Unforced Episcopal errors from the Wall Street Journal

Even the best newspapers will drop a brick now and again. And today’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Episcopal wars in South Carolina is a real stinker.

I’ve been reading the Journal since the early 1980s when I went to New York to work as a floor clerk at the Commodities Exchange for Drexel Burnham Lambert. In those far off misty days of my misspent youth (the lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, Reagan’s in the White House, God’s in His heaven, all was right with the world) I would start at the back of the paper every morning and work forward after I had finished with the futures prices.

As my life and interests took a different path (no more filthy lucre for me) I began to enjoy the paper’s forays into religion, art, literature and other highbrow genres. The Wall Street Journal has consistently done a fine job in covering these topics bringing a depth of knowledge and balance to its reporting — and is one of the best written, best edited English language newspapers in the business.

Hence my disappointment with today’s article entitled “Church Fight Heads to Court: South Carolina Episcopalian Factions Each File Suit After Split Over Social Issues”. The story gets just about everything of importance wrong. The lede misrepresents the underlying issue. It begins:

Episcopalians along the South Carolina coast are battling in court to determine which of two factions owns an estimated $500 million in church buildings, grounds and cemeteries, following an acrimonious split last year over social issues.

The leadership and about two-thirds of the members of the Diocese of South Carolina, based in Charleston, broke away from the national Episcopal Church last November over its blessing of same-sex unions, ordination of gay clergy and its liberal approach to other social and theological issues.

No, that is not what happened. In South Carolina the diocesan convention voted to withdraw from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church after the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church suspended the Bishop of South Carolina with the intent to depose him (remove him from the ministry). Yes, South Carolina has opposed the innovations of doctrine and discipline introduced over the past two generations — and I guess you could say, taking the long view, that social issues were subsidiary issues — but last year’s split was in response to specific actions taken by the leadership of the national church.

Farther down the article some of the details about the South Carolina fight are presented and the story gets the facts back on track.

In South Carolina, bad blood between the diocese and the national church has been building for about 15 years. It reached a breaking point last summer, when the bishop and other leaders of the diocese walked out of the triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, following the national church’s approval of policies on blessing same-sex unions. The walkout triggered a series of events, including the national church’s removal of the Rt. Rev. Lawrence as bishop, and subsequent lawsuits.

(A hint that the writer is not au courant with religion reporting is the “Rt. Rev. Lawrence” — proper style is to use the first name after the Rt Rev and then Bishop or Dr if you want an honorific before the last name.)

The story also collapses the time line of the Episcopal wars and is written as if the South Carolina lawsuit is new news when the latest lawsuit was filed about six weeks ago.

The schism in South Carolina is one of many that have erupted over the past decade between local Episcopal parishes and dioceses and their national church—particularly since the election of a gay bishop in 2003. Thousands of conservative members left their churches over such issues around the middle of last decade, a time some Southern churchgoers call “the Great Unpleasantness,” the same euphemism once used for the Civil War. Other mainline Protestant denominations also have struggled with issues related to homosexuality, with many congregations moving to leave the Presbyterian Church USA after its leadership voted to allow openly gay clergy.

The split between liberal and conservative Episcopalians has been around for almost 40 years and has witnessed dozens of lawsuits between congregations and diocese. Beginning in 2006 the national church headquarters entered the fray spending upwards of $24 million (this in addition to the fees paid out by the dioceses and parishes). Nor did the fight begin in 2003  — GetReligion‘s tmatt has written extensively on this point and I need not restate the accurate Anglican timeline here. [Read more...]

AP frames Benedict XVI in some warped timeframes

On one level, I am rather disappointed to note that the editors at the Associated Press have already fixed an awesome typo that a Beltway journalist sent to me early today, the one that said the Pope Benedict XVI has, as is common among elderly men, experienced “some prostrate problems” in recent years.

Yes, that’s certainly the truth. Arthritis can make it hard to do prostrations during liturgical prayers.

Perhaps that typo crept into the copy while members of the AP team frantically worked to turn the basic obituary story that they had stashed away in a digital file into a live, breaking news report about the pope’s stunning announcement that he was retiring.

The nearly 3,000-word report that quickly hit the wires today contains a sweeping overview of Benedict XVI’s life, just like an obituary. It doesn’t contain the kinds of errors that will make faithful Catholics scream and spill coffee into their computer keyboards. That’s good, since this AP story is the one that millions of newspapers will see in their local newspapers — the many, many local papers that do not have fulltime religion specialists.

