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Memo to Rome: Some of Us Like the Reformation

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NB: I've disabled comments on this piece because of some of the truly vicious ad hominem attacks it garnered after I first published it Tuesday afternoon. Still, I hope it will encourage perhaps more productive conversation elsewhere about the impact of Rome's sexism and homophobia. In the name of Christ, Rome can do better than this. I hope someday it will.

I may be a bit late in weighing in on the Roman Catholic attempt to lure away Episcopal priests, but that's because I've been busy ministering to an Episcopal congregation that's quickly growing, largely thanks to all the disaffected Roman Catholics (we fondly call them "recovering Catholics") who keep showing up at my church. In the past three Sundays alone, they've increased the size of my congregation by nearly 15%. Of the rest, about 70% are former Roman Catholics, and my church is probably not unusual among Episcopal churches in these statistics.

Back when I had more time, though, I was a member of the Episcopal Diocese of New York's Episcopal-Roman Catholic Dialogue Committee, which met every couple months at the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan offices in New York City to discuss areas of "convergence" between our two traditions. I was also involved at that time with the American Friends of the Anglican Center in Rome, which is how I wound up in Rome in 2006 for the 40th Anniversary of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, a week-long affair involving the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the president of the Pontifical Council Promoting Christian Unity, and Pope Benedict.

That trip and those dialogues taught me two interesting lessons: first, that the clergy scene in Rome certainly seems very gay -- and, particularly once cocktail hour was well underway, fun. But more importantly, I realized that the relatively few Anglicans ("Episcopalians" in the U.S.) involved in these dialogues -- and thus the Anglicans that the Vatican probably comes into the most (perhaps sole) contact with -- seem to wish they were Roman Catholic.

Among my fellow Episcopalians in these dialogues, I was often the only one pointing out that many Episcopalians like myself are uncomfortable with doctrines like the Perpetual Virginity and Immaculate Conception of Mary. I alone voiced skepticism at the circular reasoning of some of the Roman Catholic documents we studied. To my dismay, it was rarely suggested that the Anglican (or Episcopal) tradition had some lessons to teach Rome, rather than just the other way around. For example, women and gays were frequently referred to as "obstacles" to unity between the churches, but I never heard someone (other than myself) suggest that a major obstacle to unity was Rome's sexism and homophobia. Similarly, the dispersed authority of the Anglican tradition -- in the United States, our polity is especially and wonderfully democratic -- was presented as another barrier to unity, rather than a model that Rome should seek to imitate.

At any rate, when I heard the news last week that the Roman Church invited disaffected Anglicans into its fold, I wasn't surprised. In my experience, the few Anglicans who actually wish to be on these committees (I eventually dropped out not just for lack of time, but also interest and empathy) mislead Rome into thinking we're eagerly waiting such an invitation. Believe me, we're not.

In the likely event that there isn't much of a response, both in this country and, I'm guessing, throughout the Anglican Communion, maybe they'll actually grasp the high regard most of us have not only for our Catholic, but also -- and for some of us, especially -- our Protestant heritage. And from the demographics of my church, it would seem many of their own flock are starting to appreciate that heritage, too.