Episcopals vs. Catholics

|Colkoch | 12/31/12 | Enlightened Catholicism |

I found this comparison about the movement between the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church from Enlightened Catholicism very interesting.  - Rosemary

Some Thoughts On Catholics Crossing Rivers And Catholic Hemispheres

Usually my end of the year post reprints one from the beginning of the year.  This will be no exception, but it’s content contains information on some of the big stories in Catholicism that ended the year 2012.  A couple of reasons why I chose this post:  I still firmly believe the now Cardinal Tagle represents hope for the future for all Catholics.  The Tiber/Thames boat crossing percentages are still hugely skewed on the side of Catholics moving to the Episcopal Church and that is still thoroughly ignored by conservative Catholics.  The Philippine government finally did pass and sign into law the Reproductive Health Bill, sending quite the message to the Philippine hierarchy–of which Cardinal Tagle seems to be the only one who got the message.  The Southern Hemisphere is bleeding Catholics to Pentecostal Churches in numbers that dwarf the loss of Northern Catholics to the Episcopalian Church.  The Vatican still doesn’t seem to understand any of these trends.

In all the coverage of Benedict’s creation of the Anglican Ordinariate I’ve never found any numbers about the influx of Catholics into the Episcopalian Church.  Instead I’ve found glowing reports about the influx of Anglicans into the Catholic Church through Ordinariate.  This is true whether the coverage is from mainstream media or Catholic media such as America, Commonweal, or the NCR.  It’s always about those Anglicans/Episcopalians coming in, and dead silence about the route out.  The following excerpt is taken from Episcopal Cafe and lo and behold, it gives the statistics for the boats on both the Tiber and the Thames.

…….Thus far, 100 priests and fewer than 1,400 people in 22 church communities have expressed an interest in the ordinariate. Gather them all in Washington National Cathedral, and the place isn’t half full. Only six of these 22 communities have more than 70 members, which suggests that their longterm viability may be an issue. And there is no evidence to suggest that these small congregations are the thin edge of an as yet invisible wedge.  (If 16 of these communities have less than 70 people then the long term viability of the Ordinariate should be a concern.)

The prominence the ordinariate has achieved in the media has unsettled some Episcopalians. As a denomination, we are still recovering from several years worth of news stories in which the departure of some three percent of our membership for a more theologically conservative body was variously described as a “schism” or an “exodus.”

In part to bolster Episcopal spirits, and in part to provide reporters with some sense of perspective, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some numbers. According to the 2004 U. S. Congregational Life Survey—which I believe is the most recent one available—11.7 percent of Episcopalians were formerly Roman Catholic.

The Episcopal Church had slightly fewer than 2,248,000 members in 2004, indicating that not quite 263,000 of its members were former Catholics.

The Episcopal Church has shrunk some in the last seven years, and now has about two million members. Assuming that the percentage of former Catholics in the Episcopal Church has remained constant (I think it is likely to have risen, but that’s an essay for another day), there are currently some 228,000 former Roman Catholics in the Episcopal Church.  (I would think the percentage has risen as well and that the influx of Roman Catholics has had somewhat the same effect Latin immigration has had for Catholicism.)

There may be a good reason that the departure of fewer than 1,500 Episcopalians to the Roman Catholic ordinariate deserves extensive media coverage while the departure in recent years of more than 225,000 Roman Catholics to join the Episcopal Church goes unmentioned even in stories about the creation of the ordinariate, but I don’t know what it is.

The stories on the ordinariate also report that as many as 100 priests—many of whom may be Episcopalians—have also applied to join the ordinariate. Is this evidence that the Catholic Church is winning priests from the Episcopal tradition? It reads that way, unless one knows, thanks to the Church Pension Group, that 432 living Episcopal priests have been received from the Roman Catholic Church.


For all the ballyhoo surrounding the Anglican Ordinariate the truth is the river flowing out of Catholicism and into the Episcopal Church has a whole lot more traffic in both clergy and laity.  There is plenty of reason to think this isn’t going to change in the near future, especially in North America and other Anglo countries in which both Catholicism and Anglicanism are historic churches.  As for the developing South, well, that is going to be a very different story.

