The Treco Case is Exactly What We Signed Up For
When I became Catholic, way back in the year 2000, I did so with an understanding that I gleaned from both Evangelicalism and Anglicanism. Christians need an authority structure, divinely appointed, to settle matters of both doctrine and discipline. The hallmark of Protestantism is the shrugging-off of this authority. It began with Martin Luther, toward his bishops and superiors, ultimately leading to his burning of the papal bull that excommunicated him. It continued with King Henry VIII, who broke ties with the pope and declared himself “head” (or pope) of the Church of England. Over the course of 500 years, this pattern repeated itself, over and over again, spawning new Protestant denominations and sects, until we finally see the dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds (some say “thousands”), that exist today.
Early in my Evangelical days, back around 1994-95, I got to witness first-hand how this works. I was a youth minister at a local Calvary Chapel here in the Ozarks. There was one fellow, whom I presumed to be the assistant pastor, that stood out to me. For the sake of this blog, I’ll call him Fred. I assumed Fred was the assistant pastor because he was always hanging around the pastor. In fact, the two seemed inseparable at times. Once in a while, Fred was invited to deliver the sermon while the pastor was away. He did this very well, and returned to the pews when he was done, just as always. It was only natural for me to assume he was the assistant pastor. Later, I discovered he was not. One day, we heard that Fred had left our little Calvary Chapel, and had gone off to start his own church in another part of town. My wife and I went to visit Fred once, just to see what he was up to. He showed us his little church setup with chairs and a podium. It looked very nice, albeit very small, but I don’t think very many people ever attended. Eventually, Fred’s church folded and he moved on to do something else. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to Fred had he gotten a better location, with better advertisement, and maybe some public-speaking lessons to make him more of a dynamic preacher. I imagine Fred would have done quit well for himself. He was a likable enough fellow. I suppose he might be the pastor of a fairly large Evangelical church by now. What struck me the most about the whole Fred affair was how much it affected our Calvary Chapel pastor at the time. He was crushed. You could tell the whole thing really bothered him. He trusted Fred, and maybe even had long-term plans for him. Fred was impatient though, and he tried to do it all himself. In the process, the community was shaken, and the pastor was hurt. What happened at our little Calvary Chapel was just a microcosm of what Protestantism has been undergoing, over and over again, for the last five centuries.
In the late 1990s, my wife and I became Anglicans, and it wasn’t long before we saw the makings of another schism underway, but this time on a much bigger scale. During this time, there was a huge push to make homosexuality accepted in The Episcopal Church USA. My wife and I saw the writing on the wall, so we got out in 2,000 by becoming Roman Catholics. We loved our little Anglican parish, and really hated to leave, but we could not tolerate the prospect of being members in a church that condoned this sort of thing. Sure enough, our fears and predictions came true with the election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003. We were long gone by then, but we watched the whole thing from afar with horror. Not long after that, a schismatic movement took root in The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada at the same time, to form what would eventually become the Anglican Church in North America. What we witnessed was a schism on a more formal level, though the leaders of this organization may not see it this way.
During that transition period for my wife and I, between 1998 and 2000, we had heard of Anglicans becoming Catholic, which eventually prompted us to do the same, but we had also heard about entire congregations doing this at the same time, and that Rome was allowing them to keep many aspects of their Anglican identity. In the years following our conversion to the Catholic Church, I researched this some more and discovered that it was Pope St. John Paul II who made this provision back in 1980, calling it the Anglican Use Pastoral Provision. These were Anglican priests, and their congregations, who came to the decision that the only way to combat the schismatic tendency of Protestantism was to reverse the Protestant Reformation all together. Only reunion with Rome could undo the endless break of one church with another. Only a return to the divinely-appointed authority structure of the Catholic Church could end these senseless divisions within the context of orthodoxy.
So over the years, the Pastoral Provision was expanded by Anglicanorum Coetibus and became the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony. My wife and I joined with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and now we are happily members of our own Ordinariate parish here in the Ozarks. We are under the divinely-appointed authority structure of the Church, while being able to live out the Anglican Patrimony we learned and loved back in the late 1990s. Yet we do so within a hierarchy, knowing that some things can be settled, and there doesn’t have to be so much confusion leading to schism.
