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Church or Faith?

While attention was focused on the Anglican-Episcopal meeting of bishops in New Orleans that hopes to avert schism, yet another Episcopal bishop departed from Canterbury for Rome. Bishop Jeffrey Bishop Steenson of the Diocese of Rio Grande has written a letter to his clergy informing them of his decision, and will write a letter to the diocese shortly. (HT: Amy Welborn.) He is is the process of resigning as bishop in order to clear the way for his move. Steenson is the third Episcopal bishop to swim the Tiber this year; the other two were retired.

Of course, all are welcome. But I find these conversions interesting because 1) they are all from self-styled "orthodox" Christians and 2) they all seem rooted in disaffection and disagreement with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Certainly ecclesiology is vitally important. But converting to Catholicism because one disagrees with the intra-ecclesial disputes of one's own church--especially in such a "churchy" church as the Anglican Communion--seems to be only a first step on a pilgrimage rather than the final destination as it is often portrayed. What about their thoughts on, say, the Eucharist, for example? Or a host of other key questions that they had previously disputed--unless, that is, they weren't being quite forthright all these many years as Episcopal bishops. Orthodoxy would seem to entail a great emphasis on believing the right things for the right reasons. And if these neo-converts think they're joining a church with no disputations, well, they should check in on this blog.

I of course can't judge anyone's conscience. But going by the public comments of these bishops, I have to ask if these are "conversions of convenience"?

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David,I think some of the difficulties you have in interpreting Steenson may be a result of a lack of knowledge about how various parties in Anglicanism react to different issues. Different parties jump in all sorts of directions, and it is often difficult for someone who isn't a close observer of the Anglican scene to figure out. Heck, I was born and raised Anglican, and have continued to closely observe it since I left for Rome, and it's still hard sometimes to untangle who-falls-where. Nonetheless, I think I have a pretty good understanding of how and why Steenson operates as he does. It requires an understanding of the Anglo-Papalist mindset. Essentially, the Anglo-Papalist position on the Anglican Church can be summarized as follows: (a) while the institution of the Catholic Church in England was hijacked by the State, the Elizabethan Settlement did not essentially change the fact that the same institutional Church of England "by law established" remained *the* legitimate Catholic Church of England, and also that essential Catholic doctrine was never fundamentally altered, (b) the Church of England, nonetheless, was in schism from the universal church and the Roman Pontiff and imperiled by rampant heresy throughout the Church, therefore (c), the Church of England must continue to uphold the Catholic faith and foster Catholic practice, and work towards corporate reunion with the See of Rome to heal the wounds of heresy and schism. Since, according to the Anglo-Papalist viewpoint, the Episcopal Church was the Church of England in America, it too must pursue the same ultimate goals. Thus, doctrinally, unlike much of the rest of Anglicanism, Anglo-Papalists were and are effectively crypto-Catholics, nay a "fifth column" for Rome within the Anglican Communion. If, however, the Episcopal Church were to by its own hand reject any claim to be the continuation of the doctrine of Church of England, but go its own way in defiance of the same, the Anglo-Papalist construct necessarily collapses, so an exit out of the Episcopal Church is functionally the same thing as a knock on Rome's door. It was a well-known fact that Jeffrey Steenson was of this viewpoint as are many Anglo-Catholic clergy today, even now in the Episcopal Church - especially those priests who are members of the "Society of the Holy Cross," with the initial SSC after their names. Once one understands that point of view, Steenson's modus operandi becomes clearer. If you read both Steenson's statement to the House of Bishops and his address on Donatism, it seems pretty clear that he is not quitting the church because of gay bishops as such. He explicitly stated that ecclesiastical separation on the basis of the sexual practices of its bishops or the encouragement of the same within the Church has a very weak foundation in the Catholic tradition. So, what caused him to make his move? He references a meeting of the House of Bishops meeting in Camp Allen, TX where it officially asserted that the Episcopal Church is radically independent of any other church body, and no one can tell it what it can and can't do. This statement was made in response to a unanimous request by the Anglican Primates to not ordain gay bishops and not to authorize same sex union blessings until another consensus emerges. In other words, the Primates informed the Episcopal Church that gay bishops and same sex unions was so divisive, novel, and explicitly contrary to the consensus of the Anglican Communion, that, in the interest of preserving unity and charity, it requested the Episcopal Church to restrain itself from further actions down the same road. The Primates didn't ask the House of Bishops to change its mind on gay sex, or "repent" of ordaining Gene Robinson, or purging gays from the lower clergy much less kicking gays out of the Church altogether - all of which many of the evangelicals were demanding. The House of Bishops' response was, in Anglican-speak, "screw you." It made radical claims of provincial autonomy that made a mockery of recognizably Catholic notions of subsidiarity, mutual dependence, conciliarist decision-making, and "communio." It went so far as to suggest that the other Anglican provinces were obliged to honor and validate what the Episcopal Church was doing, even if the othere provinces weren't prepared to "go there" themselves. When Steenson said that the Episcopal Church's arguments in favor of radical autonomy made him feel as if he were in another Church, he is more that justified in feeling that way. Up until this point in history, the Episcopal Church never explicitly made such a claim. While it certainly asserted its independence as a jurisdictional matter, the American Book of Common Prayer has stated in its preface from 1789 until the present day: "It seems unnecessary to enumerate all the different alterations and amendments. They will appear, and it is to be hoped, the reasons of them also, upon a comparison of this with the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. In which it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require." Presumably, because of the extraordinary negative reaction to the consecration of Gene Robinson throughout the Anglican world and elsewhere, the powers-that-be in the Episcopal Church became ultra-defensive, trashed its own raison d'etre, and said, "we will do what we like, when we like it, and we don't care what you think." In reality, it seems that the issue for Steenson was not the gay issue in itself, but how the Episcopal Church reacted when it was challenged, and how it justified what it did. From my observation of the Anglican scene, Steenson, while taking the traditional view on sexuality, was never really a participant in the sexuality wars in the Episcopal Church. In many ways, he is like many of the rectors of cardinal Anglo-Catholic parishes throughout the country who have deliberately kept a low-profile on this issue for the last several years - most of whom hoped that the "gay radicals" and "nasty homophobes" would either shut up or that the ecclesiastical establishment would put a lid on the controversy. Instead, the establishment became hard-core radicalized. This hard-core radicalization, simultaneously prompted both his withdrawal from Anglicanism and his entrance of his into Rome.Aside: among the best-known Anglo-Papalists were Ronald Knox when he was an Anglican, Dom Gregory Dix, and E.L. Mascall. The founders of the Graymoor Friars in New York were also Anglo-Papalists, but they became Roman Catholic in the aftermath of the "open pulpit" controversy a century ago.

