Painted by Giulio Rosati (1857 – 1917)
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Bishop Steven J. Lopes' Pastoral Letter A Pledged Troth. This document marked the first public interpretation of Amoris Laetitia in North America, and with it, +Lopes carefully and methodically laid out how the pope's apostolic exhortation should be interpreted within the Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony. He steered clear of the politics surrounding the exhortation, not naming the trouble-makers throughout the world or calling attention to their actions. Rather, he did exactly what a pastor should do. He taught the faith, both with charity and clarity. A Pledged Troth remains the official interpretation of Amoris Laetitia within the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the North American Ordinariate set up by Pope Benedict XVI back in 2012 to preserve the Anglican Patrimony. If you want to know what Amoris Laetitia means in the North American Ordinariate, you must read A Pledged Troth.
For a man who was never officially an Anglican himself, he showed that he is quite familiar with the struggles that former Anglicans have endured under the Anglican Communion, and writes as a man joined to us not only juridically, but in spirit as well. He writes as if he had lived through it, and this is likely because he is surrounded by those who have. Anglicanism was founded over a conflict concerning marriage. When King Henry VIII was denied an annulment by the pope, he seized control of the Catholic Church in England, claimed it for himself, made himself the "pope" of his realm, and gave himself the annulment he desired. As a result, English Catholics were forcibly removed from the Catholic Church by order of the king, becoming Anglicans, and those who dared oppose him found life extremely difficult, that is if they survived at all. His second daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, was worse, solidifying Canterbury's break with Rome over doctrinal matters of various sorts and persecuting Catholics more so than her father did. The practice of Catholicism remained technically illegal in the British Isles until the early 19th century.
In recent decades, Anglicans have struggled with prevailing liberal trends in the UK, US, Canada and Australia (the Anglosphere), primarily over the issue of marriage again. In this case, it's the widespread acceptance of artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage. This was followed by the acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex "marriage." Anglicans who tried to remain faithful to Biblical teachings on marriage were literally persecuted in the Anglican Communion, and remain so to this day. They are denied proper pastoral oversight. They are denied the right to dissent. They are told they must submit or they are "disobedient" and "bigoted." This, compounded with the unorthodox ordination of women to the priesthood, has caused many traditional Anglicans to leave the established Anglican provinces. Some have set out on their own, following the Affirmation of St. Louis, creating alternate Anglican jurisdictions which are not recognised by Canterbury. Others have joined the Catholic Church. While still others have moved on to Eastern Orthodoxy or other forms of Protestantism.
I myself (when I was an Anglican) was told by a lifelong Anglican, a man of some local importance in The Episcopal Church USA who was also an open homosexual, that he hoped I would never have children since I was such a bigot for not embracing his homosexuality as "normal" and a "gift from God." I would laugh such words off normally, but in this case, the insult carried a sting, since my wife and I were unable to conceive at the time. In his defence, he probably didn't know that we were struggling with infertility, but I must ask, does it really matter? The meaning behind such a comment was crystal clear. "May your kind die out" was what he meant to say, or "may people like you go extinct." While the comment stung for a short time, it had a much larger and long-term effect. It opened my eyes to the big picture.
It was at this point (in the late 1990s) I understood the battle was already lost in The Episcopal Church USA. It was at that point my eyes were opened and I fully understood the nature of the battle within The Episcopal Church, and other Anglican bodies as well, including the Church of England. It's a war of attrition! Those pushing a liberal, modernist agenda are simply pushing through their agenda slowly, by relentless incrementalism, while the conservative, traditional holdouts slowly die off, retire or leave for greener pastures somewhere else. With each passing year, the number decreases for those who oppose the liberal, modernist agenda. The number of those who are pushing for that agenda need not increase, they only need wait until those who oppose it are too small to make a difference. They are waiting for a biological victory, and in time, they'll get it. Some would say it's already theirs.
So my own exodus from Anglicanism began, as I came to realise that there was no way to salvage such a broken denomination. "The inmates were running the asylum" as the saying goes, and there was no turning back from the course they had laid. I had only a small taste of what many traditional Anglicans had endured for a lifetime. Is it any wonder why, after 500 years, so many of them came pounding on Rome's door, begging to be let back in?
So when the same type of inmates exposed themselves in Rome, at the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family, it is understandable why many of us in the Ordinariates were disturbed. I was particularly bothered by this at the time, but I've since learnt that victory is assured and I need not worry. This crisis will soon resolve itself because God will soon settle it.
Bishop Lopes has shown a level of understanding that is remarkable. We, in the Ordinariates, simply cannot accept the Argentine bishops' interpretation of Amoris Laetitia or that of Bishop Robert McElroy in San Diego, as well as others following their example. It is impossible for us and a burden we cannot bear. We came into full-communion with the Catholic Church precisely to escape this kind of liberalism and Bishop Lopes has demonstrated that he fully understands.
You see, objective truth is absolute. A sin is always a sin, regardless of the circumstances. While circumstances can reduce a sinner's guilt to almost negligible, even reducing a mortal sin to a venial one at times, a sin is still a sin nonetheless. This is where the Anglicans have erred, and this is where Catholics must not follow them. Anglicanism has made this error in just about every area of Christian sexual ethics, proposing that a sin is only a sin for some and not for others; remarriage after divorce, artificial contraception, abortion, homosexuality, same-sex "marriage," etc. Catholics cannot follow this, and this is the reason why we in the Ordinariates fled Anglicanism. Yes, we brought with us (into the Ordinariates) those traditions and customs that Anglicanism and the Catholic Church have in common, but no more. We left the moral ambiguity and relativism behind. We came to Rome with the renewed and energised understanding that a sin is always a sin, and objective truth is absolute. Like I said, circumstances can reduce a sinner's guilt in some cases, even to the point of changing the sin from mortal to venial, but the action itself never ceases to be a sin, and the person who did it is not absolved from sinning until confession and repentance takes place.
A Pledged Troth expresses the ONLY way we former Anglicans can interpret Amoris Laetitia, and it serves as a template for how other Catholics in North America, and around the world, might interpret it as well.
I didn't write on it a year ago because I didn't want to do anything that might take attention away from the document itself. Today I link to it here on my personal blog to remind everyone about it. A Pledged Troth can be viewed here and here.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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