The Anglican question is very hot right now, in fact, probably radioactive.
I have received perhaps a hundred e-mails in the last couple of days, with links, articles and requests for me to comment.
It strikes me that there is a lot of misinformation going about in the Catholic press and blogosphere about Pope Benedict’s thoughts about the fractures in the Anglican communion and whether or not His Holiness thinks they should approach Rome in a spirit of unity.
I think we have to be very careful and ask a lot of questions right now.
Let’s start with this.
Does the Pope want them to swim the Tiber or not?
CNS Rome correspondent put a question to Pope Benedict on the papal airplane as they flew to Australia.
Q: While you are in Australia, the bishops of the Anglican Communion, which is very widespread also in Australia, are meeting in Lambeth Palace. One of the main arguments will be possible ways to consolidate communion between the provinces and to find a way to ensure that one or more provinces do not take initiatives that others see as contrary to the Gospel and tradition.
Is there the risk of a fragmentation of the Anglican Communion and the possibility that some will ask to be received into the Catholic Church. What is your hope for the Lambeth Conference and for the archbishop of Canterbury?
Benedict XVI: My essential contribution can only be prayer and with my prayer I will be very close to the Anglican bishops meeting in Lambeth Conference.
We cannot and must not intervene immediately [!] in their discussions, we respect their own responsibility and it is our hope that schisms and new breaks can be avoided, and that a responsible solution will be found given our times, but also in fidelity to the Gospel. These two things must go together.
Christianity is always contemporary and lives in this world, in a certain time, but it renders present in this time the message of Jesus Christ and, hence, offers a true contribution for this time only be being faithful — in a mature and creative way — but faithful to the message of Christ.
We hope, and I personally pray, that together they will find the way of the Gospel for our day. This is my wish for the archbishop of Canterbury: That the Anglican Communion in communion with the Gospel of Christ and the Word of the Lord will find the answers to the present challenges.
Some things must be said here.
First, we really don’t know what this means. I repeat: We can’t learn from this what Pope Benedict really thinks about the possibility of Anglicans coming to Rome, en masse or as individuals.
Pope Benedict is going to have a horror of schisms. He is steeped in Augustine, who abhorred schism, in Bonaventure, who abhorred disunity, and in more recent Communio theologians such as Henri De Lubac, who wrote of the mystery of Christ being a mystery of unity. Christ, for Benedict, unifies. I don’t think we would be going out too far on a limb to ask Papa Ratzinger: are divisions in non-Catholic communions themselves profoundly non-Christian? Even if some divided group tends toward unity with Holy Mother Church, the Catholic Church? So, is Benedict thinking that it would be better to draw in a larger and more unified group than bring in stragglers?
At the same time, His Holiness is a realist. Does he, or anyone else for that matter, really think that the Anglicans as a body are going to get their act together and then tend toward Rome? It seems to me far more likely that they would get their act together and confirm their more Protestant roots by becoming something like Methodists.
Another question: Given the way the Church of England is still so deeply interwoven with English society, wouldn’t the very notion of the Church of England, as a body, coming to Papism more than a little fantastical? Could the Holy Father really a large group of Anglicans would formally swim?
What has Pope Benedict said to other groups who are in dialogue with Rome? I have in mind what Card. Castrillon Hoyos (President of the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei) said about the SSPX. He said that he would rather see them come back to Holy Church as a group, though Rome would of course never refuse individuals. Is some ecclesiological idea of Pope Benedict at the back of such a statement? It would be better to reconcile a group with Rome and then have them preserve their identity in some way rather than have them simply dissolve into the larger Church?
His Eminence Walter Card. Kasper is at Lambeth, backed up by two other Cardinals, the English speaking Card. Diaz (the "Red Pope" of Propaganda Fidei) and the locum tenens Card. Murphy-O’Connor. All along Card. Kasper has been doing his job in conveying the position of the Holy See. He has stated clearly that if the Anglicans go down this loony Protestant, in the deepest sense anti-ecclesial path of ordaining women as bishops, then the warmth of the (relatively stagnant) ARCIC will take on an arctic chill. Can we imagine that Pope Benedict isn’t behind that message? Of course he is.
Practically speaking, would it be better to try to dialogue with various splinter groups, or will a more unified body? I’m just asking.
Finally, as we wander through this hall of mirrors which is Catholic-Anglican dialogue, edge up to the murky swamp which is Anglicanism, can we really imagine that these folks who are opining on the question of Anglicans defecting to Rome are entirely disinterested?
Could some of them perhaps be pretty frightened of an influx of conservative, liturgically high church, clerics entering English Catholic dioceses and, because of the necessity of numbers, being made parish priests?
Would that explain their dash to interpret Pope Benedict’s words on the airplane that he (incredibly) would be against people coming into unity with the Church of Rome?
Would the Bishop of Rome really be against people being in unity with his person?
So, perhaps some people writing about Pope Benedict’s words are self-interested?
Are they seeking to derail closer unity?
What would scare people, on either side, about high church Anglicans suddenly becoming part of the fabric of the Catholic Church in England?
I’m just asking.
We need a little time to go back and look at Papa Ratzinger’s thought on Anglicans – remember how interested he has been in Card. Newman, whose cause is moving forward. His thought may be different in his life as theologian, then Prefect, now Pontiff.
I’m just asking some questions here.