As a Catholic, Dwight Longenecker is also incensed at the hijacking of the title by such a dry-sherry-accented Oxford Anglican as Bishop Lord Harries of Pentregarth

In an article for The Times, Lord Harries of Pentregarth informed us that he is a ‘Catholic minded Anglican’ and has sometimes thought of becoming a Catholic but has resisted the temptation because the ‘Anglican Church is the part of the Catholic Church which is open to the future’. He then goes on to refer to Cardinal Newman’s famous essay on the development of doctrine to justify Anglican innovations such as women’s ordination, same-sex marriages, in vitro fertilization and by implication abortion.

Poor grasp of reality

As a former Anglican priest, now a Catholic priest, it would be remiss of me to allow the former Bishop of Oxford to get away with such shoddy thinking and such a poor grasp of reality.

Lord Pentregarth patronizes Catholics by painting us as hidebound Luddites, stuck in the past and fossilized in the mud of our own dogma and out-of-date moral code. The Catholic Church has not stuck to a Christian moral code simply because she cannot be bothered to think through the modern challenges. Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body presents a sound philosophical and anthropological basis for Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality. Catholics have also explained clearly and cogently the profound theological reasons why priesthood continues to be reserved to men.

Bishop Harries, however, gives no indication that he has studied these arguments, nor does he give us the courtesy of addressing them seriously. Instead he dismisses them with a subjective wave of the hand, some smooth utilitarianism and a touch of ecclesiastical name dropping. ‘Arguments against the ordination of women to the episcopate and priesthood,’ he says, ‘have always seemed to me unpersuasive, as they were to the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain (though he could not say this publicly). The benefits brought by women in ministry in the Church of England are manifest.’

Church of the future?

We are told that the Anglican Church is the church of the future. Is it possible that the former Bishop of Oxford is ignorant of the demographics of the future church? Can he possibly be unaware that (along with the Pentecostals) the Catholic Church is the largest, fastest growing and youngest Christian Church in the world? Has he missed the point that even in his own church it is the African Anglicans who are young, strong, bright and dismissive of his liberal agenda for women bishops, homosexual marriage and abortion? The Church of England the church of the future? Hardly.

The definition of a Catholic is quite straightforward: he is a Christian who is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. Lord Harries goes all fuzzy and informs us that he is a ‘Catholic minded Anglican’. Is he aware of how much his suave high church liberalism rankles with ordinary Catholics? Oxford Anglicans who assure us in their dry sherry accents that they are ‘Anglican Catholics’ don’t seem to realize what meaningless nonsense they speak. I have now met Protestants of every denomination who regard themselves as ‘Catholic’. Here in the United States where the Christian religion is varied, individualistic and amazingly pluriform, I have met Methodists who inform me proudly that they are ‘very Catholic’ and Bible Christians who say, ‘We’re liturgical Baptists’. One Sunday I met a very sweet old lady after Mass who assured me that she was a ‘Presbyterian Catholic’. She can be excused for such sentimental and endearing nonsense. Someone of the calibre of Lord Pentregarth should know better.

Missing the point

Finally, we cannot let it go unremarked that Bishop Harries is eager to claim Cardinal Newman as one of his own. Newman’s essay on the development of doctrine is a seminal, nuanced and powerful piece of theological writing. The essay’s essential point is that the Christian faith can develop in understanding, but not in a way that contradicts the core teaching of the Apostles. Instead of any intellectual argument, Bishop Harries grabs the title of Newman’s essay, and uses it, and Newman’s reputation, as a propaganda piece to bolster innovations in the Church of England which would have astounded and scandalized Newman. Is it possible that a person of Bishop Harries’ learning and experience is blind to the fact that Newman’s whole spiritual journey was a repudiation of the kind of Oxford, hoity-toity faux Catholicism that Bishop Harries represents?

Can Bishop Harries really have missed the entire point of Cardinal Newman’s pilgrimage to Rome? Does he not see that the great man stepped down from the heights of his career in Oxford and in the Church of England to take the very step into the Catholic Church that Bishop Harries sneers at?

Lord Pentregarth is honest in choosing not to become a Catholic, but if he does not want to be a Catholic why does he keep masquerading as one? Most of all he should resist the temptation to kidnap a figure as great and good as Cardinal Newman and hold him to ransom for his own progressivist agenda. ND