correspondents

America

Fruity faith

We all know that the great John Paul had a profound impact on the Church, so much so that sympathy for the Faith has surfaced in the most unlikely quarters. The Pennsylvania Episcopalian, even, featured an article by Bishop Bennison entitled, ‘On Being the Catholic Church,’ which was brought on by the Holy Father’s death. Bennison writes, ‘I accompanied members of the Curia into the Clementine Hall where the pontiff’s body lay in state, to pray for his soul and thank God for his constancy of faith…’ The Bishop goes on, ‘To process with people from around the globe and across differing theologies up the marble staircase of the Apostolic Palace to that great hall, as together we repeated the Ave Maria was an experience in the church catholic that I shall long remember.’

Wholly mess

The Bishop of Pennsylvania was obviously moved by this and proceeds to launch an attack on the ‘disagreeable aspects of the ‘protestant’ character of the English Reformation.’ Nothing wrong with that! Unfortunately the Bishop does not stop there, but goes on to lecture his readership on the canons of the Council of Nicaea. These, he thinks, forbid the likes of Anglican Communion Network Bishops from ministering to congregations in dioceses like his. They do not, as New Directions has ably pointed out. Why, then, all this sudden show of revisionist respect for the Martyr Council? It seems suspicious in a group of men and women notorious for their prophetic stance regarding the tradition of the Church.

Suspicions are borne out as the article proceeds. The word ‘catholic,’ we are reminded, comes from the Greek, ‘according to the whole.’ Orthodoxy represents a ‘theological compromise or reduction made to include diversity.’ The conclusion is drawn that ‘Catholicity is like a basket full of every kind of fruit there is. Orthodoxy is like a jar of all-fruit jelly.’ This fructose reasoning is simple enough to understand; catholicity implies wholeness, so the Catholic Faith must include every kind of opinion, or fruit. Orthodox opinion is simply the boiling down of religion’s variants of nature’s candy into some sort of all-embracing common confection.

The logic of the fruit basket has the great advantage of defining the wicked divisions of Christendom out of existence. There is one Catholic Church and everyone is a part of it – provided of course, that they don’t have the audacity to criticize the belief of their fellow fruits. The Evangelical plum must not condemn the Anglo-Catholic pear, and neither should join forces to evict the Liberal banana. Instead they have to settle down to a sweet coexistence, where doctrinal spines have been jellied away by mutual consent. The Church is one because it includes everyone and anything, except of course, those people who disagree with the Pennsylvanian definition of Catholicism.

Athanasius

The unfortunate problem that faces the new-found standard bearers of Nicaea is that Catholic Christians have always fallen into the latter category. Athanasius did not think of the heresiarch Arius as yet another fruit to be added to the basket of diversity. St Augustine was not about to jelly his beliefs away in the face of Montanist opposition, neither were the London Carthusians some kind of sacrifice to Tudor inclusivity. The unnerving fact of the matter is that no one who has called themselves a Catholic has ever thought that their belief was synonymous with non-doctrinal Christianity. No one, that is, until now, which puts the innovators in the tricky position of explaining why their opinion is at variance with the ‘whole’ that they are supposedly championing.

They do so by confusing the small part of the Church that they control with its sum. For them, ECUSA is the Church, and those who break ranks with it are therefore schismatics. This allows Bennison to write against his opponents as though they were protestant sectarians, ‘Parting ways over a transitory issue is a ‘protestant’ thing to do, manifesting lack of faith in the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’ we affirm each Sunday.’

The Bishop is absolutely correct; parting ways with the Church is a protestant thing to do; but this is exactly what ECUSA has done by playing fast and loose with the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. That the liberals are unable to see this implies willful ignorance, or sincere belief in the new fruit basket model of ecclesiology. If Catholicism is simply a catch all for diversity, then the visible Catholic Church has to be the most diverse group of Christians, which makes ECUSA and its revisionist friends the Catholic Church.

