‘We’re on the move’
an interview with Bishop Pierre Whalon

Although almost two months passed since the meeting Bringing the Episcopal Church to Cracow,  there is still something we need to catch up with. During the break at the meeting, Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, the bishop-in-charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, gave an interview to Dariusz Bruncz from ekumenizm.pl. Below you can read the original English version, and the Polish translation is to be found on ekumenizm.pl. It is thus our first project together with this website.

We would also like to thank our friend from Oklahoma, Rev. deacon Helen Waddle, for preparing the transcript of the interview.

Od krakowskiego spotkania Przybliżyć Kościół Episkopalny minęło już prawie dwa miesiące, a my wciąż mamy do nadrobienia pewną zaległość. W przerwie spotkania ks. biskup Pierre Whalon, zwierzchnik Konwokacji Kościołów Episkopalnych w Europie, udzielił wywiadu red. Dariuszowi Brunczowi z portalu ekumenizm.pl. Poniżej zamieszczamy oryginalny zapis tej rozmowy. Jej polski przekład można przeczytać na portalu ekumenizm.pl. Jest to więc pierwszy projekt, który realizujemy wspólnie z tym portalem.

Chcielibyśmy serdecznie podziękować naszej przyjaciółce z Oklahomy, ks. diakon Helen Waddle, za sporządzenie transkryptu.

DB: Excellency, is Anglicanism on the move or is it going to disappear from the religious scene?

During the interview in the children's area in the Lutheran church in Cracow. Phot. Piotr Kalinowski

PW: Well, when you say Anglicanism, you mean the Anglican churches in Europe, the Anglican Episcopal churches in Europe? Yes, we’re on the move. We’re growing. We’re expanding beyond the English-speaking communities in Europe into local languages.

DB: All right, but is your activity addressed only to Anglicans or also to people looking for a new spiritual home?

PW: That’s what I was saying. We are also growing with people from other countries, not just ex-patriots, and they are looking for a spiritual home, not necessarily new but perhaps for the first time.

DB: In the Polish media, or when you Google the words “Anglicanism” or “Episcopal”, most information you get is about scandals, about the divisions in the Anglican Communion or about Episcopal and Anglican priests leaving for Rome on the grounds of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus which was promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI. Do you have the impression that this offer and this rather negative view of the Anglican Communion amplifies the impression of collapse, especially after the failure of the Anglican Covenant?

PW: Well, you’ve mentioned two different things. One is all these scandals and the second is the ordinariate. So let’s talk about the ordinariate first. The ordinariate is set up to offer a church home to people who do not belong to the Anglican Communion. That was its intent. It was set up for people who are a part of the Anglican tradition but not a part of the Anglican Communion. So, in that respect, it’s a perfectly acceptable ecumenical development. It was asked for by people calling themselves a Traditional Anglican Communion and Rome said yes. There were predictions in the press about hundreds of thousands of Anglicans leaving. That’s not true at all. Very few have left who are in the Anglican Communion, not so many people from the Traditional Anglican Communion have gone into it either.

DB: Yes, but several Bishops and retired Bishops from the Church of England converted to the Roman Catholic Church.

PW: So? I have had a hundred and one requests from Roman Catholic priests in Europe during my episcopate…

DB: One hundred?

PW: One hundred and one requests to become Episcopal priests. So, you know, to hear about all these Anglicans that are going to Rome is ridiculous if you don’t realize all the Romans who are coming to us. The fact that a few retired bishops decided to become Roman Catholics in their retirement is not important.

DB: So what’s the purpose of these stories by the media and the storm in the media, so to speak, about Anglicans leaving the Anglican Church?

PW: I think it’s a storm that the media has created.

DB: What for?

PW: Because it sounds controversial.

DB: And why don’t we hear about movement in the opposite direction?

PW: Because we haven’t set up an ordinariate for Roman Catholics.

DB: But in Peru, for example, there is a kind of an ordinariate for Catholics, including clergy, preparing themselves for conversion to the Anglican Church.

PW: We don’t have an ordinariate. If people who are Roman Catholics want to become Anglicans or Episcopalians it’s not a difficult transition to make. In terms of ordination we don’t re-ordain people who are ordained by Roman Catholic bishops. We don’t reconfirm them. So, as you know, we recognize that the Roman Catholic bishops are catholic bishops and therefore we don’t change or undo what they did. So we’ve had plenty of hundreds and thousands of people become Episcopalians who used to be Roman Catholic and this has been going on since the 16th century. So it’s not news. Now the ordinariate is news. In 10 years it will no longer exist.

