The law of unintended consequencesPosted by PH
The Washington Post’s George Will has an op-ed today entitled “Rome’s call: ‘Come on over‘”. In it he warns us with far more subtle terms than he usually. I should take back the “us” since I’m not a Roman Catholic. But I am an Episcopalian and the topic of the op-ed is about Rome’s recent outreach to disaffected Anglicans.
Rome is saying to individuals, and perhaps to entire parishes and even dioceses: “Come on over.” It is trolling with rules, recently written, that will enable Anglicans-become-Catholics to retain some of their liturgy. The church will accept some already married priests, and perhaps married seminarians, but not bishops.
Certainly, the Anglicans crossing the Tiber are a more conservative bunch than their sisters and brothers left behind in the pews. This influx of more conservative minded folks may continue to make the Catholic church more conservative. But it may have the unintended consequence of bringing more independent thinking into the Church than Benedict XVI would want. One American Catholic priest and scholar, Thomas Reese, S.J., thinks this may happen:
Some Catholics, [Reese] notes, will experience the fact, and many more will contemplate the idea, of married priests administering the sacraments. This, Reese thinks, may remind Catholics that for its first thousand or so years, the church had married priests and bishops. A celibate priesthood, he says, is a product of church law, which can be changed.
Change? In church law? Hmm. Be careful for what you wish for. As Will writes:
But with the Latin Mass restored and Anglicans being courted with liturgical concessions, will the Catholic Church have three liturgies? Who are the latitudinarians now?
Latitudinarians formed a 17th-18th century school of thought that supported key principles of Christian theology but were very tolerant of different religious practices and views.
I think the American Roman Catholic church ought to be more latitudinarian. I’ve argued for a decade now that what America needs is an American Roman Catholic church. Just as we have a distinctively American Anglican church, light years removed from the “mother” church in terms of its views on the gender and sexual orientation of its clergy, for instance. I think it American Catholics also ought to form their own distinctive expression of Catholicism.
Most US Catholics I’ve mentioned this to have recoiled. But they recoil, I think, not so much from genuine disagreement as from sheer incomprehension. It just doesn’t “compute” to have an American Roman Catholic church. It makes no sense, as it were. While Episcopalians are (or were) in fundamental union with the Anglican See, we still did our own thing. As far as I know, we had female priests long before the rest of the Anglican Communion. We were in communion, but independent.
Now what part of “independent” ought to flummox an American?
Yes, there is an awful rift now between the Episcopal church and the Anglican communion. Maybe it will never be repaired. But I don’t mourn this. It’s unfortunate, yes. It’s painful, yes. But give me a break! Hello?! We’re “protest”-ants. We live to split up and divide over theological and (not so theological) issues. We’d rather switch than fight to stay (to borrow and convolute an old advertising slogan). Better to remain true to one’s perspectives as to what’s right than to “go along to get along”.
So the recent Anglican converts to Catholicism just may, just may, be poised to “think differently” once in Rome, and infect others with this dreaded (just kidding, kind of) Protestant tendency to fuss and sputter and um…”protest”.
And here is where George Will and I would probably agree. That stubborn, protesting streak the newly received former Anglican have isn’t likely to go away. There are differences, some of the deep, between even “old school”, ultra-conservative, Anglo-Catholics and the plain ol’, ordinary conservative Roman Catholics inhabiting the Vatican. Sure, those Anglicans are a lot closer to Rome than they are to Canterbury or San Francisco, but Will’s warning is worth heeding:
Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to Britain, where the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be amused by Vatican poaching, may be awkward, but the most disconcerting consequences of what the Vatican began in 2009 might eventually be felt by conservative keepers of Catholic tradition. Popes have mighty powers, but the law of unintended consequences contains no exemptions for the merely infallible.