The American Interest
Religion & Other Curiosities
Published on October 5, 2010
Rome and Canterbury

On September 22 The New York Times reported in some detail on the visit to Britain by Pope Benedict XVI.  The high point of the visit was Benedict praying side by side at Westminster Abbey with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was indeed an expression of ecumenical amity. Less amicable was Benedict’s proclamation, on the same visit, of the beatification (one step away from sanctification) of John Henry Newman, the most famous Anglican to return to the bosom of Rome. Also less amicable was the wonderfully understated observation Rowan Williams felt constrained to make, to the effect that there are some differences of opinion concerning the status of the bishop of Rome. But the tensions which surfaced here came from an earlier action by Benedict which (quite accurately, I think) has been seen as an attempt to fish in troubled waters. This was the offer by the Vatican to set up an Anglican rite within the Roman Catholic Church for priests leaving the Church of England because of gay bishops and other objectionable innovations. Such priests would be allowed to keep their wives and some parts of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Rome interpreted this move as coming out of pastoral concern for priests left ecclesiastically homeless. Needless to say, the view from Canterbury is rather different.
At first glance the arrangement proposed by the Vatican for fugitive Anglican priests seems to be very similar to the long-standing institution of Eastern rites for Orthodox church bodies (so-called Uniat churches), whose priests are allowed to be married and to keep using the rituals of traditional Orthodoxy. But there are also important differences. Eastern rites are accorded to entire Orthodox church bodies, while the envisaged Anglican rites are offered to individuals. A rough analogy would be if amnesty were granted to an entire Mafia family, as against individuals deserting the family. More importantly, the ordination of Orthodox priests is considered valid by Rome; Anglican ordination is not. Another rough analogy: A doctor moving from New York to Boston would not have to renew his credentials as a practitioner of medicine; a doctor moving from Russia would. Thus, as far as I understand the esoterica of Roman canon law, the beneficiaries of the new Anglican rite would have to be re-ordained.
The issue is not new, though it emerges now in a new context. The Anglo-Catholic movement, which arose in England in the nineteenth century, emphasized the Catholic roots of Anglicanism. It added incense and other liturgical extravagances to the ritual, and it re-established monastic institutions. Most Anglo-Catholics have remained in the Church of England and its overseas sister churches (such as the Episcopal Church in the United States), becoming one of three versions of Anglicanism—the Anglo-Catholic “high church” (also known as “high and crazy”), the deliberately Protestant “low church” (“low and lazy”), and the biggest in-between “broad church” (“broad and hazy”). It could be argued that the last most clearly expresses the mellow genius of Anglicanism. As an agnostic but nominally Episcopalian friend of mine said, when I looked surprised that he kneeled at a wedding we attended: “I don’t know whether I believe in God. But I know that I believe in the Church of England.”
But some adherents of the Anglo-Catholic movement were not satisfied by being accommodated in this big tent. John Henry Newman was not the only one to “go swimming in the Tiber” (a few became Orthodox, “swimming in the Bosphorus”). The ambition by Anglo-Catholics to be recognized by Rome (regardless of whether they themselves ended up there) induced Pope Leo XIII in 1896 to issue the bull Apostolicae Curae, which declared Anglican ordinations to be “absolutely null and utterly void” (Rome at her most august does not mince words). Curiously, the reason given for this position was not that the Church of England had ceased to stand in “apostolic succession” after Henry VIII severed it from Rome in his noble project of legitimizing his occupancy of Anne Boleyn’s bed. “Apostolic succession” refers to the claim that the Apostles established a line of bishops continuing uninterrupted through the centuries—a claim as dubious historically as the claim that Jesus established the papacy. It is doubly dubious in the case of the Church of England. Who was left after Henry VIII executed bishops who refused to acknowledge him as head of that church, after Queen Mary executed those who had, and Queen Elizabeth I did away with those who wanted to stick with Mary’s project to return to the church’s allegiance to Rome? I suppose that diligent historians could find a couple of bishops who survived these massacres—probably masters of the art of accommodation.
Anyway, Leo XIII did not focus on “apostolic succession.” Rather, Anglican orders were invalid because of a “deficiency of intention”—that is, the Anglican understanding of priesthood was not based on the full Catholic doctrine of the priest’s power to accomplish the sacrifice of the mass. Recent developments have worsened the “deficiency”—the ordination of women, the consecration of gay bishops, intercommunion with Lutheran churches with highly “defective” views on everything, and various moral aberrations (such as tolerance of abortion).

