On balance, the 2010 annual Synod of the Diocese of the Eastern United States (ACA/TAC) was a positive development for those committed to the pursuit of full communion with the Catholic Church under the terms of the recent Apostolic Constitution. [More on that later.] But it was also a healthy dose of reality for each of the delegates — pro, con, or undecided. To put it politely, a serious lack of forthrightness on the part of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in America has led to considerable confusion, suspicion, and fear — not only on the part of those opposed to reunion with the Catholic Church, but also among those who favor the ordinariate scheme. The bishops (as a college) seem to have been more than willing to (purport to) commit their flocks to a momentous doctrinal and ecumenical course of action, but they have subsequently shown themselves absolutely unprepared — and seemingly unwilling — to do the difficult work of shepherds (which office they claim to hold). The ambivalent, ambiguous — and even misleading — statements about the "talks with the Roman Catholic Church" which still emanate from the House of Bishops, coupled with a refusal to openly defend or adhere to the doctrine solemnly professed at Portsmouth, have wreaked havoc within the jurisdiction and all but destroyed the possibility of a genuine ecclesial movement toward reunion with the Holy See.
Of the four ACA diocesan bishops in the USA, only one, Bishop Louis Campese (DEUS), has taken a public stand for the Apostolic Constitution (as opposed to a nominal and vague adherence to the "TAC policy" as some theoretical goal). But dedicated as he has been to collegial action with his brother bishops (who have yet to commit to the goal of full communion with the Holy See or to pursue substantive policies to that end), Bishop Campese has effectively been undermined in his efforts to guide the Diocese of the Eastern United States in fidelity to the express commitments of the Traditional Anglican Communion. Thus, there are beacons of hope in DEUS — truly committed parishes, clergy, and groups of laity — but the first wave of ordinariate-bound communities will not constitute — in any way, shape, or form — an ecclesial solution representative of the ACA or the TAC. Indeed, the reality will be precisely the opposite.
During the Thursday afternoon informational meeting for laity, at the behest of Bishop Campese, the Diocesan Chancellor read to the assembly a statement approved by (and reportedly drafted in conjunction with) Archbishop Louis Falk, President of the ACA House of Bishops. While endeavoring to justify the present engagement with the Holy See by reference to the historic ecumenical trajectory of the Anglican Communion (and the TAC as its self-appointed successor), the statement clearly presumed that the greater part of its audience had already chosen to reject the Apostolic Constitution. Written to assure opponents of Anglicanorum Coetibus that the ACA would perdure in its integrity (and without any commitment to the goal of reunion with the Holy See or the doctrine of the Catholic Church), it was made plain that those availing themselves of the Holy Father's offer would essentially be defecting from the jurisdiction (a far cry from the fanciful — but oft-repeated — notion that the province as a whole would be "coming into the full communion of the [Roman] Catholic Church").
Congregations will be ultimately be subject to their respective by-laws, and the rules governing "reaffiliation" with another church body. The provisions vary, but this reaffiliation would generally require a supermajority (two-thirds or three-quarters) of the eligible voting communicants assembled in a parish meeting. This same standard would be necessary to control/alienate the parish property.
I certainly do not mean to criticize the publication of these facts; it has been understood from the very beginning that congregational ownership of property and the existing by-laws necessitated broad support within a parish in order for it to realign with a personal ordinariate. And it is perfectly reasonable — and the right thing to do — to reassure opponents of the Apostolic Constitution that their parishes will not be stolen from them (in the same way that the Episcopal Church once robbed many of their former church homes). I mean only to highlight the enormous disconnect between the narrative of "the ACA coming into communion with Rome" and the harsh reality of the present circumstances.
For me at least, the Synod Eucharist on Thursday evening was surreal and deeply heartbreaking. On an occasion intended to be expressive of the unity of the diocese gathered around its bishop, the deep divisions between members of the congregation seemed almost palpable. Despite the glorious setting of St. George's Anglican Church, the Synod's host parish, and the majesty and beauty of the liturgical action, it seemed quite apparent that our communion was, at best, impaired.
