Brother Steven Haws CR presents two articles written in 1944 by Fr Joiner of St Clement’s, Philadelphia, warning of the dangers of Liberalism

Article 1— Liberal Catholics

The rise of Liberal Groups within the Church should give us pause and great concern. The word liberal sounds attractive; it suggests generosity and friendliness; it has a cordial sound and a ‘come hither’ connotation; but it is a dangerous word and an unconscious cloak for heresy. The term Liberal Catholic is a contradiction in itself; for Liberal Catholicism is the anti-thesis of liberty To be a Catholic one must accept the whole of the Catholic Faith and believe it all to be necessary to salvation. As soon as one begins to choose one aspect of the faith and reject another he ceases to be a Catholic and becomes a Protestant. These liberal groups within the Church, especially those who class themselves as liberal Catholics, may at first sight offer a real temptation to the Catholic Churchmen, but the Catholic Churchman must beware. The Catholic Religion is a whole pattern, and any cut into it spoils both its picture and its mission. There were those in Our Lord’s day who left Him because they found His sayings ‘hard; Our Lord let them go. He had no liberal message for them. There are always some who find the Catholic Faith too hard, too rigid and too dogmatic; but as soon as you begin to liberalise it, it is no longer the Catholic faith.

Among liberal Catholics to-day there are a few who once were known among us as Anglo-Catholics; once upon a time they held tenaciously to the Faith as we hold it, but they have succumbed to the temptation that comes to those who find the Church’s faith too hard, and now follow an easier way. The liberal priests wear Mass vestments, but the Eucharistic Fast is not essential. They will hear confessions, but they do not press the Sacrament of Penance. They believe in the Incarnation but the Virgin Birth is a pious opinion to take or to leave. They keep Easter gloriously but do not believe in the Bodily Resurrection of Our Lord. They are proud of the Apostolic Ministry and believe it to be an orderly and venerable institution, but not something that is part and parcel of the Faith, and essential to the validity of the Priesthood and the Sacraments. This Liberal theology is very comfortable, and very attractive, and is winning converts. The liberals know the strength of Anglo-Catholicism in its positive faith and its definite plan. So the liberal school is setting up a definite programme of its own and establishing a positive platform. They see the futility of a negative creed. They are a formidable group. We must be on our guard’.

Article 2 —A sleeping movement

‘The Anglo-Catholic Movement in America has gone to sleep. We as Catholic Churchmen now serve on important committees, we are elected to Diocesan offices, and while we are being tolerated only, we have allowed ourselves to think we are being accepted and that we are converting the Episcopal Church to the Catholic Faith. As we look over the Church we see some slight growth in exterior Catholic practice and in the use of Catholic terms, but there are no out and out’ Catholic Parishes coming into existence.

In fact, more such parishes are closing up than are being created. It is high time we are aroused to this situation. What can we do? ‘Earnestly contend for the Faith!’ Our forefathers fought for it. Our parish was the battleground for it not so many years ago. Are we ready to have it so again, if it be the will of God? Or do you prefer to follow the easy road, do the things you like, leave undone the things you do not like, and be known as high-churchmen?

After this War there is going to be a levelling of fundamental issues; a reshaping of principles to be of the most value to the greatest number; and those who are getting ready to frame such comprehensive platforms of economics and education and morality are also preparing a comprehensive plan of religion to set before the world, and its title, its slogan will be LIBERAL. We are fighting this War for Liberty, so the victory and peace must be liberal, and the post-war world must be liberal. Anglo-Catholics will have a hard time to keep their place in the Anglican Communion. We can keep it only by getting ready now-, by being more definite now, morediligent now, more faithful in the Sacramental Life now, more informed about the Faith now. The liberal invitation is atli active, but if you follow this liberal leadership it will lead you right out of the Catholic Church! Our Lord’s doctrine is hard; who can receive it? There is no middle way.

A real threat

These two articles were written 70 years ago by the rector of St Clements, Philadelphia. They appeared in the Summer Issue 19/1)J of S, Clement’s Quarterly magazine and the War in question was the Second World War. Fr Franklin Joiner spent his entire ministry at St Clements. Although raised a Presbyterian, he was drawn to the worship of the Episcopal Church at an early age. After studying theology at Nashotah House, he served his curacy for two years at St Clement’s and later was appointed rector where he remained for thirty-five years.

This famous Anglo-Catholic parish fell under persecution with the Diocese of Pennsylvania during the Anti-Ritualist Controversies of the 1870s and 1880s, when the battle was against Protestant ignorance, but by the 1930s and 1940s certain groups within the Catholic movement were already engaging to win converts to alter Catholic faith, doctrine and practice among American Anglo-Catholic churchmen. It must have been a real threat for Fr Joiner to issue such a warning to his parishioners but seventy years later that threat has proved real. We know what this new movement is, though we hear less about it now since their goals have been largely achieved.

Women bishops

What had been a real threat just before the War ended in 1945 has come almost full circle. The situation we as Catholic Anglicans now face is far more serious with the proposed innovation of women bishops. For the past twenty years, and some forty years in America, one has been able to avoid the sacramental ministry of women priests, and let us be quite clear that we are not opposed to women’s ministry — but we find ourselves doubting their sacramental ministry of a presbyter. When a woman purports herself to be a bishop, conferring ‘priestly’ ordination on men, that is where the problem (one of many!) lies. Equally confusing and raising further grave doubts will be the male bishops who ordain men to the priesthood when the male bishop has himself been `ordained’ by a woman bishop. In July the Episcopal Church will mark the fortieth anniversary of the first illegal ordinations of women priests, only to have it ratified at General Convention two years later and yet, forty years on, their orders are not universally accepted.

Appointing a successor

St Clement’s is one of the few remaining traditional Anglo-Catholic parishes in the American Church and the only one currently in Philadelphia that offers sacramental assurance to all the faithful. The present rector Canon Gordon Reid has announced his intention to retire after ten years’ ministry in the parish which will be at the end of this year. A Search Committee is charged with the daunting task of appointing his successor. We hope and pray that the next rector will be as worthy and will uphold the catholic and apostolic teaching as his predecessors before him, including the late Fr Peter Laister of blessed memory. There should be a spiritual home where traditional Catholic Anglicans can worship in confidence, in spirit and in truth. This applies equally to our own situation here in the Church of England, where we hope and pray to have an honoured place to flourish and to lead our Church forward in mission for the kingdom of God. ND