Bishop Steenson has agonized over Catholicity, Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church for many years. His nomination to be Bishop of the Rio Grande in 2004 came both as a surprise to him, and as he was inclining more strongly than ever to become a Catholic at the time.His opposition to the ordination of women has been constant since his own ordination in 1979. He was President of the "Episcopal Synod of America" (as it was then called; it is now "Forward-in-Faith/North America") in the early 1990s, the "orthodox opposition" organization in ECUSA that was founded in 1978 to oppose the ordination of women, and as such he gave an address in 1991 at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in which he insisted forcefully that accepting the Petrine Ministry and coming into communion with it was the only "remedy" for orthodox Anglicans -- a sentiment that caused considerable consternation among some of the more Protestant, or less "papalist," Anglicans present a tthe meeting. A mutual friend of both mine and Bishop Steenson tells me that there were various circumstances, both familial and ministerial, and especially a sincere belief that Anglicanism was "converging" with the Catholic church and that he could contribute to that "convergence," were among the factors that kept him in ECUSA for so long.In the Diocese of the Rio Grande of which he became bishop, he was preceded as by an Evangelical of English origins who, after some hesitations, ordained women to the presbyterate in some numbers. He assured Bishop Steenson that he would be willing to ordain on the latter's behalf, as bishop, those whom he might not, in conscience, think himself able to ordain, as he has continued to live in retirement in the diocese. However, as nearly two-thirds of the ordinands in that diocese were, and are, women, he felt himself under some pressure to indicate his support for WO, which he was unable to do; and to "concelebrate" with women priests already among his diocesan clergy was a difficult matter for him.I do not know how important these various factors were in his decision-making, but his attraction to the Catholic Church goes back a long way.

