For many of us in Anglican-land there has been the hope of Church reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Not by everyone, of course, but by many. There has been greater passion about this than about reunion with the Orthodox Churches mostly I suspect because of familiarity with RC liturgy and ethos and because we Anglicans share so much of Western pre-reformation Catholic sensibilities. I share some of that hope, but must confess after some exposure to the Orthodox Church by way of the Romanian Orthodox Church, I could go east as well as west… were it not the fact that there I would find organization and power as sometimes despicable as we have it in Anglican-land.
Recently Dan Martins over at Confessions of a Carioca ruminated about making reunion personal by "swimming the Tiber." When it is personal it tends to be the move made by an individual who has in one way or another simply had it and cannot wait any longer for the longed for reunion of churches. Sometimes it seems to be because the person has come to the conclusion that it just isn't going to happen – at least in the foreseeable future.
Such seems to be the case for Bishop Clarence Pope, who in a recent interview with The Living Church spelled out some of his thinking on this second trip to Rome. The interview was on some levels highly personal and my sense is that Bishop Iker was right to wish him God's blessing on his way. But other parts of the interview were revealing of Bishop Pope's bleak assessment of the whole enterprise of trying to work for reunion between Anglican churches and the Roman Catholic Church on anything like a church to church level.
The Living Church article begins, "The Catholic movement in The Episcopal Church has degenerated from a theological imperative into haberdashery, the retired Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt. Rev. Clarence C. Pope, Jr., told a reporter for The Living Church, explaining his departure to the Roman Catholic Church." Later the article quotes Bishop Pope directly who said, in placing the blame for the death of Anglo-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church on General Convention, "General Conventions are not General Councils but they have come to behave as such. Doctrinal changes concerning holy matrimony, holy orders, and matters of sexual morality have put The Episcopal Church outside the limits of the Vincentian Canon, and marginalize everyone within it from the Catholic world."
What he seems to mean is that allowing for remarriage after divorce, women in holy orders, and even thinking about blessing same sex relationships or considering a person in such relationship fit for holy orders, places the Episcopal Church outside the notion put forth by St. Vincent of Lerins, in 434 or thereabouts, to wit: "in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." St. Vincent was in some important ways given to wistful thinking, since from the outset not everything was believed everywhere, always and by all. But giving him the benefit of the doubt, the so called "canon" has been used to argue that nothing substantial should be changed unless the whole church Catholic decides to do so.
Bishop Pope may wish that General Councils make all the really important decisions, but one is hard pressed to show that there has been such a Council for some time, and (remembering the Reformer's distrust of all this) we Anglicans have a history of distrust of councils. Article XXI, omitted from the Episcopal Church 1804 version but still there in italics and in the 1662 BCP of England right there in plain sight, says this: "General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together…they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture." What prince might we ask to gather such a council? And who is to declare that some order is "taken out of holy Scripture"? Well these are unsolved mysteries, except of course in practice: In practice the Roman Catholic Church believes that on some occasions the Pope speaks with infallibility and on others the Roman Catholic General Council speaks with unshakable certainty. This has been the practice, but where is the General Council. And what of the wee bit of protestant in all Anglicans that comes forward here and remembers.. "all may err."
But in the longing for home, and home being more or less the "Western Church," this sort of reservation is overcome in the moment.
In looking at Bishop Pope's various roles in the "Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church" I note his central role in the Episcopal Synod of America which later became Forward in Faith, North America (FiFNA). He is listed as ex-officio adjunct member of its Council. When one looks at the other members of FiFNA's council there are several things to note: (i) There are bishop members of the Council from: The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Province of America, The Traditional Anglican Communion, the Diocese of the Holy Cross and The Province of the Southern Cone (Lyons), and several other bishops termed "international adjuncts."
More interesting is that a large group of the board and adjunct board members belong to a religious organization called "Societas Sanctae Crucis" or the "Society of the Holy Cross", SSC. This society has been a strong voice supporting Anglo-Catholic clergy at times when the church was in its most anti-catholic moods. More importantly it has been a continuing source of mutual prayer and encouragement in the best Anglo-Catholic tradition. I have to say I rather like their rule.
