The National Catholic Reporter’s Josh McElwee reports on the latest document to come out of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s dialogue.
Among the considerations in the 68-page report, released July 2, are questions of how the Catholic Church might learn from the Anglican experience to empower local church leaders to act more independently from Rome at times, and to give more governing authority to consultative bodies such as the Synod of Bishops.
“The Roman Catholic Church can learn from the culture of open and frank debate that exists at all levels of the Anglican Communion,” the members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission state in one of the conclusions of their document, titled: “Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church — Local, Regional, Universal.”
“The Anglican practice of granting a deliberative role to synods and of investing authority in regional instruments of communion indicates that the Synod of Bishops could be granted a deliberative role and further suggests the need for the Roman Catholic Church to articulate more clearly the authority of episcopal conferences,” the document continues.
It adds that the Catholic Church can also “fruitfully learn from the inclusion of laity in decision-making structures at every level of Anglican life.”
What could possibly go wrong?
The deliberative approach to doctrine brought us contraception at the Lambeth Conference in 1930. Thus the Anglican Communion was the first Christian body to do so.
The deliberative role of synods brought us women priests, and later women bishops in many Anglican jurisdictions, one of the reasons why the original founders of my parish left the Anglican Church of Canada in the late 1970s. The ordination of women meant democracy trumped the God-given nature of the sacrament of Holy Orders in a revealed religion. Our parish founders thought. “What sacrament will be changed next? Marriage? We’re getting off this bus because it is veering into apostasy!”
They also believed making such a change undermined the hopes of Christian unity that had inspired the beginnings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).
As for the “culture of free and open debate,” many former Anglican priests who became Catholic could tell you the debate was free and open until the progressives won, and then anyone who held to orthodox Anglo-Catholic views found himself marginalized, or worse, persecuted. Some of the most heterodox bishops proved to be the most willing to exercise their authority in a dictatorial fashion.
Already, however, this latest document from ARCIC is behind the times. Within the Catholic Church, local bishops and national bishops’ conferences are following in a direction of asserting the autonomy of the local church over the universal, and the idea that experience and history temper revelation and not the other way around. Whether it’s inter-communion with Protestants in Germany; communion for the divorced and remarried; or support for the ordination of women deacons or even priests, you can find Catholic bishops, regional assemblies of bishops and national bishops’ conferences taking varying positions on these issues, with some asserting what the Catechism says and others saying we have new scientific knowledge, new experiences through which to interpret revelation.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s prophetic document Humanae Vitae, and there are many news reports that some in the Catholic Church want to revisit it, in line with perhaps a more Lambeth approach.
I do not know anyone in the Ordinariates who wanted to bring Anglicanisms’ de-centralizing, synodal approach that basically allows a vote on aspects of the faith once-delivered to the Apostles with us into the Catholic Church. We wanted to escape the progressive devolution of “do-your-own-thing” and “be-your-own-pope” into the certainty of the Catholic Church and her magisterium.
We came to see that ecumenism fully realized is “You-come in-ism,” even though I first heard it put that way by someone using it pejoratively.
Years before I became Catholic, I thrilled at the confidence in the document Dominus Iesus by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.