“It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

I had started a post about the Ordinariate a few days ago, but didn’t finish it because I’m never quite sure how many people are really interested in matters Anglican and Episcopalian. Then a parishioner caught me at coffee hour, asked me about the Ordinariate, and said, “It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

He had read the article in The New York Times and wanted my take on it. Unfortunately, about the time I got wound up in my response I was asked about something else by someone else and couldn’t complete my brilliant ad lib response.

The article he mentioned can be read here. The Washington Post also covered the story, quoting friend Tom Ferguson, who offered thoughts about this development on his blog, Crusty Old Dean. Ferguson offers background, including the significance of the change from the “Pastoral Provision” which allowed for conversions of priests and whole congregations on a case-by-case basis, and the Ordinariate, which is a nation-wide structure.

Ferguson also addresses the “spin” being put on this development by some as “the fruit of decades of Roman Catholic/Anglican dialogue. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. Ferguson points out two issues–1) it is not ecumenical at all, in the sense that it was a one-sided declaration with no dialogue among the parties; and 2) that the Roman Catholic Church assumes ecumenism is incorporation into the Roman Catholic Church. Ferguson writes passionately from the perspective of a decade-long involvement in ecumenical relations.

But there is also the reality on the ground, and a pastoral response in particular situations. Several bishops have commented about the Ordinariate.

Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas has some useful things to say about this. Most important, perhaps is this:

I have no anxiety and I hope that the Ordinariate will be a place where some who feel spiritually homeless may find a dwelling place; and a place where others may come to a better understanding of their own Anglican heritage.

Here’s the Bishop of the Rio Grande, Michael Vono’s take. He is the successor of Jeffrey Steenson, who resigned as Episcopal Bishop to become Roman Catholic and has been named to lead the new Ordinariate.

Is it a declaration of war? I’m not so sure. To provide a place for those who no longer feel welcome or part of the Episcopal Church seems to me a generous act. To do it without consultation with the Episcopal Church (as the Ordinariate in England was announced without notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury) seems churlish. Most commentators agree that the overwhelming number of congregations and clergy that will enter the ordinariate are not part of the Episcopal Church, but rather belong to one or another of the splinter groups that have broken off since the 1960s.

Furthermore, as the recent experience of the AMiA bears out, many of these latter groups may be led by men who would prefer being big fish in small ponds, and chafe at coming under the control of other authorities. We will see how all of this develops.

The other thing to point out is that it is impossible to determine how many people are moving the other way, from the Roman Catholic church to the Episcopal Church. Priests move that way regularly, and lay people do as well, although in many cases, the latter have been estranged from the Roman church for years or even decades.

In sum, another sordid episode in the history of ecumenical relations.

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One thought on ““It’s like the Roman Catholics have declared war on the Episcopal Church!”

  1. The comments on the Washington Post article are also interesting. The Article itself overstates the case when it asserts that the Vatican’s offer of an “ordinariate” for Anglicans is somehow an effort to repair a breach that took place 500 years ago, but the writer does point out the limitation to the new arrangement. Married priests can be accepted and continue to function as clergy, but bishops cannot be married — so any bishops who jump the Tiber cannot ordain new priests. As someone else indicated in another post, this change is not likely to affect many people because the schismatic groups are led by people who are more concerned about egos than theology.

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