Jonathan Petre: Change Looming

The Anglican Communion is heading for an almighty pile-up. Sometime in November, a conservative archbishop is planning to announce radical plans to adopt a breakaway group of conservative American dioceses, and the resulting collision could prove very messy indeed. Under the plans, between three and five dioceses will ”” over a period of time ””opt out of The Episcopal Church and affiliate with the conservative province thousands of miles away.

The proposals, which I have seen, have been drawn up over a number of months and follow extensive consultations between the bishops of the American dioceses and their counterparts in the province concerned. Lawyers have advised the American dioceses that they should enjoy greater protection than parishes when it comes to the inevitable tug-of-war with the litigious
leadership of the Episcopal Church over property because they are deemed to be legal entities in their own right. The dioceses will, however, have to respect all the legal niceties before opting out ”” most have to confirm fundamental constitutional changes at two subsequent meetings of their diocesan synods ”” so the realignment is expected to be staggered.

San Joaquin in California, which is due to take its second vote in December, is due to leap first, while Pittsburgh, headed by the leader of the conservative dioceses, Bishop Bob Duncan, will have to wait until the middle of next year. While this could appear, at least at first, to be more of a whimper than a bang, its cumulative effect could be momentous. Bishop Duncan may be guilty of hyperbole when he claims it is part of a new ”˜Reformation’, but at the very least it will create a dangerously unstable anomaly at the heart of the Communion.

Once the precedent is established, who knows what floodgates it may open across the rest of the Communion. The liberal leadership of the Episcopal Church is certain to claim that any diocese that opts out, presumably taking senior clergy as well as property with it, is now vacant and appoint new bishops and staff. For the first time, there will be rival dioceses, each claiming to be Anglican, operating in parallel within the same geographical boundaries. Conceivably, there will also be neighbouring parishes belonging to the rival dioceses, competing for worshippers.

Along with the other Common Cause partners, the realigned conservative dioceses will no doubt develop into a de facto parallel province within the Episcopal Church, creating an open wound. The new ”˜ecclesial body’ will be recognised by a number of conservative Primates, and disowned by a number of liberal ones, further intensifying strains across the whole Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has been told about these plans, but just at the moment he must feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights. At the time of writing, he was ensconced in a no doubt uncomfortable meeting with the increasingly quarrelsome Church of England bishops in London.

He has said that he will somehow consult all this fellow Primates about the next steps, possibly by writing or via personal telephone calls, but he cannot delay some sort of statement for long.In advance of the Episcopal House of Bishops’ meeting in New Orleans, he had all but ruled out calling an emergency Primates meeting after a number of liberals, anxious that they may be strongarmed into taking punitive action against the Americans, threatened to boycott it. But, amid growing evidence that he and his advisors are making up the rules of the game as they go along, he may rethink that option as at least it offers the tempting prospect of buying more time.

While Dr Williams was in New Orleans, he gave every indication that he was prepared to do almost anything to keep the Americans within the fold as long as they produced a “defensible”

But whether he can plausibly defend the statement produced by the Americans remains to be seen, and much will now depend on the reaction of moderate conservatives such as the Primate of the West Indies, Archbishop Drexel Gomez.

In a newspaper interview a year ago, he revealed that he had a “nightmare” that the Communion would disintegrate into warring factions, bankrupting themselves in protracted legal battles over property. He painted a bleak picture of rival Anglican churches competing with each other on the same street. His nightmare is fast becoming reality.

–Mr. Jonathan Petre is the Religious Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in London; this article appears on page 24 of today’s edition of the Church of England Newspaper


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Common Cause Partnership, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts

25 comments on “Jonathan Petre: Change Looming

  1. chips says:

    The Archbishop has refused to lead – He has tried to buy peace by sacrificing honor and principal. In the end he will have neither.

  2. Charley says:

    You folks must not have children since there is no way on God’s Green Earth all this is worth it if your intention is to raise your children in a church that you can be happy about attending week in week out, year in year out.

    This whole thing is beyond absurd.

  3. azusa says:

    #2; you are right – it is the theater of the absurd, branching out into farce and producing tragedy.

  4. Franz says:

    Could it be that Newman was right? Are the foundations of Anglicanism fundamentally flawed? I’ve had a hard time imagining being a Christian as anything other than an Episcopalian. However, the strange (and strained) theology of many of our bishops (and of many parish priests) has been leading me to consider the alternatives.
    That means (more likely than not) Rome. I know there is a lot I will have to wrap my heart and mind around to get there (to say nothing of dealing with my wife and children). But I’m beginning to suspect that a rump Anglicanism is at best an intermediate step toward full communion with the the seat of Peter.
    So, can anyone suggest something by those who have made the jump? I have found Newman ponderous, are there any good biographies that can serve as an introduction to his thought? Are there any other resources you can suggest.

