I. Introducing Dr. Hunt
I try and avoid calling into question anyone’s claim to be Catholic. I might say that they’re a dissident, theologically liberal, or even heterodox Catholic, but I don’t like saying “Catholic” with quotation marks. God knows their heart, and if we start parsing through everything they’ve said to compare it with Church doctrine, well, a lot of people who think they’re holding to the Faith of the Church probably misunderstand bits and pieces. It’s really a question of “Where do we stop?” and since I’m not the authority God’s entrusted to interpret whose in full, visible communion with Rome, it’s not my place to answer that question.
I’m going to make an exception to that today. Dr. Mary E. Hunt (left) is a “Catholic,” not an actual Catholic. She considers herself “a Roman Catholic active in the women-church movement,” which is to say, “a Roman Catholic who actively opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.” Her bio mentions that she “lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her partner, Diann L. Neu, and their daughter, Catherine Fei Min Hunt-Neu,” so fighting the Church isn’t something she does just from 9-5: it’s not just a job, it’s her self-made vocation. While the Church may never have sought her out and excommunicated her, her views aren’t even remotely Catholic.
In fact, her work seems to be exclusively focused on taking down the Catholic Church. It’s not as though there are a handful of issues where her nominal Catholicism actually manifests itself with any authentically Catholic ideas. She doesn’t even write on those things which liberals love about the Catholic Church, like Her opposition to the death penalty (in most cases), or Her support of organized labor. No, every article she’s written for Religion Dispatches attacks either the Catholic stance on the issue, or the Catholic Church or Pope directly, with titles like “Sex and the Seminary: Wake Up and Smell the Incense,” and which contain purposely misleading information. Take this article, which suggests that bishops like Abp. Burke have “too much time on their hands” when they enforce canon law against those who flaunt it by attending and supporting women’s ordination. An accompanying picture to the article reads, “Two Roman Catholic women, ordained in Minneapolis in 2007.” Really? Because the Roman Catholic Church claims that they weren’t ordained, that women’s ordination isn’t possible, and that these two women were excommunicated for this blasphemous mockery of the sacraments. So calling them “Roman Catholic women” who were “ordained” seems… inaccurate.
In the same article she scoffs that “most thinking Catholics have moved on from the notion that the institutional church dispenses the sacraments the way a gas station provides fuel for a car. ” In place of the “institutional church” (read: Roman Catholic Church), she offers the alternative of the “Women-Church movement,” which “consists of house churches in which small groups of women (and some men) engage in sacrament and solidarity as per the Catholic tradition without any structural connection (adversarial or begging acceptance) to the Roman Catholic institution,” and which includes, she boats, “people from a variety of faith traditions.” Whatever “Women-Church” is, it certainly isn’t Roman Catholicism.
II. Dr. Hunt’s Take on the New Apostolic Constitution
One would think that if the Vatican did something like accepting like-minded Christians into the Church, particularly while allowing them to keep their own liturgical contributions to the global Church, a sane liberal Catholic would love it. After all, they’re affirming what we affirm, and yet they make the global mural of Catholicism a little more interesting. Aren’t liberal Catholics supposed to love multiculturalism in the Church? And isn’t that exactly what’s going to be happening here? For starters, a huge number of those Anglicans viewed as likely to convert are from Africa, so there’s more racial/ethnic diversity, which is certainly a positive; but the unique history and liturgy of traditional Anglicans seems like it would be something we’d want to add, right? Aren’t all voices welcome, and all people welcome at the table in liberal Catholicism? Well, apparently not – at least, not if they’re conservative voices, even not-yet-Catholic religious conservatives. Or perhaps it’s even simpler than that: the whole “Vatican = Bad” brainrot that substitutes for critical thinking and prayerful discernment have made this diversity bad not because of who’s included, but because of who’s sending out the invites. The following is Dr. Hunt’s take (in red), followed by my responses (in blue):
- “Vatican’s Come-Hither to Anglicans: A Theological Scandal”
This is the title, I kid you not. And it’s my first clue that she has no idea what she’s talking about. The traditional Anglicans in question have already affirmed their full faith in everything in the Cathechism, a standard which Dr. Hunt can’t remotely meet. If anyone’s inclusion in the Catholic Church amounts to a “theological scandal” due to their dissident views, it’s not the newbies.
