A prophetic look at ecumenism from 2008

Dr. Bill Tighe, in an email to several of us bloggers, brought my attention to this 2008 post by Thomas Pink at Philosophia Perennis entitled “The toils of ecumenism: a new doctrine or an old policy?”

About this lengthy piece, which I have excerpted below, Tighe writes:

I am not sending this to you because I suspect that you will wholly agree with it, or even, perhaps, much agree with it, but because (a) some aspects of it seem eerily “prophetic” from the vantage point of 2012, and (b) because the comments on the comment thread adumbrate “themes” that have appeared, and continue to appear, on your blogs, as well as on The Anglo-Catholic.

Here’s a hearty chunk of Thomas Pink’s thoughtful piece.   Your thoughts?

There is only one divine mandate and one divinely imposed duty in this area: to unity in the one Church that is governed by Peter. How one is to pursue this end and seek to fulfill this duty, whether mainly by way of attempting corporate reunions through ecumenical dialogue or else by prioritizing individual conversions, is not a matter of revelation, but of policy. And policy must always respect and be adapted to the facts. Contrary to Traditionalist assumptions, there is no direct divine mandate to eschew ecumenism and pursue unity through calls to individual conversion alone. Florence did not work; but its attempt at dialogic reunion with Constantinople was not un-Catholic or un-Christian. Nor, on the other hand, should others assume, ‘in the name of the Council’, that the Church is mandated always and everywhere to pursue ecumenical dialogue. For in certain contexts such dialogue may be a waste of time – or even do genuine damage. It may even reduce unity, by loss and damage to the local Catholic community involved.

The costs of ecumenism by main force

The tendency within the leadership of post-conciliar English Catholicism has been to treat the commitment to ecumenism with Canterbury, not as some provisional and debatable ecclesial policy, but as if it were some direct mandate of the divine will. To express doubt or scepticism about this commitment is be regarded in some quarters as displaying a quasi-Lefebvrist disregard for the teaching of the magisterium – to prove oneself no better than a Hans Kung, but of the right.

And in the meantime almost every element that has historically separated English Catholics from the bulk of Anglicans, in school catechesis and doctrinal instruction, in liturgy and in spiritual devotions, has been systematically weakened and undermined from within. A grand process of de-Catholicization has been attempted – to make it come to be true, as it clearly was not true before, that there really is a substantial unity of belief and practice between Catholic and Anglican. In very many parishes the sacrament of penance has been downplayed, the status and dignity of the priesthood diminished, liturgy in its style and outward form substantially Protestantized, the reality of Purgatory ignored, the cult of Mary and the saints reduced and sidelined, the plain teaching of the natural law unasserted.

Seminarians training for the priesthood were carefully educated into the ‘new ways of the Council’, as interpreted in England. Any interest in Catholic tradition deemed ‘excessive’ – and it would not take much to count as ‘excessive’ – and the seminarian would be dismissed as unsuitable. Meanwhile their ecclesiastical superiors lamented the supposed cost to vocations of Rome’s insistence on celibacy and some, even from among the bishops, called openly for married priests (‘like our Anglican brothers and sisters’). The obsession with building ecumenical bridges with Anglicanism and adopting Anglican ecclesial models – what we might call Roman Anglicanism – has gone right to the top of English Catholicism, and was by no means ended by the Church of England’s ordination of women. It has not been unknown for a Catholic bishop to tolerate his local Anglican ‘brother’ being prayed for as a bishop along with the Pope and his own self in the Eucharistic Prayer. (It is not hard to guess at the implications of all this for the real beliefs of some senior English Catholics on questions to do with Anglican and with female orders.) When Dominus Iesus was issued, dislike of the declaration was evident at high levels within the bishops’ conference.

What has been the ecumenical outcome? Still no closer to actual reunion – but instead the greatest meltdown in Catholic membership and practice in England since the Reformation. Add to that the whole fairly brutal post-Conciliar assault on traditional Catholic liturgy and devotion did great damage (irony of ironies) to spiritual affinity with Orthodoxy, the one group of Christians that ecumenical dialogue might eventually reunite to Rome.

