The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Swimming the Tiber in Reverse

Courtesy of the shortly before Christmas posting on the Lead, I became aware of this post from the Catholic Herald, asking "Why do Catholics Become Anglicans?", and hazarding several guesses:
Firstly, marriage, and in recent times, civil partnerships: Because the Anglican church will often bless unions the Catholic Church does not recognise, some people have gone to the vicar for weddings or services of blessing and then stayed with the vicar’s community.

Secondly, aesthetic reasons: I know of some who have decided that their pretty village church with its warm-hearted community is the place where they want to be. Many of these people, in my experience, have not been particularly religious. While they may consider themselves parishioners, they would but infrequently go to the Anglican Church.

Thirdly, church politics: usually when people have a blazing row with the parish priest over the positioning of the hymn board or some other cutting edge matter, they vamoose to another parish. Sometimes, though I have heard of only one case, they storm off “to join the other lot”, as they put it.

Fourthly, female ordination: some Catholic women have left the Church to join the Anglicans so that they can be ordained. Some lay people may have joined the Anglicans because they support female ordination.
In comments, it is suggested that those who cannot conform to the discipline of the Church--divorced persons, GLBT, etc., all leave rather than accept the harder parts of the Christian message propagated by the Catholic Church. I think it fair to say that the commenters (as is not unheard of on the internet) are less charitable than the original post. I also think it fair to say that the original post treats the reasons offered as somewhat trivial in nature. Notably, there is no suggestion that genuine theological difficulties with the positions held by the Church, and resulting loss of faith in its ecclesiology, could play a part.

As it did in my own case. I was raised a Roman Catholic, as I mentioned in my very first post on this blog, and the experience was nothing like the rather superficial disaffection based on essentially unimportant grounds postulated in the Catholic Herald post. Rather, my experience was one of discouragement from a faith the beauty of whose sacramental liturgy spoke to me, but whose insistence on the prerogative to unilaterally decree truth in all areas of life--in areas far afield from the tenets of the faith--made no sense to me, and yet throughout my lifetime has come to dominate the Catholic Church. So, for example, the Church has been induced in recent years to
stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as [Robert] George put it.
This is not true, of course, of all bishops or priests, or applicable to all issues--the bishops have rallied around the right to collective bargaining, for example, and the Church firmly opposes the death penalty. But these issues are not, just as George urges, as critical in remaining a Catholic in good standing as George's issues. Prominent Catholic such as Antonin Scalia publicly disavow the Church's official teaching on the death penalty without censure, while pro-choice politicians may be denied the Eucharist. Even on the pro-life ethic, there is a conservative slant. For a church which seeks to be, as its name denotes, universal, the increasingly strong rightward tilt politically is an obstacle.

As is the insistence on special exemptions from anti-discrimination for Catholic Charities, even where the bulk of its funding is provided by the State.

As is, of course, the Church's abysmal mishandling of its sexual abuse crisis.

These contemporary issues had their analogues in the mid 80s-early 90s as I became an increasingly disaffected Catholic, and learned to question the institutionalism of the hierarchy, and indeed its excessive claims to obedience. In those days, we saw the first wave of sex abuse cases be stonewalled, liberal theologians silenced, despite their eminent standing and good faith, and the promise of Vatican II wither. And yes, the devaluing of women in the name of tradition alone, and the casual cruelty I saw inflicted on gays and lesbians did feed my dissatisfaction--injustice does, even if one is not the target of the injustice! For me, being a dissentient Catholic trained my eye on the institution, and taught me to value openness, transparency, and a broader church--one which ddi not hold itself out to be the only true Church, but a part of the broader Church, the "Church Catholic" rather than the Catholic Church.

[Edited to remove word-processing errors resulting in word salad.]

In becoming an Episcopalian, I found I was free to embrace the many benefits of Catholic spirituality, and I remain grateful to the Roman Catholic Church for my upbringing, and so very much of my faith and spiritual practice. In being free from an ecclesiology that did not fit me, I was able to treasure the good gifts I had been given.

Our Father's house has many mansions. I moved next door.

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