Can you hear Benedict XVI sobbing?

AnglicanBombnighttimeOK, everyone. Think like a journalist for a moment.

I am sure that — in light of the facts on the ground — you are shocked, shocked to know that Episcopalians in the liberal Diocese of Massachusetts are not anxious to embrace Pope Benedict XVI and flee into the doctrinal embrace of the Church of Rome. Correct? You can see that, in terms of basic facts?

So forget about that as a moment, as you consider a few points of logic in a recent Boston Globe story about the Vatican rescue mission (viewing it from the point of view of the Anglo-Catholics who started petitioning Rome for help about a decade ago) into English territory.

Consider this chunk of the story:

The Vatican’s announcement last week that it would ease the way for disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church prompted strong negative reactions from some progressive Episcopal priests and parishioners, who saw Pope Benedict XVI as capitalizing on divisions in the Anglican Communion over the ordination of female priests and an openly gay bishop. The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the Anglican church.

During his sermon at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Salem yesterday, the Rev. Paul B. Bresnahan said the Catholic Church was essentially offering itself as a “safe refuge for bigotry,” and he “must respectfully decline” the pope’s invitation.

“This really sends a terrible message to the gay community, as well as to women, which is half the population of the world,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s about time we embraced these folks in a kinder, gentler way than we are now.”

No, I am not that interested in the “bigotry” quote from Bresnahan. That’s a solid quote that expresses the stance that most mainstream Episcopal leaders have, when it comes to Rome, the Christian East and the growing Protestant churches around the world. You know that the pope would not be shocked to hear this quote from an Episcopal priest in Salem, Mass. Do you hear Benedict sobbing? Probably not.

Here is my main point. This quote also perfectly expresses how the Episcopal establishment views the doctrinal beliefs of most of the world’s Anglicans, numerically speaking.

Thus, I think the Globe — for reasons of simple logic — needs to rethink a key phrase in this section of the story. I refer to this statement:

The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the Anglican church.

The Episcopal Church has long been the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, one church in a communion of churches. It is also the U.S. branch that is currently recognized by Canterbury and the Church of England, and that is what matters the most — at this point in time. However, that status is currently in dispute, even in England. Should that be mentioned?

It is also a fact that the Episcopal Church is not the only branch of Anglicanism in the U.S. that is recognized — statistically speaking — by most of the world’s Anglicans. Some churches are already starting to cut those ties, while forming ties to the new, alternative Anglican provice in North America.

All of that is in process. The ultimate outcome is not known.

Thus, I would argue that this simple, blunt sentence fails to express — in terms of statistics and emerging facts — the current realities. It is impossible to state, at this point, the status of the Episcopal Church or the new alternative provice in such a short, blunt sentence. Readers need to know a few more facts to understand what is happening at the local, regional, national and global levels.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Think like a journalist for a moment.

    My journalistic judgment is that this story is taking much too much focus which means that other important stories are not getting the coverage they deserve.

  • Akira Shoda

    As a young Catholic I can tell you that there are alot of traditional Catholics who don’t want women priests or gay/lesbian marriage or blessings in our Church. So I can sympathize with Anglicans who don’t either. That’s why the Pope said they are welcome to convert to the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican priests can get re-ordained and function as Catholic priests.
    The problem is that you liberal people (Protestants as well as Catholics) don’t understand that this Pope unlike John Paul II stands for Catholic tradition. He isn’t into endless ecumenism, dialog, “I’m Okay-You’re Okay” crap. He stands for the truth. And Catholic (and even in general Christian truth), has always stood for tradition and Gospel values which state against homosexuality etc.
    If a religion becomes simply a body of inclusiveness which stands for no Truths and changes every few years to update to the times, then it’s a pointless religion.
    Just like the Anglicans, and all so called “Mainline” Protestant groups. As well as liberal Catholics.

  • Claude

    “Vatican rescue mission” is such an unbiased way of characterizing Benedict’s gambit, isn’t it? …

  • TopCat

    What Akira Shoda said.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Liberals in religion and the media are always prattling about “diversity.” But when they don’t like someone else’s diversity many regularly smear and insult it as bigotry. This seems to be the attitude of Rev. Bresnahan (no relation, although I live in an adjacent city I never knew there was an Episcopal branch to our small Bresnahan clan.)

  • Davis

    Until the Anglican Communion decamps to Abuja or Northern Virginia, it seems reasonable for journalists to be able to safely say that the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Church since, well, it is.

    That could change in the future (although not immediate future), but do journalists really need to speculate on the far away hopes of traditional Anglicans just because they allegedly have a majority of people in a non-democratic forum like the Anglican communion?

    The reporters included the voice of someone who left the Episcopal Church and aligned himself with a non-U.S. entity, so that suggests there is unrest (although I’d argue that the term “trend” is rather suspect).

