Saturday, October 31, 2009

The ACC Provincial Synod

Denise and I spent the bulk of this week (Oct. 27th to 30th) at the Anglican Catholic Church's Provincial Synod in Richmond, VA. From my own point of view, it was a case of "and a good time was had by all" - especially as it was a meeting without rancour.

I was ordained in the ACC some fifteen years ago at a time when the Original Province was experiencing appreciable turmoil. Being an old ACC man, the Synod enabled me to renew some old friendships, and meet in person several folks from the ACC whom I have come to know well via the Internet. It was also very good for me spiritually to worship with a large group of Anglican clergy and layfolks not just from all-over the USA, but also from the UK, the Sudan, India, South Africa, South American and the Carribbean.

What was also interesting to me was the way in which the Anglican Catholic Church had matured in the years since I left. Whatever surface disagreements there may be are now underpinned by a much stronger loyalty to an organisation that has stood the test of both time and schism. The ACC was founded in 1977, and has now survived some thirty-two years. More importantly, it has also survived two messy schisms. The first, in 1991, occured when three domestic dioceses left to join the Anglican Church in America. More painfully, the newly created Traditional Anglican Communion chose to realign with the ACA rather than the ACC. In the reorganisation that followed, the remnant of the Traditional Anglican Communion that chose to remain with the ACC was organised into the Original Province, which then served the USA, Australia, and a few clergy in Canada. The ACC Province of India serving India, Pakistan and Burma suffered prolonged litigation at the hands of the Church of India bishops who had chosen to go with the new TAC. This was not resolved until 2002. A second schism followed in 1997 when a dispute in the College of Bishops escalated out of control and significant portions of five diocese left the ACC and reconstituted themselves as two small jurisdictions, one known as the Holy Catholic Church (Anglican Rite) and the other as the HCC(Western Rite); neither of these bodies have prospered. This coincided with a period in which three successive Metropolitans - Oliver Lewis, Dean Stephens, and John T. Cahoon - died in quick succession.

It has now been twelve years since the ACC was last afflicted with schism, and this period of stability has seen expansion. Firstly, the church has consolidated its position in the USA. Secondly, the ACC has experienced considerable growth in Southern Africa to the point where the division of present Missionary Diocese has been approved. The ACC has also received the Diocese of Aweli, Sudan, and has begun work in Rwanda and Kenya. The Province of India has also experienced a period of stability, and it recently elected a new Metropolitan, the Most Rev. John Augustine. This, coupled with the election of Bishops for the Diocese of the United Kingdom and Missionary Diocese of Australia and New Zealand has put the ACC back to where it was in the mid-1990s.

The ACC is often criticized by outsiders for its extensive Canon Law and procedures. However, it is difficult not to attribute some of the Church's present stability to the clarity of its Canon Law Code. It certainly avoids many minor disputes, and provides clear solutions to others. The meetings of both the full Synod and of the various houses of Synod were free from any sort of rancour, and I was impressed with the way in which even the budget - a controversial matter in any church organisation - was dealt with efficiently. Archbishop Haverland proved to be an excellent chairman - good humored and occasionally witty, who dealt with the usual procedural wrangles light-heartedly, and with grace. On the whole, I have to say that it was one of the most hopeful, and purposeful meetings of a Continuing Anglican Church that it has been my privilege to attend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Canterbury-Rome Bypass

Before starting on the meat of this article I would like to say that I have not had access to the full text of the Apostolic Constitution, and so my comments are based on the press coverage and synopses that have been published in the last forty-eight hours. I would also like to add that the views herein expressed are my own, and not UECNA policy.

October 21st's announcement of a new deal for Anglicans converting to Roman Catholicism was really no great surprise. It had been buzzed about for several months by the Vaticanistas that an official response to the approaches of Forward in Faith and the Traditional Anglican Communion was going to be forthcoming. I think most religious commentators had decided that the practical effect of the Roman response would amount to "Yeah - that and a subway token'll get you a ride down town!"

In spite of the hooplah, there is actually nothing here that is new. What is innovative is the way in which different provisions have been brought together to allow Anglo-Papalists to convert to Roman Catholicism and retain something of their liturgical inheritance within a quasi-diocesan structure.

