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Pope Benedict and the Anglican Church

Heading for the Tiber

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Pope Benedict XVI is nothing if not wily.   The Catholic Church issued a call last week stating that it would enable Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism, thereby undermining an already conflicted Church amounting to 77 million followers.  Disaffected Anglicans would be admitted to the Catholic communion, while retaining such elements of their previous existence such as marriage.

There is nothing particularly novel or striking about this call.  The customary behavioural patterns of Catholic power are there: a lack of consultation (the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was given short notice before the move was made public); a desire to divide perceived opponents in the name of acquiring converts; and the continued suspicions about gender and sex.  Such a model of ‘inclusion’ (read absorption) can be seen in Texas, where a 1980 Vatican decision to accommodate those of the Episcopal faith led to the establishment of three parishes.  A Vatican-approved Book of Divine Worship, a cobbling of Catholic and Anglican rituals based on the Book of Common Prayer, was adopted.

While the Anglican Church and Rome have been in discussions about re-uniting at some stage through the auspices of the Council for Christian Unity for forty years, this is yet another sign that any such move is only likely to take place on the terms of the Roman Church.  It justifiably alarms such figures as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton.  ‘I think, in this day and age, this was inexcusable that Rome decide to do this without consultation’ (Irish Independent, Oct 24).

This decree simply affirms what has been happening in the Anglican Church for decades.  The most notable convert, moving in his later years into the Catholic fold from Anglicanism, was Cardinal John Henry Newman in 1843.  While Newman found his Catholic communion frustrating, marred by suspicions of quasi-liberal thoughts and heresy, his move offered the blueprint of an intellectual, spiritual journey from Anglicanism to Rome.  He might well have titled his last Anglican sermon given in Littlemore Church in September 1843 ‘The Parting of Friends’, but the modern context is far from friendly. Frequently, older, more conservative members of the flock, who have found the Anglican Church a touch too inclusive, have taken refuge in the Catholic faith.

The Pope has his finger on the pulse of doctrinal and spiritual conservatism. He is also meddlesome, with a history of interference in Anglican affairs.  Take 2003, when he was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Roman Catholic’s church’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  The occasion for his little inquisitorial appearance was a hotel in Dallas, when Ratzinger decided to give some form to the anger of American Anglicans enraged at the consecration of the gay Gene Robinson as bishop of the US Episcopal Church.
 
Benedict’s current chief theological advisor US Cardinal William Levada, argues that the decree was a response to ‘the numerous requests that have been submitted to the Holy See by groups of Anglican clerics and believers from various parts of the world who wish to enter into full and visible communion’ with Rome.  His brand of ecumenism is, to stay the list, idiosyncratic, and simply another effort to stem the inevitable realities of modern life and further centralise Catholic dogma.

The only problem remains one of how that alienated Anglican constituency is wooed into the stalls of reaction.  It is difficult to find High Church Anglicans, notably priests, who are not gay to begin with.  Such moves into the Catholic communion smack of hypocrisy.  And not all are convinced that this measure will otherwise absorb conservative branches of the Anglican Church, however enthusiastic the 400,000 Traditional Anglican Community (TAC) might be.

The Kenyan head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, to name but one, has rejected the recent advances from the Holy See.  ‘The Protestant family understands faith in different ways’ (BBC, Oct 23).  These are matters touching on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, and the interpretation of ministry.  The African Anglicans are happily conservative as it is, resisting the calls from the more liberal centre in London.   They won’t need Benedict’s opportunism to sort out their own affairs, where the battle over body, gender and hegemony continues.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com