What this AP story has, however, is the kind of framing language that always makes me think of those moments in sporting events — especially in soccer and basketball — when one player fouls another, forcing the angry person who was fouled to lash out in response. The referees then, inevitably, call a foul on the second player. We do live in a sinful, fallen world.

All too often in daily journalism, reporters (and especially editors) have a tendency to think that big important stories actually begin when they first realize that they exist, as opposed to when these stories actually start affecting life in the real world (as opposed to newsrooms).

Take, for example, that whole “Anglican timeline” thing, with all of the stories proclaiming that the Episcopal Church battles over doctrine, sacraments and sexuality started in 2003 with the election of an openly gay, non-celibate bishop in the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire. In reality, the battles had been going on — with international consequences — for several decades.

In this AP story about the retirement of Benedict XVI, the big story is the sex-abuse scandal. There are times, in this report, when the editors truly seem to realize that there is no singular scandal, but a series of connected scandals that have been unfolding since the early 1980s. Many of these flareups actually received attention in the mainstream press (as well as in Hollywood).

However, the headline at AP states the thesis: “Pope’s mission to revive faith clouded by scandal.” There are several places in which the AP team fits Benedict into this picture. For example:

The German theologian, whose mission was to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe, grew increasingly frail as he shouldered the monumental task of purging the Catholic world of a sex abuse scandal that festered under John Paul II and exploded during his reign into the church’s biggest crisis in decades, if not centuries.

That isn’t bad, but, actually, the scandal did much more than fester during the long, long tenure of the Blessed Pope John Paul II — it exploded into view several times. For example, didn’t The Boston Globe win its Pulitzer in 2003 for earlier coverage of the scandal, before Benedict XVI became pope? I am aware that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was already involved in the story, but it’s simply wrong to make it appear that the scandal began on his watch or that the worst abuses came to light during his papacy.

You can see the timeline struggle again a bit later in the report.

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Missing voices in coverage of the National Cathedral rites

For some reason or another, quite a few folks who read this here weblog want to know what I, and the other GetReligionistas, think of the decision by leaders of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul — better known as Washington National Cathedral — to officially begin performing same-sex union rites.

Well, for starters, that’s a question about an event in the news, not a question about mainstream-media coverage of an event in the news. So that really isn’t a GetReligion question.

Personally, I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian, so I don’t have a horse in that race. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that modern Protestant bodies who hold votes to decide major doctrines are free to do whatever they want to do. However, various camps within the 600,000 or so Episcopalians who continue to worship in their local parishes on a regular basis will, and should, care deeply about this development. Press coverage should make note of that.

However, does this liturgical decision really surprise anyone? The trends in the Episcopal Church establishment have been steady for a decade or two. Episcopal clergy here in DC Beltway-land have been performing forms of same-sex union rites for three decades.

Now, a national rite has been approved and the contents are there for all to see. It would be a much bigger story if this symbolic cathedral declined to use these rites.

One longtime GetReligion reader did raise another interesting question, one that could be a hook for valid journalistic coverage. She wrote:

A friend told me yesterday that it’s irritating to keep reading about the National Cathedral in the news — as if that Episcopalian church was really the official US cathedral. So I was checking it out and see that the Washington National Cathedral is the church’s official name and it claims “it is called to serve as the spiritual home for the nation.” …

In spite of the … provision that we have no established church, why does the press continue to treat the Episcopal Cathedral in DC as if it is the official US religious center for political events? … Why is this situation not seen as a church-state difficulty by the press?

It is certainly true that, in terms of history, Episcopalians have, well, outperformed their numbers when it comes to having an impact on national news and American history. At this point, I think few would challenge a statement that National Cathedral is America’s most important liberal Protestant sanctuary. But, in terms of numbers and demographics, does that make it the “spiritual home for the nation”?

That might be a hook for an interesting story, but it really isn’t the key issue in this story about same-sex marriage.

When I started reading the coverage, I wanted to know if the teams in our major newsrooms realized that this symbolic action was a typical Episcopal-Anglican story, one with implications at the local, national and global levels. I also wondered if journalists would consider the ecumenical impact of this decision, in terms of the cathedral’s relationships with larger bodies of American believers — such as Catholics, evangelicals, charismatics, etc. Who knows, there was even a chance that journalists might interview one or two important religious leaders who opposed this action.

Hey, it could happen.

But don’t hold your breath.

