One Pope or a million Popes?

How different Anglican difficulties look from outside not within!

The latest difficulty, and it is explosive, being the rogue consecration of a curate in Newcastle conducted by the clergy from a break-away Anglican body in Africa. A provocative power play undertaken by Conservative Evangelicals who are simultaneously dismayed at the position of the Church of England hierarchy on matters of sexual morality and feeling marginalised where preferment is concerned. So they are now ‘making their own bishops’ in clear opposition to Downing Street and Canterbury. And what is that but schism?

Were I still Anglican I would undoubtedly be getting my knickers in a twist at the impossible ecclesiology of it all. How can you have bishops ‘created by faction’ each out of communion with the other? But then the Church of England invented this messy scenario when, facing similar schism over women priests, it created flying bishops for Anglo-Catholics; those consecrated not for the ministry of the whole body but to cater only to a subsection within who might otherwise leave.

So this is a continuation of a theme, the difference being permission was not granted. Doubtless it will lead to conflict; but then conflict has raged in the Church of England ever since it embraced the modernist mindset. How could it not? You may opt for fidelity to the Gospel or to the Spirit of the Age but to attempt both is madness. Political game-playing, masterful fudge and subterfuge might dupe people for a while but eventually trajectory becomes obvious. And it is now so clear, to all but the wilfully blind, which path the Church of England is on. You do the maths; there exist just a couple of conservative Evangelical bishops (suffragans) and just a smattering of Anglo-Catholics meanwhile the diocesan appointments are mainly liberal. We might consider how the appointment of +Philip North was blocked from the diocese of Sheffield.

So it was always going to happen. Not least because beneath the presenting issues of women priests and gay partnered clergy is really a battle for the soul of the Church of England. A battle of fidelities. And the Evangelicals are not stupid. They know that unity is only hanging by a thread since the liberals emerged, bloody but victorious, from battle with Anglo-Catholicism over women priests. They also know that if they allow the liberals to recover then they will be the new targets. So they throw down the gauntlet and fire the shot across the bows. And what is the modernist hierarchy going to do. Does it cave in and thus lose ground ideologically or does it take up the gauntlet and do battle? Which would be folly financially given that, unlike the defeated Anglo-Catholics who were spirited but impoverished, the Evangelicals rule over the biggest parishes. I sense a mexican stand off….

I began the article stating things look different from without than within. That is because- from outside- one easily discerns the problem here is -again- one of authority. The curate-bishop of Newcastle is only doing what Henry VIII  did before him! Because when the C of E rid themselves of one pope they created a million new ones; which explains why schism after schism after schism has ever defined the protestant landscape. Movements rise and fall but always the body fails. The original spirit of rebellion has never been quashed. The absence of authentic authority being the Achilles heel of Protestant theology.

It saddens me to see the Church of England divided. It saddens me that a body, once so gentle but broadly orthodox, is now modernist to the point that orthodoxy struggles to flourish within it. But then that is, in part, why many of us are now about the business of preserving the very best of Anglican patrimony but on a different shore. In that place where unity is secured upon the barque of Peter. Dare I suggest it will be here, in the Ordinariate, not within the rapidly mutating Church of England, that authentic Anglican spirituality will be located a generation hence?


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11 thoughts on “One Pope or a million Popes?

  1. I think much of that you say here Ed is fair enough, though unlike you I am still struggling inside it.

    I was just surprised at your choice of image. Currently there is one Pope, and surely using his image would have conveyed your point more fully.

    The papacy is about far more than just one person, otherwise there is a risk of simply having lots of different heads with different ideas, influenced by different Gods. The positive message (rather than it being a reaction against) of Vatican II is as much in Pius XII and it is John XXIII/PaulVI.

    Personally my thinking of Joseph Ratzinger has changed radically since he was elevated to papal office so, other than my previous point, have no gripes at all with your choice of banner image.

  2. The oddest thing about this new situation in Newcastle is that the curate-bishop remains within a parish in the diocese of Newcastle. Where does his allegiance lie? Can a man serve two masters?

  3. “One Pope or a million Popes” I thought you had two Popes at the moment in the Roman church. Pope Benedict was elected for life by God’s Holy Spirit through the conclave, so Mr Bergoglio must be an anti-pope. It is a modern day Avignon situation.

    1. The exaltation of the papal cult is a very recent phenomenon, but no pope has ever been elected by the Holy Spirit for life. The pope is elected by an electoral college of senior clergy and remains in post only for as long as he chooses. He may step down from his see as any other bishop. Sedevacantism arises from imagining the papacy to be something far greater than it is. It is certainly the opinion of some that Mgr Bergoglio’s tenure has not been impressive and one hopes that he too might be calling for his pipe and slippers in the not too distant future.

      1. ‘Be careful what you wish for – you might get it” comes to mind. It seems to me that there may be a case that some of those who wanted a Curia reformer failed to note that they too could need reforming. Pope Francis seems to subscribe to the view that his bishops should ‘Go out now, share the Gospel, get messy’. In other words be today’s apostles.

        1. I entirely delight in the Papal desire to reform the clergy and combat careerism, rigidity and lack of care. But, sadly, he often seems to confuse doctrinal fidelity with having an uncaring attitude. And that is as untrue as it is unhelpful. The end result being that he admonishes those following the faith and appears to sell the pass to those who do not….

          1. I share your frustration but not, as yet, anxiety because I think that a strategy is in place to deal with the problem. I think that the Santa Marta homilies carry some hints (especially the more recent ones). There is some emphasis on doctrine. I’m no theologian but I am a historian even though my period is much earlier than the early Christian. But, I am aware that some of the problems were causing trouble even to the Church Fathers, so we have a 2000 year legacy to sort out. I have heard it opined that the root of the difficulty lies in the fact that nowhere in the Gospels is Jesus recorded as saying – do not feed the sinner.

    2. Nope

      Canon Law recognises the right of a Pope to resign from office and spells out how it is to be done. Benedict was not the first to do so.

  4. Hello Fr Ed,

    I am amazed that you have had no comments yet on this reflection. I would imagine that most of those who read you will disagree with your conclusions however I have to say well said.
    I would however go further and say that the CoE was ever such – as soon as it came into being and took the Kinds shilling its leader is a politician not a priest and therefore has always been on a diverging road to……well we are seeing where. The Reformation that the BBC seems to think worthy of celebration was the commencement of the end of Western civilisation as it has and is undermining Christian teaching and unfortunately the Catholic Church or at least the Bishops (majority) of them are only to keen to follow. read Hillaire Belloc – frightening really.

    God Bless,


  5. ” mexican stand off….”
    That has broght to mind music from a certain Spagetti Western.

    While the Anglican situation is frought with tension and discord, we have our own bishops who have acted and consecrated outside their authority. SSPX comes to mind. However, some at least, seem to want to put things right and efforts to enable a return to the fold are under way for such bodies. I don’t see how such a reconciliation can be reached in the Anglican churches.

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