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They have to swim the Channel before they can swim the Tiber

2010 October 22
by Paul Vallely

Many Roman Catholics like me look slightly askance at the prospect of disenchanted Anglican traditionalists flooding across the Tiber, and not because they will be swimming with one hand and holding their ornate thuribles aloft in the other to keep them dry.

No, it is what they say they want to leave behind which makes us wonder about what they are bringing with them. Not to mention what it is they hope to find when they get to their promised land.

Take the Bishop of Fulham’s valedictory description of the church he seems determined to quit. The keynote address of the Rt Rev John Broadhurst to the Forward in Faith assembly – despite the ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ tone in which it was delivered – contained some extraordinarily violent language. He characterised the Anglican Communion as a place of ‘lies’, deceit’ and described it at one point as ‘an evil institution’. He called it ‘myopic’ and bemoaned its ‘lack of consultation’. Later he was quoted as calling it ‘vindictive’, ‘vicious’ and ‘fascist in its behaviour’.

I would not, for one moment, wish the bishop anything other than well on his spiritual journey. But, as someone who values the vehicles for transcendence offered by the tradition into which I was born, I have to say that I am puzzled at the insistence of Anglicans like Bishop Broadhurst that opposition to women’s ordination is somehow the touchstone of catholicity. Plenty of committed Catholics I know in the Roman church regard the prospect of women priests and bishops as something devoutly to be wished.

Many might also be perplexed at the references to fascism, consultation and deceit – and the inference that these are to be found less in the Church of Rome than in the Church of England.  Let us set aside the fact that, historically, there have been far more dodgy elements in the relationships between fascism and the Vatican than there were between Moseleyites and  Anglicans. But even if we take the bishop’s ‘fascism’ as merely a metaphor for intolerance it sits oddly.

In what sense is a synodical system which permits democracy and debate more ‘fascist’ than a centralised authoritarian structure, which in the past has outlawed not merely dissent but even dialogue on certain issues? The last Pope forbad that the issue of women’s ordination should even be discussed by Catholic theologians, priests and nuns. There is no accountability in infallibility, as several liberation theologians discovered.

As for a ‘lack of consultation’, Anglican enthusiasts for the Ordinariate appear to have forgotten that Benedict XVI made no attempt to consult the Archbishop of Canterbury before instituting a mechanism to hoist disillusioned Anglicans, with their ‘absolutely null and utterly void’ appurtenances intact, into the barque of St Peter.

Will high Anglicans in the Tory tradition be at home politically with Catholic Social Teaching which borrows heavily from concepts intrinsic to syndicalism and socialism?

And when it comes to deceit do these putative postulants not have any understanding of the nature of the institutional cover-up perpetrated over paedophile priests by many Catholic bishops – in which the Vatican clearly colluded with its secret instructions to silence those who alleged they were abused?

Rome, many of us who are lodged there suspect, may not seem quite the home-from-home hoped for those who must cross the Channel as well as the Tiber in their search for succour and spiritual haven. Those who arrive from the Church of England shouting that they did not find there personal liberty, freedom to dissent, consultation and transparency, could be in for a rude awakening.

One Response
  1. Oswaldo Cordova permalink
    October 26, 2010

    I can’t have anything but respect and admiration for someone like you who is able to think “outside of the box”. The anglican “wetbacks” are sure to be disappointed and sure to disappoint those that await them anxiously on the other side of the Tiber: they should have better reasons for taking the plunge.

    Oswaldo Córdova
    Mexico City

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