Episcopi Vagantes Simplified

vagantesIn A conservative blog for peace, we find On pushing progressivism in church and more. I think John is a tad simplistic for many questions:

Episcopi vagantes summed up: “tossing about between Modernism, theosophy, and simple megalomania.” Ex-clergy or clergy wannabes who think they’re better than the church and want to be clergy to get respect; clericalism.

Such an epithet seems probably true for many. I had something of a brush with some men in the independent sacramental world, and I am generally disappointed. The few who sought to get away from the clerical and self-aggrandising category seemed simply to disappear. Did they relinquish their priestly vocation or simply live it in an extremely discreet way away from the internet? I have written a number of articles on this subject, looking for the best and noblest dispositions.

Our friend John would blame the whole thing on refusal of submission to the Roman Catholic Church or the more “kosher” traditionalist movements like the Society of St Pius X. On the other hand I too am disappointed to see grandiose titles and legends built on nothing. Delusion, mental problems of delinquency? There are as many answers as men involved, and I have had some involvement myself. For John, I don’t think I would be counted as being in “the Church”, but I do believe that the Anglican Catholic Church can claim at least the same degree of legitimacy as the Old Catholics of Utrecht (before women’s ordination) and the smaller Orthodox jurisdictions. Our bishops are the result of election and examination by an ecclesial body, and not the subjective wishes of an individual. That said, I am not writing this to justify myself.

Who among us would not be fascinated to discover a country, town or a collegiate church that has remained exactly the same over centuries, resisting our modern era? The archetype of the “time capsule” is powerful in our psyche. Look at the fascination we all have about time travel in science fiction and the work of quantum physicists. How often we aspire to travel back to a period of time earlier than our own. We would be rid of many of the things that dog us in our own time, but we would also  sacrifice things like electronics, health care and sanitation. We who have known something cannot become like those who have never experienced them. We are living in the past compared with (for example) the twenty-second century when Earth will be as barren as Mars or there will be something like Star Wars. This archetype is a part of our Romantic aspirations, and is often expressed in music, poetry, literature and art.

I do believe that some men who find their way to an independent priesthood or episcopate see themselves in this “time capsule” paradigm. They live in another time, as we all do to an extent or degree. Some of us can relate more easily to modernity than others. I find it hard, and have had to make my own way. I went boating last weekend with this thought from the Gospel of St Thomas:

Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

This carries a notion of vocation, existential purpose, something that motivates us to live for God, our fellow human beings and our planet with its wealth of animal and plant life. In the canonical Gospels, the same idea is expressed to an extent by the Parable of the Talents. It is cruel for an institution to treat a man in such a way as he loses all purpose of life, his very source of hope. I am sure that more can be done to help and guide “failed” seminarians by seeing further and wider than institutional orthodoxy. I am brought again to quote from the American poet Walt Whitman:

Down from the gardens of Asia descending radiating,
Adam and Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with never-happy hearts,
With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and Whither O mocking life?

Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who Justify these restless explorations?
Who speak the secret of impassive earth?
Who bind it to us? what is this separate Nature so unnatural?
What is this earth to our affections? (unloving earth, without a throb to answer ours, Cold earth, the place of graves.)

Some go to discover the South Pole or some isolated tribe in the Amazonian jungle. Others seek another “expression of church” by being ordained outside the “mainstream” churches and seeking to set off on their own along untrodden paths of self-knowledge and contemplation. Believe me, there is more to it than “Modernism, theosophy, and simple megalomania“. The way I see Modernism is a different one from Roman Thomists in the beginning of the twentieth century in their combat against those who sought to maintain the Church’s credibility in an environment of historical criticism and scientific progress. We either stay in our cages, Plato’s Cave (or whatever image we use), or we set out to discover and thus to bring forth what is within us.

I am just as dubious about theosophy and New Age, because they are artificial systems of “spirituality” that do not come from within our own depths but from hackneyed stereotypes and ideas. The way of Gnosis is not institutional or something for the masses, but ourselves with the transcendent and undefinable within us and everywhere around us. I cannot go back to Roman Thomism having discovered and experienced other things outside the cavern of shadows. But, I have to agree that the little gaggles of men and women in pointed hats calling themselves Tau this-or-that are silly caricatures. We only know about their existence because some curious traditionalist has written about them in the same spirit as circus owners in Victorian England showed off the Elephant Man.

