An Unfortunate Situation in Benedigo

The news is that Bishop Joe Grech of Sandhurst has reconsidered his original offer to the local Anglicans of the use of St Kilian’s for their upcoming ordinations while their own Cathedral is unsafe for use.

I think all readers will agree that it is an unfortunate situtation, especially as the offer had already been made and had to be withdrawn. Nevertheless we will also agree that it was the right decision to make. To have gone ahead with the planned ceremony would simply have caused even more hurt and confusion.

That being said, I would like to point out that Bishop Grech – in originally making the offer of the use of a Catholic church building to the Anglicans in their time of need – was simply acting in accordance with the protocols of the DIRECTORY FOR THE APPLICATION OF PRINCIPLES AND NORMS ON ECUMENISM, which states:

137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services. Under similar circumstances, permission may be given to them for interment or for the celebration of services at Catholic cemeteries.

He was also acting in accord with an ecumenical protocol to which the Catholic Church in Australia is a signatory, namely, the National Council of Churches in Australia agreement “Australian Churches Covenanting Together”. This “Covenant” contains a number of clauses, and the member churches of the NCCA (which includes, through the Bishops Conference, all dioceses of the Catholic Church in Australia) had the option of signing up to those clauses to which they could assent.

The clause in question is “Dimension Two” of “Part B” which reads:

b. Shared Use of Physical Resources
We AGREE together to support initiatives for sharing physical resources, such as buildings, and to encourage consultation between the appropriate governing bodies of our churches before new major developments are undertaken

This clause has been agreed to by the following:

Anglican Church of Australia
Assyrian Church of the East
Churches of Christ in Australia
Congregational Federation of Australia
Coptic Orthodox Church
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Lutheran Church of Australia
Religious Society of Friends
Roman Catholic Church in Australia
The Salvation Army
Uniting Church in Australia

There is certainly precedent in other parts of Australia, where non-Catholic Christian communities have used Catholic churches for worship with the permission of the local bishop when they have not had a building of their own to use.

What are the provisos? None are spelled out either in the Covenant or in the Ecumenical Directory, except that the latter says:

140. Before making plans for a shared building [or by extension, I guess, sharing a building], the authorities of the communities concerned should first reach agreement as to how their various disciplines will be observed, particularly in regard to the sacraments [my emphasis].

The fact that the sacraments are singled out for mention is significant. One could not imagine there being any problem with another community such as the Anglicans using our church buildings for baptism or marriages (or funeralsfor that matter), because we recognise the validity of these sacraments in the Anglican Church. Problems would arise however with those protestant sacraments whose validity we do not recognise: namely confirmations or ordinations, and perhaps even the Eucharist.

I guess the proviso therefore is that nothing take place in the Catholic building which could reasonably be supposed to give scandal to the Catholic faithful. And, in the current climate, an ordination ceremony involving women held in a Catholic church would definitely cause a great deal of misunderstanding.

I think that St Paul’s advice about eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor 8 ) would have to come in to play here.

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17 Responses to An Unfortunate Situation in Benedigo

  1. Joshua says:

    I’ve heard it said, and I don’t wish to be rude, that Bp Grech is not the greatest intellectual, nor the best administrator, though a well-meaning, prayerful man, and I suspect that this loan of church facilities to the Anglicans was made by some diocesan flunkey without realizing how scandalous it would appear, so that when it became obvious how bad this all looked, a rather embarrassing reconsideration was in order.

  2. Kiran says:

    Umm… Sorry, but that won’t do. Bp. Grech reportedly consulted the nuncio, thought about it, and made the announcement that though “in a certain sense, it is not in our tradition” the Anglicans can use our facilities to ordain women.

    I think though that the problem was not validity, but with the principle concerned in attempting to ordain women.

  3. Kiran says:

    Or perhaps I should say, far more seriously.

  4. Joshua says:

    Surely, too, there are definite Catholic guidelines that would say “Pretending to ordain a woman would be scandalous, and Catholic buildings cannot be granted to non-Catholics for such a purpose” – for this is about “simulating a sacrament”, and is particularly offensive since the Church has only recently reaffirmed that women cannot be ordained, thus repeating what the Church has always taught.

  5. Joshua says:

    I suspect that in this age of instant worldwide information, this story reached the ears of Them Higher Up via sources other than the Nuncio, and it was made plain to Bp Grech that “we are not amused”.

