Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rome makes ecumenical work with Protestants more difficult

That should be the title of this article. Not "Vatican creates new structure for Anglicans". There is no structure in place for Anglicans, but only for those who leave the Anglican Church.

I think that a few years ago I would have received this news positively; it's surely a good thing that Rome is extending its arms to Christians in other communions, and there's no question that many Anglicans or former Anglicans have grievances and are looking for a home where they can rest safely. But I've lost a bit of my former patience with the one-way street that tends to be Rome. Or rather, I've become more realistic about Roman claims to unity, and don't look at the Church that happens to have the word "Catholic" in its name as self-evidently living up to that name.

Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christianity Unity, has been against this sort of massive amnesty because of the damage it does to ongoing ecumenical work. And presumably the PCPCU would be the curial body responsible for relations with other Christian churches. But this directive comes from William Levada and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Not where you'd expect an ecumenical welcome to come from. And that's because it's not an ecumenical welcome. There is no recognition of Protestant legitimacy, but only a Roman Catholic recogntion of Roman Catholic vestiges in those who are former Protestants moving through the process of recognition by Rome.

I have nothing against Anglicans or other Protestants who decide to become Roman Catholic; that decision is perfectly fine. But these conversions have nothing to do with ecumenical advances or mutual recognition of separated Christian communions. They are quite the opposite of that. Catholicity is not advanced by these moves, rather folks are just shuffled from one group into another. Recognizing orders and eucharist in the same way that we have a basic recognition of baptism would be an ecumenical advance. This is not.

My recent article in IJST on "'Fullness of the Spirit' and 'Fullness of Catholicity' in Ecclesial Communion" gets into this. If you email me (evan.f.kuehn -@- gmail.com), I'd be happy to send you a pdf.


  1. These are very much consonant with my feelings about the current possibilities for "ecumenical theology" between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

  2. It seems as though the Pope should prefer cooperation and unity based on common beliefs — rather than the faux cooperation between widely varying theology that passes for ecumenicism nowadays.

    Nowadays, many Mainline Protestants don't believe in the bodily resurrection, so what sort of common "Christian" position is possible on these terms?

  3. (sigh). seriously.

    can i get a copy of your article? myles dot werntz at gmail

  4. Nowadays many liberal Catholics in good standing with the church don't believe in bodily resurrection either.

    The point is that all the Roman church is doing here is making it easier for them to siphon off as many disgruntled Anglicans as possible.

    That's messed up.

    Its essentially an act intended to damage any attempt on the part of the Anglican communion to struggle for orthodoxy, unity, coherence, etc. It is, in short, a predatory move that assumes (whether it is admitted or not) that the Anglican communion is not a viable place where one can really be a Christian.

    That's why this isn't an ecumenical move at all. Its the refusal of ecumenism as anything other than, as Evan rightly puts it, a "one-way street" to Rome.

  5. I don't actually begrudge the CDF for doing what they're doing here. As a reform to ordination or liturgy standards in the Roman Catholic Church, it's perfectly acceptable, and it's worthwhile that there is some attention to the local practice of various groups. Insofar as Anglo-Catholics are or are in the process of being recognized by the Holy See, it makes sense that guidelines of this sort are being offered. And whether or not the intention of the CDF is really to "siphon off" Protestants, they explicitly say that this is not their motivation, and I don't see a reason to attribute that motivation to them. In other words, constraining traffic by marking a street as "one-way" can help to order it. It doesn't need to be restrictive.

    My only point is that we shouldn't misunderstand this as a contribution to ecumenical unity, or an expansion of catholicity, or an outstretched arm to certain Protestant structures. It is, rather, Roman Catholicism doing stuff (perfectly acceptable stuff) within its own house. The major problem with understanding this as an action in the interest of catholicity is that doing so unduly associates catholicity with a single church... but it's not bad that they're making life easier for Anglo-Catholics.