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21 Responses to A prophetic look at ecumenism from 2008

  1. Foolishness says:

    Interestingly, the attempt by the Traditional Anglican Communion to achieve corporate reunion will be judged as a test case, I expect. Perhaps the blame can be on the TAC for not being mature enough as an ecclesial structure to have bishops truly inwardly and outwardly in communion with their primate and all truly singing from the same Catechism of the Catholic Church song sheet, despite attesting so by their signatures. But what if the TAC had been unified, truly unified behind Hepworth as primate and behind the Catechism of the Catholic Church, what then would be said about forcing individual conversion of every individual TAC member when they would have been, (speaking from the ideal of unity that did not pan out, sad to say) already members of an ecclesial body that professed the doctrine, and bishops set the doctrine, and not members of the congregation. Case in point, I doubt the average Roman Catholic parish, had it been subjected to what we were subjected to, would have had any less consternation and difficulty if individual members had to sign on the dotted line to swear they believed everything the Church teaches as revealed to be true.

    How will Orthodox churches be looking at what happened at our attempt for corporate unity? They can look at the Eastern Catholic Churches already and see how much pressure there has been on them to conform to Roman models, such as celibate priests when married priests on the parish level have been part of the tradition.

    We got a corporate solution on the back end of individual conversion, not the front-end that Hepworth et al were hoping for. Some may still believe the front-end corporate solution was what the Holy Father intended, until the various bishops’ conferences got involved in implementation and the TAC started to implode, starting in the United States.

    • Continental Catholic says:

      (i) Historically, various attempts at corporate reunion, e.g. the Union of Brest (1596), resulted even in (conditional) re-baptising of some Eastern Christians and in almost every case involved a split in the community to be united, so the AC model with “individual conversion” is not really that different.
      (ii) Life-long Catholics kind of “sign on the dotted line to swear they believe everything the Church teaches as revealed to be true” when they are confirmed or, more precisely, when they prepare for confirmation. For this reason (non-acceptance of some Church teachig) many young Catholics never get confirmed.
      (iii) A serious obstacle against “front-end re-union” was doubts about the validity of Anglican orders, and hence doubts whether TAC as a whole could be considered a Church in its proper meaning or just a Christian community (like Lutheran or reformed denominations which – in the Catholic ecclesiology – are not considered proper Churches; cf. Dominus Iesus).

      • “Life-long Catholics kind of “sign on the dotted line to swear they believe everything the Church teaches as revealed to be true” when they are confirmed or, more precisely, when they prepare for confirmation.”
        That is perhaps confirmation – something the candidates do – but not Confirmation, something the Holy Ghost does.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Little Black Sambo,

        You wrote: That is perhaps confirmation – something the candidates do – but not Confirmation, something the Holy Ghost does.

        The two are not unrelated.

        Norm.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Deborah,

      You wrote: But what if the TAC had been unified, truly unified behind Hepworth as primate and behind the Catechism of the Catholic Church, what then would be said about forcing individual conversion of every individual TAC member when they would have been, (speaking from the ideal of unity that did not pan out, sad to say) already members of an ecclesial body that professed the doctrine, and bishops set the doctrine, and not members of the congregation.

      First, the use of the word “conversion” here implies a gross misconception, as it implies a fundamental change in belief. For those coming to the ordinariates from both the Anglican Communion and the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), rather, what is happening is individual reception of those who already ascribe to the whole of Christian theology, as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is a big difference. The following paragraph appears in the “Foreword” of the Order of Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church.

      The term “convert” properly refers to one who comes from unbelief to Christian faith. Although conversion of life is the continuing imperative of Christian believers, the concept of Christian conversion is applied only in reference to Christian initiation — through baptism, confirmation, and the eucharist — rather than to a subsequent change of Christian communion.

      But in any case, the fundamental problem in reception of Anglican Christians into the full communion of the Catholic Church is the need to cure sacramental defects arising from the Catholic position that the Anglican Communion lost apostolic succession due to use of an invalid formula of ordination for more than a century after Protestant influences commandeered and corrupted the theology of the Church of England, as explained by the papal bull Apostolicae curae promulgated by Pope Leo XIII on the Ides of September of 1986. If “ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite” are “utterly null and void” (see No. 36 thereof), it follows that only the sacraments of baptism and marriage within the Anglican Communion can be valid. Thus, the reception of any group of Anglican Christians into the full communion of the Catholic Church requires (1) confirmation of each member thereof and (2) ordination of each cleric thereof before any exercise of sacramental orders within the Catholic Church. These sacraments obviously require the physical presence of the recipients thereof, and thus separate reception of each congregation.

      You wrote: Case in point, I doubt the average Roman Catholic parish, had it been subjected to what we were subjected to, would have had any less consternation and difficulty if individual members had to sign on the dotted line to swear they believed everything the Church teaches as revealed to be true.

      That actually would be a good start on a needed housecleaning — and not only of the laity, but of present Catholic clergy as well.

      You wrote: How will Orthodox churches be looking at what happened at our attempt for corporate unity?