    The Vatican had a rude wake-up call with the debacle of Bp Williamson – out of charity his excommunication was lifted, only for it to appear that no one had thought how terrible it would look for someone with such kooky reprehensible views on the Jewish Holocuast to be “rehabilitated”, even though his original excommunication was a completely separate issue. Since then, I suspect the Vatican has decided to be much more concerned with causing scandal…

  6. Joshua says:

    That should be: “Ve are not amused.”

    Grech: “I know nothing, nothing! Ja wohl, Herr Papst!”

  7. Joshua says:

    Also, how much scandal would this debacle have potentially caused to the Anglican groups now on the edge of Tiber’s flood?

    They have abandoned the painted Jezebel of the C. of E. precisely because of her priestesses…

  8. Peregrinus says:

    Although everybody involved seems to be treading on eggshells, I think it’s pretty clear that the issue here was the involvement of women.

    The problem is not “simulating a sacrament”; the Catholic position is that every Anglican ordination and every Anglican eucharist is presumptively invalid; they are going through the motions, but there is no sacrament. Yet that consideration did not prevent Pope Benedict from inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury to celebrate an Anglican eucharist at the papal altar in the Basicila of Sta. Sabina in Rome, so I don’t see that it would prevent an Anglican ordination in a Catholic church in Bendigo. I’m pretty sure that it’s the additional sensitivities arising from the involvement of women that caused this decision to be reversed.

    It’s worth pointing out that the women concerned were to be ordained to the Anglican diaconate, not the priesthood. While the Catholic church doesn’t ordain women to the diaconate, I don’t think it has taught authoritatively (as it has in the case of the presbyterate) that it lacks the authority to do so. And deacons, of course, do not administer any sacrament which a lay man (or woman) could not administer, so I don’t think there is anything repugnant to Catholic teaching the ministry conducted by an Anglican woman deacon. No doubt thoughts such as these influenced the original invitation.

    Whatever one’s views on the question of whether the ordination of women to the Anglican diaconate should be celebrated in a Catholic church, I think everyone would agree that the worst possible course is to have the invitation extended, and then withdrawn. I don’t know who is to blame for this, and I doubt that it is profitable for us to speculate. Everyone involved should have a long hard look at how they handled the matter, and what they can learn from it. The one person over whose behaviour there is no question mark appears to be the Anglican bishop, who from the reports is conducting himself with grace and dignity in a very embarrassing situation.

  9. Susan Peterson says:

    I believe you are mistaken to think that marriages could not be a problem. At least in this country (US) a large number of Episcopal (ie what you call Anglican) churches now bless the “marriages” of two men or two women. Obviously this cannot happen in a Catholic church.
    Susan Peterson

  10. Susan Peterson says:

    However, as far as the invalidity of Anglican orders in general is concerned, this really does not mean that “nothing happens” and that they “are just going through the motions.” If you read the Decree on Ecumenism it says that….well, let me look it up and quote it.

    Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

    The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

    It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.”

    If the liturgical actions of separated churches and ecclesial communities “give access to the community of salvation” this is the same as saying that they are a means of grace. Baptism is covered in the paragraph just prior to what I quoted and if the validity of their baptisms were all that is meant by this, this wouldn’t have had to be said. But what liturgical action is a means of grace and gives access to the community of salvation, if we are not talking about baptism?
    The community of salvation is the Church, Christ’s Body . Remember the patristic saying to the Christian taking communion “Receive what you are, and become what you receive.” The 1928 Book of Common prayer, in the thanksgiving after communion says “and dost assure us thereby that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son.” The Decree on Ecumenism would seem to ratify this. An empty ritual, a going through the motions, does not incorporate into the Body of Christ, which is what ‘gives access to the community of salvation’ means. There is no other community of salvation and only Christ gives access to it. This is a strong argument for some kind of Eucharistic presence among Anglicans, and Lutherans also. And if these communities are not without importance in the mystery of salvation, if they are means of grace, it follows that their pastors are not just laymen in fancy dress!
    Are they the same as a priest? Are these Protestant eucharists the same as a Catholic one? Well, we have no information about this; we have no promise that they are. The invalidity of Anglican orders means only this, that they do not meet all the requirements necessary for the Church to be assured of their validity in the Catholic sense. It does not mean that we know what God does at an Anglican ordination or at an Anglican Eucharist. The Church tells us that these liturgical actions are not without importance in the mystery of salvation, and this means that Jesus Christ is not absent.

    So, what about women being ordained to the Anglican priesthood. Does everything I said above apply to them? I think there is a strong feeling that for a woman to be in this role makes the ceremony not only deficient of the full assurance of validity that we have in a Catholic ordination, but makes it to be a distortion of a Christian sacrament.

