I think this is a topic that needs to be broached. How much do the antics of liberals and modernists in the Catholic Church harm authentic ecumenical relations? When I say “authentic” ecumenical relations, I’m referring strictly to those that lead to unity with the Catholic Church, as opposed to “superficial” ecumenical relations, wherein Catholics and other Christians are just friendly toward one another. I should also point out that ecumenical relations with non-Christians is not ecumenism at all. It’s evangelism, or at least, it’s supposed to be. Good examples of “authentic” ecumenism are the reunion of Orthodox churches with the Catholic Church in the East, and the creation of the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans in the West. In the case of authentic ecumenical success, how much do the antics of liberals and modernists hinder it? It seems to me the ONLY ecumenical success Rome has ever had is with conservative and traditionally-minded Christians who would find all this catering to liberal-modernism offensive, and perhaps even an obstacle to reunion with Rome.
First, and always, we must look to the East, from where our Faith originates. Let’s consider the Eastern Orthodox churches. How much of a push for female priestesses and same-sex “marriage” do we see coming from that communion? There is none actually. In fact, Orthodox Christians, who come into communion with Rome, are usually very conservative and traditional-minded about these things. The priesthood is only for men, and people of the same sex cannot be married. Any sexual relationship between them is considered sinful. I have yet to meet a single “convert” from Orthodoxy who approves of women priestesses and homosexuality. Likewise, when we consider the many corporate reunions with any element of the Eastern Orthodox, do we see even one that clamors for female priestesses and homosexuality? Let’s go through the list of those Eastern churches that have already come into reunion with Rome. Do any of these push for female priestesses or homosexuality?
- Coptic Catholic Church, reunited in 1741, currently at 187,320 members
- Eritrean Catholic Church, reunited in 2015, currently at 167,722 members
- Ethiopian Catholic Church, reunited in 1846, currently at 70,832 members
- Armenian Catholic Church, reunited in 1742, currently at 757,726 members
- Albanian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1628, currently at 4,028 members
- Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1596, currently at 9,000 members
- Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1861, currently at 10,000 members
- Greek Catholic Church of Croatia and Serbia, reunited in 1611, currently at 42,965 members
- Greek Byzantine Catholic Church, reunited in 1911, currently at 6,016 members
- Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1912, currently at 262,484 members
- Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, reunited in 1784, currently at 55,812 members
- Macedonian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 2001, currently at 11,374 members
- Melkite Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1726, currently at 1,568,239 members
- Romanian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1697, currently at 498,658 members
- Russian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1905, currently at 3,200 members
- Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1646, currently at 417,795 members
- Slovak Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1646, currently at 211,208
- Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, reunited in 1595, currently at 4,471,688 members
- Chaldean Catholic Church, reunited in 1552, currently at 628,405 members
- Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, reunited in 1663, currently at 4,251,399
- Maronite Church, never left Rome, currently at 3,498,707 members
- Syriac Catholic Church, reunited in 1781, currently at 195,765 members
- Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, reunited in 1930, currently at 458,015 members
- Ordinariates of Eastern Catholic Faithful, established in 1912, currently at 47,830 members
So there are approximately 18 million (17,836,188) Eastern Catholics who have reunited with Rome and never once called for female priestesses, blessings on homosexuality, same-sex “marriage,” or even female deaconesses. They never demanded any of that. Two of these churches came into full communion with Rome as recently as 2001 and 2015, and yet we saw no calls for Rome to adopt such heretical measures to accommodate them. That’s because they want nothing to do with them. They returned to Rome in spite of the liberal-modernist push in that direction, not because of it. The question begs to be asked; how many more Eastern Orthodox would return to Rome if Rome not only abandoned such a liberal-modernist push, but outright condemned it entirely, along with those who advocate it? Would this not assure our Eastern Orthodox brethren that the pope means business when he’s called the defender of the faith and symbol of Christian unity? Would not the Eastern Orthodox be encouraged by such a strong stand against liberal-modernism?
The greatest pope to stand against Modernism was Pope Pius X, and under his reign (1903 – 1914) the Eastern Orthodox poured back into the Catholic Church. These included the Russian Greek Catholic Church in 1905, the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church in 1911, the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church in 1912, and the Ordinariates for other Eastern Catholic Faithful which he established for them in 1912. This all happened during a time when the influence of Modernism was still relatively weak in the world, but nevertheless, there was a pope standing strong against it.
