Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some Thoughts On Catholics Crossing Rivers And Catholic Hemispheres

Archbishop Lois Antonio Tagle of Manilla may lead the both the Philippine Church and the global church through some interesting times.

In all the coverage of Benedict's creation of the Anglican Ordinariate I've never found any numbers about the influx of Catholics into the Episcopalian Church.  Instead I've found glowing reports about the influx of Anglicans into the Catholic Church through Ordinariate.  This is true whether the coverage is from mainstream media or Catholic media such as America, Commonweal, or the NCR.  It's always about those Anglicans/Episcopalians coming in, and dead silence about the route out.  The following excerpt is taken from Episcopal Cafe and lo and behold, it gives the statistics for the boats on both the Tiber and the Thames.

.......Thus far, 100 priests and fewer than 1,400 people in 22 church communities have expressed an interest in the ordinariate. Gather them all in Washington National Cathedral, and the place isn’t half full. Only six of these 22 communities have more than 70 members, which suggests that their longterm viability may be an issue. And there is no evidence to suggest that these small congregations are the thin edge of an as yet invisible wedge.  (If 16 of these communities have less than 70 people then the long term viability of the Ordinariate should be a concern.)

The prominence the ordinariate has achieved in the media has unsettled some Episcopalians. As a denomination, we are still recovering from several years worth of news stories in which the departure of some three percent of our membership for a more theologically conservative body was variously described as a “schism” or an “exodus.”

In part to bolster Episcopal spirits, and in part to provide reporters with some sense of perspective, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some numbers. According to the 2004 U. S. Congregational Life Survey—which I believe is the most recent one available—11.7 percent of Episcopalians were formerly Roman Catholic.

The Episcopal Church had slightly fewer than 2,248,000 members in 2004, indicating that not quite 263,000 of its members were former Catholics.

The Episcopal Church has shrunk some in the last seven years, and now has about two million members. Assuming that the percentage of former Catholics in the Episcopal Church has remained constant (I think it is likely to have risen, but that’s an essay for another day), there are currently some 228,000 former Roman Catholics in the Episcopal Church.  (I would think the percentage has risen as well and that the influx of Roman Catholics has had somewhat the same effect Latin immigration has had for Catholicism.)

There may be a good reason that the departure of fewer than 1,500 Episcopalians to the Roman Catholic ordinariate deserves extensive media coverage while the departure in recent years of more than 225,000 Roman Catholics to join the Episcopal Church goes unmentioned even in stories about the creation of the ordinariate, but I don’t know what it is.

The stories on the ordinariate also report that as many as 100 priests—many of whom may be Episcopalians—have also applied to join the ordinariate. Is this evidence that the Catholic Church is winning priests from the Episcopal tradition? It reads that way, unless one knows, thanks to the Church Pension Group, that 432 living Episcopal priests have been received from the Roman Catholic Church.


For all the ballyhoo surrounding the Anglican Ordinariate the truth is the river flowing out of Catholicism and into the Episcopal Church has a whole lot more traffic in both clergy and laity.  There is plenty of reason to think this isn't going to change in the near future, especially in North America and other Anglo countries in which both Catholicism and Anglicanism are historic churches.  As for the developing South, well, that is going to be a very different story.

The Catholicism of the South is not the Catholicism of the North.  The same is true for Protestant Christianity.  In the North the talk is of reform and a return to a less hierarchical and more inclusive Christianity which includes acceptance of homosexual unions, an ordained ministry for women and the openly gay, a relational approach to sexual morality, and all of this with an emphasis on the individual spiritual journey rather than the collective identity approach of our ancestors.  None of this is on the radar of Catholicism in the South where traditional sexual and gender roles are sacrosanct, patriarchal authority holds cultural sway, collective spirituality is what gives life to the individual journey, and the miracles, exorcisms, and Divinity of Jesus are not just literal truth, but the main point of discipleship.  In some respects this is a Catholicism that is about a 'return on one's spiritual investment', especially in areas in which the modern western approaches to healing and mental illness are few and far between or economically beyond the reach of the poor and impoverished.