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And now, ironic Episcopal PR from South Florida

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I wish there was some way, legally and technically, that I could have GetReligion readers take a look at the following two stories about the advent of same-sex union rites in the Episcopal Church without readers being able to tell which one is from a mainstream newsroom and which one is from the denomination’s own information source.

Guess which one makes a more concerted effort to wrestle with and to report on the views of Episcopalians who disagree with this doctrinal revolution in their church?

Well, not this one:

Gay couples who seek spiritual affirmation of their relationships can now sanctify their unions with special blessings at South Florida’s Episcopal churches.

Priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida have been given permission to perform a distinct rite, different from the marriage between a man and a woman. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony, to be introduced this month, was approved by national convention delegates over the summer.

South Florida’s Episcopal priests had been performing a locally approved liturgy for the past two years for couples who have been married in other states, Bishop Leo Frade said. Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages. Frade said none of the priests in the 77-church diocese, which covers six South Florida counties, have told him they are morally opposed to the blessings.

This story contains the usual flaws in the Anglican timeline on these issues, with the conflicts (sigh) and schisms beginning at the usual point — the gay bishop reaching his throne in the tiny diocese in New Hampshire. The state of broken Communion inside the American body, and its fallout overseas, actually began years earlier.

Hey, church history is complex? Who expects accuracy on such matters in mainstream newspapers. Right?

The more significant flaw is linked to the fact that — despite the fact that not a single priest in South Florida objects to this evolution — there are other Episcopal dioceses in the state that oppose the rite and consider sex outside of traditional marriage to be a sin. GetReligion readers will be stunned to know that this mainstream report only talks to people on one side of this issue, a hot-button issue that continues to cause cracks in the Anglican Communion here in North America and, obviously, around the world.

Other voices? We don’t need no stinkin’ other voices!

Obviously, a report from the actual Episcopal News Service is going to represent the viewpoint of the denomination’s hierarchy. The Episcopal Church is, at the level of the hierarchy, an overwhelmingly liberal body on issues of doctrine and liturgy and this story shows that.

That is to be expected, in a denominational, advocacy, news source. However, this low-key and thorough story does note:

The blessing liturgy is authorized only with the permission of the diocesan bishop, and clergy can decline to preside at a blessing ceremony. Resolution A049 specified that bishops, particularly in dioceses located in civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, could provide a “generous pastoral response” and that bishops could adapt the liturgical materials to meet church members’ needs.

In the months since General Convention approved use of the liturgy, bishops throughout the church have issued pastoral letters outlining the policies for their dioceses.

This implies, of course, that some bishops are outlining options other than enthusiastic acceptance. Thus, those other voices are part of the national story and, to some degree, this ENS report.

The issue, in the South Florida coverage, is whether (a) there really are ZERO traditional Anglicans left in that liberal dioceses with whom to discuss this very newsworthy development or (b) whether a newspaper that portrays itself as a regional newspaper needs to take into account, in any way, the fact that what is a de facto sacrament in Miami remains a sin and even a heresy in Orlando.

The journalistic question: Why did the mainstream news report adopt a more blatant form of advocacy journalism than the denominational voice?

Now, that’s what you’d call ironic.

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.

That 1985-2002 clergy-abuse gap (revisited)

As a rule, your GetReligionistas think that veteran religion-beat specialists do a consistently better job of getting the basic facts right, especially when their work is compared with general-assignment reporters who are shipped off to cover complicated stories that often have years, decades or centuries of past history.

At the top of the list of scribes whose work we frequently admire is Tim Townsend of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The man is a pro.

All of which makes we wonder if an editor or two monkeyed around with the top of the following story about the early work at the latest meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Pay close attention and think “history.”

ATLANTA – The U.S. Catholic bishops who gathered here for their annual spring meeting spent Wednesday morning grappling with the sins of the past, marking the 10th anniversary of the clergy sex abuse crisis that crippled the church. …

In June 2002, the bishops met in Dallas as the abuse scandal, which first erupted in Boston, was raging across the country.

The crisis began in 2002? That will be a shock to religion-beat veterans who have been covering the crisis since the mid-1980s, complete with magazine cover stories, a major book or two and even a made for television movie about one spectacular case that gripped the nation.

This brings us to Father Gilbert Gauthe and the following 1985 quotation from Time magazine (which I have quoted before):

Father Gilbert Gauthe, a Roman Catholic priest, delivered spellbinding funeral sermons, won local respect by rescuing a man who was trapped under an overturned tractor, and impressed many older women with his charm in Louisiana’s Vermilion Parish. But most of all, he was a Pied Piper for the children. He would take them on wilderness trips, play games and invite favored boys to spend the weekend in the rectory.

