Thanks, but No Thanks

Thanks, but no thanks… These words express something very familiar in the old and now defunct issue of the Ordinariates for former Anglicans. Those who went to the Ordinariates, either out of desire or conviction that it was their duty, have done so.

I have been watching the parallel movement of the Society of St Pius X towards a canonical situation with Rome. They have just had their General Chapter, with Bishop Williamson excluded, and there have been no leaks. Bishop Fellay is expected to give an interview within a few days and express his official position. There may well be a diplomatic message saying that dialogue will continue, but that it would be meaningless and not intended to bring about any canonical reunion. Mixed bathing, yes, but without sharing the changing cubicles!

What is presently known is SSPX says no to Rome-updated from a source I am inclined to trust with some reserves. I suggest keeping an eye on Rorate Caeli over the next few days.

I have no speculation to add, as I find the position of the SSPX, especially their “totalitarianism” to be obnoxious. I find the way they have been treated by Rome since the 1970’s to be just as bad. I was once in the Institute of Christ the King, and our official position was one of accepting Vatican II, but – frankly – we did so with fingers crossed behind our backs. Quite a number of our clergy supported extreme right-wing politics and some who expressed opinions in private would have been in very serious trouble with the law in Europe if they had expressed the same ideas in public. Given the positions of some conservatives who are officially in union with Rome, I wonder if Rome gives two hoots about religious freedom, ecumenism and salvation outside the Church.

What really matters is political clout – and the pact with the Devil following having given in to the Third Temptation! Yes, Old Nick is a very slick salesman, but the bill has to be paid…

Reading another comment of Professor Perrin in the Forum Catholique, he supposes a choice between unilateral action by the Pope saying – Come in, no conditions, etc. or waiting until they say “thanks, but no thanks” and then renew the excommunications with a heavily-worded document saying the SSPX is in formal schism. It all seems surreal for a “Pope of Unity”. Why appoint Archbishop Müller and the Bugninist Bishop Arthur “Padlock” Roche at this stage? A red rag to a bull! Dr Perrin suspects that reconciliation is no longer the priority of this Pontificate. If not, what is? Is it merely some kind of palliative holding strategy à la Rowan Williams? I suspect so.

When the Ordinariates were in gestation, there were heated debates between the ordinariate-bound and those who said “Thanks, but no thanks“, namely all the continuing Anglican churches other than the TAC and what seems to be a high proportion of the TAC clergy grouped around Archbishop Prakash and Bishop Gill, and to some extent around the Anglican Church in America under Bishop Brian Marsh. The Anglican Catholic Church (Original Province) in the person of its Primate, Archbishop Mark Haverland, was clear about its position from the outset – A response from the ACC to Rome’s Offer to Former Anglicans.

Clearly, the ACC (or us for that matter) is not concerned with issues related to the idea of the Roman Catholic Church being the one true Church with the right to persecute those who are either outside her communion or to maintain orthodoxy by constraint and violence. The SSPX upholds clerical celibacy and the uniform liturgy according to the Roman books of 1962. It disapproves many of the tenets of Anglicanism such as the vernacular in the liturgy, married clergy, the use of the “heretical Cranmer” Prayer Book and Anglicanism’s more positive view of ecumenism.

But there is something in common. Experience has shown over the centuries that dealing with Rome is something like a small shopkeeper negotiating with the mega-store chain. Big carpet-bagger would simply tell the small shopkeeper to close his business and move away or apply for a job stacking shelves, perhaps with a view to promotion to department manager after a few years of loyal service. Then the shopkeeper loses all autonomy and works the big corporate way. It is a choice to make.

Optimists tell us that the new Ordinariates in England, Australia and the USA are going wonderfully. Great! I hope so, sincerely. It is not my problem; but some of those involved have got the short end of the stick, and other wonder if the offer is likely to last for long, or whether there is yet an element of “bait and switch”. I cannot affirm or deny it.

The bottom line for Anglicans is the issue of “conversion” and becoming Roman Catholics by more or less denying and abjuring their past – if not in theological terms, perhaps to some extent in practical terms. One salient point in the TAC was whether Rome would grant dispensations to those who are canonically irregular (for example for having been a Roman Catholic clerics even if the person’s spiritual origin is Anglican) on account of them having been accepted into the body negotiating with Rome. More accurately, the question would have been whether Rome accepted the integrity of the leadership of the ecclesial body in question, and therefore would trust their judgement on their clergy. That is corporate reunion, which was to prove to be a futile dream. It was not to be so. Reception is a matter of individual persons, even if they are received together in the same ceremony and reconstituted as a community once they had arrived on the “other side”. Every single priest had to be screened according to RC criteria. OK, fair enough, but the solution was some kind of compromise between individual and corporate. That was good enough for many, but not all.

The SSPX’s doctrinal position appears to be sincere, and I have have no reason to doubt that this is a serious issue, but is not the real issue one of property and priests being accepted on the basis of what they acquired in their Society rather than undergoing a new evaluation of their vocation? This question is aggravated by Archbishop Müller’s recently expressed opinion as I mentioned in my articles First the TAC, then the SSPX and Traditionalist Disappointments, namely that he would dismantle the SSPX and incorporate its clergy individually into some other organisation. I am led to believe that such a position would be the Pope’s, as the Pope appointed a man who recently expressed this position.

