Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ordinariate Watch: Targeting the Most Vulnerable

By Robin G. Jordan

The content of a number of Catholic articles since the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Complimentary Norms for the Apostolic Constitution raises again the question that was raised when the proposal of an Apostolic Constitution for Anglo-Catholics was first announced: Was Pope Benedict exploiting the troubles of the Anglican Church with his proposal? One hears numerous voices urging Anglo-Catholics and other Anglicans to desert the Anglican Church and become Roman Catholics. The Pope and the Roman Catholic Church are portrayed as the defender of traditional values. The Anglican Church is described as infected with liberalism and bereft of leadership. The Roman Catholic Church’s propaganda machine appears to have gone into full gear.

Whom are they seeking to proselytize? At least four groups can be identified as natural targets for proselytization. The first group is composed of the modern-day adherents of what is called the “Romeward movement” in A Protestant Dictionary, compiled for members of the Church of England and published in 1904. The Romeward movement began with the nineteenth century Oxford Tractarians. Its aim was to Romanize the Church of England to the point that the Pope would accept the English Church back in the Roman fold. This group includes a group of clergy who are known as the “Anglo-Papists.” This group of clergy is sympathetic to Roman Catholicism but chose to remain in the Church of England and other Anglican provinces for the purpose of converting their flocks to Roman Catholicism so that when they crossed the Tiber, their congregations would follow them. The Romeward movement’s modern-day adherents practice auricular confession, benediction and other forms of eucharistic adoration, novenas, and other Roman innovations. They pray to the Virgin Mary and the other saints and wear medallions and scapulas. They believe in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass and sacrifices of Masses, and transubstantiation. They decorate their churches with statues, holy water fonts, crucifixes, and banks of votive candles. They may call themselves “Anglicans” or “Anglo-Catholics” but in reality they are Roman Catholics in all but name. They need little or no proselytizing as their clergy has already converted them to Roman Catholicism. This group is largely found in Australia and the United Kingdom but it is also represented in Canada and the United States.

The second group consists of what are sometimes described as “traditionalists.” They prefer a traditional liturgy like the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and a ritualistic High Church style of worship with candles; processions; vestments; organ music; bowing; kneeling; making the sign of the cross, turning to the east, and other ceremonial. They might be described as “Prayer Book Catholics.” They are confused and alarmed over developments within the Anglican Church, particularly the adoption of new liturgies and the ordination of homosexuals and women. They are not particularly drawn to the Roman Catholic Church and would likely not be happy in that church. But if their clergy defect to the Roman Catholic Church, they have little choice but join them. They have few if any viable alternatives.

The third group is composed of former evangelicals and Pentecostals who are attracted to ancient forms of worship, ritualism, sacramentalism, and sacerdotalism. They have a romantic, uncritical view of the past that has led them to adopt the doctrines and practices of the early and Medieval Church not consonant with Scripture. Their sojourn in the Anglican Church is one leg of a journey that is likely to take them into Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism.

The fourth group consists social conservatives upset with the liberal drift of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. The attraction of the Roman Catholic Church is its perceived conservatism. This group is not particularly Catholic in doctrine but has become accustomed to the sacramentalism that has come to characterize the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church since the introduction of the new liturgies, and has acquired a localized, realist view of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

The denomination that these groups are being urged to join is beset by problems of its own. Shifting demographics have played havoc with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. It has seen a decline in vocations and a drop in revenues. It has also seen an increase in the number of lapsed Roman Catholics and conversions of Roman Catholics to other faiths. In some part of the United States churches and parochial schools have been consolidated or closed. Religious communities have been dissolved. The Roman Catholic Church has also been torn by scandal related to the failure of the US hierarchy to protect Roman Catholic children from sexually predatory Roman Catholic priests. Episcopalians who joined the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the Gene Robinson consecration found their local Roman Catholic parish more liberal than the Episcopal parish that they left.

The Roman Catholic Church has not changed greatly since the time of the Protestant Reformation. The problems that existed at that time and which prompted the Reformation have not been remedied. While claiming to be the only true apostolic church, the Roman Catholic Church long ago abandoned the teaching of the apostles. Since the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church has introduced new innovations to further overlay and deface the primitive faith—the doctrine of papal infallibility, for example. There is a growing movement in the Roman Catholic Church to make the Virgin Mary co-redemptrix with Christ.

The Roman Catholic Church is a much more hierarchical church than the Anglican Church. In the Anglican Church the laity share in the governance of the church at all levels but not in the Roman Catholic Church. The laity at most has a fairly limited consultative role. Laypersons and even clergy seeking redress for grievances are faced with a massive bureaucracy dedicated to protecting the church and promoting its interests.

Those who accept the papal offer further weaken the position of Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Church who do not seek admission to the Roman Catholic Church. They strengthen the position of the liberals. Their conversion to Roman Catholicism may also alienate family and friends. They also have no guarantee that when they join the Roman Catholic Church as a congregation, they will continue to maintain their existence as a congregation. Clergy have no guarantee that they will be reordained. For married clergy with families the allowances of priests in the Roman Catholic Church are much lower than the stipends of priests in the Anglican Church. The Roman Catholic clergy deployment system favors celibate priests. They receive the choice assignments. Married priests are assigned to less desirable positions.

The Roman Catholic Church has a seamy underside. The revelations of the past ten years have exposed only the tip of the iceberg. In the 1960s it was well known that a number of the young men attending a local Roman Catholic seminary in the area where I lived were gay. In the 1970s local Roman Catholic priests were marrying gay couples. Members of a supposed “Institute of the Consecrated Life” were entertaining young gay men in the parlor of their residence. I knew a young women whose parish priest told her that fornication was not a sin if she loved the man and the man loved her. There was a very lax attitude toward “sins of the flesh” in certain quarters of the Roman Catholic Church. To this author these revelations were no surprise. Those who have been reading Bishop John Jewel’s Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae will note that this attitude has a long history in the Roman Catholic Church.

The voices urging Anglo-Catholics and other Anglicans to defect to Rome have their own motives for promoting the Roman Catholic Church. The conversion of a substantial number of Anglo-Catholics and other Anglicans represents in their mind not only an affirmation of the Roman Catholic Church and its beliefs and practices but also a major trophy. At least one of them sees the personal parishes that are erected under the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution as a useful means of further proselytizing Anglicans. The presence of a large enclave of former Anglicans in the Roman Catholic Church also provides Roman Catholic detractors of the Anglican Church with more ammunition. Those who think that their motives are altruistic should think again.

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