  • Bram


    The fact that you characterize the plain fact that an overwhelming majority of Anglicans — something like 9 out of 10 or more — are traditional Anglicans as merely an “allegation” shows that you don’t know enough about Anglican Christianity to comment on this matter with any authority one way or another and therefore should refrain from doing so.

  • michael


    I think Terry’s point is that there is no universal/international Anglican Church. but a communion of Anglican churches.

    What I would like to know is how is he drawing this distinction and what he therefore means by ‘current realities’. Is it a sociological distinction (in which case, sociology gets to tell us what is and is not a church)? A juridical distinction, so that a church is defined by the unity of its governing structure? Or a theological distinction, in which case the operative theology here is…?

    Is there more than one church? Just asking.

  • Davis

    Bram, I know enough about the Anglican Communion to know it isn’t a democracy where those with the most votes wins. I also know that despite the efforts of those at GafCon, the Episcopal Church continues to be the only U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion. I also know that it was not just the Episcopal Church whose wrist was slapped at Lambeth 2008, but also the dissidents trying to set up alternative U.S. oversight or flying bishops.

    So my point stands. The Globe’s characterization of the situation of the Episcopal Church was factual and that speculation was unnecessary, and arguably deceptive. The voice of dissidents was expressed so the reader knows there is disagreement afoot.

  • Julia

    It’s my understanding that the Episcopal Church is run democratically – unlike the rest of the Anglican Communion.
    At Synods (or whatever is the name of their national meetings) there is a group of voting clerics and another group of voting laity.

  • Bram


    You’re right that the Anglican Communion is not a democracy. Rather it’s one province of a Kingdom whose heads are God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit. What’s happening in the Anglican Communion now is that an already vanishingly small and steadily shrinking minority of liberals in the West, in the Global North, have begun a coup d’etat against God the Father, whose existence they sometimes deny, against Jesus Christ the Son of God, whose divinity and whose resurrection they often deny, and against the Holy Spirit, which they redefine as acquiescence to any “new thing” that Western, Global-Northern, bourgeois-bohemian conventional wisdom throws up from week to week. Where demography comes in is in the plain fact that — despite your “allegation,” your insinuation otherwise — something like nine out of ten or more member of the Anglican Communion worldwide are traditionalists who side with God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit against the liberal revisionists and their coup d’etat. The rebels here are the liberal revisionists who have denied and betrayed so many aspects of Christianity itself in its Anglican form, not the traditionalists who at home and abroad who have done nothing more than to defend themselves and to defend the Kingdom from treasonous attack in the name of graven idols, golden calfs, and various and sundry contemporary Mammons, Molochs, and Baals.

  • J Gibson

    Number 2. You may be young in years, but you are long in wisdom….Thank you for Standing Firm in the Faith.

    an Anglican.

  • Bram

    I second J Gibson’s thanks to Akira Shoda. You are the future and the liberal revisionists are a rapidly receding past.

  • tmatt

    Several comments (I have not had wifi all day, while on the road):

    * I know that Canterbury has not changed TEC’s status. The post says that. But the status is under dispute even in England.

    * Large member churches in the Anglican Communion — normal Anglicans in those nations, not Anglo-Catholic “traditionalists” in the sense of the Rome option threads — have already changed the status of TEC in terms of Communion with a sacramental Large C. That matters, when you do the math.

    Yes, as I said, the Globe sentence is officially accurate, but very incomplete in terms of readers knowing what is happening at the global level.

    * My “rescue mission” language was meant to express the point of view of the Anglo-Catholics seeking the pope’s intervention for the past decade. The wording is biased in favor of the Anglicans who set this story in motion by making the request, over and over.

  • james

    “I also know that despite the efforts of those at GafCon, the Episcopal Church continues to be the only US branch of the Anglican Communion….”


    But is fast becoming a secondary branch. It will be interesting to see what “tier” the Episcopal Church bishops will be placed in (eventually), or which one of a possible series of rows they will be place in. The Anglicans bishops/churches of GafCon, for example, no longer consider the Episcopal Church an authentic representative of the Anglican Communion in ecumenical affairs. I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury said as much.

    So the Episcopal Church seems to be isolating itself not only from global Catholicism and pan Orthodoxy, but also from fellow Anglicans (most of whom are in Third World countries).

  • james

    Hopefully, all the churches on the globe are in vibration over the issues of sexuality raised by the Episcopal and other Churches. Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people ought to be accepted and respected.

    And if the foundations of all the churches seem to be shaking on these issues, maybe it is God who is doing the shaking (to misquote Charles West).

    It remains to be seen how the Holy Spirit will bring all the churches together to resolve these issues.

  • Kathleen

    I am a Roman Catholic. As far as I can tell, Jesus preached that God loves each person. After all, each person is God’s creation so why wouldn’t God love each one? Somehow my church has forgotten that.

    I wonder how this conversation would go if some women were saying: “Let’s move to church X to get away from heterosexuals and men.” Naturally everyone would be in an uproar. But talk about getting away from gays and women? That’s ok.

