Search Results for: Anglican timeline

That gap between 1985 and 2002

Once upon a time, there was a Catholic priest in Louisiana named Gilbert Gauthe. As Time magazine wrote:

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.

And so it began.

Obviously, there were clergy abuse cases before that, but the Gauthe case took this subject into the national headlines for the first time. That Time report ran in 1985, which is a good point to start a timeline of mainstream media coverage on the scandal.

Note, if you will, that there is quite a gap of time between 1985 and 2002. Do the math.

Now, read the following passages in a gripping Associated Press report that is running in newspapers at the moment. It focuses on the spiritual damage that the abuse scandals — that word is plural, which is crucial — have caused among lawyers such as Eric MacLeish, many of whom are Catholics, who have handled these hellish cases.

The sex scandal that rocked the nation’s Roman Catholic Church took a fearsome personal toll on some of the top lawyers who dared to challenge the institution. While many of them ultimately reaped large fees for their services, the all-consuming workload, the pressure of battling the church and the stress of listening to graphic accounts of children’s suffering were debilitating. …

The crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, after internal church documents released publicly showed that church leaders for decades had shuffled sexually abusive priests from parish to parish. The scandal spread across the country as thousands of lawsuits were filed by people who claimed they had been victimized.

For MacLeish, the clergy cases reawakened memories of being sexually abused as a child.

MacLeish and other lawyers won an $85 million settlement in Boston in 2003 for more than 500 victims. But in the months after the landmark settlement was announced, MacLeish began to unravel. He developed insomnia and nausea, lost 40 pounds and couldn’t work.

Now, it should be noted that this story contains a few references to earlier stages of the scandal, such as a Dallas judgment in 1997. It also mentions that one lawyer has been working on these kinds of cases for 20 years. In many ways — ironically — this story is not all that bad.

However, the emphasis once again is on Boston and the media storm that began there in 2002. As in many other stories, it is easy to think that this is when the real scandal began. However, framing the issue in that manner is simply wrong and often skews coverage and, thus, the public’s perception of these scandals that have been spread out over the past three decades.

This timeline issue is similar, in many ways, to the warped timeline that shapes many reports about the local, regional, national and international conflicts in the Anglican Communion. If you must, click here to refresh your memory.

GetReligion has written about this Catholic clergy-abuse timeline over and over and over. We will continue to do so, because it only takes a few extra words for editors and reporters to get the facts right. This is one cause in which the basic facts have even made it into Wikipedia.

Every newsroom that covers these cases needs to keep a few books in its libraries, books such as Jason Berry’s “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” and, on the Catholic right, Leon Podles’ massive tome “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church,” which contains enough footnotes to satisfy even the most picky copy-desk pro.

Yes, this is a very hard story to cover. However, it isn’t hard to get a few basic facts right.

Jefferts Schori (quietly) goes Pentecostal

What can one say about the Pentecostal slap-fest that is currently going on between Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his counterpart here in the United States (his counterpart in every form of Anglican power that is meaningful, these days) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori?

Let me make a few comments that strike me as rather obvious.

* First of all, the “Pentecost continues!” letter (full text here) from the presiding bishop is a huge story and the contents of this document have received next to nothing in terms of the news coverage that they deserve.

That is what makes the Religion News Service story by Daniel Burke so important. Other than a short piece by Reuters, the RNS piece is the only thing that is happening in the mainstream press. Here is the top of that Burke story:

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has forcefully defended her church’s embrace of gays and lesbians, and firmly rejected efforts to centralize power or police uniformity in the Anglican Communion.

Anglicans should be led by local communities rather than powerful clerics, Jefferts Schori argued in a Wednesday (June 2) letter to her church’s 2 million members. And, after 50 years of debate, the Episcopal Church is convinced that gays and lesbians are “God’s good creation” and “good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones.”

* The RNS story notes, as it should, that the Pentecost letter is drawing cheers from the liberal Episcopal establishment, as she stands up to Canterbury’s timid calls for some vague form of creedal orthodoxy at the global level of this global communion. Thus, we read:

Liberal Episcopalians applauded Jefferts Schori’s letter, which was remarkable for its full-throated defense of Episcopal Church policies.

“It is an understated declaration of independence,” said Jim Naughton, editor of the blog Episcopal Cafe. “The presiding bishop is not going to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish the terms of the debate anymore.”

