By Hilary White
ROME, October 26, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com
) - By focusing on the issue of married clergy in the Catholic Church, the secular media has got the thin end of the story of last week's offer of reunion from the Vatican to "traditionalist" Anglicans. The more interesting story, says Fr. Philip Powell, a Dominican priest based in Rome and a former Episcopalian, is the "huge cultural shift" in the Anglican Church that it presages.
Fr. Powell gave his analysis of the move in an interview with LSN, saying that despite accusations from the left and from some quarters of the Anglican Communion, it was not an opportunistic grab for numbers by the Vatican preying upon the Anglican Churches. The decision, he said, is purely a matter of pastoral concern and a provision for people in real spiritual "distress."
"It was a request that has been made twice now by the traditional Anglican community in England and Australia and this is a very pastoral response," said Fr. Powell, a popular clerical Catholic blogger and a graduate student in philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
"Cardinal Levada said it best, this is not an initiative on the part of the Holy Father; it's a response."
"The Holy Father is doing what pastors do," said Fr. Powell. "When people reach out to them and say, 'We are distressed about our faith, about our spiritual lives, about our relationships with God and we think that we're in trouble,' pastors, shepherds, help."
"I can't imagine that Pope Benedict thinks this is a political thing," he continued. "It's going to be interpreted that way regardless of what he does but I just don't believe that Benedict is being political in the secular sense."
Although Vatican officials did not confirm this, it is widely understood that the decision to allow groups of Anglicans to come into communion with Rome was made in direct response to requests by the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), an Australian based group of some 400,000 lay and clerical members who adhere to traditional moral and doctrinal teachings of classical, biblical Christianity.
But, Powell said, while the numbers will not be much of a statistical change for the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church, they do represent a "significant" portion of the still practicing Anglicans in the western world.
The removal to Rome of those Anglicans in the Communion who had been fighting for a more traditionally Christian ethos "presages a huge cultural shift in the Anglican Church," he said. It will push the mainstream of Anglicanism in the west further out onto their liberal doctrinal limb. And it will likely push the existing Anglican factions further apart and contribute to the final break-up of the Communion between the liberal west and the conservative evangelical Africa and Asia.
Fr. Powell said, "These are voices that are going to be taken out of the Anglican debates that have been going on. They're not going to be showing up to Lambeth or the synods or parish councils. They're not going to be there now to slow things down."
What will be left for the "liberal" establishment to do after they have won the doctrinal war remains to be seen. "I was an American Episcopalian for years and you reach a point where there's nothing left to surrender," Fr. Powell said. The radical pro-gay, pro-abortion left in the Anglican Church has, he said, identified themselves as the oppressed class fighting injustice who have "identified themselves so entirely with being in opposition to hierarchy, that they don't know what else to do anymore."
"You're so radically inclusive and open and free that there's no barrier left to break down. And if that's been your whole project for thirty years, what have you got left to do?"
"They don't know how to operate any more other than being in opposition."
Sandro Magister, the noted Vatican expert and Italian journalist, wrote last week that the move indicates a shift towards tradition in the Catholic Church, with Pope Benedict gathering in as many as possible who hold traditional doctrinal positions, and earning himself the nickname "Pope of Unity" in the process. While talks with the Orthodox Churches of the east remain slow, doctrinal discussions began this week with the formerly excommunicated bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic group that broke away from the Vatican after the liturgical changes of the 1960s.
Powell also noted the irony of the situation of the traditionalist Anglicans, who are being accused of being "bigots and homophobes and sexists" by the left, whose mantra all these years has been "tolerance."
"This is the same group of people who elevated tolerance of difference to a dogma. Except you can't differ on these issues. You have people in the Church now who are saying, 'Look, you left wing folks are now the establishment, and now we're the ones pushing difference and you're the ones pushing back'.
"They don't use the word 'heretic' any more; it's 'homophobe and sexist' now."
But Powell made the point that although the invitation has been opened, it is not necessarily going to be easy for some Anglicans to move forward. What is not being talked about, he said, is the Catholic requirement of full assent to all the Church's doctrines from those coming in, including those of papal infallibility, a major sticking point for many in Anglicanism, which five hundred years ago broke with Rome over papal authority.
Those who come over to Rome, Fr. Powell said, will have to understand that they are not going to be Anglicans under the pope. "Simply because they're getting a parallel jurisdiction, doesn't mean they get to pick and choose between doctrines. They become Roman Catholics."
Over the weekend, John Hind, the Anglican bishop of Chichester in south east England and one of the leading traditionalists in the Church of England, announced he would be seriously contemplating taking up Benedict's offer. Hind is a leading traditionalist in the Church of England and was one of the 'rebel' bishops who signed a letter against the appointment of the self-confessed active homosexual, Dr. Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading in 2003.
Hind, who is married with three children, said he would be "happy" to be "reordained" as a Catholic priest and said that this would depend on his "previous ministry being recognized" by Rome. Fr. Powell pointed to this kind of response as an indication of possible difficulties ahead.
With Anglican clergy who might be putting themselves forward as candidates for the "personal ordinariates" offered under the new provisions, Fr. Powell said, "We're really going to have to make sure that they understand they're not remaining Anglican clergy under the Holy Father. They're becoming Roman Catholic bishops. Roman Catholic priests. That means holding to teaching and preaching what the Church teaches and preaches."
Contrary to other complaints from the Catholic left that the Vatican's decision has put and end to the decades of "ecumenical dialogue," Fr. Powell said, from the Catholic point of view, "the point of ecumenism is to bring people back into the Church."
"I know of no document that says the purpose of ecumenical dialogue is to change Church doctrine in order to make people feel comfortable enough to come back.
"This is not about diluting papal infallibility or the teaching on contraceptives or divorce so that Methodists or Buddhists or whatever, feel comfortable about coming into the Church."