Published Friday, October 23, 2009, 3:10 PM
Do you remember the Tylenol scare a few years back? The makers of the world's favorite pain-reliever had to cope with some nut who had poisoned a few bottles and caused the company to recall every single pill and capsule from every store shelf and hospital. Masterful management and savvy public relations saved the day, as well as the pharmaceutical giant's reputation — and bank account.
But imagine if, say, the makers of Excedrin had decided to capitalize on the scare by urging worried Tylenol users to switch to their brand — for their own safety, of course. "Use SAFE Excedrin," they could have said in commercials. "Remember, nobody has died from using OUR brand."
It would have been cheap and unseemly, right? Even if their ads had not been as wild as my imaginary example, they would have been rightly called out for taking such an ugly, self-serving, low road.
Perhaps I thought of this analogy because religion and headaches seem to go together, but the Catholic Church has invited criticism of the same kind for its just-announced and stunning plan to "sign up" Anglicans who have grown angry, unhappy or disillusioned with what they perceive as their church's leftward leanings.
In the words of the Vatican's chief doctrinal officer, Cardinal William Levada, the plan will allow Anglicans “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony." Although there is a heavy load of Vatican lingo like this in the announcement, it is indeed a way to fast-track angry Anglicans — most of them conservative — into conversion to Catholicism.
It is a move that could be felt very quickly and very broadly in England, where many Anglicans have grown disaffected with the Church of England's acceptance of gays and lesbians — including having openly gay bishops -- as well as its full enfranchisement of women as theological equals, which has seen the ordination of women as priests.
As The New York Times said, "If entire parishes or even dioceses leave the Church of England for the Catholic Church, it will probably set off battles over ownership of church buildings and land."
Small wonder that within an hour after posting its scoop, The Times story was packed with comments from readers from all sides of the spectrum.
Some of these voices were happy with the news. Many believe, as I do, that the Church should always be a home in which people of any faith can be welcomed, and feel welcome. It would be hard for those like me in a missionary role to think otherwise. This is of course a simple, from-the-heart sentiment — but this is not a simple Vatican initiative, and it has left many people, both Anglicans and Catholics, lay and clergy, left and right, in utter shock.
To some, it is a clear sign that the Church is digging into its conservative base. To these people, Pope Benedict XVI has ended the suspense (not that there really was any) over whether his Church will be open to liberalization — or even dialog — on many of the issues experienced in the Anglican Communion in recent years. They see the door opening to conservatives of another church — but see it closing to liberal members of their own Church. They may well believe that the Church should be a home to the theological homeless, but now see themselves as the homeless ones.
I can understand how they feel, and their sad belief is not unjustified. Through action as well as inaction, the Church has aged beyond its years in a world that keeps reinventing itself. It has become a "home" for a theology that fewer and fewer people believe in — or, more often, a theology that is now like a cafeteria from which the "faithful" pick and choose the rules they feel most comfortable with. When this process is truly done from the heart and with the Guidance of the Holy Spirit, it can produce wonderful and spiritually bountiful human beings who will be in the Heart of Their Loving Father, as all His Children are.
Of course, Christianity, Catholicism and religious dogma are not popularity contests. We cannot say "It's now OK to..." when we believe it's not OK. We have to stand firm in what we believe God's Message and Teachings to be. If we turn that into rubber, we are lost. And the world we imperfectly work to lead will be lost as well — which is to say, doomed. Not doomed to lightning bolts torn from God's Angry Hand, but lost on a sea without hope of finding a shore, our Loving God, or each other. THAT is truly what hell is.
But having said that, it is also a Biblical imperative that any church that calls itself Christian MUST listen as well as preach. The One Who was fully God and fully man, Our Lord Jesus, listened and learned during His short Ministry among us on Earth. Tellingly, in one parable, He even admitted He was wrong and changed His Mind (although this was likely meant as a lesson for His Apostles). When was the last time the Catholic Church managed that feat? Hundreds of thouands of Irish Catholics are waiitng for this to happen as the Church child- and sex-abuse scandal rages — a shocking and almost unbelieavble act of conspiracy and contempt that is not exactly filling the pews. At least, not the pews in Catholic parishes. Perhaps we should work out a trade with liberal Anglican parishes?
I certainly do not believe all the raving cynics who say Benedict "is after the Anglicans' money" or "The Pope has to do something to make up for all the Catholics who are fleeing the Church." Yes, the Vatican can be crude — and I have said that many times — but this is not a cynical "Excedrin" strategy. Its underpinnings are consistent with centuries-old Church beliefs in evangelism and in its soul as a pilgrim Church on Earth.
But its surprise announcement flat-footed rationale, implausible denials and entombment in Vatican doublespeak have turned a "welcome home" into yet another Roman Coliseum act. Minus the lions, at least, so far.
Should we be surprised that the cardinals don't play like the Yankees? Too late in the game for that lament. Anybody who has witnessed the Church-made and Church-prolonged sex abuse scandal in Ireland can truly see an institution that specializes in digging its own grave.
May God bless you all!
-- Father Tim