Now, let’s look to the West. Since the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) Rome has taken a strong interest in reunifying the fractured body of Protestants within the Catholic Church. Dialogue with various Protestant communities has been underway since the early 1900s, and in earnest since the close of Vatican II in 1965. After countless meetings, endless statements and declarations, friendly gestures, and momentous overtures, the results have been scant to say the least. Protestants are no closer to reunification with Rome than they were in 1965, and some of them are even further away from reunification. Why is this?
For the most part, a large number of Protestant communities have succumbed to the errors of liberal-modernism, and the more they do, the less they see a need to reunify with Rome. You see, liberal-modernism puts an emphasis on a “spiritual unity,” or a kind of “mutual respect,” wherein actual visible unity is no longer considered important or desired.
In over five decades of intense ecumenical discussions with Protestants, the Catholic Church has literally nothing to show for it, except one thing — the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony.
- Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established in 2011, currently at 3,500 members
- Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, established in 2012, currently at 6,700 members
- Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, established in 2012, currently at 2,000 members
So after five decades of intense ecumenical relations with the entire Protestant world, Rome has managed to bring in approximately 12 thousand (12,200) former Protestants. To date, the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony represent Rome’s single and greatest ecumenical success in the Western world. That’s it. Some have told me this a “great, big, fat nothing-burger.”
Now, I myself am a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. I personally wouldn’t call it a “nothing-burger,” as it doesn’t seem like “nothing” to me. In fact, I would most certainly consider it “something,” and something to be joyful for at that. The Ordinariates are still very much in their infancy stage, so what may be 12,000 today, may be tenfold that in a generation. However, I’m also a realist. I’m not afraid of facts, and these are the facts. Ecumenical relations have been far more successful with the Eastern Orthodox than they have been with the Western Protestants.
The question, of course, is why? Why is Rome having much better luck with the Eastern Orthodox than it is with the Protestants. I think that has a lot to do with approach.
Doctrine is a major issue. When it comes to the Eastern Orthodox, there isn’t much doctrine to discuss. Matters center more around juridical concerns, along with liturgical and pastoral needs. A similar situation existed with the Anglicans who came into full unity with Rome via the Ordinariates. Doctrine really wasn’t a problem. These Anglicans already accepted the doctrinal teachings of Catholicism, and some of them even made a profession of faith using the Roman Catechism long before entering the Catholic Church. They were already “Catholic” in a doctrinal sense. They only needed a juridic, liturgical and pastoral status hammered out. Thus, the Ordinariates were created, and Divine Worship was established, based on a re-adoption of Catholic liturgy that had been used by Anglicans for centuries. Rome didn’t attempt to chase after these Anglicans by coming up with “new ways of understanding,” or “new formulations,” of established doctrine. These Anglicans, like the Eastern Orthodox, already accepted Catholic doctrine. This is why ecumenism was a success with these Anglicans, and there really was no other reason. The hard work had already been done, over a century ago, with the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism itself. What we had with the Oxford Movement was a large number of English Protestants (Anglicans), who decided over a century ago that they would become “more Catholic” in their approach to their practice of Christianity. They re-adopted many Catholic teachings, liturgical forms, vestments and devotions. Over the decades, these Anglicans became even more intensely Catholic in their approach to doctrine. In time, they essentially were Catholic, minus juridic status and authentic holy orders (Apostolicae curae, 1896). Rome only need hammer out these details, which she did under the reign of Pope Benedict XVI (Anglicanorum coetibus, 2009). The problems of juridic status and holy orders were solved and the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony were born in 2011 and 2012.
What’s the lesson here? To know that, we have to take a closer look at exactly who these Anglicans were and why they came to Rome in the first place.
As I said above, these Anglicans were heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement, which had as its purpose the re-introduction of Catholic prayers, liturgy, vestments and doctrine back into Anglican tradition. The vision was to move the entire body of all Anglicans back toward the Catholic Church. As I said, this began over a hundred years ago, back in the 19th century. While this movement continued to make progress throughout the 20th century, another movement took hold of the Anglican Communion at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, when it was decided that artificial contraception would be acceptable to use in Christian marriages. This may not seem like such a big deal today, but at the time it was revolutionary! Never before had any Christian body endorsed the use of artificial contraception. It was universally considered a sin by all Christians. But the Anglican Communion took this revolutionary stand, thus embracing the first (seemingly harmless) elements of Modernism. It was at this time a rift began to slowly develop in the Anglican Communion. On the one side were the Traditional Anglo-Catholics, who held to the goals of the Oxford Movement. On the other side were the Liberal Anglicans, who gradually embraced the revolutionary ideas of Modernism and sought to use the national provinces of the Anglican Communion as experimental beachheads to introduce these ideas into the Communion and the wider Protestant world.
