Thursday, June 28, 2007

The ACC and "Donatism"

As an ecumenically motivated priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, there is much of what Fr Hart has expressed in his "Donatism and Old Beef" with which I am sympathetic, at least in terms of general principles. I am all for forgiveness and unity between all faithful Anglican Catholics. However, when it came to the specific attempts to apply these principles to Continuing Churches, it seemed the main example Fr Hart gave amounted to an implicit criticism of one Continuing jurisdiction, my own. Apart from the unlikelihood that such a focus will help reconciliation, there is a more important problem with the argument presented. Its fundamental premises actually work in almost the opposite direction if all the actual facts are taken into account.

Here is a summary of Fr Hart's points.

  1. 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.
  2. It is wrong to separate, to start or maintain such a schism except for heresy and unrepentant sin.
  3. Even if one church wrongs another, the latter should forgive and re-unite as long as they have common faith and practice.
  4. 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.


ACC Member said...

Well said, Father Kirby. I don't think it possible to say this any more clearly and kindly than you have done.

It is quite significant that the ACC has always claimed APCK and UECNA as sister churches. Due to the answer of many prayers, the ACC and the UECNA are now in communio in sacris. We also pray for the day that the APCK can join in this communion.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I was not saying that any wrongs, real or perceived, should simply be overlooked. Neither would I ever try to defend what happened at Deerfield Beach. I assume that it was quite probably wrong, and that simply because of the fact that it involved Tony Clavier.

But, it is too late to turn the clock back. The TAC, with the American branch (ACA) are facts on the ground, established, strong and completely orthodox. And so I was making the case for forgiveness and reconcilation. Fr. Kirby has told us that the ACC has made attempts to acheive reconciliation. I am not aware of these attempts, which is not to say that I am disputing what he has said. It would be helpful to know some more about the details, for I confess ignorance in this matter.

However, many clergy of the APCK are witnesses to very opposite behavior that ocurred at Fond du Lac a few years ago; and many people have seen evidence of desired reconcilation coming from the ACA, almost always rejected at local levels.

Nonetheless, the allusion to Donatism ought to suggest that a genuine case may be made that one party was actually wrong, and that the issue now is about forgiveness. IF what happened at Deerfield Beach was wrong, but an opportunity exists for reconcilation, I hope that opportunity will be taken.

Some memebers of the ACC have stated that it can be objectively proven that the Deerfield Beach Consecrations were sinful. Well, the problem is, the ACA may never be able to agree; and this disagreement would be an honest difference of opinion, not heresy. What then? Does schism remain just as long as that between Rome and Constantinople? Will schism be cherished and nurtured, and passed on as if it were essential to sound faith? Let's see attempts at reconciliation, by all means.

poetreader said...

I'm not going to get into trying to decide precisely what happened historically and what did not. Fr. Kirby ably presents the ACC view of the division afer Deerfield Beach. The ACA view is quite different, regarding the formation of what is called ACC-Original Province as a refusal to accept the legitimate decisions of the whole ACC, and therefore a voluntary withdrawal and a new start. I refuse to have an opinion on this matter.

What I see is a currently sinful refusal to be truly serious about the unity Our Lord prayed for. I've had contact and gracious treatment from many in the ACC, notably from three clergy, one of whom simply doesn't accept the reasons given for separation, and one of whom (Fr. Kirby)can gently reason in directions I don't accept, but in Christian love, which I can honor. However, I've also been treated very shabbily indeed by those in the ACC and have sensed attitudes I would find very uncomfortable. All branches of the Continuum (oncluding 'my' ACA and ACC) have shown confused, divisive, and ungracious attitudes and ways of operating. That must cease.

Brethren, we have a glorious heritage. If there are indeed things that separate us, we are under divine obligation to get them taken care of - yesterday if not sooner. Otherwise, we do stand under judgment, and I fear we wouldn't like the verdict.


Anonymous said...

I shall begin by apologising for what I now consider to be a rather intemperate posting in the combox to Fr Hart's original article on this matter. I'm with Ed (all the way to the polite embarrassment at the ACA's membership of FACA (which, I think, isn't pronounced the way I keep hearing it in my head)). I am also with Fr Hart, although I respectfully begin to query the appropriateness of the word 'donatism' in this context.