    At the very least, nothing which even LOOKS like the ordination of a woman to the priesthood is going to happen in a Catholic Church!

    Susan Peterson

  11. Peregrinus says:

    Hi Susan

    Thank you for your posts.

    I take also your point that I’m wrong to say that, in the Catholic view, “nothing happens” in an Anglican eucharist or an Anglican ordination. They are significant and graced events, even if they lack what we might call the assurance of sacramentality. This underlines, of course, that significance and grace do not depend exclusively on sacramentality, which is why it is appropriate to afford hospitality to Anglicans for eucharists and ordinations.

    I agree that a same-sex marriage would not be allowed to be celebrated in a Catholic church. (That issue doesn’t arise in quite such a pointed form here, though, because the Anglican Church in Australia doesn’t celebrate same-sex marriages, but the point is still relevant.) It’s for a similar reason that the Catholic church wouldn’t host the priestly ordination of a woman; this is, in authoritative Catholic teaching, fundamentally inconsistent with what priestly ordination is. (That’s not to say that it, too, cannot be significant and graced.)

    As I say, I suspect that part of the thinking which lead to the invitation being extended here was that the ordination was not to be of priests, but of deacons, and while we don’t ordain women to the diaconate, we haven’t offered the same definitive teaching about that as we have about ordination to the priesthood.

    I leave it to those better qualified than I to say whether the teaching on women and priesthood applies also to the diaconate and, if so, why the teaching is expressed in terms of the presbyterate only. But I do feel this affair has been badly handled on the Catholic side. I think the Diocese of Sandhurst owes its Anglican counterpart a large gesture of charity, and I hope they find an opportunity soon to make that gesture.

  12. Joshua says:

    This is certainly a fault on our side – Grech should have politely pointed out that in conscience this could not be done, rather than wink at it, and then, obviously at the orders of those above, have most shamefully to renege.

    Catholics too often curry favour by backpedalling doctrine, indulging in false charity at the expense of truth, and true charity.

  13. Jon Edwards says:

    According to CCC 1577, “Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.” Interestingly, the following sentences specifically mention Jesus’ choice of men exclusively for the apostolic college, and notes that bishops and priests continue that ministry. Although deacons are not specifically mentioned in this paragraph, subsequent paragraphs discuss ordination to the diaconate, suggesting that the blanket statement in paragraph 1577 also precludes ordination of women to the diaconate.


  14. matthias says:

    What about the priesthood of ALL believers which St Paul writes about ? Yes Jesus chose men for His Apostles ,but let us also remember that women played a great part. However the i have to agree with Joshua that when I see a Anglican female priest ,my thoughts are not of the Vicar of Dibbley but of the priestess’s in the Temple of Athena.
    It is interesting that the presbyterian church of eastern australia on their website notes that men not women are the Elders and Ministers of that Church,baseduponSt Paul’s direction “that I will not have a woman teach me”orwords to that affect. Was he speaking personally with his background of being brought up a Pharisee,was he looking at the pagan temples with their priestess’s -who may at THAT time have been also the temple prostitutes-and wanted to cast off “all appearance of evil”?

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Matthias,

      When talking about the baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood we need to keep in mind that these are two different priesthoods – and though both derive from Christ, the one does not derive from the other.

      The ministerial priesthood is a priesthood “in persona Christi” and for this reason must be male (unless we were to engage in a little Shakespearean cross-dressing!).

      By distinction, in the baptismal priesthood, we “put on Christ”, and thus there is no distinction between “male and female” as St Paul says in Galatians.

  15. matthias says:

    Schutz thanks for that .Could you refer me to the sources in scripture for this distinction.

    • Schütz says:

      Well, I should not need to give you chapter and verse for the baptismal priesthood, which I am sure you know. Mind you, the connection between the sacrament of baptism and the specifically priestly character of those who are baptised is one that the Church, not the Scriptures, makes. Still, there is no argument here between Catholis and Protestants. We all agree on this.

      As regards the priestly character of the Ordained ministry: once again the a connection between the ministry and the specifically priestly character of the ministry is one that the Church, not the Scriptures, makes, and this IS something which is at issue between us.

      Still, the Scriptures do define the “in persona Christi” nature of the ministry, which should not therefore be an issue. The Catechism says:

      “The saving mission entrusted by the Father to his incarnate Son was committed to the apostles and through them to their successors: they receive the Spirit of Jesus to act in his name and in his person”;

      and gives as Scripture references Jn 20:21-23; Lk 24:47; and Mt 28:18-20. It could have added: Luke 10:16 which is pretty much to the point.

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