Roaming Catholics: More conversions than ever before...
By John Cooney
Saturday March 01 2008
The appointment this week of the Venerable Dermot Dunne, a former Catholic priest, as Dean of Christchurch, one of Dublin's two landmark Anglican cathedrals, highlights a growing trend of "denominational migration".
Up until recently it was regarded as a social stigma, even a badge of shame, for a Catholic to convert to Protestantism, or for a Protestant of whichever strand -- Anglicanism, Presbyterianism or Methodism -- to embrace the Roman Faith.
Indeed, much of the history of 20th century Ireland, especially since the foundation of the State in 1921, was bedevilled by the decline of the minority Protestant population, mainly as a result of the Catholic Church's strict mixed marriage regulations requiring children to be raised as Catholics [in this regard we might remark that in some parts of Northern Ireland it is still seriously believed, even today, that the decline in the Protestant population of the Republic of Ireland after partition was caused by an orchestrated campaign of genocide by the Irish government, and that Protestants were done to death in extermination camps after the manner of the Third Reich!].
Memories still linger, particularly in the West of Ireland, of the crusades by Protestant evangelicals in the mid-19th century to provide soup-bowls to the starving Catholic poor on condition that they committed their souls to the Bible as propounded by the anti-Romanist preachers since the 16th century Reformation [Melancholicus is actually quite impressed by the 'soupers', since the Church of Ireland throughout its long history made practically no effort to convert the popishly-affected majority of the population].
When introducing Dean-elect Dunne, and his English wife, Celia, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, admitted that it was no great shock to him that at a time of change within each of the Christian traditions, individuals are finding their expression of Christian faith in another tradition.
Noting that last year Mrs Anita Henderson, the wife of the Anglican Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Dr Richard Henderson, was received into the Catholic Church in Ballina, Co Mayo, Dr Neill said the important thing is that "we do not go seeking people from other denominations to attract them into our own." [classic ecumenical niceness!]
Noting that proselytism was something unfortunate [!] that happened in previous generations, he added: "The freedom and acceptance of change and the way that ecumenical relationships remain strong when people change from one denomination to another is not causing great pain," he insisted. "I do not see this as anything like triumphalism. We are all part of the Christian Church."
The reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s spawned a new era of ecumenical détente among previously feuding Christians, but 'the Restoration' policies pursued by the late Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, [here we go, stick the knife in! Can't pass up any opportunity to attack the Holy Father now, can we Mr. Cooney?] have put the brakes on the pace of the church unity movement on issues such as shared Eucharist, Rome's continued non-recognition of the validity of Anglican Orders, the compulsory celibacy of Catholic priests, and Rome's refusal to ordain women and its consequent alarm over the ordination of women and gay men to the Anglican episcopacy and priesthood [There are a number of issues here, which we will treat seriatim:
- First of all, the so-called "shared Eucharist". The Church of Ireland, in common with certain other branches of the Anglican Communion, offers an open table to other Christians "in good standing" in their own denominations who wish to receive communion at an Anglican service. This is a novelty in the history of Anglicanism, which traditionally did not offer the Eucharist indiscriminately to all and sundry, never mind to stubborn papists or to the adherents of sects. The reader should study the exhortations printed in the communion rite in the Prayer Book for an exposition of the classic Anglican position. Now that the novelty of an open table has been introduced in these unbelieving and ecumaniacal times, is it not presumptious, to say the least, to expect other Churches to espouse the same novelty as a matter of course? Shall we not do better to regard this innovation for what it is, namely an aberration that shall disappear when a measure of sanity begins to return to the churches of the Anglican Communion?
Furthermore, the Eucharist is an expression of communion with those with whom one shares it. How can such communion be pretended when it does not in fact exist? "Eucharistic sharing" ignores the very real divisions and disagreements between Christians, preferring instead to generate a warm and fuzzy but no less false feeling of unity, a fake and artificial unity which is not grounded in reality. "Eucharistic sharing" is on this basis actually a form of spiritual prostitution. Suppose, gentle reader, that your next-door neighbour should offer to you his wife (or her husband, if you are female) for your good pleasure. If you are decent and a gentleman, you would of course decline. Would you not also be greatly affronted if your neighbour then expected to be allowed take the same liberties with your own wife as he offered you with his? In such manner do we behave when we offer the Eucharist to those with whom we are not in communion, or if we avail of such an offer from them.
