as wish to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church (see the story here at Catholic.org). This is nothing short of spectacular, in my opinion, and it is the first step towards the righting of the wrongs that began centuries ago when Christians first started disagreeing with each other so vehemently that they began to excommunicate each other.

A Personal Ordinariate is an ecclesial structure that allows for parallel Ordinaries. To put it more simply, if there is both a Roman Catholic Bishop of, say, Steubenville, and an Anglican Bishop in the same area, the Anglican Bishop and his entire Diocese can retain their current ecclesial structure--that is, they will continue on as the Anglican Diocese of Steubenville or whatever, and will not need to be "absorbed" into the Roman Catholic Diocese--and yet they will be in full communion with Rome. They will continue to use the Anglican Rite liturgies, their priests, if married, will continue as priests in communion with Rome, and their Bishops will continue to have autonomy within their Dioceses.

I have already seen many reactions to this, some happy, some virtually ecstatic, but also some not so happy and some downright negative. I suppose this sort of distribution of views is to be expected--you can't wipe away 500 years of bitter division overnight--but one does hope and pray for further healing, and not just between Romans and Anglicans, but among all Christians worldwide. Our greatest charism is our unity as members of the Body of Christ, and we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for having thrown that away, and we ought to work ever harder to make amends for what we have wrought. It is not an easy task, but yesterday's decision shows that it is not as difficult as some have feared it might be.

Many who call themselves Anglicans do not approve of this move, however, and they will say that it is easy for me to rejoice today, since I view myself as having made the right move long ago. Those who do not think this is the right move will have many different reasons for being unhappy. Some will say that Rome has been in error about many things, including Papal Primacy; others will say that to "come back", as it were, is to admit that you were wrong; still others will say that the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, that it just doesn't matter all that much if one is in communion with Rome or not. All of these views entail that it would be wrong to take the Vatican up on its offer, though clearly some of these views entail it much more strongly than others. Certainly the first objection--that Rome is the one that has been wrong all these years--is the biggest worry for some. If Rome has been wrong about such things as Papal Primacy, the Marian dogmata, the nature of justification, etc., then it would not only be a bad idea, it would be virtually heretical to rejoin her. But this sort of view is typical only within the more Protestant parts of Anglicanism, and I don't think it is very widespread. In any event, there is not much one can do about that sort of view, since the arguments against it are out there and anyone who is not yet persuaded by these arguments is unlikely to be persuaded by kindly invitations to just forget the whole thing. Much more to the point, I think, is the fact that many hundreds of thousands of Anglicans--if not millions--have secretly been longing for this sort of invitation for years, and now here it is. If charity and unity can be miraculous, then here is a miracle for you.

What would I have done had this invitation been made prior to my conversion in 1983? It's difficult to say with any certainty, obviously, but I remember quite clearly thinking at the time that I wanted to work for reconciliation. I had followed the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission with great interest, and at that time the prospects for reunification did not seem so dim as they had come to seem in recent years as the Anglican Communion slowly began tearing itself to bits. The Anglican Use is an attractive one, and I imagine that I would have taken advantage of an offer such as this; but after 26 years of the Latin Rite I don't see myself getting rid of all my Latin Breviaries and taking up the Anglican one (though it is a wonderful thing and I heartily recommend it--you can order one here), or trying to find an Anglican Use parish somewhere around here. Time is grace, and I think that, in general, it is a mistake to try to undo what one has done thoughtfully and prayerfully (unless of course one discovers some serious error in one's thoughts and prayers). So I remain quite happy and content with my own choice, while rejoicing in this opportunity that has been made available to all those I was grieved to leave behind 26 years ago.

Those who have followed my last few posts will know that I particularly have Robert Duncan in my thoughts and prayers today. When I wrote my last entry, Sunt Lacrimae Rerum, I really had no idea that this sort of thing might happen, and I really wonder what his response will be. Many years ago I would have guessed that he might take advantage of such an offer, but as I indicated in my last post, it seems I did not know him as well as I had thought. So who knows? One can only hope and pray. Time is grace.

