That Anglican timeline thing, again (with apologies)

Here we go again.

I have been on the road for a week or more and, when I returned home, there was a huge stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers for me to triage. One of the first GetReligion-esque stories that I ran into concerned a local news event that the Sun has been ignoring for months (see previous GetReligion coverage here).

The headline? That would be, “Three Episcopal priests to be ordained Catholic: Changing religious affiliations become a norm among American faithful.” For those who follow local, regional, national and international Anglican (and Catholic) news, this is an update on the story of Mount Calvary Church in downtown Baltimore. This new story does contain quite a bit of useful information, much of which could have been written in the past two to three years.

However, I am afraid that — once again — this story takes us into that whole Anglican timeline file again. These things cannot be helped, I’m afraid. Here is the top of the story:

The Rev. Jason Catania was ordained an Episcopal priest a dozen years ago. He will be ordained again Saturday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. This time, he will be vested as a Roman Catholic priest.

Catania moved to Roman Catholicism in January, along with the Revs. John Anthony Vidal and David Reamsnyder, two colleagues in the Episcopal priesthood. All three are set to be ordained this weekend. Several dozen parishioners who had been pastored by Catania, 40, at Mount Calvary Church on North Eutaw Street for six years have also converted to Catholicism.

The three former Episcopal priests said they found themselves more aligned with Roman Catholicism and less with increasingly liberal stances taken by Episcopal leaders. The nation’s sixth-largest Protestant denomination has been divided in recent years over the ordination of gay men and women and same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church has made efforts to draw Anglicans interested in conversion; even Anglican priests who are married can be ordained.

“It really boils down to understanding of Scripture,” said Vidal, 52. “We believe that the Catholic Church is following the early church teachings more consistently.”

I know, I know. Who cares about facts these days?

But still, the Episcopal Church has been divided over sexuality issues in “recent years”?

Come on, people. Can’t someone on the copy desk use Google? When I hear “recent years” I think, oh, three to five years or something like that. After all, you go above five and you are getting close to clusters of words such as “nearly a decade.”

Now, it is true that one of the priests may have led the reporter astray. Then again, this Anglo-Catholic priest may have been responding to the context of the reporter’s questions — which can be seen in the whole framing of the story. Anyway, readers are left with this quotation:

Catania said he had hoped that the Catholic and Episcopal churches would eventually reconcile their differences and reunite. “Even when I was ordained in the Episcopal Church, I knew someday that I would end up Catholic one way or another,” he said. “It just took me 12 years to get here.

“Because of the recent controversies, reunification seems less and less likely,” Catania added. “We are not anti-women or anti-gay. We did this for the sake of Christian unity.”

OK, how recent is “recent”?

Well, it’s hard not to start the gay-rights-war Episcopal Church timeline in 1979 — during the General Convention held in Denver. The conservatives won that battle in the headlines, with the passage of a traditional statement of Christian sexual ethics. However, the liberals got organized and their ranks started growing. One of the signers of a liberal 1979 liberal manifesto on the issue — the Rt. Rev. Edmond Browning — would end up being elected as the church’s presiding bishop only a few years later.

After 1979, it only took a decade for the ordination of gay and lesbian priests to begin, during the “local option” era. Here are some dates mentioned in previous GetReligion posts.

1989 – Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1991 – Bishop Walter Righter, Diocese of Washington, D.C., ordains a non-celibate homosexual.

1994 – Bishop Spong drafted the Koinonia Statement defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). Spong publishes his 12 Theses, laying out an approach to faith without a transcendent, personal deity.

1996 – Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which decides that there is “no clear doctrine” in the Episcopal Church relevant to the ordination of those sexually active outside of marriage.

1998 – The bishops at the global Lambeth Conference uphold traditional teachings on marriage and human sexuality. Then, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement addressed to lesbian and gay Anglicans.

2000 – Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini ( Province of Rwanda) and Moses Tay ( Province of South East Asia) consecrate Father Chuck Murphy and Father John Rodgers as missionary bishops to the U.S.

In many ways, the event that kicked the entire controversy into overdrive was the dismissal of the charges against Bishop Righter in 1996. At that point, the issue was pretty much settled for anyone with eyes to see what was happening. Thus, the Global South revolt against the Episcopal Church openly began in 2000.

Is 1996 “recent”? Is 2000 “recent”?

Once again, it is easy for reporters to simply note that the conflict has been raging for a quarter of a century, or thereabouts, and that there was a major escalation in the dispute in 2003, with the consecration of the openly gay and non-celibate Bishop V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. Now that you think of it, is 2003 “recent”?

I don’t know.

I do know this, it’s impossible to consider the Episcopal/Anglican battles over sexuality a “recent” phenomenon and I am sure that the priests associated with Mount Calvary and other similar parishes would agree.

Print Friendly

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.

  • Tom Downs

    Actually you might start the time line in 1976 with the ordination of women. For most Anglo Catholics of my acquaintance this was a much more significant issue than the ordination of gay and lesbian priests.
    The time line you describe generally reflects the concerns of those who describe themselves as traditional or orthodox. These folks have left the Episcopal Church to form several of their own denominations, often aligned with an Anglican provice in Africa or South America, or associated with some episcopi vagantes.

