Sunday, July 06, 2014

Remembering American Anglo-Catholicism

When I was a young curate, I remember gathering with the SSC priests regularly (there were A LOT of them from NY down to DC back then) and they would talk about the "Anglo-catholic chessboard". Fr. Soandso was leaving/retiring from St. Big City parish, and the priests would start talking about who should be moved where. St. Big City parish would get a priest who was a rector at a mid-sized suburban (or maybe urban) parish and a curate at St. Big City parish would head to that mid-sized vacant parish. The Cardinal Rectors recommended their former curates to each other, and vestries/search committees coveted the advice of these fine senior priests.

What made me think of this today was the announcement that the Rector of Good Shepherd Rosemont (who has been there 2 years) has accepted the position at St Clement's in Philly (the first married priest there, ever). That priest has now been rector of THREE parishes that at one time would have been considered Anglo-catholic shrines that in the past would be final destination parishes for a senior priest; St. Mark's Locust Street, Good Shepherd Rosemont, and now St. Clement's.

Of course, the church has changed. Most of the great Anglo-catholic shrines have changed and become 'affirming' of the innovations on holy orders and/or human sexuality. Few, if any, use the old missal/1928. Those going/gone affirming or teetering include St. Mary the Virgin in NYC, Ascension & St. Agnes in DC (received woman bishop), Advent Boston had a gay marriage, St. Paul's K Street has the retired bishop of Minnesota as interim and he has invited women clergy to guest function, Mt. Calvary Baltimore stayed theologically solid but then left for Rome.
I hope to make it to High Mass there one of these Sundays.
S. Clement's has become an affirming haven with the retiring rector (and a former curate) flaunting the new religion at the Gay Pride Fest in Philly. Good Shepherd Rosemont hardly seems like it can survive with its diminished membership after the Fr. Moyer debacle, and is less than sound now from what I read on her facebook posts. And the rector who is leaving for St. Clement's is a member of the Society of Catholic Priests, the newest incarnation of the old Affirming Catholic movement. I can't imagine the Diocese of Pennsylvania will allow a solid catholic priest into the diocese to revive it.

And let's not forget the many parishes in NYC that were once catholic bastions but have now gone soft; St. Ignatius & Transfiguration to name just two more (and let us not forget that not too long ago being in the the Diocese of Long Island was a badge of honor for catholic clergy).

During this time when I was curate I was sitting with Bishop Br. John Charles Vockler and looking at 1950s photos from the old Valley Forge Conference (the pre-cursor to the St. Michael's Conference for Youth). Br. John Charles and the host for dinner that night who was a counselor at the conference named nearly all the priests and monks in the photos. I recognized so many of the names from the stories and legends: Fr. Lander, Fr. Joiner, several renowned priests of the Order of the Holy Cross. After naming them all, Br. John Charles sat back, and with a sigh pronounced, "ICHABOD - The glory has departed." The glory has departed. Can the catholic movement in the Episcopal Church be saved?

We must not forget St. Thomas, New York, where an Affirming Catholic has been elected Rector and whose wife is also a priest. Will she be celebrating there too? Also, Church of the Ascension, Chicago recently elected an SCP priest as Rector. Will others be falling soon? God forbid!
Fr. Joiner was a rare bird: an Episcopal priest who was a serious would-be Catholic, an Anglo-Papalist; the rector of St. Clement's.

"The old Valley Forge Conference" was at Valley Forge Military Academy & College, founded by an Anglo-Catholic parishioner at Rosemont, National Guard Gen. Milton Grafley Baker. (Completely unrelated: the movie Taps was filmed there!)

Good old-fashioned WASP gentlemen and ladies who were NOT trying to turn Catholics into Episcopalians like their denomination did and does but rather turn Episcopalians into some kind of Catholics, either papal or more likely non (though they adopted the pre-Vatican II liturgical ethos).

I haven't set foot in Villanova University (liberalized Notre Dame wannabe) for nearly 20 years (the last times I went there, the Web was new, something I'd sneak into the engineering building's computer rooms to look at) but visited Rosemont from 1985 (right after Fr. Mead left) to 1989 and again from 1995 until around 2010; I was at Bishop Moyer's consecration. I understand he's starting over in his 60s as a Catholic layman like me. My guess is "Good Shepherd Jr.," his old congregation who left with him, will come into the church individually. (There is a Catholic St. Clement's Jr., the Traditional Latin Mass Community of Philadelphia.)

Earlier I noted the innovation of the married ex-Catholic Fr. Alton taking over at St. Clement's. Only a matter of time before a woman celebrates there.