However, anyone who follows the Anglican wars closely would know that, behind closed doors, Anglican traditionalists are also cheering Jefferts Schori for her candor and bluntness, just as, long ago, they cheered for Bishop Jack Spong of Newark. Every time he opened his mouth, he made their lives easier — in terms of giving them quotes to illustrate what the mainstream left advocated more quietly. The presiding bishop has her moments when she serves the same flag-waving purpose for folks on the left and right.

* Journalists should note that Jefferts Schori has done them a great favor in placing the Anglican wars in a broader context, in terns of history. In her actual letter, she proclaims:

The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters. While it is clear that not all within this Church have heard the same message, the current developments do represent a widening understanding. Our canons reflected this shift as long ago as 1985, when sexual orientation was first protected from discrimination in access to the ordination process.

Now that’s a long timeline she has there — 50 years worth.

Meanwhile, most mainstream journalists continue to argue that the divisions in her church and the wider communion began with the ordination of you know who in New Hampshire. But this is old GetReligion territory. It’s great to have the presiding bishop make the point so strongly for journalists.

* As always, there are hints that the fight is about more than sex. In the case of this showdown, it is clear that Williams is frantically trying to hold the communion together on a wide range of doctrinal issues, with sex as the issue that, alas, always grabs the headlines. Jefferts Schori, meanwhile, sees this through the lens of Romeaphobia and claims that Canterbury is trying to enforce an anti-Anglican form of creedal orthodoxy, with Williams playing the role of pope.

The irony, of course, is that Williams has already established himself as a progressive on sexuality. Williams knows, however, that there are other doctrinal issues at play that matter far more to traditionalists around the world. What might those issues be?

* So, if this ongoing spirit of Pentecost is leading the Episcopal Church to edit and update centuries of Christian doctrine on sex and marriage, what other doctrines are being affected by these Winds Of Change? That’s the big question.

Would it be wrong for the communion to try to maintain doctrinal standards on other issues? What might those issues be that are causing tensions between the Episcopal establishment and the overwhelming majority of the world’s Anglicans? The real fighting isn’t, for example, about the ordination of women. Remember that bizarre story in The New Yorker?

Now think back a few years. What about that tiny media flareup about Jefferts Schori’s views on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in salvation theology? That’s smoke from a real fire.

Thus, I am afraid that this all means that it’s time for another reference to the infamous “tmatt trio” of questions that journalists can use to sort out these kinds of disputes. When applied to Anglican conflicts, this becomes a quadrilateral. Here are those questions again:

(1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Was this a real — even if mysterious — event in real time? Did it really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Is Jesus the Way or a way?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin? The key word is sin.

(4) Should Anglican leaders ban the worship, by name, of other gods at their altars?

How are these issues affected by this new Pentecost? Just asking.

So, where is the coverage of this remarkable Pentecost letter? There are so many questions to ask and angles into this story. It’s a big one.

Trashing 19 centuries of doctrine?

Whenever I get on my high horse about the ways in which mainstream journalists abuse the term “fundamentalist,” I always urge journalists to simply allow religious believers to describe their beliefs. It is also fair game, of course, to describe the people’s actions in the public square, then ask them to explain how their beliefs shape those actions.

However, a GetReligion reader sent me a Des Moines Register story almost two weeks ago that was so troubling that I’ve been stewing over it ever since — trying to decide precisely what to say. Yes, the word “fundamentalist” plays a role in this, as you will see. But that word only points toward a larger issue of accuracy and fairness in this report.

This is your basic culture-wars story about divisions inside churches that are wrestling with issues of marriage and sexuality. Here is the opening:

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukee is five miles down the road from Walnut Hills United Methodist Church in Urbandale. But they have moved further apart, philosophically, since the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on April 3, 2009, to legalize same-sex marriage. …

In January, the Waukee congregation overwhelmingly voted to drop out of its denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — or ELCA — and join another Lutheran denomination. The congregation didn’t agree with the ELCA decision to allow ordination of noncelibate gay pastors. Immanuel became one of 17 ELCA congregations in Iowa and 276 nationwide to vote on leaving the denomination. Most voted to leave; some have not completed the voting process.

The parishioners at Walnut Hills United Methodist Church also took a church-wide vote, but with a very different result. Their vote was overwhelming, too: Parishioners voted to become a “reconciling congregation,” one of 10 United Methodist congregations in Iowa that have taken that step. It means their church not only welcomes gays and lesbians but accepts their sexual orientation as part of their human condition.