The two major provisions that have been brought together are:

1. The "Pastoral Provision" promulgated in 1982 to allow groups of American Episcopalians - in this context former members of ECUSA, as it then was - to convert, and have their own liturgical use which retained elements of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the Psalter from the 1928 BCP. Over the last 27 years this has led to the formation of approximately ten parishes, and a similar number of missions. These are served by former Anglican priests reordained in the Roman Church, and use a version of the 1979 BCP in which the Episcopalian Eucharistic Prayers have been replaced by those from the Roman Missal. A couple of these Anglican Use Roman Catholic parishes have been very successful, but it is not path that many traditionalist Anglicans have felt called to follow.

2. The examples of the "Military Ordinariate" or "Apostolic Administration" have been used to create the model for a special Ordinariate for the Anglican Use of the Latin Rite. The two models both contribute something. Military Ordinariates are effectively non-geographical dioceses for RC military personnel and their families. They were created because the Military has its own demands and culture. A parish of former Anglicans will similarly have its own culture and ethos which is not easily accomodated within the mainly Hispanic and Irish Catholic culture in the USA, or the Irish and Polish Catholic culture of the UK and Australia. The other model would be the Apostolic Administration of Campos, which placed a diocese that refused to impliment the Novus Ordo reform of the liturgy directly under Rome giving it a protected status under Roman Catholic Canon Law. In a similar way, the special Ordinariate for the Anglican Use will give it a protected status within the wider Latin Rite.

In bringing these two provisions together Pope Benedict XVI has created a mechanism whereby the Anglican Use is, to some degree, independent of the local RC Episcopate. It will therefore be free of the wider diocesan and cultural policy considerations that have often caused RC bishops to close down or refuse to create Anglican Use parishes. This will be particularly useful in England and Australia, where the Pastoral Provision has not previous been available. If one may take refuge in stereotypes for a moment, one cannot imagine bishops raised in the Low Church Irish Catholic culture of English-speaking Roman Catholicism being sympathetic to the Anglicized culture of a bunch of ex-TAC High Churchmen.

Apart from the Traditional Anglican Communion, I suspect that the beefed-up and internationalized "Pastoral Provision" will attract only Anglo-Papalists. These are Anglicans who are essentially RC in doctrine already, but who, for various reasons, have not yet swum the Tiber. For Anglo-Papalists, accepting the new arrangement is a golden opportunity for them to normalize their position by going into a part of the Roman Catholic Church that allows a liturgy with far more familiar elements in it - such as Evensong - than the standard Roman Rite.

For those who are already married bishops in the TAC there is also an outside chance that after reordination as Roman Catholic priests, they might be accorded the title of Monsignor. This has already happened in the case of the former Anglican Bishop of London, Msgr. Graham Leonard, who converted in the mid-1990s. It is also not too fanciful to imagine that they might be given faculties to confer confirmation, as is already the case with some RC priests. It is also just conceiveable that they might receive "ordinary jurisdiction" over the parishes of their former dioceses. Of the package that goes with being a bishop, they have lost only a funny hat, some jewelry and the authority to ordain.

Practically speaking, I think it is far more likely that Rome might ordain as bishops two or three celibate former Anglican priests reordained under Pastoral provision. These bishop will then become the ordinaries for the beefed-up Anglican Use. For those who were married former Anglican bishops, the likeliest outcome is that they will be reordained as Roman Catholic priests and given some sort of "Papal Attaboy" for converting in the cause of Christian Unity. I certainly do not expect to see Rome ordaining a married man to the Episcopate as that would put the cat among the pigeons with the Orthodox, who are also being courted by Benedict XVI.

However, for most Continuing Anglicans the new Apostolic Constitution will be simply an interesting development that demonstrates that Rome has given up on the Lambeth Communion. Sorry, Rowen! What it effectively grants is the opportunity to convert to a culturally sympathetic part of the Roman Catholic Church, because organic unity between Canterbury and the Papacy is no longer perceived as being possible. As a result there is no attempt to address the doctrinal issues that separate Catholic Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the Apostolic Constitution. I think the realists amoung us will see that it would be unrealistic to expect Rome to make any obvious doctrinal concessions to a disunited Lambeth Communion. After all, Rome cannot err in matters of faith - or so they believe!

The Catholic Anglicans and High Churchmen who make up the bulk of the continuum, when they discuss what it means to be "catholic," echo Bishop Thomas Ken's words by defining what Anglicans believe as "the Catholic faith professed before the disunion of East and West, free from all Papal additions and Puritan subtractions."

