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Monday, December 29, 2003

I'm willing to throw in Garry Wills, Dick Vosko, Jim Carroll, Richard McBrien and some lovely Nebraska beachfront property, too.

I'll be happy to take a six pack of PBR in return.

It can be warm. Even skunked.

The Great Catholic-Episcopalian Adherent Swap Meet is now officially on, at least it is according to the New York Times.

I don't want to say it's entirely in Catholicism's favor, but at the rate it's going, by next Tuesday the Piskies will be walking around "sky-clad"--as the neopagans say.

Compare and contrast:

The decision this year by the Episcopal Church USA to ordain an openly gay bishop has set off a wave of church switching, according to dozens of interviews with clergy members and parishioners across the country.

Some lifelong Episcopalians have left their churches, saying the vote to affirm a gay bishop was the last straw in what they saw as the church's long slide away from orthodoxy. Many of these people have started attending Roman Catholic churches.

"It breaks my heart," said Shari de Silva, a neurologist in Fort Wayne, Ind., who converted from Episcopalian to Catholic this year. "I think the Episcopal Church is headed down the path to secular humanism."

So far, so good: Catholicism is enriched by one biblically-literate neurologist and mother who, like all exiles, will shout "Not this time!" when confronted by similar stupidity in her new home.

Works for me. And going in the other direction....?

Some Episcopal parishes, meanwhile, are welcoming clusters of new members, many from Roman Catholic churches, who say they want to belong to a church that regards inclusivity as a Christian virtue.

Actually, inclusivity would be the sole Christian virtue in these locales. The remaining commandment of mainline Protestantism is Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant of That Which Hoists Our Mainsail--If Thou Knowest What We Mean.

The newcomers include singles and families, gay people and straight people.

Strangely enough, though, we will only hear from Newcomer Groups 1, 3 and 4(ostensibly). Yes, I too had to pick myself up off the floor in shock.

Speaking of which, it's time to hear from our first ex-Catholic.

"I don't see how and why God would want his church, his worshipers, his sons and daughters to become carbon copies of each other," said Youssef El-Naggar, a former Catholic in Front Royal, Va., who recently joined an Episcopal church there.

Brothers and sisters, fear no brain drain. While it's impossible to tell from the article how often Mr. El-Naggar darkened the door of his former Catholic parish, it is abundantly clear that he did not accumulate a lot of gold stars during catechism. Nor is he particularly up on current events in his former church.

Only someone with a forehead indentation ring from sleeping in his tinfoil dunce cap could posit a Borg collective from the Catholic Church. Blessed Kateri, St. Juan Diego, St. Andrew Dae-gon Kim, and the Forty Martyrs of Uganda (to name but 43) all testify to a different church than the construct which exists in Mr. El-Naggar's mind--i.e., the only form of Christianity that is majority non-white. Unlike--for example--the smug honky outfit he just joined. Then there is the nearly bewildering diversity of worship, ranging from Brazilian and Italian Charismatics to French and Chinese proponents of the Tridentine Mass, to Syrian and English worshippers at the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The theology? Watch serious Jesuits and Dominicans duke it out over grace and free will sometime.

This is the Xerox set to 1.1 billion, eh?

And, sadly, the only diversity in the communion Mr. El-Naggar has joined can be found is in bedroom practices. If he actually tries presenting the traditional understandings of God, Jesus and morality still clinging to his grey matter in the presence of his new friends, he will notice the temperature dropping precipitously.

Speaking of which, Mr. El-Naggar, the first thing you're going to have to do is start dropping those masculine pronouns when referring to the Energy Field Parent Being of Episcopalianism. It really ticks off the wombynfolk.

On the bright side, adultery doesn't tick them off.

If you're gay.

[Section comparing Episcopal/Catholic positions and offering some hope for maintained Catholic witness snipped.]

While it is too soon to assess the fallout, some Episcopal clergy members told of an unusually high rate of arrivals and departures in recent months.

They said the newcomers were far different from casual "church shoppers" checking out a Sunday sermon. Many of the new arrivals say they intend to join, and some have already been confirmed or received into the church by their bishops.

