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.