      The two situations are not alike. The churches of the Orthodox Communion have preserved apostolic succession that is undisputably valid, and thus still have valid sacraments. Thus, they would rejoin the Catholic Church as entact ecclesiastical structures in the same way that the former Fraternal Society of St. John Mary Vianney became the Personal Apostolic Administration of St. John Mary Vianney about a decade ago, most likely becoming sui juris ritual churches. The more difficult question is the regularization of the present sui juris ritual churches of Byzantine Rite, the majority of which split off from various autocephalous churches of the Orthodox Communion and thus should return thereto and the rest of which were previously autocepalous churches under the ecumenical patriarchate and thus should revert to that status. My guess is that this regularization won’t happen on “day one” of reconcilliation of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Communion, but that there will be a commitment of both bodies to work toward that end.

      You wrote: They can look at the Eastern Catholic Churches already and see how much pressure there has been on them to conform to Roman models, such as celibate priests when married priests on the parish level have been part of the tradition.

      Ah, not so much. The sui juris ritual churches have married deacons and presbyters in the regions where they are predominant. It’s only where the Roman Rite is predominant that they typically follow the discipline of celibacy — and even there, I have heard that it is no longer universal. At this point, it’s simply not an issue in the Vatican.

      You wrote: Some may still believe the front-end corporate solution was what the Holy Father intended…

      No, that clearly is not the case for the reasons above. The process for the formation of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was laid out between then-Anglican bishops John Broadhurst, Andrew Burnham, and Keith Newton and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They clearly has all of their ducks in a row before the first public announcement of the establishment of that ordinariate pulled the proverbial trigger.

      Norm.

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  3. EPMS says:

    In every case, when ACCC parishes began the Evangelium course or whatever other preparation was organised for reception into the Catholic church, some members did not participate and other members participated but ultimately decided they could not accept all the teachings of the Catechism. These were the considered positions of responsible adults. It seems unreasonable to expect that TAC bishops, however committed and united, could have somehow convinced these parishioners, who constituted the majority in most instances, to think differently. Nor could it have been the Holy Father’s intention to receive those who could not accept all the doctrines of the Catholic church. Whatever flaws there may have been in the process, the real issue is that most members of the ACCC never had any interest in joining the “Roman Catholic” Church. When it became clear that this was what was on offer they said “No, thank you.”

    • William Tighe says:

      Which demonstrates, does it not, that those ACCC members, content as they were to ignore the authoritative judgment of their bishops, may be considered as “practical Protestants” in their attitude to ecclesiology, however much they may favor Catholic-style liturgical worship and devotional practices? It confirms my long-held suspicion that any serious reunion scheme between the Catholic Church and a particular Anglican “ecclesial community” will have at best limited and incomplete success, precisely for this reason.

      • Foolishness says:

        How many members of either Catholic or Orthodox parishes are “practical Protestants” in terms of their cafeteria Christianity? I’d say the numbers are pretty high. If the Orthodox unite with the Catholic Church, will each member have to go through individual catechesis? While those who had second or even third marriages approved by the Orthodox bishop have to go to a Roman Catholic marriage tribunal and be told, well, no divorce, and you will not be able to receive Communion? We get back to the problem of Holy Orders for Anglicans, but the problems of the individual beliefs of congregants remains the issue if you, for the sake of argument, ignore for a moment the problem of Holy Orders. The TAC was supposed to be an ecclesial communion where the bishops determined faith and morals, not congregationalist “democractic” bodies where the people in the pew decide what is true or not. I had hoped that when the College of Bishops signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church that it signified that these were the teachings the TAC believed as an eccelsial body and if individuals in the pews differed, well, look at how the views of the average Catholic differ from that of the Catechism. In retrospect it has all worked out for the best in that those who have come in are more united and, as someone uncharitably put it, it “shook a few nuts loose” meaning many of the most disagreeable, contentious personalities left over this, and much peace and unity remained with those who entered the Catholic Church. Yesterday I interviewed someone who is involved with new evangelization in the Catholic Church and he told me that most Catholics he encounters, including practicing Catholics do not believe Jesus is God, never mind Transubstantiation. Found it shocking, but he’s been in the field asking these questions for 25 years and that has been his experience.