DB: Do you think so?

PW: Yes, because it is not an ecclesiological structure. It is a pastoral gesture. And a few people have taken advantage of it. We have a bishop, an Episcopal bishop of Albany, who left after his retirement to become Roman Catholic. He’s come back. He’s come back to the Episcopal Church. I don’t consider this to be important. The media wants to make a big thing out of it. The media has also made a big thing out of pedophilic priests in the Roman Church.

DB: But where there is one dominant church, as the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, such information is presented rather partially: look, the lost ones come back. Of course, there has always been movement in both directions, but I think that an incomplete picture causes confusion. What would you say as a bishop to somebody who wants to leave the Episcopal Church, and what would you say to somebody who wants to join it?

Phot. Piotr Kalinowski

PW: Well, if someone wants to leave the Episcopal Church for reasons of conscience, because their conscience says I must become a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, or Lutheran, what can I say? You must follow your conscience. The conscience is the voice of God. That is a traditional teaching. Your interior conscience is God speaking to you; you must listen to that voice. And it’s not up to me to say, you’re wrong. When people want to join the Episcopal Church, particularly say Roman Catholic priests, I ask them also about their conscience. And it’s oftentimes they answer because they want to be married. This is not enough to convert. It must be for reasons of the heart of the doctrine of the church. That is the important thing. People always must follow their conscience whether they leave or they come.

DB: What does it mean for you personally to be an Episcopalian, apart from being a bishop? What’s the essence of being Episcopalian to you?

PW: It is the way of following Christ.

DB: But all Christians can say so – Lutherans, Old Catholics, Roman Catholics, Orthodox. What constitutes Episcopal specificity?

PW: It is one way of following Christ. It is a true way. It is a way that allows me to be a Catholic but also to live in the 21st century and accept the realities of today. That is the difference if there is a difference. You remember the Anglican tradition always emphasizes what is the minimum necessary for you to follow Christ, not the maximum. We don’t claim to be the only true church. We’re a part of the true church but we’re not the whole of the church.

DB: You mentioned this during your presentation, talking about those four conditions that define Anglicanism, so to speak: the Holy Scripture, the sacraments, the Nicene Creed, and the episcopal structure of the church. It more or less corresponds to what the Augsburg Confession says, the primary symbolical book of the Lutheran Church.

PW: It’s almost the same thing, yes.

DB: Almost, except for the fact that the Augsburg Confession says that the proclamation of the Word of God and the administration of sacraments are sufficient. The Nicene Creed is also included in the Lutheran symbolical books, so how close are these visions?

PW: They’re very close. The difference is that we would also insist on the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon. As you know, the Church of England is in communion, full communion with the Scandinavian Lutheran churches, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia…

DB: Moreover, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is in full communion with the Episcopal Church.

PW: Yes, and it is my hope that we will soon be part of the Porvoo Communion as well.

DB: The Episcopal Church?

PW: Sure. Why not?

DB: I understand that it will happen through the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, whose bishop-in-charge you are?

PW: First of all, we’ve always acted as if we were in full communion with the Swedish Lutheran Church. Because the Swedes have kept the three-fold ministry. And in the 18th century they asked us to take over eight Swedish Lutheran churches, in America, that are still in existence today. They are now Episcopal churches, but they retained their Swedish history.

DB: You are the Bishop of the Convocation of the Episcopal Churches in Europe, and if you like it or not you have to be ecumenical and cooperate with other churches.

PW: Certainly.

DB: What are your experiences with regard to the ecumenical movement in Europe and how different are they from your experiences from the United States?

PW: First of all, you will remember that we started the ecumenical movement. Ecumenism is very much a part of Anglicanism. That is why the quadrilateral you quoted, Scripture, sacraments, creeds and bishops, was set forth as conditions for union with other churches. We have very good ecumenical relationships across the board with the Evangelical Church of Germany, the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany or the Old Catholic Diocese in Germany. The English bishop is licensed in the Convocation. I am licensed as an Anglican bishop in Spain and Portugal as well as in England. We rent churches from other denominations in Europe. Ecumenically it’s very rich, a very, very rich time. One of the things I became involved in because I am born in America and representative of the so-called American church has been getting Iraqi Christians and other people threatened with death in Iraq because of their faith, even non-Christians. And we brought them to France. They’re not Anglicans. They’re Chaldeans. They’re in communion with Rome. Or they’re Syrians and they’re in communion with Constantinople. So what? They are people who need help and I was in a position to be able to help. So ecumenism is really about helping each other to live and to believe.

