CONVINCED BY THE TRUTH:
Embracing the Fullness of Catholic Faith
by John I. Fleming
(ConnorCourt, 2010 , 125pp, $22.95. ISBN: 978-1-921421-11-2. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reviewed by John McCarthy
Following the launch of Fr John Fleming's new book Convinced by the Truth many people throughout the English-speaking world and else-where will have a different perspective about the significance of Australians in shaping major international religious interactions. Many will also come to hear of a place called Parramatta for the first time.
The book has three parts: the story of Father Fleming's personal conversion, essays written to support a young couple, one of whom was considering baptism, and the story of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) and its approach to Rome for rapprochement. I will begin with the third section.
Father Fleming, with the co-operation of Archbishop John Hepworth, the TAC Primate, a major community of traditional Anglicans, has published an account of the strategy and background of the approaches to the Holy See in 2007 which led to the promulgation in November 2009 of the Apostolic Constitution — Anglicanorum Coetibus.
This Apostolic Constitution established a canonical framework for the corporate reception of an ecclesial community with historical links to the rupture and division of the Church during the Reformation in the 16th Century. This is, historically speaking, the first such rapprochement of its kind.
Father Fleming with Archbishop Hepworth has traced, for the first time, the way in which the process was developed, who was involved, and how it was implemented right up to the time when the TAC made its unconditional proposal to Rome in 2007 and Rome's response in October-November 2009.
A meeting was arranged for 28 December 2005 in Parramatta with Bishop David Chislett of the TAC also present. The TAC Bishops explained to Father Fleming the nature of their unsuccessful initiatives with Rome for full corporate union.
Fr Fleming writes of the meeting:
"Since my advice was being directly sought, I abandoned caution and said what I really thought. I urged the bishops to abandon current approaches based upon 'ecumenical dialogue'… It was my belief that the TAC was in a very different place theologically from the Anglican Communion and well situated to cut to the chase.
"I suggested that if the TAC was really serious about its future and about full corporate reunion with Rome as an integral part of that future they needed to take a whole new approach. This approach was outlined by me as follows:
1. That the TAC seeks corporate reunion with the Holy See without condition. In this way there would be no need for committees discussing doctrine and reporting back to various authorities. It would be a straight out application for corporate reunion, no strings attached.
2. To achieve point 1 above, local synods of the TAC should be asked to consider, and if thought fit, pass motions to the effect that there now no longer exist any doctrinal or moral differences between the teaching of the TAC and the Catholic Church.
3. Any petition to Rome would need to include an explicit recognition of the Petrine Office (i.e., the Office of Pope) as being of the esse of the Church. Put simply it would mean that the TAC accepts that the constitution of the Church as given by Christ included the leadership of St Peter as it has been handed on in the Church ever since. That the Pope has real and immediate jurisdiction in every local Church and enjoys the gift of infallibility when teaching in certain circumstances.
There would need also to be an acceptance of the proposition that the Church founded by Jesus Christ and committed to the care of St Peter most perfectly subsists in the Catholic Church with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, being the legitimate successor of St Peter. The Pope and bishops in communion with him have the task of governing the Church.
4. The TAC would also need to make it clear to Rome that it fully understands that the question of Holy Orders in the TAC would need to be addressed, and that the TAC would accept whatever the Catholic Church required to be done to assure validity, including the possibility that its ministers would need to be re-ordained.
5. If the TAC really wanted to give clear and unmistakable evidence of the seriousness of its ecumenical intentions it could do so by a clear sign that it accepted all of the teachings to be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In other words, TAC bishops signing a copy of the Catechism would put beyond doubt doctrinal issues leaving the way open for a discussion on just how the TAC might be fully incorporated into the Catholic Church with the TAC being ready to accept the guidance of the Holy See" (my emphasis).
The subsequent series of momentous TAC consultations following the Fleming strategy is well covered in the part of the book contributed by Archbishop Hepworth and was foundational to the eventual response of the Holy See through the CDF.
Father Fleming must also be praised for the splendid writing and narrative found in the balance of this new book. He provides many answers about who John Fleming is.
In concise and accessible prose he tells through a series of letters to his three daughters (who were small children at the time and are now in their twenties) the background and circumstances in which their parents (John and Alison) were received into the Catholic Church in 1987 after 16 years of service by Father Fleming as an Anglican priest. He writes with disarming frankness.
His book is a scalpel-like dissection of the collapse and decay of Anglicanism under the fissures generated by the ordination of women issue. Its narrative records the transition away from his earlier period as an optimistic and confident Anglo-Catholic. Some of his descriptions of his former self must be savoured for their frankness and insight. Because he really believed in the probability of Catholic/Anglican reunion, he remained Anglican. Increasingly concerned about the new directions being pursued within the Anglican Communion he nevertheless decided to remain to fight for what he regarded as his heritage.
In the end, though, his confidence in Anglicanism was shattered at precisely the time of his growing intellectual conviction that the Catholic Church was all she claimed to be.
I finally make brief reference to that part of Father Fleming's new publication which includes chapters on the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence in the Eucharist. These two chapters repay close reading because they are written by one of the Church's most skilled debaters and controversialists. His purpose is to persuade and to clarify vitally important concepts to young educated minds. He deploys all his experience as an Australian champion debater to achieve his goal. Many young people will be urged to read these pages in the years to come and many will be convinced by the truth as offered by Father Fleming.
John Fleming's book may come to be regarded as the most important book on religious affairs published in Australia this year. It may also be recognised as one of the best modern short books on the contemporary crisis in Catholic-Anglican relations. This will be a tribute to Father Fleming's intelligence and capacity as well as his mastery of effective language in modern communications, honed from a generation spent in media, particularly radio. His language and tone, whether about his views, events or individuals, invariably sound the right note.
This new book is well produced and easily readable. It has a useful index and includes the TAC "Ports-mouth" Petition to the Holy See and extracts from the Apostolic Constitution and related documents. All you need to know.
John McCarthy QC is a prominent Sydney barrister, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, 2005-2010, and one of Sydney's leading Catholic laymen.