“Catholic?” Part of the mystical body of Christ. You become one by baptism. That’s Christian tradition. Since the 1860’s, however, some extreme Anglo-Catholics have gotten into the questionable habit of using the word “Catholic” almost exclusively as a kind of style descriptor or brand name. The “Catholic Church” in this exclusive sense = “no prots, just me and my chums, the Romans and most of the Orthodox”. And, like the Urban Spaceman, the best thing about this idealized narrowband “Church” is that it doesn’t actually exist; so holding it to be the supreme authority can be a neat way out of accountability to anyone real.
Taken to extremes, this ecclesiology comes over as snotty, gusting towards dotty and even potty. But what lies beyond?
I was reading Ruth Gledhill’s blog yesterday, and came across a clip from Swedish TV of Bishop Richard Williamson. I am grateful to her for carrying this stuff, because however distasteful it is, we mustn’t forget it is out there, and utterly pernicious.
Richard Williamson started out as an ultra traditonalist Anglo-Catholic which he seems to have taken for a flamboyant mix of fantasy, reactionary whining, sarcasm, misogyny, and trivial Father Teddery. This led him into the Roman Catholic Church, but that wasn’t really him, and he ended up in the Lefebvrist schism. Now he’s arrived at... Holocaust denial. No gas chambers, no nothing. Well, 300K dead all right, but... but what?
In the mid-nineties a friend, a canny old cradle Catholic Irish priest, told me over a whiskey he thought one or two of the Anglo-Catholics joining his denomination were “the most dangerous form of convert.” “Dangerous?” I said. “Surely not.” “Oh yes,” he said. “Dangerous. They’ve made a complete Horlicks of living within their own tradition, no obedience, and now they think they’re bl**dy experts and entitled to come and play merry hell in the Church. Kids taking over the school. Dangerous.”
With all forms of crazy fundamentalism, if people choose to apply their often considerable intelligence to going round and round the circle line, they end up in la-la land. They need to get off the train, consider the possibility that they might not have everything sewn up, grow up and join the rest of the human race up on the surface.
But my Irish friend was correct. This stuff is Dangerous. Beyond all the Restricted Views, Snotty, Dotty and Potty, the outlook is Obscene.
Great analysus of this interview’s rather steamy origins and political context, from Andrew Brown here.
One (Traditionalist) Road to Recovery is not about this particular narrow issue, but may be of interest.