I can't get my head around John Bentley Mays's take on Anglican-Catholic relations (link via Deborah Gyapong).
But before shouting a merry “Welcome Home!” to them [the Traditional Anglican Communion], it’s worth thinking about the pickle into which the recent tumults in Anglicanism are putting Catholic officialdom.
Up to this point, the Catholic Church’s talks with Anglicans have proceeded on the understanding that there was a single Anglican body in the conversation — the one made up of those churches who recognize the spiritual leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
How so? The TAC has been out of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury for more than a decade and a half (and has been in dialogue with Rome since the early 1990s).
But should the Anglican Communion fragment into so many pieces, as now seems possible, who, exactly, will Catholics talk to? The liberal, mainstream denomination, which ordains women and (in the United States, anyway) approves the ordination of openly gay priests and bishops? Or the breakaway Anglicans who do neither, and are therefore of one mind (in this respect, anyway) with Catholicism?
It's not for me to decide, but surely the Catholic Church will talk to whoever is willing to talk with her. I can't imagine that The Episcopal Church will be remotely interested in negotiating much of anything with Rome, given TEC's intransigence towards the rest of the Anglican Communion to which, for the time being, it still belongs. But Rome has been talking with Eastern Orthodox Churches and even the Mennonite World Conference, an heir of one of the radical streams of the Protestant Reformation.
The fact that at one recent powwow the Russian Orthodox got huffy over the presence of the Estonian Orthodox and walked out didn't stop talks from proceeding fruitfully among the rest of the participants. Neither should any talks between Rome and the TAC interfere with Canterbury's own relationship with Rome.
And what’s to be done about those Anglicans who are now seeking full union with the Catholic Church? For Catholics to treat with a whole bloc of disaffected Anglicans runs counter to Vatican policy regarding the Anglican Communion. Were the Vatican to admit the TAC to membership, the move would almost certainly be viewed by Anglican mainstreamers as gravely divisive to the up-to-now usual Catholic-Anglican relationship, and it might squash future ecumenical encounters altogether.
Nonsense. It would be one thing for Rome to openly woo en bloc those "disaffected Anglicans" who currently belong to the Anglican Communion, and this it has not done. The Catholic Church is called to evangelize all men, but it should reach out to Christians active in other ecclesial communities in a way that will not jeopardize the long, slow work of restoring Christian unity. It is another thing altogether, though, for Rome to receive an overture from a group that has long been estranged from Canterbury and that shows not the slightest interest in accepting the current doctrine and governance of the Anglican Communion.
Surely the TAC is not some sort of Taiwan seen by the People's Republic of Canterbury as a renegade island that really should be reunited, by force if necessary, with the Anglican mainland. No, it's gone. Canterbury has more important things to worry about.
Update: let me backtrack slightly. In seeking the "wider unity of all Christians," Canterbury must of course envision this to involve breakaway Anglicans too in the end. A single sentence in the 44-page statement of the International Anglican – Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission points to some sensitivity. "In order to safeguard the cohesion of our engagement in the ecumenical movement," it urges close consultation when either body "engages in a new ecumenical partnership with another church" (para. 123). To what extent this might refer to the TAC is not clear.
As for Rome's interest in the current Anglican crisis, it is to encourage unity among whatever elements of the Anglican Communion still submit to the authority of Sacred Scripture.
The TAC is unusual in having affirmed from the outset its "intention to seek and achieve full sacramental communion and visible unity with other Christians… who hold the Catholic and Apostolic Faith." Unity regrettably is not such a priority for some of the other groups that have been splintering off from Anglicanism. In liturgy and ecclesiology many of the Anglicans least willing to accommodate TEC's heresies are far indeed from Rome.
The logic of schism is self-perpetuating. The more isolated the community, the harder it will find to be drawn to the fullness of the Catholic faith, having once defined its existence in opposition to and separation from what it sees as the corruption of other ecclesial bodies. If the mindset is one of avoiding the taint of bishops who are soft on homosexual sin and lax with regard to scriptural authority more generally, then such groups will find ample reason to steer clear of the Catholic Church, because we have corruption aplenty.
The more fruitful question, of course, is which body has, despite the shortcomings of individual members of its hierarchy, faithfully preserved the teaching handed down from the Apostles. But that's not how members of a splinter group are apt to see it. So let us pray for the unity of all Christians--and trust that in his own perfect timing God will reveal a way forward through the thicket.
Update (5 December): Okay, so it seems Cardinal Kasper isn't so keen on the idea. How to place this in context?
- He's not the Pope.
- While negative remarks about the Cardinal can be found fairly readily within St Blogs, his actual positions taken as a whole appear quite defensible within Catholic orthodoxy.
As for ex-Anglican groups with a questionable commitment to unity, I'm not even all that sure about that anymore. I'm kind of beginning to wish I'd kept more of my opinions to myself. Well, live 'n' learn.
I'll say I've been pretty surprised by the proportion of my modest traffic here that has landed first on my earlier just-passing-on-the-news note on the Traditional Anglican Communion. Something's in the air, all right. I just wish I knew what.