Now, it is a good thing that the Register team attempted to explain what these splits are all about. It is also good that we get to hear from some participants as they talk about issues of biblical authority and interpretation.

But something goes terrible wrong in some of the background material. The story uses a classic device — the outside, expert observer. Thus, readers are introduced to a scholar from a secular campus who is allowed to provide a basic set of facts that will serve as a framework for these conflicts.

Ready? This passage is rather long, but it’s hard to understand what’s going on without reading it:

As pastors look out on their congregations, they see a dividing line that runs down the middle of their pews. Pastors know one congregant considers homosexual behavior a sin that Christians must speak out against, while another believes same-sex marriage is a good and moral step toward a more just society. …

Ultimately, the difference comes down to this: Is the Bible the written word or the living word? Is it open-and-shut, or open to interpretation? It’s a battle of traditionalists vs. progressives. Traditionalists point to Romans, to Leviticus, to 1 Corinthians, each of which calls homosexual behavior a sin. Progressives say you must read Bible verses in the context of their time: God also outlawed eating pork, but that was because back then pork wasn’t safe.

“The issue for conservative Christians revolves around the sanctity of the nuclear family as they understand it,” said Mary Sawyer, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. “When fundamentalism started in the early 1900s, it was a reaction to the social gospel, to liberal Christianity. One of the things emphasized was personal morality, particularly sexual morality and not having sex outside of marriage. Marriage being between a man and a woman is something that to them isn’t debatable because it’s Biblically based. …

“This is based on passages of the Bible that progressive Christians say is misinterpreted. (Progressives say) you don’t take one line out of Bible and hang the truth on that without reading it in context of the whole chapter.”

Note that the newspaper’s word for those on the doctrinal right is “traditionalist.” Well, that’s better than “fundamentalist.”

Then note that scholar also, accurately, says that the movement that is accurately called “fundamentalism” started in the early 1900s and that, yes, biblical literalism — “inerrancy” is the preferred word — was and is a key part of that movement. But note, also, that there is no content given for the doctrinal approach used by the ancient churches of the Christian faith. It’s the shallow fundamentalists of the 1900s vs. the nuanced progressives who want to read the Bible in context, who want to move beyond simple, isolated proof texts.

What? Where did the other 1900 years go? Where did centuries of thought among Catholics, the Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Wesleyans, the Reformed and others go? Are the conflicts over issues as basic as the definition of marriage and the sinfulness of sexual acts outside of marriage simply rooted in a showdown between fundamentalists, accurately defined, and progressives?

Obviously, that is too simplistic. You can tell that this scholar’s explanation is too simplistic because the Register story — while never explaining or labeling this third point of view — actually allows a sympathetic local pastor to articulate another approach to these conflicts.

It’s not that the Rev. Mike Housholder, of Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, avoids talking about homosexuality. Housholder posted an eight-page Q&A on the church Web site shortly after the ELCA vote. But he fears a pithy quote in a newspaper article would be taken out of context — by either side — where a sermon or longer conversation would not. …

His church’s teaching is clear: Sex is a gift from God, shared within marriage between a man and a woman. Anything else is sin. But well-meaning Christians, Housholder said, often lose their balance. On one side, they fall into the ditch of fundamentalism, defining a good Christian as following certain rules. On the other side, they fall into the ditch of relativism, changing God’s rules to fit their fancy.

“We’re a hospital for sinners, not a hangout for morally perfect saints,” Housholder said. “First, Jesus commands us to love everyone. When Christians hate, we lose our moral center and our mission … .

“Second, we’re all sinners in need of a savior,” Housholder continued. “There aren’t different categories of sin. I get nervous when people want to elevate sexual sin as somehow being more of an issue spiritually than other sinful behaviors. Once we’ve established that, then we can speak what we believe to be God’s truth in love regarding sexual boundaries. …”

So, is this pastor a “fundamentalist” or a “progressive”? Where does he fit in Sawyer’s mini-lecture on biblical authority?

This is the paradox that has had me stymied for more than a week. On this Register report is very complete and complex. It contains quite a few voices representing different points of view and we get to hear from these believers in their own words. However, this story also has one of the worst chunks of background material I have ever seen, one that allows a single scholar to slash 19 centuries worth of doctrine off the timeline of church history.

So this story is very, very good and very, very bad. Color me confused.