If I may make a slight correction to Patrick Rothwell's most recent comment on this thread -- it is not accurate to characterize E. l. Mascall (whom I met in Manhattan in 1977, got to know well during the years that I lived in England, and continued to visit when I was in England on various occasions up to six months before hs death in February 1993) as an "Anglo-Papalist." He made a gentle and nuanced, but quite strong, critique of the papacy in the final two chapters of his *The Recovery of Unity* (1958), although by the time he delivered the lectures at Catholic University that were published later that year as *Theology and the Future* (1968), his enthusiasm for the ecclesiological documents of Vatican II had clearly abated a good many of his criticisms. When I visited him for the last time in August 1992 he was manifestly in deep distress a tthe then-impending vote of the General Synod of the Church of England on women's ordination, and obliquely, but clearly, told me that if the proposal passed "I know what I shall have to do, but I don't know if I shall have the stength and stamina to do it." Years later I learned from Graham Leonard, the former Bishop of London, and one of Mascall's friends, that he had decided that he was too mentally debilitated to be able to make the decision to "convert" -- but he was not at all optimistic about the possibilities for "convergence" between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.

Just a quick note of thanks Patrick and William Tighe for lengthy and very informative posts. I will digest them, hopefully for more adequate response. Two quick things strike me:One, it certainly seems that from Steenson's very public record his Episcopal flock knew what they were getting in 2004, and so there shouldnt be too many cries of betrayal. (Indeed, I wonder if others will decamp with him.) Two, Patrick you described the Anglo-Papalist side of things very well; but the RC side has, it seems to me, a quite different view of the Anglo-Papalists--not as inclined to accept the view of one branch of the CofE over another, or bring such nuance to it. Now that Steenson is on the other side of the Tevere, what will he think? I think I need to write a story on this as an excuse to interview him myself. Actually, I check myself on assuming Rome's uniform view: Cardinal Ratzinger actually sparked some controversry a few years back by writing to (or responding to a letter) from one of the conservative Anglican-Episcopal groups. I think he was charply criticized for appearing to take sides in an internal Anglica/Episcopal issue. Correct? I'll look it up.

The point isn't whether someone holds a party line or not. These matters have to do with the working of the Holy Spirit in human hearts. What matters are the stories--so, the thing to do is listen.

I am certainly getting an education on the workings of the episcopal church. It is possible that deciding to join Rome is decided on doctrine rather than goodness. What does that say for Christianity? Where is the paralell for this in the Way of Jesus?I should note in response to Chris that there is no divinely approved violence in the Old or New Testament despite the insistence of the writers of those two works. There are individuals in both testaments who spout violence. None of that comes from Jesus or Paul. Both of whom spoke of God's goodness to all and predilection for the poor and despised. Why would the most favored person of God choose crucifixion if violence were an option?I hope I misunderstand that any Christian would think that violence of any kind is a choice in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Christopher Ruddy:So the Pauline horse goes back as far as Augustine. There is no horse in Acts. I suspect you will thnk me frivolous but I have become quite fascinated by the spectral horse that haunts accounts of Paul's conversion.

Bishop Steenson is, if one might make such a seemingly paradoxical statement, a man who can sympathize of empathize almost to excess. Before he went to the Rio Grande ECUSA diocese as its Canon Theologian around 2001, he was Rector of St. Andrew's Church in Fort Worth -- a church built a century ago to be *the* Anglo-Catholic parish of the city, but which some how migrated to the "low" end of the Anglican spectrum some 60 years ago. While he was Rector there he wrote one or two opinion pieces suggesting that Anglo-Catholics cease such practices as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, etc., in order to enable Episcopalian conservatives on both ends of the high-church/low-church spectrum to cooperate better. As bishop, over the last two years I understand that he received "advice" from conservative Catholics in a position to be consulted by Anglicans, telling him, in effect, that as far as we are concerned you can go right ahead and ordain women; we won't think any the less of you for it, since we don't believe that any Anglican clergy, male as well as female, are "priests" as the Catholic Church understands them. Now, this is just what *Apostolicae Curae* entails, of course -- but it does appear to demonstrate an inability to enter sympathetically into the mind (and predicament) of an Anglo-Papalist Anglo-Catholic such as Bishop Steenson. Even if -- or perhaps especially if -- one finds it difficult rationally to understand or accept an Anglo-Papalist approach to Anglicanism, Catholicism and ecumenism in the light of the history of the English Reformation, I think it is a useful exercise in the expansion of our Christian sympathies to make the attempt.