As for magalomania, there are better and more efficient ways. The best way for the budding psychopath or narcissist is to go into banking, big business and politics. Hitler, for a failed art student in Vienna, was somewhat successful – at least until he got the blow-back fully in the face and suffered the defeat that led him to his cowardly suicide. Being a bishop, known only to one’s adversaries and critics, is hardly a way to affirm one’s own sense of self-importance. Perhaps with some.

We do need to make the effort to understand things, our own aspirations and failings. Then we might see a wider and more interesting picture. It might sometimes fall within our pastoral responsibilities as priests working by unusual means (like blogs). Perhaps many of these “vagus” clerics would do better to find something useful to do in life, and explore a new spiritual quest before settling down in some more homely and familiar way. Some are called to extraordinary things, to express their priesthood differently through art, technology and science, or in the way of the many invisible saints around us, whom we would never see in church.

I first read Anson and Brandreth some thirty years ago. I still have the two books, which now gather dust of my bookshelf. I have other books and studies about this topic that captured my imagination but always left me disappointed and empty-feeling. Perhaps some of those men do good, at least for a time. The noblest souls among them give up and become monks, find their place in some institutional church – or look further afield as spiritually minded human beings. Why expose them in the pillory? Is that the spirit of Christ?

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34 Responses to Episcopi Vagantes Simplified

  1. Neil Hailstone says:

    I agree with your comment about the ACC, the Old Catholics of Utrecht before WO ( now of course to be found in the Union of Scranton) and the smaller Orthodox jurisdictions having legitimacy. Yes – absolutely. I would think that most people leaving a mainstream catholic jurisdiction would easily identify the Theosophists, liberal ranters and those who could readily be identified as cranks.

    There is however an ongoing problem within this activity of those who are criminals and fraudsters. Also I’ll mention the subject of Protection Policies for the Vunerable including children.

    The ACC the NCC etc only admit men to the priesthood after extensive examination, enquiry and background checks. The self appointed are not subject to such thorough scrutiny.

  2. Dale says:

    “There is however an ongoing problem within this activity of those who are criminals and fraudsters. Also I’ll mention the subject of Protection Policies for the Vunerable including children.” Unfortunately, the biggest offenders against children were not members of small, independent jurisdictions, but the Roman Catholic church, the largest and most powerful denomination in the world.

  3. Neil Hailstone says:

    Well numerically of course they were in total. That would be because of the overall numbers of priests in the RCC totalling far more than in any other jurisdiction. I note on this side of The Pond a recent upsurge in paedophile ministers in liberal protestant jurisdictions being arrested alongside a worrying number of others from the worlds of entertainment and education and other professional areas of life.

    Because of my affinity as a member of the NCC with the RCC and in Reykjavik and Akureyri being warmly welcomed to RCC Holy Communion I would like to add to Fr Anthony’s recent comment. It was certainly a statistically small number of RC priests worldwide who were involved in these appalling and grievous mortal sins. In Iceland for example under the inspired leadership of + Pierre Burchet so far as is know it did not occur.

    One very serious allegation was later withdrawn and admitted to be false. The young man concerned being now forgiven and restored to communion.I won’t expand my next sentence.

    Catholicism in Scandinavia is attracting many new adherents hardly surprising to me given the condition of State Lutheranism. The RCC is growing there. All under the media and Anglican radar unsurprisingly. Continuing Lutheran churches flourish similarly.Still to my mind all of us must avoid complacency and advocate the thorough vetting of ordinands and the validly ordained seeking to transfer within catholic jurisdictions.

    I stand 100% behind my original comment that all candidates for admission to the Threefold Apostolic Ministry in any catholic jurisdiction should be properly examined with appropriate background checks being made.In this day and age self appointment to church office is surely an activity to be condemned by believing catholic christians.

  4. Dale says:

    ” It was certainly a statistically small number of RC priests worldwide who were involved in these appalling and grievous mortal sins” ; actually the number was horrendous in many was, but worse was the protection that their religious organisation gave to them. This is in some ways the real problem. The offended clergy were protected and the official aim of the Roman Catholic church was to cast aspersions against the victims.