Are Episcopalians now a ‘sect’?

Mary_Glasspool_origA long, long time ago, while doing my first round of graduate studies, I took a class that focused on contemporary cults, sects and religious movements and their impact on church-state law. Now before everyone goes nuts talking about what is and what is not a “cult,” please be aware that we were working primarily with doctrinal definitions (as opposed to focusing on some of the more controversial elements of sociology).

I have to admit that, while others argued about the c-word, I was always fascinated by another problem — defining what is and what is not a “sect.” There’s no question that the word has a negative connotation, for most people. Yet the definitions seem so bland.

Here’s the American Heritage Dictionary, for example:

1. A group of people forming a distinct unit within a larger group by virtue of certain refinements or distinctions of belief or practice.

2. A religious body, especially one that has separated from a larger denomination.

3. A faction united by common interests or beliefs.

Nothing really shattering there, right? Now consider the first definition offered by the Collins English Dictionary, which specifically focuses on how the term is used to describe splits inside Christian bodies:

1. … a subdivision of a larger religious group (esp the Christian Church as a whole) the members of which have to some extent diverged from the rest by developing deviating beliefs, practices, etc.

Now that’s closer to what we were studying in class. In other word, a sect is a group that has chosen to leave, or has been asked to leave, another Christian flock because the new group has developed some set of beliefs, doctrines and practices that makes necessary this parting of the ways.

I raise this question because of a headline in this morning’s Baltimore Sun than ran atop another report focusing on a major development in the local, regional, national and global Anglican wars. In this case, the story has a strong local hook, even though the event being covered took place in Southern California. First, here’s the top of the Associated Press story. Yes, it’s interesting that the Sun did not assign a reporter of its own to this event, which was by no means a surprise.

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected a Maryland woman as assistant bishop Saturday, the second openly gay bishop in the global Anglican fellowship, which is already deeply fractured over the first.

The Rev. Mary Glasspool of Baltimore needs approval from a majority of dioceses across the church before she can be consecrated as assistant bishop in the Los Angeles diocese. Still, her victory underscored a continued Episcopal commitment to accepting same-sex relationships despite enormous pressure from other Anglicans to change their stand.

Now, the original headline on this story, at least the one atop the story in the newspaper that arrived in my front yard, read:

Md. woman elected in pointed Anglican vote

Mary Glasspool would be sect’s 2nd openly gay bishop

Now, there are several problems with this headline, in my opinion.

First of all, this election took place in the Episcopal Church, while the word “Anglican” usually is used in connection with events at the global level in the Anglican Communion. I know that there are exceptions. Still, why not say “Episcopal”? The old headline writer in me notes that the words are precisely the same size (in terms of counting the spaces required). Did the copy editor wrongly assume that he or she needed to say “Episcopalian,” which is actually a noun, not an adjective?

nuke1As usual, this wire service report is forced to deal with the fact that the Episcopal Church remains, in the eyes of the Church of England, the official Anglican body in North America. Yet, at the same time, a majority of the world’s Anglicans — numerically speaking — now question the Episcopal Church’s status, due to a wide range of doctrinal innovations, including several in the area of moral theology. There are also debates about biblical authority, the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the uniqueness of Christ’s role in salvation, etc., etc., etc.

All we get in this Associated Press report is:

The Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican body in the United States, caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Breakaway Episcopal conservatives have formed a rival church, the Anglican Church in North America. Several overseas Anglicans have been pressuring the Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to officially recognize the new conservative entity. …

The 77-million-member Anglican Communion is a family of churches that trace their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England. Most overseas Anglicans are Bible conservatives.

“Bible conservatives”? What in the world does that mean? “Biblical conservatives,” perhaps? And, as always, the Anglican wars are said to have begun with the consecration of the first openly gay, noncelibate bishop in 2003. This is, sadly, becoming par for the course in short news reports.

But where did that word “sect” come from?

Apologists for the Episcopal Church would argue that it is still a truly “Catholic” body that is part of historic Christianity, even claiming valid “apostolic succession” that links its ordained clergy to the great tree of the ancient churches. The Vatican and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy disagree, of course.

On the other side, I think that most of the Episcopal Church’s critics would simply claim that it has — to put it bluntly — chosen to veer away from historic Anglicanism to become another liberal Protestant denomination. I know that some critics use stronger language than that, but that’s mere shouting.

