More Catholics staying out of pews
Church attendance is dropping in Poland for the first time in decades, according to newly released data, following a sharp fall in priestly and monastic vocations in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. ‘Looking back over 30 years’ research, we must clearly confirm that fewer people are now going to church,’ said Revd Wojciech Sadlon, a priest from Poland’s Roman Catholic Pallotine order.
But this isn’t a drastic fall – compared to other countries of Europe, we can still be proud and consider ourselves the mainstay of Christianity.’ The data, collected in the last three months of 2009, showed a slight recovery in Mass attendance in 2009 to 41.5% of the population of 38 million, compared to 40.4% in 2008. However, they also confirmed a ‘slow but steady fall’ in all 44 Roman Catholic dioceses over the past decade, running as high as 9.2% in some parts of the country.
The priest was speaking after presenting the figures during a press conference at the Polish Bishops’ Conference secretariat. He told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency that sociologists of religion had identified numerous causes for the decline in church attendance, including cultural and social change, and problems in the church’s pastoral work. He noted that Poland’s practising faithful remain largely rooted in country communities rather than in large towns and cities, but that ‘pessimistic predictions’ about a sudden drop in participation had not so far been borne out.
The report followed growing concern over an accompanying decline in priestly vocations in Poland, with 687 Poles beginning first-year seminary training at the end of 2009, 5% fewer than in 2008. The number of women wishing to become Catholic nuns has also plummeted, with around 300 beginning pre-novitiate studies in 2009, compared to 723 a decade ago, while 28 convents closed during the year. The director of the Polish church’s Statistics Institute, Witold Zdaniewicz, said that about 45% of Poles had attended church regularly in 1991–2007 and he believes the current downward trend will continue. ‘But religiousness is a process and it’s always hard to discern unambiguous tendencies. At certain periods, we can speak of a fall or an increase. But these are always just hypotheses, and we have to wait to see whether time confirms them.’
However, a Polish member of the Vatican’s Papal Council for Culture, Krzystof Zanussi, said the decline was a consequence of post-communist Westernization and suggested the church needs new ways of responding to popular religious and pastoral needs. ‘We’ve been used to having strong spiritual leaders, and we don’t seem to have maintained the high standards we set ourselves when times were hard,’ Zanussi, a film director, said in an interview. ‘Religious decline doesn’t have to be the inevitable price of freedom and modernization – people are still strongly Christian in their thinking here. But we seem to have become more frivolous as we’ve become wealthier and more secure.’ Priestly vocations doubled in Poland after the 1978 election of the Polish pope, John Paul II, peaking in 1985–7, and currently account for a fifth of the Roman Catholic church’s total in Europe, where many Catholic dioceses depend on Polish priests to help make up for local pastoral shortages.
Ecumenical News International
Jefferts Schori responds to sanctions
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has described the decision by Lambeth Palace to remove Episcopalians serving on international ecumenical dialogues as ‘unfortunate...it misrepresents who the Anglican Communion is.’
Jefferts Schori’s comments were made during a press conference at the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod 2010 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Before the sanctions were imposed on The Episcopal Church, as a consequence for having consecrated a lesbian bishop, Jefferts Schori said she had written a letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams expressing her concern. ‘I don’t think it helps dialogue to remove some people from the conversation,’ she said shortly after addressing General Synod. ‘We have a variety of opinions on these issues of human sexuality across the communion... For the archbishop of Canterbury to say to the Methodists or the Lutheran [World] Federation that we only have one position is inaccurate. We have a variety of understandings and no, we don’t have consensus on hot button issues at the moment.’
On 7 June, the Revd Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, informed The Episcopal Church representatives serving on Anglican dialogues with the Lutheran, Methodist, Old Catholic and Orthodox churches that their memberships to these bodies had been discontinued. One Episcopalian serving on the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, was demoted to the status of consultant, said Jefferts Schori.
Earlier, Williams proposed in a Pentecost letter issued on 28 May that representatives currently serving on ecumenical dialogues should resign if they come from a province that has not complied with moratoria on same-sex blessings, cross-border interventions, and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate. Williams singled out the 15 May consecration of the Los Angeles Suffragan Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool, who is The Episcopal Church’s second openly gay and partnered bishop.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has been asked whether ‘General Synod or House of Bishops has formally adopted policies that breach the second moratorium in the Windsor Report, authorizing public rites of same-sex blessing.’ Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, has been asked for ‘clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces.’