Dear Cathy,Reading your comments on Benedict's ecclesiology, I'm reminded of Pius XII's response to Clare Boothe Luce's questioning during a papal audience, "But I am Catholic, too!" I am glad to let go of this thread's extended analyses of Donatism. I'm glad, too, that my Doktorvater, Larry Cunningham--the homo catholicissimus--finds claims of Benedict's Donatism to be a "huge mistake."The answer to your first question is openness. To wit, a Donatist-friendly pope doesn't have drinks, dinner, and dessert with Hans Kueng and then top it off with a declaration of appreciation.The passages from Ratzinger's "God and the World" that I mentioned previously are still worth reading on this point. Here's one such selection:The Church of the first three centuries was a small Church and nevertheless was not a sectarian community. On the contrary, she was not partitioned off; rather, she saw herself as responsible for the poor, for the sick, for everyone. All those who sought a faith in the one God, who sought a promise, found their place in her."The synagogue, Judaism in the Roman Empire, had surrounded itself with this circle of God-fearers, who were affiliated with it and thereby achieved a great opening up. The catechumenate of the early Church was very similar. Here people who didn't feel able to identify with Christianity completely could, as it were, attach themselves to the Church, so as to see whether they would take the step of joining her. This consciousness of not being a closed club, but of always being open to everyone and everything, is an inseparable part of the Church. And it is precisely with the shrinking of Christian congregations we are experiencing that we shall have to consider looking for openness along the lines of such types of affiliation, of being able to associate oneself.I have nothing against it, then, if people who all year long never visit a church go there at least on Christmas Night or New Years Eve or on special occasions, because this is another way of belonging to the blessing of the sacred, to the light. There have to be various forms of participation and association; the Church has to be inwardly open" (442).Gerhard Lohfink captures the difference in "Does God Need the Church?: Toward a Theology of the People of God" through his reflections on biblical election and his description of God's People as a "contrast society," one which avoids both sectarianism and cooptation; God's people are elected, called out (literally, an ek-klesia) through no merit of their own, precisely in order to exist for others, to reveal to the world God's will for all peoples. Election and openness go hand in hand, they call for each other. Donatists and their heirs get election, but forget openness. Some Catholics today get openness, but forget election. Thinking of the church as a contrast society--and living as such--helps one to see how brilliant intensity and broad openness can coexist. The answer to your second question, I believe, is found in Acts of the Apostles and other New Testament writings, which I consider to be part of the history of Catholic ecclesiology. It's also exemplified in Vatican II's exposition of the universal call to holiness. Vatican II affirmed the basic, if easily forgotten, Christian insight that all of the baptized are called to the same high standard of perfection in Christ. That we all pursue that high standard in different ways and places (and very mundanely, as when I clean up a son who has diarrhea or you serve on a committee), or that we all repeatedly fall short of that standard, doesnt take away from the intensity of that call, which "costs not less than everything," as T.S. Eliot put it. Calling people to the radical conversion demanded by the Gospel does not in any way necessarily involve excluding those who are searching or uncertain or struggling. God is patient and hospitable, and so must his followers be, too. This is what the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was getting at it in his comments on the catechumenate and the God-fearers.I understand that some Catholics feel judged or excluded by such language and such currents--or dismiss them as 'evangelical'--but that doesnt negate the basic reality: We are all mediocre, God-beloved people called to conversion and to divine life in community. No one is perfect, and one of the strengths of Catholicism is precisely its mediocrity, its anti-elitism, its willingness to welcome all who are willing to come. Go, for instance, to an urban, northeastern Catholic cathedral to see the congregation for a weekday Mass. I always find moving the communion procession, in which all kinds of people come forward to receive healing and strength and welcome from the Lord. But, that welcome is also bound to conversion, and it would be hard to read any of the Gospels or letters of Paul and not hear that call to conversion. Among the first words from Jesus's lips in Mark's Gospel are, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel." Paul calls the Philippians--and us--to be "children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (2:15)--quite literally a "brilliant intensity." I believe that the renewal desired by Vatican II will take place only when more of the baptized become aware of their personal responsibility for the churchs life and missionand when ecclesial authorities are equally converted to that vision and help foster it. That renewal will likely be driven by small communities of believers whose "brilliant intensity" shines not for themselves but for others and whom through their life and attractiveness draw the rest of us to live better our own high callings. In closing, Id recommend the last two paragraphs of Lumen gentium #8 and then Gerhard Lohfinks "Does God Need the Church?," especially the sections, "The Manifold Character of Vocation: Apostles, Disciples, People," The Church and Wholeness and The Churchs Deepest Wound Is Disunity. Then again, Lohfink's book is dedicated to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, so on second thoughtChris

