söndag 13 juli 2008

The poor old Church of England

019 Canterbury Cathedral Nave facing west
Originally uploaded by Eric Rochester

The Church of England is going through one its periods of agonisation. It would never have existed were it not for Henry_VIIIs divorce, though the Reformation would probably have affected the church in England in some way, even if it were not for the Tudor king.

It has always been a three-way compromise between those who would like to have remained Roman Catholic, the genuine Protestants - the so-called evangelicals - who adhere closely to scriptural texts, and the ones in-between, probably the largest number, who just want to live-and-let-live. It has held together because nobody has generally pushed principle too hard. A few, like John Wesley, went off to found the Methodists, and from Newman's time there was a trickle into the Roman Catholic church, but the C of E has remained the dominant Christian grouping in England until recent years.

The points at issue this time are the appointment of openly gay clergy, women priests and bishops. Both the evangelical wing don't like it for scriptural reasons and the Catholic wing don't like it because it would absolutely prevent a corporate reunion with Rome.

Now, some Anglicans who see themselves as Catholics are seeking some form of reunion with Rome. One of the many problems is that there is already a Roman Catholic church in Britain with its own structure of dioceses and its own parishes. How could one have a Roman Catholic parish of, say, Catford and an Anglican Catholic parish of Catford, with their own churches and clergy a few hundred yards apart? Would they come under the authority of separate bishops both covering the same area?

How could this possibly happen? In any case, the RC church could not automatically accept former Anglican clergy as its own clergy; they would have to go through a period of formation and scrutiny so that the RC bishops were satisfied that these new clergy satisfied their own standards, which whilst not necessarily better or worse, are certainly different. And bishops have to be appointed from Rome when vacancies arose, so it is understandable that they would be reluctant to "go over"

Some people might say that these Anglicans who are seeking to join as entire communities want to have their cake and eat it, which would be unkind, but sadly, that is the truth of the matter. It is understandable why people whose ancestors may have been Anglicans for generation, and with long-standing friends in their church, would not want to make the break. And for the clergy, it means loss of job and home, which is a heavy price to pay. Which has given rise to this wish for the entry of entire communities into the (Roman) Catholic church.

So it comes back to the usual answer. If people feel the need to join the Church of Rome, which is not the same thing as leaving the Church of England, they have to do it as individuals. People cannot expect other people to make the decision for them. And there is always a price for the admission ticket - loss of friends, loss of job opportunities, giving up cherished practices, etc. Everyone has to decide for themself.

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