But is the word “sect” appropriate? From the viewpoints of the critics, the U.S. church has “deviated” from historic Anglican traditions and, thus, have left to create a new body. But, still, does that mean that anyone would claim that the Episcopal Church has become a “sect”?

I’m asking, as a matter of newspaper style. Is the word accurate in this case?

Aaaaaarrrrrrrgggggggghhhh!

AllSaintsWaccamawMaybe “siiiiigggghhhhh” is a better way to say it.

Anyway, it’s time for another lesson in the history of Anglican warfare, which means flashing back a few years in that old, familiar timeline — again.

The year is 2000. As noted in earlier posts, that is when (let’s turn to coverage in The Living Church):

Two American priests, the Rev. Charles H. Murphy III and the Very Rev. John H. Rodgers, Jr., were consecrated bishops Jan. 29 in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore, by a group of Anglican bishops, including two from the Episcopal Church.

Fr. Murphy, rector of All Saints’ Church, Pawleys Island, S.C., and Dean Rodgers, retired dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, were consecrated as bishops and “will be released to minister in the United States of America,” according to a news release. It was not immediately clear who released the bishops. …

The two new bishops are associated with organizations which have been supportive of the formation of a new Anglican province for traditionalists who have been unhappy with the leftward drift of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Murphy is a leader of First Promise, based in Pawleys Island, and Bishop Rodgers is aligned with Association of Anglican Congregations, an organization of Episcopal and “continuing” congregations which has headquarters in suburban Chicago.

Note the role of that truly historic flock on the coast in South Carolina — All Saint’s Parish Waccamaw (first chapel built in 1736). Note that its rector, in addition to being consecrated as a “missionary bishop” for traditionalists in North America, is already the leader of the early First Promise network, which had similar goals.

Again, the year is 2000. A press release for the global Anglican leaders who performed this irregular rite of consecration proclaimed:

“The archbishops and bishops agree that this is a gospel issue, not a political issue. It is an action to re-establish the unity that has been violated by the unrebuked ridicule and denial of basic Christian teaching. They are convinced it is time to give the faithful in the U.S. a place to remain Anglican.

“The sending of these bishops back to the United States is offered as an interim step in an ongoing effort to lead the Episcopal Church back to its biblical foundations.”

Now, let’s jump ahead to a very recent Religion News Service report, as published in USA Today, that also focuses on that same congregation, All Saints Parish. You can read about the current All Saints Parish (as in many Anglican real-estate disputes, there now seem to be two flocks) by clicking here.

In this new report, we are told (brace yourselves):

A South Carolina parish that split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 can keep its church property, the state’s Supreme Court has ruled, handing a rare legal victory to conservative dissidents.

A majority of members of All Saints Church at Pawley’s Island voted to secede from the Episcopal Church five years ago, after an openly gay man was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church maintains that congregations hold their property in trust for the denomination; if they decide to leave, the property stays with the diocese and the national church, Episcopal leaders argue.

Once again, I have no doubt that steps were taken in 2004 that are part of the historical timeline that marks this parish’s journey away from the U.S. Episcopal Church and into the embrace of large, traditionalist Anglican flocks in other parts of the world. And, yes, the year 2004 falls after the Nov. 2, 2003, consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, that openly gay, noncelibate bishop.

However, if the story is about All Saints Parish, isn’t the crucial date (or at the very least “a” crucial date) actually Jan. 29, 2000, when the parish’s own rector is consecrated as a bishop in a rite that is either illegal, irregular or openly confrontational? And while it’s clear that national debates about moral theology and sex played a crucial role in the consecrations of Murphy and Rodgers, other issues of biblical authority and church tradition were just as important.

In other words, All Saints Parish is in the thick of things in 2000. There is no way to say that the fight begins in 2004, following the Robinson consecration in 2003. That is way too simplistic. The Robinson event is important, but it is simply inaccurate to state or to imply that it stands alone as the defining moment for this parish. Right?

This is one case where I really wish I could find the RNS story — in unedited form — on the wire service’s own website. I have tremendous respect for RNS, so I am left wondering: Was this story harshly edited by a USA Today copy editor?

Radical sexist nuns flee to Rome

conventintro_000A long time ago, back in the year 1991 to be precise, a circle of six doctrinally conservative priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland did a very unusual thing — they published a paper reaffirming ancient Christian doctrines on a host of different subjects, including their belief that salvation was found through Jesus Christ, alone.