Apropos of the Pauline horse: it is another (of many) instances in which Christian art trumps the text. It is rather like the "apple" in the Garden (no such fruit is named). When we think of Paul on the road to Damascus it is easy to think of Caravagiio's famous rendering of same.

That should read Caravaggio in the aobve post. Sorry for the error.

Thanks Chris,But I don't think it's a question of whether the Pope is nice, or meets with people he disagrees with. I think the fundamental question is how much ambiguity can the institutional church tolerate. Today the problem isn't about tolerating sinners-the Church is good about that. Today the problem is about tolerating those who disagree about what counts as a sin.And this means the idea of the Church as a beacon of light attracting others has more problems than it appears. The liberal Episcopalians don't think the Church is intolerant of sinners --they think that the Church is and incorrect -- in fact, bigoted --in its definition of what counts as a sin. We generally don't view people as beacons of light when they embody what seems to us to be serious moral failings. For example, no matter how wholesome fundamentalist Mormons might be in other respects, they're not likely to be "beacons of light" to those of us who think their form of polygamy is sexist and demeaning to women.Another way to focus the question is one hundred years from now, will most of the Western world view the Church's position on sexuality and women as prescient and prophetic--or will they view it as analogous to those who defended slavery based on scripture?

Laurence Cunningham:I'm aware of the Caravaggio painting and I dare say it has contributed immensely to the confusion--it is virtually a homiletic legend--on this point. But it need not have been his idea and the citation from Augustine suggest that it might have all gone back Augustine, in a moment when he did not have the text of Acts in front of him and a horse intruded upon his recollection.

Cathy,I think a lot depends on what is meant by "the Church's position on sexuality and women." Surely this bears unpacking.Joseph G., I too find the horse reference in Augustine intriguing. I wonder how long the Damascus Road is, and what is the likelihood that someone of Saul's status would be on horseback.

Dear Cathy,Your last question confirms the point I raised in an earlier posting: is the real problem this pope or the faith that he professes?Chris

David,I have read your question regard +Steenson's decision to convert. To rephrase your question, as I understand it: Is his conversion one of polity or own of faith? There has already been a response regarding the nature of anglican paplism and anglo-catholicism. So, I will not go into the history of that movement. I think your question comes from a lack of understanding of the interior aspects of that movement. +Steenson has been for quite some time an Anglican Papist/Anglo-catholic this means he has already provided internal consent to the Roman Catholic faith and tradition. He did not reconcile himself to the Church because he had a internal dissent in regards to the polity of the Church.When you see his statements are in regards to ecclesiastical polity, that is a result of him addressing the last barrier to his full acceptance of the Catholic faith and the Roman Church.Anglican Papalists tend to eventually swim the Tiber. I know many of them and am one myself. I have a very worn copy of the catechism of the church and I reference it all the time to find answers about my faith. But, our "error" is that we do not fully believe that we are not fully catholic. Typically, full conversion happens when an individual encounters a situation that cannot be answered by our understanding of the Catholicity.Cardinal Newman is a perfect example of this. I encourage to read about his conversion.The process of internal consent to the teachings of the Church is something that began a long time ago for +Steenson.I hope this answers some of your questions.Michael

Yes, Chris. But it's even stronger than that. His Christian critics think he's distorting the faith, and harming people in the process.. Just as we now think that those Christians who justified slavery upon Pauline verses distorted and harmed the faith. My point is this: there's no use in sugar-coating the matter. There is a moral disagreement here --among Christians. It is a disagreement about what the faith actually requires. People who think a small religious group is trading in moral injustices aren't likely to be attracted to the beacon of light of that brilliant little community. So I think, given the concrete disagreements at stake, the Pope is being rather too optimistic about large numbers of people seeing the brilliance of these little communities.

