A Bridge Too Far Across the Tiber: Pope Benedict XVI’s Anglican Move May Backfire

Almost all media coverage and many blogs — we might call this the public discourse — has focused on the most visible issues: issues that are more social than theological, more political than fundamental.

Rowan Williams on an essay “Theological Integrity, ” defined integrity as it applied to discourse as to “whether such a discourse is really talking about what it says it is talking about.” But discourse that avoids the genuine issues lacks such integrity. It invalidates the value of any response.

In effect, we are in the short term reacting to irritants and not their underlying cause. Consider this from the New York Times:

In an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en masse, the Vatican said Tuesday that it would make it easier for Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions.

Anglicans would be able "to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony," Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here.

It was unclear why the Vatican made the announcement now. But it seemed a rare opportunity, audaciously executed, to capitalize on deep divisions within the Anglican Church to attract new members at a time when the Catholic Church has been trying to reinvigorate itself in Europe.
The issue has long been close to the heart of Pope Benedict XVI, who for years has worked to build ties to those Anglicans who, like conservative Catholics, spurn the idea of female and gay priests.

…In the United States, traditionalist leaders said they would be less inclined than their British counterparts to join the Catholic Church, because they have already broken away from the Episcopal Church and formed their own conservative Anglican structures (though some do allow women to be priests).

Walk across the bridge over the Tiber, the pope seems to be saying. We will let you maintain the nature of your liturgy, your priests, your hymns and all of your conservative views (which the pope shares) about gay and women bishops.

Don’t bring along your theology, your salvation by grace, your intellectual freedom to question infallibility. You won’t need those here. As soon as you are across, and we have blown up the bridge . . .

What may happen, and liberal Catholics will notice this, the real issues will be magnified. The public discourse will gain integrity.

Cross posted from http://www.one-episcopalian-on-faith.com/

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