Yesterday, Archbishop John Hepworth, Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, published an admonitory “open letter” to the Bishops of the Anglican Church in America who are currently meeting in Belleville, Illinois, some of whom have recently expressed reservations about the proposed Roman Catholic “Ordinariates” for former Anglicans. The text of Abp. Hepworth’s letter is given below, interspersed with some personal observations by an observer who is a member neither of the ACA, the TAC, nor of the Anglican Continuum editorial board.
Traditional Anglican Communion
Office of the Primate – Archbishop John Hepworth
28th September 2010
cc: Archbishop Falk, Lay Canon Woodman, TAC COB.
I write in reference to the letters that you have published recently concerning the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and its implications. I am also conscious of the various statements that you have published on Diocesan Websites and elsewhere on the same matter.
Since you have published your comments prior to any discussion in College, I am making my response also public.
I have discussed with Archbishop Falk the possibility of action being taken concerning your published statements on unity and your actions in seeking what one of you has described as a “merger” with another Continuing Church in the United States, the Anglican Province of America. I am aware that Bishop Grundorf has publically rejected the Apostolic Constitution, as has Archbishop Haverland.
The power to intervene in disciplinary matters concerning members of the College of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion is enunciated in section 6.3 of the Concordat, which each of us is sworn to uphold in the Consecration Oath made by bishops-elect. It specifically enables the College to deal with “any credible allegation of dereliction of consecration vows in the life or teaching of one of its members”.
This could be read as a threat of disciplinary action as a way of interfering with the ACA’s internal deliberations. Archbishop Hepworth is certainly aware that bishops and dioceses unhappy with their Primates can and sometimes do vote with their feet, as happened when the ACA’s own Diocese of the Eastern United States converted itself into the independent Anglican Province in America. As a retired Army officer once put it to me, “If you’re going to lead a parade, you’d better look over your shoulder every so often to make sure the troops haven’t turned off at the last intersection.”
So one might expect the reaction of the loyal ACA Bishops to be something along the lines of regret that Abp. Hepworth has prematurely and unnecessarily referred to the institution of disciplinary actions and that they will not permit such unhelpful references to alter their plans to shepherd their flocks as the Holy Spirit gives them light to guide them. What would be helpful would be for all concerned to refrain from bellicose statements while the people of the ACA peacefully and rationally to make up their own minds about their ecclesial futures without anyone’s attempting to preëmpt their discernment and decisions.
When William Cardinal Levada wrote to each of us last December stating that the Apostolic Constitution was “the definitive response of the Holy See … to your original request”. The Cardinal went on to note “I am only too aware of the delicate process of discernment that will no doubt be embarked upon by many of our Anglican brothers and sisters, and no less of the many practical issues that will need to be faced”.
A “process of discernment”, if it be a legitimate one, necessarily implies that such discernment may ultimately lead to a negative conclusion on the matter at issue rather than a positive one. To imply that true “discernment” can have only one predetermined outcome, as Abp. Hepworth seems to do, is to place such “discernment” into the same category as the Lambeth Communion’s bogus “process of reception” of women’s “ordination”. That is, in plain English, “We’ll agree to give you time to think it over but only if you’ll agree to decide as we have told you to decide.”
The College of Bishops has been committed to seeking unity with the Holy See since the inception of the Traditional Anglican Communion. I accompanied my predecessor, Archbishop Falk, in conversations in the Vatican a short time after the TAC was promulgated. I have been at every meeting of the College, and at every meeting the policy of seeking full, corporate reunion with the Catholic Church has been reinforced. Details of these decisions have been regularly highlighted in the publications of the TAC. I say this because you are the three most recently consecrated bishops of the TAC.
At the Portsmouth meeting of the College in 2007, this policy took a more concrete form in two ways. A formal petition seeking unity in clear terms was unanimously approved, and after several days in which concerns could be raised (but none were) was signed by each bishop on the altar in the midst of the Holy Sacrifice and committed to me and two of our fellow bishops for conveyance to Rome. Secondly, exercising the powers noted in the Concordat that ”the final authority to determine questions of Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order (which authority resides by virtue of the nature of the episcopal office in the College of Bishops)…” the College with equal unanimity stated that “We accept that the most complete and authentic expression and application of the catholic faith in this moment of time is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium, which we have signed together with this Letter as attesting to the faith we aspire to teach and hold.” These two matters are binding on members of the College.
The Petition of the TAC also makes a very clear statement about the nature of the Church, which each of you have contradicted in your public statements this year: “We accept that the Church founded by Jesus Christ subsists most perfectly in the churches in communion with the See of Peter, to whom (after the repeated protestation of his love for Jesus) and to whose successors, our Divine Master gave the duty of feeding the lambs and the sheep of his flock.”