You know where that story is going to go.

Here’s the key: The Gauthe case was not the first. It was the case that lept into the national headlines, the first of many in the era between 1985 and 2002.

In other words, the public crisis began back then. The Boston furor in 2002 led to increased legal actions and more episcopal action on this issue IN PUBLIC, as opposed to behind closed doors. However, regional and even national press coverage of this hellish issue has roared to life several times since 1985.

In short, if the crisis is primarily about lawyers, it’s possible to say that it kicked into a higher gear in 2002.

If the crisis is primarily about children, about victims, then the crisis began in the 1980s and earlier.

Later in this story, readers are told the following about the board that the bishops finally created to work on this issue:

In a progress report released to the bishops … the National Review Board said that a decade after the crisis, “there has been striking improvement in the Church’s response to and treatment of victims.” But it also acknowledged that “much work still needs to be done.”

The board said in its report that in the past 10 years more than 15,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse had come forward. More told their stories each year. The incidences of abuse, it said, began to rise in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s and declined sharply in the 1980s.

I guess one needs to ask: What is the nature of the crisis? The headlines began nearly three decades ago. The actual abuse raged for years before that.

To understand this story, readers need to know that public debate and news coverage about this crisis began in 1985. Period. That’s the date that reporters should use to start this timeline. That’s the size of this crisis.

Has Time printed the worst Anglican article ever?

How Will Anglicans React if New Hampshire Episcopalians Elect Another Gay Bishop?” Time Magazine asks in a 17 May 2012 article printed on its website.

To which this Anglican responds, “Why don’t you ask them?”

Question headlines are often a flag of trouble ahead for an article — a signal that the article will be weak. The question is usually a rhetorical one — the answer is given by the editorial voice of the article. Or it is some sort of “come on” — an exaggerated statement to attract the reader’s attention.

No, this is not the worst Anglican article ever printed. There have been silly Anglican articles, wrong Anglican articles, dumb Anglican articles, partisan/hack job Anglican articles, and egregiously cruel and ignorant Anglican news articles printed over the past few decades, so it is false and unkind of me to say this is the worst Anglican article ever. Nor can the author be blamed for the silly headline, as reporters seldom write their own headlines.

But this article on the forthcoming episcopal election in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire is a wreck. While the editorial voice of this ill-informed story supports the progressive agenda in the Episcopal Church, it does so by treating the actors in this drama as one dimensional creatures — cartoons who represent issues rather than people whose lives are not exclusively driven by issues in human sexuality.

The lede of this story begins:

In the summer of 1992, an Episcopalian priest in Baltimore officiated at the wedding of two female congregants. Though he had been “careful to obtain all the necessary permissions,” it wasn’t long before the Rev. William Rich found himself on the front page of the Baltimore Sun and at the center of a religious controversy. Rich was criticized by many in the community and church for performing a gay wedding ceremony, but he’s never regretted the move. …

First problem — the claim that Fr. Rich performed a wedding for two women is false. The 1992 Baltimore Sun article reported that a blessing ceremony took place — but also stated this ceremony was not a marriage and should not be construed as being a marriage.

Father Rich, who is a chaplain at Goucher College, says the ceremony he devised at the request of the women involved was not a wedding but “the blessing of two people committed to each other.”

The Bishop of Maryland told the Sun:

Bishop Eastman said he was assured by the priest “that the liturgy in question was not in any sense intended to be a marriage as Christians understand that sacrament.”

“It was meant to be a private event addressing personal, pastoral needs,” the bishop added. “Neither the two women involved nor Father Rich desired to advance a cause or make a public statement of any kind.”

There is a difference between marriage in a church and the blessing of two people in a same-gender relationship. It is a gross error to conflate the two.

The article then transitions into the story that Fr. Rich is one of three candidates standing for election as Bishop of New Hampshire. It reports that he is an “openly gay man” and and notes that delegates to the diocesan electoral convention:

… will cast their vote by secret ballot to choose a replacement for the current bishop, the retiring Gene Robinson, who is also gay. If a second gay man is elected to the post, the selection will likely reverberate through the staunchly conservative arms of the Anglican Communion, a global network of churches to which the Episcopalians belong. It could also widen a fissure in the network that’s been forming for quite some time.

