Sweet Lullaby?

December 1999

How odd that there should be Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogues when those Anglicans with whom Catholics might have something in common -- namely, anglo-catholics -- are virtually extinct, many having been killed off by Rome herself.

In an article in Anglican and Episcopal History (1999, No. 2), Thomas C. Reeves discusses "the decline and fall of the anglo-catholic movement." Reeves, who writes as a "former anglo-catholic insider and activist" (and who became Roman Catholic in 1997), explores various reasons for the fall: He notes that "many anglo-catholics were fellow travelers" of Rome. "They had admired the Roman Catholic Church for its dogma, discipline, beauty, and its staunch resistance to secularism and Protestantism. But in the 1960s the Roman Catholic Church overturned and modernized much of its thought and practice…. A majority of anglo-catholic clergy…tended…to grow as lax as their Roman brethren about confession, eucharistic adoration, and an assortment of disciplinary matters…. More than a few Episcopal nuns…became carbon copies of their often angry and defiant Roman Catholic sisters -- from the short haircuts down to the tennis shoes." Reeves continues: "The cat was now out of the bag: Rome could change as it saw fit. She was no longer the invulnerable fortress of timeless truth that had attracted so many anglo-catholics. It dawned on many anglo-catholics that if Rome could do as she pleased, so could they." And Reeves stresses the "moral laxity" of anglo-catholic clergy, notably in the area of homosexuality. If the so-called spirit of Vatican II shook and damaged Catholicism, it essentially demolished anglo-catholicism.

Another reason for the fall of anglo-catholicism was that anglo-catholic bishops "chose to play only a minimal role in the resistance to the changes stemming from the 1960s," notably the push for priestesses and for accepting homosexual practice. Curiously, Kenneth D. Whitehead writes in Catholic Dossier (March-April 1998) that the Roman Catholic bishops in Europe and North America are similarly weak, and that, without the firm resistance of the papacy, they would likely have yielded to the "enormous, overwhelming pressures" to ordain priestesses. Bluntly put: Without the papacy, bye-bye Catholicism!

Yet another reason for the fall of anglo-catholicism, says Reeves, was that it was the victim of its own success. The revised 1979 Book of Common Prayer adopted many anglo-catholic liturgical practices, and as a result many anglo-catholics were "lulled…into thinking their movement had achieved its goals," when in fact many of the key doctrinal and moral aspects of anglo-catholicism were at the same time being rooted out of the Episcopal Church. Similarly, many orthodox Roman Catholics assume that because John Paul II sits on the Throne of Peter, they’ve won, and can relax and go to sleep. Well, the dissenters and heretics haven’t gone to sleep -- and as they wait for John Paul to die, they’re working furiously and preparing for the succession struggle, after which they expect to prevail. North Africa was lost to Catholicism, and, with one or two weak popes, we could see North America and Europe lost too.


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New Oxford Notes: December 1999

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