Chris writes:"We are all mediocre, God-beloved people called to conversion and to divine life in community. No one is perfect, and one of the strengths of Catholicism is precisely its mediocrity, its anti-elitism, its willingness to welcome all who are willing to come."Chris, I am not sure whether you ar picking up on my criticism of Augustine as encouraging mediocrity but I would question your meaning here. I certainly agree that it is good that the Catholic church welcomes all. (Though I would speak to a few Mexicans who came to this country on that) Accepting is a better word than mediocrity, don't you agree. Further, the perfection that Jesus enjoins is one of forgiveness to enemies and love for all. Augustine's stress on mediocrity is related to being Catholic rather than necessarily Christian, as it were. Marcus notes this also. O'Donnell who Larry dislikes explains further.. O'Donnell quoting the Augustine's letter to the Pelagians comments: "The ordinary man, Augustine, is sure will go to heaven, because he goes to the right church and has the right faith." O'Donnell further states that Augustine is saying that "other men just like this one but who happen to find themselves in church buildings of which Augustine disapproves will not be treated so kindly." Pg 270 Augustine a Biography.

If I were an African American I would have some very strong things to say about the degradation of my people's valiant, righteous, self-sacrificing struggle for freedom being used as an analogy for a Pride Parade.

And in other news, 6 nuns were just excommunicated for heresy, not because of excessive desires for Roman Catholic priesthood, but for refusing to recant membership in a pious Marian devotional community.

It is time to rehabilitate the first meaning of the word "mediocre." Mediocritas in Latin stands for the solid center; neither less nor more (inter parum et nimium) as that old bore Cicero said. We could use a bit of mediocritas given the tone of some of the posts appearing on this blog.

>>People who think a small religious group is trading in moral injustices aren't likely to be attracted to the beacon of light of that brilliant little community. <

Dr. Cunningham, if that rebuke is meant for me I deserve it.But I am so tired of the widespread use of this very inapt analogy.

Fritz, I am familiar with the argument you're running--it was in very popular at Yale when we were both there --twenty years or so ago..I now don't think the two situations are at all comparable. Four big differences:1) we are not in a situation where Christianity is a new and different thing, it is something which has had two thousand years to permeate the culture. So it has lost the attractiveness of newness. 2) If you look at the statistics, the salient divisions are between and among Christians. Not between pagans and Christians . And the division is precisely because some Christians don't see the arguments as "compelling." They're not ignorant--they just disagree . Margaret Farley and John Noonan have both read Humanae Vitae.Probably more than once.2) There are differences between proposing norms which are seen as a "higher" ethic--that go above and beyond in their care for other people, and proposing norms which are seen actively to harm or diminish people. The imitations on ordaining women and gays are seen to the broader west--and to liberal Christians-- as the second sort of norm. They're increasingly seen as prejudiced. That's why I think the operative analogy is to the fundamentalist Mormons, or perhaps to orthodox Jews. Both communities offer much that is good--but at too high a price for most people.3) The examples you talk about are pre-Constantinian. I think there is very little reason to think that Christianity would have been a bigger operation than Judaism without the empire. 4) There is a lot at stake for traditional Catholic morality. We have always had an "open" natural law morality--seeing broad confirmation of our approach with the views of the best of the rest of the world.So, say, on contraception: we've run it like a natural law argument, not a "specifically Christian morality" argument. Leslie Tentler has shown how the Catholic church, in the mid-twentieth century, tried to prevent the sale of contraceptives to EVERYONE in Massachusetts, not just the use of those by Catholics. But the running of an argument on terms of generally applicable morality means a vulnerability to argument on terms of generally acceptable morality. It was the Catholic legislators in MA that said, no --we don't think the natural law opposes contraception. More recently, it was the Catholic legislators in Massachusetts that said to Catholic Charities, "if you're not going to abide by the anti-discrimination laws, well, get out of the adoption business."If the Church goes the "smaller, more brilliant route," it can certainly certainly hold on to the propositions of sexual morality that we've always taught. It can hold on to its conception of appropriate gender roles. It's going to be harder to hold onto them in the same way, if the consensus of the western world goes in another direction. In particular, I think it will have to give up the sense that we can have a direct influence on secular law.

