Michael Heidt asks: more bishops less unity?

America may not have the kind of Catholic Movement that England does, but it does have some fine catholic parishes: Advent, Boston, St. Paul’s, K Street, Washington D.C., Mount Calvary, Baltimore, S. Clement’s, Philadelphia and, of course, Good Shepherd, Rosemount, to name but a few.. And as all the world knows, Good Shepherd now has a Bishop as its Rector in the person of Fr. David Moyer, SSC. On the night of his consecration the church was packed and this shouldn’t be surprising, because Fr. Moyer is respected as a loving pastor who has made a principled stand for the Faith. That he has done so against considerable odds and at no little cost to himself is, I think, agreed upon by most traditionalists. Accordingly, Good Shepherd was full to the brim on February 16th as Fr. Moyer and Fr. Chislett were consecrated as Bishops in the Traditional Anglican Communion and licensed as Assistant Bishops of The Murray, in the Church of Australia, by Bishop Ross Davies. After the moving ceremony everyone was treated to a reception in the Parish Hall, where they were able to make good use of specially minted napkins, tastefully embossed for the occasion with golden miters and crosiers. Before too long, the new Bishops appeared with their new Chief, Archbishop Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), resplendent in purple cassocks and birettas, a stirring sight.

Stirring indeed, but, as more than one person was heard to exclaim, “What does it mean?” In the first instance, that TAC is up by two Bishops, along with the Diocese of The Murray and that ECUSA, presumably, is down by one Rector – who had been deposed anyway. Here things get a little complicated; The Murray is part of the Anglican Communion, TAC is not, but perhaps it is because two of its Bishops are part of The Murray. This means that Bishop Moyer can’t be deposed for “abandonment of communion,” at least in the broader sense, because he hasn’t left it, except that he has at the local level, in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. So February 16th presents something of a conundrum: a TAC Bishop who is out of communion with ECUSA remaining in charge of an ECUSA parish, all the while being an Assisting Bishop of an Australian Diocese in communion with Canterbury. I fear the question still remains, “What does it mean?” And this question raises another, which perhaps serve to clarify the issue.

Concentrating only on the American factor, we have to ask whom Bishop Moyer will serve and who will allow him to do so. We know one thing for certain and only one, namely, that Bishop Moyer will be able to serve the TAC and its U.S. subsidiary, the Anglican Church in America (ACA), led by Archbishop Falk. This much is sure, the rest is unclear. Bishop Moyer may be able to serve orthodox parishes within the Network, or he may not. Again, and with decreasing likelihood, he may be able to serve orthodox parishes in more hostile ECUSA dioceses. But that too is uncertain. All that we can be certain of is that another TAC Bishop has been consecrated, which, whilst it is a good thing for the TAC, does not go very far towards establishing genuine Alternate Episcopal Oversight in ECUSA.

The only way such oversight could be offered at present is through the active cooperation of the Network Bishops. They might, perhaps, be persuaded to allow sacramental and pastoral oversight by allied Bishops who do not ordain women. In this way AEO would at least be established in the large conservative minority of the Episcopal Church, which in turn might just have the leverage to bring it to pass in the rest of ECUSA. It’s a long shot, for sure; but worth trying surely, if for no other reason than that it plays to the critical mass of our conservative allies. But that was not the apparent thinking behind February 16th, at which the Network was conspicuous in its absence, as were the FIFNA Bishops, with the exception of +MacBurney (Quincy rtd.). The bishops of FIFNA explained their absence in their statement of February 12th. ‘The consecration’ they claimed, ‘will …be perceived (by many) as a stumbling block to the building up of an orthodox Anglican Province within these United States.’ Their ‘reservation” was about the timeliness of the action.

The FIFNA Bishops have a point. We do not need more Continuing Church Bishops There are more than enough as it is. We do need a pastoral and sacramental solution for faithful Christians who are otherwise disenfranchised by the revisionist ascendancy. Of necessity this entails far more than the consecration of a new TAC Bishop, however much the TAC may rejoice in that. What is needed is an orthodox bishop, or bishops, who can viably function within ECUSA and as widely as possible.

The February consecrations have the potential to fulfill this role, but only if Bishop Moyer is able to climb out of the TAC box and into the broader Anglican arena. If he is not, then we are left pretty much where we started, with TAC up two Bishops and ECUSA down one Rector. To which one could utter a collective sigh of ‘so what’. Alas, such actions have typified the fragmentation of the Catholic Movement here for the last thirty years. They reflect, moreover, the lawlessness that has afflicted ECUSA for the same period of time, beginning with the illegal ordination of women.

It would be tragic if, when all the dust has settled, we discovered that February 16th had been just another example of individual will trumping concern for the wider Church. It would be tragic if it simply compounded the lawlessness which already characterizes the American scene. It is to be hoped that this will not prove to be the case and that the February consecrations will work towards a solution for the greater mass of faithful Anglicans, instead of more firmly entrenching our already scandalous divisions.

So, to return to the question, ‘What does it mean?’ To which we have to reply not much more at present than yet another Bishop in the Continuum. This must change. If anyone is able to rise to such a challenge it is surely a man with the intelligence, vision, fidelity and clarity of purpose of Bishop Moyer. Or, to put it another way, we may hope that the next celebration at Rosemount will include those who were significant by their absence from the last.

Michael Heidt is parish priest of St John’s, Norristown, Pennsylvania