How can Brazil help?

Bishop Andrew Burnham asks us to consider what for Anglicans may seem an unusual model, that of a personal apostolic administration, and what it might mean for the life and practice of Anglo-Catholics in the future

What might a scheme for schismatics in Brazil have to do with an arrangement for Anglicans in Britain? The Personal Apostolic Administration of St John Mary Vianney was inaugurated in 2002 in the Brazilian diocese of Campos as an initiative of the then Pope, John Paul II, to provide a home for Roman Catholic traditionalists. These traditionalists had set themselves apart by their insistence on using the so-called Tridentine Mass, replaced after the Vatican Council by the Novus Ordo, the Mass of Paul VI. There are Anglican traditionalists also who are concerned primarily for the preservation of the Prayer Book, or even the pre-1962 'Western Rite', but mostly we are a modern lot, more concerned about the breakdown in the Sacrament of Holy Order. What is intriguing some commentators is whether the kind of provision made for Roman Catholics on mainly liturgical grounds might be adapted to make provision for Anglicans whose problems are mainly ecclesiological.

It is tempting to leave all this to the canon lawyers, of either tradition, and we should rely on them to deal with the jot and tittle of it all. In the meantime, gen-eralists can make a certain amount of headway: here I must say that I am writing in a personal capacity and the views here are mine and not necessarily those of my colleagues. It has to be admitted immediately that the category 'personal apostolic administration is not an Anglican one. Like many other ecclesiological devices - not least our 'provincial episcopal visitors' ('flying bishops') - it has been invented to minister to a need arising from the complexities of modern church life.

History is scattered with these devices: amongst them we might number 'archbishop', 'commissary', 'royal peculiar' and 'the Diocese of Gibraltar-in-Europe', all of which have been invented at one time or another to make specific provision. We have parishes with more than one parish church, dioceses with more than one cathedral and provinces with overlapping jurisdiction. The Roman Catholic 'personal apostolic administration, like 'personal prelature', is designed for similar contingencies, as is the custom of giving assistant bishops the names of now-defunct dioceses in partibus infidelibus.

It is a sign of a growing organism (as also of a moribund one) that new developments have to be acknowledged and provided for. The trick is to spot what is growing and what is moribund - new shoots or cankers? - and take appropriate action.

The liturgical quarrel in the Roman Catholic Church is desperately serious. Progressives want the Tridentine Rite to die out and the Novus Ordo, the post-Vatican II Mass, to be adapted further to different host cultures. Conservatives want at least a 'reform of the reform', if not a complete restoration of the Tridentine Rite. Both parties claim the high ground as regards quality of worship, mission and priestly vocations. Rome is exercising centripetal force by damage limitation. Though this might be out of date by the time you read it, the Pope is pleasing progressives by apparently moving slowly on the question of freeing up use of the Tridentine Rite. He is pleasing conservatives (who, because of his past writings as a cardinal, number him as a champion) by putting constraints on translation and enculturation. Thus, the new English version of the Mass is a more literal translation of the Latin and more hieratic in style and tone. (The battle over English is important, English being in many ways the new vulgar tongue, the new Latin of the civilized world.) Moderates also look for a 'reform of the reform': if different ceremonial styles were permitted and the calendars and lectionaries reconciled and renewed, the only real difference between Old and New Mass would be the largely private prayers of the priest, the flowery Gallicanisms of the Old replaced by the bald Romanisms of the New.

An all-too-brief consideration of that liturgical quarrel helps to give perspective to our own Anglican ecclesiological quarrel. Our progressives want nothing less than full equal opportunities in ordained ministry: men and women, old and young, gay and straight, able and not so able. Only then will the ordained ministry live up to Galatians 3.28. Only then will worship, mission and priestly vocations recover verve and panache. Conservatives believe that it is precisely the loss of what was previously held in common - Bible, creeds, sacraments and ministry - that has deflated the Church, enervated its worship, turned us in on ourselves and given us increasingly aged congregations and increasingly non-stipendiary, second-career or retirement vocations.

Anglicanism has little or no mechanism for exercising centripetal force, but we too have our moderates. Moderates find the analysis by progressives and conservatives naive and unrealistic: post-modern cultural fragmentation, whether real or not, is thought to be real enough to destroy any confidence in particular recipes for recovery. Pluralism and faithfulness is about the best we can manage: to paraphrase a recent fine sermon by the incoming Dean of Worcester, we cannot gather the fragments but we can battle against further fragmentation.

So has 'the Personal Apostolic Administration of St John Mary Vianney' got anything to offer us? It has one particularly useful feature. Whereas a 'personal prelature' (of which there is but one, Opus Dei, which was given that status in 1982) maintains a full ecclesial relationship with local diocesan bishops, a 'personal apostolic administration is effectively a diocese of itself, with its own bishop, priests, deacons and seminaries. Anyone, ordained or lay, can become incorporated into membership of the apostolic administration; indeed, the 'personal' bit of the title means that the relationship is with a particular bishop and not with an area or region. (Broadly, you don't have to live in Campos to belong to the Personal Apostolic Administration of St John Mary Vianney). Here then is a society, within the Catholic Church, which is ecclesially and ecclesiologically self-contained, but culturally and doctrinally Roman Catholic.