Anathema

Fruit logic therefore dictates that the Anglican Primates are protestant for asking ECUSA to impose a moratorium on same sex consecrations. In fact anyone is a protestant who disagrees with the latest deliberations of General Convention. This, needless to say, has the unfortunate effect of anathematizing most Christians who have ever lived, and all in the name of inclusivity. Which brings us to the heart of the problem.

It is not so much that the brand-new Nicene canonists are wrong because they want to include as many people as possible in the Church. The problem is that they are not willing to include enough. Their vision of the Church is too small, not too large, and by breaking the laws of the wider Church, which is whole, complete and entire, they lose her liberating universality to the tyranny of General Convention.

Likewise, it is no bad thing that revisionists should be reflecting on the nature of Catholicism, or even the canons of the Council of Nicaea. But it is a wicked shame that they seem unable to draw the right conclusion, namely that their small part of the Church is precisely that. Failure to recognize this and act on it will draw an inevitable, and unfavourable response from the rest of the Church.

To use the Bishop’s unfortunate, if timely metaphor; ECUSA is a very small fruit in a very large basket, but if it persists in mutating into some other kind of food, it should not be surprised if it is ejected from the basket altogether, and seeps ineluctably into a jelly mould of its own making.

Michael Heidt

Australia

Big Brother

It would seem that the producers of this year’s Australian Big Brother reality television show are desperate to have their investment returned with both sex and conflict in the house. Up to now modesty and good manners have foiled both of these desires.

Fearful of another well-natured show, Big Brother made sure that single contestants were the order of the day – to the extent that they quickly evicted those who had not revealed a new love in their life since the auditions were held. There were also a number of people chosen, who before entering the house openly confessed their desire to control people and cause disquiet.

As of day forty-two into the marathon, neither of the items on the wish-list have eventuated. Those desirous to be voyeuristic over carnal fondlings may get more delight from the sharing of the Peace in their parish church. Any real conflicts have been dealt with in that timeless Australian way, the spa and a can of beer.

Decapitation

One attempt to bring distrust and discord to the participants happened during a week’s task in which housemates had to make a ‘dummy dancing partner’ and learn the tango. During this, Big Brother secretly detailed one resident to thwart the game. In this she commenced to decapitate three of the dancing figures and throw the heads over the wall of the compound.

There was an initial conspiracy theory response (including the suggestion that the heads had been fed to the pigs kept on the house farm). However, rather than instilling paranoia throughout, it was suggested by housemate Kate that this was simply designed to break up the house for the amusement of the public, and that they needed to work together instead.

Perhaps in 2006 the producers, in their endless quest for sex and conflict, could do no better than to turn their all-seeing cameras onto the Anglican Church. How could they say no to both of these issues being presented as an indivisible package, which has managed to spread true fear and strife throughout the Communion.

As I write, and the housemates themselves prepare for yet another Sunday eviction, Bishop David Chislett has been farewelled from All Saint’s Brisbane, and has figuratively been decapitated, with his head thrown over to the Traditional Anglican Communion. Few people in the Anglican Church of Australia are without an opinion on his consecration. They are certainly encouraged to have a ready-made view through the various diocesan newspapers that nearly all see it as a divisive act.

Even some ‘traditionalist’ bishops have shared their thoughts openly. Ballarat described it as ‘illicit’ and an act that will ‘bring harm to faithful catholics.’ Wangaratta spoke of it as an ‘extreme and uncatholic action.’

Divide and rule

None of this disharmony is surprising. The Church has consistently marketed itself so that revisionism is presented as the new orthodoxy. The Catholic remnant has almost become the participant in an ecclesial Big Brother, waiting anxiously week by week for another priest, another layman and another doctrine to be evicted.

In the meantime our ‘producers’ fill our time with endless games, in which the ultimate goal is not Community Building, but rather Divide and Rule. Whatever one’s view of the Chislett consecration, an illicit act of schism or the harbinger of a secure Catholic future, the reality is that we cannot allow ourselves to be the pawns in someone else’s bigger game, which will inevitably lead us to a situation of mutually assured destruction.