  • Fr John has George Conger delving into the Anglican Fray

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    When I think of “recent”, I tend to think in Church terms — centuries. So the declaration by the Episcopal Church in 1930 that the use of contraceptives between married couples is OK, is a “recent” innovation compared to the history of the Church.

    That, of course, is not how most people think of “recent,” so flicking the Sun’s ear is well-deserved.

  • northcoast

    I wonder about the words “Many parishioners had already left the traditional Episcopal Church for the Roman Catholicism” in the Sun article. Isn’t the whole Anglican Timeline about steps in departing from tradition?

    Has anyone explained why it isn’t “Episcopal Timeline?” The timeline relates to the history of only one Anglican Province.

    Also, I think the timeline should at least go back to James Pike’s time as Bishop.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I would like to see in the media somewhere a well-researched analysis of why so many mainstream Protestant churches which ordain women very soon are endorsing gay “marriage” and ordaining openly practicing gays as even bishops to their clergy. What is the connection??? All I can figure out is that once Tradition is fractured in one area, eventually anything goes from women’s ordination, to gay “marriage”, to destroying the ability to conceive, to “no fault” divorce on demand, to abortion on demand.

  • Passing By

    I would start the gay rights timeline with Bp. Moore ordaining a Ellen Barrett as a priest in December of 1977. She was a gay activist who introduced her lover at the ordination and said something to the effect that her relationship enabled her ministry. I can’t find the quote now, but here’s an interesting review of the issues. It also points to some links between women’s ordination and gay advocacy in the Episcopal Church.

  • dalea

    The case of Fr Laud Humphreys in the 60′s should probably be part of the timeline. Fr Humphreys was a priest in St Louis who conducted groundbreaking research on casual sex among men and published his dissertation to widespread praise. In the process, he created large problems for the Episcopal Church in St Louis. His story is here:

    I was an undergraduate at the time and was somewhat aware of the situation. Friends who were active in his parish told me that the situation was Fr Humphreys remained priest at the church, he had moved out of the parsonage leaving his wife and small children on their own, he was living with a male partner, the wife would not leave and was threatening to sue, Fr Humphrey would not resign from the parish and insisted on conducting services. The hierarchy of the church was upset and did not know how to proceed. Additionally, his research had ethical problems involving consent and privacy of subjects. Plus people had figured out that to study the subject he must have participated.

    This was apparently the first case of an out gay priest who would not agree to be discrete. And may have set the template for dealing with GL people. The situation was from 1966 onwards into the early 1970′s. A somewhat obscure case, but a very early one, before Stonewall and the existence of the modern GL movement.

  • Shaughn

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan,

    Women’s ordination leads to gay / lesbian ordination because it’s the natural, logical outcome of that move. The progression of logic is:

    1) Gender doesn’t matter for ordination.
    2) If gender doesn’t matter for ordination, why does it matter for marriage?
    3) If gender doesn’t matter for marriage, sexuality doesn’t matter for marriage.
    4) If sexuality doesn’t matter for marriage, why does it matter for ordination?

    You’re basically right; once you pull at one string, the whole deal begins to unravel.

  • Randy

    Again you have to define “very soon.” Churches that were slow to adopt women pastors tend to not accept gay marriage. It may eventually happen but most have not gone there yet. Those that were quick to adopt women pastors are the churches that tend to be influenced by the academic elites. There is no surprise that they don’t resist the next fashion that comes along. Churches that are controlled by a laity that is not only not academic but highly suspicious of scholarship that seems to tell them to ignore scripture. They tend to either hold out longer or just never make the change.

    Then there is that pesky Catholic church. They are controlled by a highly educated leadership and so should fit in the first group. But that leadership also must believe in the church enough to make vows of celibacy and obedience. That has kept the liberal academics from becoming bishops like they have in other churches.

  • northcoast

    The ordination of women argument seemed to involve traditionalists who argued in the negative, moderates who could find scriptural interpretation permitting the change, and liberals who gave more importance to social issues and less to scripture. (The liberals had no trouble having their views promoted in the local press.) I would assume that similar divisions could be found throughout the denomination, and that with time the majority has shifted toward the liberals. A few years ago I explained to friends who would listen that the denomination I was leaving had shifted the basis of its theology from scripture, tradition, and reason to reason, tradition, and Newsweek.

    Later, along came studies on sexuality that included alternate understanding of the scriptural passages concerning homosexuality. I have no idea how many minds were actually changed, but these studies would give cover to church leaders who favored the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of gay relationships.

    The progression described in posts above seems to have taken over most of the mainstream denominations in this country. A restraint to such change has been provided in the United Methodist Church by foreign voices. Similarly archbishops from South America and Africa have restrained changes in the world wide Anglican Church and have supported conservatives in this country.

  • dalea

    What needs to be kept in mind, is that the denominations did not begin ordaining gays in the 60′s or whenever. Churches have always had gay clergy. What changed at that point was gay clergy began to be open about being gay. So, the issue is not about ordaining, it is about openess.

  • tmatt

    Spiking away.

    Try to stick to the journalism issues, people.