Well, “The Baltimore Declaration” caused quite a stir and, to say the least, did not receive applause from local Episcopal leaders. The document also made some national headlines, which is how I heard about it all the way out in Denver.

The fallout for the priests was immediate. One of them was Father R. Gary Mathewes-Green, who left the Episcopal fold to enter Eastern Orthodoxy, becoming Father Gregory Mathewes-Green. He soon became the founding priest at Holy Cross Orthodox Church and is still serving there, which, to be honest about it, means that for the better part of a decade he has been the Mattingly family’s beloved pastor.

With that out of the way, I can now mention that knowing Father Gregory and Frederica Mathewes-Green (yes, the author and commentator) also means moving in circles with close ties to supporters of the traditional Anglican order known as the All Saints Sisters of the Poor. In fact, former members of the order who left to convert to Orthodoxy played crucial roles in the birth, life and growth of Holy Cross Orthodox Church.

You see, the earthquake of the 1991 declaration, as well as a host of other developments in the Episcopal Church before and after that, sent aftershocks through the blessed peace and quiet of that lovely convent. The sisters have been trying to make decisions — as a body — about their future for many years now.

But that is not the story told in the recent Baltimore Sun news feature about the community’s decision to swim the Tiber and join the Roman Catholic Church. No, you’ll be shocked, shocked, to discover that the newspaper is convinced that this decision was caused by _____.

Can you guess? Suffice it to say that we are, again, wrestling with a radically truncated timeline for the Anglican Communion wars. Click here and here and here (for starters) if you want more info.

But first things first: Who wrote this strange headline?

Episcopal nuns’ exit widens rift

As sect ordains women and gays, Catonsville sisters become Catholic

Sect? I guess there would be very, very conservative Anglicans who would consider the Episcopal Church a “sect,” but I think most would still simply call the older, larger, official body linked to the Anglican Communion a “church.” Right?

But back to the top of the story, which really is quite dramatic (although the decision by the sisters has been known in other publications for several months now):

In a move that religious scholars say is unprecedented, 10 of the 12 nuns at an Episcopal convent in Catonsville left their church … to become Roman Catholics, the latest defectors from a denomination divided over the ordination of gay men and women.

The members of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor were welcomed into the Catholic Church by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, who confirmed the women during a Mass in their chapel. Each vowed to continue the tradition of consecrated life, now as a religious institute within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

“We know our beliefs and where we are,” said Mother Christina Christie, superior of the order that came to Baltimore in 1872. “We were drifting farther apart from the more liberal road the Episcopal Church is traveling. We are now more at home in the Roman Catholic Church.” …

The women join the movement out of the nation’s sixth-largest Protestant denomination since the 2003 consecration of its first openly gay bishop thrust long-standing divisions over homosexuality out into the open. Their departure, which the sisters said they had been considering for years, comes weeks after voters at the Episcopal General Convention declared homosexuals eligible for any ordained ministry within the church and began writing prayers to bless gay unions.

So, you see, it was the issue of the ordination of women as well as the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson — openly gay, non-celibate and partnered — that pushed these sisters out of the shrinking Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism in America.

Well, maybe there were other issues, too.

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group Integrity USA, expressed sadness on learning of the sisters’ departure.

“It grieves the heart of God whenever brother and sister Christians can’t come to agreement and someone chooses to leave a fellowship,” said Russell, an Episcopal parish priest in Pasadena, Calif. But she likened it to the past departures of members who differed with the church’s positions on segregation, the Vietnam War and the ordination of women.

AnglicanBombnighttimeThis is, of course, Russell’s opinion and it’s valid to quote these views — especially if one is convinced that homosexuality is in fact the central issue that drove the order toward Rome. Then again, perhaps it was racism or support for U.S. military policies?

The point is that no one has a chance to respond to these charges. They simply echo in the air. The sisters are quoted, a little bit, about their motives — but it’s clear that they were asked to describe their order’s doctrinal approach to those newsy sexuality issues.

It is true, however, that the Sun story notes that the work done by these sisters benefits a wide range of people.

Members of the order, who range in age from 59 to 94, wear the traditional black habit and veil and a thin gold band on the right hand. They lead a monastic lifestyle, filled with prayer and work with the terminally ill at Joseph Richey House in Baltimore, which they opened in 1987 with Mount Calvary Church, and with children and the poor.