- Let history record this theological scandal for what it is. Touted by Rome as a step forward in ecumenical relations with a cousin communion, it is in fact the joining of two camps united in their rejection of women and queer people as unworthy of religious leadership.
If all it took to be Catholic was a rejection of “women and queer people” religious leadership, the Reformation would have ended really quickly. A whole slew of Protestant churches still reject priestesses and practicing homosexual ministers. If Hunt looked at, say, Evangelicals, rather than the smaller (and shrinking) liberal “mainline” Protestant churches, she’d realize how silly this statement was.
- Current policy allows Lutheran and Episcopal married priests to jump the fence with the family in tow. Yet Roman Catholic men who wish to marry, never mind Roman Catholic women who might even agree to celibacy, are prohibited from being ordained. No Roman Catholic official seems to be able to say in a straightforward way why this is the case. They mumble something about tradition and certain distinctions.
Entire books have been written on this, like Stefan Heid’s Celibacy In The Early Church: The Beginnings of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West. Granted, he’s not a cleric, by why hold to that arbitrary standard? It’s not as though clerics are the only people who proclaim traditional Catholicism. As for women, that’s a whole other issue, and it’s dogmatic, not disciplinary. The pope wrote an apostolic letter on the issue, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. And he was a cleric. And he’s not mumbling here at all. Is Hunt unaware of the arguments, or just ignoring and downplaying them? And which speaks worse of her scholarly prowess?
- In no way does the Vatican engage the issues that led to the English Reformation in the sixteenth century. Rather, Rome pretends to be flexible and modern about all this, gracious and accommodating like a fox.
Again, these Anglicans have communally affirmed the substance of Roman Catholicism (I’m referring specifically to the 400,000+ member body Traditional Anglican Communion). It’s not like anyone who happens to be Anglican is automatically Catholic now, regardless of their beliefs. It’s still necessary to hold the Catholic Faith, whole and inviolate. It just so happens that “the Latin-Rite Mass is the only acceptable Liturgy” isn’t a part of that Faith.
So where, again, is the pretending? “Rome” is doing anything but pretending to be all modern. That ridiculous clamoring for modernity, that infuriating flexibility towards evil, is why these Traditional (notice that word, and how dissimilar it sounds from “modernist”) Anglicans are thinking about bailing out en masse. Only someone who blindly equates “good” with “flexible and modern” could make such an obvious mistake.
- When the property fights begin, I predict the niceties will give way to some serious struggles and we will see just how accommodating Rome can’t be.
We’ll see. Personally, I think if the Anglicans got to take Canterbury Cathedral and so many other awesome churches when the head of the national church changed religions, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, particularly if any of the churches which convert worship in historic Catholic churches. It’d be interesting to see Anglicans justify the logic “when Catholics turned Anglican, Anglicans take the property; now that Anglicans are turning Catholic, Anglicans take the property.” But again, we’ll see.
- In this case, the low-hanging fruit is British Anglicans who have not figured out how to reorganize themselves in light of their denomination’s changes. Early word from the US group led by the Rev. Martyn Minns of Virginia is that they are in fine shape, thank you, setting up their own structures so they will not need to convert.
Actually, the link says nothing about them being in “fine shape.” Rev. Minns said that: “[For] 40 years I belonged to a church that has forgotten these timeless truths. My own church became what I have heard called the church of Utopian Unitarian Universalism.” He then said that “division within the Anglican Communion has been painful. Here in the U.S.A. it has been agonizing.” But looking at the bright side said, “Out of the confusion and decline, exciting new life is emerging,” in the form of groups like CANA (his own group) and the similar Anglican Mission in America. That’s not saying anybody’s in fine shape, but that God can work with anything. Besides all of this, the article is from over a month before the Vatican’s announcement, so it’s hardly the response she paints it as. “Early word,” indeed, Dr. Hunt.