Finally, those who engage in indiscriminate "Eucharistic sharing" are also guilty of failing to discern the body of the Lord. There is a world of difference between the Roman Catholic theology of the Eucharist and the Anglican theology of the same. This means in effect that the Roman Eucharist and the Anglican Eucharist are two completely different things. No Roman Catholic who knows his faith would ever be prepared to receive the Eucharist at an Anglican service, except out of malice or unbelief. No Roman Catholic priest could, unless he had lost his faith or valued the approval of men more than the approval of God, offer the Eucharist to Anglican communicants, except under those few exceptions granted by canon law.
- Now to deal with what Cooney calls "Rome's continued non-recognition of the validity of Anglican Orders". Actually, he has this sentence backwards. He ought to have said "Rome's continued recognition of the invalidity of Anglican Orders". Cooney simply assumes that Anglican Orders are "valid". But what does "valid" mean in this context? Can Cooney not tell us why Rome perceives a difference between its own orders and those of the Anglican church? As with the Eucharist, there is an unbridgable gulf between the Roman Catholic and the Anglican theology of orders. Cooney misleads his readers by treating this most serious question as a simple matter of reciprocal courtesy, as though there were no reason beyond a snooty sense of superiority for Rome to withhold "recognition" of Anglican Orders. He does not inform his readers that Rome recognises as valid the orders of the Orthodox and Old Catholic churches, even though these bodies are not in communion with the Holy See, and that if only the Anglican churches possessed the same orders as these bodies, Rome would have no hesitation in recognising them also. Despite the definitive judgement of Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae, there are many today, including Catholics, who continue to insist with John Cooney that Anglican Orders are fully valid in the Catholic sense. Of course the situation has been muddied somewhat since 1896 by the introduction of the so-called "Dutch Touch", namely the ordination of Anglican clergy by Old Catholic bishops whose orders are not in dispute, and the Anglicans themselves have long since fixed the defects in their ordinal which, according to the Holy See, caused a fatal interruption of the apostolic succession in the sixteenth century.
For more on this contentious question, the reader will find a useful collection of resources here.
- Melancholicus shall pass over the issue of clerical celibacy, since he has said enough about it elsewhere. Instead, he shall move on to what Cooney calls "Rome's refusal to ordain women", as though this were simply an issue of sexism. But this question is related to that on orders above; once again, the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches have two radically divergent theologies of ordination, and they cannot be regarded as though there is no difference between them. The Roman Catholic Church believes it has no authority to confer the sacrament of holy orders on women. This is because the sacraments were instituted not by the Church, but by Christ, and the Church has no authority to change them in accordance with the fads of the hour. Of course, true to his tendentious approach throughout this article, what Cooney neglects to tell us is that the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood and episcopate has caused enormous rifts everywhere in the Anglican Communion wherever such ordinations have taken place. Thus this matter is not reducible to a simplistic view of Rome as sexist and authoritarian, and Canterbury as inclusive and enlightened.
- As if to seal the deal, Cooney feels compelled to thump the drum of the homosexualist lobby. Once again, hidebound reactionary Rome is unfavourably contrasted with open and enlightened Canterbury, as the latter, knowingly and with approbation, ordains gay men (and gay women) to the priesthood and episcopate. Although the Roman hierarchy is likewise full of ring pirates, as a spate of scandals over the past decade or more has revealed, homosexuality is frowned upon by hidebound reactionary Rome, which Cooney would like us to believe is horrified by all expressions of human sexuality. Once again he fails to mention that the Anglican Communion is at this moment bitterly convulsed over the issue of the ordination and marriage of practicing homosexuals, far more bitterly than any controversy generated by women's ordination.]
At the same time as the re-imposition of Rome's doctrinal authority [ooooh, evil authoritarian Rome!], increasing numbers of Irish Catholics have adopted 'Protestant' attitudes on issues of personal conscience such as birth control, cohabitation and divorce [there are many Anglicans, and other protestants likewise, who also reject birth control, cohabitation and divorce. Once again, Cooney attempts to reduce these matters to a simple question of backward, reactionary Rome and a modern and enlightened 'protestant' attitude] -- and are out of tune with the Sistine choir [this guy is far too enamoured of his own wisecracks to be a credible journalist. Is that why he has opted to write about issues of religion rather than something more "serious" such as politics?].