Meanwhile, as a reader, I have all kinds of questions about the decision made by the sisters and the rite that ushered them into their new Communion.

What does it mean to say that they will be a “religious institute” in the Catholic church? As opposed to being a religious order?

Will the sisters be allowed to retain their unique and glorious tradition of Anglican rites, prayers and spirituality under the “Anglican Use” provisions? A symbolic issue: When they entered the Catholic fold, did the bishop preside at the sister’s own altar? Facing East? Or was another altar used, Vatican II style, facing the congregation? Also, what happens to the retreat house itself and the grounds? Do they now belong to the local Catholic diocese?

These questions are, of course, not related to sexuality. Sorry about that.

NYTs lands a big story (maybe)

Robinson, Bishop V EugeneAny longtime reader of GetReligion knows that the gang here likes Q&A interviews, especially when they allow newsmakers to dig deeper into complex topics and tell their own stories in their own words. I think this journalistic tool is especially valuable on the religion beat — which is so rich in history, symbolism and doctrine.

At the same time, as we saw the other day with that interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this format can produce awkward moments. What happens when the newsmaker says something that is a real eyebrow raiser? Is the journalist obligated to recognize this and probe deeper, which might anger the person being interviewed?

What should a journalist do with a newsmaker makes a strong fact claim that just doesn’t sound right? Should the journalist (a) jump back and ask for some kind of source for the fact? Or should the reporter (b) research the answer later and actually publish a correction, offering links to evidence that may or may not undercut the viewpoint of the newsmaker?

Take, for example, the New York Times interview that veteran Godbeat reporter Laurie Goodstein’s just conducted with the openly gay bishop whose 2003 consecration — in the dominant mass-media timeline — is turning the global Anglican Communion upside down.

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson is a busy man at the moment, since he is the living symbol of the Episcopal Church establishment’s sweeping victories this week on the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians and the green light for more official work on gender-neutral marriage liturgies. The bishop obviously chose his venue carefully, speaking to the journalistic bible of a church rooted in the elite structures of the Northeast’s urban corridor.

Q: Thank you for making the time. You must have a lot of interview requests.

A: Yes, and I’m not doing any interviews, except this one. A lot of requests came in after the bishops’ first vote on Monday (to allow for the consecration of more gay bishops). Of course, the possibility of there being another gay bishop in the House is something I’ve longed for for a long time. But I didn’t feel like talking. I felt very sober. I know that what we’ve done here will be very difficult for a lot of people in that room, and in the Communion.

There is much here for Episcopalians and Anglicans to read and to mull over, as the events roll forward.

However, it was an answer near the end that caught my eye and raised some questions.

Q: What has been the fallout of all of this on your own diocese, in New Hampshire? Have you lost many church members?

A: Except for one parish in Rochester early on, no. That left about 15 people in that congregation, they met for about a year, and then asked me to close them down because there weren’t enough people to sustain a continued parish. That’s all. That’s it. There’s no one, no priests or parishes associated with the breakaway groups. Our diocese grew by 3 percent last year. …

Q: Who are you pulling in?

A: We have received so many Roman Catholics and young families, particularly families who are saying, “We don’t want to raise our daughters in a church that doesn’t value young people in our church.”

While I am sure that Robinson’s take on the Catholic Church will cause a few ripples, I don’t expect much fallout — largely because ecumenical dialogues between the Episcopal Church and most U.S. Catholic leaders were already so tense.

No, what caught my interest was his statement that membership in the New Hampshire diocese has been growing, during this national and global firestorm. Now, he says that his flock grew 3 percent “last year.” I would assume that this is the church year 2007-2008.

Anyway, a sudden burst of growth would be highly unusual in the context of a liberal mainline church. The bishop could also be making an indirect reference to attendance, rather than membership.

Still, I urge readers to click here and check out the official statistics (it’s a .pdf document) over at EpiscopalChurch.org — which show that membership numbers in the New Hampshire diocese declined 18.1 percent between 1997 and 2007. And recently? They fell 9.4 percent between 2003 and 2007. In the most recent year on the chart — 2006-2007 — the diocese lost 1.3 percent of its active, baptized members. The bishop told the Times that his diocese currently has 15,000 members, while the chart shows 14,160 for 2006-2007.

It’s true that church statistics are often produced with smoke and mirrors — but with the numbers higher than they should be. Robinson’s flock may have taken a leap forward on the charts in 2007-2008. But that would be a very unusual and very, very newsworthy change in the recent fortunes of that diocese (and strange for an Episcopal diocese in the Northeast, as well).