    I agree wholeheartedly that in all jurisdictions candidates for any office should be properly vetted. But that is another issue altogether. The Roman Catholic most certainly did do this, but obviously not very well.

    • I hadn’t really expected an exchange about sexual abuser priests in the context of this thread. I think the proportion of “independent” clergy and “mainstream” clergy who sin in this way may be equal. I know of some traditionalist priests who have gone to prison for such crimes.

      The real issue was that the question of “episcopi vagantes” was being reduced to modernism, theosophy and megalomania. I found this explanation too simplistic. Some noble souls are lured down this path – I was myself – by certain instincts, aspirations and illusions. This is the real issue in view of the fact that pastoral care for priests is shockingly deficient.

      Anyway, my readers are free to comment as their interest takes them, but it would be nice to see a wider response. I agree that candidates for the priesthood or licensing (incardination) in a particular ecclesial jurisdiction need to be screened and vetted. They have above all to be evaluated in human and not only rational terms, especially in what makes their vocational vision – not whether they conform in every way to a corporate spirit. I do believe that it is when the human spirit is at its most free and inspired that there is less temptation to sin and evil.

  5. Stephen K says:

    I am aware, from among people from my distant past, of two who subsequently became sedevacantist bishops, two who became bishops in some Old Catholic or reformed Anabaptist tradition, a privately ordained Liberal Catholic priest, and one who became a bishop in the Palmarian church. Others simply either remained in a schismatic or peripheral condition, or left ministry, or……..you get the picture. Religion – and religion-making, as Rowan Williams called it – fascinates and motivates many people in different ways, some which pander to self-centredness of varying types and degrees, and some which appear more or less evangelical or altruistic (where these two are not mutually exclusive!) How do I know what motivates a particular individual? Well, probably not at all unless they say or write something. A pre-occupation with vestment or apparel or rank is probably a dead give-away that not much spiritual depth is to be found in the vicinity. But really, my experience is that none of us are really any more certain about the mystery of God and the mere fact of an affiliation with an established or mainstream institution is no guarantee of either spiritual virtue or theological wisdom or pastoral effectiveness. Therefore, say I, the mere mention of episcopi vagantes or New Age or theosophy and so on does not perturb me in the slightest. I’ve seen enough religious damage perpetrated by the more ‘respectable’ caste of Christians to be persuaded they ought not get any automatic privilege of trust or respect. By a person’s actions will ye know them. Now, who said that? [cf. Matt. 7:16]

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. One thing that amazes me about humanity in general is how little we have in common, how little we understand each other or even ourselves. Strange things go on in people’s minds from the most lofty to the basest, like the French couple presently in court for “punishing” their 3-year old son by forcing him into a washing machine and switching it on – killing the child. This mystery of the human soul extends to us all, whether we are concerned about “church” things or anything. The societies we belong to – church, countries, families, companies that employ us, anything – don’t change us within, and can contain good and evil alike. Much is expected of the Church because it claims to transform people at a spiritual and moral level. The thing that strikes me about independent bishops and priests is how harmless they are when you compare them with the rest of fallen humanity.

  6. Ian says:

    Thank you, Father, for a most interesting post, and for your link to your previous posts on this topic which I have read.

    Anson judges these men (as they all were back then) from a secure ecclesiological position, as does Dr Thompson. It is easy to make fun of men who are electricity clerks Monday to Friday, but on Sunday present themselves as His Sacred Beatitude Mar Anthanasios I, Sovereign Prince-Patriarch of Neasden and Exarch of the North Circular Road. AN Wilson sent it all up in his novel ‘Ungarded Hours’ (‘You know what they say, dear, wandering bishop, wandering hands…’). From someone with a PhD in sociology (though Thompson’s piece was, of course, journalism) it would be nicer to have a sociological investigation of the phenomenon.

    I had some brushes with all this on the London Anglo-Catholic ‘scene’ a quarter of a decade ago. A friend, whose private life would have rendered him unacceptable for ordination elsewhere, accepted ordination from one of these men. Within a short time he was collecting titles, ecclesiastical, noble and chivalric, like no one’s business. All a bit sad, and rather distasteful.

    Then one has the holy eccentrics, like Bishop Francis Glenn, who (as far as I know) never consecrated any one else, ordained very few priests, and devoted his life to working with the poor and outcast. They do exist.

