Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Catholic Cafeteria Line: Stretching Now to the Right
A lot of people are discussing the Vatican’s decision to make it easier for Anglicans who are uncomfortable with the Church of England’s acceptance of women priests and openly gay bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the New York Times: “The Vatican will set up a formal conversion structure to allow Anglicans to preserve some of their liturgical traditions, including allowing married Anglican priests to remain married after they convert to [Roman] Catholicism.”
The newspaper also asks four religion commentators to respond to the question: “What does this announcement say about the [Roman] Catholic Church and its willingness to grant such flexibility?”
Following is the response of David Gibson, author of The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World.
Choosing Your Flavor
“Cafeteria Catholic” is about the worst epithet that conservative Catholics can hurl at liberals, with its implications of a pick-and-choose faith rather than a consistent fidelity to every jot and tittle of the catechism.
But after the news that the Vatican is effectively carving out a special church-within-a-church to shelter traditionalist Anglicans upset at gay priests and women bishops in their own church, one has to wonder if the cafeteria line isn’t forming to the right.
While both Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI have been known as staunch conservatives, they have in fact shown a remarkably liberal willingness to bend the rules when it comes to certain groups.
In 1982, John Paul made use of a novel structure called a “personal prelature” to allow the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei to operate in any diocese around the world while remaining answerable to the pope rather than the local bishop — an innovation that was not always welcomed by the bishops.
Similarly, when a traditionalist Catholic bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, took his anti-modernist movement into schism in 1988, John Paul (with the help of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict) created a special society that would allow defectors from Lefebvre’s movement to stay attached to Rome without giving up their old rites and views — much as the conservative Anglican converts can do now, even if they are married priests.
In 2007, Benedict XVI made another opening to the right by restoring the old Latin Mass to universal usage — over the objections of local bishops around the world — thereby creating two parallel rites in the Western church for the first time ever. (And Pope Benedict this week opened negotiations with the traditionalists who are still in schism in an effort to accommodate them, as well.)
For a church whose leadership has earned a reputation for reprimanding liberal Catholics who color outside the lines, these developments could be more than a bit frustrating. If conservatives can get special consideration, how about Catholics who have divorced and remarried but can’t take communion? Or those who back ordaining women? Or perhaps an exemption for the 25,000 or so priests who left the ministry in recent decades when they married? Many of them are ready, willing and able to return. Priest shortage solved.
Hey, Pope Benedict could be on to something. Some more, please?
Other commentators who responded to the New York Times’ question include the National Catholic Reporter’s John L. Allen, Jr., EWTN’s Colleen Carroll Campbell, and law and theology professor M. Cathleen Kaveny. To read all of their responses, click here.
Recommended Off-site Links:
Vatican in Bold Bid to Attract Anglicans - Stacy Meichtry and Amy Merrick (Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2009).
The Anglicans and Us - Michael Sean Winters (America, October 20, 2009).
Are Traditional Anglicans Suddenly the New Catholic Left? - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, October 20, 2009).
For Canterbury Exiles, Rome Builds a Bridge - Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia, October 20, 2009).
Can’t Be Rome If It’s the Gays: Vatican Makes Burke a King and Welcomes Anglican Gay-Haters - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, October 21, 2009).
Vatican Approves Married Priests - Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, October 21, 2009).
Angling for Anglicans - Crystal (Perspective, October 21, 2009).
TruthWinsOut.org Assails Vatican’s Appeal to Bigotry in Effort to Pilfer Anglican Church - Wayne Besen (TruthWinsOut.org, October 21, 2009).
Irony in Catholic Outreach to Anglicans - Dan Rodricks (Baltimore Sun, October 22, 2009).
Converts May Choke on Raw Meat of Catholicism - Libby Purves (London Times, October 22, 2009).
Misogynist? Homophobic? We’ve Got the Church for You! - Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter, October 22, 2009).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Episcopal Fundamentalists Take Their Toys and Run
When Unity Trumps Truth