There's certainly no question that the Catholic tradition supports these notions of healing and exorcism, and the power of the Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints and Angels, and Charismatic practices flourishing in the South.  It was in these beliefs that missionaries connected with the original indigenous populations. And it's equally true that the long Catholic tradition has very little support for any notions of gender equality, gay unions,  a relational sexual morality, or a less authoritarian clerical structure.  It would seem then that global Catholicism will not reflect the reforms hoped for by progressive Northern Catholics.  The river into the Episcopalian/Anglican Church will stay quite congested.

At first glance the future for Catholicism appears to be centered in the exploding Catholic South where traditional piety, traditional sexuality, and traditional forms of male hierarchy hold sway. This would be especially true in the poorer urban areas with a high population density from rural immigration.  Maslow's hierarchy of needs is at it's most base level in these situations.  Ideas which need  freedom from physical survival angst don't come up on any one's radar---like women's ordination. However, ideas which do impact one's physical survival do hit the radar screen---like women's access to birth control.  

This is one reason I closely follow the debate in the Philippines between the hierarchy and the government over women's access to birth control. This is one place where the Vatican plan to use the South to sustain it's current structure and theology is clashing head on with the actual needs of people in the pews. In a real sense, the Philippines is a Southern hemisphere clash of wills over Humanae Vitae and the celibate male authority that teaches it.  This battle played out in the North almost fifty years ago and much of the call for reform began with it's utter rejection by the laity.  The Bishops and their supporters have managed to keep the bill from being finalized for some ten years, but it finally appears the tide is turning because women and young Filipinos have had enough and together they represent a lot of votes.  There is a growing sense of moral betrayal by the hierarchy in the Philippines which may be one reason the Vatican appointed Louis Antonio Tagle, something of a pastoral moderate, as Archbishop of Manilla. 

If the Vatican is truly banking on the South to sustain it's power and prestige Benedict and JPII certainly had different ideas about how that should play out in the Vatican itself.  JPII had a College of Cardinals that was  40% from the South and Benedict has almost totally reversed that trend. I wonder if that's not because the flavor of the Church in the South appealed more to JPII the Mary worshipping Polish mystic than it does to Benedict XVI the German intellectual theologian.  In some respects, Pope Benedict is presiding over a global Catholicism for which neither the pentecostal South or the rebellious North have much appeal.  No wonder he's rumored to be considering retirement.  

If we've learned anything from the Arab Spring it's that today's youth are very well connected with access to all kinds of information, that the Internet/cell phone explosion is creating something new in collective humanity, and that it won't be easy for existing power structures to deal with the change this implies.  The Vatican is not immune to this.  Catholicism was the first truly global social entity, but if it wants to maintain relevance in today's global world, it can no longer afford to think in centuries.  We can make pretty accurate predictions about the demographic look of the Church fifty years from now, but how that demographic will practice Catholicism is another thing entirely.  One thing for sure, it won't be in any Anglican ordinariate.



  1. Fabulous piece Colleen!

    The Church has a gross misunderstanding of the importance of law in relation to human behavior. It isn't as important as individual conscience. Are there any facts that can be used to gain insight into the behavior of the laity in a very conservative, devout, religious country such as the Philippines?

    I like to use Dr. Hans Rosling's gapminder.org website because the graphs are based upon verified official statistics for each country. Many of their data sets go back 200 years.

    What has happened to birthrates in the Philippines? 1952 was the peak for total fertility in the Philippines when the average woman averaged 7.4 children. There is a straight line decline in that statistic so that today the average woman in the Philippines has 3.1 children. In 1952 child mortality was 159 per thousand and it has declined to 29 per thousand today. Life expectancy has increased from 55 to 68 years.

    The Church's teachings on birth control have been completely rejected by Catholics in the Philippines despite the efforts of the Church.

    Once again the Church looks to clergy who had their spiritual formation under dictatorial, fascist and totalitarian regimes. They have only authoritarian answers to problems that the laity has already solved without Church direction.

    Southern Catholics are not going to save the Vatican from itself. Not when the current clerical hierarchy supported oppression of the people.

    Thank you for the data on former Roman Catholics turning to Anglican/Episcopalian Churches. I always felt that the establishment of the ordinariate was very bad form for the RC Church.