    Msgr Gilby is supposed to have described himself as the sort of person who turned the last supper into Solemn High Mass. As one cannot see into the souls of these independent sacramental movement clergy it is understandable that we tend to look at their obsession with the externals of religion and scoff. But a more sober and academic discussion would be interesting, and maybe help reconcile people who are tempted to make further rents in the seamless robe of Christ.

    • These reflections resonate well, between the sad caricatures and those who aspire to labour in the Lord’s Vineyard despite not being “official Church”. I am a little surprised to see Msgr Gilbey in this context, since he was an official RC priest and former university chaplain. I am concerned for the liturgy and for Christian culture, but I left behind “seminarian talk” many years ago. We do need, as you say, a “sober and academic discussion”, so that some of the men who turned (metaphorically) to the Venusberg can receive forgiveness and reconciliation even before the Pope’s staff sprouts leaves (see Tannhaüser about whom Wagner wrote his great opera).

  7. Dale says:

    Not mentioned, but also true is that several so-called “Episcopi Vagantes” have indeed founded fairly stable, growing jurisdictions, this is especially true in North America. Several of the Old Roman Catholic jurisdictions who have retained the Traditional Roman rite have done quite well, and contrary to fable and propaganda oftentimes their clergy are indeed well educated. One of the leaders of one of the larger Old Roman Catholic groups in the United States is a retired university professor from one of the Mid-West’s top universities. Here is a photograph of the cathedral of one such group in Florida (this diocese has quite a few parishes and is growing): http://olgh.us/.

    One is tempted to ask, if one is a pre-Vatican I Catholic and supporter of the old Mass, what else can one do? This is especially true when one considers the absolute failure of so-called western rite Orthodoxy; which might have been a possibility for such individuals and groups.

    finally, one must be very, very careful with both Anson and Brandreth, they both had axes to grind. Anson even included canonical Orthodox clergy in his rather dreadful book if they celebrated a western liturgy.

    • Ian says:

      Indeed, Dale. Some of the Old Catholic churches in the US are organising themselves and in discussion with the Union of Utrecht for recognition. They tend to be rather more ‘liberal’, as the European Old Catholics are now. See http://toccusa.org/ and http://www.conferenceofoldcatholicbishops.org/index.php

      One might say that neither Brandreth or Anson led exemplary private lives. Or, I suppose to be more charitable, one could say they were very contradictory people, as is often the case. Pop psychology would put Anson’s waspishness down to insecurity, I suppose, and maybe that is right. I find ‘Bishops at Large’ leaves a rather nasty taste in my mouth, and not just because of the antics of the bishops it describes.

      Western Rite Orthodoxy is a whole different ball of string. Fr Chadwick has written about it, and I think favours it. To me the sight of Orthodox priests in fiddleback chasubles, or all dressed like something out of the Parson’s Handbook, seems to have an inauthenticity to it, though I am willing to be convinced otherwise. In any event, the ambiguities of Western Rite Orthodoxy lead to situtations like this http://www.synod.com/synod/eng2013/20130712_ensynodmeeting.html

      • Yes, I have written about my fleeting brush with the Western Orthodox idea. I have read about it and have corresponded. In theory, it seems great as a solution for former Roman Catholic and Anglican “refugees” seeking a respectable and “recognised” solution. I know about what exists, especially in the USA. Here in Europe, there are groups that are no less marginal than us in the continuing Anglican Churches. Those who are not in their camp view them as odd. Perhaps the continuing Anglican Churches are easier to understand than the round pegs in the square holes of those trying to be “kosher” and get one over those who are “less kosher”. The idea interested me during the time of my friendship with Dr Ray Winch and my contacts with Dr Jean-François Mayer in Switzerland when I was up at university. I wrote at the time (around 1988) to a good Antiochian WR priest in the USA asking for advice, which would have been to move to the USA and his parish, establish myself at my own expense – and then perhaps be considered for the priesthood after several years. It was the only advice he could give. WR Orthodoxy is even more rarefied than continuing Anglicanism. I am open-minded towards those who are interested in pursuing such an avenue, but it is definitely not for me. There is too much intrigue, hoop-jumping and skulduggery in their ecclesiastical politics. I’m afraid I just don’t want to know…

        My advice to anyone thinking about Orthodoxy: forget about the western rite bit and emigrate to Russia, Greece, Serbia, etc. Orthodox churches in the western world are for immigrants, not converts.