    Wonder what God will have to say about how we live out the Gospel values?



  • Theresa

    No, BXVI is definitely not sobbing over the negative comments made by an Episcopal priest.

    But he seems to be crying now because of the communication mishap in announcing the Angelican “Personal Ordinariate” too soon. What is the problem you ask? The problem is there seems to be a delay releasing the “Apostolic Constitution” because of an internal argument within the walls of the Roman Curia of whether married Anglicans can train as seminarians. Gee, what a surprise. It’s being reported that the Pope “would have preferred the publication of the apostolic constitution to have taken place at the same time as last week’s press conference, mainly to avoid any repeat of the mishandling of his decision to lift the excommunications on four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X earlier this year.”

  • Ferial

    I believe that Bresnahan+ is a former Roman Catholic, so presumably he knows what he’s talking about.

  • SteveP

    #19 — The biography does not mention a stint as a Roman Catholic (

  • TedTylerEzro

    I love how the theme of this is “Benedict is looking to shore up his conservative base”. There aren’t enough anglo-catholics to make a difference to the demographics one way or another. Even if something huge happens and we get 500,000 people to join this new Anglican provision, we’ll lose that many liberals as baby boomers die off and their children don’t go to church. Liberalism is pretty much a spent force in Catholic circles because they haven’t cultivated either vocations or lay communities and societies. The conservatives have, and thus they are the inheritors of Roman Catholicism.

  • Brian Walden

    I am a Roman Catholic. As far as I can tell, Jesus preached that God loves each person. After all, each person is God’s creation so why wouldn’t God love each one? Somehow my church has forgotten that.

    How is the Pope saying to a group of people who asked to come into the Catholic Church, “If you believe what the Church teaches and want to come into full communion, we will do all that we can to remove every obstacle preventing you from doing so,” not loving?

    I wonder how this conversation would go if some women were saying: “Let’s move to church X to get away from heterosexuals and men.” Naturally everyone would be in an uproar. But talk about getting away from gays and women? That’s ok.

    Did any of the comments from the Vatican say they were recruiting people who want to get away from homosexuals and women? Should the media take the Vatican at it’s word or assign their own preconceived notions to this announcement? The only one talking about getting away from women and homosexuals is the media.

    In case you haven’t noticed the women have always been the majority in the Church. And according to some estimates a good percentage of the clergy are homosexual, so if Anglicans are entering the church to get away from women and homosexuals they’re going to be disappointed.

    Wonder what God will have to say about how we live out the Gospel values?

    I can’t speak for others, but in general I do a crappy job. Luckily I’m still a work in progress, so there’s hope.

  • Bram

    “Wonder what God will have to say about how we live out the Gospel values?”

    Just two of the differences between orthodox Christians and liberal-revisionist Christians are that:

    (1) Unlike some liberal-revisionists, the former all believe that there’s a God

    (2) Unlike those liberal-revisionists who do believe in God, the former would not presume to know the answer to the question you pose.

  • keith

    It was just a subtle way of turf war for the followers between the Anglo-Catholics.

  • james

    “It was just a subtle way of turf war for the followers between the Anglo-Catholics.”

    I think you mean to say it is a struggle for the allegiance of Anglo-Catholics, a very small group of Anglicans within the Anglican Communion.

    Currently they are divided between those Anglo-Catholics who feel acceptance of female and openly gay bishops will only further alienate them from the broader Catholic Church (of Orthodox, Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches [which do not accept female and openly gay bishops]) and those Anglo-Catholics who feel their ties to Anglicanism are greater than their ties to the broader Catholic Church (and therefore don’t mind removing themselves a step further from that broader Catholic Church).

  • james

    Currently, I believe Anglicans are trying to put together a Covenant, a formal binding agreement among each of the churches of the Anglican Communion. This agreement will forbid Anglican covenanters or signers of the Covenant to ordain openly gay priests who wish to be bishops, among other things. Non-Covenanters, of course, will be under no obligation to abide the Covenant. This Covenant might put off some Anglo-Catholics from going to Catholic Use/Rite parishes (especially those who don’t mind female bishops, but are against ordaining openly gay men and women bishops). All this remains to be seen.

  • Lori Pieper

    . . .this Pope unlike John Paul II stands for Catholic tradition. He isn’t into endless ecumenism, dialog, “I’m Okay-You’re Okay” crap.

    Whoa there, Shakira. As you say you are a Catholic who supports tradition, I take it you do know that Catholic tradition frowns on dissing the Pope, any Pope? It might be worthwhile for you to learn a little more about Pope John Paul II. His ecumenical dialogue is paying off. In fact, it was his acceptance of allowing more traditional Anglicans to come into the Church and use parts of their liturgy that paved the way for Benedict’s actions.

    Something that should have been mentioned much more in the news stories on the subject.