Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm Hen-er-y the Eighth I Am

There may not be anyone burnt at the stake, drawn and quartered, or water-boarded

anymore (water-boarding was used extensively during the Inquisition), but the war between

Catholics and Protestants still goes on and the Catholics just fired the latest salvo. The

Vatican announced if you are a disgruntled member of the Anglican Church (Church of England

AKA Episcopalian in the U.S.), you are welcome to join the ranks of the Roman Catholics.

You remember the Catholic Church, don't you? In 2000 years of history, the Church has

instigated wars, tortured dissidents, sold passes to get into heaven, locked up Galileo,

helped Nazis escape to South America, stopped scientific inquiry into everything from

mathematics to biology, and supported dictators and tyrants across the globe. The Protestants

also tortured and killed, fought wars and crushed dissidents, denied scientific theory, and

brought to America a kind of Calvinism giving them the right to wipe out native peoples

and take their land all in the name of a religious belief called "manifest destiny". These

two groups have been at each others throats since the day Martin Luther nailed his 99

Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg. The Vatican saw a chance to gain the upper hand

on the Church started by Henry VIII and they seized it with great delight.

Some members of the worldwide Anglican community are unhappy with recent

decisions by their Church. The Church has voted to ordain women and allow openly gay

members to be priests and bishops in the Church. The Church has vocally opposed wars

from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan. The Episcopal Church in America has been a strong

advocate for the poor and disadvantaged. Church leaders have been at the forefront of

equal rights for women and openly welcoming members who were gay, lesbian, or

transgendered. Regressive factions within the Church objected to many of these positions

and many have broken away to form their own associations. These associates oppose the

ordination of women to be either priests or bishops and oppose the ordaining of gay men

to similar positions. Ironically, they find themselves on the same page as Regressives in

the Catholic Church; and now the Church, led by a Pope who has dreamed of bringing the

heretic protesters back into the fold, is taking this opportunity to offer unhappy Anglicans

a new home.

I hope this irony is not lost on anyone that the main reason the Anglicans broke

with Rome was over the primacy and authority of the Pope. Now it is that very same

authoritarian occupant of Peter's chair who is offering them a home. It is the same Vicar

of Christ who continues the prejudices and bigotry of sexism and anti-gay rhetoric they

find so appealing and so lacking in their own church. The very evolution of morality and

understanding allowed by the Anglican structure is impossible in the Roman Church and

the Pope is hoping opposition to women's rights and continued bigotry towards gays will

be a reason for Anglicans to jump ship and come back to the bosom of Mother Church.

Progressive Catholics have to be embarrassed by such a naked appeal to prejudice

and bigotry. The message from the Pope "...come join us, we still keep women in their

place and will never recognize homosexuals as God's creation" is a message which takes

the Papacy back to the wonderful days of the Borgia's and Medici's. Benedict XVI sees

himself in the footsteps of Popes who led the Crusades, the Inquisition, and welcomed

Hitler into Austria.

The one Pope Benedict will never be mistaken for is John XXIII. Upon election,

John announced an Ecumenical Council to be held in Rome. This council was to bring

"Aggiorniamento" (openness) to the Church. John invited representatives of all the worlds

religions to come to Rome and begin a dialogue aimed at finding common ground and ending

the hostility which existed between Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and

others. John wanted a church which models the principles of Jesus. He wanted more

collegiality between the Vatican and bishops and priests throughout the world. He defined

the Church as "...the people of God" and every Catholic was a part of the "priesthood of

believers" by virtue of their baptism. John took a church frozen in place for over 400 years,

since the Reformation, and opened it's windows and doors to let fresh air and fresh

perspective blow through. With the latest Vatican announcement, Benedict signals a desire

to continue the counter-reformation reuniting errant Protestants back under the banner

of Rome. He senses a way to drive a wedge between Anglicans and he seized the opportunity.

Perhaps this completes the efforts by Church regressives to reverse the gains and influence

of John and Vatican II and return the Church to earlier, more doctrinally comfortable times.

Reaction from Anglicans is mixed. In the U.S., dissident Anglican communities

rejected the idea of converting to Catholicism. In Nigeria and parts of Africa, where the

Anglican Church is strong, reaction has also been cool. The Archbishop of Canterbury says

he does not see this as an attack on his church, but acknowledges the differences between

his Church and Rome are not minor disagreements.

The Roman Church inn America is in serious trouble. Studies show the Church

has lost 30% of it's members. The actual numbers would reflect that loss if not for the large

influx of Hispanic immigrants into this country. Roman Catholic priest's average age is now

over 60. New ordinations do not make up for the priests retiring and many parishes face

the prospect of one priest shared among many parishes. Rumors have been rampant about

priests from other nations, mainly Africa, being brought in to staff American parishes. The

Church is in danger of losing an entire generation of young people unable to relate or respond

to a geriatric clergy and a message of intolerance and bigotry. Rome has no answer for those

who ask how the Vatican can continue to prohibit priests from marrying and champion

celibacy while at the same time allowing Anglican priests to join the Church and bring their

wives and families with them. Is celibacy integral to being a priest or not?

I am absolutely convinced of the existence of the Holy Spirit. The latest actions

by this Pope and his minions and a 2000 year history replete with every sinful action known

to man, convince me the spirit of God and a set of rituals and sacraments which touch us

at our deepest levels as humans, is what has kept this Church from imploding long ago.

The same spirit which brought us John, the same spirit which produced people like Floyd

Lotito, the Berrigan Brothers, Thomas Merten, Francis, Ignatius and Dominic, Dorothy Day,

Claire and so many others, is the Spirit which calls us to renounce prejudices and bigotry

and embrace all of God's creation.

I know the American Catholic hierarchy looks more and more like a wing of the

Republican Party; but when I go to St. Anthony's Dining Room in San Francisco, Sacred

Heart Community Services in San Jose, or St. Vincent de Paul in Oakland, when I see hospices

and housing programs run by Catholic Charities, when I listen to priests who inspire me

and call me to be a good and faithful servant; that Spirit is alive and well and despite the

actions of the current occupant of the throne of St. Peter, Her presence will ultimately

prevail. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them

to lionoftheleft@gmail.com

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