Rome is Not Our Easy Friend

The niceties of language and the graciousness of interchange to the contrary, Rome is not our easy friend.

We have just seen the reports of the meeting between Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams. The conversations were mostly pleasant and the joint declaration mild enough to allow continued conversations on a variety of fronts. But at the core were these words by the Pope:

“In the present context, however, and especially in the secularized Western world, there are many negative influences and pressures which affect Christians and Christian communities. Over the last three years you have spoken openly about the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the future of the Communion itself. Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations. It is to be hoped that the work of the theological dialogue, which had registered no small degree of agreement on these and other important theological matters, will continue be taken seriously in your discernment. In these deliberations we accompany you with heartfelt prayer. It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.”

The phrase “recent developments…concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings” is a politely indirect reference to the ordination of Bishop Robinson and the variety of occasions of blessing same sex unions. The Roman Catholic Church, and this Pope in particular, feels perfectly free to interject their objections into the workings of the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion.

This is no surprise. The Roman Catholic Church thought enough of our “developments” to declare their support of efforts to realign American Anglicanism. On behalf of the Roman Catholic Church and the previous Pope, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the Plano Conference in 2003 that formed the Network. That letter read,

“From Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
The Vatican, on Behalf of Pope John Paul II

I hasten to assure you of my heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation. The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this City from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, Saint Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany.

The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray in particular that God's will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself.With fraternal regards, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger”

Again careful words, but ones which the Plano participants took seriously. Cardinal Ratzinger was clearly encouraging the realignment community in their work.

So, the Cardinal, now the Pope, works away at making it clear that the Roman Catholic Church is willing to back realignment activities within the Episcopal Church and to tell the Archbishop, howbeit politely, to get the Anglican Community in shape.

Well, what are brothers for?

At the same time there have been in the last week several reports of new efforts to bring into the Roman Catholic Church those Anglicans who might be “giving up” on the Episcopal Church or other Anglican Churches. Christopher Morgan, reporting for the Times, writes that the “Pope plans recruitment drive among disaffected Anglicans.” There is also a book of liturgies for Anglicans who have gone to Rome. A review of that book can be found on Titusonenine. So when they are recruited they will have a prayer book to call their own.

All of which seems somehow less brotherly in its concern and more carnivorous.

But then, let us remember that Cardinal Ratzinger is the one who said the following in his commentary issued coincident with the promulgation of "Ad tuendam fidem" by Pope John Paul II.

“With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations.”

So, in the end, after all the seemingly nice words, Pope Benedict (i) has directly interfered with the interior struggles of the Episcopal Church, (ii) has charge over a church which is specifically working to attract Episcopalians and Anglicans who are “disaffected,” and has prepared liturgical space for them, (iii) has warned the Archbishop in the most polite sort of way to get things in order, and (iv) writes that the letter Apostolicae Curae stands as a truth “connected to revelation by historical necessity and which (is) to be held definitively.”

In the end the churches of the Anglican Communion are subject to ecclesial raids and interference precisely because the Bishop of Rome considers Anglican orders to be invalid and Anglican Churches to be communities of faith but not The Church.

Nice words aside, wouldn’t it be more honest for him to simply say so?

Then perhaps we might respond with a bit of Anglican clarity, taken from the sometimes obscure Articles of Religion. Article 37 includes this sentence: “The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.” While I do not suggest blind obedience to the Articles, I do believe we ought to take them into account. We might occasionally remind the Pope of the sentiment of this Article.

It may be that the Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in England, or in the Churches of the Anglican Communion, but that does not prevent him from trying to run things anyway.

The nicety of language and the graciousness of interchange to the contrary, Rome is not our easy friend.


  1. I think Article XIX is more relevant...

  2. Bill Carroll30/11/06 8:29 AM

    We also might remind Canterbury of the sentiment behind the article. Canterbury has no jurisdiction beyond his own province. And its up to all who care about Anglicanism to keep it that way. It's always a problem when brothers start acting like fathers, i.e. popes.

  3. "Anglican clarity?" I don't think I have ever heard those two words used together like that before. Not that I disagree with you about the Articles.

  4. Ugh. This makes my flesh crawl.

    If there are those in TEC who feel Catholic (with a big C), let them return to Rome.

    But let's not even let Benny think he can get his finger into this pie!

  5. Since evangelism in TEC is almost exclusively sheep stealing, you have some chutzpa lecturing RC's on the subject. No way I could go to Rome, but out of the spiritual bondage of TEC I have come nevertheless.

  6. "Peter, get your own house in order."

  7. What in the world is your problem with any of this, Rev. Harris? It seems strikingly ungracious to, on the one hand, make wholesale alterations to the faith and order of the Episcopal Church, and, on the other, cry bloody murder when another community offers refuge to those that cannot accept those changes.

    Is it not enough for you that orthodox Anglican belief be purged from ECUSA? Do you also want it to be as difficult as possible for those forced out to find another home?

    Much is made about how if conservatives insist on breaking away, seeking alternate oversight, etc., they must accept the consequences. And so with you and your fellow-travelers; if you insist on changing the Faith of this church as it has received it, accept the consequences that other Christians will not sit idly by as you do so.

    Good grief.

  8. Bill Carroll30/11/06 10:14 PM

    If I thought the faith as received by this Church required exclusion I would have joined another Church. Fortunately, neither the parish that baptized me nor the parish that confirmed me and sponsored me for ordination, nor did any of my seminary professors teach me any different. The faith received consists of the apostolic kerygma and the tradition enshrined in the Creeds. If the right wing gets serious about usury and participation in warfare, about which they allow a lot of casuistry that would have horrified the fathers, then we can start to talk about upholding the biblical teaching on sexuality, which pretty much sees marriage as the lesser of two evils and celibacy as the ideal. Why are the Reformers allowed to innovate on the virtues of the married state but present day Reformers not allowed to extend the benefits of sanctification in covenant relationship to gay and lesbian brothers and sisters?

    Once the empire comes apart, Anglicans opt for provincial autonomy. The emerging Anglican Communion, which really doesn't pick up any steam till the early 20th century has not yet backed down on this commitment. It's one of the primary things that separates us from Rome.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.