Now, however, it might be that the Holy Father has called the bluff of some. Now that the time is fast approaching when the fleshpots of Neasden (or wherever) must be abandoned for the partially unknown, then somehow, to some, lady bishops don't seem so bad after all. 'At least I can stay here till I retire, and then it doesn't matter' said one ABC resolution vicar not far from here to an (Anglican) acquaintance of mine. An attitude I find shockingly selfish.
A real issue, articulated by some, refers to the part of Anglo-Catholicism that treasures parts of its Protestant heritage also. Bishop Martyn Minns, an American flying bishop, supplied by conservative Africans, commented to the New York Times: 'I don't want to be a Roman Catholic—there was a Reformation, you remember.' The bishop of Fort Worth has said similar things, and I thought I detected a similar tone (though much more cautiously expressed) in the speech of Bishop Nazir-Ali at the Forward in Faith conference. Just how Catholic is Anglo-Catholicism?
To that there is no one answer. There are probably as many Anglo-Catholicisms as there are Anglo-Catholics. But a very real issue, as expressed by some, is the requirement (for those contemplating the new arrangement) to subscribe to Catholic doctrine as the TAC have done. This was immediately picked up by the press and pushed home.
Most Anglo-Catholics subscribe to most of Catholic doctrine, though to some it may be a little nuanced. What I mean is that there may be an enjoyment of the liturgical expression of, say, the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, or her Assumption, but if an actual profession of faith in these things as fact is required, then that may be another matter.
Am I alone in sensing an ancient Reformation issue here? I suspect that it is not Justification, or Scriptura Sola that is the most fundamental issue that divides Catholic and Protestant, but rather the method by which doctrine is made known to us.
Is it the Church that teaches, or must I make up my own mind, doctrine by doctrine, trusting the Holy Spirit to enlighten my reading of Scripture, even if I do add a healthy dose of tradition and reason too.
To a Catholic mind, doctrine comes from the Apostles; 'he who listens to you, listens to me…&c' and is not something that a priori derives from my intelligence or conscience (enlightened or otherwise). Thus a Catholic may question a doctrine in his or her mind without doubting for a minute the divine constitution of the Church that was founded to bring the teaching of Christ safely to the twenty-first century, and every century.
The Italians grasp this very well: as I read amusingly the other day (I've forgotten where), an Italian man describes himself as 'Cattolicissimo' because his wife never misses Mass on Christmas Day. Italians have a lordly disregard for the moral law, but never question either it, or the Church's right, even duty, to teach it. Now I am not suggesting that this is a good state of affairs, simply that it is Catholic. The principle is always there, to be dusted off by the devout: the pilot light is more than lit; the stove is alight, simply turned down low at the moment.
The devout Protestant agonizes over every doctrine; the non-devout Protestant doesn't bother at all and either descends into liberal Christianity or ceases to believe and becomes, in Evangelical terms, a non-Christian.
So, if the Reverend Septimus Harding comes to me and asks anxiously 'do I really have to subscribe to Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the evils of artificial contraception and all that stuff?', I might want to say that this is probably the wrong place to start. If you can accept that our Lord did not come to write more books of the Bible but to found a Church that would bring his presence to every age, and which could genuinely speak, teach, bless and heal in his name (and that would, in the event, write more books of the Bible), in fact, be his Mystical Body, then that makes you a Catholic. The rest follows in due course. We may fail for now to understand the details, but we acknowledge the Church's divine right to teach, and that is the essential sine qua non.
Perhaps, as a postscript, one ought to observe that liturgical observations of some of these dogmas is the only form of catechesis on the subject that many Anglo-Catholics have received, even clergy. No doubt some theological colleges teach the Marian dogmas (St Stephen's House, Mirfield), and a little Catholic moral theology, but there must be many clergy (such as those trained by correspondence course) who have never been given the grounding to understand the basis of these dogmas, and suspect that they are supposed to believe in our Lady being assumed into heaven like a sky-rocket with hordes of angels holding her up and steering her past the Ryan Air planes. Many will, of course, have continued to read and study, but many others will never have found the time, their grasp of the doctrine remaining sketchy. On what basis, then, can they be expected to make a doctrine-by-doctrine examination of the faith? This would, in any event, I think, be the wrong way to approach the Catholic faith. As I have suggested.