The Positivity of Negativity

An article at Catholic News Service today informs us that Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, England, is worried that some Anglican clergy are going to bail out of the C of E and swim the Tiber now that the Church of England has removed obstacles to the consecration of women as bishops. Bishop Lang's worry is that this is not the sort of reason why one should join the Catholic Church. One should have some sort of "positive" reason for joinging the Catholic Church, and his view appears to be that not liking what the Church of Enland is doing is really a "negative" reason, making the Catholic Church look some kind of sloppy seconds to the C of E.

How about this: one eminently good reason for joining the Catholic Church is because you believe that its teachings are true. Maybe some Anglicans are beginning to realize that the Catholic Church's perennial teaching on the ordination of women just might be true. It turns out that Bishop Lang is the co-chairman of the Enlgish Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee. I wonder if membership in a committee like that is a positive or a negative reason for opposing the entrance of people into the Catholic Church. Frankly, in the interests of ecumenism, I would like to propose a trade: we'll take all the Anglicans who want to join because they think the Anglican Communion is growing ever more heretical, and well send over all the "Roman Catholics" who hold the same heretical views about women priests, sex outside of marriage (including, obviously, the same-sex kind), etc. as seem to be growing more popular within certain diminutive parts of the Anglican Communion. We seem to have plenty of them to spare, and they will feel right at home in the AC these days.

When the Episcopal Church voted to allow the consecration of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy, one of my old friends and mentors, Peter James Lee, presently the bishop of Virginia, said that the decision to vote the way he did was a difficult one, but heresy is better than schism. I guess the Episcopal seminaries have forgotten that heresy forms a part of schism. I suppose it's convenient to forget that when your entire communion exists simply because the king of England once decided to enter into schism.

When I knew Peter Lee, he was the Rector at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and I admired him greatly. But I also admired the Associate Rector there, Robert Duncan, who is now the bishop of Pittsburgh and on the other side of the wall separating Peter Lee from orthodoxy. Fr. Bob (as we all once knew him--maybe they still know him by that moniker in Pittsburgh) has given moral and other forms of support to those within the Episcopal Church who oppose their denomination's official stance towards sexual relations outside of the Sacrament of Matrimony as manifested in the decision to consecrate an individual who makes no secret of his rejection of the Universal Church's constant teaching that sex is only licit within Matrimony, and who lives his life accordingly.

One mistake that is often made in this particular case is to say that the whole issue is about homosexual relations. Those who opposed the consecration of Robinson were often portrayed as homophobes or worse. But the issue has nothing whatever to do with that--it is about the Sacrament of Matrimony. To say that is not to say that homosexual sex, in itself, is acceptable--but that is a separate question.

Another mistake, less often made but made sometimes nonetheless, is to say that Church leaders are either foolish or mistaken if they think that there hasn't been plenty of compromsing of the Sacrament of Matrimony by priests and bishops in the history of the Church. The plain fact of the matter is that the Church has been filled with sinful people right from the start, and it should come as no surprise to anyone to find that priests and bishops sometimes commit sins, too, particularly if they are people who should never have become priests or bishops in the first place. But the Church has never officially endorsed sin before as a means of excusing the actions of some of its members--but that is precisely what the Episcopal Church has done. Or something very like it: it has said that something that has always been regarded as sinful is not, in fact, sinful at all. And it has said that after only very limited, unilateral deliberation by a very small minority within the Communion.

I wonder if that is a positive or a negative reason for changing one of the Church's oldest teachings? Either way, it seems like a pretty good reason for leaving that Church and joining a real one, where the teachings don't change to suit the whims of the times.


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