Okay, guys--I'll give you all the last word. I have to do some work today or I'll be toast.

Cathy,Regarding your point 2, we have an interesting situation here. -When the Church advocates celibacy for homosexuals, it intends to "go above and beyond in their care for other people."-But the public view at this historical moment is such that this proposal is in fact seen as trying to "actively to harm or diminish people." In other words, the intention of the Church is lost entirely because it contradicts the public perception.You seem to be ascribing a high amount of ethical weight to the popular point of view. I take this to be an extreme form of relativism: whatever is seen by the majority of people in a place to be ethically normative is in fact ethically normative..

I've been trying to compose a comment in response to the blogged article on Bishop Steenson for four days, but each time I have refrained from hitting the "post" button, primarily because I knew that my annoyance with the article came through far too strongly. Fortunately, others have stepped in and expressed much of what I wanted to say. However, no one has really questioned the intimation that Bishop Steenson's decision to enter into the full communion of the Episcopal Church is a "conversion of convenience." I cannot tell you how deeply offended I am by this intimation. No Episcopal priest or bishop becomes Catholic for reasons of convenience. For one thing, the American form of Catholicism is simply not a terribly attractive embodiment of catholic faith, liturgy, and practice. For another thing, the costs of conversion are real and substantial, not only for the priest but also for his family. Every priest I personally know who has swum the Tiber has done so for one reason alone--because he had become convinced of the truth of the Roman claim to be that community in which the Church of Jesus Christ truly subsists and could no longer in good conscience deny this truly inconvenient claim upon him. May I commend to you this video interview with Bishop Steenson.

Hmm, I see that blog does not accept HTML coding. The video interview with Bishop Steenson can be found here:http://tinyurl.com/2zyhut

Dear Father Kimel,I wrote the following in my first posting (was it really only three days ago?):"Perhaps, like Newman, he finally discerned that Anglicanism didn't have the resources to sufficiently uphold the apostolic faith. That judgment may be wrong or right, but it wasn't hasty or convenient. He will soon have no job or income or house, and he possibly will lose his pension. That's a marriage of inconvenience, and I wonder how many of us would have the courage to suffer similar losses. I wouldn't want to face such a test."I, too, wish that greater understanding had been shown here and elsewhere for the cost of Bishop Steenson's decision.Chris

This seems like a good time to mention that several months back, a number of people expressed interest in looking at Vatican II's teaching on freedom of conscience.

Confucius says that man who walks in the middle of the road gets hit by both sides. Maybe we have to refute the old canard "In medio stat virtus." Virtue is the middle way. We all agree that extremists are a violent danger to society. On the other hand the wholly non-violent Jesus was a radical who threatened society in a different way. Here is Gary wills in his book: What Jesus Meant:"Gilbert Chesterton says that Christianity has not failed----it has just never been tried. But when it is tried, it is seen as a threat, just as Jesus was. Churches resist all radicalism--which means they resist Jesus. They pay lip service to the poor, while distancing themselves from the poor. They do not reflect on the obvious--that Jesus wore not gorgeous vestmensts. He neither owned nor used golden chalices or precious vessels. He had no jeweled ring to be kissed."

Kathy: I had no single person in mind when I posted about mediocrity. Nor will I rise to the bait about canards except to point out that Aquinas (and Dante, for that matter) treats virtue as the middle of two extreme faults. Dante, for example, punishes spendthrifts and misers in the same place. I am sorry to have even make that obvious point since it may take us down a side road but there is a difference between a truth and a canard.

As someone who has worked for the past twenty-five years with individuals who are interested in becoming Catholic, let me assure you that the shining beacon idea has no life outside of a rich context of credibility which is messy, human, and anything but clear-cut. Yes, those who become Catholic do treasure the fact that the Catholic Church stands for something they themselves find praiseworthyand the perception of what that something is varies considerably. Most of the people who undertake this pilgrimage, however, would find it impossible to be part of the Catholic community except for the witness of ordinary virtue exhibited by Catholics they know personally, and by the Catholic communitys frank acceptance on the ground of many of the contradictions involved in being a believer in the twenty-first century. Ideologues have clear-cut answers to complex questions; believers frequently dont. Who shines the more? Catholics today are mud-bespattered by the clergy scandals and all the rest. But they believe that God is in our midst. In the end, their faith is what shines. I dont think this is the same thing as mediocrity, but is its own sort of excellence.

