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Saturday, May 07, 2011

The (increasingly Roman Catholic) Anglican Communion

Bishop William M. Morris - Getty images
Mother Church never ceases to astonish me.

Well, not so much Mother Church as some of her boys.

You may be aware of the recent firing of Bishop William M. Morris of the Australian Roman Catholic diocese of Toowoomba. The announcement caught my eye in a report earlier this week in the NY Times.

The statement was particularly strong. Normally the Vatican urges bishops to resign and then announces that it has accepted their resignation. This, however, was a firing, flat-out.

So, what heinous crime did the good bishop perpetrate? Did he sexually abuse little boys or girls? Did he engage in an illicit affair with a woman which produced an 'illegitimate child? Did he squander or pilfer from church funds?

Oh, no. This man of God and Prince of the Roman Catholic Church did something far more dastardly than any of those deeds.

He had the temerity to raise questions.  And, not just questions - questions about possible options to address the clergy shortage in his diocese.

I know, right? Whatever was he thinking?

Here's his problem: The Diocese of Toowoomba comprises 300,000 square miles and has just a relative handful of healthy priests to serve the church’s 35 parishes.

Bishop Morris addressed the priest shortage in a candid but still cautious Advent 2006 pastoral letter.

“We do face an uncertain future with regard to the number of active priests in our diocese,” wrote Morris. “Other options,” he wrote, “may well” need be considered. These include:
“ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;
welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;
ordaining women, married or single;
recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.”
That was Advent, 2006.

The long arm of Papal Authority apparently also has a long memory.

The Vatican announced just this past week that Pope Benedict XVI has fired Morris.

Eighteen years as bishop ended with the stroke of a papal pen.

What's fascinating about this is that what we've heard concerning the firing of bishops is simply not possible - even for those who have consistently turned a blind eye to clergy in their dioceses who are sexual predators.

Bishops don’t “work for” the pope, we have been told. Bishops are “fathers” to their flock – with all the unconditional love and commitment that entails – not employees subject to the whims, well-intentioned or otherwise, of the boss. Canonical procedures must be followed.

So much for that "infallible truth".

As an NCR editorial recently pointed out:
Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, for example, continues a life befitting a prince in splendorous surroundings, even as his flouting of church procedures (and perhaps civil law) resulted in nearly 30 diocesan priests facing administrative suspension and heat from local prosecutors.

And not to forget Cardinal Bernard Law, orchestrator of the Boston clergy abuse cover-up. His punishment? An extended Roman holiday and a healthy pension. Meanwhile, Morris gets the door.
Archbishop Charles Chaput - CNS photo
Apparently, shortly after the Advent 2006 pastoral letter was sent out, the Pope sent Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to “investigate” the incident.

Since Chaput is known in Denver for being an uber-Roman Catholic, that's a little like sending the fox to investigate the hens.

As is so often the case in these situations, there is, apparently, a relatively small number of right wing Catholics in the diocese who have long been after the bishop.

I wouldn't doubt if they were also 'well funded' and most generous to the Vatican. Bishop Morris and others call them the "Temple Police". I hear their message, loud and clear.

Now, whatever has this to do with me, a woman and an Episcopal Priest? Surely, this is none of my concern.  Shouldn't I just mind my own business? Doesn't the Anglican Communion have enough of its own difficulties?

Ah, thank you for asking.

I was most keenly interested in something at the end of the NCR editorial:
In 2003, Fred Gluck, a former managing partner of McKinsey & Company who currently serves on the board of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, wrote a memo to church leaders. It’s crafted in managementese, but disregard the jargon for the moment and pay attention to the message.

Wrote Gluck:
“Your organization [the church] has no effective central point of leadership that can energize the necessary program change.
“Your leadership is aging and also largely committed to the status quo or even the status ante.
“Your tradition of hierarchy dominates most of your thinking about management.”
“Coming to grips with this formidable set of challenges in an organization as historically successful as yours will be a daunting challenge, and can only be accomplished by a comprehensive program of change with strong leadership from the top,” he concluded.
No one in a position of authority paid any discernible attention to Gluck eight years ago. Sadly, we don’t expect that to change
Sound familiar?


Okay - I'll give you a two-word hint:

Here's the first: Anglican.

And, here's the second: Covenant.

Thomas Nast - 1871
Look again at Gluck's description of the leadership style of the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, read it again and think the "Archbishop of Canterbury" and the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Covenant codifies and legalizes the status-ante, and brings us perilously closer to Rome than we've been since before the Reformation.

Raising questions and suggesting some options for the problem of how to provide spiritual nourishment for the people of Australia was such a serious "offense" to the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church that there were serious "relational consequences" for one of her leaders.

