Friday, February 05, 2010

Clear as mud

or The Mission Impossible Dream
Every time I am made aware of a new defense of the "Traditional Anglican Communion" (TAC) interpretation of Anglicanorum Coetibus, I become convinced that the TAC bishops have outdone Alice, who tried to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Now, Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, Peter J. Elliott, has written to aid the TAC bishops in their attempt to make the case. Bishop Elliot assures his readers: "The Pastor of the nations is reaching out to give you a special place within the Catholic Church. United in communion, but not absorbed – that sums up the unique and privileged status former Anglicans will enjoy in their Ordinariates" (Well, at least he says one thing right, "former Anglicans").

He goes on to say:
"Catholics in full communion with the Successor of St Peter, you will be gathered in distinctive communities that preserve elements of Anglican worship, spirituality and culture that are compatible with Catholic faith and morals. Each Ordinariate will be an autonomous structure, like a diocese, but something between a Personal Prelature (as in Opus Dei, purely spiritual jurisdiction), or a Military Ordinariate (for the Armed Forces). In some ways, the Ordinariate will even be similar to a Rite (the Eastern Catholic Churches). You will enjoy your own liturgical 'use' as Catholics of the Roman Rite. At the same time your Ordinaries, bishops or priests, will work alongside diocesan bishops of the Roman Rite and find their place within the Episcopal Conference in each nation or region."

This is the same thing we have been hearing all along. As usual, the promise is made without quoting the constutution itself, or its norms. Well, of course, that has to be the way they write, since quoting it will not help their case. Their whole message is based on believing impossible things (and I am sure the good bishop believes them).

The first impossible thing to believe is that the details set out in the constitution guarantee the things Bishop Elliot and others keep promising. Anglicanorum Coetibus seems to exist on different levels, one that is fantasy and one that is hard cold reality. The fantasy has been described in Bishop Elliot's optimistic words, and those of others such as Abp. Hepworth. The reality is the constitution itself. By reiterating many points of Canon Law that the constitution cannot and does not change, what actually emerges is nothing like "an autonomous structure, like a diocese, but something between a Personal Prelature (as in Opus Dei, purely spiritual jurisdiction), or a Military Ordinariate (for the Armed Forces)...similar to a Rite (the Eastern Catholic Churches)." Instead, what emerges is a rule that no bishop will be allowed to resist an extension of the Pastoral Provisions and "Anglican" Use. Inasmuch as that is what Rome has offered, we see no reason why the TAC, even with help from a Roman Catholic bishop, would continue the presumption of extending an offer beyond the one we all may read for ourselves.

The second impossible thing that requires much effort to believe, is that the constitution will guarantee the treasures of Anglicanism when, in fact, it identifies absolutely nothing of the sort. Instead, it reiterates Canon Law, specific parts of Roman Canon Law, that should make everyone see how very hard it will be to obtain anything they are hoping for. But, even if that were not the case, the promises are made of preserving supposed Anglican things, but the written guarantee of protection is not in the text of the constitution or norms.

To use an illustration, the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (also called the Bill of Rights) specified rights that the Federal Government would forever protect as coming from God, and as belonging to all people. The Americans in the various state legislatures were not asked simply to trust the good intentions of the Federalists; they had their rights guaranteed specifically (and even with that we have debates, over such things as the right to bear arms, that have gone all the way to the Supreme Court). But, Bp. Elliot's approach to Anglicanorum Coetibus can be summed up in one simple phrase: "Trust Rome." Gee, don't they always do the right thing?

The third impossible thing to believe is that Rome wants to protect any unique treasures of Anglicanism. Bishop Elliot himself says he was raised as an Anglican in a vicarage, and converted to Roman Catholicism. In one place he says, "Am I grateful for my Anglican heritage? Yes, I am. Where did I first learn the Catholic Faith? At home, in the vicarage." But, at the end he says, "Yet you do not come to the Ordinariates with empty hands. As I learnt forty two years ago, you will lose nothing – but you will regain an inheritance stolen from us four centuries ago." I ask which is it? Does he value his Anglican heritage, or does he see it as the criminal act of thieves who stole the Catholic faith from the people of England? Considering the muddle and confusion of these contradictory statements, it is reasonable to ask, with all due respect, if he even knows his own mind.

That's less than Alice's six impossible things to believe before breakfast, but if I keep thinking a few more may pop up.

In a commentary on this, by Mr. Campbell on the same blog, we see that those who are Enthusiastic about the Roman constitution do not value Anglicanism at all:

"I do hope we’ll lose a few things, actually. While valuing all that is good and true in the English Reformation, we must forever lose our sectarianism and anything and everything that does not accord with the Catholic Faith that comes to us from the Apostles. Above all, we must lose our pride — and finally submit to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in humility and with filial obedience to the Successor of St. Peter..."

