Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weigel on Anglican wannabes

Following April 27's canonization doubleheader, George Weigel, "The Anglican Wannabe Fallacy" (First Things, May 21, 2014), notes that some of the public reactions verged on the bizarre. He cites an interview with ABC in which a former nun promoting women's ordination, Dr. Lavinia Byrne, said the following:
If in the 1990s, the [Catholic] Church had followed the example of the Anglican communion and had accepted the ordination of women, it would look very different nowadays. . . . Had there been ordination of women we would not have had parishes that are starved of the sacraments because there simply aren’t enough young men coming forward who are prepared to be celibate and prepared to labor on their own.
Weigel continues:
There, in brief, is the Fallacy of Wannabe Anglicanism.

If the experience of Anglicanism in Great Britain is the measure Dr. Byrne proposes, then it is certainly true that “the Catholic Church . . . would look very different nowadays” if “in the 1990s [it] had followed the example of the Anglican communion and had accepted the ordination of women”—it would look empty. For that is how most Anglican churches in Britain today look on Sunday: empty. There are, of course, many reasons for the collapse of Anglican faith and practice in the U.K.; but there isn’t the slightest shred of evidence that that collapse has been slowed, much less reversed, by the Church of England’s decision to admit women to its ordained ministry.

On the contrary, that decision was of a piece with the general doctrinal meltdown of the Anglican leadership in the so-called First World, which began in earnest when the 1930 Lambeth Conference (a decennial meeting of Anglican bishops) accepted the morality of contraceptive sex, and has continued apace ever since. Thus when the head of the Anglican Communion, Robert Runcie, engaged in an extended correspondence with John Paul II and Cardinal Johannes Willebrands (the Vatican’s chief ecumenist) in the 1980s, Runcie leaned heavily on sociological arguments about changing gender-patterns of leadership in society to buttress his attempt at a theological explanation of why the Church of England was moving toward ordaining women to its ministry—a “radical innovation,” John Paul and Willebrands had warned, that would do grave damage to what was once the most promising of the bilateral ecumenical dialogues.

The Church of England went ahead with the “radical innovation;” the quest for full communion between Canterbury and Rome suffered a grave blow; North Atlantic Anglicanism continued to hemorrhage active congregants.

Hard experience should have taught us by now that there is an iron law built into the relationship between Christianity and modernity. Christian communities that know and defend their doctrinal and moral boundaries (while extending the compassion of Christ when we fail to live within those boundaries, as we all do) survive in modernity; some actually flourish and become robustly evangelical. Conversely, Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries are eroded by the new orthodoxy of political correctness, and become so porous that it becomes impossible to know if one is “in” or “out,” wither and die.

That is the sad state of Anglicanism in the North Atlantic world today: Even splendid liturgical smells-and-bells can’t save an Anglicanism hollowed out by the shibboleths of secular modernity. Why British Catholics like Lavinia Byrne can’t see this is one of the mysteries of the 21st-century Church.
Good as far as it goes, right? But turn your head and blink, and wham! another telegram from Guy Noir - Private Eye:
What planet is Weigel living on? In what way is Anglicanism very different than say, the Catholic Church in Ireland or Austria?! Are we to suppose that what John Paul II settled "definitely" in terms of women's ordination has indeed been in fact once and for all settled, given John Allen, The NCReporter, altar girls, lay eucharistic ministers, and the like? [Not to mention the rarely-mentioned fact that even Ratzinger was emphatic in his statement that the teaching on women was actually not infallible: That's helpful!] Does he really think the Catholic Church is busy "knowing and defending its boundaries" when the Pope is saying we have been doing too much defending, even as western morals collapse? Even our post-conciliar, a bit less splendid Catholic smells-and-bells certainly don't seem to be saving American Catholicism, do they?! Maybe we should ask the congregants at NYC's Holy Innocents. Or over in England, the faithful believers who got to listen to the chief author of the CCC laud the transvestite winner Eurovision's song contest as he/she "rose like a phoenix." John Paul thought the Church of England had done "grave damage to what was once the most promising of the bilateral ecumenical dialogues." You have to wonder then what he would think of the current state of affairs. Grave damage to what was once the most promising of the bilateral ecumenical dialogues. "The Church of England went ahead with the 'radical innovation;' the quest for full communion between Canterbury and Rome suffered a grave blow..." It is hard to take such comments seriously given the all-around fuzziness of current theological conversations and excuse-making on behalf of the reigning pontiff.

I don't enjoy bashing Weigel among the ashes, at least not too much. But here's the 'but...': he reminds me of so many assured voices that sound convincing if you don't have much knowledge of source material. This essay tries to make a point, but ignores the fact that the entire ecclesial structure of Catholicism is becoming more and more like an "Anglican wannabe," with only the addition of a sentimental Marian streak and a saint-making machine now in overdrive. Somehow this all reminds me of his recent book Evangelical Catholicism, which -- even with that title phrase repeated ad nauseum -- sounds more like an arid policy paper than a religious treatise. Polite cocktail party commentary but nothing to jar the status quo: what could be more Anglican than that? Weigel increasingly sounds like a man desperately trying to make sure he is on the inside with whomever sits in Peter's chair. It all seems dishearteningly like religion as party loyalty. Especially given it is hard these days to discern much difference between the reassuringly smiling faces of Papa Francis and ABC Welby. People actually interested in evangelical Catholicism would be far better served by reading Ralph Martin's bracing The Catholic Church at the End of an Age. And while the latter is not apocalyptic in tone, reading Weigel's exercises in denial increasingly makes me think we actually are living in what be be the end of something.
[Hat tip to JM]


1 comments:








Jordanes551

said...

"Not to mention the rarely-mentioned fact that even Ratzinger was emphatic in his statement that the teaching on women was actually not infallible: That's helpful!"

That's not true -- Cardinal Ratzinger didn't emphasise that the teaching on women's ordination was not infallible. "Guy Noir" needs to re-read Ratzinger's commentary appended to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he clarified that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not an exercise of the extraordinary papal magisterium -- that is, OS isn't an "ex cathedra" infallible definition. Instead, Ratzinger explained, the teaching of women's ordiation is infallible and irreformable by virtue of being taught by the Church's ordinary. It's infallible, Ratzinger said, not because John Paul II had defined it ex cathedra (which he didn't do), but because the Church at all times and in all places had taught ever since the Apostles that only men can validly receive Holy Orders. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis wasn't a dogmatic definition, but an authoritative reminder from the Successor of St. Peter of what the teaching is and that the teaching can never be changed.