The Catholicism of the South is not the Catholicism of the North.  The same is true for Protestant Christianity.  In the North the talk is of reform and a return to a less hierarchical and more inclusive Christianity which includes acceptance of homosexual unions, an ordained ministry for women and the openly gay, a relational approach to sexual morality, and all of this with an emphasis on the individual spiritual journey rather than the collective identity approach of our ancestors.  None of this is on the radar of Catholicism in the South where traditional sexual and gender roles are sacrosanct, patriarchal authority holds cultural sway, collective spirituality is what gives life to the individual journey, and the miracles, exorcisms, and Divinity of Jesus are not just literal truth, but the main point of discipleship.  In some respects this is a Catholicism that is about a ‘return on one’s spiritual investment’, especially in areas in which the modern western approaches to healing and mental illness are few and far between or economically beyond the reach of the poor and impoverished.

There’s certainly no question that the Catholic tradition supports these notions of healing and exorcism, and the power of the Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints and Angels, and Charismatic practices flourishing in the South.  It was in these beliefs that missionaries connected with the original indigenous populations. And it’s equally true that the long Catholic tradition has very little support for any notions of gender equality, gay unions,  a relational sexual morality, or a less authoritarian clerical structure.  It would seem then that global Catholicism will not reflect the reforms hoped for by progressive Northern Catholics.  The river into the Episcopalian/Anglican Church will stay quite congested.

At first glance the future for Catholicism appears to be centered in the exploding Catholic South where traditional piety, traditional sexuality, and traditional forms of male hierarchy hold sway. This would be especially true in the poorer urban areas with a high population density from rural immigration.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is at it’s most base level in these situations.  Ideas which need  freedom from physical survival angst don’t come up on any one’s radar—like women’s ordination. However, ideas which do impact one’s physical survival do hit the radar screen—like women’s access to birth control.

This is one reason I closely follow the debate in the Philippines between the hierarchy and the government over women’s access to birth control. This is one place where the Vatican plan to use the South to sustain it’s current structure and theology is clashing head on with the actual needs of people in the pews. In a real sense, the Philippines is a Southern hemisphere clash of wills over Humanae Vitae and the celibate male authority that teaches it.  This battle played out in the North almost fifty years ago and much of the call for reform began with it’s utter rejection by the laity.  The Bishops and their supporters have managed to keep the bill from being finalized for some ten years, but it finally appears the tide is turning because women and young Filipinos have had enough and together they represent a lot of votes.  There is a growing sense of moral betrayal by the hierarchy in the Philippines which may be one reason the Vatican appointed Louis Antonio Tagle, something of a pastoral moderate, as Archbishop of Manilla.

If the Vatican is truly banking on the South to sustain it’s power and prestige Benedict and JPII certainly had different ideas about how that should play out in the Vatican itself.  JPII had a College of Cardinals that was  40% from the South and Benedict has almost totally reversed that trend. I wonder if that’s not because the flavor of the Church in the South appealed more to JPII the Mary worshipping Polish mystic than it does to Benedict XVI the German intellectual theologian.  In some respects, Pope Benedict is presiding over a global Catholicism for which neither the pentecostal South or the rebellious North have much appeal.  No wonder he’s rumored to be considering retirement.

If we’ve learned anything from the Arab Spring it’s that today’s youth are very well connected with access to all kinds of information, that the Internet/cell phone explosion is creating something new in collective humanity, and that it won’t be easy for existing power structures to deal with the change this implies.  The Vatican is not immune to this.  Catholicism was the first truly global social entity, but if it wants to maintain relevance in today’s global world, it can no longer afford to think in centuries.  We can make pretty accurate predictions about the demographic look of the Church fifty years from now, but how that demographic will practice Catholicism is another thing entirely.  One thing for sure, it won’t be in any Anglican ordinariate.


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One Response to Episcopals vs. Catholics

  1. Robert Moore says:

    What a wonderful homily . . . it is so encouraging to see that there are some out there who understand the inclusiveness of the message of Jesus!

    Fr Jeff’s parish is truly blessed . . . BUT he had better be careful . . . a quick read through Dominus Jesus (the encyclical written by Cardinal Ratzinger for JPII) makes it absolutely clear that all of us are not welcome . . .

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