This confused man seems to believe that we who are Anglican by conviction, and who regard our way as the better way to be a Christian, are simply sinful and proud. His statement shows that he misses the whole point of what the English Reformers, and later Anglican Divines, achieved. Were I to ask him just what it is that he values in Anglicanism, he might be unable to answer. In fact, when he called me on the phone for a conversation late last year (the only conversation we have ever had), I did ask him. His answers were only in the negative, and I recall them vividly: "Well," he told me, "I don't worship the Book of Common Prayer or the Thirty-Nine Articles." I do not worship them either, but I am still waiting for a positive answer, if he has one.

Other than Elizabethan language, some married clergy, maybe a few hymns or a few essays by C.S. Lewis, what do any of these Anglicanorum Coetibus Enthusiasts value in Anglicanism? I have said already what I value, and in several places. As Fr. Kirby has written very effectively, Rome has adjusted to many of these things over the years; but, don't expect them to admit that they learned anything from us.

In fact, when the Coeti bus arrives in Rome, all the power for everything will be in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church (the same people who brought you-well, you know). Your clergy will become laymen, some of whom might possibly be "ordained" "again" later, after a few years. This wonderful miraculous Ordinary who is sent to give you all your heart's desire will be appointed for you. Instead of "an autonomous structure, like a diocese, but something between a Personal Prelature (as in Opus Dei, purely spiritual jurisdiction), or a Military Ordinariate (for the Armed Forces)... in some ways...even similar to a Rite (the Eastern Catholic Churches)," you will be part of the local Roman Catholic diocese, with whomever they have already as a bishop, and no matter which team he plays for. But here is some good news: If you feel the Ordinary of the Ordinariate is not being fair, or not doing his job, you can write a letter of complaint that might even be read by somebody in Rome, if it gets that far.

The reality is that Roman Catholic Canon Law will apply to you. For example, some of you have been divorced and have remarried after receiving a Decree of Nullity from an Anglican bishop. Well, now you can wait for the local Roman Catholic bureaucracy to consider you for one of their annulments, and maybe it will be granted. In the meantime, you will be forbidden to receive Holy Communion. Oh, didn't they tell you that? How careless of them. Don't worry, it might take only a few months-or years; some of you may be able to afford the process, if you have the money it takes. Or, maybe you could just change your name to Kennedy, since that has been known to speed things up and get the desired result.

There is yet one more impossible thing to believe after all: It is impossible to believe that anyone who says, "we must lose our pride — and finally submit to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in humility and with filial obedience to the Successor of St. Peter," is in any sense of the word Anglican. It is not necessary that anyone be an Anglican, and certainly you can be a Christian without Anglicanism; but it seems like a basic requirement of simple honesty itself when one uses the name "The Anglo-Catholic" or "The Traditional Anglican Communion." Under the circumstances, it is impossible to believe we should take those names seriously.


Anonymous said...

Reverend and dear Father Hart,

My understanding is that this Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, +Peter J. Elliott was a former Anglican Priest before going to Rome. I read this on a RC Blog a few days ago I believe. The TAC Archbishop, was a former Priest of the Roman Communion, correct? If this is truth, then these two are purposely misleading people in regards to what is Anglicanorum Coetibus.

I can make that statement as a former Priest of the Latin Church; knowing her inner workings for over a period of twenty-five years as a Priest. I can attest that your “observations” to date are on the money, so-to-speak. I would speculate that like many who went to Rome under the “provisions” provided during the Pontificate of John Paul II, many will return to the traditional Anglican Communions after they get a real taste of what I call “Roman Justice.” As the old saying goes: “if it’s too good to be true, then buyers be aware.”

Anonymous said...

The AC does set up some interesting potential problems. Paragraph I section 3 of the AC says that an ordinariate is juridically comparable to a diocese. However, paragraph V of the AC states that the power of the ordinary is to be exercised jointly with that of the local diocesan bishop. This seems to give the local diocesan considerable influence on at least certain aspects of governance in the ordinariate. Several such apparent contradictions exist in both the AC and the norms. Article 7 section 2 of the norms instructs the ordinary to enter into discussions with the conference of bishops regarding funding for the ordinariate. If the episcopal conferences hold the purse strings they may well have considerable influence when the ordinary and the diocesan come into conflict. Recently, Benedict told his English bishops to be "generous" in applying the AC. If the local bishops have no control over the ordinariates why would they need to be generous?

-Mark Newsome

Anonymous said...

Recently I read Archbishop Hepworth’s pastoral letter of 27 January 2010 on the subject of the Apostolic Constitution. As always, whenever I have heard the Primate speak or have read something he has written, I find myself impressed and convinced by his words. But then I go away and think about them…..