One option for disaffected Catholics is to join the Church of Ireland. It is estimated that 10pc of its 125,585 members in the 2006 census were born Catholics. This represents the highest figure for the Church of Ireland in the Republic since 1936 [This is true. Membership of the Church of Ireland is certainly growing. The figure Cooney provides includes only those who live in the Irish Republic. More Anglicans live in the north than in the south. Altogether the Church of Ireland has about 390,000 adherents, though this is still a lot less than the nearly 700,000 or so that belonged to the Church at the time of its disestablishment in 1870].
Dean Dunne is but one of several ex-Catholic priests in the Anglican ministry. Another notable [!] recruit is a former Dublin priest, the Rev Mark Hayden, now Rector in Gorey, Co Wexford, who describes his spiritual journey in his book, Changing Colours [First of all, Rev. Hayden's book is called Changing Collars, not Changing Colours. Cooney clearly hasn't read it. But Melancholicus has, since he used to know the author somewhat during the latter's appointment as a curate in Greystones, before he left the Church. In 2007, in the grip of a deep melancholic despond and, partly for that reason (among numerous others), disenchanted with the Irish RC Church, Melancholicus actually flirted with the idea of becoming an Anglican. Knowing of Rev. Hayden's departure some years earlier and finding that he had written a book about his journey, Melancholicus eagerly obtained a copy (in a Catholic bookshop!), looking forward to a learned and convincing vindication of the Anglican religion against the errors of popery. If he expected such, he was singularly disappointed. Rev. Hayden's book is not about theology at all, but more an exposé of its author’s human weaknesses and unfortunate misunderstandings. For such a defence, Melancholicus would have done much better to read Hooker, Andrewes, Cosin or Jeremy Taylor. Hayden's reasons for becoming an Anglican were so poor in comparison. In fact, he might have become any kind of protestant; there is nothing particularly Anglican about him. In the end, reason and conscience prevailed, and Melancholicus is still popishly affected to this day].
"I was a devout Mass-going Catholic, but I could not take the 'one shoe for all sizes' doctrinal hard-line from the Vatican, as the fate of many distinguished theologians from Jacques Dupuis to Charles Curran amply demonstrates," he says. "I also felt alienated and unwelcome in parish churches which were dominated by poorly read, loud-mouthed Catholic conservatives whose ignorance of theology was matched only by the emptiness of their unthinkingly conformist rhetoric." [wow, don't we have some issues here!]
Clearly, Rome and Maynooth are losing bright luminaries [!] to the more liberal Church of Ireland. 'Denominational migration' has winners and losers.
Melancholicus knows nothing about Dermot Dunne, but for Cooney to describe Mark Hayden as a ‘bright luminary’ seems to be begging the question. If Rev. Hayden really regards clowns like Curran and Dupuis as ‘distinguished theologians’, it doesn’t say much for his own intellectual prowess, his powers of discernment or his judgement of character. Rev. Hayden seems to be carrying a lot of anger and baggage from the past. He should, for the good of his physical, spiritual and emotional health, just let it go. I know he had some bad experiences at the hands of uncharitable persons prior to his departure from the Church, but come on, Mark, be bigger than that! Don’t bare your wounded soul and the emptiness of your unthinkingly fuzzy theology in the pages of the national press: get a blog! They're free you know, and you can say what you like about your nasty loud-mouthed conservatives without fear of rebuke.
But as for losing such ‘luminaries’ to the ‘more liberal’ Church of Ireland, there are not a few Irish Anglicans who are none too happy about such migrational trends. The quality of the traffic seems to be all one way, so far as Melancholicus can see. In most instances, the Anglican Church gives Rome her brightest and best people, and we give her our dross, our rejects, our cast-offs and our nincompoops in exchange. She sends us Bible-believing, serious, moral, upright Christians, the very best that the faith of their Church has formed, persons who know how to reason and defend the Christian faith against the assaults of an aggressive secularism. From our ranks she receives religious illiterates, persons whose motivation for abandoning the Roman communion is neither conscientious nor scriptural, but often because they wish to pursue a lifestyle of loose morals. They break with Rome over such issues as contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, sodomy and suchlike, and they have the temerity to think that the good people of the Church of Ireland will give them a sympathetic hearing. For there are not a few Irish Anglicans who deplore the entrenched and institutionalised liberalism of their Church, and how unscriptural it has become in its normalisation of what were once considered grave immoralities. So who is the winner really?
Alas, Mr. Cooney, you have become a parody of yourself!