On the conversion of Anglican bishops to Rome
The event is interesting, even extraordinary, but nowhere near as newsworthy as the mainstream media are making out.
And it is certainly no surprise.
It is noteworthy than whenever prominent Roman Catholics convert to the Church of England (or to any other denomination, for that matter), the media are either silent or they present it as an irrelevant and outdated bigotry; something quite unnecessary – if not offensive – in today’s enlightened era of ecumenicity. There is no triumphalism, principally because blowing one’s own trumpet is a very un-Anglican thing to do.
Yes, five Church of England bishops – either retiring or ‘flying’ – have announced their decision to cross the Tiber and convert to Roman Catholicism.
And this, according to the BBC and The Telegraph in particular, constitutes the ‘flood’, the 'earthquake', the ‘deluge’, the ‘tidal wave’ or whatever other apocalyptic migratory metaphor we were prophesied when Pope Benedict announced the the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus in Rome on 4th November 2009.
Historian David Starkey is of the opinion that the move was calculated by the Vatican to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession: “The Catholic Church has a profound historic awareness," he said. "What better moment to indicate that it believes the English Reformation, which was irrevocably set in motion during Henry's reign, can - and should - be reversed?"
His Grace took a similar view in the timing of the political decision to beatify Cardinal Newman.
Whatever the truth about this, the departure of these faithful and longsuffering bishops from the Church of England will be greeted with ecstasy by liberal Anglicans, while their reception into the Church of Rome will be viewed with dismay by liberal Catholics: the last thing Catholic modernisers want is an influx of Anglican traditionalists.
You can’t win.
And neither will these five men of God, whom His Grace wishes every sincere blessing as they continue their spiritual journey through life.
Their departure will undoubtedly impoverish the Established Church.
But the grass is always greener on the other side.
Yet it has ever been His Grace’s theological praxis that whenever this is found to be so, he should try watering his own.
It is true that there are some within the Church of England who take an orthodox or ‘biblical’ view on issues like homosexuality, abortion and women priests and bishops.
And there are others who take an alternative ‘biblical’ view on such matters, which is not quite so orthodox.
And the Word of God is stretched this way and that, such that it becomes a broadsheet of mutually-exclusive propositions and diametrically-opposing contentions.
But these bishops will soon find that things are no different in the Church of Rome: it is simply that they have a system of ecclesiastical authority which keeps the lid on dissent and is absolute in the resolution of disagreement; indeed, infallible, in its pronouncements.
The Anglican tradition is consensual and synodical: it is one of living in perpetual tension between conservative and liberal, between Catholic and Reformed, and between the here and the not yet. This provisionality negates absolute theocracy and notions of papal infallibility: it is why, in some senses, the proposed Anglican Covenant is distinctly un-Anglican.
But as His Grace is himself dismayed and distressed by certain recent events and occurrences within the Church he loves, he has a few questions to ask of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham; the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst; the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Keith Newton; and the two retired bishops, the Rt Rev Edwin Barnes and the Rt Rev David Silk:
You were all ordained priests and have ministered as bishops in the Catholic and Reformed tradition of the Church of England. Time and again you have given absolute assurance to the people of God about the validity and efficacy of the sacramental ministrations you have offered which were guaranteed by your historic succession from the Apostles, and the unbroken laying on of hands sustained through the Reformation period and continuing in the traditions of the Anglican episcopate to the present time.
You all are now required to be ‘re-ordained’ as Roman Catholic priests. Although you may exercise a degree of ecclesial authority as granted by the Pope, no man who is married may be a bishop on the Roman Catholic Church.
Were the many sacramental ministrations over which you presided – eucharistic celebration; the ordination of deacons and priests – nothing but theatre?
Do you now take the view that Anglican orders are ‘utterly null and absolutely void’?
Are those men whom you have ordained (one very recently) truly and assuredly ordained?
Has your ministry within the Church of England been based upon fictitious claims?
Are your oaths of allegiance as ephemeral as modern-day wedding vows?
Is such reasoning of such inconvenience that you will simply ignore these questions and now assert that the Church of Rome is the One True Church and the Church of England is not a church ‘in the proper sense’?
But as you depart, could His Grace ask that you please desist from such histrionics as referring to the Church of England as ‘fascist’ or engage in any other ludicrous hyperbole - and that includes demeaning comments like comparing the Church to ‘a coffee chain going out of business’.
Some of us remain, and coffee has a sound and secure future.