I was particularly struck by his use of the word “certainty” which he states that we will have if his clergy are ordained “ab initio”, as the Constitution requires, and his statement that they will be able to stand at the tombs of the Holy Apostles assured that their orders are as valid as those of the men beside them. There seems to be an agenda hidden in the Primate’s words. He doesn’t actually say it. He hints at it, and leaves it for us to find it and hopefully agree. He seems to imply there is still a lingering doubt, a trace of invalidity which needs righting.

Like many others, I believed the Continuing Church was the answer for an Anglican troubled by women’s ordination and related liberal issues. I believed Anglicanism had valid orders and the Continuing Church intended to continue them because they were in the process of being lost in our former home. The Affirmation of St. Louis was a solid document which gave voice to the authentic teaching of the Church and I considered it a sound foundation on which we could build.

So, I was happy. Then came Deerfield Beach. Archbishop Falk, Bishop Mercer and others who are now negotiating with Rome told us that a conditional ordination needed to be bestowed on everybody participating in the union with the AEC so that we, and others, could have “certainty”.

Archbishop Hepworth was not involved in this. He did not join the TAC until a little later, but he has defended the actions taken there. Thus far, nobody has ever told me why conditional ordinations were required in the USA and India, but not in Australia, Canada, Guatemala or other parts of the church, yet all the orders in those places have a common origin with those in the USA and India. Surely then, they all needed a common cure.

Then the Primate tells us that an infusion of orders from the Polish National Catholic Church would give certainty to certain certainty. I thought Anglican Orders were already certainly certain even before Deerfield Beach. Am I missing something?
Although the Affirmation seeks unity with all Christians who hold the Apostolic Faith, it also starts from the viewpoint that there is certainty about Anglican Orders. Do we then sacrifice one part of the Affirmation to achieve another? Is not agreement in truth essential for real unity?

We have not achieved that agreement with Rome on one of the 4 basic matters Anglicans hold that there should be unanimity on – the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Sacraments and the Apostolic Ministry. The leaders of the TAC, I hope, believe that we have – and always have had – valid orders, although the Archbishop once again seems to hint that we have not. Rome, holding to Apostolic Curae, does not.

Now, Archbishop Hepworth, Archbishop Falk, Bishop Mercer et al are telling us we can have certainty for certain, certain certainty if our clergy are ordained yet again, and not conditionally at that.

Am I the only one confused about all this? I am sending this question to the two blog sites that refer regularly to each other in this ongoing debate in the hope that one or the other might give me an honest answer. Does the TAC believe totally and unequivocally in the validity of Anglican Orders and that, therefore, ordination “ab initio” is wrong? If not, have they been fooling us all these years?

I certainly want certain, certain certainty about this.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


Anglican Orders are and always have been valid. Validity cannot exist in degrees; it is strictly either or, never more or less.

Among the many times we have taken this matter up, you will find this essay most relevant.

Jackie said...

Pardon this question from the laity.......if Abp. Hepworth is encouraging all the clergy to be ordained in initio, isn't he saying HIS orders are not valid????????? So, why should anyone listen to him? If his orders are not valid, he has no more authority than I.

T said...


You said "Pardon this question from the laity.......if Abp. Hepworth is encouraging all the clergy to be ordained in initio, isn't he saying HIS orders are not valid????????? So, why should anyone listen to him? If his orders are not valid, he has no more authority than I.

In my opinion even someone with valid orders has no more authority before God than a layman. They merely have a different job, and that job has authority within its boundaries. Someone like Hepworth has no authority that has not been given to him ultimately from God with the consent and call of the laity, so in effect, you have the authority to give a man authority to publically preach and administer the sacraments. You also have the authority, under God, to cease to assent to him, or any bishop that teaches doctrines contrary to the Word of God (Rom 16:17, Titus 3:10)

So, in other words, whether one regards anyone's orders as "valid" or not, there is no real authority without assent under the Word of God. That's the real authority.


Anonymous said...

Dear Father Hart,

Thank you for your comments.

Curiously, I appear to have been deleted from the AngloCatholic Website for posting comments identical to those to which you responded. I was most interested in the article to which you referred me and found it helpful.

Am I wrong in supposing that Archbishop hepworth appears to be calling Anglican Orders into question all the way through his letter?

Perhaps I have misread him but it does not seem so to me.

In answer to Jackie, I must state that the TAC's primate received the orders of deacon and priest while he was in communion with the Pope. He received the order of bishop in the TAC. Therefore, I would guess he would be only questioning that aspect in his case.

As he would unable to function as a bishop in the Ordinariate, I suppose that doesn't matter.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Curiously, I appear to have been deleted from the AngloCatholic Website for posting comments identical to those to which you responded.

Opposite churchmanship from Stand Firm, but just as cowardly. They can't live with dissent because they have no defense for their unmitigated hogwash. Here, you may agree or disagree, but you won't be banned.