Friday, January 14, 2011

On the ordinariates

Every once in a while a story emanates from the church that attracts major attention from the secular press, which is vexing for those of us who are familiar with the general level of ecclesiastical savvy among non-specialist journalists. The Cunning Man famously opens with the narrator's attempts to recount in an interview the death of the celebrant of the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified at a church broadly sketched on St Mary Mag as Davies knew it while at UCC. (Curiously, in Robertson Davies: A Portrait in Mosaic, Canon Nahabedian accuses Davies of a technical bluff for depicting a "celebration of the Eucharist" on Good Friday, [Ross 2008:345] though he can hardly be unaware of the distinction obtaining having presided as rector of SMM for more than 25 years).

But in these last days it has been the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus that has caught so much attention. And a great deal of discussion and even rancour has been generated, much of which I think is, frankly, overblown.

First, let's talk about why people become Roman Catholics. There's really only one reason to do so: because you believe the claims the Roman Catholic Church makes for itself. The reaching of that conclusion entails certain implications if one is to proceed with integrity. And a certain ecclesiologically schizophrenic element of this genre has existed in Anglo-Catholicism since the days of Caldey Island. I think that some of the mudslinging then has been unfair: this really is the traditional Anglo-Papalist objective in execution.

At the same time, those who continue to hold the Saepius Officio line deserve respect for their position as well. The general scholarly consensus is that the arguments advanced by Apostolicae Curae tend equally to undermine's Rome's own position. So those who are not accepting the offer because they are not Roman Catholics conviction are doing the right thing too. You'll read suggestions that those Anglo-Catholics who don't take up the ordinariates might as well give up the game, but I think that rather the two schools of thought, the Newman and the Moss if you will, have coexisted for more or less the history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England.

The Traditional Anglican Communion gets razzed on account of its size, but the boutique character of Anglicanism is common to the tradition as a whole. Anglicans incredulously tell stories of Roman Catholic Masses with attendances equal to the total Sunday haul in many Anglican places being taken off the timetable due to "not enough numbers." So it seems unfair to be too snarky on this point.

At the same time, there is an unfortunate tendency in some quarters to intemperate language about the ordinariates: some authors appear to suggest that their memers will be "Catholics but not Roman Catholics" but this is probably a bolder extrapolation from the principle of "unity without absorption" than is warranted, as the ordinariates are not sui juris churches, but particular churches of the Roman Rite with an authorized use.

Another facet also frequently missed by the press is the very different character of continuing Anglicanism in various countries. American Episcopalians sometimes deride the Anglican Church in America as one of a number of jurisdictions emerging from the fracturing of the original ACNA that came out of the St Louis Conference, whereas the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada has pretty consistently carried the torch up here, which is why those not swimming have had to scramble to make provision for their continued existance with the aid of sympathetic American prelates. The Christian Episcopal Church of Canada (derived from the Episcopal Synod of America - later FiFNA - via the Episcopal Missionary Church) at least claims online a small presence and a cathedral in Richmond, BC. Unanimity has not been approached as closely in the United States as in our dominion, but ordinariate bound ACAers are preceded by their forebears in the Pastoral Provision and will be accompanied by newly-departing Episcopalians. In Canada only St John the Evangelist, Calgary (for whom I weep and refuse to be comforted) has taken up the offer. I have not heard of anything else from any other of the few possible candidates, such as St Mary's, Fredericton, NB. Apart from whole parishes, Anglicans in the Toronto area are organizing with the assistance of the Church of the Good Shepherd, the Anglican Catholic parish in nearby Oshawa.

The TTAC presence in Britain is marginal compared to Forward in Faith, an inverse relationship from across the pond. The Church of Ireland (Traditional Rite) is of an entirely different character and Not Interested, Thank You. Australia, the primatial see, has been enthusiastic and has managed to get a faster response than Canada. Responses have emerged more slowly from the "Global South", such as the Anglican Church in India, in whose case there is the added confusion of having at least two or three jurisdictions going by that name.

Finally, the terms of the Apostolic Constitution itself are modest. Most significantly, there is no expansion of the exemption for married clergy than there already is: future ordinariate priests will be subject to Latin Rite discipline - the married priesthood is not part of the patrimony. Speculation has abounded over the forms of liturgy to be authorized, with the Sarum Missal in Latin and the "Knott" English Missal put forth as suggestions. It's worth noting that the Book of Divine Worship used by Anglican Use congregations in the US is basically 1979 plus Novus Ordo - hard to imagine the folks at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Ottawa using it. In any case ordinariate clergy will be permitted to celebrate the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite in addition to permissive use of the ordinariate liturgy, and the Missal of Blessed John XXIII is certainly closer to what you find in die-hard traditional AC parishes than the BDW. Indeed, I would have thought that most Anglo-Catholics regard the prayer book as a constraint - witness the energy traditionally invested by "Western Rite" clergy into wrapping the Missal around it - and having swum and been freed of this constraint would leap to the "real thing". So I think that most Anglo-Catholics who have not swum are not holding out for lack of provision for Anglican-style worship. The Western Rite Orthodox provisions allow for a liturgy closer in chronology to that used in pre-Pian Anglo-Catholic shacks, a normative married secular clergy, and the self-satisfaction of having renounced not only the Church of England's deformation from the bosom of Rome, but Rome's own sundering from the Universal Church! (Why go back to 1054/1066 when you can go back to AD33?)