That said, Minns has responded, saying that, ” This move by the Catholic Church recognizes the reality of the divide within the Anglican Communion and affirms the decision to create a new North American province that embraces biblical truth. While we welcome the positive response from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Vatican’s provision, we urge Lambeth Palace to move swiftly to fully endorse the efforts of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and the Anglican Church in North America to keep the Anglican family together.” So the ball’s in the Anglican Church’s hands now, in Minns’ opinion: they can act, or risk splitting up the Anglican family. Where’s the “we are in fine shape, thank you,” again?
- One wonders how long they can resist Rome’s charms. Imagine the real estate opportunities as US Roman Catholic churches close and conservative Anglicans need buildings. Think of the brilliant solution to the priest shortage as guaranteed-to-toe-the-line Anglican priests replace the Roman boys as they die off and/or think for themselves.
Right. I’m sure that there are a lot of Anglicans thinking, “we need a new church… let’s switch denominations!” Remember that bit from my post yesterday about how Anglican priests are looking at something like a 65% pay cut. Then try and swallow this “they’re just being sneaky and selfish” line.
- Conjure the sight of high mass with a raft of altar servers and incense so abundant it makes parishioners forget there ever was a Vatican II.
Quick: find the part of Vatican II that said “get rid of altar servers and incense”? Can’t find it? Me neither. But I guess (the “spirit of”) Vatican II = flexibility and modernism = good. That silly little formula leaves little room for the content of the actual Council documents.
- What is to prevent other denominations from following Rome’s lead? For example, what if the Anglican Communion set up a Catholic wing where those Roman Catholics who believe in the ordination of women and same-sex loving clergy could be Anglicans of the Roman Catholic Rite? The Mennonites might create a Catholic rite for those who follow them on peace issues, resulting in Catholic Mennonites.
Nothing. If the Anglican Church wants to make it easier for Catholic dissidents to join, nobody is stopping them. Oh, how I wish Abp. Rowan Williams is reading this right now. (On a serious note, we mourn the loss of those who stray from the Catholic Faith, but it’s possible to stray without formally leaving – both forms of straying are tragic). The Catholic Church, like most churches, tends to hold to the idea that religious denominations are based on what you believe. So if you… you know, don’t believe in Anglicanism, and believe in Catholicism, it’s not that crazy to become a Catholic. Or vice versa. This “stand in the place where you were” form of ecumenism is just nuttily arbitrary.
- It is more likely that Rome might decide that one does not even have to be Christian; that discrimination against women and gays is enough of a common bond to create some Catholics of the Muslim rite, for example.
Is she serious? Does she understand that these Anglicans, to enter the Catholic Church, must believe what the Catholic Church believes? Is it possible to be Muslim and do that? That said, Muslim converts to the Faith would be more than welcome, and if entire Muslim churches wanted to become Catholic, heck yes, we’d accept them. Given Spanish history, it looks like we’d even let them keep their mosques, replacing their minarets with Church bell towers.
- The permutations are endless but the result is the same: a perversion of everything the ecumenical movement has stood for in the last hundred years. Ecumenical Christians have tried to learn about one another’s traditions and find positive places of agreement—not little pockets of shared prejudice.
I’ll note that the Anglicans in question found such “positive places of agreement” that they’re converting. That’s the ideal of ecumenism, isn’t it? That all may be One? This is the ultimate one-ness. As for “little pockets of shared prejudice,” what she’s calling prejudice, the rest of us call “traditional Christianity,” or “Biblical Truth.”
- I feel sorry for Rowan Williams if he did not know what he was up against when he engaged in bilateral relations with Rome, only to be subject to its treachery.
What’s the difference between dissenting Catholics, anti-Catholic Fundamentalists, and New Atheists? Not their views on”Rome” (never “the Catholic Church”), for sure. They all share a Dan Brown-level paranoia of those sneaky, treacherous, Romans. Of course, the Fundamentalist Protestants at least get to hang out in our “little pocket.”
So I’ve at least found someone who explains why she thinks that the Vatican’s Apostolic Constitution was a bad idea. It just so happens that her conclusions are (a) terribly misinformed, (b) paranoid, and (c) logically flawed beyond belief.