The official business of the Synod was largely unremarkable. The regular election of members to the Standing Committee, diocesan officers, delegates to the General Synod, &c. took place as usual. Unlike the "mind of the diocese" votes planned for other synods (the anticipated "No" vote on the Apostolic Constitution apparently a convenient excuse for a bishop eager to weasel out of his solemn oath to uphold the doctrine the of the Catholic Church and seek full communion with the Holy See), there was no official action taken relative to the acceptance of Anglicanorum Coetibus. On the unanimous advice of the Standing Committee, the Synod again declined to accept the resignation of Bishop Campese (which he is required by canon to tender annually upon reaching the age of 72 years). The exceedingly optimistic time frame for the erection of a personal ordinariate in the USA given by the Chancellor (most often quoted as "five to seven months") contributed to the peace of the Synod, the opponents of the bishop and those faithful to the commitments of the TAC evidently content simply "to run out the clock," anticipating that they will soon be in control of the diocesan apparatus.
As he had done in the Thursday informational meeting for lay delegates, during the plenary session of the Synod on Friday, Bishop Campese spoke boldly and unambiguously in support of the Apostolic Constitution. Noting that Our Lord's so-called "High Priestly Prayer" (St. John xvii.) "that they might all be one" was linked to the mission and purpose of the Church ("that the world may believe that thou hast sent me"), the bishop argued that the grievous divisions in the Body of Christ have impaired the ability of the Church to evangelize and have confounded God's will for His people.
Suggesting that the ecclesial status quo seemed attractive to some because of them, the bishop asked the delegates to lay aside their "faithless fears and worldly anxieties" and to reject the notion that a fragmented Christian Church is either normal or reasonable.
Sharing his belief that the Apostolic Constitution was a movement of the Holy Spirit, and informing the Synod that he was personally determined to enter the anticipated personal ordinariate at the earliest possible moment, the bishop concluded his address emphatically:
I am, as your bishop, committed to the goal of unity, and I am unreservedly supportive of the doctrinal and ecumenical obligations of the Traditional Anglican Communion. I would consider it nothing less than a violation of my vows were I to elect to do otherwise.
With great skill and consideration for the sensitivities of all involved, Fr. Michael Kerouac, the President of the Standing Committee, moderated a discussion of the Apostolic Constitution. The majority of the delegates who rose to address the assembly, mostly clergy, spoke in favor of unity under its terms.
Being concerned that the developing "common knowledge" suggested that a decisive, once and for all vote on whether congregations were to enter the personal ordinariate must necessarily take place in as little six months, that this practically constituted a sort of deadline, and that such decisions would inevitably be "all or nothing" propositions (all of which notions perfectly suit the opponents of unity who have done their best to propagate them), as a member of the Standing Committee, Senior Warden of the Cathedral, and an elected delegate, I addressed the Synod to argue that the Apostolic Constitution represented an open-ended invitation that was certainly not intended to prematurely or unnecessarily divide communities. I made it clear (I hope!) that there was, in fact, no deadline being imposed, and that, were two groups within a parish ultimately to discern separate paths on the question of communion with the Holy See, this need not entail an utter separation, that it might be possible for creative solutions to be developed as local circumstances may warrant, solutions which might allow the two groups to continue to share parish property and enjoy a genuine fellowship and communion, being divided only insofar as issues of conscience required.
While I hesitate to provide too many particulars (after all, nothing is set in stone and we continue to pray for the success of the ordinariate scheme), it is clear that only a few parishes of the diocese are presently able to commit to the Apostolic Constitution. But those that are ready to make the transition are strong (the largest parishes in the diocese) and resolute in their faithfulness. Together with the several committed parishes from other ACA dioceses and the pioneering parishes and congregations of the Anglican Use, they will help to constitute a solid foundation for the anticipated personal ordinariate. While we will be saddened by the absence of our brethren who have decided to stay behind, we will go ahead to prepare a place for them.
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