My guess has always been that because St. Thomas is rich (endowments and wealthy patrons, who, like the Queen, like the old Anglican liturgy and theology), Episcopalian semi-congregationalism still works for them. As long as Fr. Mead kept quiet about women priests and gay weddings, he could be his own Pope.

Didn't know that about the new guy and his wife. Guess it's over for St. Thomas.
For years I thought Anglican WAS a branch of Catholic, sigh.
I was Episcopal to begin with. I used to think that too, at first in good faith, then as an excuse to go Anglo-Catholic because the official church had gone all liberal Novus Ordo.

I was so sheltered I didn't realize at first that so many Anglo-Catholics were gay.
I did not know they had women priests so far back because my church did not.
Same here. I found out about it about five years after it happened and it was like being punched in the stomach. Turned out we weren't in the Catholic Church after all.

"Can the catholic movement in the Episcopal Church be saved?"

While I'm grateful for what that movement has done for me - passing down to me the pre-Vatican II ethos when the official church wanted nothing to do with it - I don't follow it anymore. The short answer is, in the sense of principled old high churchmen and would-be Catholics (now Tridentine as I am or in the ordinariates) both opposing women priests and gay marriage, not as we knew it. The Episcopal Church has the same right to enforce its teachings among its people as we do ours. What's left of that movement is turning not into Unitarianism with vestments (Spongism is passé like Call to Action Catholicism) but liberal high church, Affirming Catholicism: think Rowan Williams. Credally orthodox and, unlike Catholic liberals, liturgically high (St. Clement's still does the Tridentine Mass even though it's turned against the Catholic Church), but socially liberal. They don't believe in church infallibility so for them, Anglican authority is church authority. It will remain an undersuccessful niche church, a hobby for a few middle-aged ex-Catholics and ex-evangelicals of an anglophile bent.

Conservative Protestant-minded Anglicans use the Prayer Book in England or at least used to. There, the Prayer Book was used against Anglo-Catholics. But in the Episcopal Church, Anglo-Catholics rallied around variations of their old Prayer Book the way we do around the traditional Mass.

When you know the real story, you don't miss the Prayer Book (I've been inside St. Margaret Clitherow's house in York, England), which is why I'm not in the ordinariate, but when I'm at Pope Benedict's Novus about five or six times a year I say the creed from 1928/the missals from memory. It's an American A-C thing and my way of saying thanks.


  1. If you get to the South Coast of England, come and try us at St Thomas More in Bournemouth: you will find a recognisably Anglo-Catholic ethos within the Church of Rome; and even a former Episcopal (Texan) priest in charge of the parish. Your lament for the shrines of old in the USA can be repeated many times here in the UK. And pray for the Anglo-Catholic rump in the General Synod about to lose the final round in the women bishops' vote next week.

    1. Welcome to this blog, Monsignor! Great to hear that the English/Welsh (and for now Scottish) Ordinariate is doing well. I know about the English "shrines" turning away from classic Anglo-Catholicism; for example, I remember St. Mary Magdalen, Oxford, right after it started to turn liberal. In contrast, one of my best experiences was going to Mass at All Saints', North Street, York, in 1993, the only time I've seen the English Missal (other readers: Tridentine Mass in English) used in England!

      My parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, Philadelphia, manages to have a recognizably Anglo-Catholic ethos despite the priest who started high-churching it eight or nine years ago not being an ex-Episcopalian, nor a majority of parishioners being such. (We have a few from Good Shepherd, Rosemont.) Fr. James knew good things when he saw them and copied them. The main Mass, my mainstay, is Tridentine Sung, and the Novus Ordo Masses relatively conservative; the hymns are often Anglican.

      I respect the principled old high churchmen who really thought papal authority was a dangerous innovation: that the development of doctrine is Modernism's cousin. Like Keble wanting to stay in the Church of England to the bitter end, defending one's principles. (Rather like the World War II Japanese soldiers who kept fighting after the surrender - fine warriors even though wrong.) But like I said about the Episcopalians, the Church of England has the authority to enforce its (ever-changing) teachings just like we do ours (not ever-changing); to be high-church there is to be an Affirming Catholic. Since the Christian East is obviously an estranged part of the church, not THE church like it thinks it is, the answer is to come home to England's original church.

  2. Thank you for cutting and pasting, with out attribution, my facebook post which was subsequently published by David Virtue.

    1. No offense intended, Father; I didn't know David Virtue had published it. Here is the attribution link.

  3. Your sexism is appalling. Female clergy are a unique and precious gift to the Church Catholic.

  4. Women clergy are not needed and are subversive, just like Anglo~Catholicism ~ the Frankenstein monster of the Reformed and Anglo~Catholic theft and murder of the Arminian High Church.


Leave comment