    I'm not even convinced that this will change ecumenical relations all that much. It will make ecumenical progress more difficult, but not in any way that hasn't already been established by Dominus Iesus or the 2007 Responsa ad Quaestiones. This is just a particular exercise of norms that have already been set in place by the Vatican.

  6. I think the real issue surely must be the timing of this pronouncement rather than its content.

    After all, this really isn't much different (if at all) from steps that the RC church takes in other countries in regard to local liturgical customs and even married priests.

    Its most the in the issue of timing rather than content that I, rightly or wrongly, suspect somewhat less than honorable intentions.

  7. Good post and good discussion. Evan, for some reason I've assumed you are Roman Catholic. Not that this post necessarily suggests otherwise, but out of curiosity (and if you don't mind sharing), what is your denominational background?

  8. I was baptized ELCA and raised there until elementary school, then went to a PC(USA) church until college. During and since college I've been attending an Anglican church, affiliated with AMiA and now ACNA.

    I'm happy in Anglicanism, largely because the lack of confessionalism allows me some space of my own to roam around a bit. But I'm not attached to the denomination in the way that some Anglicans are Anglican. If we moved and there wasn't an Anglican church in the area, I don't think we'd sweat finding a denominational home elsewhere. So I'm a mainline Protestant mutt of sorts, though without much of any exposure to the Methodist or Baptist traditions in mainline Protestantism. My wife's background is Free Methodist and more evangelical.

  9. Ecumenism is fuzzy. I'm not so sure its any more legitimate to deny this is an ecumenical move than to affirm it as such. Why should anyone expect Rome to make an ecumenical move that affirms the autonomy of Protestant traditions qua Protestant? Perhaps that's ecumenism of a kind, but it certainly doesn't fit well at the end of the day with a strong conception of Church unity in Roman ecclesiology. Paving a one-way street to unity with Rome is, it seems, an entirely consistent ecumenical move from the Roman perspective.

    Pax Christi,

  10. So you've read the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution, Evan? I didn't know it's been released.

  11. You're correct, Jack- it's not out yet. The deliberations on this have been ongoing for years now, though, so I think the terms of the question were relatively well-known. I take it that the announcement from the Vatican concerning the upcoming constitution was intended to be an accurate portrayal of what's coming, and I'm going off of that.

    X-Cathedra, I'd agree with you that from a Roman Catholic perspective this may be understood as ecumenical, and I find that perspective problematic for a number of reasons. I don't know whether affirming the "autonomy" of Protestant churches is what would be central to ecumenical recognition, however. On the contrary, I specifically mentioned recognition of orders and eucharist as examples of the sort of ecumenical advances that are needed. I don't see how these things would contradict any "strong conception of Church unity"... indeed, it would seem that a strong conception of unity would look odd without these recognitions.

  12. Hello Halden,

    "It's essentially an act intended to damage any attempt on the part of the Anglican communion to struggle for orthodoxy, unity, coherence, etc."

    No offense, but - wouldn't you say the Anglican communion is doing all the necessary damage to those objectives all by itself as it is?

  13. Halden,

    You can't be Catholic let alone "in good standing" if you deny the bodily resurrection.

    The Anglicans joining the Catholic Church will probably have to sign a CCC.

  14. The crux of the matter is that as you've regressed (commonly called "progressed") in your studies, you've more and more become an obedient subject of today's dictatorship of relativism. Very common.

  15. So what is Halden's proposed solution to the problem of Anglicans and Anglican communities who, in conscience, find that they can no longer remain in the Anglican communion? Is he saying to these Anglicans and Anglican communities: stay where you are, suffer your "homelessness" in the Anglican communion, because for you to move to the Roman Catholic Church is going to damage Ecumenism? If this is Halden's attitude, then obviously ecumenism has become an idol, and concrete flesh and blood christians are sacrificed on its altars!!! This talk of "siphoning" is unjust and uncalled for. Perhaps he should have tried to understand why there are these individuals and communities who, because in conscience feel that they can no longer remain, look to a body like the Roman Catholic Church to provide them a home rather than engage in some tiresome knee-jerk reaction to Catholicism.