It’s like adultery
Jefferts Schori said Williams’ letter ‘really jumped’ the process around the proposed Anglican Covenant, because it ‘imposed a number of the sanctions that were envisaged in the fourth section.’ The covenant is being viewed as way of addressing tensions in the communion over the issue of human sexuality.
Asked whether Williams has adequately addressed the issue of cross-border interventions, Jefferts Schori said, ‘I don’t think he understands how difficult and how painful and destructive it’s been both in the church in Canada and for us in the US.. .when bishops come from overseas and say, ‘Well, we’ll take care of you, you don’t have to pay attention to your bishop.’ Such action ‘destroys pastoral relationships,’ noted Jefferts Schori. ‘It’s like an affair in a marriage,’ she said. ‘It destroys trust.’ She added that it is ‘a very ancient teaching of the church that bishops are supposed to stay home and tend to the flock to which he was originally assigned.’
Marites N. Sison is staff writer
of the Anglican Journal
Canadian primate supports TEC in dispute
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has allied himself with the US-based Episcopal Church in a dispute with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Hiltz repeated some of the objections made by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to the Pentecost Letter that Williams sent to the Anglican Communion on 28 May.
Williams’ four-page missive concerned the ordination of openly gay priests as bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. In 2004, a majority of the Communion’s Primates decreed that a moratorium was to be placed on these acts, along with cross-border Anglican interventions.
In his letter, Williams said that those Anglican churches which breach the moratoria ‘formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops... should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the communion is formally engaged. ‘This [sanction],’ he continued, ‘is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as the acceptable limits of diversity in its practice.’
What prompted this response was the consecration of Los Angeles Suffragan Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool, the second openly gay, partnered bishop in The Episcopal Church. In a statement on 2 June, Jefferts Schori noted that Williams’ proposed sanctions ‘do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviours in private.’ She was referring to a common practice in which homosexual unions are informally blessed in provinces that have not officially sanctioned such blessings.
In his address to General Synod, Hiltz said, ‘I also wonder when I see the word ‘formally’ italicized in the archbishop’s letter. It leaves me wondering about places where the moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions is in fact ignored. The blessings happen but not ‘formally.’
Hiltz added that he thought the proposed sanction would not apply to the Anglican Church of Canada because to date, neither its General Synod nor its House of Bishops have authorized same-sex blessings on a national level. He did, however, have concerns about the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.
Neale Adams is contributing editor for the Anglican Journal
Bishops hail sexuality without boundaries
Decrying as ‘missionaries of hate’ US Christians who preach in Africa against homosexual practice, a former bishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda spoke on 8 June at a liberal think-tank in Washington, D C.
Christopher Senyonjo was hosted by Bishop Gene Robinson, who has served as Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) since March. The two spoke about anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda, which they blamed upon US evangelicals. They also called for a broader effort to decriminalize homosexual practices in Africa. Senyonjo’s appearance at CAP was part of a six-week speaking tour of the US, sponsored by Integrity USA, an unofficial homosexual caucus in the Episcopal Church.
Robinson introduced Senyonjo as ‘one of my heroes, one of the people I look to.’ Senyonjo returned the compliment, affirming that the Holy Spirit was behind greater acceptance of homosexuality in the Church. ‘When you were consecrated, I celebrated,’ Senyonjo said of Robinson. ‘Thank God for you.’
Bishop of the Ugandan diocese of West Buganda until his retirement in 1998, Senyonjo began a pro-homosexuality ministry in the East African country soon after and is now chaplain to Integrity Uganda, a chapter of Integrity USA. Senyonjo quickly fell out of favour with the doctrinally traditional nine-million-member Ugandan church and was inhibited from ministry in 2001. In January 2007 Senyonjo was deposed as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Uganda for violating his inhibition and presiding at the consecration of a priest. Senyonjo is now connected to a denomination known as the Charismatic Church of Uganda, although CAP identified him as an Anglican bishop.
Senyonjo spoke about legislation recently considered by the Ugandan parliament that would increase criminal penalties for homosexuality-related conduct, including the death penalty for those who knowingly transmit to a minor the virus that causes AIDS. ‘The lines between paedophilia and homosexuality have been painfully blurred,’ said Robinson, claiming that anti-paedophile fears had unfairly tarred homosexuals. ‘People should not mix prejudice and ignorance,’ Senyonjo added.
