The buzz across the Atlantic pond is all Anglican all the time. The synodal decree allowing for the ordination of women bishops has spawned all kinds of speculation about a mass exodus of Anglican Catholics to Roman Catholicism. Anglican Catholics are also known as the 'bells and smells' group with in the English Anglican Church, or the High Church. In any event this is the group of Anglicans which is more theologically conservative and whose worship service is very much akin to the Traditional Latin Mass---lots and lot of bells and smells, Gregorian chant, and ornate vestments. They are true soul brethren with our traditionalists in liturgical taste. I say brethren because the sisteren need not apply. They just need to follow in the spirit of sexual complementarity.
Special bishops have been assigned to these folk so that their altars are not profaned by the presence of women priests. A lot of their clergy defected to Roman Catholicism when the greater Anglican Community allowed for the ordination of women in 1992. The special or 'flying bishops' were conceived to the stop the bleeding and supervise the parishes and dioceses which wouldn't accept women priests. It was an effort to keep the fold together and prevent schism with in the ranks. It's worked well for the most part, but apparently the rest of the Anglican Church has had their fill of the Anglo Catholics and their insistence on the second class status of women.
The vote to approve the ordination of women to the bishopric purposely left out any special provision for the Anglo Catholics because it would imply that their are two classes of bishops, men who can serve all Anglicans, and women who can only serve some Anglicans. Women as second class priests are one thing, but second class bishops are another thing. The distinction makes sense if you think about it for awhile. A bishop is a different ontological position than a priest, and maintaining two classes of bishops would take some serious rereading into the gospels and tradition, where the emphasis has always been on the equality of the bishop with his fellow bishops in terms of teaching authority and territorial autonomy.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall two of the three 'flying bishops' met with Vatican officials in a semi secret meeting last week. These Vatican officials were Cardinals William Levada and Walter Kasper. Cardinal Kasper is slated to give a talk on the Roman Catholic position on women and gay clergy at the upcoming Lambeth conference. What the Anglo Catholics are hoping for is that the Vatican will welcome them en mass to the Roman Catholic Church and make special provisions to speed up the ordination process for their clergy.
One of these flying bishops, Andrew Burnham, had some interesting comments along these lines: "As for those who choose to go, like in the early 1990s these will include some of the finest Anglican clergy," he wrote. "Most of them are not motivated in the least by gender issues but by a keenness to pursue Catholic unity and truth.""What we must humbly ask for now is for magnanimous gestures from our Catholic friends, especially from the Holy Father, who well understands our longing for unity, and from the hierarchy of England and Wales," Bishop Burnham said. "Most of all we ask for ways that allow us to bring our folk with us."
So there we go, it's not about gender, it's all about Catholic unity and truth. Why would Bishop Burnham single out the Archbishops of England and Wales? Because in 1992 those august Catholic Bishops did not buy the unity line. The felt the sudden need to convert was directly the result of gender issues, and did not welcome defecting clergy with open arms. They were essentially forced into it by the Vatican and John Paul II.
But it's the last line in his written commentary which really will cause difficulties. Bishop Burnham is not talking about disgruntled individuals, he is talking parishes and full dioceses and that means property and who controls the assets. This would be the Roman Catholic church agreeing to plunder the assets of the Anglican Church no differently from what is being attempted by GAFCON in Canada and the United States. And come to think of it, not a whole lot differently than Henry VIII did in creating the Anglican Church. Karma or revenge or a necessary step towards unity? I guess we can take our pick.
What I wonder is just what does the average Anglo Catholic think of all this. Are they in agreement with their bishops that they would welcome being absorbed into Roman Catholicism? Are they members of their Anglo Catholic parishes by conviction or because of where they happen to live? Do their parishes reflect them or the theological stances of their priests? These are the sorts of questions which need to be sorted out, because becoming Catholic will have serious consequences for laity. Is holding the traditional line on women clergy strong enough motivation to accept Catholic sexual teachings on abortion, birth control and stem cell research? Issues which affect their bedrooms and not their altars, may make a lot of the laity take a second look at blindly accepting Catholicism because their bishop says so.
Another distinction must be made here. Anglo Catholics are not the Evangelical Anglicans of GAFCON. In fact the two traditions are not particularly fond of each other even though they share the same antipathy for gays and women clergy. Anglo Catholics are not bible thumpers spewing in unrecognizable tongues. I guess you could say they are more interested in well done High liturgy and have always been the spearhead of the ecumenical movement with Rome. GAFCON is a different kettle of fish altogether, but could take their cue from what happens with the Anglo Catholics.
If Benedict makes the 'magnanimous gesture' which Bishop Burnham desires, and these Anglo Catholic dioceses convert to Roman Catholicism taking all their human and material assets with them, the move would almost certainly be replicated by GAFCON whose leadership would then declare themselves the head of another branch of Christianity. It would leave the World Wide Anglican community with considerably less members. One wonders if Benedict would want to tip the Anglican scales to this extent in the name of 'unity'. It doesn't take a genius to suspect he's being pushed to do exactly that by conservative members with in the Vatican who would see this as a golden opportunity to shore up the prestige of the Vatican and the Vatican way of doing business.
Should this actually happen it would be a religious travesty for both faiths because it would have nothing to do with Christian unity and everything to do with gender discrimination and the ecclesial power of the men in control. The laity have yet to speak, and when they do, I hope they roar a resounding NO to the unfettered hypocrisy in all of this.
I came across this story today on ESPN and encourage you to take a read: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=hospice&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab1pos1
If it doesn't bring a tear or two to your eye, and make you feel proud to be a Catholic--for a change--well then this is a pointless blog. This is a story about truly enlightened Catholicism, and truly inspired baseball fans who just happen to be Dominicans.