Monthly Archives: January 2007

Adopting the Other Side’s Argument: UK Education Minister defends gay adoptions

In today’s edition of The Age, the UK Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, was reported to have defended the Blair Government’s insistance that Catholic adoption agencies comply with the new laws forbidding discrimination against gay couples by saying:

This is the right outcome because it puts the interests of the child first. We reject discrimination in all its forms, particularly when that deprives our most vulnerable children of a stable, loving and secure home.

What??? Say again??? Did I hear/read that right? Isn’t that the Church’s argument? How much sense does it make for those supporting adoption by gay couples to use it?

Let’s look at this. The British Government’s arguement has been that:
1) Gay people have the right to be live lives free of discrimination
2) Not letting same sex couples adopt children is discrimination
3) therefore in the interests of gay people, we must let them adopt children.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church’s adoption agencies have been saying that
1) “our most vulnerable children” have the right to “a stable, loving, secure home”
2) which is best provided for by a married man and woman who are permenantly committed to each other;
3) so while condemning discrimination against homosexual people, we must say:
4) this is not about what might be in the interests of homosexuals,
5) it’s about putting “the interests of the child first”.

(As the Yanks would say: “This is SO not about you.”

So what on earth can the UK Education minister mean when he says the decision of his government “puts the interests of the child first”?

For an excellent and completely rational approach to the whole issue from the Scottish end of the stick (the Scottish Church seems to be taking a rather more defiant stand than the somewhat resigned and defeatist attitude of Westminster), see this in the Scotsman by Dani Gravelli: “Suffer the Children”.

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Making predictions…

Over at “Always Yes”, Tom Pietsch has been making predictions and scorning them. I guess the new year is a good time for predictions. I note that Fr Neuhaus (in the December edition of First Things) has been talking about predictions too. Here is one from Andrew Greely in 1987:

The power of the pope definitely will shrink. Today we are experiencing the last gasp of a dying order, and in 20 years it will be gone.

. Fr Neuhaus comments: “Which helps explain why we try to keep out of the prediction business.”

Ah, but does he follow his own advice? No, for only a few paragraphs later we find him endorsing Robert Jenson’s cautious prediction (based largely on Philip Jenkins’ theory upon which Tom has also blogged):

If present trends continue, the ecumene of the century now beginning will comprise Orthodoxy, Pentecostalist groups and predominantly the Roman Catholic Church; the Protestant denominations and territorial churches will have sunk into insignificance-but again, present trends of course do not always continue.

The context of this endorsement appears to be Fr Neuhaus’ own belief that in the future sometime soon, Robert Jenson will follow the many other Lutheran theologians who have swum the Tiber:

Jens, as he is known, is still a Lutheran. (Why won’t my delete key delete that still?)

I’m not so sure. But I do know that one Sunday on his visit to Melbourne a year or two back, Pastor/Dr Jenson was found worshipping–not in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church–but across the road in St Patrick’s Cathedral…

Neuhaus is quoting Jenson from an interview for the Christian Century, in which Jenson also says of ex-Lutheran clergy converts and the Catholic Church:

I think one thing is common to all or most of them: they intend to inhabit the one, historically real church confessed by the creeds, and could no longer recognize this in their Protestant denominations. And indeed, if the church of the creeds does not, as the Second Vatican Council put it, ’subsist in’ the Roman Catholic Church, it is hard to think where it could.

I would be tempted to say that there is a guy on the shores of the Tiber with his toes in the water, if it were not for the fact that I have known others (or at least one other) who has gotten that far and yet never taken the plunge (and does not seem to be likely to take the plunge in the near future).

For those of you who are interested, in the same First Things column, Father Neuhaus deconstructs Pastor/Dr Frank Senn’s open letter to members of the Society of the Holy Trinity. At least some Lutheran pastors remained convinced that the Church of the Creeds “subsists” in the Lutheran Church–as well they should if they intend to remain there.

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Misunderstanding Invalidity

Magazines tend to lie around our house for a long time before meeting the great Recycling God. And so I happened across a March 2006 edition of “The Lutheran” (my wife subscribes), in which I found a most interesting Letter to the Editor from a Lutheran clergyman. It is on our theme of apostolic succession:

I was part of a group of Lutheran and Anglican ministers exploring the relationship between our churches. One Anglican minister rose and ever so gently explained: ‘For Anglicans it’s essential that every minister is in direct succession from St Peter himself. You Lutherans don’t have apostolic succesion, so I have no choice but to declare your ministry invalid. I am unable to recognise you as brother ministers of Christ.’