      • The thing I have found fascinating about Old Catholicism is the foundational idea – the so-called “time capsule” archetype. The Dutch Church just stayed baroque Roman Catholic whilst breaking away from Rome and adopting Conciliarist ecclesiology. It was basically medieval Catholicism with baroque trappings. Those who revolted against the infallibilist dogma of Vatican I were more interested in the notion of reconstructing the “pristine” norms of the patristic Church, something nice and clean and whitewashed, approaching Protestantism whilst keeping the priesthood and the seven Ecumenical Councils. This Jansenist underpinning at very much at the root of this amorphous “Christianity” that is now everywhere, and conforms to secular standards to “get on” with non-Christian society. They have a point – but not entirely…

        From what I have read, Anson was a monastic oblate and a convert to Roman Catholicism. He was caught up in the euphoria of the 1960’s, and it was inconceivable to him how anyone would not see things as he did. I suppose it was something like the ordinariate euphoria of 2012 or thereabouts, dampened down by the abdication of Benedict XVI and the election of the current Pontiff. It is not easy to see the world through the eyes of anyone other than our own. It takes effort to have compassion and empathy for other people, like a man driving a BMW and seeing someone on a bicycle. Some people ride bicycles even if they have enough money for a car. Brandreth was an Establishment man of the cloth. Some of those men can be so damned stuffy that they deserve two dozen lashes with the cat!

        I think there are some worthy Old Catholic and Old Roman Catholic endeavours, as there are communities of Anglicans and Roman Catholic traditionalists. The tree is judged by its fruits. We seem to need to detach ourselves from the Establishment trappings and discover a whole new paradigm of being Catholic Christians in a world that is increasingly secular and pro-Islam.

      • Stephen K says:

        For some contextual background, on Peter Anson, I think considerable insight can be obtained by reading his “Abbot Extraordinary: A Memoir of Aelred Carlyle”.

      • There is also Building up the Waste Places, Faith Press 1973. I have this book, and have been fascinated by his treatment of Brother Ignatius of Llanthony. Going through his bibliography, one thing endears him to me – his love of boats and the world of the sea. I also sympathise with the way he dealt with Freidrich Heiler in Bishops at Large on account of his erudition and intellectual achievements. It would seem better for any of us to present ourselves to the world in proportion to our own real achievements. Perhaps that is a key to understanding many who have really gone off the rails!

      • William Tighe says:

        “Some of the Old Catholic churches in the US are organising themselves and in discussion with the Union of Utrecht for recognition. They tend to be rather more ‘liberal’, as the European Old Catholics are now.”

        What is the point of creating a pint-size version of the Episcopal Church, when the latter is ready and willing (indeed, given its demographics, one might add “desperate”) to embrace almost anyone and anything – not to mention the fact that some years ago the Union of Utrecht “accredited” (for want of a better term) the Episcopal Church as its representative in the United States? I am afraid that I do think these liberal/antinomian “Old Catholic” bodies as combining “campery” and “playing church.”

      • Ready to embrace almost anyone and anything? I think one could get into the Episcopalians if you are ideologically compatible and the type of personality that fits into a corporate culture. No loose cannons! As in French Roman Catholicism, the fences and boundaries are strictly guarded. As my Bishop in England once asked in astoundment – Why is everyone leaving the big institutional churches only to want to be recognised by them? Most of the sympathy I had for Old Catholics as well as Western Orthodox is gone – but I still try to make distinctions and see the best in the best of them.

      • Dale says:

        Ian the Old Catholic Church in British Columbia did indeed enter into union with the “Continental” Old Catholics, and stayed only a very, very short time. Their liberalism was too much for them.

        It is indeed perhaps unfortunate that the PNCC are, as John of Young Fogey fame has correctly stated, simply a novus ordo clone; offering traditional Pre-Vatican I Catholics very little, if anything.

      • Dale says:

        “To me the sight of Orthodox priests in fiddleback chasubles, or all dressed like something out of the Parson’s Handbook, seems to have an inauthenticity to it”; the same has been said of eastern rite Roman Catholics.

