Breaking the bonds of communion

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

Formal arrangements have yet to be made, but it now appears that the critical decisions have already been taken for a dissolution of the Anglican Communion.

Canterbury Cathedral

Every 10 years, all the world's Anglican bishops meet at the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace. They are scheduled to meet this summer, but already some 250 have decided not to attend, boycotting because of the failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to discipline American and Canadian Anglicans for blessing same-sex unions and ordaining actively homosexual clergy.

Many of those who are not attending Lambeth are in Jerusalem this week for an alternative meeting, to discuss how they see the way forward. The parallel meetings are a clear manifestation that the bonds of communion have broken down. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not in Jerusalem, and is not welcome there. The breach appears irreparable and therefore the Anglican Communion's days as a global community centred in Canterbury are numbered.

That is a sadness for those, like myself, who have affection for the Anglican sensibility. But sensibilities are not doctrines, and it cannot be the case that members of the same communion can hold directly contradictory views on matters of grave importance. The Canadian and American proponents of same-sex marriages are arguing that homosexual acts can be morally good, and even sacramental. The traditional Christian view is that such acts are sinful. That is a gap that cannot be bridged: Either one holds to the ancient and constant teaching of the Christian Church, or one rejects it in favour of a different position. It cannot be that both views exist side-by-side as equally acceptable options.

It is not a disagreement only about sexual morality. It goes deeper than that, to what status the ancient and apostolic tradition has in the Church today. There can be no doubt that the blessing of homosexual relationships is entirely novel and in contradiction to the Christian tradition. So if that tradition no longer holds, it raises questions about the apostolicity of those communities which have abandoned it.


The Jerusalem setting for the alternative bishops' meeting is deliberately evocative -- and provocative. To return to Jerusalem is to return to the roots of the Christian faith, to return to the land of Jesus and the apostles. The choice of Jerusalem is meant to express fidelity to those roots.


An additional sadness for Catholic and Orthodox Christians is that if the Anglican Communion embraces the path of doctrinal innovation, they will be closing the door on closer ecumenical relations. By unilaterally choosing to do what Catholics and Orthodox have always taught is outside our common tradition, they would be choosing the path of division.

That has already become dramatically evident. I remember being at the opening ceremonies of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 in Rome, when pope John Paul II opened the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls. He invited the then-archbishop of canterbury, Dr. George Carey, and an Orthodox archbishop to open the door together with him, three abreast in unity.

By the time of John Paul's death in 2005, matters had deteriorated significantly. The original draft for his funeral called for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople to offer joint prayers at the conclusion of the funeral Mass, but it never came off. By then it was thought more doubtful, above all in the eyes of the Orthodox, that the Anglican Communion was still in the historic tradition of the apostolic faith.

The Jerusalem setting for the alternative bishops' meeting is deliberately evocative -- and provocative. To return to Jerusalem is to return to the roots of the Christian faith, to return to the land of Jesus and the apostles. The choice of Jerusalem is meant to express fidelity to those roots. Yet Jerusalem also represents something more contemporary, namely the shift in gravity in the Anglican world from north to south. The majority of the bishops present in Jerusalem are from the south, in particular Africa, where Anglicanism is growing and vibrant. In contrast, the Lambeth conference will be held in a country where more Catholics go to church on Sunday than Anglicans, despite being outnumbered some 10 to one. The typical Anglican in church on Sunday is far more likely to be a young African than Canadian, American or English.

The see of Canterbury is one of the Christian world's most venerable, being occupied throughout her history by great saints such as Saint Augustine of Canterbury and Saint Thomas Becket. There will be other archbishops after Dr. Williams, but it seems likely now that none will preside over a global communion.

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Breaking the bonds of communion." National Post, (Canada) June 26, 2008.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 National Post




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