A cursory look at the rules for those entering the Big Brother house shows a system in which everything is designed so that ‘Big Brother’ controls not only the information that the housemates receive and share amongst themselves, but more importantly the interpretation of information and rules.

A B C

It is the control of interpretation of which Catholics have to be most wary. For example, the ‘new orthodoxy’ being pushed is that to be an Anglican one has to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury as he is now. Therefore a person who was in communion with the Archbishop in 1991, and continues to hold a traditional view of ministry, is in effect no longer an Anglican in 2005, if they feel that state of communion is impaired. How does this affect the 14 of the 37 Primates who did not receive communion with the present Archbishop at the last International Primates Meeting?

The only person who wins television’s Big Brother is the one who keeps to the producer’s rules and is the last one standing. That cannot be an option for Catholics. A solitary winner cannot be described as a Community.

Bishop David Farrer of Wangaratta was right in his Synod Charge when he said that the Chislett situation could have been prevented had there been ‘greater charity and reflection upon Gospel values and indeed upon the behaviour of the earliest Church.’ Perhaps in the fallout from the events there will be some better realisation that Catholics need not to be catered for but rather to be allowed to thrive. Part of that will mean we cannot be forced to accept and live the rules and interpretations of those who have caused the real schisms.

Philip Murphy

Denmark

Pastor Grosbøll

As many readers may know from reports in the international press, the case of Pastor Thorkild Grosbøll, who openly admitted his disbelief in central tenets of the Apostolic Creed, has been moved to a preliminary solution. The Revd Grosbøll is now back in office as pastor for the congregation in Taarbaek parish, near Copenhagen. The Minister of Church Affairs, Bertel Haarder, decided to transfer the episcopal supervision of the pastor from the Diocese of Elsinore to the Diocese of Roskilde, where Bishop Jan Lindhardt will be responsible for further steps.

Pastor Grosbøll was called in for talks with the bishop. He reaffirmed his vow as a pastor and replied to the questions normally put to a candidate for baptism. After having been told that new provocations will not be tolerated, he returned to the parish and was received with festivity by citizens in the small town of Taarbaek, who have supported him in opposition to both the ecclesiastical and the civil authorities. Seemingly his concept of Christianity disturbs neither the parish council nor the congregation.

Bishops’ dilemma

The supervising bishop has stressed that further declarations from Pastor Grosbøll will be evaluated critically. As the pastor is eager to serve his parishioners, and is cautious in replying to searching questions from the press, he might avoid having to face the Pastors’ Court. In spite of strong demands for a trial, the authorities hesitate. Last time the Pastors’ Court dealt with a matter of faith the procedure lasted almost five years. Several theologians and some bishops have, therefore, proposed that the Pastors’ Court should be replaced by a tribunal to deal with the teaching of the church. Pastor Grosbøll’s deviations from the Evangelical Lutheran Confession will, however, not be easy to clarify because his interpretations are blurred and ambiguous. 

Thorkild Grosbøll has some sympathisers among theologians, who maintain that he has merely written and said what has been tolerated in the Danish church during the last century. An opinion poll among pastors, published in the daily Jyllandsposten, shows that 74% are dissatisfied with the transfer of supervision from the Bishop of Elsinore to the Bishop of Roskilde. One third of them want Pastor Grosbøll removed from office, while two thirds demand that he should be brought before the Pastors’ Court.

Church and state

The role played by the Ministry of Church Affairs in the Grosbøll case worries several bishops. Lise-Lotte Rebel, who is Bishop of Elsinore and was the first supervisor to deal with the problem, says to Christian Today, ‘People do not understand why we as bishops cannot dismiss a pastor when we find he is deviating from the confessional foundation. I do not have that possibility. I cannot even transfer a pastor.’

Bishop Holger Jepsen, of Lolland-Falster, argues that the Ministry’s decision puts the bishops’ supervision out of the running. ‘If a bishop reaches the conclusion that a pastor is preaching against the confessional foundation, then it should not be a task for the State to interfere.’ He would like to see it made crystal-clear that ecclesiastical supervision is a matter for bishops and not for the Ministry.

