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