Reports, both at the time of the Portsmouth meeting and since, have suggested the decisions there were reached based upon the express assurances of the TAC’s Primate that what the TAC was seeking was “intercommunion with” the Roman Catholic Church and not “absorption by” that Church. It was never reported that the ACA Bishops had agreed that “whatever Rome sends us, we will accept without question”.
And it would have been almost inconceivable that they would have done so. At that time, there was no structural or institutional blueprint on the table; all that was yet to come. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus was not, as the TAC leadership has represented, the Vatican’s response to the TAC’s overture but, instead, to long-standing petitions from Forward-in-Faith U.K. and other similarly-minded bodies. That alone constitutes a significant change of fact from the situation in which the Portsmouth consensus was reached. Another and equally significant such change is that the Apostolic Constitution clearly envisions the dissolution of the TAC’s structures and institutions and the complete absorption of the TAC’s clergy and people by new Roman Catholic structures.
These structures, as laid down in Anglicanorum Coetibus and its accompanying Norms, will, for many years after their initiation, not be staffed by former TAC clergy. This is because whichever of those TAC clergy may ultimately be accepted for Roman ordination, current experience shows that acceptance and ordination process will take any individual man an average of five years or more to complete and by no means will all the TAC’s present clergy complete it. In the interim, therefore, these Ordinariates must by default be staffed and administered by personnel who are assigned there from current Roman Catholic clergy and not by former TAC personnel. Thus there will be a lengthy break in continuity of leadership for the TAC people who enter the new Roman Ordinariates.
This fact, which may not have been known by all at Portsmouth, could by itself justify a reëvaluation of the Roman option, constituting as it does what lawyers term “a material change in circumstances”.
With even more significance to your published statements, the Petition also makes very clear the faith of the bishops of the TAC concerning the source of authority in the Church: “We accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, which is a ministry of teaching and discerning the faith and a “perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity” and understand this ministry is essential to the Church founded by Jesus Christ. We accept that this ministry, in the words of the late John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint, is to “ensure the unity of all the Churches”.
The question of the moment is not whether the Bishop of Rome is the senior Bishop of the Church Catholic; all Catholic Christians have accepted that since the Seven Œcumenical Councils. Nor is the question whether all Catholic Christians should seek not just unity in the Faith but institutional unity with the Roman See. Since the late 19th Century, Anglicans in particular have worked continuously toward that end, with their efforts increasing in frequency and depth right up until they ground to a halt with the disaster of women’s “ordination” in the late 1970s.
The question now before the ACA’s Bishops and their people is, rather, whether the particular proposals now offered by the current Bishop of Rome, great and holy a man as he is, provide for the spiritual and ecclesial needs of those people. Those Bishops are bound by their Offices to do their utmost to protect and assure the proper, orderly, and complete satisfaction of those needs. If, after examination, the current proposals are found not to protect and provide for them, then it would be a dereliction of their duties to urge their people to rush headlong into an unsatisfactory situation.
It has taken thirty years since the debacle of women’s “ordination” for the current proposals to come forth. It would be asking a great deal to demand that the ecclesial and spiritual lives of the ACA’s people be put on hold for some indefinite further period while they wait to see what else may be offered.
More than thirty years ago, the Vatican issued a set of guidelines for Anglicans transferring to Rome which were entitled “The Pastoral Provisions”. A few traditional Anglicans, such as Canon Albert J. DuBois and some members of the American Church Union, joined the Roman Church under those Provisions and today their successors form a total of eight (8) “Anglican Use” congregations in the U.S.
The recent Apostolic Constitution is, in almost all aspects, simply the extension to the rest of the world of the arrangements laid down for the U.S. in those old Pastoral Provisions. The only significant difference now being made is the partial separation of the new Ordinariates from the daily jurisdiction of the usual Latin Rite diocesan bishops.
If the ACA had found the Pastoral Provisions a satisfactory answer to its needs, it could have joined the Roman Church under them at any point during the past 20 years. Because it did not find them sufficiently satisfactory to warrant that step, it should surprise no one, and especially not Archbishop Hepworth, that it likewise may not find those Provisions’ modest amendment, in the form of Anglicanorum Coetibus, satisfactory either.
Whatever the doubts and difficulties of a bishop, he is bound to teach the faith received from the Apostles and proclaimed by the Church in every age. It is to the Church that a bishop looks for the source of his teaching, not to his own doubts and fears.
I am sure the ACA Bishops’ response would be that they have taught “the Faith once delivered to the Saints” and, by God’s Grace, will continue to do so. That Faith certainly includes the Bishop of Rome’s primacy of honor among the five ancient Partriarchies, even though he himself has unaccountably abandoned that title of Patriarch of the West. Nowhere, however, does that Faith require that the ACA or its people submit to any specific geographical division or bureaucratic allocation of administrative functions.