I haven’t got the space to deal with the details here, but for the moment it is interesting to note how this Lutheran pastor remembered the Anglican’s words. Of course we know that no Anglican (or Catholic for that matter) could ever have put the issue exactly as this pastor remembers it. Let’s continue though with the letter:

This priest was not trying to put me down or hurt me. But despite his gentle tone, despite my head hearing him simply proclaiming the Anglican tradition, his words cut me deeply. Compared to him, I was nothing, a nobody. My 30 years of ministry, indeed, my life, a complete waste of time. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

You will agree that this is an interesting reaction, and I want to dwell on it a little. But let’s hear how the letter ends:

It hurts to be excluded, and that hurt crushes when the person is told that there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to make things any different. That’s not how Jesus treated people, and its not how we should treat each other.

I will resist for a moment saying that this is just another case of WTFWJD, because I don’t want to get sidetracked from addressing this brother’s “hurt”.

Most importantly, the Lutheran brother heard the Anglican brother to say that “lack of apostolic succession = invalid priesthood = Lutheran pastor is a nothing, a nobody = 30 years of ministry a complete waste of time.”

When I became a Catholic, I tried to explain to my brother Lutheran clergy that part of the reason was that I had become convinced that my “priesthood” (such as it was) was invalid. They too took this extremely personally. Was I saying that their ministry was worthless, that it was a “complete waste of time”?

On the one hand, we must point out that to say that an ordination is “invalid” simply means that according to the canons of the Church (the Church’s “law”) the ordination has not been properly carried out so that the sacrament of holy orders has been committed to the ordinand. There was something “irregular” (ie. against the rules) about the ordination. Thus, according to the canons of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches an ordination carried out by anyone other than a lawful bishop is “invalid”. There are many other ways in which an ordination could be invalid. It might be worth pointing out that, here in Australia, Lutherans would regard the following attempts at ordination to be invalid: the “ordination” of a woman, an “ordination” carried out by laypeople, an “ordination” without the permission of the President of the Church. Were anyone to be “ordained” under any of these circumstances, the LCA would cry: “Invalid”. So, really, to say that such and such an ordination is “invalid” is simply to say that it does not accord with the canons of a particular Church. Of course, such canons are not arbitrary, but are believed by those who uphold them to be according to the will of God for the right ordering of the ministerial priesthood. Nor should it come as a surprise that different Christian communities have different rules for ordination. This is one of those issues upon which the Christian Church is divided. It means that just because you are an ordained minister of XYZ Church doesn’t mean that you are regarded as such by ABC Church.

Okay, second point: Following from this it is also worth pointing out that we are comparing apples and oranges. As a Catholic priest friend of mine pointed out to a Lutheran pastor friend of mine, Catholic (we’ll put Anglicanism to one side for the mo) priesthood and Lutheran ministry are completely different sorts of animal. Well, perhaps not completely, but very different. They may look to be the same on the outside, but are not so underneath. Catholic priests are ordained to offer the sacrifice of the mass. Lutherans are not. And Lutherans are quite definite about this. (So for that matter are Anglicans, one reason why Leo XIII decided that Anglican orders were “invalid”). For Catholics (and some Anglicans), Holy Orders is a sacrament. For Lutherans, it is not. A Catholic priest is shares not only in the baptismal priesthood but also in the ministerial priesthood. A Lutheran pastor, on the other hand, is no more a priest than his parishoners. So to say that a Lutheran pastor is an “invalid priest” is a bit like saying an orange is an “invalid apple”. The orange need only be offended if indeed he has always been longing to be an apple.

Which brings us to the third point: To say that an orange is an “invalid apple” does not mean to say that the orange is ineffective at being an orange. Or, to bring it to the case in point, the Lutheran pastor who wrote the letter heard the Anglican telling him that his whole ministry was “worthless” because he would be considered “invalid” as an Anglican priest. Which is, of course, nonsense. If the Lutheran pastor had been doing his job as a validly ordained Lutheran minister (ie. preaching the Word of God and baptising and what not), then his ministry would have been most valuable indeed. Many would have come to saving faith through his ministry (even if not to the fulness of faith as a Catholic would regard it). A Lutheran minister should only become concerned about the validity of his ordination in the eyes of ministers of another communion if he has come to believe that the other communion possesses more of the essence of the ministerial priesthood than does his own. Of course, that is what I came to realise–which is why I am now a Catholic layman and not a Lutheran pastor.

So, finally, to the matter of this minister saying he felt his ministry was “worthless” and that there was “absolutley nothing that can be done to make things any different.” We know, of course, from personal experience that this is not so. There is something that can be done about it. Just as Jesus did not say to the sinner “Repent” without also offering absolution and full communion with the Father, so too we do not say “Your orders are invalid” without offering a “way out”. Only the “way out” remains insufferable to our protestant brethren, because it says: “Come on in! the doors open! Be one with us and we will be one with you!” The way out of an invalid priesthood is to enter a valid one. It is not an easy road to walk, but it is not impossible. It may mean (as it seems to have done in my case) that you were not called to the valid priesthood in the first place, but it certainly does not mean that you do not have a valid vocation in the Church. In fact, how could you ever find your true vocation if you continue in an invalid one?