      • Dale says:

        Dr Tighe mentioned the following: ” the Episcopal Church, when the latter is ready and willing (indeed, given its demographics, one might add “desperate”) to embrace almost anyone and anything.” I think that this needs to be qualified, they are not at all interested in anyone with leanings towards Christianity.

      • Stephen K says:

        I am afraid that I do think these liberal/antinomian “Old Catholic” bodies as combining “campery” and “playing church.”

        I think that’s true in particular cases, William, although I think it has to be recognised that campery and ‘playing church’ can also be found within the mainstream institutions, including at the traditional, high-church end.

        The real issue is whether there is any nourishment of spiritual value behind it or accompanying it. Given that religion is as people are, and in one sense or another every religious expression may be considered personal and idiosyncratic, we may not be able to be too sweeping about it.

      • I think you have hit on a good point here. The a priori approach (I’m not saying that this is so of Dr Tighe) would attempt a dualistic view consisting of saying that the bad eggs are “outside the Church”, and the bad eggs within the official institution are ignored and passed over. What is implied is “no salvation outside the Church [institution]”. If you find “camp” men “playing church” both in independent groups and in an “official” ecclesial institution (Roman Catholic Church, Church of England, Union of Utrecht, etc.), then this fact cannot be used to discredit either category (official or loose cannon).

        We need to find other criteria to influence our judgement. My own is that the Universal Church subsists in all groups of Christians and is rendered more visible (perceptible) when there are the liturgy, the Sacraments and a priesthood. The Church is also found in the mainstream bodies. Conversely, many clergy and laity belonging to institutional Churches are outside the Church due to lack of faith or sincerity in their Christian commitment. We all have a foot inside and a foot outside.

        Our subject is independent bishops and groups that usually attract very few lay members. I do believe that the criteria is not to discern whether they are “camp” (effeminate or theatrical) or are consciously simulating what they are not. What do they believe about themselves? What is their vocation vision even if it is “monastic” or contemplative based on prayer and intellectual work? Baden Powell was known to say that there was an amount of good even in the most hopeless persons has had in his scouting movement. We can do well to be a little less Augustinian in our pessimism.

  8. William Tighe says:

    “this needs to be qualified, they are not at all interested in anyone with leanings towards Christianity”

    Of course, Dale, I agree, but we were speaking here of liberal (and mostly ex-RC) OCs for whom priestesses and sanctified sodomy are, as it were, the bees’ knees. I have some sympathy, and once had more, for conservative “independent” OCs: I made a number of long day-trips to New York City in the summer of 1975, when I was a graduate student at Yale, exploring a number of small OC storefront or studio flat OC churches, and having pleasant conversations with their bishops and archbishops (of which the most memorable was a long conversation with the strongly Gnostically-inclined widow of a Bishop De Witow, the particulars of whose career I no longer recall; no doubt he is in Anson or Brandreth). The real high point of those visits was a long afternoon spent with the WR Orthodox priest Fr. Paul Schneirla, who answered the door when I arrived dressed in a cassock with a very large parrot perched on his left shoulder, the cassock adorned with a stream of parrot droppings running down its front and back. (Not that I wish to associate Fr. Schneirla – memory eternal! – with those others whom I visited.)

    I have a less pleasanr memory of meeting one of these OC bishops at a conference which I attended at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in June 2008 (which included the privilege and pleasure of meeting and conversing of the then ECUSA Bishop of Quincy, Keith Ackerman): this was a bishop, once a RC seminarian, who after a varied ecclesiastical career, including serving as a bishop in one of the bodies calling itself the “North American Old Roman Catholic Church” had associated himself with Bishop Stallings of the Imani Temple in Washington, DC, and was part of an organization agitating in favor of married priests in the RC Church. When I commended the man on the organization’s relative orthodoxy in not agitating for WO, he replied that he and his episcopal confreres were all for WO (“as there are no theological reasons against it”), but were keeping quiet about it “so as not to risk our credibility with the Roman Catholic authorities.”