Second problem — the analysis offered here is just plain dumb. Gay and lesbian clergy have stood for election in several dioceses of the Episcopal Church since Gene Robinson was elected in 2003, and one was elected suffragan or assistant bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles in 2009. The news that a gay clergyman is standing for election as bishop of New Hampshire is hardly shocking to anyone who has any knowledge of the Episcopal Church or the wider Anglican Communion.

The assertion that the election of Fr. Rich would widen a “fissure in the network” is an equally silly statement. The Anglican Communion is not a network of churches but a communion of churches — this is a theological term. The Lutheran World Federation is a network of churches. The Roman Catholic Church is a single church — it would say it is the church. Anglicans like the Orthodox are in between. They see themselves as part of a single catholic church whose members reside in autonomous national churches — one of the battles being waged within the Anglican world is on the nature of this autonomy. Is it absolute or conditional?

To call Anglicans a network of churches implies Time has decided that it backs one side in the dispute — or is an indication of ignorance.

I suspect it is ignorance on Times‘ part, as the impending fissure has already happened. Approximately 22 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion are in some form of impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. This rupture has taken many forms, but the break has already occurred.

(Last October the Episcopal Church’s national office released talking points disputing the figure of 22 of 38 cited by GetReligion’s Mollie Ziegler Hemingway in an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. However, a little checking showed the Episcopal Church’s claim to be false.)

The current state of play is of a broken communion. One where some bishops will not attend meetings if other bishops, whom they regard as apostate, are present. A communion where its leaders can no longer worship together as they cannot all receive the Eucharist, Holy Communion, in the same service has already split. As the former primate, (the archbishop or presiding bishop of a province) of the Province of the Southern Cone (the southern half of South America) told me in 2009, the traditionalists do not believe the leaders of the Episcopal Church are “Christians as we understand it.”

The article attempts to place what it thinks might be the impending split in historical context, stating the:

… crack in the Anglican community began to appear about nine years ago when Robinson became the first openly gay (and not celibate) man to be ordained as bishop.

Problem three — The crack has been around for almost 40 years and has been steadily widening. The consecration of Gene Robinson was a significant event, but hardly the first event in the splintering of the Anglican Communion. GetReligion‘s tmatt has written extensively on this point and I need not restate the accurate Anglican timeline here.

The language used by this article is biased and ill-informed and full of questionable assumptions and conclusions. The story of Gene Robinson wearing a bullet-proof vest to his consecration is shared. And yes, it is true he wore such a vest. Yet the article does not go further in developing this point and the claims repeated over the years of physical danger. The only clergyman whose murder so far can be laid at the feet of the Anglican wars is Canon Rodney Hunter of Malawi. Popping in the death threat business without context speaks to the lack of knowledge of the subject under review.

Ignorance continues to drive this story to its end. It notes:

It doesn’t look like the issue is dying down, either. Last month, an ultra-conservative Anglican offshoot group, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, held a conference in London to address the gay bishop question.

Problem four — The FCA conference was not held to address the gay bishop question. The FCA seeks to reform and renew the Anglican Communion from within and by doing so, win souls for Christ. It is also laughable to call the FCA an “ultra-conservative Anglican offshoot group” as it leaders represents the majority of members of the Anglican Communion. One might was well say the Diocese of New Hampshire is an “ultra-liberal Anglican offshoot group”.

The article continues with silly statements and assertions about the structure of the Anglican Communion, why Archbishop Rowan Williams announced his retirement, but returns to New Hampshire for its close.

When asked about the potential for controversy if the diocese were to elect another gay bishop, Reverend Adrian Robbins-Cole, the president of the Standing Committee, insisted that the committee only felt excitement about Rich, as well as the other two candidates, Rev. Penelope Maud Bridges, and Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld. “What we really focus on is trying to be guided by God to elect the bishop who we need in New Hampshire and whom we think is going to thrive and grow,” Robbins-Cole says. “That’s our real focus.”

An Associated Press style point here. It should be “the Rev.”, never  “Rev.”

I do feel sorry for Fr. Rich. Time is touting his candidacy in such a vulgar way that it might well trigger a backlash among New Hampshire voters. It also does a disservice to Fr. Rich’s candidacy as it turns him into a one dimensional figure whose only merit is that he is gay. Being classified as a novelty candidate, or a one issue priest, treats him as a token and implies the Diocese of New Hampshire sees only that aspect of his  life and work.