The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States became by far the most liberal and modernist of all the Anglican national provinces. By the late 20th century, women were serving as deaconess, priestess and bishopess. Homosexuality was also embraced, and by the early 21st century, an openly homosexual man was consecrated as bishop. An openly lesbian bishopess soon followed. Then came the embrace of same-sex “marriage” for both of these clerics. TEC was well-known for its staunch support of feminism, and its Leftist position on many political issues as well. That’s not to say that all members of TEC felt positively about any of this. A large number of Anglicans in TEC protested them strongly, and made multiple attempts to regain control of parishes, dioceses and the national province. Their attempts to regain the province failed, and one by one, each parish and diocese fell to liberal-modernism.
The traditional Anglo-Catholic corner of TEC fought back as best as they could, but it didn’t take long for them to realize it was a losing battle. In 1977, a large group of two-thousand Anglican clergymen, from the United States and Canada, met in St. Louis. It was called the Congress of St. Louis. They produced what came to be called the “Affirmation of St. Louis.” This Affirmation has the following general tenets:
- Dissolution of Anglican Church structures: That the churches to which the delegates had previously belonged had ceased to have a valid ministry through the act of ordaining women to the priesthood.
- Continuation of Anglicanism: That Anglicanism could only continue through a complete separation from the structures of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC).
- Invalidity of Schismatic Authority: That the churches to which the delegates had previously belonged had made themselves schismatic by their break with traditional order and, therefore, had ceased to have any authority over them or other members.
- Continued Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury: That communion with Canterbury would continue because the Church of England had not, at that time, ordained women to the priesthood. However, this article of the Affirmation would later become obsolete with the ordination of women by the Church of England in 1990s.
As a result, the Anglican Church in America (ACA) was formed, a breakaway Anglican church that rallied together the Anglo-Catholic remnant of TEC and the ACC. But not all Anglo-Catholic elements of TEC and the ACC left their provinces. Some chose to stay and continue the fight of liberal-modernism from within. The Archbishop of Canterbury refused to recognize the Anglican Church in America (ACA) and as a result, it remained marginalized for the next few decades. Similar traditional Anglo-Catholic bodies were formed in other countries, and together, they became known as the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC).
A small group of Anglo-Catholic clergy refused to get caught up in the breakaway politics of the Congress of St. Louis, but instead decided that the best way to deal with the infestation of liberal-modernism in TEC was to simply fulfill the original vision of the Oxford Movement and petition Rome for immediate communion. This began in about 1978. By 1980 Pope St. John Paul II accepted their proposal, allowing Anglican clerics to enter the Catholic Church and be ordained as Catholic priests despite their marital status. He also agreed to allow them to bring their liturgy, traditions and pastoral sensibilities with them, creating what came to be known as the Anglican Use Pastoral Provision. While many Anglican clergy were ordained as Catholic priests, most of them were placed in various academic and administrative roles in various dioceses around the United States. Fr. Christopher Phillips was the first Anglican Use priest to be placed in a pastoral role over his own parish — Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, Texas, and it was this direct decision by Pope St. John Paul II that led to what we know today as the precursor to the Personal Ordinariates. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, created the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony in 2009 through 2012.
Meanwhile, while the Anglican Use Pastoral Provision was thriving in the United States between 1980 and 2009, the episcopal heads of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) came to petition Rome for corporate reunion around the turn of the century. In response, Pope Benedict XVI issued the document Anglicanorum coetibus (2009), which led to the creation of the Personal Ordinariates for Anglican Patrimony. It’s important to stress here that two movements were working simultaneously. The first was the Anglican Use Pastoral Provision (1980 – 2012), and the second was the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) petitioning Rome for corporate reunion (between 2000 and 2009) which led to Anglicanorum coetibus in 2009. These two movements, working together, were what led to the Ordinariates as we know them today.
