|O come all ye Anglicans
LONDON, ENGLAND Oct 23 2009 12:08
Tens of thousands of disaffected Anglicans could become Catholics following this week’s decree by Pope Benedict to poach whole Protestant communities for the church for the first time since the Reformation.
The move surprised many, as it was unveiled simultaneously in the Vatican and in London, where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was forced to admit that he had not known about it until a fortnight ago.
Pope Benedict’s initiative — set out in an apostolic constitution, the highest form of pontifical decree, and unveiled by a senior Catholic cardinal — allows Anglicans worldwide, both clergy and worshippers, to convert en masse while maintaining part of their spiritual heritage.
Both Williams and the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who was sitting next to him in a show of unity, refused to concede that the Vatican was passing judgment on the troubles in the Anglican Communion.
"It’s not an act of aggression, it’s not a statement of no confidence. It’s business as usual," said Williams, who apologised to Anglicans that there had not been prior debate.
The papal decree comes after many years of approaches to the Vatican from Anglicans unhappy with the ordination of women and gay people.
There was scarce detail about how the new structure would work — there could be separate services in Catholic churches for breakaway Anglicans, though control would lead back to Rome.
The most significant part of the decree is that it will allow married Anglican clergy to be ordained as Catholic priests, waiving the requirement of celibacy.
The pope’s chief theological adviser, William Levada, an American cardinal, said that he would put the number of Anglican bishops in the world who were poised to become Catholics "in the 20s or 30s". Later, Joseph Di Noia, the deputy head of the Vatican’s liturgical department, said he believed the figure was closer to 50.
This week Williams appeared alongside Nichols in Eccleston Square, the London administrative headquarters of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and there were awkward moments. Asked if the Vatican move was a "massive vote of no confidence" in Williams’s leadership, Nichols jumped in with an answer.
Several times they both said the apostolic constitution was not a commentary on the internal disputes ravaging the world’s second-biggest Christian denomination — despite years of Catholic consternation over the ordination of women and gay people.
At an Anglican conference last year several cardinals swooped into Canterbury to air their concerns about the effect such innovations would have on relations between the two churches and how undesirable an Anglican schism would be.
Faced with the press this week, Williams was optimistic and resolute, though his complexion reddened. "I do not think this constitution will be seen as in any sense a commentary on Anglican problems offered by the Vatican. It is a response to this range of requests and inquiries from a very broad variety of people."
Williams was forced to reveal his ignorance about the announcement to Anglican bishops and archbishops, a number of whom are dissatisfied with his leadership. In a letter he wrote: "I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this; I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage and we await the text of the apostolic constitution … in the coming weeks."
Two bishops from Forward in Faith, a prominent Anglo-Catholic movement in the UK, welcomed the apostolic constitution, but said it was not a time for "sudden decisions or general public discussion".
The bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough, who provide spiritual care for people opposed to women bishops, confirmed their 2008 meeting with Vatican officials, an event previously denied by LambethPalace.
They said some would want to stay in the Anglican communion, and others would make arrangements according to their conscience.
The initiative is not without problems for the Vatican. By accepting married clergy, some with the status of bishops, the Vatican risks reigniting the debate among Catholics over its insistence on celibacy for the vast majority of its priests who belong to the Western, or Latin, rite.
Some time ago I wrote here (article below) about Pope Benedict having to watch his back for possible accusations being brought against him of attributing to crimes against humanity for the irresponsible remarks he made on condom-use during a recent visit to Africa. It was clear that he is not familiar with the African context and its vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and that he keeps holding on to views on sexuality and humanity which don’t hold water in our scientifical age. According to a work document which was made available during the holy father’s Cameroon visit in March, the Catholic Church wants to link on to the African notion of reconciliation namely Ubuntu. According to some of the contributors to this document, the concept of Ubuntu is closely related to that of justice and peace. The church wants to, through its education and health activities amongst other things, be an instrument of peace (Kerkbode 16.10.09).
Sadly enough the pope has just made a huge ecumenical blunder by inviting some of the worldwide Anglican Communion’s disgruntled members, to join his flock. A recent papal decree "allows Anglicans, both clergy and worshippers, to convert en masse (to Catholicism) while maintaining part of their spiritual heritage", reports Guardian News & Media. This is clearly aimed at conservatives dissatisfied with the issue of the ordination of women and gay people which currently causes some tension amongst Anglicans. The Vatican even saw it worthwhile risking the acceptance of married clergy joining from Anglican ranks, some being bishops, and the possible consequences this may have for its celibate priesthood. This would surely have caused some disappointment and discomfort to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, heading the Communion of about 65 million Anglicans worldwide, and seemingly having been taken by surprise by this move.
The pope, on the other hand, clearly has Africa in his vision and would not leave much by the wayside in his scramble for it. Africans should however know that this is not what reconciliation looks like. This is not the Ubuntu that we know. We should clearly state it that this is not the peace we seek!
POPE NEEDS TO WATCH HIS BACK
Koos Kombuis has recently been quite outspoken on what his impressions are of the pope especially in relation to his views on gays. Now Pope Benedictus XVI is on his first visit to Africa. He is commended for what he is doing to encourage reconciliation between Christians and Muslims in Cameroon. But the pope has once again struck a false note reiterating an outdated stance on condom use. This is simply irresponsible in our continent. Is he only giving away his unfamiliarity to this context? He is in the process aligning him however with dissident views when stating that condom use may aggravate the HIV/ AIDS pandemic.
The pope and the Roman-CatholicChurch need to come clear on their continued promotion of a primitive view of human sexuality. This is embedded in age-old views of humanity and human sexuality which have been entrenched in ancient Roman and medieval times and finds expression amongst other in the compulsory celibacy of their (male) priests. But is it at all helpful for people – including priests! – trying to live a responsible Christian life today? The Roman-CatholicChurch’s track record on sexual abuse scandals shows that there is an inability here to successfully integrate sexuality and spirituality. The recent film Doubt once more subtly shows something of the complexity of human sexuality and how it often functions or becomes dysfunctional in the vicinity of the church.
The question is whether we can afford to wait for centuries again for a church confession and retraction on the use of contraceptives and other issues of human sexuality, as was the case with Galileo Galilei. The African context offers us with models for bodily and spiritual integration which is much more holistic, integrated and therefore wholesome than what Western rationalistic dualism sometimes have come up with. It is to these roots that we should turn for inspiration as we desperately seek to address the challenges of our time and context. The pope should however be careful not to be accused of crimes against humanity in the process while expressing views which clearly speaks of ignorance.