  5. David Mainey says:

    Not a happy picture. Not a good witness. Not a viable outcome. The alternative is…

  6. DonGander says:

    The Liberals are now the conservatives – unwilling to budge nor allow any opposition to their creative theology. Dogmatism reigns supreme among the Liberals.

    Thus, we have our current dilema. It seems to me that those who wish to be loyal to their vows as bishops are doing a very good job at protecting the faith. They are being faithful to God and Scripture and the Church. They are being as liberal as their consciences allow.

    I think that the Church in the USA will, within a year or two, look more like the Church and less like a garden club that it now is.

  7. Mathematicus says:

    #4, As a very firmly committed Anglican, may I suggest that you first try to find and attend a Common Cause church near you before swimming the Tiber? As a member of the Reformed Episcopal Church, I would suggest you take a look at it first. Go to which is the home page of the REC and use the church finder to see if there is a parish near you. Good luck in your search.

  8. midwestnorwegian says:

    I feel like Uncle Fester….giddily waiting for the two trains to collide. Sorry folks…I know that sounds harsh…

  9. Words Matter says:

    Franz –

    You might look at Scott Hahn’s [i]Rome, Sweet Home[/i], or any of [url=]Mark Shea’s books[/url], especially those including “An Evangelical Discovers…”. That series covers some of the traditional sticking points for persons from the Reformed traditions. I came at it from the Anglo-catholic end of things, so Newman worked for me. And, yes, he is ponderous. 🙂

    Actually, you can google “Catholic Apologetics” and get more links that you could read in several lifetimes. Best wishes.

  10. Bernini says:


    I can only speak from my own experience as someone who has, in fact, made the decision to cross the Tiber. After 35+ years as a cradle Episcopalian, I will enter the RCIA program of my new RC parish in mid-November with the intention of being confirmed at the Easter Vigil. I had been wrestling with this decision for several years. The crux of my decision is the Eucharist. In fact, the issue that broke it for me was Communion without Baptism. I was willing to discuss (as “rational Episcopalians” do) the variety of issues that have been on the table these past few years. But the fundamental exploding of the Paschal Mystery, the very center and reason to be of my sacramental Christian faith, was more than I was willing to deal with. I considered the option of going “Anglican” instead of “Episcopal,” but concluded, frankly, that there was no point. If the Sacraments give us the framework to experience God’s grace in our lives, if they are gifts of Christ to His Church, then the only place for me to live out the richness of those gifts in their fullness is Rome. In the context of a fully sacramental life, I don’t find it a stretch to go from consubstantiation to transubstantiation. I have found the practice of Eucharistic Adoration to be a moving spiritual experience, one that I fundamentally do not wish to be without. I acknowledge that Rome comes with its own baggage, but I’m willing to take that on in order to live in the full presence of the sacraments of God.

  11. trooper says:

    Franz, I recommend Scott Hahn’s books, as well. There are some great Catholic blogs, too. I thought that then Cardinal Ratzinger’s interview with Peter Seeger, which were published as a book, “Salt of the Earth”, answered quite a few of my objections and helped me see clear to swim. It was a little hard to get brave enough to leave, but now, safely in the arms of The Church, I know that I did the right thing. Newman was right.

  12. Stuart Smith says:

    #4: Many of my friends (and some seminarian classmates) have chosen to go to Rome. The books cited above would be helpful. (Fr.) Al Kimel, who recently “poped” has a web-site (I believe), or you could read from his past archives, his own apologia for leaving the AC for the RCC.
    The unfortunate truth is that, in many parts of the American RCC, the same theological experimentation and unfaithfulness that afflicts TEC is also present in “the Catholic Church”. Read *Ungodly Rage”, by Donna Stichen, a fine expose by a woman who surveys Catholic School developments in the past generation. Even Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (a red-hot convert from the Lutherans) frequently admits in his fine periodical “First Things” how profligate much of the American Catholic Church is today. Of course, he rightly and quickly points to the signs of great hope in the RCC these days- vocations to the priesthood “up” in more traditional dioceses; a return to the Latin Mass and the rediscovery of the power of the mystery of Catholic piety (without American tinkerings). But, of course, there are also places of glory and hope within TEC (mostly dioceses within which are Common Cause congregations), so how the RCC would trump an alternative to TEC in the future escapes me.

