Come All Ye Faithful: Benedict's Counter-Reformation

Article excerpt

WHEN MY MOTHER was a young woman, in the 1930s, Cousin Lily, then in her 80s, gave her some sound advice: "Wherever you go, join the Episcopal Church and you will meet all the best people in town." "Best" in this instance referred not to the Book of Life but the Social Register. The staid, proper, elevated Episcopal Church, the Republican Party at prayer, was respectability's keep.

Starting sometime in the 1960s, God's frozen people melted, generating the mother of all theological mud puddles. From the abandonment of Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer to the introduction of priestesses in the 1970s and the ongoing election of homosexual bishops, the Episcopal Church forsook traditional Christian doctrine in favor of its own invented religion. Not surprisingly, this apostasy fractured both the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion. The upshot has been a variety of continuing churches that maintain historic ties to Anglicanism, multiple movements within the Episcopal Church to restore orthodoxy, and the breaking away of many Anglican churches in the Third World, where most Anglicans now live.

On Oct. 20, Rome parachuted into this dogfight like a division of Fallschirmjager. In a move that stunned the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglicanism's titular leader, Pope Benedict XVI, opened the Roman Catholic Church's door to Anglicans as Anglicans. He invited them to move in--individuals, parishes, whole dioceses--while retaining their Anglican identity. They could keep their Book of Common Prayer, their liturgies, their priests--even married ones.

Importantly, Anglican parishes affiliating with Rome would not come under the authority of local Roman Catholic bishops. In the U.S. and UK, most of those bishops are liberals. They dislike traditional Anglicans as much as they dislike traditional Roman Catholics and the Latin Mass. Given the chance, they would simply close down any Anglican parish that swam the Tiber, telling the congregation to go to Roman Catholic churches. This would leave most former Anglicans unchurched, as few could stomach the snakebelly-low post-Vatican II vernacular Roman Mass. To Anglicans, no sin is more grievous than bad taste.

Not to worry: Anglicans rallying to Rome will stay under their own bishops, or priests acting as bishops, known as "ordinaries." Pope Benedict knows his American and British bishops all too well. His whole package is neatly wrapped up just in time for Christmas in an Apostolic Constitution, the most definitive form of papal legislation. The rough American equivalent would be a constitutional amendment. It's not just a bon-bon.

How Anglicans will react to Rome's offer has yet to be seen. Many details remain unclear. One problem is likely to be the doctrine of papal infallibility, a 19th-century Roman innovation. The Apostolic Constitution stipulates that Anglicans would have to accept "The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church as the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the ordinariate." This could mean accepting papal infallibility as expressed in the catechism, and if Rome remains inflexible on that point, Pope Benedict's initiative seems likely to fail.

But should it succeed, Rome's offer has implications far beyond Anglicanism. Pope Benedict just might have taken the first step toward a second Counter-Reformation. The split within Anglicanism between those who believe the Christian faith was revealed and is to be received and those who think you just make it up to accord with the temper of the times is duplicated within virtually every other denomination.

The root cause is the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School, commonly known as political correctness. Following Antonio Gramsci's plan for a "long march through the institutions," cultural Marxists have penetrated every mainline church. Their driving force is political ideology, not theology. They view the church as just one more venue for radical politics. …