Hans Kung guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 October 2009 23.00 GMT
The astonishing efforts to lure away Anglican priests show that Pope Benedict is set on restoring the Roman imperium.
After Pope Benedict XVI's offences against the Jews and the Muslims, Protestants and reform-oriented Catholics, it is now the turn of the Anglican communion, which encompasses some 77 million members and is the third largest Christian confession after the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. Having brought back the extreme anti-reformist faction of the Pius X fraternity into the fold, Pope Benedict now hopes to fill up the dwindling ranks of the Catholic church with Anglicans sympathetic to Rome. Their conversion to the Catholic church is supposed to be made easier: Anglican priests and bishops shall be allowed to retain their standing, even when married. Traditionalists of the churches, unite! Under the cupola of St Peter's! The Fisher of Men is angling in waters of the extreme religious right.
This Roman action is a dramatic change of course: steering away from the well-proven ecumenical strategy of eye-level dialogue and honest understanding; steering towards an un-ecumenical luring away of Anglican priests, even dispensing with medieval celibacy law to enable them to come back to Rome under the lordship of the pope. Clearly, the well-meaning Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was no match for cunning Vatican diplomacy. In his cosying up with the Vatican, he evidently did not recognise the consequences. Otherwise he would not have put his signature to the downplaying communique of the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. Can it be that those caught in the Roman dragnet do not see that they will never be more than second-class priests in the Roman church, that other Catholics are not meant to take part in their liturgical celebrations?
Ironically, this communique impudently invokes the truly ecumenical documents of the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission, which were worked out in laborious negotiations between the Roman Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Lambeth conference: documents on the Eucharist (1971), on church office and ordination (1973), and on authority in the church (1976/81). People in the know, however, recognise that these three documents, subscribed to by both sides at that time, aimed not at recruitment, but rather at reconciliation. These documents of honest reconciliation provide the basis for a recognition of Anglican orders, which Pope Leo XIII, back in 1896, with anything but convincing arguments, had declared invalid. But from the validity of Anglican orders follows the validity of Anglican celebrations of the Eucharist. And so mutual Eucharistic hospitality would be possible; in fact, intercommunion. A slow process of growing together of Catholics and Anglicans would have been the consequence.
However, the Vatican Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith quickly made sure that these documents of reconciliation disappeared in the dungeons of the Vatican. That's called "shelving". At the time, a confidential press release out of the Vatican cited "too much Küng theology" in them – in other words, a theological basis for a rapprochement between the churches of Rome and Canterbury.
As I wrote in 1967, "a resumption of ecclesial community between the Catholic church and the Anglican church" would be possible, when "the Church of England, on the one side, shall be given the guarantee that its current autochthonous and autonomous church order under the Primate of Canterbury will be preserved fully" and when, "on the other side, the Church of England shall recognise the existence of a pastoral primacy of Petrine ministry as the supreme authority for mediation and arbitration between the churches." "In this way," I expressed my hopes then, "out of the Roman imperium might emerge a Catholic commonwealth."
But Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions. Evidently, the papal primacy – which Pope Paul VI admitted was the greatest stumbling block to the unity of the churches – does not function as the "rock of unity". The old-fashioned call for a "return to Rome" raises its ugly head again, this time through the conversion particularly of the priests, if possible, en masse. In Rome, one speaks of a half-million Anglicans and 20 to 30 bishops. And what about the remaining 76 million? This is a strategy whose failure has been demonstrated in past centuries and which, at best, might lead to the founding of a "uniate" Anglican "mini-church" in the form of a personal prelature, not a territorial diocese. But what are the consequences of this strategy already today?
First, a further weakening of the Anglican church. In the Vatican, opponents of ecumenism rejoice over the conservative influx. In the Anglican church, liberals rejoice over the departure of the catholicising troublemakers. For the Anglican church, this split means further corrosion. It is already suffering from the consequences of the heedless and unnecessary election of an avowed gay priest as bishop in the US, an event that split his own diocese and the whole Anglican communion. This friction has been enhanced by the ambivalent attitude of the church's leadership with respect to homosexual partnerships. Many Anglicans would accept a civil registration of such couples with wide-ranging legal consequences, for instance in inheritance law, and would even accept an ecclesiastical blessing for them, but they would not accept a "marriage" in the traditional sense reserved for partnerships between a man and a woman, nor would they accept a right to adoption for such couples. (Hans has an axe to grind here. Apparently even he thinks it's better for Christianity that gay clergy stay in a closet. I can't believe Hans truly thinks the gay issue wouldn't have surfaced in the Anglican Church if Gene Robinson had stayed in his closet. This whole paragraph is a gratuitous add on.)
