The Episcopal drama continues

The next step in the slow break-up (or whatever it is) between the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communication appears to be underway.

Episcopalians Gay BishopsThe Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has elected a lesbian priest as a bishop. If U.S. church leaders affirm the decision and the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool (that’s her) is consecrated, well, the chain reaction is pretty easy to foresee.

In fact, it’s already started.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, normally a cautious fellow, has already released this statement:

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The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.

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Of course, it was the consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003 that really highlighted the growing divide between the Episcopal Church and much of the Anglican Communion over homosexuality.

As has been reported ad nauseum since then, Episcopalians are much more liberal on these matters than many of their Anglican brethren overseas.

Episcopal leaders decided in 2006 to try to refrain from picking any more gay bishops for a while. But they said “oh forget it, we’ll do what we want” this past July.

So we’ll see what happens.

As I often say at the end of these Episcopal break-up posts, it’s all much ado about nothing here in the Diocese of New York, where bishops, most priests and most parishioners are gay-friendly, proud of it and largely disinterested in doing anything to please their would-be detractors.

The diocese’s statement about gay marriage being defeated by the NYS Senate last week included this: “In calling your senators and in continuing to advocate, be sure to let them know that the Episcopal Diocese of New York remains on the record as supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples, as per our resolution at the 2008 Diocesan Convention.  Although the governor and the senate leaders were told of this, we should continually remind them as we go forward, so as to balance out the voices of other religious groups that fought against marriage equality.”

Is the Vatican/Anglican story that big a deal?

I would imagine that a lot of people are confused today by the Big News that the Vatican is taking steps to make it easier for conservative Anglicans to become Catholics while retaining Anglican traditions.

The fact that the NYTimes made it the Lead Story today will by itself tell many people that this is a major step for Rome.

I’m not so sure, although the whole thing is certainly quite interesting.

As you know, many traditional Anglicans — including Episcopalians in the U.S. — are unhappy with the liberal drift in parts of the Anglican Communion (meaning Europe and the U.S). They do not want to see gay bishops or female bishops. Some still do not want to see female priests. They don’t like the idea of some Anglican priests blessing same-sex couples.

Just last year, conservative Episcopalians in the U.S. left the church to form their own Anglican community, the Anglican Church in North America.

Now, some Anglicans have petitioned the Vatican to let them become Roman Catholics, while holding on to their Anglican liturgy.

But not that many.

Vatican AnglicansThe Times itself reports today that Cardinal William Levada (that’s him), the American boss of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “said that 20 to 30 bishops and hundreds of other people had petitioned the Vatican on the matter in recent years.”

We’re talking HUNDREDS of people out of 80 million Anglicans. Maybe a couple of thousand will think about making the change.

Most Anglicans live in parts of the world where their church communities are already quite traditional. So they’re good, more or less.

And disaffected Americans already have their own community that allows them to remain Anglicans.

So what’s the big deal?

Father Thomas Reese, the Jesuit scholar, writes that the most significant aspects of the whole story may be that the Catholic Church will recognize the Anglican liturgy — possibly opening the doors to other liturgical adventures — and that an uptick in married Anglican priests who become Catholic will raise new questions about the need for the celibate priesthood.

He writes:

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Despite all the Vatican attempts to downplay the acceptance of married Anglican priests, many people will ask why not married priests for other Catholics? Cardinal Levada said that not only married Anglican priests will be ordained but also married Anglican seminarians who join the Catholic Church. The Vatican has made clear that married Catholic priests will not be welcomed back to the priesthood, but could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church? If so, this could become a rich source of priests for the Catholic Church.

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This is interesting stuff. But I haven’t heard or read anything to make me think that we’re going to be see any major changes here in the Catholic or Anglican worlds.

Britain Vatican AnglicansMaybe that’s why two Anglican archbishops, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (that’s him), endorsed the whole thing, saying that it’s all good for conservative Anglicans who want out.

If they expected to lose significant numbers of Anglicans, I doubt they would have that reaction.

The funny thing to me is that I’ve long joked that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. could triple in size by actively seeking out lapsed Catholics. Come up with a fancy name for a “Try us, you’ll like us” program. Promote several easy steps toward becoming an Episcopalian. Explain how familiar the Episcopal liturgy would be for ex-Catholics.

Sort of like what the Vatican is doing, but in reverse.

But the Episcopal Church will never do it. It would be un-P.C.

Episcopal/Anglican split to widen?

When Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attended the opening of the Episcopal Church’s national meeting in Anaheim last week, he said, “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.”

So much for that.

Yesterday, bishops at the General Convention voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement that “God has called and may call” gays and lesbians to ministry.

The day before, lay leaders and clergy had passed a similar resolution. Their group, the House of Deputies, is expected to approve the bishops’ version before things break up Friday.

Three years ago, the Episcopal Church took the position that restraint should be showed in the selection of bishops — meaning that choosing another gay bishop, after Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, would further anger much of the Anglican Communion.

Now, the EC appears to be moving away from that position. But it’s still not entirely clear (at least to me) how the new resolutions are expected to change things.

The AP’s Rachel Zoll writes:

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Drafters of the latest statement insisted that the resolution only acknowledges that the Episcopal Church ordains partnered gays and lesbians and is not a repeal of what was widely considered a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.

“The constitution and canons of our church as currently written do not preclude gay and lesbian persons from participating,” in any part of the church, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, on the committee that drafted the statement. “These people have responded to God’s call.”