Bridging the Tiber
By Father Ernie Davis
Special to the Catholic Key
The administrator of St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City, Fr. Ernie Davis, is a married man and former Episcopal priest who was ordained in the Catholic Church under the current pastoral provision in 2002. In addition to his established parish community, Fr. Davis shepherds an Anglican Use community who were received into the Catholic Church last year by Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn. Following is Father Davis’ take on Anglican reaction to the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus:
Father Ernie Davis
I am trying to imagine how those Anglicans who have asked for unity must be feeling right now. If I can remember correctly, as an Episcopalian, I imagined unity with Rome as a kind of covering Rome would throw over the Anglican Communion, offering legitimacy, blessing, collegiality, and support for the Anglo-Catholic interpretation of Anglicanism, without being intrusive. I may have imagined a kind of unity that we could take off the shelf and use to our advantage when it suited us, and put back on the shelf when we were finished with it. It would certainly have suited us to have Catholic recognition of Anglican orders, Catholic endorsement of Anglican sacraments, Catholic representation at Anglican altars at special functions, Catholic bishops’ hands participating at Anglican ordinations, and Catholic boosts to the Anglican ethos of having a special place and role to play as the bridge church. We would have been pleased to have Catholics at Anglican communion rails, and Catholic contributors in our pews. In other words, I imagined that we could be Anglican first, and Catholic when it suited us.
Based on what I have been reading and hearing, at least some Anglicans who asked for union with Rome hoped unity with Rome might be something like what I described. Now, faced with the offer of an Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church, Anglicans are faced with an invitation to be Catholic, and the reaction of some seems to be, “But I don’t want to be Catholic! I don’t want to convert!”
I hope my fellow Catholics will not be dismissive of such reactions. I think it is absolutely necessary for Anglicans to wrestle with real issues and express the emotions related to them. Newman’s entry into the Catholic Church did not happen in one day. Nor did he just think himself through the process, although thinking was absolutely necessary. Newman helps us realize that we reason not only mentally, but physically, emotionally and socially as well. If we try to shut down the process and demand instant gratitude for a gracious offer, then we demean those for whom this is almost a life and death issue involving one’s core identity.
To be helpful to our Anglican sisters and brothers, Catholics should recognize, that Anglicans are faced with huge sacrifices. To take up Rome’s offer, Anglicans are asked to trust the unfamiliar, to put more of a premium on hope than on their past, to be able to state with conviction they believe all the Catholic Church teaches, and to define themselves more as a people who are for something than against something. To become Catholic they will have to give up participating in the sacraments until they are prepared to make professions of faith as Catholics, and for Anglicans in irregular marriages, to forego the sacraments and enter the Catholic annulment process for a ruling on the status of their marriages. Anglican clergy, especially the TAC clergy who may not have seminary educations, are being asked to give up their ministries for what may be an extended period. Because only Catholic priests can be incardinated into the Ordinariate, former Anglican clergy will have to wait until the Ordinariate can establish the educational processes so they can meet Catholic standards and be ordained Catholic priests. If they are married, petitions still have to go to Rome and the Ordinariate will have to demonstrate that there is a need for their ministry. Some Anglicans may know right now, intuitively, that they are ready to cross the bridge. But I imagine that for most, especially here in the U.S., it will take some time.
Some, perhaps many, Anglicans who hoped and prayed for an invitation, will decide not to accept it. Even making that decision will require a huge shift in identity. After hoping, praying, and working for unity with Rome as the solution to Anglicanism’s problems, those who decide not to accept unity on Rome’s terms will have to go through a huge process of reorientation toward a new and different future.
The gap between Rome’s “Here is what you requested” and Anglicanism’s “Is this what I was asking for?” is huge. The gap is between Rome’s offer of an Anglican expression of Catholicism and Anglicanism’s hope for a Catholic blessing of Anglicanism. Bridging that gap will involve a very real struggle and it is entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit working with people of good will and wisdom from both sides of the gap. As Anglicanorum Coetibus states, the Holy Spirit moved groups of Anglicans to petition for unity. The Holy Spirit is the principle of unity, establishing the Church as a communion. The Holy Spirit has brought us this far, and he will certainly carry us further.
Come Holy Spirit. Kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful. Grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may have a right judgment in all things, and ever rejoice in his holy consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.