DB: What are the differences between ecumenism in Europe and in the United States?

PW: Well, I don’t think that at the local level there is much difference. Some of the newer Roman Catholic bishops, both in Europe and in America, those who did not know Vatican II, are more difficult to work with but the local Catholics, it’s not a problem. There are certainly issues with the Baptists in America that don’t exist in Europe because there aren’t the kind of very conservative Baptists in Europe like in the United States with the Southern Baptist Convention. They don’t believe in ecumenism. But, as a rule, particularly as the cultures become more and more secular, ecumenism becomes a way of surviving. When I went to Tehran in Iran, I was given communion in the churches there because they have no time to wait, you know. Am I good enough? No, I’m a Christian, you see. That’s the most important thing, not that I am an Episcopalian, or Catholic, or Protestant, or Lutheran, or whatever. When you push us together we have to stick together. And in places where Christians are really persecuted like in the Middle East, they don’t really care about those differences at all any more. I think that’s the future in Europe and in America.

DB: Could you elaborate on this reflection?

PW: Yes, the new cardinal in charge of The Pontifical Council for the

The American Cathedral in Paris

Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch has written a book in German The Future of the Church? And he says, this is 2004, that the re-evangelization of Europe, which Benedict XVI has called for, has to be an ecumenical effort or it will fail. And that’s why I see as we are more and more required to work together by the growth of secularism, other religions, no religions, there will be more and more collaboration in this task of re-evangelizing. The other thing is we’re going to have to forget a lot of our stupid old traditions that get in the way of presenting the Gospel today.

DB: For example?

PW: For example, we don’t get along. Probably the biggest and stupidest tradition is that we’re the only true church and you guys, you’re not quite good enough. We’ve been doing that for a long time. That doesn’t work any more. That never did work. So, I see the future of Christianity in the world and in Europe in optimistic terms.

DB: Optimistic?

PW: Of course! The mission of God in the world has a church and the mission of God in the world is not going to fail. We don’t know what is beyond the church because we are just a part of the it – but we know that this mission has a church. That church may change. It may die and be resurrected but it is not going to fail and disappear and be replaced by something else or a more enlightened kind of spirituality or other nonsense.

DB: Many years ago Pope Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, said that the future of Christianity lies in small congregations, as in the apostolic times. The Churches will be a very small minority, and we will have to forget our dreams of big Volkskirchen. Is that an optimistic vision?

PW: Yes. Do you remember when Christianity first started after the resurrection of Jesus? It spread throughout the known world very quickly because it was based on small communities, not Volkskirchen. Today we are the largest religion on the planet. There are two billion Christians so we’re not failing. But the future is not in great big monolithic structures, huge cathedrals the way that it once was. It’s a much more flexible, networked, well it kind of resembles the internet. It works by nodes. So there will be lots of small nodes and as you probably know, a network that has lots of nodes survives a lot better than one that has a few. Now that’s the future of Christianity and it’s not dark, it’s bright. But it will require a change.

DB: As for the future of the Anglican Communion: the Anglican Covenant has failed. Where is the Anglican Communion now? What should we expect: Anglicanism being reshaped as it is now or gradually falling apart?

PW: I don’t believe that anybody can say that the Anglican Communion is falling apart. There have been some strong tensions but today as opposed to 10 years ago there are many, many more companion relationships or links between dioceses across the world than there were 10 years ago. So these are local links. One diocese in Connecticut and the diocese in Boga, Congo are forming a link, exchanging bishops, mutual instruction, becoming involved in each other’s lives. Those types of links have tripled in number in the past 10 years. And that is really what the Communion is all about. Right now in my apartment in Paris, the Provincial Secretary of Congo, Bishop Jean Molanga, and his wife are staying there because he had to come to Paris to have heart surgery he couldn’t have in Kinshasha. So we set it up, of course! That’s what the Communion is really all about. In our church in Geneva, there were many heads of the non-governmental organizations that belonged to the United Nations. Our priest got them together. They came up with the United Nations’ program for AIDS in Africa. That’s what the Communion is. It’s not like the Church of Rome where you have one main bishop and 7,000 suffragans around the world. It’s much more of a network. It’s much more horizontal. It’s much more flexible. It does not depend upon one person.