    • Indeed, I would find such clerics much more credible if their “style” was very plain, going about like a simple priest and being involved in intellectual, cultural and humanitarian work. They should show no more than their real achievements in life. It can be argued that few of these men (who have fallen foul of the “system” without a serious moral fault to their discredit) need to be ordained. Perhaps if I had my life again, I would stick to music and composition with sailing as my hobby – the trouble is doing music for money and having to fit in with the atonal “matrix”. Musicians are just as catty as clerics! One can find the way of sanctification without being a priest. One thing is that if one is already a priest, the question to ask would be what good would come from giving it up. There are as many answers as there are souls in this kind of situation.

      If we can get rid of the grandiose titles and pretences to have jurisdiction over this or that, maybe there may be more justification of priests in unusual situations. Bishops of small Churches, like my own Bishop in the ACC, can do a lot to take in a few erring clerics on a case-by-case basis as simple priests (with conditional ordination as required).

  9. Ian says:

    “Indeed, I would find such clerics much more credible if their “style” was very plain, going about like a simple priest and being involved in intellectual, cultural and humanitarian work.” – Indeed, Fr Chadwick. That, actually, is the point Anson makes at the end of ‘Bishops at Large’ (pp 541-44). By their fruits you shall know them.

    Campery and playing church can, indeed, be found everywhere. But I have found men whose camp manner and seeming irreverence mask a very deep faith. And do not the camp need Jesus too? The current Cardinal of Westminster, when auxiliary in that diocese in the 1990s, presided at some grand do at the London Oratory. Afterwards he commented to a friend of mine that whilst what went on there was not his cup of tea, he thought it a good thing that it existed for those who needed it.

    Dale – I hold no mandate to defend Eastern Rite Catholics, but I think historically they can be distinguished from WR Orthodoxy. They are groups who, retaining their own traditions (then often latinised and delatinised again) came into communion with Rome. They constitute distinct particular churches. WR Orthodox seem less substantial, more like, dare I say, the Ordinariates (for which I have a great deal of sympathy).

    All that has been written here has convinced me of the need to study these groups from an academic standpoint, and at least with charity (as has largely been the case with this discussion). My own very limited experience of these people is of men who are a bit lost really. A very real desire to serve God has somehow, often through the lack of insight of their pastors, gone astray. Rather than dismissing them as sanctified sodomites, soft in the head, delusional fantasists with a titles and dressing up fetish, or whatever, the ‘mainstream’ churches maybe should ask how and why they have failed such people.

    • In a way, as I have said, I sympathise with Anson – his love of “marine culture” and the time he lived in (the transition from Roman legalism and stuffiness to what was believed to be the seeds of a spiritual renewal and blossoming in the Church). Wordsworth delighted and hoped in the Revolution until he saw the guillotine at work! We all become jaded and cynical with the “been there, read the book and seen the film” aspects of life that others are only just discovering. Indeed in the pages to which you refer (I have just re-read them), Anson shows a nuanced attitude worthy of the “English spirit”. The issue of authority (infallible) is a deep-seated one. I am temperamentally an anarchist, though I recognise authority as being of the bene esse, without which human sinfulness would overshadow the good and noble in our humanity. If religion is about submission, the “religion of peace” might be a more realistic proposal than the “weakness” of Christ’s Gospel.

      Also, many of us make mistakes of judgement in life. Society expects us to be born in the right place, grow up in a straight and predictable line and never vary, anything else being construed as instability. I have been through it myself. I almost get the impression that we would be better considered if we were to apostatise from Christianity and become financially successful secularists! Let’s all join the Rat Race! At the end of our earthly existence, all that would remain would be a handful of dust and bitterness.

      Anson does have a point when he asks how distinctions can be made other than by asking who is in the RC Church (or other mainline institutions) or not. It is the dilemma faced by every magistrate and judge facing a wrongdoer: does this man need help or punishment, or both? The value of a person cannot be judged in terms of worldly success but rather the Parable of the Sower that Anson quotes, or the Parable of the Talents, or the little quotation I made out of St Thomas’ Gospel from the Nag Hammadi texts.

      Anson compares the world of independent groups with housing estates for the middle classes, compared with the oneness of the monolithic Church he embraced. This might be a fallacy when these groups and their clergy are compared to the general population. Nearly all such entities die when their founders do. Fewer men go in for this kind of thing than fifty years ago. Christianity is ebbing away from our world.