  4. EPMS says:

    Virtually no member of the ACCC joined it on the understanding that such doctrines as The Immaculate Conception or Papal Infallibility were the official positions of that denomination. Nor did they join on the understanding that there was some kind of external magisterium whose dictates they were required to accept, even if this meant a change of doctrinal thinking. If this means they were Protestants, then, yes they were, fancy vestments notwithstanding. Two of the ACCC bishops and most of the rectors eventually took the line that where the Catholic church and traditional Anglicanism differed, the Catholic church was right and the Anglican church had got it wrong. It was not a failure to get a consistent message out. It was that most of those who heard the message rejected it. How else could Catholic authorities have dealt with this? By saying “What the hell, our churches are full of closet heretics, what difference will a few more make?” The fact that they are making special liturgical arrangements for some of the handful who did convert seems to be more than generous.

  5. Foolishness says:

    Well, was not the ACCC set up so that bishops were the ones who determined faith and doctrine not the laity? It was the former, wasn’t it? because the ACCC was formed to get away from the destructive synodal approach to doctrine taken by the Anglican Church of Canada that allowed for lay people by democracy to trump what the Church has always taught using the latest social science. So if the bishops determined that the Apostolic faith happened to be best laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and signed their signatures to it, then whether the individual lay people or even clergy who joined thinking they did not have to assent to this or that doctrine were mistaken because of the nature of the ecclesial body they joined: the bishops not the members set the doctrine. Sadly, most the bishops who signed the CCC didn’t know what they were signing—or are renegging on their signatures now.

  6. EPMS says:

    I would agree with your first sentence only to the extent that most ACCC members were concerned about changes in traditional Anglican teachings on divorce, women’s ordination, and latterly, homosexuality. It wasn’t really about episcopal versus synodal authority, it was about change. Consequently they were equally upset by changes in traditional Anglican teaching on Our Lady, papal authority, the identity of the Catholic church etc implied by the acceptance of AC. I might also note that laity voted on the decision to join the Catholic church at the 2010 ACCC synod. Why would such a thing have been put to a vote if it were understood to be entirely up to the episcopate to decide? Why was there a synod at all?

    • William Tighe says:

      I agree with the initial comment by “Foolishness” that there is a lot of “cafeteria Christianity” (aka, “practical Protestantism”) in Catholic and Orthodox pews as well, but in Catholicism, at least, the lines of authority are clear (wch. is why, despite my strong sympathies for various aspects of the “traditionalist” cause, I have never had the slightest intellectual attraction to the SSPX, let alone the wilder “sedevacantist” groups). Among the Orthodox, however, the justification of the rejection of the Council of Florence on the basis that “the whole body of believers, lay and clergy alike,” never accepted it (when all 4 Eastern patriarchs and all but one Orthodox bishop who attended Florence did accept it) and, added to that, the effect of 19th-Century Khomiakovian ideas about the nature of “sobornost ecclesiology,” means, I think, that any reunion between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, or even any reunion between Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy (the Copts, etc.), that is not based on an entire and unqualified admission on that part of the Catholic Church that “we are wrong and Orthodoxy is right” (or the same admission in the case of the Orientals), will result in the immediate splintering of Orthodoxy on a world-wide basis into those who believe that the said union is acceptable, and those (I suspect the greater number) who believe that it constitutes a massive betrayal of the Orthodox Faith on the part of those Orthodox who have embraced it (and thereby rendered themselves heretical, and severed from the “true Orthodox faith”); and I suspect that the Oriental Orthodox would themselves splinter in the event of a reunion with Orthodoxy. (The monks of Ethiopia are as intensely and outspokenly opposed to “false ecumenism” with “Chalcedonian heretics” as the monks of
      Mount Athos are to “false ecumenism” with “Romanist apostates” and “Monophysite
      heretics” alike.) But I find it hard to imagine how Orthodoxy as a whole could ever arrive at an acceptable-to-all-the-Orthodox decision to unite with anyone.

      “If the Orthodox unite with the Catholic Church, will each member have to go through individual catechesis?”

      I presume not, since it will be assumed that they are bound by the “terms of union” by virtue of their bishops’ acceptance of them.

      “While those who had second or even third marriages approved by the Orthodox bishop have to go to a Roman Catholic marriage tribunal and be told, well, no divorce, and you will not be able to receive Communion?”

      In the context of many Eastern Catholic churches here in North America there seems to be something of an unstated “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regard to Orthodox Christians with “marital issues” who seek to join an Eastern Catholic parish — but should such a person disclose his or her “marital history,” or if it should be a matter of notoriety, it might well be the case, and has been in the past frequently the case, that such a person would have to submit the case to a marriage tribunal (not necessarily a “Roman Catholic” one, as Eastern Catholic dioceses have their own marriage tribunals), and not be ale to receive communion until the issues have been settled.