In the meantime, sursum corda! Rejoice in the Lord, for he has done great things for us, and this is surely one of them.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sunt Lacrimae Rerum

It has been a while since I blogged about the man who brought me into the Church--by which I mean "Christian Church" this time, rather than "Roman Catholic Church". I thought of Robert Duncan again today because I have been getting some email about me previous post here, the one about appearing on Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home program on EWTN. I mentioned on that program how hearing the preaching of Fr. Duncan, when he was still an associate pastor for campus ministry at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was one of the principal factors in moving me from abject atheism to Christian theism. There were many other factors as well, of course, but the Christian community is essentially just that--a community, and so when one thinks of what brought one in to such a community it is inevitable that one thinks of the persons who helped to form one's conscience in such a way as to finally be able to discern the presence of God permeating all of creation.

Fr. Duncan was not the only such person in my life--I can name several others, beginning with my own mother who, as I also mentioned on The Journey Home, was not herself a theist (possibly she was some sort of deist, but I fear I know little about what her precise views actually were). But she taught me the words to the Lord's Prayer when I was just five years old, and although I have no idea what she herself thought about that prayer, either at that time or later in her life, it was surely a gift of some sort, freely given and dutifully received, though I never really realized how great a gift until decades later, when I finally learned to believe what the words of the prayer really say.

I don't think I could have learned to believe those words if Fr. Duncan, and certain other individuals like him, had not shown me by his own example what those words actually mean. Such discoveries are not to be made by the individual working on his own in the dark, separated from his brethren, whatever the post-Reformation individualist may like to think. And so, as I have written here several times before, Fr. Duncan was instrumental in my becoming a Christian, and I will always respect and admire him for that, another great gift that I was slow to appreciate.

That is why I find Fr. Duncan's present state of affairs so utterly depressing. He was deposed as the Bishop of Pittsburgh in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States by that denomination's Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, in September of last year. In my opinion, that would have been the perfect opportunity for him to find a way to make an appearance on Marcus Grodi's program. Given the number of ex-Anglican priests of my acquaintance--Al Kimel, Jeffrey Steel, Trevor Nicholls, among others--I can't help but hope to meet more, especially one who is already an old friend. But that, alas, was not to be. What was to be instead reads like something out of one of my worst nightmares--or one of my many rants right here in this blog about denominationalism in this country.

Things began, if not with the desired appeal to the Pastoral Provision of 1980, at least with a step in the right direction: Fr. Duncan made a move to associate with those elements of worldwide Anglicanism that still cling, however precariously, to the precious traditions of our faith. Happily, these elements are more numerous once one moves outside of the United States. But for whatever banal reason, the leadership in the worldwide Anglican communion feels a strange loyalty to that train wreck that is now the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, a body that has moved steadily away from authentic Christian belief ever since the election of John Shelby Spong to the episcopacy. Consequently Fr. Duncan did not receive the welcome that he deserved among those in communion with Canterbury. This too, would have been a good time to contact Marcus Grodi. What happened instead, sadly, was aptly described--it breaks my heart to say it--by Ephraim Radner, one of the co-founders of the Anglican Communion Network, in his statement of resignation from the ACN:
It is with sorrow and deep disappointment that I tender my resignation from the Anglican Communion Network. Since the time I assisted in its founding, its leaders, members, and mission have been dear to me, even when I have disagreed with some of its corporate actions. The recent statements by the Moderator of the Network, Robert Duncan, however, so contradict my sense of calling within this part of Christ’s Body, the Anglican Communion, that I have no choice but to disassociate myself from this group, whom I had once hoped might prove an instrument of renewal, not of destruction, of building up, not of tearing down.

Bishop Duncan has now declared the See of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference — two of the four Instruments of Communion within our tradition – to be "lost". He has said that God is "doing a new thing" in allowing these elements to founder and be let go. I find this judgment to be dangerously precipitous and unfair under circumstances when current, faithful, and hard work is being done by many to bolster these Instruments as servants of our common life in Christ. The judgment is also astonishingly self-confident and autonomously prophetic in a mode not unlike the baleful claims to visionary authority of those who have long misled the Episcopal Church. Finally, the declaration in effect cancels out the other two Instruments of Communion that also uphold our common Anglican life – the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. It is the entire Anglican Communion, therefore, that Bp. Duncan is declaring to be "lost". The judgment is far too sweeping.