    Folk who are genuinely drawn and convinced that “the Catholic Church” is where the Lord wants them to be should be congratulated for finding home. Many former TEC folk have found that in Eastern Orthodoxy as well. If, however, you are like me, and find no truer, sweeter, more winsome way of being Christian than the Anglican (Celtic) Way, the place to be is where you are…warts and all.
    Every expression of the Body of Christ is a reflection (sad, but true) of the leprous Bride of Christ, until the Lord Jesus completes His Work and returns for that cleansed Bride.

  13. pendennis88 says:

    As to Petre’s article, I think there is little any it that anyone could not have predicted. In fact, the JCS statement has made the schism more likely, not less, by fixing the position of the ACC and the ABC, unless he should do something to distance himself from it, firmly on the side of TEC and its decision not to change. That, in turn, would force the global south out. One can be forgiven for suspecting that may have been what its authors intended.

  14. Franz says:

    Thanks to all above for your kind suggestions.
    #12 — Neuhaus is one of the reasons I am both drawn to the RCC and have reservations. I think I first started thinking about making the shift after reading “Death on a Friday Afternoon.” I thought that if the RC’s have someone like that writing for them, they have to have something great going on. At the same time, he has no illusions about the “silly season,” especially with regard to liturgy, that the church has been going through, and my exposure to the liturgy as practiced in the American RC has not whetted my appetite. It may be that I am too much in love with the forms of Anglicanism (my own idolatry?), and that I need to continue to wrestle with that and related issues.
    #7 — A Common Cause parish would be appealing, if there were once nearby. I guess my concern is this: Does even traditional Anglicanism have fatal flaws? It may be that the current crisis in ECUSA, if not exactly inevitable, arises out of some of the limitations of Protestantism. I guess I feel the obligation, once I cut the cord with ECUSA, to look at the entire Anglican project with fresh eyes. The Reformed Episcopal Church is appealing, but I’ll have to figure out whether that’s just because I am drawn to it as a matter of personal taste, or for deeper reasons.
    Thank you, all, once again. I will follow up on the resources you have suggested. It will be (to say the least) a season of discernment for many of us.

  15. Terry Tee says:

    Franz, it was published in the UK, but you would find Peter Cornwell One Step Enough brief, excellent and very readable. He left from St Mary the Virgin Oxford – Newman’s church – and was not the kind of very high Anglo Catholic you might have expected.

  16. Pete Haynsworth says:

    Re #4 & 14 …

    I posted the following on the Yahoo “Anglican Use” group site. The responses – in the mid-September “Various” thread – were enlightening, if not very encouraging. Oh well:


    Been lurking on Anglican Use for several weeks. Am a Episcopal pew-sitter watching his church fly apart.

    Was wondering: What “retooling” of “essential faith doctrines” would be required of a garden-variety Episcopalian to become a Roman
    Catholic? Conversely, what are some “adaiphora” that an inquiring Episcopalian might worry about, but should not?

    For example, I suppose that accepting the primacy of the bishop of Rome would be an essential. With this I have no problem; to me, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be a pretty squared-away fellow, as was John Paul II.

    However, upon Googling “essential Roman Catholic doctrine”, a top hit was a piece on “purgatory” as essential. Are the Immaculate
    Conception and Assumption also essential? On what should inquiring efforts be spent?

    A related question that might be more reasonably directed to Episcopal traditionalists, but will be posed here: Why have
    Episcopalians leaving that church over the past 140 years or so tended to form marginal splinter entities? Especially now, why
    aren’t _more_ such individuals and congregations knocking at Archbishop Myer’s and Anglican Use’s door instead of forming the
    present array of alphabet-soup breakaway groups?

    Pete Haynsworth

  17. jeff marx says:

    #2. My 7th grade daughter recently posted, in a public school hallway her essay on her hero. Titled, “Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior” she wrote that Jesus had died for her and no one else would do that, that she loved Him and always would. In Memphis Tennessee there are many Evangelical Chirstians and her public school is no doubt full of them. Yet that little Anglo-Catholic daughter of mine was one of the few (I saw one other one, titled “God”) to publicly witness here faith. SO, in spite of the sickening heresy and infidelity I see in TEC and in spite of my wish for a holy church, I can still raise my daughter in this church and not fear for her soul. Of course, I am the rector so I have influence on what is taught in the parish!
    #12 Stuart Smith, dear friend, you have nailed the question. I was a Roman priest for five years (left in ’89) and have many Roman friends, and often they are as Modernist (Catholic Liberals) as many I meet in TEC. I do not know if the Anglican experiment wil last in the West much longer, but I do know it is worth trying to live faithfully in this tradition. However, Newman’s prophetic words about the future of Anglicanism have shaken me deeply (since I read them on Kimmel’s blog some years ago). And Bishop Steenson’s departure has deeply wounded my heart and challenged me as I contemplate my future in TEC. I know the problems of Roman Catholicism, but I wonder if reforming the church outside of Rome is possible. It looks more like reformation means division and further division. Unfortunately, the TEC ‘new thing-reform’ is also isolating TEC more and more, so staying is also leaving……