Now, in the midst of all the troubles, it is odd to see FiFNA with its SSC members joined together with other members of the Common Cause Partnership – members who are (i) evangelical and radically reformed to the point where Article XXI is mostly about distrust of all councils and reliance on the impact of Holy Scripture on the individual, (ii) members who ordain women and allow for remarriage after divorce, or (iii) who would not be particularly interested in any trip to Rome other than for vacation.
Bishop Pope, according to The Living Church condemns his own formally fellow catholic minded Episcopal Church / Anglican Communion fellow travelers of going astray: "The Catholic movement in The Episcopal Church has degenerated from a theological imperative into haberdashery." So Bishop Pope says goodbye not only to The Episcopal Church, he says goodbye to FiFNA, the whole of the crowd over in Common Cause Partnership land and consigns them to "good threads, wrong heads."
I have no idea how long FiFNA will be able to stand being in the same room with the Reformed Episcopal Church, or how long the Traditional Anglican Communion, whose local bishop David Moyer is clear in his disdain for the ordination of women, will get along with The Moderator of the Network, who has women clergy on his staff.
Bishop Moyer you may remember said this about the ordination of women, "Let me first say that according to Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the witness of the Catholic Church (both Eastern and Western, which presently is comprised of one billion four hundred thousand members worldwide) there is no such thing as a woman bishop, priest, or deacon. The Church Catholic and Apostolic has taught for centuries that there is the Sacrament of Holy Order, and the three ordained ministries of that Holy Order are reserved for men. This in no way undermines or diminishes the vital ministries of women in and for the Body of Christ. We are all called to exercise the gifts God has bestowed upon us for the common good, and men and women are made equally in the image of God."
That is not going to sit too well with those who are in the Network and are working beside and with ordained women.
Bishop Pope was perhaps off centered in his attack on "the Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church." He ended up slamming his past comrades for being interested in the threads they wear. He might well have better criticized the company they keep. The so called "continuing churches," most of which do not continue anything even remotely like the Church of England or The Episcopal Church or any other Province of the Anglican Communion, are no help either in the matter of returning to Rome or in building up the life of the Anglican Communion present or future.
And as I understand it, there are members of SSC who are not opposed to the ordination of women and who also are mindful of the disheartening effect that the Roman Catholic Church has visited on the hopes for reunion by its constant insistence that Anglican orders are not valid and therefore re-ordination is required of those who walk across to Rome.
In the midst of all this there are strange rumors that something is afoot and that the Roman Catholic Church is considering a possible a Personal Prelature for "orthodox Anglicans." Well, rumor has it. I don't see much in it, but I know very little about such things. Good luck to those who think it will happen.
If by any chance such a ruling came through there would be quite a few who would walk on water across the Tiber I suspect. A number of those would be former FiFNA, Traditional Anglican Communion, Anglican Province of America, etc. It would suck the air out of the Network / Common Cause Partner's room. Some great talent would be lost, and a sizable portion of the "Catholic" crowd.
This is not about taking the congregations (although that might happen in some cases as well.) This is about clergy walking, saying, "Enough. I'm off."
So much for the Councils of the Church that can err. So much for the Thirty Nine Articles. So much for the word written (which is a protestant value if there ever was one…no need for intervening authority to tell us what it means, we can read can't we?)
I don't think this notion of a Personal Prelature has a prayer in the world. Clergy will go to Rome, and Roman clergy will come to Anglican churches, but the reunion of the Churches will have to wait a better day, as will a safe haven for Anglicans in Rome.
Meanwhile the great Anglo-Catholic / Puritan divide, unresolved in the Elizabethan compromise will come to haunt the Network, the Common Cause Partners, the Global South, informed as it is by revival, English evangelical talk and strangely savvy prelates from the Southern Cone, where the church is small and bishops with only a hand full of clergy have time to take on dozens of parishes in the US.
The Hopes and Fears of all the years are not met in the night of September 30th, artificially set by the Dar Es Salaam struggle, nor or they met in reunion with Rome, nor are they met in the faith once delivered to the saints (but seemingly known to the chosen few in this generation.) The Hopes and Fears are met in the Incarnation, who, on last examination, said NOTHING about the current quackery that passes as Christ faith, except perhaps to say, "Stay Awake."
The best we regular paid up Episcopal folk can do is wish Bishop Pope well, let people swim, wade, walk on water to get where they need to be, listen to the Gospel and sometimes to evangelicals, not take ourselves and the overlay of church system we have too seriously – including bishops - and keep our eye on the prize that is Christ.