So while the bull is an important development for those who will avail themselves of it, and undoubtedly will reflect well in the annals of the "pontificate of Christian Unity" along with overtures to the SSPX and Orthodox, I think it's significant enough on its own merits without having to make it into something its not - the end of the Anglo-Catholic movement, a borstal slap-up between Rome and Canterbury, or a major infiltration of traditionalists into the RCC (though in the last respect it is one part of a larger pendulum swing toward softening some of the liturgical iconoclasm of the 1970s, or as it is decried by panicky floppy-albed bloggers, "rolling back Vatican II"). It is no more and no less than the logical end of the aspirations consistently held by a considerable segment of the Anglo-Catholic movement, though not its entirety, and what it certainly is not is an occasion to be used as a bone of partisan or inter-tendency contention.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Calling bollocks

Controversy is brewing over a ban on gay-straight alliances in the Halton Catholic District School Board. Along with Nazi groups and others in conflict with Catholic doctrine, GSAs are out because school authorities do not want to encourage kids to identify based on their sexual orientation. "I've never been to a GSA," one trustee told Xtra, "...They force people to be labelled as gay." If she had ever been to a GSA meeting, or you know, read its name in print, she would know that their mandate is to provide a safe space where students can congregate without being called upon to identify which part of the initialism they fall on, but we must assume in charity that the good Catholic woman was simply too flustered once "Gay" was on the brain to read the "straight alliance" bit for comprehension. Her characterization of GSAs as "sex clubs" further confirms the hunch that the bogey man the trustee imagines herself to be arguing against bears little resemblance the hapless group of kids back in reality who her policies are victimizing. Personally, I recall large numbers of Tim Horton's cookies consumed over fairly benign after-school conversation some of us might never have otherwise had the ability to do, and the occasional field trip into the city to hear a speaker. "Why can't heterosexual students have a club?" Xtra's source asks. But as every child learns on Mothers' and Fathers' Day and every white person come February, the answer to that question is inevitable: those would be every club in the student handbook.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes pains to preface and qualify its opposition to gay families with the proviso that "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." The trick, of course, is "unjust" - for subsequent actions make it clear that the Church's definition of "unjust" is sufficiently restrictive as to be meaningless. Apart from GSAs, developments the Church has fought as unacceptable waterings down of family teaching are:

*laws that guarantee the same rights to housing and employment as enjoyed by heterosexuals, so that a gay tenant could not be denied a lease on the basis of their sexual orientation - even if he is fully compliant with the Church's teaching on the expression of the same! Here the bishop argued that such laws could give credence to morality of homosexual relationships. Like the Halton boards, this case belied the Catechism's claim to be content with upholding the Church's understanding of marriage - rather, it is necessary to avoid any action that the faithful might misinterpret as in any way attributing humanity to gay people. Only life as single, homeless, unemployed drifters befits our wretched estate. It's hardly as if anyone is going to be under any illusions about the RC doctrine, so literally pulling the front doormat out from under our feet is above and beyond the call of "apostolic authority" and skirting petty-vindictive territory.

*the placement of children with adoptive parents of the same gender, so that a child unable to find a home can be bounced from one foster home to another throughout adolescence until they graduate to juvenile detention, but will at least be spared the affront to their dignity of being given to loving parents whose junk didn't match.

*the burial by Catholic families of their gay members. In this case, the bishop interfered with the parish priest's duty to minister to the family in its time of - hardly within the ambit of a bishop's power of "Godly admonition" - because the man in question owned a gay dance club. This case too is purely vindictive and groundless even assuming the RC model of moral theology. The funeral was denied because the man's business contradicted Catholic teaching, which apparently His Excellency has extended (by what authority?) to cover dancing, and allowing it to proceed would run the risk of the sin of "scandal." Treating the creation of scandal itself as a sin is a dangerous game. One confessional manual I read advised against allowing non-communicants to approach the altar for a blessing lest the good but clearly rather dim faithful wonder whether he received.

Now, our grandmothers and anyone whose common sense hasn't been eliminated by years of canon law training would know that the obvious answer to that is "Eyes on your own page!" If the laic is indeed so dimwitted as to be unable to imagine a non-nefarious explanation for what he witnesses, it is nevertheless none of his beeswax and the sin of scandal is commissioned by his making it so. Indeed, in some circumstances non-Catholics, even "open" (!) ones, are permitted not only to approach but to receive (e.g. in France). Does recourse to this legitimate canonical provision become sinful because a backseat canonist may second-guess whether the priest availed himself of it correctly? Likewise, the pastoral propriety of a given Christian burial cannot be subjected to a vote of clucking tongues in the CWL. Besides all of which, you would think such a grievous sinner would need the Church's navigational assistance more than ever at such a critical soteriological moment as death. And when you consider the importance of funerals not just to the departed soul but to the family, the whole enterprise becomes even sillier. To bury someone is not to endorse his "lifestyle" but to offer the prayers which are due for all the departed, and bereavement is not a time to be hijacked by the curia to make a polemical point which Martians would have to be deaf not to have gotten by this point.

So the Roman Catholic position on homosexuality is in no way an attack on the dignity of the gay person himself, unless your idea of dignity includes things like a roof over your head. And this is not purely an academic point, for it goes straight to the credibility of the Church's claim that it is "catholic" - open to all people. If the gay person who assiduously observes the RCC's marital discipline is still not worthy of food or shelter, then it's clear that the Church does not merely subject gay relationships to the same disciplinary considerations as other irregular relationships, but in fact does precisely what it claims not to: demonize homosexuals as such, regardless of their moral valour. And then, when gay teens started dropping like flies those few awful weeks last fall, numerous Christians insisted to me that Christianity was not to blame as it had always limited its condemnation to the sin and not the sinner. I assume these people, however, consider eating and sleeping in a bed to be basic rights rather than sins, so unless they imagine that gays have some special perverted way of eating, it is clear that their desire to limit the rhetoric on the record takes considerable liberties with the history.