Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Q. How do you think we should, as Catholics, react to all the current turmoil in the Episcopal Church? It seems an outright tragedy that it is breaking apart because of differences of opinion regarding a series of doctrinal and moral issues. Shouldn’t one hope that the present rifts are quickly healed?

A. What is happening within the United States branch of Anglicanism, called the Episcopal Church here, is tragic, and should be viewed as such.

The creation of a new Province, announced early in December by a church outside of Chicago, constitutes a grave challenge to liberal elements of the Episcopal Church. The new Province resulted from a series of events proximately dating five years back, when the Episcopal Church allowed the ordination of an openly gay bishop. But even before that, departures from Biblical doctrine were occurring; e.g., the ordination of a woman bishop and women priests.

What is happening is “immensely sad,” as Connecticut Episcopal Bishop Andrew Smith said recently in a comment reportedly reflecting a belief that the new Province might not be in communion with the global Anglican Communion – which, ironically, makes what is happening even sadder, given the fact that the traditional Episcopal Church, in its recently liberal ways, is itself out of step with worldwide Anglicanism.

What should our Roman Catholic attitude be with respect to the tragic problems in the Episcopal Church? Our desire as Catholics should be that the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, might remain intact and in accord with Biblical values. Cardinal Walter Kasper, who serves as President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, argued as such in his talk during the Lambeth Conference this past summer:

“We hope that we will not be drawn apart, and that we will be able to remain in serious dialogue in search of full unity, so that the world may believe.” (See L’Osservatore Romano, Eng, ed., 6 Aug. ’08.)

That serious dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism has b een adversely affected by recent departures from Biblical doctrine on the part of the Episcopal Church is a fact, of course. For example, Cardinal Kasper remarked:

“The ordination of women to the episcopate effectively and definitively blocks a possible recognition of Anglican Orders by the Catholic Church… this development affects directly the goal and alters the level of what we pursue in dialogue.”

Thus, the Cardinal added, “it is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree.”

Cardinal Kasper, a superb theologian in his own right, cited the specific problems which face the Anglican Communion today and consequently have caused tensions in our dialogue with Anglicanism. These problems fall largely under two categories: the ordination of women and human sexuality.

Regarding the latter, the Cardinal reminded the Lambeth assembly that Catholicism’s teachings in this area, including its teaching on homosexual behavior, is clear, “well founded” in the Old and New Testament Scriptures, and in keeping with the Apostolic Tradition. Furthermore, the ongoing Roman Catholic/Anglican Dialogue (ARCIC) indicates that Anglicans “could agree with Catholics that homosexual activity is disordered,” although “we might differ in the moral and pastoral advice we would offer to those seeking our counsel.” Today, the Cardinal added, “a clear statement from the Anglican Communion would greatly strengthen the possibility” of common witness in this regard, “sorely needed in the world of today.”

With respect to women’s ordination (whether to priesthood or the episcopate), the Catholic Church sees herself “bound by the will of Jesus Christ”; hence, she is not free “to establish a new tradition alien to the tradition of the Church in all ages.”

Today, 28 Anglican Provinces ordain women to priesthood; four to the episcopate (while 13 more have formally authorized the practice).

Again, the situation is tragic.