Cathnews, in reposting Deacon Keith Fournier’s article from Catholic Online “Will Entire Episcopal Diocese Come into Full Communion with Rome?”, is a little inaccurate in optimistically re-entitling the piece “A moment in history for Anglicans and Catholics”. Deacon Keith himself gives an inaccurate impression with his opening comment:
2008 has been a year of potentially historic breakthroughs between Anglican Christians and the Chair of Peter.
There have been NO “breakthroughs” between the Anglican Communion as such and the See of Rome in 2008 – quite the opposite. What he is referring to is the increase in the number of those Christians currently in communion with the See of Canterbury who, either individually or corporately, are seeking to return to full communion with the Roman Pontiff. And that is good news indeed (as it is whenever any of our separated brethren and sistern are reunited with the One Sheepfold), but it is not necessary good Ecumenical news.
So what, I hear you ask? Ecumenism is just fiddling while Rome (metaphorically) burns, anyway, isn’t it?
Well, no, that is a bit unfair. Were the goals and aims of the Ecumenical Movement to be attained (something which, in my moments of Ecclesiastical Realpolitik, I have to admit is very unlikely to occur this side of eternity), then there would be only one Christian Church on earth.
It would be the Church which we confess in the Creed, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and it would have as its “primus inter pares” the Bishop of Rome, for the goal of the movement is the “full visible unity of all Christians”. Since any such unity would include that present united, universal, apostolic and quite visible Communion most of us call “The Catholic Church”, then this is just another way of saying that the goal of the ecumenical movement is that all Christians will once again be united in communion with Rome. And Constantinople, and Jerusalem, and Canterbury, and Moscow etc. etc.
I defy any reader of this blog to say that that would not be a very good thing.
So, while the news that an entire diocese, Fort Worth (Texas) formerly of the Episcopal Church, has requested admission into full communion with the Holy See is good, it doesn’t go anywhere to achieving the plenary reconciliation of Anglican Christians such with the Catholic Church.
Apart from any other difficulties (and a principal difficulty would be the question of whether Bishop Iker would continue to be the bishop of such a reunited “diocese” – especially if he married? Does anyone know?), the reality is that the Episcopal Church would simply appoint a new bishop to the diocese of Fort Worth, and the Episcopal Church would be no closer full communion with Rome than it was when it started.
In fact, it would be more clearly “separated” than it currently is, as one would assume that the resultant Episcopal diocese, drained of all its “catholic” members and clergy, would be much more of the flavour that currently pervades the American branch of Anglicanism.
In the end, as you would not be surprised to hear, I believe that reunion with Rome will continue to happen on an “ad hoc” basis – an individual or family here, a parish or diocese there – but that overall, Christian disunity will persist.
So, I am all in favour when anyone seeks communion with the Catholic Church. Just don’t think that is in anyway a “breakthrough” for unity between Catholics and Anglicans.
BTW: This is not the first time an entire diocese has sought communion with Rome. Apart from the TAC’s own approach, history is replete with examples of Eastern Churches making such decisions. The latest one that springs to mind is the case of an entire diocese of the Assyrian Church of the East in California.