I say that because, about 22 years ago, I walked out of Mass at the offertory for the first and (please God) only time after a young priest who probably couldn't be expected to know any better had just preached to the effect that it was donatist of the Orthodox not to allow married men to become bishops, and of the Roman Catholics not to allow married men to become priests, and of anyone who thought that one couldn't be a priest if one were a (shock, horror) woman. Since I had always understood that donatism taught that sacraments were invalidated by sin, I wondered when marriage, or being a woman, was declared a sin.

The accusation of donatism is also implicit in the blog of the Bishop of Ballarat (Anglican Church of Australia): Now, the good bishop is opposed to the consecration of women as bishops, won't have women ordained as priests in his diocese because he thinks it would be divisive, and it is not consistent with tradition, although he expects that tradition will one day catch up with the idea. He also rails against the TAC and the wing of Forward in Faith that chooses to enjoy relations of intercommunion with the TAC. In the context of this summary (in which to the best of my knowledge and belief I have not misrepresented his Lordship, although I apologise in advance if I do), I offer the following quotation from his blog of 24 May 2007:

"The communion that we share in the Eucharist is a communion that comes from Christ and exists in Christ and not in the Bishop. That is why the Church fought long and hard in its early centuries to resist any temptation to believe that the sins of the priest (or Bishop) could effect the power and effect of the sacrament. The Mass is still the Mass, even if I sin. And, to the shock and horror of some of the Church’s fringe dwellers, a sacrament administered by a bishop who has ordained a woman to priestly ministry is still a valid sacrament. The whole idea of a sin (if ordaining a woman can be called a sin) effecting the sacrament could only be dreamed up by the uninformed fringe of the Church."

Now, that looks to me like an accusation of donatism levelled against the 'fringe dwellers' of the TAC and FiF.

Orthodox catholic Anglicans are few in Australia, and even fewer are orthodox catholic Anglicans who value authentically Anglican liturgy (characterised by BCP-ese 16th-century English, which I regard as an essential item in the patrimony of anglophone Anglicanism).

And to the fact that we are few we have to add attacks not so much from the liberals (on whom we have long since given up) but from people who should be our friends, such as his Lordship of Ballarat on one side, and on the other those would would say they won't have to do with the TAC until it jettisons FiF.

I think it's not as simple as some would like to make it. For myself, I stayed where I was and fought when the ACC set up in Australia. A few years later, we lost. From then on, until very recently, I was beaten and broken and went through the motions in a state of inertia. Then, one blessed day the TAC and FiF entered into a concordat, and on another blessed day we saw the fruits of it in the consecration of Bishops Chislett and Moyer. There were many in FiF who disapproved. I haven't met anyone in the TAC who disapproved, but I know such people exist elsewhere in the Continuum. It's opened the door for me, and the door remains open for many who come, like me, gradually to a realisation of the irrelevance of Canterbury to their spiritual lives.

But there are some who claim the moral high ground more stridently than others, and not always in the most charitable of tones. Is there not a danger that the Anglican validity cringe will result in people being over scrupulous about acts or attitudes which could be regarded as permanently vitiating intention? If sacraments are easily invalidated, what does that say for any of us? We're Anglican, remember, and being Anglican, we come from a lineage about which it can't be said that it 'doesn't do low church', although we might choose to believe that it was only in recent decades that it plunged headlong into thoroughgoing heresy. It's always been the Anglican way to have to play nicely with people whose doctrines and practices might have been regarded as a bit of an embarrassment, although we have now come past the point where there are communion-breaking excesses of heresy and sacramental irregularity. Nevertheless, it won't help any Anglican to get fussier about validity than was Leo XIII. And the attitude of 'I won't be your friend any more because I saw you talking with her in the playground' should be relegated to primary school, where it belongs until successfully purged out. The trade-off for that, of course, will be the rest of us refraining from accusations of donatism, no matter how worded.

