Musings April 2018 Edition 30
By the Reverend Monsignor Harry Entwistle,
In March of this year I posted an article written by Ross Douthat for the New York Times entitled ‘Pope Francis is Beloved. His Papacy might be a Disaster’. One of the comments in response to the post asked “what does this mean?”.
Douthat makes the point that Francis’ Papacy is one in which doubters and unbelievers are being drawn into faith. Others admire him because he is prepared to create a messy Church in order to bring about changes which he believes need to be made if the Church is to be relevant in our current age. His Exhortations on Evangelisation, Mercy, the Environment and Holiness contain many good things, but he advocates some changes that cause Catholics to engage in trench warfare because they open the door to the possibility of the Catholic Church being led down the same road as the Anglican and other Protestant Churches.
Douthat believes that Pope Francis displays a magnetic public persona which enables him to connect with the crowds who amend his audiences through gestures of humility such as washing prisoners’ feet, embracing the disfigured, solemnising a marriage on a plane and focusing on the poor, the oppressed and marginalised. These foci are essential elements of the gospel works of mercy, but they can mask the dangers that critics believe lurk behind the scenes of a wider agenda in Francis’ Pontificate.
Expressing concerns about the confusion that emanates from the latest Papal Exhortations is to risk being vilified in the same way that critics of political agendas are humiliated and silenced. This is not only unhelpful, it solidifies opposing tribal factions and undermines unity. Douthat emphasises that the critics are not the Pope’s enemies, but loyal friends who feel compelled to act prophetically by identifying the dangers to the Catholic Church of not simply allowing, but actively promoting the emergence of a gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy , namely between what the Church teaches and how that teaching is applied in practice.
Members and worshippers in the Ordinariate are committed to holding the Catholic Faith as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the teachings of the Magisterium. In our current times, our contribution to the Catholic Church is important because most of us have experienced the consequences of the ever-growing chasm between official teaching and practice in Anglicanism. Anglicans still claim to be part of the Universal Catholic Church, but the reality is that their liturgical, pastoral and scriptural interpretations can no longer support that claim. They may claim to be Catholic, but they live out their faith as Protestants in which the only arbiter of belief and morals is not the community of the faithful but the conscience of individuals.
The journey to the current situation in Anglicanism is reflected in what some of the Pope’s supporters describe as the ‘new paradigm’. This paradigm is one in which the Traditional teaching of the Church is unchanging, but pastoral experience allows exceptions to be made ‘in certain circumstances’.
This ‘crack’ in Anglicanism began its modern manifestation when the Lambeth Conference allowed the use of contraceptive practices ‘in certain’ circumstances. This has led to the disconnection between sexual activity and openness to the divinely given act of procreation within a committed lifelong relationship between males and females.
It has also opened the door to abortion becoming a contraceptive or social engineering device. It is also an important element in the re-definition of ‘marriage,’ allowing same sex couples to embrace such unions.
Anglicans still hold the teaching that all life is sacred and to be valued, but their pastoral practice does not oppose contraception, same sex marriage, abortion, divorce because ‘love’ can die, and euthanasia. Once the implications of life and relationships being intrinsically part of God’s creative activity are jettisoned, anything goes.
The chasm between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is not limited to moral issues. Anglicans still claim to be Catholic because unlike other Protestants, they maintain the orders of bishop, priest and deacon. However, social justice,rather than theology ‘required’ many of them to open these ministries to women as well as to men. This ‘pastoral experiment,’ as it was initially described, has become irreversible and has led to permanent changes in the theology of the Eucharist, the Liturgy and Unity of their church.
These innovations were justified on the grounds of enabling the Anglican Church to proclaim the gospel message to the current generation and so ensure its relevance and its growth. The Anglican view is that any teaching principle must be framed in such a way as to include all allowable exceptions.
The loyal critics of Pope Francis and his supporters argue that the ‘paradigm shift being advocated by some in the Roman Church is Anglican in nature and will lead to similar outcomes. In contrast, they argue that the Roman view is that a principle must be affirmed without exception; and that exceptions can be dealt with without modifying the principle.
Those of us in the Ordinariate who have chosen to embrace the fullness of the Catholic Faith are more likely to support the Roman view than many ‘cradle’ Diocesan Catholics. We must not waiver from this stance because for a growing number of people in the West, especially the young, there is a longing for the certainty of ‘stakes in the ground’ because they recognise the superficiality of the fluidity of morals and values currently promoted in the Western world.
Rules, dogmas and doctrines are challenging and appear to be limiting, but they are what allow goodness, order and authentic love to emerge from the chaos created in a borderless spiritual and moral world. This is as true of our relationship with God and the Church as it is in human relationships.
Douthat is gracious enough to acknowledge that he might be wrong and Pope Francis together with the more progressive Cardinals and bishops may be prophets in our age. However, because we in the Ordinariate have already travelled this road and know where it leads, we must stand firm and bear witness to the truth God has revealed.
Together with St Paul we must,
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit,
do not despise prophesy, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every evil”.
1 Thess 5; 16 – 22
Monsignor Entwistle was the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.