      One either believes that the Catholic Church (that communion of churches in communion with the Pope of Rome) is what it claims to be, or does not believe it. In the latter case, there is no good reason to seek to join it. It does not give me a high impression of the theological acumen of some TAC bishops that they could solemnly subscribe the CCC, by which they did openly and publicly accept the claims the Catholic Church makes about itself, and then, when they didn’t like the terms on offer, decide to renege.

      • William Tighe says:

        I also tend to agree with EPMS’ immediately preceding comment. But what does it say about the nature of even “conservative Anglicanism” that the bishops (at least in the relatively Anglo-Catholic context of the TAC, or at least the ACA, ACCA and ACCC; Anglican Evangelicalism is another matter)) could embrace an idea of the nature and authority of the episcopate that is effectively the same as that of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, while much of the laity are effectively “high-church Protestants,” sovereign pontiffs over their own “private judgment” in all points of dogma and ecclesiology?

    • Foolishness says:

      The reason for the vote was to approve some legal resolutions that would have facilitated moving the property owned by the ACCC, including various bequests etc, into the Catholic Church. It was not a vote on doctrine. And the majority of the Synod, including all three bishops, voted yes on this. I was there. Were you, EPMS?

      • EPMS says:

        According to your report at the Canadian Friends of the Ordinariate website, July 14 2010, the second vote was an enabling resolution concerning canons, as you have described above. The first vote was to endorse the letter of the bishops to the Holy See.

  7. EPMS says:

    I forgot to mention that while bishops in the Catholic church are appointed by the Pope, bishops in the ACCC are elected by the clergy, whose choice is then ratified, or rejected, by the laity. Not a thousand miles from “democratic congregationalism.”

    • Henri says:

      But not so far from the future way of choosing ordinaries: a terna is elaborated by the governing council (itself elected by the presbyterium of the ordinariate), and submited to the Pope who then picks a name or ask the GC to submit another terna…

      + PAX et BONUM

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Henri,

        You wrote: … the governing council (itself elected by the presbyterium of the ordinariate)…

        Ah, not quite. The presbyters of the ordinariate elect half of the membership of the governing council. The ordinary appoints the other half of the membership. So if the governing council has ten members, the presbyters elect five and the ordinary appoints the other five.

        The reasons for this method of choosing the governing council are somewhat complex. The intent clearly is to ensure that the presbytery, as a body, can exert its influence by electing members who reflect the consensus of its views while giving the ordinary the power to appoint members who may represent various minority interests — perhaps a members from clerical religious orders or geographical regions that don’t win seats in the election — to ensure representation of all viewpoints and constituencies. Nonetheless, the plain reality is that the ordinary can exercise effective control by appointing members who will vote his way. On any vote that splits evenly, as will happen whenever all of the elected members vote one way and all of the appointed members vote the other way, the ordinary, as president of the governing council, breaks the tie.

        Norm.

  8. EPMS says:

    Well in reality the Pope appoints bishops more or less the way the Prime Minister appoints them in England: people on the ground put forward suitable candidates and he confirms the decision, perhaps after suitable consultation. The appointment of an Ordinary will not be significantly different. The point is that the Pope has the final say, not the laity, and authority emanates from him as head of the Church. This is not the symbolism of the Anglican way of doing things.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: Well in reality the Pope appoints bishops more or less the way the Prime Minister appoints them in England: people on the ground put forward suitable candidates and he confirms the decision, perhaps after suitable consultation.

      It’s actually somewhat more complicated than that. When the bishops of each metropolitan province meet periodically, they may vote to propose presbyters serving in their dioceses as candidates for episcopal office. The metropolitan (or the senior diocesan bishop, if the metropolitan see is vacant at the time of the meeting) then transmits the nominations to the Vatican. The Vatican hears the recommendation of the papal nuncio to the respective country (and undoubtedly also of the diocesan bishop in the case of appointment of an auxiliary bishop). Note, however, that the nominated individuals may receive appointments as diocesan bishop of any vacant see or as auxiliary bishop of any diocese that has a need. A few years ago, for example, the pope appointed then-Fr. Christopher Coyne of the Archdiocese of Boston as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where he is now the Apostolic Administrator of the vacant see.

      You wrote: The appointment of an Ordinary will not be significantly different.

      There is one major difference. The new ordinary will come from a terna submitted by the governing council of the respective ordinariate, and thus typically will come from within that ordinariate. New diocesan bishops frequently come from outside of the diocese, typically by transfer amounting to promotion of an auxiliary bishop to a diocesan see or of a diocean bishop to a metropolitan see.

      Norm.

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