Vatican Rag Week

Well, ain’t that interesting. It looks as though Henry VIII’s victory over the Vatican may have been a temporary achievement after all.

A number of things are interesting about this:

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams admitted that he had been caught out after Pope Benedict XVI announced a new “Apostolic Constitution” to provide a legal framework for the many thousands of Anglicans and former Anglicans who wish “to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church”.

… for a start. If I understand the article correctly the Pope has just blindsided Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams with a hostile takeover of the conservative wing of the Anglican congregation. The offer seems to be, in plain language, “You can keep your BCP and your liturgical tradition but when they do the league tables, you’re all Catholics, not Protestants”. And while it may not have been something Dr. Williams saw coming, it also wasn’t a unilateral move:

Up to six Church of England bishops, had visited and pleaded with Rome to provide some sort of structure inside the Catholic Church for their wing of the Church of England because of liberal moves towards women bishops and gay ordinations.

You couldn’t make this stuff up, even if you were Dan Brown. This is Cranmer and Gardner all over again, though I suspect the open-air barbecue aspect of the feud may be missing this epoch. On the other hand, given the ratings success of Jerry Springer perhaps heretic-burnings on Tower Green would be good PR. We haven’t seen anything like this since the Sealed Knot shut down: rebel factions within the General Synod openly going to the Papists for a safe haven against the encroaching tides of enlightenment, rationality and, God save us all, women with power.

I have a great care for both the Anglican tradition and Christianity in general, though most of both (and particularly those we’re talking about) would call me a demonologist or worse: they did exactly that when they met the ancestors of my religion. But as I say, I quite like them; and this is simply going to be bad news for everyone in the short term. Everyone knew Darth Pope was a reactionary: you don’t elect the head of the Inquisition to the White Pope’s mantle if you want reform and progressive faith. But this is the Catholic orthodoxy making a public play for the largest number of bigots and chauvinists they can get their hands on. This is them not merely implying, but coming right out and saying, “If you’re a medievalist, prejudiced Christian who can’t stand to be corrupted by the modern world, you belong Catholic”. Or to put it another way, the Catholic Church wants that section of Christianity which, were they Muslim, would be Salafists. [1]

Cardinal Levada said that the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution would provide “a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon”

By which he means religious tolerance, secular government, rational social order and increasingly liberal modern morals. At base, this is a reaction to the increasing pluralism of a modern, global human society. I can understand why this mind-grab looks good from St. Peter’s. 33% of humans profess or pretend to some form of Christianity. While Catholicism is the single largest of the 38,000 denominations (in large part due to the population density in South America) they are massively smaller than the Protestant denominations all put together (in large part because of the USA and China).

Catholic congregations are aging, and shrinking, because young people want to live in the modern world. Even after two relative reformers and modernists in the top seat, Catholicism is too entrenched in prejudice and social conservatism to move fast enough for its escaping younger generations. These children are left with a permanent legacy of guilt trips and, frequently, a loathing for all organised religions; that’s not good for anyone, really.

So, the Holy See is making an all-out bid to concentrate all the hard-line reactionaries in Christianity under one umbrella (much as the ultra-militant reactionaries within Islam are trying to do); this is bloody good strategy, particularly as the efforts of Anglicanism to join the 20th century [2] have already nearly schismed the church. And that is the most interesting thing for me.

One aspect of the announcement by Rome is that it clears the way for women bishops in the Church of England.

The General Synod and Parliament are unlikely to approve a legal structure to “protect” Anglo-Catholics from being “tainted” by the hands of a woman, if Rome is showing them an open door.

As I was saying above, I like the Anglicans and this might well prove to be the single best thing to happen to the tradition since the Puritans took over. Much of the Anglican church, including all the general synod members I know personally, are in favour of the congregation modernising its doctrines and eliminating its prejudices. The admission of openly homosexual priests and Bishops, and the ordination of women, are issues that have split the rational wing of Anglicanism from the conservative wing for some time. The split, particularly between English Anglicans and African Anglicans, has threatened schism several times in the last few years, and here’s a life-boat. Not only can the reasonable parts of the synod shed their reactionary colleagues pretty much wholesale, they can do it such that the bigots want to leave. This would give Anglicanism the opportunity to come out of the affair looking like the good guys.

Lord knows, it might even provide the political cover for the only other thing which could really improve the chances of Anglicanism; disestablishment. The reactionary wing of the church are also the most ardent establishmentarians. Getting rid of them might make it possible to finally join the post-1776 political world, and implement a state which could begin to treat its citizens fairly, regardless of creed. I’m not sure it’s going to happen; but I can hope.


[1] I originally wrote ‘Wahhabist’, but after being corrected in a discussion on LibCon (hat-tip to V.E. Bott) I corrected the outdated expression for the medieval bull-shit peddled by Saudi Arabian cultural supremacists for the modern term for … well, Arab-Imperial medieval bullshit peddled by the Saudis.

[2] My father (an ordained Anglican) and my mother (who isn’t) have interestingly divergent views on the ordination of women. My father, a professional translator of the Bible from its original languages into modern ones, is acutely aware that the early Church had female leaders and prophets. He knows that the doctrine denying women leadership in the Church is derived in large part from mistranslations between (gendered) Greek and (non-gendered) Latin. He’s all in favour of the ordination of women. My mother is vehemently, even violently against it; her grounds being that women already do all the real work in the Church except being priest. If women could be ordained, she feels, the men would never do any work at all.

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