Translating this into Anglican coinage, we might want to refer to a 'society'. Methodism began life as a society: eighteenth-century Methodists were nicknamed 'the Holy Club'. The Methodist Church in Britain could yet be reconciled with Anglicans as a society with its own customs, ethos, history and tradition. Something no less self-contained might well be the Manchester Group's recommendation for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. Such self-containment would answer the problems of jurisdiction and enable us to remain within the Anglican family, not as a Continuing Church, which has broken away, but as an association within a Church which is inevitably going to be loose-knit. The description 'Common Worship' in parts of the Church of England - and not just Anglo-Catholic parts - is a form of Newspeak. And there is a greater opportunity too. Those of us who are written off as a negative band, opponents of the ordination of women, are, in the end, opposed only to disorder and disintegration, the forces of chaos, the allies of sin and death. If we are conservatives, we are radical conservatives. We remember the vocation of Anglicanism to be a bridge church, and we ourselves are seeking to be and proving to be a bridge ecclesiola - (church-within-a-church). We remain loyal to the vision of ARCIC, to the vision of the papal visit to this country a quarter of a century ago and to the prospect in those heady days of restoration of communio in sacris with the Holy See. Seen too often by Anglicans and Roman Catholics as a common problem, we traditionalist Anglo-Catholics could yet be discovered as a common treasure. Relating to a particular bishop in, say, 'the Society of St Thomas Becket' (arguably our own St John Vianney) or perhaps, St Gregory the Great, that bishop could be one chosen for his ability to steer us along our ecumenical journey, not from one Church to another but within the rich diversity of the Body of Christ, the company of the baptized.

What would such a society, such an association, such a personal apostolic administration, bring to the fullness of the Catholic Church? Here it may help to look from the perspective of the 2006 International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) Agreed Statement. A many-layered answer would include a particular emphasis on the parish eucharistic congregation as a cohesive and supportive community, neither strangers arriving late and leaving early as they fulfil their obligation (a problem in some Roman Catholic parishes) nor a social club meeting resignedly over worship and enthusiastically over coffee, a problem in some Anglican parishes. Another answer would be a habit of mind towards parish and neighbourhood, with a sense of everyone belonging, whether they know it or not. A third would be a concern for the solemn celebration of the parish Mass, still the main focus of Anglo-Catholic worship. To that would be added a heritage of hymnody, liturgy, music, spirituality and theology, Caroline and Victorian, as well as from the twentieth century, whilst an Anglo-Catholic ecclesiology was the a priori assumption of Anglican self-understanding. Anglo-Catholics know about celibacy, but they also bring to the Western Rite the experience of a married priesthood, known also in the Christian East.

Finally, it would be fair to ask whether Anglo-Catholics are truly the radical conservatives they would claim to be. The heady rhetoric of the free province sometimes suggests an evangelical willingness to lay down everything for the Kingdom. In practice, it would not be safe to assume that clergy would be parted easily from handsome houses, predictable pensions and safe stipends.

Some priests still cling anxiously to the freehold and see the move to common tenure as a threat to be warded off. There is little realization that, compared with most of their parishioners, even priests-in-charge enjoy an enviable job security. The old joke about being in communion with the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board suggests that security, for many, remains paramount. It follows that any corporate provision for a Brazil-type solution, must be based on realism and not romanticism.

One piece of realism is that a pope in every parish - and even a priest in every parish - will not be possible. The Church of England has been Presbyterian in culture, arguably since the Middle Ages. There is a profound sense that, despite the theory, we still have to learn fully to take episcopacy into our system, especially as regards flexible deployment and uniformity of faith and practice.

We Anglo-Catholics are not strangers to uniformity: the English Missal may continue to sell well, but its appearances on the altar are rare. Most liturgies are recognizably and skilfully 'modern Catholic' and all a visiting bishop has to ascertain is whether the Lord's Prayer is said or sung, Holy Communion standing or kneeling. The hand-candle is seldom used, the seventh frequently. Facing east, where it happens, is usually a principled, and indeed architecturally informed choice and the use of traditional language is uncommon. The breviary is used almost universally but the Calendar remains a sport to engage in.

Though the flying bishop is pastor and friend, it would be quite a leap for him to become the Ordinary, let alone an Ordinary who decided how things should be. Painful pastoral reorganization and issues of deployment would have to be tackled; paying a priest a full stipend to distribute fifty or sixty Communions a Sunday will become less and less viable, even in areas of deprivation. Too many parishes still lack good and realistic strategies for evangelization and formation. Too many have still to discover the invaluable - and increasingly irreplaceable - contribution of lay and non-stipendiary ministers.

Essential for any radical plan, is that what is done is done in obedience to the call of the Lord for his Church to be one as he and the Father are one. Anglicanism at this time faces fragmentation. We Anglo-Catholics are not a fragment of Anglicanism but part of the fragment of Catholic faith and practice which broke off when a good half of the vase itself was further broken five hundred years ago. In looking for the glue and urgently seeking to be glued back on, we can but look in faith to the master potter himself.

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