Second, the widespread disturbance of the Anglican faithful. The departure of Anglican priests and their re-ordination in the Catholic church raises grave questions for many Anglicans: are Anglican priests validly ordained? Should the faithful together with their pastor convert to the Catholic church? (I think it's fairly apparent that the Vatican is demanding conversion. I believe these bishops actually swore on the catechism. That must make the catechism the real Catholic bible, or maybe it's Canon Law.)
Third, the irritation of the Catholic clergy and laity. Discontent over the ongoing resistance to reform is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Catholic church. Since the Second Vatican Council in the 60s, many episcopal conferences, pastors and believers have been calling for the abolition of the medieval prohibition of marriage for priests, a prohibition which, in the last few decades, has deprived almost half of our parishes of their own pastor. Time and again, the reformers have run into Ratzinger's stubborn, uncomprehending intransigence. And now these Catholic priests are expected to tolerate married, convert priests alongside themselves. When they want themselves to marry, should they first turn Anglican, and then return to the church? (Hans, I think you are behind the times. A lot of us are calling for the abolition of the whole clerical system. It's rotten at it's core and married priests will only be another caste, ineligible for promotion, spoiled by the rotten core.)
Just as we have seen over many centuries – in the east-west schism of the 11th century, in the 16th century Reformation and in the First Vatican Council of the 19th century – the Roman thirst for power divides Christianity and damages its own church. It is a tragedy.
In this analysis Hans hits some important points and then kind of drops the ball on the Gene Robinson issue. Bishop Robinson was not submitted by a group of Episcopalian yes men and appointed by a pope, like in Catholicism. He did not appoint himself. He was elected by his diocese. The people spoke.
When the people speak locally, sometimes it's a shout heard round the world. Some people, and Hans Kung appears to be one of these people, choose to see Bishop Robinson's appointment as an attack on the traditional interpretation of the Bible and as a primary reason for the disunity in Anglicanism. Others, and I happen to be one of those, see it as a vote for honesty and integrity. This is the kind of vote which says unity at the price of deception, secrecy, and dishonesty is not unity. It's fraud, and leads to more fraud and to other more heinous sins and crimes. This dishonesty about gay priests and bishops is part of the rot at the core of clericalism. The healthy move is not to kick them out of the clergy, it's to kick them out of the closet. Maybe Hans will get this some day.
The rest of his assessment is on target. Finally someone has told some truth. The resistance to the 'reform of the reform' is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Church. Anecdotal stories from places like Maine show the truth of this observation. Pious life long Catholics are admitting to embarrassment as Catholics as the gay marriage proposition moves towards a vote, and as it gets more vicious and more silly. Catholics are beginning to see that secular gay marriage is no threat to their sacramental marriages or to the Roman Catholic Church. Other issues are far more threatening, and one of those might just be who is really funding the Catholic Church's opposition?
As Kung points out in this editorial, Benedict has essentially trashed forty years of ecumenism which was aiming for a form of unity for the entirety of the Anglican Church. He did this for the sake of maybe half a million Anglicans, but especially to get their priests. Unity for the other 76.5 million Anglicans has been set back decades. Just as it has for other mainline protestant denominations.
Before anyone objects that the Anglicans did this to themselves with women clergy, Bishop Gene Robinson, and gay blessings, I have to remind folks that these issues had surfaced in other Christian denominations before the Anglicans followed suit, and they now exist in even more denominations. If Christian unity was really the point of this exercise, it's a unity based strictly on Catholic interpretation, and there for is not unity at all. It's uniformity through conversion. That's not ecumenism.
In the meantime the Southern Cone and African Anglicans have told the Pope thanks but no thanks. I never thought for one minute they would give up their outside money and supposed independent voice on the world stage for the sake of unifying with Rome. Benedict has his work cut out for him if his vision of unifying conservative cultural forces under Rome is to come to fruition. Opus Dei, the Legion, and the Neocats better get cracking because they are fighting entrenched well funded interests in the Evangelical movement in South America, and the same kind of well funded Anglican interests in Africa. Vatican control of the reactionary Christian religious movements won't come cheap or easily and it will certainly cost him all the progressives and most of the center in the Catholic Church itself.
I seriously doubt the moneyed interests behind these movements cares who 'wins'. The battle will leave the victor more or less vanquished and malleable and that is the whole idea. Personally I take great hope in the little scrum happening in New York State. The special race in the 23rd Congressional District is the perfect example of what happens when conservatives assert their voices. They split the movement and the progressives could very well win where they have never won. I doubt that's the outcome Benedict envisions, but it may be the one he gets.