One principle we can agree on is "Qui bene distinguit, bene cognoscit." S/he who distinguishes well, knows well, We do speak of virtue being in the middle and the rule applies in many cases. The application of that rule to the radical Jesus, it may be argued, is why Chesterton says Christianity has not been tried. Which makes the question more pressing as to the mission of a Catholic university. How much is the radical Jesus resisted by the Vatican and Catholic universities? I would not consider engagement as "bait." It is an ongoing effort to separate issues from appropriate or inappropriate emotions.

Lawrence S. CunninghamYou might at least have credited Aristotle with advocacy for the notion that virtue (arete) is a mean between extremes. You might have even noticed that "meden agan" (latine "ne quid nimis) is a Delphic saying. You might also have noted Horace's "mediocritas aurea". Surely we would not have had the Aquinas had he not been preceded by the Stagirite.

Bill, I'm trying to understand who takes a more radical stand on anything than the Catholic Church's stand on homosexuality. Or who pays a bigger price for standing against the tide on homosexuality and abortion. What is gained? What is lost? I doubt there have ever been two more unpopular stances in the history of the world. Why do we do it? I Because we think it's true.These are some things I've learned from painful experience in personal, meaningful relationships: 1. It doesn't matter how you say it. If what you say is "I believe homosexual activity is wrong," you are in for all kinds of namecalling and exclusion. I kid you not: I have been told that I'm the reason gay teenagers commit suicide. Not because I hurt anybody, but simply because of what I think. 2. It doesn't matter why you think it. I have a friend who is a moral theologian and who is personally very inclusive of homosexual relationships. No argument from me could ever overbalance her personal convictions based on her experiences of friendship with gay couples. We actually never get to arguments. In most areas she is extremely rational and we discuss things theologically. We convince one another of things. But not in these discussions.3. It doesn't matter where you are in other political matters; if you don't think gays should marry and adopt, you are automatically labeled a reactionary. Talk about one-issue voting. 4. It doesn't matter how warm, welcoming and generous you are with people you love and their significant others. It doesn't matter how you serve. If you think that their sexual relationship is immoral, you are considered by everyone who is more "enlightened" to be intolerant and hateful.

Joe Gannon: In my original draft I had "thanks to Aristotle" in the mention of Aquinas but struck it as needlessly and too ornamentally "professorial." thanks for the post.

I am just cycling back to this extended string after a time away, and catching up on the many diverse and interesting comments. This could go on--and I could always go on. But two quick notes:To Michael Fudge, thanks for the insight--I found it very constructive.And to Fr. Kimel--You show more restraint than I do. But post away! I would point out that my "conversion of convenience" turn of phrase was meant to be a bit provocative, and I see it worked. I thought it would be clear that I wasn't intimating a venal motive of any sort to Bp. Steenson. I know too many married priests to realize what a sacrifice it can be. And I have seen much of Bp. Spong to know that the perks of a church pension are not things one abandons lightly, no matter how much one vilifies the church where that pension resides. My point was that Steenson seemed to effectively be making a choice informed quite markedly on his distaste and exhaustion for what is happening in the Episcopal Church, especially as regards homosexuals. Undoubtedly he is drawn to Roman Catholicism and for many excellent reasons.But ultimately the Roman church seems more comfortable for him--and that is a "heretical imperative" followed by many converts of all stripes and directions. It reminds me of the Latin Mass restoration debate--many folks wanted it just because the like it. But few would concede that point, and instead tried to dress it up in lots of theological and liturgical self-justifying verbiage. It's a reflex we all fall prey to. Bottom line: I'd like to see more from Bp. Steenson, as we quickly exhausted our direct knowledge of his rationale and, also understandably, projected our own issues on to the blank trailer.

David,Would you please explain how you manage to reconcile this statement:I of course can't judge anyone's conscience. with this very judgmental characterization of his decision:But ultimately the Roman church seems more comfortable for him--and that is a "heretical imperative" followed by many converts of all stripes and directions. It reminds me of the Latin Mass restoration debate--many folks wanted it just because the like it. But few would concede that point, and instead tried to dress it up in lots of theological and liturgical self-justifying verbiage. It's a reflex we all fall prey to.

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