Senyonjo protested against what he described as the practice of ‘taking bits of Scripture’ that fit an argument. The former Anglican bishop criticized the view that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their practice of homosexuality. This view was what led US religious conservatives to ‘export’ their culture wars to Africa, Senyonjo alleged. ‘You [US Christians] are doing moreharmthangood,’ Senyonjo charged. He described as ‘missionaries of hate’ those American religious conservatives who taught that homosexual acts were against God’s law.
The Anglican Babel
Althoughhistorians will point to Gene Robinson’s consecration as a bishop in 2003 as the catalyst for the reconfiguration of global Anglicanism, Pentecost 2010 may turn out to have been a watershed of sorts too. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Letter, ‘Renewal in the Spirit’, and the responses to it, particular that of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church, have ushered in a new era not only of frank disagreement but of practical disengagement.
The Australian Church has not been central in these discussions. We have our own microcosm of Anglican diversity, which often makes us hesitant to wade into Anglican Communion wars, lest we further destabilize our own delicate or illusory balance. Our divisions locally are arguably as deep as those in TEC a few years ago, but we Australian Anglicans generally believe in the Church. And in case or where we do not, the Australian Anglican Church is a fairly loose confederation of autonomous dioceses (which allows our spectacular diversity) and unlike our TEC sisters and brothers we do not have a strong sense of ‘national’ Church as an important ecclesiological category.
Archbishop Rowan is also held in real affection here, even in some of the more evangelical corners of the Church. Australian Anglicans have not wanted to weaken his position, and we – even those who disagree with him – still look to him for theological leadership. After these events, however, I suspect there will be an increasing number here who look to Bishop Katharine and others for that leadership, as well or instead. I do hope it will be ‘as well’, myself; I think Archbishop Rowan is sometimes better at being wrong than Bishop Katharine is at being right.
Bishop Katharine is right, I believe, in her more expansive articulation of the Spirit’s work as ongoing and dynamic. She is also right to reject centralization as alien to our Anglican heritage and to the roots of our more modern attempts to create a Communion.
However, Bishop Katharine’s language of colonialism and control in her pastoral letter responding to Archbishop Rowan will be unconvincing to many outside the TEC choir being preached to.
Appeal to the specifics of the (impressive) Baptismal Covenant of TEC as a basis for distinctive action does not cut much ice here either (granted that we were not the audience); we Australian Anglicans want to talk about the demands of our common baptism, rooted in Christ for 2000 years, and resort to what characterizes TEC in the last 30 is not reassuring.
This is where our admiration for TEC’s courage and leadership pauses, recognizing an apparent self-sufficiency which we refuse to attribute to ourselves. This is both
what we admire most and what we find frustrating in TEC. This is where we are not sure whether Bishop Katharine’s being right, or similar forms of being right, will be enough.
Bishop Katharine is still right here, however, and Archbishop Rowan wrong. He is wrong in a tragic way – seeking, doubtless at great personal cost, a unity in the terms that existing Anglican Communion structures assume or require, but which in fact has now escaped us. Archbishop Rowan is wrong in identifying the TEC ‘Communion Partners’ or others ‘who disagree strongly with recent decisions’ as those who want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments. I believe the vast majority of the members of TEC, including its leaders, do want to be aligned with the Communion’s general commitments and are, with well-known exceptions. I have no more desire than the Archbishop of Canterbury to brush past the difficulties those exceptions present; but when did attitudes to homosexuality, rather than to the Creeds or the Sacraments, come to define the ‘Communion’s general commitments’?
This is an ecclesiological as well as a theological mistake, in that it characterizes the Communion not by its vast common depth of faith and hope, framed in specific and diverse history, but by the conversations of the thin layer that constitutes the ‘instruments of unity’, whose success has of late been desultory, and future significance increasingly uncertain.
From this southern vantage point, I cannot hear the events of Pentecost 2010 either as a new centralizing willto-power or as a rallying-call to liberal or progressive indignation. Rather, in a perverse reversal of the original Pentecost, we see ourselves further reduced to Babel, scattered abroad and unable or unwilling to understand one another’s speech.
If the Anglican Communion’s central instruments are bound by circumstance to provide us with less than they were intended to, Australian Anglicans will not abandon them; but we will not abandon sisters and brothers in TEC or elsewhere either, as we all begin the long slow work of finding common language by other means, in the Spirit’s power.
Andrew McGowan is Warden of Trinity College, University of Melbourne ND
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