Benedict’s program to welcome Anglican refugees faces a number of problems. Recent dissidents come from two very different groups: the aforementioned Anglo-Catholics, who have always flirted with Rome, and Evangelicals, who have never been tempted to go there. Be this as it may, some priests have apparently been considering the offer. One such individual, Geoffrey Kirk, a priest in London, is quoted by The New York Times as having pithily described the difficulty: “We are a country of Protestant atheists. Most people don’t take religion very seriously. The one thing they do take seriously is how dreadful the Catholic Church is.”
The Vatican understands the world. The papal visit to Britain must be understood as part of a global strategy and Europe’s part in it. Despite the confrontation with Islam and the challenge of Evangelical Protestantism, the Catholic Church is doing quite well in the Americas (North as well as Latin), in sub-Saharan Africa, and in such Catholic outposts as the Philippines. The principal problem is secular Europe. Thus it is logical that Benedict has declared the “evangelization of Europe” to be a principal aim of his papacy. It is too early to assess the result. There are formidable obstacles. European secularity has become culturally entrenched. The mega-scandal of sex abuses by Catholic priests has not helped. But Benedict’s visit to Britain has once again made clear that there are other churches on the ground in Europe—churches who do not look kindly on being made objects of evangelization.

  • Neville

    “The mega-scandal of sex abuses by Catholic priests has not helped…”

    Does this not seriously understate the impact of the Catholicism’s (ongoing) sexual and child abuse scandals?

    Existing Catholic congregations seem to have developed a remarkable ability to ‘look the other way’ as the global scale of the problem and the ineffectual (at best) nature of the hierarchy have become apparent. The whole scene looks very different and far more hazardous, though, to someone on the outside who might contemplate either joining individually or exposing young people towards whom they have a responsibility to the tender mercies of the Catholic clergy.

    The unraveling of this whole story over the past two decades has surely driven a wrecking ball through whatever the Catholic church’s prospects of expanding due to ‘modern’ practices elsewhere might have been. As we can see from the lack of even a trickle of people switching.

    From Catholicism’s perspective this whole story looks like remaining one big ‘might have been’.

  • http://www.londoninternetchurch.org.uk JAMES ROSENTHAL

    See our news story on the Abbey service

  • WigWag

    “Curiously, the reason given for this position was not that the Church of England had ceased to stand in “apostolic succession” after Henry VIII severed it from Rome in his noble project of legitimizing his occupancy of Anne Boleyn’s bed…” (Peter Berger)

    I suspect that Professor Berger knows perfectly well that his snarky comment about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is misleading. It perpetuates the popular stereotype that the entire English reformation was based on little more than Henry’s desire to ditch his wife, Catherine of Aragon, to take up with a younger, prettier woman who popular culture today has concluded must have been a sex crazed nymph. The only problem is that the popular understanding isn’t historically accurate; the English reformation was about far more than Henry VIII’s raging hormones.

    There are numerous reasons that the English reformation actually occurred. First, there were legitimate questions about Henry’s marriage to Catherine. As Professor Berger must know, before Catherine and Henry were married, Catherine was married to Henry’s older brother (who died). Because Catherine almost certainly consummated her marriage to Henry’s brother there is a legitimate question about whether the marriage was permitted under canon law and whether the pope had the right to waive canon law to permit Henry and Catherine’s marriage. It should also be pointed out that Henry was only 15 when he was married off to Catherine (who was considerably older than he was) and that the marriage was solely designed to cement the English alliance with Spain. Of course, dynastic marriages such as this were not uncommon.

    Secondly, the English reformation was motivated by the extraordinary abuses of English commoners by priests and bishops. Not only was their property stolen by the ecclesiastical authorities, but the Church authorities practiced a virtual reign of terror over the English populace punishing and even executing them at will for the most minor religious infractions. Ecclesiastical courts ran amok and were not checked in any way by civil authorities. In certain ways the situation in England in the 16th century was similar to what we are witnessing today in Sharia courts in Muslim nations like Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

    Most importantly, Henry’s desire to divorce Catherine and marry Anne was motivated by his desire for a male heir which Catherine never gave him (both the sons born to Catherine and Henry died at a very young age; their only child to survive was Mary).

