What can I say. Every now and then, since the creation of this here weblog, your GetReligionistas have found ourselves on the other side of the reporter's notebook. We do have our own opinions and areas of expertise. MZ and "Two Kingdoms" theology. Mark and the interactions of the Democratic Party with Catholicism and labor. Daniel's insights into why God cheers for the Indianapolis Colts. This week, the editors of Time magazine aimed veteran reporter David Van Biema at the Anglican warfare story and he took the story into some ground already covered here at GetReligion. Thus, he gave me a call.
I am not sure how comfortable I am with journalists being quoted in news essays. However, several decades of covering this story, including 10 years when I was an Episcopalian, have left me with boxes of documents and a rather sprawling data base of URLs and telephone numbers. Click here to see a recent Again interview in which -- framed by my own experiences and biases -- I tried to help Eastern Orthodox Christians understand some of the major themes in the Anglican wars.
Anyway, Van Bierma decided that he wanted to talk with me. Click here if you want to read the article that resulted from his work and information from some other Time correspondents. This ran with the headline: "Could the Pope Aid an Anglican Split?" Here is a piece of the report, which tries to explain ways in which the current Church of England crisis over the consecration of female bishops is and IS NOT linked to what is happening in America:
... (On) its face, the Church of England's crisis is only distantly related to the global or American scene. However, it might draw in a very powerful observer from outside the Communion who could make things very interesting: Pope Benedict XVI.
Both the special nature of the English crisis and the Pope's possible involvement hinge on the fact that most of the English dissidents this week are not the evangelical, Bible-thumping members of the Communion whose fury at the American ordination of an openly gay bishop has led to talks of schism this summer. Rather they are members of a faction, heavy on liturgy and ritual, that abhors evangelicalism but considers itself very close to the Catholicism from which the Anglican Church originally sprang. Many "Anglo-Catholics" share Rome's opposition to female ordination. They have also historically hoped for a reunion with Catholicism, and correctly assume that female bishops would be a deal-breaker in any negotiation with Rome. So the move to ordain women bishops is more than some of them can stand. In a petition last week, some 1,300 Anglican priests and bishops stated that if the Synod voted along the lines that it eventually did on Monday, that "we will inevitably be asking whether we can ... continue [with] the Church of England which has been our home."
Would they actually leave? This is where the Pope comes in. For an ordained clergyman to depart his cradle faith is a lonely endeavor, done individually. But that is probably not how things will roll out in this case. A Catholic Church official explained to TIME that the last time a situation like this arose (when the Church of England voted to allow women to become priests), "some 400 [dissidents] became Catholic priests or bishops." The issue, he says, is "whether there is some way for [the current crop] to come into the Catholic Church in a corporate way, [with] their [congregations]." Along those lines, he notes, there are so-called "Anglican Rite" groups in the U.S. that maintain Anglican ritual, but recognize the Pope's authority and count as Catholics.
It would be out of line for me to dissect this too much or to share my side of the interview that is referenced later in the piece. However, let me say that I have tremendous respect for the Reformed, low-church side of the Anglican tradition and, frankly, I would never refer to the J.I. Packers and John Stotts of this world as "Bible-thumping" Anglicans.
One of the major themes of GetReligion's writing about this conflict is that there is no one "Anglican right" and that journalists who assume there is such an animal will not be able to anticipate what may happen next. There is no one "Anglican left" either, although, since the left is tied to the church's establishment so tightly, Anglican progressives tend to hang together -- for the most part. That's why it was news when some on the Anglican left took potshots at the famous or infamous Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark.
I have been watching the delicate dance between the Vatican and the Anglo-Catholics for a long, long time and actually wrote a Scripps Howard News Service column on the topic a few years ago. Also, journalists covering the story may want to dig out the 1997 book by former Anglican William Oddie entitled "The Roman Option," which, way back then, stressed a theme now reemerging in The Times -- which is that many liberal Catholics in England do not want to see a wave of conservative Anglicans enter their post-Vatican II world.
As Ruth Gledhill just wrote:
In England at least, these Catholics are by and large pretty liberal. Many of them would like women priests, or at the very least married ones. The last thing they want is a whole group of woman-bishop-hating clergy coming over, with their wives and families, and enforcing some kind of new doctrinal orthodoxy on dioceses that are working very well without them and finding their own accommodation with Catholic orthodoxy and modern life. Given the sacrifices their own priests have made in their embrace of celibacy, poverty and obedience in the service of Christ, they are unlikely to want our more-Roman-than-the-Romans alighting their vestry doors.
So will Rome act? Look at it this way: Will Anglicans act, clearly and quickly? To state this another way, which institution is more likely to achieve doctrinal and institutional clarity first?
My bias is clear, in terms of my own choice and life. I think there will be a wide array of options available in the future for Anglicans whose theological convictions are on the Reformed and Evangelical side of the fence.
Will that be in or out of Communion with Canterbury? Who the heck knows. Will all of those Anglican conservatives choose the same path? Who the heck knows (but I have my doubts, based on the history of these things).
Will Rome act? My hunch is "yes."
Will Eastern Orthodox leaders act in unity in England? I have my doubts about that, although some Anglicans may choose to swim the Bosphorus instead of the Tiber.
My suspicion is that, in the unique culture that is England, an Anglican Rite option could happen pretty soon. My conviction is that people who want to join an ancient church should go ahead and join an ancient church, although conservative Anglicans get very mad at me when I say that.
But that's what I believe and that's what I told Time. Let me know what you think of the journalism that ended up on print at that magazine's website. If you want to talk about the Anglican disputes themselves, stay calm and be kind and quote some sources (as I just did with Oddie, Gledhill, Time and, in a way, the former Cardinal Ratzinger).