  18. DavidBennett says:

    As an Episcopalian turned Roman Catholic, apologetics didn’t have too much of an effect on me, since I was pretty Anglo-Catholic to begin with, and I already believed in some type of purgatory and other doctrines that the early Anglican reformers mostly rejected. I found a few factors instrumental in deciding to becoming RC. First, the ineffective response of the Anglican Communion to this crisis is what got me thinking about where I belonged. And the responses that were floated around seemed to represent a Protestant ecclesiology. I had to read about what Catholics actually believed about certain issues, including the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the sacrifice of the mass, etc. Even as an Anglo-Catholic I misunderstood these doctrines, and reading actual, official Catholic writings about them helped, as opposed to what may fly in popular piety. Granted, some people understand these doctrines and still reject them.

    I think that where this crisis takes a person depends on quite a few factors, which is why some stay, and others leave for different destinations. For many, the proposal mentioned in this article is the way forward, and for others, it is not adequate. Some will stay and reform ECUSA, others will join up with this realigned proposal, while others are done with the Anglican Way. I think the sad thing is that in 2003 many of us were on the same page and ready to fight together. Four years later, after years of “process” (and little else) we are now in different places. You might say the ABC has played this pretty cleverly, since the delay caused by process and fudge has served to weaken the conservative response.

  19. Words Matter says:

    The Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, is certainly full of de facto Episcopalians. And they are a problem. But more than [i]being[/i] a problem, they [i]have[/i] a problem, which is the Magesterium of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church claims to teach definitively, and, according to an Episcopalian minister under whom I studied Old Testament, Anglicanism does not.

    Of course, the Magesterium is a problem in it’s own way, since, yes, there are beliefs required to be a real Catholic. Certain Marian doctines are among them, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption being two of them. What it not required is adherence to any and every Marian apparition and pious legend around (although, check out the First Things blog for an interesting take on said legends). Purgatory is a doctrine of the Catholic Faith, but you would be surprised how little is taught about it. Check out the Catechism. In fact, check out the Catechism for all your Catholic doctrinal needs. It’s an excellent read.

    Fr. Marx, with all due respect, do you think that in 20 years, as you sweet daughter takes her own place in parish life, same-sex marraige won’t be commonplace? Perhaps you have a good bishop, but he’s going to retire: how many more bishops will there be who don’t accept – and enforce – the gay agenda?

    That’s the problem; there is no corrective force in Anglicanism beyond the national province. On the other hand, in 20 years, the graying hippies that form the Episcopalian wing of the Catholic Church will be gone. Other heretics will certainly take their place, as it has always been, replicating the rather finite set of heresies that have plagued us since the Day of Pentecost. But the Church will still teach what she has always taught about sex and all other moral matters. Doctrine will develop; it will not change.

    The key issue is whether one believes that the Church of Christ subsists, whole and entire, in the Catholic Church; i.e, is the Catholic Church the Church founded by Christ, continuing in the protection of the Holy Spirit, guarded from essential error in Faith and Morals. For me, the presence of a Teaching Authority – a Magesterium – was important in coming to my own conclusion about who the Church is: it seemed to me that the New Testament and Church history bear witness to this essential function. As much as I loved (and love) Anglicanism, the authority to teach definitively just ain’t there.

  20. owshf says:

    #2 I’m not sure what you mean by your comment. Is it absurd that those of us with kids would continue to hang on stubbornly to what is true regardless of our circumstances (e. g. what parish we’re stuck in)? Are suggesting that we go along with the vast TEC hoard (even if it means picking up a gift certificate for Adam and Steve, both lay eucharistic ministers, as they celebrate their union with a church blessing conducted by our oh-so-moderate priest(ess))? Would you rather have us jump ship for Rome, Russia, or the evangelical mega-church down the block? Or maybe we should retreat to our homes for a quiet communion service among non-hierarchical laypeople like the original Mennonites? None of the options are simple or, to my mind, much fun in actuality. But I suppose God calls us in the ways that He does–ways higher than mine certainly–and any of us is flirting with the absurd if he/she thinks that some way other than God’s way (whatever that is for each of us) will be better…. There’s plenty of time on the cross for us all.