Ah well. It just goes to show that when we do speak about “invalidity” to our protestant brethren with respect to their ordination, we need to be very careful to make it clear what we are and what we are not saying. Otherwise we will just cause a lot of hurt.

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Happy Birthday, Sentire Cum Ecclesia!


(Ta, your Holiness. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it over the last 365 days. )
Yes, Dear Devoted Readers, Sentire Cum Ecclesia is 1 year old today. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I must confess to being a little disappointed, however. I vainly hoped that I might have cracked the 10,000 visits mark at this stage. (If any kind hearted soul out there would like to log in for a page view 500 times in the next 24 hours, I would be very grateful). Oh well, I will just have to apply for another Papal Blessing for the 10,000th visitor…

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Reformation History doomed to repeat itself in Church of England?

There is a saying that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. Very odd therefore that none other than that most excellent historian, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr N.T. Wright, should fall for into this trap.

Having blogged on Authenticity, Authority and Continuity only recently, and then gotten myself into a debate on the US “dia-blogue” “One Apostolic and Catholic Church” about Lutherans and Apostolic Succession, I found it sobering to suddenly read something that wasn’t history at all, but right in the here and now, which was bang on the topic.

Here’s the nutshell version: A bunch of Church of England Evangelical Clerics have issued a manifesto (misleadingly entitled “A Covenant for the Church of England”) to the Archbishop of Canterbury, basically saying: “Do what we demand, or we will take our bat and ball and go and start our own church. But, keep in mind, even if we do leave, we are the real Anglicans, and it is you who will be to blame for kicking us out by your refusal to allow the gospel full reign in the Church of England.”

Reading “The Covenant”, all one can say is that it has been done before (just short of 500 years ago) and done with a whole lot more substance and style than these bozos are doing it. So it is not surprising that Bishop Wright should weigh in with a finely worded and argued reply: “A Confused Covenant: Initial Comments on ‘A Covenant for the Church of England'”. What is surprising is that some of the arguements Bishop Wright uses for the “muddle-headedness” of the Covenant’s authors are excellent arguments for the whole Anglican Church repenting of the stupidity of Henry VIII and hitching up with Rome again.

1) In effect, he acknowledges the absolutely appalling state of the CofE, but says that you can do much more good by staying within it and working for reform from within, and by following the lawful, episcopal structures of the CofE.

2) Futhermore, he says that by their rebellion this group have betrayed any notion of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” to which they profess to belong, and which includes “something which most who have used that formulation for the last two millenia, including most Anglicans, have insisted upon, namely a…’normal’ view of episcopacy”. In fact, they are attempting to “subvert and effectively abandon” this normal ecclesiology.

3) He criticizes them for chosing to identify themselves as sharing “with others throughout the world a commitment to the biblical truths on which the Anglican Communion is based”, since this can only be taken to mean that “our view of biblical truth is superior to all others, so that we possess an inside track on the real meaning of Anglicanism.”

4) Then there is this real doozy:

But the unity in question is there [in Galatians] the very concrete one of a community that eats together, whereas the unity spoken of in this document seems to mean the ‘invisible church’ beloved of some protestants, which results, as the history of the last four hundred years has shown, in a succession of splits and schisms. It is all very well then to say that ‘it is departure from this common faith that is responsible for causing schism’. It will not only be cynics, or those committed on other grounds to disagreeing with the doctrinal and ethical stance of these authors, who will read the rest of the document and declare that these authors are planning schism and are doing so precisely through flawed doctrine, in this case the biblical doctrine of the church.

5) The claim, of course, will be that this is all for the sake of the Gospel. So Bishop Wright remarks: “Quoting the ‘great commission’ is fine so far as it goes [but] instead, we are projected at once into what appears to be the real agenda of the whole document: a break away from any normal ecclesial practice and into a free-for-all… – in other words, we can’t do what we want in the existing structures so we shall go elsewhere.”

6) Then comes the “Covenant” authors’ claim that “the local congregation”, apart from episcopal authority, “is the initial and key seed-bed for recognizing, authorizing, raising up and releasing new leaders.” To this, the good Bishop retorts: “Recognising, perhaps. Raising up, quite possibly. Authorizing? Not within any recognizable Anglican polity.”

7) But what about the “Covenant” authors’ claim that “we can no longer associate with teaching…contrary to…scripture…or church leadership which advocates such teaching”? Dr Wright: “Fine: from now on everyone can and will do that which is right in his own eyes. …And that way, as we all know, lies split after split, schism upon schism.”