All of which is to say, please, gentlemen, let charity prevail (as most of you do), and spare a thought for those who are still waking out of the nightmare of the collapse of Anglicanism and staggering towards the best shelter they can find.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Fr Hart,

The ACC has sent a paper to the TAC discussing the past and apparent present theological differences with them and suggesting "necessary and legitimate steps on the path to reconciliation". This paper requested, among other things, a response that would include certain not-overly-specific apologies and clarifications or explanations of their position on certain important contemporary issues. The paper, made public (some time ago) for the first time on this 'blog, did not purport to present an end-point but a starting point for restoring communion.

As for the desire for reconciliation by the ACA, I freely admit it has been real and expressed at the highest levels. However, in each case no reference has been made whatever to the questions and suggestions put by us in the paper we sent.

Similarly, at the Fond du Lac pilgrimage, meetings were held between bishops of both churches in which we were effectively told to just "overlook" Deerfield Beach. So, while the TAC wants reconciliation, they have not yet shown themselves willing to discuss the serious issues. I reiterate the point I made before: even with all the forgiveness in the world, we need to know that past errors are acknowledged so that they will not be blithely repeated. And we also need to be sure that we really do believe the same things about, for example, sacramental communion and its limits. Otherwise we are just laying weak foundations and asking for more trouble in the future.

It is only fair to note that the refusal of our bishops to communicate "at the same altar" as ACA bishops at Fod du Lac, lest it be wrongly perceived as an official admission that the ACA and ACC were in full communion, was one with which I personally disagreed. I conversed via email with our present Archbishop on the matter, who explained his brother bishops' position to me. (He was not there.) While I understood their concerns about misinterpretations of public actions, I remain unconvinced the action was necessary. But, in the end, that was not my call to make.


You make the statement that the "ACA view is quite different, regarding the formation of what is called ACC-Original Province as a refusal to accept the legitimate decisions of the whole ACC". I cannot believe that even the ACA would put it that way, as the ACC (OP) simply is the jurisdiction in canonical continuity with that begun in 1978. No new church was formed in 1991, except the ACA, as TAC's own apologetics state. I have never heard anyone claim the original, American province of the ACC began in 1991, as the claim is manifestly preposterous. What the ACA could perhaps say is that the ACC refused to follow the desire of the majority of the TAC and accept the validity of orders in Clavier's church. There can be no question of "legitimate decisions" since the TAC as a whole never made an official or binding decision on the matter before the events of Deerfield Beach. Indeed, there was neither a canonical means nor any attempt to impose such a view on the ACC. Instead, the ACC-Canada, a separate church within the TAC, devised a way to "go around" the decision of the ACC on the matter. The ACC's decision was to reject the certain validity of AEC orders, and it was, contrary to your statement, the majority view of the College of Bishops of the ACC. Otherwise Abp Falk and others would not have felt the need to escape that decision by forming a new church!

My understanding of the reasoning behind this decision was that there was a claim the ACC had not obeyed the Affirmation of St Louis, which calls for continued attempts to establish intercommunion with all Apostolic and Catholic churches. Although I think this claim begs the question of the status of the AEC, I can understand and sympathise with those who make it and their belief that they were allowing the law of charity to trump canon law, so to speak. I still think they were objectively very wrong in their decisions and actions, but I agree there are two sides to every story and that we need not assume bad motives on either side. I wrote as much in the paper sent to the TAC!

However, all that aside, it does grieve me that there are some in the ACC who treat anybody from the ACA as if they have leprosy. This is sinful, ungentlemanly and childish. It makes me angry.

Dear Lord, may we all grow into unity in love and truth, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

To clarify a silly ambiguity in the first sentence of my third last paragraph above: "this decision" there refers to the decision by Abp Falk et al. to start a new church, the ACA. It does not refer to the ACC decision to reject the validity of AEC Orders discussed in the previous paragraph.

Sorry for any confusion.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


Thank you for your very thoughtful contribution. I would just like to make clear that our problem with FiF is not who its "friends" or associates are. The problem is that FiF says that orders conveyed by bishops who have ordained women are "presumed valid". We honestly believe that that judgement cannot be maintained if it means relying on the sacraments from those so ordained. Why? Because it is universally accepted in Catholic theology that if there are legitimate or plausible doubts about validity of certain sacraments, it is wrong to rely on them. Since there are such doubts, we believe FiF puts its people in an invidious situation when it tells them that sacraments may be trusted in when they can not. Fundamentally, they are not being consistent with their Catholic beliefs.

