Msgr. David Q. Liptak
The Episcopal Church in the United States, a relatively small but financially strong branch of the worldwide Anglican communion, has just been “called back” to Sacred Scripture and traditional Anglican doctrine. The rebuke, described by The New York Times as “severe” (20 Feb., Page 1), was formally issued at a five-day meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
According to a spokesman for the highly critical Anglican Church leaders, the rebuke is “very, very significant.” The alternatives, he explained, were either to “call the Episcopal Church back or lose the Anglican Communion, and the group argued it was better to call the Episcopal Church back.” (ibid.)
Triggering the current crisis was the American branch’s recent liberal policy with respect to same-sex unions, which it allows its clergy to bless, and also its permissiveness in ordaining active homosexuals as bishops.
Neither innovation, Catholic doctrine teaches, can be justified by reference to Sacred Scripture. Homosexual behavior is inconsonant with the Bible. Same-sex “unions” are likewise morally contraindicated. Indeed, both are also totally absurd departures from the norms of reason.
The Anglican Church’s rejection of the Episcopal Church’s position here in the U.S. refers to Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and its teaching on human sexuality.
To defend gay “marriage” or the ordination of a practising homosexual is itself indefensible. But for a Church to lend its support to either is both self-destructive and ethically offensive. Self-destructive, because it contradicts the very nature of a Church, which is necessarily Christian and therefore Biblically grounded and guided. Offensive, because a Church is bound by its constitution to teach or to give witness to Biblical values in order to illuminate the dark recesses of a confused and erring world, a world of sometimes terrifying labyrinths, for which guidance is desperately sought by those in quest of ultimate truth and goodness.
Thus the Pontifical Council for Promoting Church Unity continues to speak of the value of the Anglican Communion’s holding fast onto its communion, ostensibly rooted in Apostolic faith.
A Church – any Church – has no right to manufacture novel “solutions” to the world’s challenges, or to revise the perennial wisdom gleaned from Scripture and from reason illumined by Scripture. By its very existence a Church stands upon Scripture; in fact, it can only preach what it reads in Scripture.
Otherwise, to what purpose is it ordained?
Hence the Episcopal Church, which has until recent times held onto a considerable portion of the truth which pilgrims constantly seek, desperately needs to reassert, for the contemporary world, its dedication to the Bible and the doctrine crystallized from it. The most recent innovations of Episcopalianism simply cannot be left to remain as such. Up until now, the different doctrinal choices that Episcopalians have made reach back into history, but ecumenical dialogue was already progressing despite them. Now, however, gravely disturbing innovations have occurred, all threatening to destroy, if possible, all the successful ecumenical work.
To avert a schism, the meeting in Tanzania has formally asked for a moratorium by the U.S. Episcopal Church regarding gay bishops and same-sex “marriage” blessings. However, according to the 24 Feb. London Tablet, a compromise took place: “At the last gasp, there was a settlement. It places unprecedented strictures on the Episcopalians, who essentially have seven months to comply if they are to be invited to next year’s Lambeth Conference…” (The Conference meets every 10 years.)
Our hearts go out to the Episcopalians who, reared in a climate often almost Catholic in character, are so pained by what has happened here (within the historic Church under whose roof our first native-born U.S. citizen saint, Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Seton, was raised). Both Catholics and Episcopalians had hoped to see our ecumenical progress intensified. We now pray more than ever before that our goal of unity might remain attainable, that the present agony might be converted into a key to progress.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.