I half find myself searching for the signatures of Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, et al. at the bottom of “The Covenant for the Church of England”. I wonder if Dr Wright hasn’t been reading the script for Cardinal Cajetan. But it is very interesting to see the way in which yesterday’s radical anti-authoritarian reformers metamorphosed into today’s established episcopal authorities; how what was tolerated and lauded in the reformers of the past is condemned as schismatic by the authorities of the present.

Don’t get me wrong. I reckon that Tom Wright is right on the ball here. It’s just that he seems to have completely failed to see the historical irony in the whole situation.

Perhaps a cup of tea and a lie down with Monsignor Peter Elliott’s address to the February 2006 meeting of “Forward in Faith” at St Kilda might help clarify matters a little.

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Abbe Pierre and Sainthood

I have been rather intrigued by the variety of comments that have been published upon the death of “Abbe Pierre”.

Abbe Pierre did not really come into the orbit of Australian consciousness, but apparently to the French he was a figure can parable to Mother Teresa. Reading his life story (as related by John Allen), it is easy to understand this.

Normally, upon the death of someone who was so popular and who displayed such heroic virtue we would be hearing shouts of “Santo Subito”/”Sainthood Now”.

Instead, we hear people shouting that this man was not a saint. For instance, here is one reaction to John Allen’s column:

Calling him France’s version of Mother Teresa is a slander against Mother Teresa who was totally faithful to the Church. Preferential love of the poor is an important part of Catholic teaching, but faithfulness means you don’t pick and choose what you are faithful for. Blessed Mother Teresa never liked being categorized as just a social worker and a disobedient Catholic who did praiseworthy work, but is otherwise a dissident becomes just a social worker.

Why this ambiguity? Perhaps because Abbe Pierre was identified with the “liberal” or “left” agenda in the Catholic Church. Shortly before his death he published a book in which he confessed that he had several times broken his vow of priestly celibacy:

It happened that every now and then, I fell. …I never had regular relationships, because I never allowed sexual desire to put down roots. I’ve known the experience of sexual desire and its occasional fulfillment, but this fulfillment was in truth a source of dissatisfaction, because I never felt sincere. … I’ve understood that in order to be fully satisfied, sexual desire needs to express itself in a sentimental relationship, tender, trusting. That kind of relationship was denied to me by my choice of life. I would have only made both the woman and myself unhappy, tormented between two irreconcilable options for my life,” Groues wrote.

He was also a supporter of married priesthood, the ordination of women, and the legalisation of same-sex couples (though distinguished from marriage).

Which leads me simply to reflect on the question of what it means to be a saint. I’m not talking here about that “sainthood” that is given to us as a gift in baptism, although in terms of our innermost identity and eventual salvation, this is surely the most important. No, I mean that working out of our baptismal gift-identity until it becomes synonymous with our lived-identity, that gradual (or in some rare cases, sudden) development by which we are weaned by God’s grace from attatchment to sin and drawn toward the Holiness of God. For many of us, this is a process which is not complete at the time of death, and must therefore be completed in Purgatory. But we know from the church’s history, that there are some in whose hearts God’s grace has been so fruitful that at the time of their death, they’re no longer living the double life which Lutherans call “simul justus et peccator”, but are solely “justus” (by Christ alone, grace alone, and faith-active-in-love alone, of course!).

Was Abbe Pierre one of these? It would appear not, since obedience to Christ in his Church is surely one of these “perfections” required for a declaration of sainthood. There still appears to have been inner contradictions between his baptismal and lived identity–certainly between his priestly identity and public opinions. Nevertheless, I am certain that at the time of his death Abbe Pierre had progressed a very long way along the road to sainthood indeed, and much further, I think, than I could ever possibly hope to in my life.

Perhaps the last word should be left to the Holy Father:

“Informed of the death of Abbe Pierre, the Holy Father gives thanks for his activity in favor of the poorest, by which he bore witness to the charity that comes from Christ. Entrusting to divine mercy this priest whose whole life was dedicated to fighting poverty, he asks the Lord to welcome him into the peace of His kingdom. By way of comfort and hope, His Holiness sends you a heartfelt apostolic blessing, which he extends to the family of the departed, to members of the communities of Emmaus, and to everyone gathering for the funeral.”

On second thoughts, surely it is more correct to say that the last word is left to our “Heavenly Father”. Thanks be to God for his infinite mercy!

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Leonard Klein on EWTN "Journey Home" next week

Next week on EWTN’s “Journey Home” Program, Father Leonard Klein (once Pastor Leonard Klein of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) will be interviewed by Marcus Grodi, to tell the story of his conversion in entry into the Catholic Church. The program airs for the first time on at 12noon on Tuesday 30th of January (Australian EST). You will be able to download it as a podcast during the following week.

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