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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swish? Seriously, People?

It is hard enough for an outsider to grasp the details of the Great Anglican Schism as it plays out in one's own nation. Following it in Britain -- where everybody uses school nicknames, euphemism, and comical understatement -- is daunting beyond words. To our ears, it all sounds like this: "As Bishop Skippy said to the Wanker at FiF last Barnabymas, 'These are the Times that try men's soles.' " And that's secret code for "My Lord Bishop of Chittingham observed to Sir Francis Witherpole during a Satanic ritual last June, 'The press itself is practically pushing us into the Pope's arms.' "

We are beginning to think that it will be necessary to create a scorecard and glossary for the use of foreign spectators.

But we do gather that the Anglo-Catholic loyalists are finally fighting back, and we applaud them.

Bit of timeline: First, the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated on 4 November 2009. It described a plan for "Personal Ordinariates," meaning orders within the Roman Catholic church which would permit some form Anglican worship and church order -- details still to come.

Then, in July 2010 and after decades of debate, the Church of England's General Synod decided to ordain women as bishops. This decision is not yet a matter of church law; it must be approved by a majority of the 44 diocesan synods, and a 2/3 majority of the next General Synod, as well as receiving Royal Assent, which we take to be the Queen's rubber stamp.

This GS decision was extremely difficult on several counts. Arguably, at least, it would drive the most conservative Anglicans right over the Tiber. Abp Williams, with John Sentamu, Bp of York, had proposed a compromise plan which would have provided "alternative" bishops to help supervise dioceses in which the ordinary was a woman. This move actually won the greatest number of votes all around, but was narrowly defeated -- 5 votes -- by the clergy voting as a college.

So. What next? Would Anglo-Catholics, and perhaps even conservative Anglicans of a less floridly catholic disposition, start lining up to be smeared with oleum catechumenorum (or, perhaps, Anglicanorum)? Yes and no. There have been a small number of defections so far: a small schismatic church body, not even part of the Anglican Communion, joined en masse; five English bishops have declared their intention. And one does sense that there is a larger group sitting in the darkness, waiting to see what these ordinariates actually look like when they are formed. But one also senses that there are a great many Anglicans who, even if they do not especially like the current direction of their church, like being Anglicans, and have no intention to change.

And so was formed, in September 2010, the Mission Society of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda. It is the child of ten CofE bishops (including Gibraltar, which is England after all), who are on record opposing female bishops in their church, and yet who do not much care for "the ministry of the Pope as it is presently exercised." And who, therefore, won't leave home.

What is this Society? Will it offer some variation on the defeated alternative-oversight proposal? Nobody knows. Like any newborn child, the society has little character as yet. We don't really know who will join, or what they will do together -- although that doesn't keep the Interwebs from speculating.

Romeward-leaning conservatives aren't happy at all. Fr. Hunwicke has had a bit to say on the subject lately, although -- since he writes in English -- we aren't quite sure what. The most straightforward (and vicious) denunciation comes from William Oddie, writing in the Catholic Herald. He calls the Society "an incoherent scheme to undermine the ordinariate," which he believes has "the discreet backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury." (We certainly hope so. Frankly, we're a bit sick of Abp Williams' supine politeness in the face of a frontal attack.) Oddie does have some reasonable criticisms, though:
[The Society bishops] really think that they can plausibly claim to be “committed to the full visible unity of the Church” (there it is, in the very first sentence of their mission statement) while absolutely rejecting any notion of being in communion with the pope. So their ludicrous outfit ... will copy the Ordinariate in every detail but one: they will not be in communion with the pope (that is with over half of Christendom) but they will be in communion with all the women bishops the validity of whose orders they refuse to accept ....
Wait. A bit of incoherence in Anglican theological circles? Say it isn't so. Still, this is really not about dogmatics so much as polity, where they usually do quite well, so a little skepticism is merited. On the other hand, those ordinariates everybody keeps talking about don't exist yet. They have no constitutions, no rules, no hierarchies or liturgical formularies. So nobody can claim the high ground where clarity of vision is concerned.

Anyway. We mention all this for only one reason, and that is to make fun of the name. The Mission Society of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda, for reasons known only to its creators, has chosen to use the initials SSWH. They appear all over its website, and beg, even plead, to be pronounced one way: Swish.

Swish. As in nelly, nancy, fey, and so forth and so on. On one hand, we admire the bishops for their bold embrace of clerical campiness; on the other, though, we wonder if they have simply lost their minds. Because, yes, this is what Anglo-Catholicism as a movement needs: more ways to be mocked by the Evangelicals, the Methodists, and quondam Prots.

What were they thinking? What, in the midst of this messy business, is anybody thinking? We have no idea.


Anonymous said...

I can only say that I am so very glad I left Anglicanism and came home to Rome. I am at peace. It is not perfect, but is is just like my earthly family. It has problems but God is with us and that is what keeps us all sane, moving forward as the problems are confronted and worked thru.

Anonymous said...

Father A.,
I believe you too left Anglicanism for Lutheranism, no? Maybe you've spoken to it before, but I'm always curious why one leaves one tradition for another. Of course, it isn't any of my business...