"They're not coming in as they used to even three years ago announcing, `I'm just church shopping, I'm just looking around,' " said the Rev. Elizabeth M. Kaeton, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chatham, N.J. "The people I've seen recently have come to me and said, `Sign me up, I'm ready.' "

"Sign me up, I'm ready." I suppose there's nothing quite so exciting as apostasy. Sends a shudder up the ol' spine.

Until it gets boring and you decide you want to "sign up" for something else that starts you a quivering. Fortunately, the ECUSA lets you do that.

As long as you don't expect to keep the building if you want to "sign up" for approximations of traditional Christianity and respect for the written Word.

Ms. Kaeton, who is openly gay, supported the ordination of Bishop Robinson but said she had not dwelled on the issue in her church.

Why would she? The Soviets stopped harping on the Russian Civil War before the Tsarists did.

She said her parish of about 300 families had recently gained 15 new members, many of them from Catholic churches, and lost one to a Catholic church.

"Many"? The over/under is currently set at 3. She can give you the exact number of new proselytes, but not the Catholic component? Unlikely.

Even for some heterosexuals, the Episcopal Church's stance on homosexuality was the main reason for switching. Mr. El-Naggar, a retired C.I.A. officer and college instructor, said that when he read the news about the church's decision to back Bishop Robinson, he got out the Yellow Pages and phoned the closest Episcopal church.

Let's see if I have this straight--a fast-dwindling mainline church heaves a miter at a gay guy who dumped his wife and kids to knock boots with another man, a heterosexual single Catholic sees a shaft of light bursting through the clouds, decides to dump the faith and his brothers and sisters in it, hops on the raprod and says "Reservation for one, please!"

Something does not compute.

He said he was pleased to discover that the rector at Calvary Episcopal Church was a woman, because he had always questioned the Catholic Church's opposition to ordaining women.

A little more light shines on this scenario. Sounds like another case of The Stupid Church Won't Bow To My Wisdom/Acknowledge The Superiority of My Living Arrangements Over That Of Revelation. A lot of that going around. Lord knows I've suffered from recurring bouts of it. I'm still having a hard time seeing how he got from A to B on this one.

He now attends Calvary Episcopal and said he had been stunned at the open theological debate there over homosexuality and other issues.

"I am trying to be a good Christian, and I have never felt that spiritual freedom I feel now in the Episcopal Church," Mr. El-Naggar said.

Whatever else can be said for it, the Robinson ordination seems to be the main issue in his conversion. Make of that what you will.

He sees an "open" debate over homosexuality, eh? Well, that's true--and the debate is over whether to chase those loyal to biblical and traditional teachings out with (1) pitchforks or (2) torches. Last time I heard, the Firebrands were slowly gaining the upper hand, but the Pokies were still making points with the argument that their method was more environmentally-friendly.

The debate continues.

And if he finds that stunning, he ain't seen nothing yet. Again, watch that whole describing-God-with-masculine-pronouns thing--that invigorating openness has a tendency to slam shut with such faux pas.

There's definitely plenty of spiritual freedom in the ECUSA. The widest of gates, you could say.

Some new Episcopalians also mentioned that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church had caused them to rethink their affiliation.

Fair enough, I suppose, and the one thing I can sympathize with as a general idea. Although personally I wouldn't go to the ECUSA's Spiritual Toga, Strip Bingo and All-Night Kegger Party in response.

First came revelations that some bishops had covered up abuse, then some Vatican and American officials suggested that gay priests were to blame for the problem.

Oh, that's right--this is the NY Times. The Gray Lady's turned into quite the swinger in her old age, and her new partner is The Love That Dare Not Have A Mute Button. Tomorrow it will be polyandry ("Kinky and transgressive!"), but today it's you know what.

And we all know now that TLTDNHAMB had exactly bupkis to do with the Scandals, as it has nothing to do with anything bad ever. Ignore the gender victim ratio, never google "Paul Shanley" and "hotel," and the coal pile will eventually start exiting the ballroom.

Via evaporation and/or continental drift.

"We felt increasingly alienated by the Catholic Church," said Robert J. Martin, 56, a lawyer in Philadelphia who lives with his partner, Mark S. Petteruti, 45, a horticulturist.

I can understand this. I even respect the honesty.

Both men were cradle Catholics. Until 1988, Mr. Martin was a Catholic priest in the Augustinian order.