  21. Bernini says:

    I’m not familiar with the Newman reference to fundamentally flawed Anglicanism. Can someone post a link or reference?

    Many thanks.

  22. Franz says:

    Bernini (#21) — I can’t give you the reference right off, but it is my understanding that the major reason for Newman’s jump was his conclusion that Anglican model of authority was simply unworkable over the long haul. Words Matter’s post above (#19) articulates some of the reasons I find myself drawn to the RCC.

    That’s not to say that I have some (many) questions about a lot of Roman Doctrine. Some things are foreign to me (some aspects of Marian doctrine), some less so. However, IMHO, once we realize that God is not created in our own image, we have to decide whom we will trust on matters of faith, doctrine and morals. I’m not there yet with Rome, but I appreciate the fact that Rome stands for something (reading “Truth and Tolerance” by Cardinal Ratzinger (written before his election to the papacy) was an eye-opener). The ECUSA, with its “pluriform truths,” can’t be trusted. I don’t know about Rome, yet. That will require a great deal of prayer, and a combination of intellectual enquiry and, at some point, a decision based on faith.

  23. Charming Billy says:


    As a former crade Episcopalian, RCIA drop out, and current Presbyterian I have found,
    in retrospect, the most helpful question to ask oneself is not: who’s right, TEC or Rome?
    Rather the question to ask is: who’s right, The Reformers or Rome?

    Once I’d gotten that straight in my mind, things became clear. The hard part, having
    settled in favor of the Reformers, was which denomination to choose. I chose a Presbyterian
    church because my reading and reflection led me to believe that if indeed the Reformers got
    it right, the more Reformed Reformers, naturally, got it most right.

    I was also the product of a fairly low church parish and, apart the matchless liturgy
    of the 1928 BCP, I believed that the aspects of Anglicanism that were most important to me
    could be found, more or less, in a traditional “decent and orderly” Presbyterian church.

    So far, things have worked out well and I think I made the right choice. Sometimes I almost
    feel as if I were a Calvinist all along and just didn’t know it. But I supposed that’s not
    so unusual for someone brought up in a low church parish.

    If it seems I’m leaving God’s guidance out of this short account, I’m not. It’s simply that I often
    find it difficult to discern where God has acted in my life.But my path out of TEC has given me a deeper understanding of what he wants from me and his church, and that makes me think I’m following Him.

    And you’re right, Newman is ponderous. I recommend Ronald Knox.

  24. Terry Tee says:

    # 21, you can find the link here
    to his Apologia I suggest you first scroll down to p 235 and then go back to p 207 and read forward from there. As others have observed above, Newman is heavy going.

  25. justinmartyr says:

    Franz, thanks for your frank questions. I hope that in your quest you will remain as intellectually honest and open as you appear to be now.

    Please consider these two points, “a) are you thinking of joining the Roman Catholic Church because you are convinced of its claims: papal infallibility, the one true church, Marian doctrine, etc.?” or “b) are you joining the Roman Catholic Church because you feel insecure in the current ecclesial climate?”

    If the your answer is the a), (you’re convinced by scripture and dogma), then God Bless you!

    But if your answer is solely b, then I ask ask you to reconsider. Many seem to be leaving because they believe the much spouted maxim that bad Shepherds are indicative of a bad Sheep Fold. This may indeed be the case. But we must remember that whatever criticism we level against Canterbury, we must level equally against Rome. Has Anglicanism been corrupt? So has Rome. Are the archbishops of the Communion liberal and wayward? Through history the popes have been just as bad or worse. They have lived with mistresses, mouthed blasphemies, and tortured Christ’s flock. As recently as this last century a pope has been personally responsible for the kidnapping of a Jewish boy and his forced indoctrination. I agree with His Holiness that the Anglican Church is defective. But on so many points of importance to Christ, so repeatedly is Rome.

    I don’t say these things to badmouth the Romans. I just want to remind you that the paradise to which so many swim is just as filthy as this side of the Tiber. To say otherwise is at best dishonest.
    Please, I ask you to consider staying here as part of the remnant. Remain a mere Christian, an Anglican, a bridge across the great divide between empires. Fix your eyes on Christ and feed Christ’s sheep. We need people like you in this fold.