    By modern standards this may seem bizarre but it is important to remember that within the memories of many Englishmen, England had recently experienced a horrendous and bloody civil war, the War of the Roses, that resulted from the lack of clarity about the appropriate heir to the throne. Because no one contemplated the possibility of a female monarch, Henry and all of England was extremely anxious for a male heir to the throne. Henry’s desire to divorce Catherine, who at the time of the divorce could no longer have children, was almost certainly motivated by his desire for a son, not his desire to get into Anne’s bed. In case it hasn’t occurred to Professor Berger, Henry could almost certainly have gotten into Anne’s bed and the beds of plenty of other women without actually marrying them. Ironically, after his death, the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VII was very short because he died at the age of 15. Henry was eventually succeeded by three daughters ; first Jane who served for only 9 days and was eventually beheaded at the order of her sister Mary, then Mary and finally Elizabeth. These were the first female monarchs England had ever known.

    Some of Berger’s readers may be unfamiliar with this history and Berger does them a disservice by suggesting that the English reformation was motivated by little more than the King’s desire for sexual escapades.

    Readers wanting to learn more about this should read two books by the great British historian J.A. Froude (both are available for the kindle). The books are entitled “The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon” and “The Reign of Mary Tudor.”

    Froude writes brilliantly. He is clearly pro-Protestant and anti-Catholic, but his books provide an accurate and entertaining rendition of what really happened.

  • WigWag

    “It is doubly dubious in the case of the Church of England. Who was left after Henry VIII executed bishops who refused to acknowledge him as head of that church, after Queen Mary executed those who had, and Queen Elizabeth I did away with those who wanted to stick with Mary’s project to return to the church’s allegiance to Rome? I suppose that diligent historians could find a couple of bishops who survived these massacres—probably masters of the art of accommodation.”

    Berger’s allusion to “masters of the art of accommodation” reminded me of the Vicar of Bray’s song that I first learned about in Walter Russell Mead’s book, “God and Gold.” It goes like this,

    In good King Charles’s golden days,
    When Loyalty no harm meant;
    A Zealous High-Church man I was
    And so I gain’d Preferment.
    Unto my Flock I daily Preach’d,
    Kings are by God appointed,
    And Damn’d are those who dare resist,
    Or touch the Lord’s Anointed.

    When Royal James possest the crown,
    And popery grew in fashion;
    The Penal Law I shouted down,
    And read the Declaration:
    The Church of Rome I found would fit
    Full well my Constitution,
    And I had been a Jesuit,
    But for the Revolution.

    When William our Deliverer came,
    To heal the Nation’s Grievance,
    I turn’d the Cat in Pan again,
    And swore to him Allegiance:
    Old Principles I did revoke,
    Set conscience at a distance,
    Passive Obedience is a Joke,
    A Jest is non-resistance.

    When Royal Ann became our Queen,
    Then Church of England’s Glory,
    Another face of things was seen,
    And I became a Tory:
    Occasional Conformists base
    I Damn’d, and Moderation,
    And thought the Church in danger was,
    From such Prevarication.

    When George in Pudding time came o’er,
    And Moderate Men looked big, Sir,
    My Principles I chang’d once more,
    And so became a Whig, Sir.
    And thus Preferment I procur’d,
    From our Faith’s great Defender
    And almost every day abjur’d
    The Pope, and the Pretender.

    The Illustrious House of Hannover,
    And Protestant succession,
    To these I lustily will swear,
    Whilst they can keep possession:
    For in my Faith, and Loyalty,
    I never once will faulter,
    But George, my lawful king shall be,
    Except the Times shou’d alter.

    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
    That whatsoever King may reign,
    I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

  • Joanna

    @Neville

    “The whole scene looks very different and far more hazardous, though, to someone on the outside who might contemplate either joining individually or exposing young people towards whom they have a responsibility to the tender mercies of the Catholic clergy.”

    Yet, does that same process occur to those about to enroll their children in public school, boy scouts, the league of the militant godless, etc?

    The sex abuse was horrific and inexcusable. But its scale was overblown by the media.

    As Phillip Jenkins said:

    “my research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported.”

    I recommend his “Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis” and “The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice”