There’s an Anglican church, St. Luke’s, a few blocks up Old Georgetown Road from my parish in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. St. Luke’s recently posted a large sign on the church lawn: “No matter who you are, no matter what you believe, you are welcome at our table.”
Which is, in one sense, a noble sentiment: if it’s meant to convey that, look, we’re all sinners, and no matter how awful you may think you are, you’re welcome in the communion of Christ’s Church if you’re truly repentant. Judging from recent events in the Anglican Communion, however, St. Luke’s sign isn’t a synopsis of the parable of the prodigal son and his merciful father; it’s a succinct, if unwitting, statement of why the Anglican Communion is coming apart at the seams.
No Catholic serious about the Catholic commitment to the unity of Christ’s Church can take any satisfaction from today’s Anglican meltdown. It now looks as if John Henry Newman was right when he concluded that Anglicanism was not a “third branch” on the tree of historic Christian orthodoxy, of which the other branches were Catholicism and the Orthodox churches of the Christian east; rather, Newman decided, Anglicanism was Protestantism in English guise. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, as hopes for ecclesial reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury ran high, it seemed, briefly, as if Cardinal Newman might have been wrong. With the Anglican Communion now fracturing into a gaggle of quarreling communities no longer in communion with each other, it looks as if Newman had the deeper insight into what King Henry VIII wrought.