Anglicans and Schism

If you are bored by the continuing posts on the Anglican schism, please change the channel. However, an interesting correspondence developed in the combox. I noted that ‘schism’ is defined in the catechism (para.2089) as ‘refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the church subject to him.”
Someone (I presume an Anglo Catholic) responded with this statement from the Traditional Anglican Communion bishops:

“We accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, which is a ministry of teaching and discerning the faith and a ‘perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity’ and understand this ministry is essential to the Church founded by Jesus Christ.”

The implication was that the TAC (and other Anglicans who would agree with this statement are therefore not in schism) Let’s stop for a moment and consider this. First of all, this statement, admirable as it is, is a construction of the TAC, not of the Catholic Church. They are telling us what they believe about the Pope. That’s all well and good, but it should not be assumed that this is the fullness of Catholic belief about the Pope, nor should it be mistaken for ‘submission to the Roman Pontiff.’

What does the statement actually say? It says ‘we accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter.’ Fine, but with Anglicans you always have to come back and ask, “But what does this actually mean?” Notice that they ‘accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome’ and say that he has a teaching ministry and a ministry of discerning the faith.’ I’m afraid this falls rather short of the doctrine of infallibility doesn’t it? Neither does the statement show that the TAC are submitting to the infallible authority of the Roman Pontiff, or even that they want to. They simply ‘accept his ministry’. In other words, the whole thing is pretty guarded and is nothing like the personal and total submission which is required when one becomes a Catholic. 

I’m sorry to be the crazy uncle at this ecumenical party, but Catholics and Anglicans need to be very clear about the Anglican ethos. Anglicans are, by nature, geniuses at compromise. Their church is founded on the Elizabethan Settlement which basically says, “Everyone can believe pretty much what they like as long as nobody rocks the boat.” The way this has been lived out is that everyone says what they think the other side wants to hear in order to make everyone happy. The TAC are doing the same Anglican thing in their discussions with the Catholic Church.

Don’t get me wrong. I would be delighted as can be if Rome came up with some creative way to welcome our Anglican brothers and sisters in some sort of corporate scheme. I wish more Anglo Catholics would join the Catholic Church. We do need them and our church is poorer without them. However, we should also ask some pretty tough questions. We should understand the Anglican’s amazing ability to say one thing and mean another, and ask them the toughest and most obvious question of all: “If you want to be Catholic why not join your local RCIA?”
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