What then can one say about this wreck? It is factually incorrect, ill-informed about the issue, dismissive and disparaging of one side, and condescending towards the other. It asks a question of Anglican conservatives, but goes for answer to a white Australian conservative — when the majority of voices arrayed against the liberal wing of the church are African, Asian and Indian.

This may  not be the worst Anglican article ever written, but it comes close.

Getting the Anglican timeline right (hurrah)

Back at a high point of the Anglican wars, your GetReligionistas could have written a post a week noting how mainstream journalists were chopping multiple decades off the timeline of the conflicts in the Episcopal Church.

The basic idea was that liberal Episcopalians ordained a gay bishop in the tiny diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 and all heckfire broke loose. The essential timeline of the homosexuality conflict alone, meanwhile, would almost certainly have to begin in 1979, when 21 liberal bishops openly rejected the church’s traditional teachings on marriage, sex and ordination — including the bishop who would soon become America’s presiding bishop.

It’s a complicated story and journalists have long struggled to get some of the key facts right.

However, it’s time to celebrate a quiet victory. You see, the latest New York Times piece on an issue related to the Anglican wars gets all kind of things right — including key elements of that complicated timeline. The piece could have gained more clarity by using a few more direct references to dates for pivotal events, but the facts are here for those with the eyes to see them.

The lede, in this report on Rome’s new home for Anglo-Catholics:

Opening its doors more widely to disaffected Episcopalians, the Roman Catholic Church has established the equivalent of a nationwide diocese in the United States that former Episcopal priests and congregations can enter together as intact groups, the Vatican announced Sunday.

Converts who join the new entity will be full-fledged Catholics, expected to show allegiance to the pope and oppose contraception and abortion. But they will be allowed to preserve revered verses from the Book of Common Prayer. And, in what one Catholic leader called “an act of generosity,” priests who are married will be exempted from the Catholic requirement of celibacy, though they may not become bishops.

The new grouping, called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, will have its headquarters in Houston and be led by Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop and father of three who left the church in 2007 and became a Catholic priest in 2009, under an existing exemption for converting Anglicans.

The story could have mentioned that, in effect, the existing ordination structure of the Eastern rite churches had been extended over to the former Anglicans. Married men may be ordained. Once ordained, men may not marry. Bishops are drawn from the ranks of celibate clergy.

All of this is nothing new. Note that the Times mentions that Anglicans had already been entering the Catholic priesthood under similar rules — since 1980.

And the timeline issue? Here is a key paragraph:

The Episcopal Church is the main American branch of the Anglican Communion, a loose global body whose symbolic head is the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England. It has been shaken by discord from conservatives who object to the ordination of female priests, the acceptance of bishops with homosexual partners and changes in the liturgy.

It would have been nice to have noted that the ordination of women caused divisions in the ranks in the mid-1970s. The “changes in the liturgy” reference is from the birth and acceptance of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The dates would have helped set the framework for these discussions, but at least the facts there there.

Later on, the story establishes another important claim linked to this Vatican action:

Father Steenson said he expected more former Episcopalians to join after they saw how the new group operated. He said that he personally had always longed for closer ties with the Catholics, a feeling that only intensified as the Episcopal Church broke with tradition on female priests and acceptance of homosexuality, dividing the churches further. But he is also overjoyed to preserve elements of the Anglican liturgy, he said. The expectation is that this parallel structure will continue indefinitely.

When the Vatican authorized creation of these entities in 2009, some Anglican leaders, especially in England, expressed concern that it was trying to take advantage of their turmoil. In England, where a similar grouping was formed last year, about 60 priests and more than 1,000 members have joined so far.

But Cardinal Wuerl and Father Hurd said that the system was developed in response to a growing demand.

“There have been Anglican groups requesting this for 30 years,” Father Hurd said. “This is not an effort at poaching or sheep-stealing.”

Now, the Times did elect to base this claim for a 30-year framework on quotes from Catholic officials — the cardinal and Father Scott Hurd, a former Episcopalian who is already a Catholic priest. That makes it appear, again, that Rome, alone, is claiming this to be true. It would have been easy to have quoted specific actions and dates linked to appeals to Rome by Anglo-Catholics as individuals and groups. The dates on the timeline are well known to leaders on both sides.

However, the key facts are present in this story. The bottom line: Small numbers of Anglicans have appealed for help over several decades. Rome finally responded with a full-fledged, permanent plan for responding.

In other words, this is not a new story. It’s an updated entry in a long, long timeline.

PHOTO: Former Episcopal bishop Jeffrey N. Steenson is ordained as a Catholic priest.