Rorate Caeli

Op-Ed: A French Historian muses about the "Anglicanization" of the Catholic Church: A Priest Responds

Paul VI is paid a "solemn visit" by the high Anglican minister of Canterbury, March 23, 1966 

French historian Luc Perrin, a Professor at the University of Strasbourg, and a well-known commentator of Catholic matters, published a long comment at the French Traditional Catholic page "Le Forum Catholique", in which he asked if the Catholic Church is going through a process of "Anglicanization".

Our Contributor Fr. Richard Cipolla, DPhil, thought this was an interesting exercise and penned a response.

First, Professor Perrin's dubium:

I am submitting this reflection to the wisdom of the reader: this idea has been running around in my head since the annus terribilus of 2018 at least.

There were various theological elements of Catholicism that were the subject of discussion before 2013, but it seems to me—some will disagree on this point, but this is not what I am talking about—that in these discussions the magisterium of Vatican II and the post-conciliar developments until 2013 defended a hermeneutic of reform within a search for continuity, rejecting the hermeneutics of rupture in a direct and recurring manner (this is true for Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, in whose allocution of December 22, 2005 was the last to formalize this insistence on continuity.)

Once again, it is not on this question, which has been widely debated for forty years, that I await your reactions and thoughts.

The modern drift—we are no longer in the 16th century and the Thirty Nine Articles that in a sense defined Anglicanism—of Anglicanism as it has become since the 1970s, seems to me to characterize the current hermeneutics of rupture in Rome.

The Anglican Communion in the West—not in Africa—has made the choice to align themselves in step with the dominant currents within Western modern liberalism:

--Debate concerning women in ordained ministry and the results of the debate: deacons (1987). Then ministers (priestesses) in 1994 and then bishops (2014) for the Church of England. We know that this approach to the idea of women in ordained ministry has been constantly taken up by Catholic liberals since the 1980s. It has been taken up at least for the first stage—women deacons—by the present Pontiff.

--Debate about homosexuality in the clergy: first for ministers, then for bishops. Starting from homosexual candidates for ministry who are leading chaste lives, the debate continued by going on to consider those homosexuals who are living as a couple as candidates for Holy Orders. This came mainly out of the Episcopal Church in the United States. As far as local churches go, the accomplishment of the goal has been complete with homosexual men and women in all grades of ministry.

--An openly modernist approach—in atheological sense—to the reading and interpretation of Scripture. We have seen this approach within Catholicism among exegetical scholars for decades.

--A version of “Christianity” that has been dyed with secular stripes as a contribution to “values” (which exist only as temporary data in liberalism) of secular Western liberal cultures.

--A social doctrine that keeps traditional anti-liberalism in its formulations but which in practice is satisfied with the Thatcher-Reagan version of a “liberal” economy that has unfolded since the 1980s.LaudatoSì fits in well with this doctrinal continuity, but what we really have in practice is the McCarrick-Wuerl Papal Foundation. The organs of social Catholicism have considerably weakened in the West. The demands of “social justice” are fought against in the USA by those in the most sold and orthodox Catholic circles. This is due to the fact that this “social justice” was “Anglicized” as well and is concerned with feminism, multiculturalism without breaks or measure, to the most far-fetched theories of gender (transgender hysteria in the US). On this point, the reigning Pontiff has maintained ties with the classic social doctrine of the Church with his support for the national-communist regime of Venezuela and a mistrust of American hyper-liberalism.

--The last point. The more apparent than real favor given to a Kasperite view of ecclesiology. According to this view, doctrine can vary, as in the Anglican Disunion, from one continent to another, from one episcopal conference to another, from one diocese to another. There would no longer be variations considered as “pastoral” but rather doctrinal readings that imply divergent pastoral practice. Cardinal Kasper criticized African prelates at the 2014 Synod, telling them that they should not meddle in European affairs. So good at bringing Kasper’s understanding of the Church into the bright daylight!

In the end it would be one more stage in the grand compromise between the Faith and Modernity through the loss of savor of the evangelical salt, a weakening which is leading and will lead to a situation of the Anglican type: desertion of the churches, an abundance of “vocations” in the most heterodox sectors ( feminists and homosexual clergy), the progressive dissolution of the Church’s social influence and a more and more marked institutional disintegration between one region and another.

