Some of you may already be familiar with the many problems I have with the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. Recently, as Ross notes in his article, the Pope created an opportunity for Anglican Bishops to leave the Church of England and enter into full communion with Rome. The hierarchy essentially marketed this opportunity to the most conservative members of the Anglican communion. The basic pitch was, "we in the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church have stubbornly refused to make those changes in our institutions required by the commitment to justice found in our theology - like allowing for the ordination of women - which your church has adopted. We know that this pisses you off because you identify faithful Christianity with institutional sexism. Here's a way to have your sexism and your Anglican liturgy all in one. All you gotta do is leave the Church of England and join up with Rome." I've already dealt with my personal struggles regarding this marketing of injustice and what it means for me as a self-identifying Catholic in a post some time ago. But what does it mean for the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in the future as this marketing is bearing fruit?
First of all, it is nice that the most sexist and homophobic bishops in the Anglican Church are so helpful in identifying themselves. I'm sure most of the Church of England already knew who they were before hand, but that kind of openness eludes us in the Catholic Church most of the time. If there are differences of opinion about the treatment of women and homosexuals among the bishops of the Catholic Church in the US, we'd be hard pressed to find them. The resignation of 5 bishops from the Church of England to join into full communion with Rome identifies them and where they stand.
The five are said to be “dismayed” at the liberal reforms to the Church in recent decades and intend to join the Ordinariate in pursuit of “unity” with Rome when the new body is established next year.While I'm sure there are those in the Church of England who are glad to have these most blatant sexists leave their fold, I am also disturbed that they are finding welcome in the Roman Catholic Church. I, and progressive Catholics like me, continue to hold out hope that, as time moves forward and the sinful institutionalization of sexism in the hierarchical structures of the Catholic Church becomes less and less tenable, the bishops will call for the end to the prohibition of the ordination of women. It will take courageous bishops and a courageous pontiff. However, the current crop of bishops and their pope cling to the sexism which they believe insures their continued power and influence. Benedict XVI has continued to reach out, in the name of Christian unity, to the most radical conservative elements in the Roman Church and now in the Anglican Church. This will have repercussions for decades if not generations.
On the other hand, these five bishops will soon find, no doubt, that communion with Rome has downsides as well. Within the Anglican communion, bishops have had much more autonomy than bishops in the Roman Catholic Church have. These bishops may find the bonds of unity with Rome to be more restrictive than they like. And, of course, there is always the chance (slim and growing slimmer with each new bishop and each new cardinal) that our next pope - or the one after that - will be a man of courage and justice; someone who will recognize the face of Christ in the women who have been serving in roles of leadership in local parishes and dioceses for so long. Where will these bishops and their respective flocks turn should a new pope make a new policy? We will probably have some sort of schism again. They and their ilk will go their own way and claim the rest of the church apostate and heretical. The fact of the matter remains that the majority of the world is extremely sexist and homophobic. Sexist and homophobic doctrines and structures will continue to appeal to people all over the world for a long time to come. I wish they weren't so hell-bent on making those rather theologically insignificant doctrines (though not practically insignificant) the main selling point for Christian faith moving forward.
What we will have is a church bound together, not by the love of Christ, but by common hatred of women and homosexuals. There is nothing in the gospel of Jesus Christ which requires Christians to hate, exclude, denigrate, or belittle anyone. And yet, on the basis of all these things, the pope and these five bishops claim they are working for the cause of Christian unity. There is nothing Christian about sexism. There is nothing Christian about homophobia. The great tragedy of our age is that these two things have become identical with Christianity in the minds of, well, just about everyone; believers and non-believers alike. Only a handful of progressive Christians see it differently. Hopefully these prophets will be heard or these injustices will continue to be perpetrated in the name of Christ.