  2. The boats on the Tiber and the Thames: that's such a creative way to discuss this topic, Colleen. I like it very much.

    The minute statistics of Anglicans crossing the Tiber reminds me very much of this: when the Civil War ended, a group of diehard Southerners who believed they could practice slavery in perpetuity hied themselves off to Brazil. The colony was drawn from all the Southern states.

    It petered out, of course, in very short order--and Brazil itself emancipated slaved not far down the road from the U.S.

    The Anglicans swimming the Tiber remind me very much of those Southerners who believed they could drag history backwards, and keep claiming that an immoral institution was moral, after most of the culture in the West had repudiated the practice of slavery.

    The Catholic Anglicans want to swim against the tide of history vis-a-vis women's and gay rights. They're not going to succeed in changing that tide any more than the colony of Southern slaveholders in Brazil succeeded in doing so.

  3. Being a Catholic isn't always easy, there are standards expected of Catholics that aren't expected of the sects. Is it any surprise that people leave? Not really, no.

    People will always reject the Church, and - as ever - they have personal responsibility for that.

  4. Invictus, the Episcopal Church has the same moral code as Catholicism other than Birth Control and their attitude towards sexual morality which is far more relational than biological. Ohhh not to mention the fact they actually teach and act that women are equal to men. I'm at something of a loss as to why people think the Episcopal Church is all that Catholic Lite. The really big difference is in papal authority and the fact they ordain women. Rowan Williams does not hold the same kind of unilateral power the Pope has. Ask the uber conservatives in Africa if that's such a bad thing.

    1. While in the car yesterday I heard a discussion of religion on NPR. I thought the panel was speaking to the Commonwealth Club of California broadcast, but I have not been able to find a web link. In any case, the Episcopalian Bishop said that their church lost half the members in the 1960's. The issue that caused Episcopalians to leave was the Church's outspoken support for the civil rights movement. I need to know more and will share the source if I can find it.


  5. By definition, the Anglican Ordinate is a closed loop. The distinctive mark of the Ordinate is the priests who are married. Once in, these guys CAN NOT get married. If divorced or widowed no remarriage. While there have been a few (dozen?) Lutheran and Anglican priests who became RC and remained active priests over the last 30 years, they haven't set the world on fire (no insult intended to the work they have done.) Their sons will have to decide between Marriage or Ordination - Just like Regular Catholics. Outside their own (VERY) small parishes, they will not find congregations open to their use of Anglican liturgical language, rites and customs (we have enough liturgical problems of our own, thank you very much.) And diocesian RC priests are VERY protective of their own turf. I don't see a lot of welcome coming from local priests (does not mean that's right.) These guys will not be available to staff RC parishes. The new Anglicans will find themselves in a Anglican/RC ghetto. And probably not taken seriously by anyone.

  6. p2p, that actually makes a lot of sense that the Episcopalian losses were that large in the sixties. It was the Church that had the reputation for being the home of the wealthy white segment of American Christians. I hadn't really thought about that, but it does make a certain amount of sense that it's support for the civil rights movement would precipitate a large exodus. Makes me wonder if our Bishops aren't doing all they can to appeal to that particular segment of disenfranchised wealth, but instead of overtly pulling the race card they are pulling the gay card.

    1. Hi Colleen,

      It took a while but I found the podcast. Finding Faith and Spirituality in the 21st Century.


      At the 23 minute mark the conversation turns to the main challenge to Catholicism. One of the panelists says he had a meal with Cardinal Kasper who identified "decentralization" as the greatest challenge to the RC Church.

      Very interesting. Julian Guthrie, a woman, has written a book "The Grace of Everyday Saints" about the struggle with the Vatican the parishioners and their rebel priest faced to save St. Brigid's in San Francisco.


  7. Sue, I completely agree that this Anglican Ordinariate will probably have a short life span, especially if the celibacy rule isn't changed. It's one thing to not have to deal with 'uppity women priests' it's quite another to have your son denied ordination because he chooses to marry and carry on the family name. And then there is that whole birth control issue which has never been an Anglican or Episcopal issue. It will be now.