Prof. Ian Hunter: Distressing developments put CofE at risk

29 11 2010

Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. This essay appeared last week in the National Post’s op-ed pages and subsequently at Holy Post.

This week, British bookies quoted odds on where the royal marriage between Prince William and Kate Middleton would be celebrated. St. Paul’s Cathedral was leading Westminster Abbey by a nose — but it turned out the latter won. Of course, there was never any doubt that the wedding would be in the Church of England; the English Monarch is the titular head of the Church and it is, after all, a Church by law established.

The more interesting question that English bookies might ponder is whether there will be anything left of the Church of England when the putative King finishes his reign? Judging by recent events, I should say: Not very likely.

Already more people worship weekly in England’s mosques than in the Church of England. And just a few days ago, five Church of England bishops — bishops, mind you, not priests — publicly announced their resignation and explained why they are heading to Rome.

The bishops’ joint statement (from Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton, John Broadhurst, Edwin Barnes and David Silk) said that they were “distressed by developments in faith and order in Anglicanism which we believe to be incompatible with the historic vocation of Anglicanism and the tradition of the Church for 2,000 years.”

You can say that again. Whether one examines liturgy, doctrine, or the trendy issues like women bishops and homosexual marriages, the reality is that the contemporary Anglican Church bears hardly any resemblance to the spirit of the 39 Articles of Religion that once defined this historic institution.

The five bishops praised Pope Benedict XVI, who last year established an apostolic constitution (Anglicanorum Coetibus) and a new structure for Anglicans who’d had enough and wished to join the Catholic Church. The five bishops called Pope Bendict’s initiative “a generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians, the unity for which Christ Himself prayed before His passion and death. It is a unity, we believe, which is possible only in Eucharistic communion with the successor of St. Peter.”

The bishops’ example will no doubt encourage other disaffected Anglicans, those who comprehend how far their Church has strayed from historic Christian teaching and who are uneasily pondering their own future. Indeed, the bishops’ statement invites company: “As bishops, we have even-handedly cared for those who have shared our understanding and those who have taken a different view. We have now reached the point, however, where we must formally declare our position and invite others who share it to join us on our journey.”

As it happens, I read of the English bishops’ decision just as I was reading a 1933 book– Now I See by Sir Arnold Lunn, about his own decision to convert to Catholicism. It takes Lunn 250 pages to explain why he decided when he did, but I was struck not by the differences 80 years ago but by the essential similarities. Lunn sums his decision up best in these two sentences: “It was becoming difficult to resist the uneasy conviction that it was my duty to enlist in the ranks of the only army which could resist the universal disintegration of doctrine and of moral standards. Against the confused and shifting background of the modern world Catholic order is a rock of refuge for those who are tired of modern chaos.” To which the five English bishops might mutter a muted but fervent “Amen.”

It was five years ago when I left the Anglican Church and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Elsewhere, and at greater length, I have written about how Peter’s Rock first hove into view for this drowning protestant, and of what it felt like to finally clamber aboard. To the five English bishops, from whom I may never be fortunate enough to receive the Eucharist, I say “Welcome home,” and assure each that it is one of the rare decisions of my life for which I have experienced not a moment’s regret.