"At least there is symmetry": Augustinian priest, Augustinian lifestyle.

This year a deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia invited them to join a small group of gay church members who meet once a month for dinner. The couple soon began attending Sunday services at St. Paul's, which is directly across the street from the Catholic church where, 30 years ago, Mr. Martin was ordained a priest.

"What was most impressive was the fact that the straight people were welcoming us as a couple, and as potential members of the congregation," Mr. Martin said. "We felt included and affiliated almost immediately."

Not that Misters Martin and Petteruti can point to anything their straight former brothers and sisters did that was hostile, of course. Nor that there was anything "anti-Christian" about it, either. No, because had there been any, the Times would have recounted it with glee and gusto, linking it to the impact of Thomistic "hate speech" in Vatican statements on the Papist Borgianity. No, the problem was the failure of Bead-Squeezing Breeders to celebrate them and their living arrangements. I have no doubt the water's much warmer at St. Vicki's.

In Fort Wayne, Dr. de Silva moved in the opposite direction. She was raised Episcopalian and was bringing up two adopted children in that church. But, she said, she could not accept the church's stance on homosexuality because it violates the first commandment, to be faithful to God. She said she objected when her children were taught about gay rights in church Sunday school.

She began attending St. Elizabeth Anne Seton Catholic Church. She has read the catechism cover to cover, she said, and has already been confirmed.

"The advantage of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is that there is a central authority that tends to hold the church together, and unfortunately the Anglican experiment, which was a wonderful experiment for almost 500 years, lacked that," Dr. de Silva said.

Yes, I figure it's going to be impossible for Sister Medea and Fr. Birkenstock to put one over on Dr. de Silva.

For many the move between the Episcopal and Catholic Churches is a natural transition. The Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of Anglicanism, is considered the bridge between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity.

For three decades, these two denominations have seen plenty of back and forth, said Robert Bruce Mullin, professor of history, world mission and modern Anglican studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York. As the Episcopal Church began ordaining women and dropped the ban on communion for divorced people, Professor Mullin said, conservative Episcopalians began to leave, while many socially liberal Catholics began to join.

It's not exactly been the equal exchange Prof. Mullin suggests in the article--entire Episcopal parishes have become Catholic while the ECUSA continues to lose members.

Think of it this way: Catholicism is the really hefty kid sitting at the low end of the teeter-totter, separated from the ground by the wood plank seat. The Piskies are playing the role of the thin moppet red-shifting into the troposphere.

"It's hard to remember that 30 years ago, the Episcopal Church was one of the more conservative churches on issues of social morality," he said.

Try "impossible."

[Two paragraphs of history and a profound misstatement of the Pastoral Provision snipped.]

But the pace of church swapping among parishioners appears to have picked up this year. In some cases, whole groups have jumped.

About 25 percent of the congregation at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Dallas recently left after the votes on homosexuality, said the rector, the Rev. David M. Allen. Those who left included some of the church's bedrock, like its secretary and the two men who used to volunteer to mow the lawn every Tuesday, Father Allen said. All but one left for Catholic churches, he said.

You'd think that a three hundred member Episcopal congregation that lost a quarter of its members would take precedence in the story over three different Episcopal congregations who picked up maybe--maybe--8 or 9 Catholics total.

You'd think that, but that explains why you don't write for/edit the Times.

The exodus, Father Allen said, was the result of years of dissatisfaction for many parishioners. St. Francis, which had about 300 members, is known as an Anglo-Catholic parish, meaning that in worship style it retained Catholic traditions like a devotion to Mary, the rosary and a solemn high Mass with Gregorian chant. For members long opposed to the ordination of women, a gay bishop was the end of the road.

Welcome aboard, Dallas Anglicans. May you find healing and peace here.

BTW, good luck trying to find devotions, a high Mass or Gregorian chant in Grahmann Country.

"I think many people in this parish came to the conclusion that there was the apparent absence of any kind of authority that operates to restrain the Episcopal Church in any way," Father Allen said. "They wanted to be part of a church which they saw as being bigger than American culture, which had an authority which went beyond our cultural conventions."

Commendably, the article ends with that quote from Fr. Allen. No rebuttals or anything like it. A sign of hope, perhaps.

Mirabile dictu.

[Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link.]

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