Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The sometime vicar of Atwater and the Bishop of San Joaquin
Background

Even though of course I sympathise with +San Joaquin I understand the Episcopalians being upset that he and his diocese have left their church. It’s only natural to feel that way. And I understand that the Province of the Southern Cone is Global South Protestant and that Bishop Schofield is a Catholic in charge of an old-schoolish middle-of-the-road diocese (a churchmanship much like my good friend Charley’s) in conservative central California (descendants of farmers who moved there from the Mid-West during the Dust Bowl/Depression double whammy).

One of the principles of a good and fair debate is one must be able to present the other side’s position accurately, in terms that side can accept.

That said...

The Episcopal line seems to me very like ‘what if a Roman bishop broke with the Pope but a parish and priest declared that they remained under the Vatican?’ (Obeying the national or world church, considered the only licit church or one true church, would trump obedience to the bishop, whom they’d say is in schism.)

There are a couple of issues here. First, in the Anglican system the Episcopal Church and the Province of the Southern Cone share, a mission is different from a full-fledged parish. The American meaning of vicar is ‘priest of a mission church’. It’s true of all priests but vicar really means standing in the place of the bishop.

It is like the Roman Catholic Church in that unlike a parish (which is under a rector and very independent, actually semi-presbyterian in polity not theology/sacramentology), a mission and its vicar are directly under the bishop. So although I hope the bishop is as kind and fair to such that want to leave his diocese and remain Episcopal as indeed he says he’s doing with parishes, it seems fair to me for him to keep a mission’s property.

Likewise I don’t think Bishop Schofield was being a bully or lying to Fr Risard. Rather it’s like a command issued politely in the form of a question. IOW it’s not dishonest to say: ‘I didn’t come here to fire you. I’d like you to remain in my diocese. You’re not? Then you’re no longer my vicar.’

The other big deciding issue is ‘is the current Episcopal line correct that the national church not the diocese is this brand of religion’s basic unit canonically, affecting property ownership and the obedience of the clergy?’ (This affects parishes as much as missions leaving a diocese. As the Episcopal line says, these cases are legal slam-dunks for dioceses.) Honestly I don’t think it’s as clear-cut historically as with Rome. As the Anglican Communion is a group of independent national churches, you can argue that each diocese is a church unto itself. (And if I’m mistaken on that I trust the theological-college graduates who read this blog will say so in the comments.)

I think the court will end up deciding. (But of course rightly staying away from the religious issues that caused the split.)

I’m not interested in destroying somebody else’s church, depriving gays of their civil rights including the right to worship and marry as they please (which are the same as everybody else’s including Catholics) or suing congregations I don’t agree with out of their buildings. After all I’m a libertarian! All I care about here is preserving the Catholic religion in a cultural form that’s dear to me (it has no future in TEC) and defending others’ freedom to do so (note to the Anglo-left: politically/legally that freedom works both ways) and not what the church sign outside says.

In any event regular readers know my line: whatever happens a few parishes will be split, a few others squashed and it won’t (and in a free society shouldn’t) affect most Episcopalians.

Once more, regarding ‘unity above all else’, another part of the current Episcopal line, and sawing off theological and rhetorical branches one is sitting on, who was right in 1534, St John Fisher or Thomas Cranmer? Never mind Vatican I in this argument; that obviously wasn’t the issue (as there was no time-travel). The Pope is England’s patriarch. If the state calls this shot by divine right, why not break with my view on war and support the king, erm, president and ‘bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran’? An issue along with Palestine on which the Anglo-left and I sing from the same hymnal.

Setting aside here the question of the validity of Anglican orders as seen by Rome and the Eastern churches, comments denying the validity of John-David Schofield’s orders because he is no longer an Episcopalian (whether permanently or as he sees it a temporary, emergency move until the Anglican row is sorted out) are the left’s version of the perhaps unwitting Donatism of some on the right who say the same of Gene Robinson’s because of his views and lifestyle. AFAIK TEC doesn’t hold a Cyprianic view of orders like many Orthodox in which TEC or the Orthodox communion is the one true church and outside it there can be no valid (guarantee of grace) exercise of holy orders. (That’s opinion; not everything the Church Fathers said is doctrine! The only Orthodox doctrine on this is ‘we are the one true church; we know our orders and other sacraments have grace but, other than they’re not the same as the sacraments of our church, don’t know about anybody else’s!’ The expanded version of an ecumenical favourite saying, ‘we know where the church is; we don’t know where it is not’.)

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