Bishop Karsten Nissen, Viborg, says that ‘if Thorkild Grosbøll can remain in the church, it will be difficult for me to supervise pastors, because then we will be in a situation where we have to deal with Christian atheism.’

Bishop Kjeld Holm, Aarhus, however, does not find that his possibilities for supervision are changed. ‘I supervise as I always have done. If in the pastors’ preaching there is something I consider to be wrong, I tell him or her and discuss the consequences in case the pastor in question will not listen.’

The Bishop of Ribe, Elisabeth Dons Christensen, comments, ‘As Thorkild Grosbøll apparently is restored to favour, then the Danish church, for the time being, has been made very spacious. The case is of such a fundamental nature that it ought to be followed to the very end, irrespective of the outcome.’

Queen’s preference

In a new book, Margrethe II, about the Queen of Denmark, the Queen is quoted for her own opinion on the relationship between church and state. The Queen fears that after a separation of the church from the state it will become ‘something special’ to have a faith. ‘I am not fond of the free congregations that are so fine and feel they are the genuine Christians,’ she says. ‘What about all of us? Where do we belong? There is one entrance (to the church), baptism, and that is enough. I am afraid that if you separate church and state then we will truly get a de-Christianization of the country,’ the Queen says.

From a Statement of the Council on International Relations of the Church of Denmark

England

CP contradiction

A press report that the Church of England’s bishops are proposing that gay clergy can ‘marry’ but not have sex has recently gone around the world. The story was said to be based on a draft statement the bishops are preparing in response to the fact that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA) is due to come into effect in early December. The Act provides that the Secretary of State may by order ‘amend, repeal or (as the case may be) revoke any Church legislation’ [s259(3)(c)] and it is understood that the Trade and Industry Secretary is currently consulting the Church of England about the order he proposes to make. Given that the CPA has been passed into law, what response should the Church of England be making?

So begins a full statement on the church’s response to civil partnerships from Anglican Mainstream. The text which follows, dissecting the deliberate contradictions within the Act and the problems this poses for the Church of England, covers much of the ground we have been dealing with in ND.

It is too long to reprint here, but their own summary puts the matter cogently and succinctly. We shall be returning to the problems ourselves in the months remaining before the Act comes into force. Meanwhile it is important to grasp that the Church of England as a whole faces genuine difficulties, some of its own making, irrespective of what response the House of Bishops or the wider Church make.

Whatever response we give, officially or unofficially, will be furiously criticized and condemned. It matters, therefore, that we know what we are saying and why, that we remain faithful to the teaching we have received.

The full statement can be found on Anglican Mainstream’s website <www.anglican-mainstream.net>

Anglican Mainstream has asked the Bishops of the Church of England not to allow its clergy to enter civil partnerships under the recently-enacted Civil Partnerships Act. Anglican Mainstream also urges the bishops to discourage lay members of the church from entering into such partnerships.

Because the provisions of the CPA are so clearly based on marriage law, these partnerships will be misunderstood as marriage. The Act is self-contradictory because it prohibits civil partnerships between close relatives, which only makes sense if ‘marriage’ is in view.

If the church were to decide to follow the state legislation with its inherent self-contradiction, the result will be press headlines such as ‘gay clergy to be allowed to marry.’ The church cannot blame the media and general public for coming to this obvious conclusion.

Anglican Mainstream calls on the Church of England ‘to maintain the Christian position derived from the Bible that marriage is a life-long union between a man and a woman, and that sexual intercourse belongs within marriage exclusively.’

The Church of England would do better to make specific provision in its own legislation to remedy the injustices to all people in its employ who are de facto next of kin, specifically siblings and near-relatives.

Anglican Mainstream calls upon orthodox Anglicans to urge their bishops not to pursue the path as recently reported of allowing clergy to enter into civil partnerships on condition they remain sexually abstinent. By going down that path and appearing to advocate sexless marriage for gays, the church would be presenting itself to the public mind as inconsistent and foolish.

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