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Anglican disorders.

In 1914, in a satiric piece entitled "Reunion All Round", Ronald Knox, while still an Anglican, envisaged a Church of England "of all Mahometans, Jews, Buddhists, Papists, and Atheists." He anticipated that old quarrels about dogma would disappear; in this new church nobody would be expected to recite the whole creed, but only "such clauses as he finds relish in." Within a century, Knox predicted, "we shall make the Church of England true to her Catholic Vocation, which is, plainly, to include within her borders every possible shade of Belief."

Thus Knox, a brilliant scholar and the son of an Anglican archbishop, satirized the chaos of theological views existent within the bosom of the Anglican community in his day. In 1917 he was received into the Catholic Church and in 1919 he was ordained a priest, knowing that no Christian community can remain truly Christian when it accepts "every possible shade of belief."

Yet it is not the absorption of beliefs from other religions that is proving the undoing of the Anglican community today but, rather, the abandonment of Christian moral standards. Of course the adoption of new theologies such as the move to ordain women, begun in 1946 and completed by 1992, contrary to the Roman and Oriental rites and to the Eastern Orthodox churches, has also played an important role in the widening gulf between these religious communities. The real weakness, however, has been the Anglican surrender to today's moral permissiveness. The practical day-to-day issues of family life have proved more decisive than even questions about doctrinal truths.

Recent events have an air of unreality about them. On May 30, 2003, the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly worried that the decision by the British Columbia diocese of New Westminster, Canada, to bless same-sex unions might "create divisions." Today, Anglicans have already formed a half-dozen communities no longer in union with Canterbury; national Anglican churches have broken relations with one another; individuals are deserting the Anglican fold in droves; Asian communities have sent missionaries to North America; and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself is barred from receiving communion and conducting services in 350 Church of England parishes because of his support of women priests (Sunday Times, Sept. 8, 2003). So what is the reality?

Homosexual activism

The burning issue at the moment is homosexual activity, sodomy. Let us recall that the issue of "gay" laity and clergy goes back to the early seventies (see "Anglicans and practising homosexuals," C.I., Jan/Feb 2002, pp. 27-28). But in 2003 it exploded in Canada as a theological issue; on June 15, the governing synod of the New Westminster diocese voted 63% to 37% in favour of blessing homosexual unions in a church service. The vote met the approval of diocesan bishop Michael Ingham, a well-known dissenter from Christian doctrines. The decision also flatly contradicted the ruling of the Primates of the 38 Anglican national churches meeting in Brazil five weeks earlier; namely that, without theological consensus, blessings of same-sex unions could not be authorized. After the New Westminster action, 16 Anglican national communities declared that diocese out of communion with them.


The Archbishop of Canterbury is the acknowledged head of the Anglican Church, but he has no doctrinal or jurisdictional authority to defend the purity of the Faith, not even within his own Church of England. He used to have a kind of moral authority, but today is merely the chairman of the international conferences which meet at Lambeth Palace in London every ten years. At the meeting in 1998, "gay" activists from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., and Britain expected approval of same-sex "marriages" and the homosexual lifestyle. They were shocked when the African and Asian bishops decisively defeated the proposal by a vote of 526-60. The Western bishops then indicated that they would go it alone because in many of their places same-sex "blessings" had already become an unofficial custom.

With the Vancouver move, Anglicans could no longer avoid facing the issue of sacramental sanction for sodomy. Bishop Ingham approved, and made the blessing of these "marriages" official in his diocese. Earlier, at the synod in 2001, he had already apologized for what he considered an unacceptable attitude towards gays and lesbians, and called for their "full inclusion in the Body of Christ." Today, he is backed by the majority of his Canadian episcopal colleagues, including Archbishop Terrence Finlay of Toronto, Canada's largest Anglican diocese of some 90,000 faithful. When, in June 2003, an Ontario court ordered the provision of "marriage" licences to homosexuals, two of his lesbian "priests" promptly got "married" without a whisper of discontent from anybody.

Rowan Williams

On Feb. 27, 2003, a Welsh theologian, Rowan Williams, was enthroned as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. As a highly symbolic gift, Pope John Paul sent him a bishop's pectoral cross with a message pledging continued work toward church unity. English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was present at the ceremony, as were Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and Rev. Donald Bolen, the Council's Anglican specialist. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Williams praised the Pope for his specific vision of the human person in the light of Christian theology, and said that much of what John Paul has written has been an inspiration for him.

On the other hand, Williams has ordained a practising homosexual, accepted women "priests" in 1992, favours women bishops, today favours same-sex blessings and "marriages", and supports practising homosexuals as bishops. Canada's retired Archbishop Peers, a very "liberal" Anglican, praises Williams as a man who is "able to understand the deep rhythms of Anglicanism, its complex history, and the challenge of its diversity."

Canon John

In July 2003, one month after the Vancouver troubles, a storm broke out over Canon Jeffrey John of Southwark, England, nominated to be Bishop of Reading. John has lived with his partner for twenty years; he would have been the Church's first openly gay bishop were it not for the evangelical wing of Anglicans who bitterly opposed it. Not surprisingly, Canon John had earlier spoken out against the 1991-approved "compromise" position approving homosexuality for lay people but not for the clergy, a hopelessly contradictory ruling in itself. John wanted approval for both laity and clergy. After nine diocesan bishops wrote against the appointment, and the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinoia, and other foreign bishops threatened to leave the Anglican community, Dr. Williams called upon Canon John to resign before he had even taken up the post.

