The dream of orthodox minded Catholics and Anglican liberals came true on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 as the Vatican announced that traditional minded Anglicans, clergy included, would be welcomed into the Catholic Church with their own Anglican style rite (though not exactly a rite of their own.) The promise Jesus made that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church is now once again being made manifest for those who chose to recognize it (Matthew 16:16-20.) What King Henry VIII started Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have salvaged. The English and their former empire (if they wish) can return home again.
Since many conservatives may now leave, religious liberals too have high hopes as the worldwide Anglican Communion can possibly fulfill their wish of unbridled liberalism. However, it is becoming plain to see that it is for all intents and purposes the liberal’s wish is now turning into a death wish. The irony of reading statements by traditional Anglicans thanking God for Pope Benedict’s statement coupled by liberal Catholic posters in the dissident National Catholic Reporter asking to be saved from Rome spoke volumes. Even with fawning mainstream media coverage, every liberal Protestant denomination has seen their numbers plummet in recent years, some as much as 50%, while Catholicism, with all the negative banner headlines, continues to grow around the world.
The Archbishop of Canterbury seems a truly tragic figure cut from a Shakespearean play trying to hold together what a murderous king wrought. It couldn’t be done and so we may now see the implosion of the Anglican Communion, especially in the only region that had any vibrancy, Africa. The African and Asian continents have long been the hope of the One True Church. Fortunately, the embers of truth can also be seen in North & South American seminaries and even in Europe, where the Faith had seemed all but dead.
The last four decades have seen liberal Christianity reach out to every sort of relativistic idea, whim and group. The western intellgentsia praised these efforts even as liberal churches emptied of their adherents. The Catholic Church reached out as well but a pivotal moment occurred in 1968 when Pope Paul VI published his famous encyclical on life, Humanae Vitae. The Church would not cross the same line that Anglicanism crossed in 1930. As the barricades in Paris burned, the liberal elites predicted the same revolutionary fervor would force the Catholic Church to acquiesce much as the western world had to the ideas fermented by those manning the barricades of Paris. Yet, the Church held the line.
Even though liturgical folly would follow and a dark cloud of gloom would hang over the Church until the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, his leadership would bring the eventual Springtime of Evangelization and a longing for truth. The subsequent pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI would continue the springtime, bringing the Reform of the Reform assisting seminaries and motherhouses that opened themselves up to liturgical reform, devotions and the truth of Mother Church’s teachings. Because of these two pontificates, shoots and blossoms of hope and truth were noticeably visible within the Catholic Church.
Two examples illustrate this point that I made in my 2006 book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism. The Diocese of Rochester, which is considered to be one of the most liberal in America, had a Catholic population of 342,000. In 2006 they had a total of six seminarians studying for the priesthood. The Archdiocese of Omaha had a Catholic population of 230,000 with 30 seminarians. In Nebraska, the Diocese of Lincoln (run by perhaps the most conservative ordinary in America, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz) had a population of 89,236 Catholics with 24 in their local seminary and 10 in other seminaries. Put another way, while Lincoln and Omaha did not have as many Catholics as Rochester, these two dioceses had sixty-four men studying for the priesthood while Rochester had only six men.
Liberal Christianity would see their promise and hope disintegrate as an aging clergy turned bitter toward the very young they once claimed as their own a few decades earlier. The young who now attend Mass regularly, are more apt to believe the Church’s teachings and are more pro life in their orientation than their parents and grandparents, a fact that caused consternation with the aging dissidents. During the 1970s and early 1980s when famed dissident theologian Father Hans Kung, boasted that liberals controlled an overwhelming majority of seminaries and chanceries, little did he know that his glee would turn to anger by the time his onetime university teaching colleague, then Father Joseph Ratzinger, would become Pope Benedict XVI. Censured by the Vatican for his heretical ideas which were increasingly falling on deaf ears, Kung could only long for the days of dissent in Tubingen.
In the heyday of 1960s liberalism, Kung would tool around the narrow streets of the German university town of Tubingen in his Porsche leaving the poor bicycling Father Ratzinger in the dust. Some forty years later, the Tortoise of Truth had passed the Hare of Relativism. Because of this glorious event, the Wrecks of Walsingham can sing of liberation, Saint Thomas More and the English Martyrs are vindicated. The faithful of England can come home again; the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 is almost complete. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been said to be despondent over her church, her heir (Prince Charles) has announced that he doesn’t believe in the title Defender of the Faith.
Perhaps the future King of England will be relieved of this meddlesome title and realize that crossing the Tiber is his country’s best hope. Though the Catholic faithful may be accused of triumphalism, it is not gloating which causes them glee, but the humility of seeking what Christ wills for His Church, salvation. There is a hope that others may join the faithful on the path that Christ made manifest through His suffering, dying and rising and in the teachings of a growing Church He started 2,000 years ago. The authority that Christ left to those who would guard these sacred truths is now being listened to, respected and followed even amidst a torrent of negative verbal barbs thrown by powers and principalities that have always been rebellious. Against this improbable backdrop, the tide is still turning.