For most traditional Anglicans those "Papal additions" are areas of deep doctrinal disagreement with Roman Catholicism. At the very least, the areas of disagreement include,

1. The Supremacy, Universal Jurisdiction and Infallibility of the Pope

2. The status and scope of the Marian doctrines

3. The doctrine of the Eucharist

4. Certain disciplinary issues such as compulsory confession and clerical celibacy

Those of us who were reared in the older school of High Churchmanship would add

5. The doctrines of Justification and Sanctification

6. The Supremacy and Sufficiency of Scripture

7. The status of the Deutero-Canonical Books
So far as we know, none of these issues has been addressed in the new Apostolic Constitution.

As I stated above, what the new Apostolic Constitution seems to be offering is the opportunity to convert to Roman Catholicism, but retain a Romanised version of the 1979 BCP, and have one's own Rome appointed Anglican Use bishop. Whilst I can sincerely wish those who want to go that route "bon voyage," I cannot and will not go with them, because, in the end I prefer the Christianity of the Bible, the (traditional) Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles of Religion to that of Rome. I firmly believe that our Anglican Reformation brought us closer to the faith of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church, and that to embrace the errors of modern Rome is to depart from the faith delivered once for all to the saints.

So basically - "Thanks, but no thanks! - Oh, and by the way - nice try! But you haven't even chosen the right Prayer Book!"

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Credibility Gap

The various Continuing Anglican Churches come in for a great deal of criticism, and even the most optimistic supporter of the movement has to admit that some of it is justified. At times there has been just a bit too much of the "ecclesiastical Brigadoon" about the whole enterprise for folks outside the Continuing Anglican Movement to take it seriously. I am not just talking about the propensity of some towards elaborate titles, "bells and smells; lace and tat" bit about a more serious deficiency - a credibility gap that results from the willingness of some to set aside Canon Law to gain temporary advantages.

It is a commonly acknowledged fact that no society can function effectively without laws which are respected and observed. In secular society law exists to protect the life, well-being, rights and property of the individual, and to create an atmosphere in which men and women can live together in peace. In the Church, Canon Law exist to protect the Church from heresy, the sacraments from irreverence, the priesthood from unworthy men, and so forth. One of the first things that the new Anglican Catholic Church did after the Denver consecrations was set about revising and clarifying Canon Law, and other bodies have been similarly keen to be seen as churches that not only have clergy and congregations, but a structure and Canon Law.

However, none of us who have been in the Continuum more than five minutes can pretend to be blind to the fact that nearly every jurisdiction has, at some point in its history, been subject to the whims of bishops. Such senior clergy have been prepared manipulated rather than administered Canon Law in unspiritual attempts to empire build within the Church. We all know that when law is manipulated rather than administered the respect for the law inevitably declines and the eventual result is either schism or anarchy or both. The commonest problems with regards to Canon Law in the Continuum are, not surprisingly, associated with the clergy; their selection, discipline and preferment. Every jurisdiction has clergy of dubious quality who found their way into the ranks because someone failed to follow the proper procedure or owed some a favour. Most jurisdictions can also point to incident where bishops have been created in dubious circumstance - usually to pay back a political favour, or to avoid the election of a man who might prove troublesome to various vested interests. In one jurisdiction I heard the "Military Ordinariate" of one jurisdiction described as "the open back door to the episcopate" because it was controlled by the House of Bishops and was used to make bishops of men who were felt to be "owed a mitre."

In all these cases, it is the laity who suffer. Unsuitable and incompetant clergy empty churches, and, in the worse case scenario, turn people away from Christ. Unsuitable bishops destroy dioceses and sow schism. If the Continuum wants to be taken seriously it needs to get away from ecclesiastical politics and "doing favours" and adhere strictly to its own Canon Law. The bottom line is that if bishops want to be trusted by their clergy, they should be humble enough to play by the rules; if the clergy wanted to trusted by the laity, they too should have the humility to obey Canon Law. I suspect that the overall effect would be to create an atmosphere of trust and regularity that would help to heal our divisions, and bridge the credibility gap that leads so many dispossessed Anglicans to dismiss the Continuum as a sort of ecclesiastical Brigadoon.

I hope that those of us in Continuum now have the maturity to realise that if a canon is bad, it can be changed. Yes, it takes a little time, but to "finesse" our way around it only gives force to the arguments of those who would dismiss the Continuum irrelevant and self-serving. Likewise I would hope that the era of back room deals is passed, and that we need to do business openly and according to our own Canons. The hard truth here for all Continuing Anglicans is that if we want to be taken serious we need to follow our own laws honestly.