Bp. Duncan has, in the end, decided to start a new church. He may call it "Anglican" if he wishes, though I do not recognize the name in these kinds of actions that break communion rather than build it up – for such building is what I have long perceived to be the "thing" God was "doing" with the earthen vessel of our tradition. In founding his new church, furthermore, he is, I fear, not working for the healing of our broken Body, but repeating the mistakes of Christians in the past, whose zeal has not only brought suffering to themselves, but has wounded the Church of Christ. It is not only his own diocese that his statements and actions will affect; it is many others, including parishes within them, many of which have worked for faithfulness and peace, truth in love, for some time, and for whom new troubles and divisions are now promised. Enough of this. I cannot follow him in this way. There is great work to be done, with hope and with joy, if also with suffering endurance for the faith once delivered, in the vineyards of the Anglican Communion where the Lord has called us and still maintains His calling; just as there has been in the past, and all for the glory of the larger Church Catholic.
He has, indeed, "decided to start a new church", and as my faithful readers will remember, that is one of the things that I so despise about Protestantism generally--the instinct to reboot things in one's own image that Radner rightly describes as "astonishingly self-confident and autonomously prophetic".

The only saving feature to all of this that I can see is that Fr. Duncan has at least moved towards orthodoxy, if not towards orthopraxis, simply by moving away from what was so egregiously heterodox and heretical. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and one ought not to praise the workmanship of such a clock just because one happens to look at it at the right time.

So what is a person in my position to do? When he remained in the Episcopal Church, Fr. Duncan was a voice for orthodoxy crying out among the heretics. In becoming the archbishop of what is basically his own denomination (this is, of course, somewhat hyperbolic--he did not create the "Anglican Church in North America", but still, I can't help but be reminded of this guy), he has done something that ordinarily would strike me as just plain wacky. Yet, of course, what he has done he has done in the name of orthodoxy, a kind of protestation against what Protestantism has become. While protesting the Protestants is perhaps not a bad idea, it can't be a good idea unless it leads you back to Rome. That is clearly not in the cards here, so orthodox or not this cannot be seen as an intrinsically good move.

I suppose the good news is that this provides further confirmation of the truth that our freedom lies in our capacity to make mistakes of such grandiose proportions.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Catholicissimi!

So last weekend I hopped on a plane and flew down to Birmingham, Alabama. I've never been to Alabama before, and in some respects I suspect that I have yet to see the real Alabama, because the purpose of my trip was not to visit the Yellowhammer State but to put in an appearance on Marcus Grodi's Journey Home program on EWTN. I've never been on TV before, either, so the whole trip was something of a novelty for me.

I was picked up at the airport by an EWTN car, and it was a short drive to "the compound", barely 20 minutes at the most. Since it was Sunday there weren't many people about and, in particular, there didn't seem to be anybody in the little booth at the entrance to check our passports or anything--we just drove right in and I was taken to a house (called "Madonna House" by the locals) where I would stay for the duration. It seems that EWTN owns a number of houses on its property and some of the employees live in them, some of them are used for guests, and at least one of them is used as a set for some of their shows.

The house was deserted when I got there, but I knew that there would be two more gentlemen joining me before my stay was completed. That didn't stop me from looking around a bit. It was a modest house, tastefully decorated. Lots of Catholic art on the walls, and a crucifix in every room (except the bathroom; I didn't actually look in the garage). There was a big TV just like in a hotel, and it had cable, including ETWN. I didn't check to see whether it blocked the sorts of channels that regular EWTN viewers would find objectionable. There was a computer but the internet connection wasn't working, which was probably a good thing or I would have wasted a lot of time reading my email when I should have been preparing my classes for my return to Ohio.

