I count myself a “Commonweal Catholic” who also happens to be an Episcopal priest. I am always grateful for the thoughtful and sensitive coverage you give to the affairs of my beleaguered church, of which the “Business as Usual?” Comment in the December 18, 2009, issue is a particularly good example.
Three decades ago there was real hope that our two traditions would reach an agreement that, while preserving our diversity, would heal the tragic breach of the sixteenth century. That hope has obviously faded at the official level, with both sides taking steps that make reconciliation more difficult. At the same time, denominational and confessional boundaries seem to mean less and less to most of the people who come to us—at least I can say this of the Episcopal Church. Almost half my parishioners are, or were, Roman Catholics. I say “are” because many of them do not want to take the official step of being received into the Episcopal Church. Perhaps they are hoping that some day things will change in Rome, or they are choosing their church based on the particular pastor or congregation that best suits them at the moment.
There are pros and cons to such attitudes, of course, but it does make one wonder how the faithful really respond to the momentous “decisions” of our hierarchies and governing bodies. Ordain a gay bishop? Some of my parishioners are all for it; others quite the contrary. Most treat it as something over which they have no control and which has little relevance to their lives. The same holds for their positions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and the liturgy. Most Episcopalians I know simply do not feel bound by what their church determines to be “right.” They make their own decisions. Perhaps most Catholics are not so cavalier about ecclesiastical authority, but I certainly know many who are.
Pope Benedict’s offer to Anglicans to “come on over” seems peculiarly oblivious of the thing that is most characteristic of the Anglican Communion: our attitude toward hierarchical authority. Here is a move—abrupt, unilaterial, insensitive, and “from the top”—intended to welcome people whose ecclesial polity is characterized by an agonizing, drawn-out, “from the bottom” process, one that often remains unresolved. As one of my colleagues asked, “Assuming I took up the offer on the terms it is made today [unclear as they remain], what is to ensure that this or the next pope doesn’t alter them tomorrow?” What matters to most Anglicans is not our liturgy, our music, our history (most Episcopalians know little and care less about Henry VIII, Richard Hooker, et al.), and the other things the pope is supposedly going to preserve in his “personal ordinariates.” They care about not having a centralized authority in Rome telling them what to do with their lives. Be this bad or good, I think Benedict is clueless about this state of affairs “on the ground.”
(Rev.) John McCausland
In “Business as Usual?” the editors criticize the way the Vatican (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) handled the release of the document Anglicanorum coetibus. While the phenomenon of Anglo-Catholic groups seeking reunion with Rome may have come as “news to many reporters (and many Catholics),” it comes as no surprise to those of us who have followed closely the growth of the Traditional Anglican Communion. It was this four-hundred-thousand-member worldwide group, led by Archbishop John Hepworth of Australia, which in 2007 formally petitioned the Holy See to be received corporately into the Catholic Church as an Anglican Rite. Perhaps there was some awkwardness surrounding the release of Anglicanorum coetibus. Criticism, however, would have been in order had the Holy See ignored the petition of the TAC and closed the door, dashing members’ hopes and prayers for reunion with the Catholic Church. That was not the case, because Pope Benedict responded in a most pastoral way. Early in his pontificate, when discussing Christian unity, Pope Benedict emphasized the importance of both deeds and words. He has proved to be a man of his word. In the opinion of this Anglo-Catholic, Pope Benedict may well be remembered as the Unity Pope. Praise for his actions, not criticism, is in order.
John L. Erickson
Staten Island, N.Y.
A man from hope
Regarding your editorial “Obama’s Surge” (December 18, 2009): The audacity of hope can become the stubbornness of habit. As someone who railed against the surge in Iraq a few years ago and is now forced to admit that, at this point, it seems to have made a real difference, I am less judgmental than I was then. Of course the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are far different in so many ways, but in an effort to be honest, I am painfully confronted with the realization that so much is so unpredictable that one ends up siding with those whose integrity one trusts. These are not necessarily “the best and the brightest,” as we have learned; sometimes they are angst-laden reluctant warriors.
So I’m still riding with the man who has that audacity, even though his horse looks a little duller and more wobbly, and the trail is far less certain than it was a year ago. And if he veers off it, I know I’ll be joined by plenty of others who will let him know. At least that’s my audacious hope.
David E. Pasinski
Award season begins
Jerry Ryan’s article “Unlikely Prophets” (December 18, 2009) was the best of Commonweal’s 2009 volume. I’d like to learn more about how this motley crew influenced ressourcement theologians like Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Joseph Ratzinger, and others.
Two friends have converted to Catholicism because of their search for a Christian tradition that was closely connected to the early church. That aspect gets too little attention in this age of commercialized evangelization.