      What would I do if I no longer had a Church to belong to, supposing the ACC went the way of the TAC and got “cherry-picked” by Rome? The priesthood isn’t an unconditional. I could conceive of a situation in which exercising the priesthood would no longer be justifiable. I agonised about all this as Archbishop Hepworth went down and I asked myself these very questions. Going back to the RC Church and being a layman in the existing diocesan and parochial system would be too depressing to contemplate! Going to a monastery or an eastern rite church is always a possibility, but involves a “cafeteria” choice among so many others. I went to the ACC out of a sense of duty to my priestly calling, that calling being justified by the ministry of teaching and sanctifying (the governing is the Bishop’s job) by whatever means are available. I am not a parish priest, nor am I employed by a school or a university, but I am involved in music, the boating world and blogging – through which the priesthood can be indirectly expressed. That is something.

      I cannot foretell the future. I do everything I can to help our Diocese become ever more stable and permanent. We are still too fragile, and it can all tip one way or the other. I value this incertitude because it prevents us from becoming triumphalistic, we need something to keep us humble and simple before God.

      I don’t believe the “mainstream” churches will ever ask questions about the men they have killed spiritually and sometimes physically too. The policy seems now to be one of terra cremata. I begin to feel very old…

    • Riley Harrison says:

      What would Anson have to say about this one? He is, without a doubt, one of the strangest.


      • My word! He hasn’t got bored with it yet? We could swap them like conkers or marbles like when we were in short trousers and had grazed knees in the school playground. My own thought is to ask what such a fair-looking young man is doing in such a mess. 🙂

      • Ian says:

        Oh my! Poor chap. I wonder if I could get made a Captain in the Walsingham Guards – the uniform would certainly turn heads.

        Anson, by the way, had a pretty unconventional life, with little stability. After his monastic career at Caldey, and then as an oblate, he finally found a spiritual home as a Franciscan Tertiary (Peter was his name in religion). His role in founding the Apostleship of the Sea, along with his writings, are his main legacy.

      • You would have to buy your own uniform. I think tailors who do that kind of work don’t do so for free!

        Anson has had the merit of writing all those books. I wonder if he sailed, the true test of love of the sea.

        For ministries of the sea, I know a Roman Catholic priest in France, Fr Claude Babarit, who is quite elderly. I crewed for him (he was our skipper) in the Naviclerus Regatta of 2011 where we were eight boats (Dufour 34) and some fifty priests and seminarians including the Bishop of Quimper. He takes young people sailing in his boat and talks of God and Christ to get them curious. The first thing is to get them interested in sailing and doing something real in life. It seems a great idea, and I’m very fond of that priest. He is on Facebook.

      • Ian says:

        Anson did sail. He had a life long fascination with the sea, sailors, fishermen, etc. He came from a naval family, of course. There was an 18th Century Admiral of the Fleet, among other family members.

        Back in the 90s a friend of mine and I had an idea to collaborate on a Biography of Anson. It had the informal blessing of the Abbot of Nunraw, who is Anson’s literary executor. My friend died before we got very far, and my interests moved on.

        Anson was certainly a contradictory figure. There is a restlessness about his life. ‘Abbot Extraordinary’ is still seen, I was told by a monk of Pluscarden Abbey, as a betrayal of the memory of Aelred Carlyle, who showed Anson great kindness. Of course, Carlyle was himself a somewhat contradictory figure.

  10. Pingback: Peter Slipper Comments: He is more Catholic than the Pope | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

    • I have just read the article in question. Over the years, I have come across bishops from the ICAB. In 2004, they had a meeting in Portugal with an Archbishop Antonio da Costa Raposo, and there was a big bust-up just prior to there being some attempt at a “union of churches”. It is a pity that continuing Anglicans are lumped in with such “cockroaches”, but there is a question of clergy training and long-term viability. In the present circumstances, I don’t think the RC Church can afford to be too triumphalistic. I have been through with “cockroach” bishops for a long time when I became aware that the problem was largely one of personality disorders. You can also find plenty such people who are not aspiring to the clergy, but live in some way as parasites and something false. What a mess, but there is a distinction to be made:

      – A group of clergy and laity elect a bishop and maintain some organic unity with something recognisable as having the character of a Church;
      – An individual who gets ordained and consecrated and then tries to assemble people around him to create something claiming to be a Church or even a part of the official Roman Catholic Church, which is clearly usurpation.

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