Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Church in North America

I'm assuming this is a border difference: in the American news, we read much about "spiky" trad-minded bishops like Iker and Ackerman joining the new body. In Canada, it was an entirely Evangelical venture. The only AC parish to join the Network was St John the Evangelist, Calgary, which now along with three other parishes forms a rump of Network congregations remaining in the Anglican Church of Canada.

In fact, it surprises me that Anglo-Catholics in the US were drawn to ACNA. When it was first announced, one of the bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada wrote an op-ed in the Post waspishly but aptly criticizing the ACNA folks for accepting change that suited them (such as women clergy, who freely populate ACNA) but then deciding that gay relationships were "too much" of a break from Tradition. And certainly, the ecclesiology of ACNA is not Catholic. Mind you, "traditional" Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England have been occupying a thoroughly Protestant ecclesiological no one's land for nearly two decades (for what could be more Protestant than a statutory right to opt out of communion with one's diocesan?) and they don't seem to be bothered. But here we have "Catholic" Anglicans who withdrew from their province over a dispute over the sacrament of matrimony, only to settle in a body that enshrined the 39 Articles! (And no Newman tricks here: the "literal and grammatical sense" is the definitive).

I live and write in Toronto. The city of Toronto falls within the purview of at least three ACNA dioceses including the Reformed Episcopal Diocese of Central and Eastern Canada. If I were a prospective ACNA ordinand, I could easily shop around, without actually moving around! And now Bishop Iker is saying that if Archbishop Duncan ordains women bishops, Fort Worth will pull out. Well, why not? They did it once. And no doubt when the next metropolitan they pick out does something they don't like, they'll move on again - and, again, try to take the silver with them! That's understandable, and it's human, but it isn't Catholic, and it's unworthy of someone who (presumably) fancies himself an episcopal defender of Catholic order.

(Thanks to my friend Max at Stuck in the Myddel for triggering this train of thought!)


Michael said...

If the statutory right to sever communion with one's diocesan bishop is Protestant, then the whole Church has been Protestant since the Council of Ephesus in 431, and it is a label that I am happy to own. The Council declared that all those clergy who had been desposed by Nestorius for refusing to obey him were to be restored, and that generally, all clergy who find themselves under the omophor of a bishop who teaches or practises heresy are to withdraw from him and petition another bishop for oversight. It is true that the Council of Nicaea declared that it is not lawful for one bishop to interfere on the jurisdiction of another, and that this has since been upheld as a model of Catholic ecclesiology, but at the same time, a bishop is no bishop if his teachings and ecclesiastical actions run contrary to the Faith of the Church, and it is right for clergy under such a pseudo-bishop to withdraw from him. It is this that is Catholic rather than blind allegiance to a bishop simply because he is a bishop, regardless of what he teaches and does.

The problem for those who claim this right within the Anglican Communion in the name of Catholic ecclesiology is not that they are being Protestant. Rather the problem is that they are trying to exercise Catholic ecclesiology within a structure that simply does not have any provision for such an ecclesiology. They may withdraw from the omophor of their diocesan bishop but the fact remains that, whichever bishop they petition will be de facto in communion with the same bishop from whom they have withdrawn, so really, they have gone nowhere and are no more Catholic than they were before. They remain a part of the communion that teaches and practices what they consider heretical.

Traditionally and historically, their withdrawal would be ratified by the synod of bishops deposing the wayward bishop for heresy so they would not be in communion with him, but the things that those who object consider to be matters of heresy are things that are accepted by the Anglican church as part of its rich diversity, so such a deposition will not happen and the conditions for the exercise of such withdrawal are absent.

If anything, Jack Iker's actions are very much in keeping with Catholic ecclesiology.

Geoff said...

Thanks for that background information, Michael. It sounds like ACNA's structure is rather different from the scenario envisioned by Ephesus. I don't imagine that the Council endorsed departure from the principle of territorial jurisdiction as a matter of course. I suppose if the Anglican Consultative Council voted to admit them into the Communion I could see that as analagous to synodical ratification. But while I would accept the decision either way, I would oppose it during deliberations, since I don't think its appropriate to have a third coterminous province that is based on a particular view of sexual ethics and whose diocesan boundaries, such as they are, make Europe look positively tidy by comparison.