United States adds fuel to the flames

No sooner had the English troubles been squelched than the American Episcopal Church broke into controversy by first electing Canon Eugene Robinson as coadjutor of the diocese of New Hampshire and then battling about it in their national synod held in Minnesota in early August. Opponents such as the American Anglican Council declared that "the election of Canon Robinson, who left his wife and children to pursue a homosexual relationship, is a clear illustration of the deep dysfunction in our 'anything goes' Episcopal Church." Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh called Robinson's election a "grievous wound" to the church and "a fundamental departure from the restraints of Holy Scripture and the practice of the catholic [universal] church."

It was all in vain. The House of Bishops confirmed the appointment, and the presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, wrote the Primates of the other Anglican branches that he believed the election to be in harmony with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday, November 2, Canon Eugene Robinson was consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire under the glare of TV lights from the international media.

Ecumenical relations

It is somewhat surprising how long it has taken Catholic ecumenical authorities to recognize that the collapse of family morality in the Anglican community was bound to make efforts toward unity sterile. After the August vote in Minnesota, the head of the U.S. Catholic bishops' ecumenical committee, Bishop Stephen Blaire, remarked that the election of a homosexual activist as a bishop has "serious implications in the search for Christian unity and for the work of our bilateral Anglican-Roman-Catholic dialogue in the United States." In fact, he said, new ecumenical challenges have been created.

As late as February 2001, Msgr. Timothy Galligan of the Pontifical Council for promoting Christianity, for example, looking back over the previous two years, thought that Catholics and Anglicans were moving steadily towards unity ("moving closer to the goal of full communion" [Osservatore Romano, Feb. 14, 2001]). Do these officials have their heads in the sand, or is the wish for unity so strong that they want to hold out the hand of friendship till the very last day? Perhaps it is the latter But the facts on the ground--as distinct from in the clouds--demonstrate that a process of moral permissiveness and disintegration has been underway since 1930.

Moral deterioration

In 1929 all of Christendom--including the Anglicans--condemned contraception. In 1936, King Edward VIII of England had to abdicate because divorce was not permitted in the Anglican community. In 1953 the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, stated: "Let it be understood that homosexual indulgence is a shameful vice and a grievous sin from which deliverance is to be sought by every means." All these events have been overtaken.

In 1930 the Anglican Primates' meeting at Lambeth, accepted contraception as legitimate. From then on, one Protestant community after another followed in the Anglican footsteps until by 1960 the Catholic Church and a few small Protestant groups were the only holdouts in the Western world. And so it has been with other moral issues. In 1967, the Church of England's House of Bishops approved the killing of the unborn through abortion; Canadian and American churches followed in short order. In Canada in 1969 only the Catholics and Pentecostals stood against it. It was the same with the civil laws on divorce which were changed during the seventies, with Anglican and Protestant ecclesial communities also dropping their prohibitions. While King Edward had to resign in 1936, today Prince Charles and his partner, the divorced Camilla Parker-Bowles, live side by side in Clarence House, waiting for their accession to the throne. Finally as noted--homosexuality in the Anglican community today is no longer a sin for either laity or clergy.

The truth is that, beginning in 1930 and accelerating during the 60s and 70s, the Anglican community has distanced itself from the Catholic Church in matters both doctrinal and moral so that today the idea of full communion is further away than it was at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

A split community and ecumenism

The ongoing demise of the Anglican community makes it impossible to continue meaningful dialogue with the "official" Church. The situation is different, however, for those groups and parts of the Anglican community which have themselves already repudiated the false ideas and practices of their "church" and which are now separated--or are in process of becoming so. That is why on October 8 the Vatican sent a message of support and a call for "unity in truth" to the American Anglican Council in Dallas, TX. Its 2700 delegates were gathered in defence of traditional orthodox Anglicanism and were in the process of rallying all those who had already broken away from the main body to unite under one banner. The Vatican's letter was a first, and bypassed the normal protocol of going through the presiding Episcopal bishop, Frank Griswold.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Rome on October 4, the Pope cautioned him, saying that "we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity." After the audience, Cardinal Kasper told a press conference that the acceptance of practising homosexuals as Anglican pastors would mean a break in the proclamation of Christian ethics. As he explained on Vatican Radio, "I expressed my concern because it is not only an internal problem for the Anglican communion, but also a problem that affects our relations" (Zenit, Oct. 3, 5).


As relations with the "official" Anglican community should now be reconsidered, more vigorous efforts from both the Vatican and individual bishops should be directed to reaching out to the traditionalist Anglican communities seeking to preserve Christian moral and doctrinal stands against open vicious harassment from feminists and "gays". Catholics should pray for unity with them rather than with those who have overthrown Christian morality. The traditionalists should begin to understand that their true future lies in the "unity of truth" with the Catholic Church as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger put it in his October 8th message on behalf of Pope John II.

Text of October 8, 2003 Letter to American Anglican Council

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith The Vatican, on behalf of Pope Paul II

I hasten to assure you of my heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation. The significance of you meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this city from which St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, St. Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany.

The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray in particular that God's will be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ Himself.

With sincere regards, sincerely yours in Christ, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. (Wanderer, Oct. 16, 2003)
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Author:de Valk, Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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