There are differences. I do not say that there is a strict equivalence, but it seems to me that the current neo-Catholicism is going in this direction.

What do you think?

Now, Father Cipolla's responsum:


Professor Luc Perrin asks for responses to his piece published on Le Forum Catholique on the similarity of where Anglicanism has gone theologically and the path being followed by the Catholic Church today. I must confess that I have more than a little interest in the question he poses, since I am a former Episcopal priest who became Catholic and was ordained a Catholic priest 35 years ago. Without going through too many autobiographical details, I must say that I became a Catholic because of a conclusion, after years of theological study and thought, thatthe only valid claim in the West to be the Church of Jesus Christ that is continuous with her founding by Christ is the Catholic Church. My mentors in this journey were the Church Fathers and Blessed John Henry Newman. It was Newman above all who made me understand the relationship between intellectual assent and faith. It was also he who prevented me from the excesses of converts with respect to unhealthy zeal for all things deemed Catholic in the mold of Fr. Faber. It was also he who inoculated me against the disease of hyperpapalism.

I recall while I was still an Episcopal priest going to ecumenical talks between Anglicans and Catholics and being amazed at the opinions of Catholic priests about the nature of the Church and the ministry of the Church. So it gave me great pause in the late 70s and early 80s to hear Catholic priests espouse theological opinions that were precisely why I left Anglicanism. My final break with Anglicanism came with the “illegal” ordination of three women as priests and the ensuing failure of the Anglican hierarchy to condemn this act, which is against the clear Tradition of the Church.

And so my response to Perrin’s request for commentary is that I believe there is truth in his observation that the Catholic Church seems to be following the Anglican trajectory in rejecting Tradition as has been understood by the Church until now and instead embracing a liberal, quasi-gnostic understanding of the Church that in the end is incompatible with the Catholic faith. I recently published an article on the Commission appointed by the Pope to investigate the possibility of ordaining women deacons. That the Pope appointed this Commission without reference to the International Theological Commission of 2002 which studied quite thoroughly the office of deacon in the Church shows quite clearly that in these matters what has been said in the past either in a quasi-official form or even by a Pope has no relevance to what the liberal gnostics think should happen in the Church to bring it up to date with the world. The Pope now has the report of the Commission, and we shall see what he decides about women deacons. I ended that piece I wrote with the cautious warning that once women are ordained as deacons, there is nothing to stop the ordination of women priests in an age where sexuality has no innate meaning.

Perrin’s other points have validity. I remember during my studies for the Anglican priesthood being exposed to Rahner’s “Anonymous Christianity”, and to Kung’s writings on the Church that were in some ways beyond what any Protestant could believe, and to Catholic Scripture scholars who neglected to remind the Catholic reader that the Bible is the Word of God and instead tried to outdo Bultmann in his reductionism. Commentary on the social Gospel in the Catholic Church is now mostly a watered- down version of Catholic teaching in the hope that the world will approve. But the world is much more intelligent than many Catholic bishops and rejects this embarrassing attempt to denature the difficult message of Jesus Christ and which message is directly contrary to the thought processes and “life-styles” of those who inhabit this post-modern age.

Cardinal Newman predicted in his Biglietto speech over a century ago the infection even of the Church with “liberalism”, in the modern sense, which would cause great damage within the Church. This indeed has happened. It happened, and it is ongoing, and is being abetted by the present Pontiff and his Court in Rome and beyond, those who would happily fully Anglicanize the Church (or worse) tomorrow if they had that power. There are sparks of hope in this situation. One lies in the fact that many of these clerics are approaching eighty years of age, and God will take them soon, as he will me. Second, their disciples are so mired in the sexual scandals of the clergy, including themselves in the hierarchy, that their real power is reaching the vanishing point. Third, many young clergy and laity have discovered Catholic Tradition in the Traditional Roman Mass and will never look back to the post-conciliar past 75 years as anything normative.

Whether these thoughts have the wisdom that Perrin asks for in his request to ponder his suggestion that the Catholic Church is being Anglicanized I cannot say. But the conversation should be had.