This seems to be the point in common. Corporate reunion. In the words of Archbishop Haverland:

Anglican and Orthodox Christians look for union and full communion without “conversion,” submission, and effective absorption and for an exercise of the Petrine Office that is compatible with the actual situation of the Church of the first millennium. The new Constitution [Anglicanorum coetibus] will do nothing to forward that goal.

Archbishop Haverland shows Anglicanorum coetibus as fundamentally addressed to “Anglo-Papalists” or those whose doctrinal position conformed exactly to Roman Catholic teaching. On the other hand, the SSPX is doctrinally orthodox in terms of dogma, but unwilling to accept the modifications introduced by Vatican II and perceived to compromise orthodoxy. Is Rome occupying the just via media to which all should adhere? If it is a moderate position, it seems to have become a very narrow one, a policy that the SSPX itself has practised ruthlessly for decades – Chinese Communism as I once heard someone say. If we don’t know where to go, it is surely best to stay put!

Another thing in common is the essential “Gallicanism” of the SSPX. Doctrine isn’t true because it is enforced by authority (unless the authority is theirs!) but because it is intrinsically true. It would still be true without the authority to enforce it. It is a position that would be characterised as Old Catholicism or sedevacantism in its reductio ad absurdam. Archbishop Lefebvre, though he was a convinced ultramontanist, had some of the old Gallican instincts left in him as he stood up to Paul VI. Anglo Catholics are more extremely “Gallican” in matters of ecclesiology and have just as much a gripe against medieval and nineteenth-century ultramontanism. Things aren’t true simply because the Pope says so! It’s a good question – do we really need a magisterium like a country needs police to keep evil-doers off the streets?

I must be some kind of 1960’s anarchist, but it is the way I think and live. If Christian faith needs constraint and force to make people believe and make it influence society and morals, then it just isn’t true. It’s a load of bunk as the atheists say, just a means of controlling people instead of respecting what is good and noble in human nature. This is where it is all situated for me, and hardly predisposed me to an “institutional” priestly vocation. I see priesthood as something else, but is priesthood not a function of the institutional church? If that is so, I am in trouble! I have to admit it.

Those of us who remain outside the RC Church certainly do run into the danger of placing our own “infallibility” in the place of the Pope’s. At least, that is what the RC apologist would say to force us to embrace the Pope’s infallibility rather than our own, which is more fallible. In reality, no one is infallible, and experience shows the Pope is extremely fallible when his main mission is to conciliate the irreconcilable just long enough for it to be no longer his problem.

The question many of us have to ask is whether it is all worth it, the jostling for power, the horse trading year after year, the roller coaster of fickle men believing their will is God’s, and so it goes on. Nero fiddles while Rome burns. Most of us are starved of the essential and have to look for God and the life of the spirit away from churches.

I am personally burned out, and I ask very fundamental questions. We have to face the reality that all churches and human organisations go the same way. It is the reality of institutionalisation, and the SSPX has gone the same way. We in the TAC hadn’t yet gone the same way because we weren’t institutionalised enough. And old Cardinal Levada had us for breakfast in no uncertain way – Watch out for the Hun in the sun! I may seem very negative to some, but my private e-mail correspondence shows that many others have got to the same stage. Where is the Gospel in all this? Where? Was Jesus a heartless bureaucrat in the Sanhedrin or the Temple clergy? No, they killed him.

As I have written elsewhere, we need to rethink the notion of “church”, keeping the communion of a community united in Christ but without the institutionalisation and the top-heavy authoritarian structures about to capsize the whole ship. I look at most of the “vagante” bodies and deplore the prelates with the high-faluting titles and folie de grandeur. The more serious independent communities run the risk of being “had for breakfast” by the ideologies they feel they have to support in the name of radical inclusiveness. In our atomised human condition, we exclude each other – hell is other people.

What of the future? Any hope? Yes, but I think it is in ourselves and our own self-knowledge. We know what is right – not what is conformed to other peoples impersonal orthodoxies – but what is right. We have been wrong for too long, and persevering in error out of a sense of orthopraxis. We need to listen to the voice of our conscience, not less in the name of exterior authority, but more…

Then maybe it isn’t all over.

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6 Responses to Thanks, but No Thanks

  1. Pingback: Thanks, But No Thanks « Fr Stephen Smuts

  2. John says:

    I have frequently wondered if the Vatican was keeping SSPX at arm’s length because of its links with the loony right in European politics.

  3. Dear Fr.Anthony,
    A well written piece, like yourself many of us are in a burnt out state.Yet I believe that there is still hope for the future, I see little glimmers of hope around me here in Australia.
    Yours in Christ,
    Father Ed Bakker

  4. anon says:

    Reunion of TAC and ACC-OP, perhaps ??

    • That will have to be something between bishops. But I must say the TAC Acting Primate is Archbishop Prakash and there’s been a lot of trouble in India over claims to property. Below episcopal level, we can dialogue and get to know each other. That’s part of the reason of this blog.

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