On the other hand, the ACC has recently decided that all orders are doubtful in the Anglican Communion dating from after the 1992 decision to ordain priestesses by the C of E, even when those doing the ordaining are personally orthodox or belong to jurisdictions that have not ordained women. The reasoning is that the very fact of remaining in the Anglican Communion, which is defined by communion with Canterbury, signifies official acceptance of the innovation and so is equivalent to embracing the heresy. I personally disagree with this position, not least because I think that the premise "remaining in the A.C. means full communion with Canterbury and acceptance of its errors and priestesses" is simply false. The fact of "impaired communion" has been acknowledged on all sides and must mean something less than full communion, including the non-recognition of female clergy. Too, I don't believe that even profligate intercommunion out of fear of rocking the boat can possibly undermine an orthodox intention when ordaining. But that is just my opinion.

And I do believe that orthodox bishops in the A.C. have often (mostly?) failed to have the courage of their convictions and follow them through to their logical conclusion. And that conclusion is to publicly, explicitly and definitively declare that they are simply not in sacramental communion with heterodox provinces and act on this. Similarly, since wherever the province has officially decided to embrace heresy all connection with it undermines witness, personally orthodox clergy and laity are, it seems to me, obliged to sever all relations with the institution. It is a Catholic principle that we must leave churches we know to be heretical. I know this sounds very "black and white" and insensitive, and I apologise for any offence caused. But I struggle to see how remaining in the A.C., even if the membership is nominal, is permissible on Catholic principles. But I am willing to hear counter-arguments.

poetreader said...


While it would be wrong to reordain de novo those from jurisidictions that have redifined priesthood and episcopacy as ro include women, or even thoise who themselves have ordained women, serious questions do arise. While I feel it to be sin to attempt such ordinations, it remains true that sin, as such, does not invalidate sacraments.

However, questions can legitimately be raised as to whether, under such circumstances,this redefinition of priesthood militates against the intention to do as the Church has done. Is it the same office or is it not? While I would intellectually want to presume such rites to be valid even so, I can't rely upon them. If I'm wrong the consequences are too great.

Therefore, I think the practice of conditional reordination for clergy from the Canterbury Communion (and, for slightly different reasons, those from the REC) to be a wise one, and I would charge such clergy, in the name of Christian charity, to put up with such a rite, even if they believe it to be unnecessary, for the sake of unsure brethren. St. Paul's advice regarding meat offered to idols contains a principle that should be heeded.


Anonymous said...

Fr Kirby, my experience of what became the ACC(OP) in Australia prior to you seemed to consist of strident statements in favour of the propositions which you, in your kind reply to me, reject.

I was referring in my earlier post, not to ACC's rejection of FiF, but to ACC's rejection of the TAC because it does not shut the door on FiF. As to FiF's presumption of validity, this has to be read with the remarks as to what is preferable, and that is for priests to be ordained by a bishop who hasn't purported to ordain women to the priesthood. It also has to be looked at in practice, and the practice of FiF would appear to be that to the best of my knowledge and belief there are no priests in it who were ordained by heterodox bishops after 1992--such young men would never have got through the selection process. I'm a bit more worried about the Churrch of England, where, to my observation, ordinations appear to be carried out by heterodox diocesans, priorr to the candidate being licensed by a PEV if he so desires. The FiF constitutional documents clearly recommend not joining in in concelebrations, Chrism Masses, etc involving priestesses, and getting a licence from an orthodox bishop. That the validity and orthodoxy of sacramental acts of a priest relies on an administrative act like obtaining a licence is a bit of a concern, but I don't like to dwell on it.

And then we come to the TAC, whose bishops from what I understand are free, concordat or no, to examine the pedigree and the person of any deacon or priest who comes to them for a licence and decide whether to offer him a licence or to join in other sacramental acts with him.