Ah, the poor, naive Episcopal Church. We can’t even seem to get it right these days when we try to do the “right thing.” The media has rightly noted that there has always been a certain amount of movement back and forth between The Roman Catholic Church and churches of the Anglican Communion since the Reformation. What separates the case of Father Alberto, a media figure for the Roman Church was the way it was handled.
We have no problem with unchurched Roman Catholics (or other Christians) exploring The Episcopal Church and perhaps eventually choosing to join us. But precisely because of the similarities, as well as diff erences, between the two communions the process needs to be a slow and careful one lest the unsuspecting person wake up one day in a church he/she did not fully understand. The roots of Roman Catholicism go very deep and this is a spiritual question, not one of mere “church shopping” a la the American culture.
With Father Alberto’s notoriety it was perhaps impossible to keep this quiet (although I’m not convinced of that — confirmations/receptions can take place in the bishop’s chapel and, while not ideal from the point of Christian community, might have been advisable in this case). Certainly, the Roman Catholic bishop should have been advised by the priest and our own bishop and diocese well in advance. This is not only ecumenical protocol, but implied by our canons.
Certainly there is no necessity for this new Episcopal lay person to be given the privileges of an Episcopal pulpit on the Feast of Pentecost, undoubtedly provoking even more scrutiny and rubbing salt into the ecumenical wounds not only in Southeast Florida across the nation and world.
I am committed to Latino initiatives of The Episcopal Church, given the fact that it is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. And I do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church has some kind of “divine right” of access to the Latino community. But we must not run the risk of being accused of “poaching” Roman Catholic lay persons or clerics. That is why I do not believe this situation has helped our Hispanic ministry, but perhaps even unintentionally damaged it.
No doubt the ecumenical firestorm will pass like so many others. I just hope that we will have learned something, and that the burns left behind will not leave painful scars only partially healed.