Here is a summary of Fr Hart's points.
- Divisions after the Affirmation of St Louis partly occurred due to Donatist-like desires for an artificial "purity" leading to self-separation by some bishops with their dioceses.
- It is wrong to separate, to start or maintain such a schism except for heresy and unrepentant sin.
- Even if one church wrongs another, the latter should forgive and re-unite as long as they have common faith and practice.
- Therefore, since the events at Deerfield Beach related neither to heresy or (provable) sin, they should be overlooked in the interests of reconciliation.
It seems fairly clear that this is primarily aimed at the ACC, since we are the ones who do not recognise the Anglican Church in America (within the Traditional Anglican Communion) as a sister church, nor the TAC as a canonically legitimate jurisdiction, due to the former's roots in Deerfield Beach and the latter's responsibility for the same. The problems with the above argument are best taken point by point.
Re: 1. Ironically, the statement here applies to all bodies deriving from St Louis except one, the ACC! Remember, the original still-united body at the first synod at Dallas had already, despite much contention, renamed itself the ACC and accepted the Constitution which remains the Constitution of the ACC, before any of the original 4 bishops had left or gone their own way. Bishops Morse and Watterson later withdrew with their dioceses (before diocesan ratification of inclusion in the ACC, it is true) because, among other things, they saw the proposed Canons as insufficiently Catholic because they did not give enough power to bishops. This left bishops Mote and Doren and soon some other bishops still in the ACC. Later, Bp Doren left because he thought the ACC "too" Catholic, though the Church he formed no longer says this. None of these people were excommunicated by the ACC, they just left. (This is not to claim that there were not misunderstandings or faults on each side, or that the ACC and its canons were perfect. By no means. But it does at least mean that we did not expel fellow Anglican Catholics in the name of some unrealistic purity.) Later still, one of the primary accusations against the ACC when they would not unite with Clavier's ecclesial body, the AEC, was that we were insufficiently comprehensive. Now, since there has always been a range of liturgical "churchmanship" in the ACC, the comprehensiveness that we were accused of lacking could only be related to the Faith, which was supposed to show we were not truly Anglican. (This is despite the fact that comprehensiveness in this sense was never an official, committed teaching of the Anglican Church, and has since been disavowed by at least some TAC bishops.) As a result, a number of bishops and others in the ACC decided to leave it and form another Church, purportedly more Anglican -- the ACA. And this brings us to the next point.
Re: 2. In every case, people left the ACC because they though it was "not good enough", to quote Fr Hart, and never because they claimed it was heretical or provably guilty of officially countenanced sin. None of these bodies have ever claimed that since, either. So, if it is always wrong to separate for reasons other than institutional sin or heresy, then every separation from the ACC was arguably illegitimate. The irony deepens. On the other hand, regarding the actions of the ACC bishops who left to form the new jurisdiction, it must be observed that these men had sworn oaths of allegiance to the Constitutions and Canons and jurisdiction of the ACC, oaths from which they were never released. Those oaths are manifestly inconsistent with leaving that jurisdiction as they did. Does not the Bible teach that such solemn oaths must be kept unless doing so would be intrinsically sinful, which nobody ever claimed simply staying in the ACC was? Is not this sin "proved by scripture", as Fr Hart puts it? Additionally, surely the fact that the ACC believes any sacramental communion with heterodox mainstream Anglican Churches is objectively sinful as against the TAC's acceptance of Forward in Faith's contrary position constitutes one substantial doctrinal difference, one that must be resolved before communio in sacris can be attained?
Now, I would like to note before I go on that I don't necessarily think that the two reasons given by Fr Hart for justified separation are absolutely exhaustive. For example, behaviour by a Church that was seriously uncanonical or manifestly opposed to traditional orderly practice, even if it was not provably sinful or heretical from scripture, could perhaps justify at least a temporary break in communion. Too, Fr Hart's categories do not include the possibility that non-communion with a body that was formally orthodox and morally well-intentioned would be not only permissible but mandatory if the said body did not have valid Orders, for example.
Furthermore, it is possible that those who left the ACC sincerely believed they had reasons such as the above or of like seriousness to justify separation, so I am NOT arguing that they must have sinned ("actually" or "subjectively") in leaving us. Indeed, I do not believe it is as simple as that. For example, a former Ordinary of mine told me himself that he believed Abp Morse had some quite fair and reasonable past criticisms of us.
Re: 3. Again there is a great irony here. Despite the fact we do not feel the early defections of the APCK and UECNA were really necessary, overlooking this for the sake of charity and common faith is precisely what the ACC has been doing for years! We have been willing to acknowledge there were faults on our side and we have maintained intercommunion. Indeed, we have consistently made clear in public statements that the APCK is a sister church even when no explicit and public reciprocal statement has been forthcoming. Now, it is true we do not have the same approach to the TAC, but that is because of the honest belief they are not equivalent to the APCK and UECNA for reasons including but not limited to those given above. Nevertheless, even here, where the differences are greater and the hurt more intense, we have made a genuine attempt to resume theological dialogue at an official level. And, as noted on this blog before, we have never received a TAC response at the same level, despite repeated assurances this would happen. How can we unite on common faith and practice if our interlocutor isn't interested in discussing these?
Re: 4. Fr Hart's dismissal of the moral and doctrinal significance of Deerfield Beach is, to say the least, not the only plausible position. Many in the ACC, and not just bishops, see the events there as so disordered that sacramental integrity was broken and TAC Orders are doubtful. As regular readers know, while I see Deerfield Beach as more problematic than Fr Hart does, I strongly argue that the TAC has certainly valid orders. Nevertheless, my opinion has not by any means become universal, and those who oppose it do not do so due to being malicious or ill-informed. Since there is not yet consensual acceptance in the ACC of TAC Orders, we could not immediately restore full communion as a body without acting dishonestly or sacrilegiously.
In conclusion, I must ask how it is that we are accused of behaving like Donatists when the most important divisions in the Continuum have been started by people leaving us? How is it that our attempts to maintain and restore communion in the past are ignored in this context? Is it really the case that we are condemned as Donatists unless we simply declare full communion with a particular church, the TAC, and set aside questions or clarifications on important doctrinal and sacramental matters? Does forgiveness of the disorderly past necessarily entail acting so precipitously that we invite more of the same in the future? Should not genuine reconciliation be founded on preventing past wrongs recurring, through mutual commitments and trust engendered by dialogue? Is our attempt, so far unreciprocated, to have such dialogue to be counted as nothing? I ask these questions not in an accusatory tone, but in sadness. I greatly respect Fr Hart, and nothing I have said above should be taken as personal criticism of him. Indeed, the very fact that I hold him and his Church (the one we feel closest to our own in many ways) in such high regard is what makes this conversation particularly painful. I should also note that I, like Fr Hart, pray for an eventual reconciliation and organic union of all Anglican Catholics with each other and with the rest of the Catholic Church built on mutual respect, forgiveness and charity.