In the three years since the submission of our petition, most of us have made sure that our clergy and people have become familiar with the Catechism. It has been a careful process of teaching and leadership. In the TAC, as in the Catholic Church and the Churches of Holy Orthodoxy, truth is not reached by democratic means.
The distinction drawn here suggests inescapably that Abp. Hepworth does not view the TAC as being truly “Catholic”. Perhaps that is the root of the problem for the ACA which, so far as one can tell, has in typical Anglican fashion viewed itself as, and represented itself to be, a branch of the Catholic Church.
It is not reached by the recreation of some golden moment of history. Our Petition also states that: “We understand that, as bishops separated from communion with the Bishop of Rome, we are among those for whom Jesus prayed before his death “that they may be completely one”, and that we teach and define matters of faith and morals in a way that is, while still under the influence of Divine Grace, of necessity more tenuously connected to the teaching voice of catholic bishops throughout the world.”
Very clearly, you have renounced this understanding of your fellow bishops, and no longer teach with the same voice as them. Equally clearly, you have not taught and led the people committed to your care with that one voice of a united College. Each of us has started from the same position as that which you have confronted. Tragically, I am forced to the conclusion that some have led their people, others have followed them.
Actually, so far as an outsider can judge, it may not be the loyal ACA Bishops’ understanding that has changed but instead the understandings of some of their fellow Bishops and, apparently, most especially the understanding of the TAC’s Primate. According to the contemporaneously published reports, he repeatedly assured them that they were seeking intercommunion and not absorption; but the document from Rome speaks only of absorption. According to those same reports, he repeatedly assured them that their Anglican heritage would be respected and preserved; but the document from Rome demands that the Ordinariates’ future clergy receive their formation in the present Roman seminaries with their dubious record of performance and that the Ordinariates’ seminarians submit to the nonScriptural discipline of universal mandatory celibacy. He was reported repeatedly to have assured them that the terms of the TAC’s relationship with Rome were still being worked out; but the Apostolic Constitution under which the Ordinariates will be formed turn out not only to be essentially set in stone, but were crafted primarily for people in one specific country [England] who have already, in most important respects, abandoned Anglican distinctives such as the Common Prayer liturgy and have already become, in all respects except intercommunion, extramural Roman Catholics.
May I make some observations about the way forward?
Communion with any other ecclesial body requires the consent of the College of Bishops. Any act of Communion without the consent of the College betrays the College and puts its own unity at peril.
There is no urgent pressure on individuals to join an Ordinariate. Individual discernment and a response in conscience undergird the corporate reunion that is at the heart of Anglicanorum Coetibus. There is no such luxury permitted to bishops, who have the sacred obligation by virtue of their office itself to teach in such a way that clergy and people form a true conscience. A bishop who cannot teach what the College has defined (and what is the universal teaching of the East and the West) has only one option, and that is to stand aside until he can teach in accord with the Church.
From this, it seems Archbishop Hepworth currently believes in a form of “Episcopal Collegial Infallibility”. In that case, it will not be much of a step for him to return to accepting the Papal Infallibility that pertained during the earliest phase of his clerical career. Others, however, might in good faith see the matter differently than he does.
The Traditional Anglican Communion is not a Protestant ecclesial body. In a television interview in Canada several years ago, I said that the most difficult thing that each of us would face in the pathway to unity would be shedding ourselves of the question “What do I think?” and instead asking, “What does the Church teach?”
So does this mean that Canadian television is now a customary or reliable channel of Revelation?
We are not a body that allows each member to approach the Scripture alone and discern a private truth. We understand that the Church is a Divine Gift in which God is present to His People – Teaching, Sanctifying and Creating. We partake of Divine Truth – we do not create it.
As you meet with the other American bishops this week, you must know that you have the prayers and the hopes of your Communion around the world bestowed upon you. You carry the dreams and the destiny of Anglican and Catholic people.
Anglicanorum Coetibus is the first mutual attempt to heal the unity fractured between Rome and Canterbury over four centuries ago. You also bear the burden of history.
With my blessing,
John Hepworth, Primate
Editorial note from Fr. Hart: Anglicanorum Coetibus is by no means "the first mutual attempt to heal the unity fractured between Rome and Canterbury over four centuries ago." Talks between Canterbury and Rome began decades ago, and are still ongoing. But, they were drained of substance when some churches began to "ordain" women, especially when it was made official in 1976. The TAC has not resumed those attempts at genuine Reunion, inasmuch as they are advocating a plan that is nothing more than terms of surrender - or conversion. And that brings us to the second reason why Hepworth is wrong. This conversion offer, that may be embraced by a few people, has nothing to do with genuine efforts at ecumenical progress. It has no such potential. But, it can get in the way.