A third movement developed in the early 2000s, following the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop in The Episcopal Church (TEC). This consisted of the few remaining conservative Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics left in TEC. These clerics came to realize that many of the tenets of the Affirmation of St. Louis turned out to be necessary. While these clerics remained in TEC and the ACC, they came to regret this. So the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) was formed in response. The ACNA remains as the only sizable breakaway church from TEC and the ACC following the creation of the Ordinariates. It’s plagued with many problems, namely the issue of female ordination resurfacing as a potential point of future schism. Outside the Ordinariates, the English (Anglican) Patrimony is struggling to survive.
So what’s the takeaway from all this?
The takeaway is that the only Anglicans who ran toward communion with Rome were those who were running away (quite frantically) from the influence of liberal-modernism in their Anglican provinces. We could also include those who came to realize that splinter-groups, outside the original Anglican structures, were not the answer. I might also add that a number of Ordinariate priests are former members of the later ACNA, who have also come to realize that even that structure isn’t holding up well. The vision of the Oxford Movement was reunion with Rome, and the most successful Anglican clerics today are those who have come to realize that only the Ordinariates can save them now.
What about the Lutherans? Talks with them are stalled. What about the Methodists? Same problem. What about the Reformed, Presbyterian and Calvinist communities? Again, we have the same problems. What about the Evangelical communities? Those few willing to come to the table are generally not willing to listen to Rome about anything. In all ecumenical relations, with all different forms of Protestantism, Rome has hit a brick wall. Only the Anglicans have come to the table, but only those fleeing the influence of liberal-modernism.
Based on this historical precedence alone, we can conclude that if you want to keep Protestants out of the Catholic Church, the best way to do it is to present a strong sympathy toward liberal-modernism. However, if you want to bring more Protestants into the Church, present the Church as a refuge of safety against the influence of liberal-modernism. In other words, fight liberal-modernism, and the Church will get more Protestant converts. Succumb to liberal-modernism, and the Protestant converts will be driven away. Once could surmise the same is true with Eastern Orthodoxy.
Let’s face it, liberal-modernists don’t need the Catholic Church. Those liberal-modernists within the Catholic Church are actively trying to change her, and if they should prove to be unsuccessful, I guarantee they will have no problem leaving her. Mark my words on this. Whenever the day comes that liberal-modernism is defeated in the Catholic Church, the liberal-modernists will just leave and start their own churches, without even a second thought. Why do I say this? Because liberal-modernism is the spirit of schism.
As for liberal-modernists outside the Catholic Church, they have no need for reunion with Rome to begin with, and they’ll never really seek it. They’ll be happy to have talks with Rome, even high-profile summits, where it looks like some kind of major ecumenical breakthrough is about to happen, but mark my words, it will never happen. It will all just be fluff and hype. Why? Because liberal-modernists have no need for visible unity under Rome. If they unify under anything, it will always be a liberal-modernist, umbrella organization of their own making. They cannot submit to the authority of Rome, but they will not hesitate to ask Rome to submit to a liberal-modernist, umbrella organization of their own making, such as the World Council of Churches (WCC) for example. This is because doctrinal authority is something they can never consent to. They need the flexibility of their liberal-modernist, umbrella organizations to give them enough room to redefine doctrine as they see fit, just in time for the next cultural revolution.
Liberal-modernism kills authentic ecumenism. It always has and it always will. It drives converts away, and causes others to have second-thoughts or delay their return to the Catholic Church. If Rome wants to seriously get back to the business of uniting Christians together into one Church, the smartest thing Rome could do is condemn liberal-modernism as heresy and its proponents as heretics. Such action would assure other Christians that Rome is serious about defending the faith, and it would bring in a new wave of new converts, and ecumenical triumphs, to the Catholic Church.
Great historical and doctrinal lesson. Thank you. I wholly agree that ecumenism should not water down Catholic Truth.
However, regardless of authentic ecumenism or liberal modernity, differences in doctrine cannot keep us from living our lives in the model of the “good” Samaritan in today’s readings. We should not cross the street to avoid suffering and remain “clean” any more than we should cross the street because we believe differently (whether or not our beliefs are Truth). I have heard from those a little bit older than I am (though not much) about how the neighborhoods were divided and a protestant and a Catholic would cross the street to avoid one another. Sad and unbending and unloving on both sides of that street. Our actions should convey love more than doctrine. We cannot evangelize by argument or avoidance.
We dare not change doctrine to make our faith more “marketable” or appealing, but we must live our lives in love of neighbor.
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