I submit to my fellow Ordinariate members that the Fr. Vaughn Treco case is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. (See details here, here and here.) While this is unpleasant, it is exactly what we’ve signed up for. We wanted a divinely-appointed authority structure, and we wanted it for the Anglican Patrimony. We saw what man-made authority structures did, and are doing, to our Patrimony. We’re watching Anglicanism with horror as female deacons, priests and bishops transform it, and as homosexual clerics pervert it. We saw how man-made authority structures butchered our prayerbook liturgy, and told us we had to submit to the new order of things. We saw how new, schismatic, man-made authority structures were created to counter the destructive old ones, and how unsuccessful they have been. I’m speaking of the Traditional Anglican Communion here, and other jurisdictions.
The cold, hard fact that we former Anglicans had to face was the reality of the binding nature of Pope Leo XIII’s papal bull Apostolicae curae, which declared all Anglican orders null and void. This was reaffirmed in 1998, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), with an attached note to Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ad tuendam fidem. The congregation’s commentary listed Leo XIII’s declaration in Apostolicae curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations as an example of “those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed.” Thus, anyone who would deny such truths “would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” This was reinforced in the 2009 essay The Significance of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus by Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University. The essay, commenting on the upcoming Catholic ordinations conferred on “ministers coming from Anglicanism” stating they “will be absolute, on the basis of the Bull Apostolicae curae of Leo XIII of September 13, 1896.” This essay was fully approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and is listed on the Vatican website.
What we signed up for was a return to the original authority structure, the one given to us by Jesus Christ, and in doing so, we admitted to the reason for the defeat of orthodoxy within Anglicanism. Its demise was inevitable, because the Apostolic authority given by Christ was never really there to protect it. We had all the illusions of it, the trappings, and the rigors, but not the real authority of the Apostles.
To date, this Apostolic authority to protect the truth has held true for us in the Ordinariates, even in the face of widespread misinterpretation of Amoris Laetitia on communion for couples in objectively adulterous “marriages.” We should be reminded at this point of how authoritatively but eloquently Bishop Steven J. Lopes defended orthodoxy in A Pledged Troth. We should be reminded by this, that His Excellency does not take matters of doctrine lightly, and his history of orthodoxy is beyond question. While the defenders of Fr. Treco would have the Catholic media, and all of us, believe that Bishop Lopes plays loose and liberal with doctrine and discipline, the historical context of this man doesn’t match that narrative.
For now, Bishop Lopes’ chancery office in Houston has chosen not to respond to these “friends of Treco” allegations made through internet Catholic media. While this can be frustrating to those of us within the Ordinariate (speaking from personal experience here), it is completely within the prerogative of His Excellency to keep silent at this time. Within Anglicanism, the events leading to this point would spawn the beginnings of another schismatic sect. Within Catholicism, all the “friends of Treco” can do is complain to the media. Their damage stops there.
Let us not forget the mission Bishop Lopes has been charged with. Not only does he defend the orthodoxy of the Faith, but as Ordinary, he is uniquely charged with defending the Anglican Patrimony as well. There are rumors that both were under threat at St. Bede with Fr. Treco’s at the helm. I cannot confirm the validity of these rumors, but they should be considered as possible factors in Bishop Lopes’ duel correction of excommunicating Fr. Treco, and suppressing the St. Bede Community. The suppression of the St. Bede community conveys a bigger story, one that hasn’t yet been told to the public. Something must have been going on there that was extremely problematic for the mission of the Ordinariate.
Fr. Treco has appealed his case to Rome, as is his right, and we should all support that. This is what we all signed up for. We signed up for a definitive authority which could handle matters like this, so they don’t turn into schismatic sects or endless legal battles in civil courts. We signed up for definitive judgement on such matters, and in due time, one will come. Regardless of the outcome, we will all accept it, because that is exactly what we signed up for. Regardless of the outcome, we will rejoice in it, because that’s exactly what we signed up for. We wanted to join a Church that was bigger than us, bigger than our own judgement, and bigger than our own directives. As Anglicans (and Evangelicals turned Anglican, like myself) we grew tired of being our own popes, our own judges, our own juries, and our own executioners. The Treco case is in Rome’s hands now, and thank God it is! In leaving Anglicanism, and joining the Catholic Church, this is exactly what we signed up for.