Increased choice and personal practicality (versus principle) are two of the current problems. But the third is the most interesting, though more difficult to describe. It is also, I suspect, less widely experienced. But let me, rather clumsily, try. Pope Benedict was definite about the nature of the decadence affecting the modern church in Europe. It affected his church too. It was a problem of the decadence of European Christendom. It was specially manifest in the desacralization of the liturgy but also in the church’s “impurity” – he called for a smaller purer church. And other popes have talked of evil at the heart of the church.
Now some, maybe only a few Anglo-Catholics read Roman Catholic papers and visit Roman Catholic masses. What if they were to conclude that the liberal nonsense which is doing to death their own church was active in others? Of course they know the Roman Catholic Church does not have the same order and authority problems and its sacraments do not cease to be valid when carried out by liberal clergy. But so many of their churches have the same infantilized liturgy as ours. So many of their bishops trot out the same soft-left secular welfarism as ours. They look like ours, they sound like ours, sigh and simper like ours. They, like ours, have stood by while governments dismantle the family. Though they maintain traditional marriage discipline in church, they do so half-heartedly and congregations are full of lone parents. They may have technical sacramental assurance but there is little sacramental conviction. Which is worse; to lose sacramental truth or to have it on the altar and turn your back on it while you affirm community values a[n]d be there for people where they are[?]
It is ecclesiological etiquette not to criticize other churches too sceptically. So no more examples here. But if Benedict is right, we are facing something much more evil and destructive than the ambitions of a few ladies in the CofE. Those who dare to think this face a disillusion both deeper and wider than Newman’s. And worse, it threatens several of the most obvious destinations, should they decide to depart. This inkling that the trouble is deeper and wider has rather gently surfaced before, in the debate about modernism, in the writing of Eliot and C.S. Lewis, in the reaction of traditionalists to the liberal vandalism consequent on, if not caused by, Vatican II. There are currently murmurs from the Orthodox, very quiet because distant and under-reported, about some of the current pope’s impulsive liberal impulses on morality.