In other words, this Q&A in the Times contains a big news story — one that would shock many Anglicans around the world. If it’s true.

As I said earlier, I do not know if major newspapers are supposed to verify the accuracy of the information that they publish — with clear attribution — in these kinds of verbatim interviews. However, at the very least, this shocker deserved a follow-up question.

How about some ecclesiastical math?

CanterburyNuke2OK, let’s take this logically.

In the summer of 2006, Father Martyn Minns of Truro Episcopal Church outside Washington, D.C., became Bishop Martyn Minns of the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, a missionary effort of the gigantic Anglican Church of Nigeria. That would be three years ago.

A year later, the Diocese of Virginia expelled a bunch of clergy from its active roster of priests, “inhibiting” them from priestly duties. Minns was not in that list, even though he was the bishop overseeing the work of many of these rebel Episcopalians turned alternative Anglicans. It is also interesting to note that Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee said he had licensed Martyn to serve as priest-in-charge at Truro through Jan. 1, 2007.

I admit that this is pretty complicated stuff.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there is any way to do the math on Minns and end up with this reference in a Los Angeles Times update story about the proceedings at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Anaheim. This chunk of the story begins with a quote from the overjoyed Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, celebrating the House of Bishop’s decision to allow dioceses to proceed with the ordination of sexually-active gays and lesbians as bishops.

“I’m simply delighted at the possibility that another diocese will recognize the gifts of a gay or lesbian clergy person,” he said. “I long for the day when someone who shares my experience as an openly gay bishop joins me in the House of Bishops. It has been lonely.”

But a bishop who left the church last year predicted that the decisions made in Anaheim would increase strains with disaffected conservatives.

“Clearly the activists have done a good job promoting their agenda,” said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, a founding bishop of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America, which hopes to gain recognition from the Anglican Communion as a rival province to the Episcopal Church.

“The generosity shown by the rest of the communion has been astonishing and has been thrown back in their face,” Minns said. “There will have to be a renegotiation of how the Episcopal Church fits into the family.”

Now, if Minns was consecrated as an Anglican bishop outside of the Episcopal Church in 2006 and then his license to lead his church ran out on Jan. 1, 2007, I don’t know how it is possible to say that Minns “left the church last year.” It’s possible that Bishop Lee & Co. sent him some final letter last summer and that I cannot find that reference using Google. Hey, it could happen (and please correct me if I missed something).

Now, I know that this is picky. However, the timeline issue is not going to go away. Sure enough, this same story falls right into the same time-warp trap that has ensnared so many other journalistic offerings, as of late. (I wrote my Scripps Howard News Service column for this week about this topic and here’s a link to that.)

Once again, we hear that:

Tensions have been mounting since 2003, when a partnered gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire. Several conservative Anglican leaders, especially in Africa, cut ties to the U.S. church after his election.

The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, had expressed apprehension during a brief visit to the conference last week about decisions “that could push us further apart.”

TIMEBishopPikeSo forget Bishop James Pike and the heresy debates of 1967.

Forget Bishop Paul Moore’s bold 1979 ordination of a lesbian priest in the hot media spotlight that is always aimed at the Diocese of New York. In fact, forget all kinds of things about that particular bishop.

Forget Bishop John Spong’s 1989 ordination of a gay priest who was living in a same-sex relationship. Forget Utah Bishop Otis Charles outing himself. Forget Spong’s Koinonia Statement in 1994 and his 12 theses offering a liberal faith without the God of the Bible. Forget the heresy trial of Bishop Walter Righter in 1996.

Forget the Kuala Lumpur statement from conservative archbishops in the Global South in 1997 or the stunning, historic Lambeth Conference statement on sexuality in 1998.

Forget the consecration of two missionary bishops to North America in 2000 by archbishops from Rwanda and Southeast Asia, a tipping point that hinted at what was to come.

Forget all kinds of things.

Remember, it’s important to keep repeating this mantra: The tensions began in 2003 and it’s all about a gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire.

The story is so much easier to cover if you simply chop off all of that other information and all those picky details about the Bible, the Creeds, sacraments, liturgies and all that other messy stuff. That strategy seems to be the norm in the mainstream news coverage right now.

I know that writing about history and doctrine is hard sledding. But how about some basic math? Is that too much to ask?


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