Reportedly, Bishop Morris has written another open letter to his diocese, stating that he has "refused to resign" and will instead retire. He wrote that this is because the Pope had decided that "the diocese would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop". Which means the bishop will at least have the benefit of his pension - not that Rome seems at all concerned with the man's corporal or spiritual well being.

Don't think that could ever happen in the Anglican Communion?

No, neither do I.

It's not probable, but it is possible.

I'm sure that the Anglican Covenant will pass the required - but no more than required - Dioceses and Synods in the Church of England, but, from what I understand, it would never pass Parliament, whose approval is required in order to make that pesky Section IV have any impact.

I am also convinced that it will not pass the majority of Provinces and Synods in the Anglican Communion - not whilst Rowan is still in office.

It is being 'discussed' widely about the Anglican Communion - and, I suspect, it is in that 'conversational' process that many will be converted to understand the dangers inherent in what is being purported to be an "innocuous document of unity".

Time is of distinct benefit to the eventual defeat and effectual demise of this document.

So, what's the point, you ask?

The Anglican Covenant will stand as one of the 'historic documents'  - like the Thirty-Nine Articles - to which someone will point when someone else has given 'offense'. Someone who, no doubt is  actually thinking and acting like an adult disciple of Jesus Christ.

It may never find itself in the back pages of the Book of Common Prayer, next to the other 'historic documents' of the church.  However, like the Windsor Report itself,  the Anglican Covenant will be raised to a level having more authority than Scripture, and used as the basis for decision-making that makes absolutely no sense. 

It's real danger lies not only in the potential harm it will do to individuals, but in the harm it will do to the institutional church which is hungry - starved - for courageous change.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Covenant feeds us with the stale crumbs of the staus-quo and status-ante.

I grieve for Bishop Morris and the Diocese of Toowoomba in Australia. Clearly, the Church is guilty of the very sort of injustice which She purports to stand against.

I grieve for the Roman Catholic Church and so many of her faithful who expect and deserve more from their church leadership.

I hope this incident proves to be a cautionary tale for those in the Anglican Communion who seek to endorse the Anglican Covenant, mostly because they "want to support Rowan".

We are in perilously dangerous baptismal waters here.  The stakes are quite high.

We are in jeopardy of drowning under the weight of our own bureaucracy and hierarchy and legalism when what we so desperately need is the liberation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is - the whole of it - most astonishing, when it isn't so painfully sad.


Muthah+ said...

"We are in jeopardy of drowning under the weight of our own bureaucracy and hierarchy and legalism when what we so desperately need is the liberation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Thus it is ever so. Thanks for this.

Mary Jo said...

Indeed, poor Bishop Morris. Where is Cardinal Joseph Bernardin when we
need him? Yes,I know, he died all too soon. Are there Roman Catholic (or Anglican) FDRs and ERs out there to bring a New Deal to the church?
Is there a Louis Howe, a Frances Perkins, a Harry Hopkins to assist?
Heck, I'd take a JFK and definitely an RFK. Jeanette Rankin might not be a bad idea either.
One thought, though. The Nast drawing is , to me, a former RC, a bit offensive. I know it was not meant in the anti-Catholic spirit that Nast intended it to be but still... As I remember we are both former RCs. Perhaps my reaction is knee-jerk, but there it is. I agree with your observations - the picture is a problem. Semiotics and all that.

Dom said...

Nice article. As a former Roman Catholic, who saw the light and became Episcopalian, I certainly cringe at the thought that the Episcopal church could emulate the hierarchy, bureaucracy, autocracy, and spiritual atrophy of the Roman church. Please continue to move in a vibrant, progressive, and open direction.

Lionel Deimel said...

Thanks for this post. It is interesting on so many levels.

If Bishop Morris was simply fired by the Vatican, that is an argument for allowing the Vatican to be sued for permitting the sexual abuse of minors. In a well regulated society, even having power incurs obligations. The Anglican Covenant has no checks on the abuse of power by the “Instruments of Communion,” however. As a political constitution—and that’s what it truly is—the Covenant is seriously deficient.

Michel S. said...

There has been cases of RC priests switching over to the Anglicans -- if Bp. Morris is contemplating this, he should be welcomed with open arms -- he's more progressive and ecumenical than many of the more conservative Anglicans!

I wonder if there has been a precedent for a bishop defecting, though, at least in recent times, into another existing church that adheres to a historic episcopate. The last I could think of was when the Old Catholics got started in Utrecht, centuries ago (the more recent post-Vatican I schism in German-speaking countries does not involve any bishop, as memory serves)