As the ordinariate begins to draw Anglican clergy and laypersons into the Catholic Church, the future of their former communion – and particularly its U.S. branch the Episcopal Church – has been called into question over plunging demographics and doctrinal confusion.
A July 2012 Beliefnet article described the Episcopal Church as "near collapse" following its 2012 general convention, which formally approved same-sex "blessing" ceremonies and a policy on transgender clergy.
During the same convention, the U.S. branch of the Anglican communion voted to sell its administrative headquarters in New York City. The Episcopal Church lost over 200,000 members and 300 parishes from 2006 to 2010, bringing its membership to the lowest level since the 1930s.
The Church of England, the world's flagship Anglican body, also faces issues related to biblical authority and sexual morality, along with a controversy over women bishops. At a July 2011 meeting, leaders heard that aging congregations could render the denomination "no longer functionally extant" by 2030.
This situation, Fr. Velez said, is a far cry from the Victorian-era Anglicanism of Newman's day – which held strongly to many basic Christian teachings on faith and morals, and saw its bishops as possessing authority to teach and govern.
Nevertheless, Newman's critiques of Anglicanism are key to understanding the institution's present crisis, Fr. Velez indicated.
"There are underlying issues that are the root problem, and I think Newman had his finger on two of them," he observed.
One connection between historic Anglicanism, and its current struggles, is its inability to find grounding for what Newman called the "dogmatic principle."
Foundational to Newman's understanding of faith, this principle held that the Christian religion was founded on definite eternal truths revealed by God. While these truths could be grasped more deeply over time, through a process of development, they were not subject to any essential dispute or revision.
In both his Anglican and Catholic periods, Newman dedicated himself "to fighting what he called 'liberalism in religion,'" Fr. Velez noted. This is the "emptying of religion" that occurs "when people believe in what they want," looking on faith and morals merely as matters of taste and opinion.
Within contemporary Anglicanism, where "revealed truths are put to a vote" and revised, there has been "a very serious undoing of the basic religious beliefs and truths," Fr. Velez said.
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A related question faced by Newman before his conversion, and by Anglicans in the present day, concerns the "apostolicity" of the Church – its continued governance by successors of the apostles, possessing the authority to teach and act in the name of Christ.
"Without that ecclesial authority, the Church's teaching is undermined," Fr. Velez said – describing the process that has continued since Newman's day. "There is an unraveling of the faith."
"Newman was worried about that in his time. He was worried about the bishops losing authority and not exercising it."
As he reflected on Church history, and the process of sorting out true doctrinal developments from errors, Newman came to understand the authority of the Popes was "something constitutive of the Church, something foundational that God had wanted."
"He realized that the Anglican Church is not what the early Christian Church was, and is missing that papal authority."
Compelled by his realizations to enter into full communion with the Church of Rome, Newman never looked back – despite facing personal hardships, public attacks, and misunderstandings between himself and others within the Catholic Church.