DB: But such structure has serious drawbacks.

PW: Of course. So what? Do you want to tell me the Church of Rome has no weaknesses?

DB: No.

PW: Or the Lutheran World Federation? Or the World Council of

The seal of the Convocation

Reformed Churches? I mean, come on. The point is that the Anglican Covenant process was crucial. You know, 10 years ago no one in the United States knew much about the Anglican Communion. But not many people in Uganda knew much about the Anglican Communion either. So the process of discussing “Is this Anglican Covenant right for us?” has been very, very important because the question was “What does it mean to be in communion?” Does it mean to look like this? Now the Church of England by a majority of dioceses does not want to consider the Covenant. Several other provinces have said, “Yes, we want to be part of such a thing.” So I think the future in the Anglican Communion will be to say, “Okay, if not the Covenant, what is it that it means to be in full communion?” I would say to you that it’s much more important that the bishop in Kinshasa can get a heart operation in Paris because he is part of the Anglican Communion, or a pastor’s wife from Nigeria can go to London or whatever than it is that we have some kind of doctrinal council that comes together and says this is what we believe, this is what we don’t believe. Because Anglicans, we are a family. We have a family resemblance. We all have books of common prayer. We all subscribe to the Lambeth Quadrilateral. We all have bishops. Some of us have archbishops, some of us don’t. Some bishops are elected; some people are appointed. So there’s always been difference in the way that we have been in the Anglican Communion. I don’t see that that’s going to change. As for the schism that took place in the United States, you probably know that only in the past six months it has split into three groups. So that’s what schism does. It creates little tiny churches that all broke apart over something that in retrospect looks very stupid. The best example, 5th century, the schism over Chalcedon. The difference between Nestorius and Chalcedon was that of a hair. And Nestorius said you could accept the definition of Chalcedon. There was a schism anyway. And the church of the east grew much bigger than the church in the west until the Mongols came and then they were alone. The church of the west didn’t know them, didn’t want to know them. They were monophysites or they were Nestorians. We are now seeing the last of them in the Middle East. That’s what schism does. So, you know, finally I think that when you hear media reports in a country like Poland about the Anglicans it’s very easy to say, “Oh, look at them! Those poor people of the lost out there. They don’t belong to Mother Church. And they’re coming back to us! That means we’re not as bad as we think we are, are we?” So, it’s propaganda really. When you look at reality we are talking about a few people. We are talking about a pastoral gesture by the Church of Rome that’s perfectly appropriate. So you have a few retired bishops who don’t want to be part of the Church of England any more and become Roman Catholics. So what? We also have the same.

DB: Yes, but the problem is not simply that they go to Rome. Everyone has a right to do that. They deprive the spirituality and tradition of the Anglican patrimony of their roots and plant them in a place which doesn’t fit to this patrimony.

PW: Well, let me put it to you another way. After we decided to ordain women there were a number of Episcopal priests who petitioned Rome to accept them with their families, with their wives, which they did. And there was this talk of the same thing they were going to be bringing this Anglican patrimony to them and it would change things. It didn’t. They were absorbed. Nothing, nothing changed on the Catholic ethos. The most important thing that ever happened in terms of what you’re talking about was when John Henry Newman became…

DB: Roman Catholic.

PW: Roman Catholic. Because he brought in an Anglican idea and an Anglican way of looking at things which I think were directly responsible, in the long run, for what happened in Vatican II in the Aggiornamento. So maybe it would be a good thing if the Roman Catholic Church today would discover again a little bit of the Anglican ethos. Maybe a Vatican III.

DB: Thank you very much.

PW: Thank you very much.

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One Response to ‘We’re on the move’
an interview with Bishop Pierre Whalon

  1. Bridget says:

    Well that was an interview and must have taken the interviewer right out of his boots! It’s time that someone spoke out against the RC way of being the be all and end all of what is right, holy and a prime example of what is hypochritical too!

    Thank you for your outspokenness Bishop Pierre. If there were more of your kind, Anglicanism would be in a good place.



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