Since I had been traveling all day I had not had an opportunity to attend Mass, so when I heard bells ringing I thought that perhaps there was going to be an evening Mass that I could attend, so I high-tailed it to the chapel--the very chapel where they have the Masses that one can watch on EWTN each day. It turned out not to be Mass, but Vespers, which was the next best thing as far as I was concerned, so I stayed and enjoyed the largish community of folks who had turned out. After Vespers there was a Benediction service, and then I returned to my little house. I was soon joined there by Fr. Trevor Nicholls, a former Anglican Priest turned Catholic priest (thanks to the Pastoral Provision of 1980). He turned out to be a delightful conversationalist, and we had many fine conversations over the course of just a day and a half.

Monday morning dawned early for me, what with it being in a different time zone and all, and I got up to say the Office. By this time I was starting to get a little nervous about my appearance on Journey Home--what on earth was I going to talk about for an hour? My own conversion story seems prosaic and uninspiring to me, and it is very difficult to imagine why on earth anybody would want to hear all the gory details. My confidence was not the least bit increased by my conversations with Fr. Nicholls, who was not only far more articulate than I but who also had a nifty British accent sure to wow the folks in the audience.

To take my mind off my troubles, I attended the daily Mass at noon. The venue was small and it was packed full of people--I had to stand at the back, along with several others. The liturgy was exceptionally well executed, I thought, with great reverence all around. Indeed, many who received Holy Communion did so kneeling on the ground, and even those who did not kneel to receive made a genuflection rather than bowing the head prior to reception. Servers held small patens under the chins of all who received.

After Mass I walked around the compound, but there wasn't much to explore: part of the enclosure is a monastery, and one cannot just walk in and look about. On the other hand, right next to the house where I was staying was a "farm" of satellite dishes--seven in all, one of them as large as the two-storey house in which I was staying. (You can see these dishes, and the house in which I stayed, if you look at the EWTN compound with Google Earth. You will not see me snooping around the dishes, and you certainly won't see me trying to break into the monastery. I really have no idea what you're talking about.)

When it was finally time for the taping, I changed into my best dress uniform and walked over to the studio with Fr. Nicholls. His uniform was much nicer than mine, being all black and priestly, but I did have on a nice tie and a sweet little silk hankie that Lisa gave me for Christmas about twelve years ago. Nevertheless as I walked along beside him I couldn't help feeling like a pair of old brown shoes at a black tie party.

The studio was deserted except for Marcus Grodi, the host of The Journey Home, and his crew, which seemed to me to number fewer than a dozen people. There were three cameramen, a Franciscan stage director who also applied makeup to everyone, and the producer and director and whoever else was back in "the booth". Although there were chairs for an audience, there was nobody there watching the taping. Some episodes of the show are live, and they take calls from viewers and questions form the audience, but both shows we taped that night were canned.

Fr. Nicholls went first, which meant that I had to watch him be all urbane and sophisticated before I went out there with my countrified Ohio ways. Shucks, Padre, that there was some mighty fancy talkin'! When my turn came I was still a little nervous, but since the studio was basically empty it didn't seem so bad. I soon discovered that I wasn't going to have any trouble filling up the time allotted--what with my blabbermouth ways and all--and the conversation seemed to go fairly smoothly. At the end, however, I couldn't help feel that I had done a terrible job. It seemed that I hadn't really said anything very substantive--but on the other hand, I was just supposed to be bearing witness to my conversion, so I don't think there was any expectation that I produce philosophical gems (if only I could get the folks at Ohio University to see things the same way).

Then it was all over. Fr. Nicholls and I talked long into the evening about many things, and then the next day I flew home. All in all I found the experience rather exciting, and one certainly can't help wishing that one lived in a community with such a strong Catholic identity. The task, I suppose, is to make a community where one is, rather than travel around looking for one to sneak into. It's difficult in a secular university to make such a community, but we already have the beginnings of one here, at least among some of the Catholic students. But I have to admit that when the guy who drove me back to the airport told me that he had retired from the fire department in Florida in order to take a job at EWTN, the idea didn't seem like a bad one to me.