The Roman Catholic Church, God bless its cotton socks, is currently blessed with a new growth industry. The manufacture of Hoops. An example: think what happened in 2008 after the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. This had the deceptive superficial appearance of being a document crafted to enable any Latin Rite priest to say the Old Rite, without any sort of license or permission from the Holy See ... or the local episcopal conference ... or the diocesan bishop ... or even (in the case of assistant priests) the Parish Priest. Indeed, that is what the document started off by saying, in words which, to untutored Anglican eyes like mine, looked quite clear and unambiguous. But of course, we Anglicans have no expertise whatsoever in the exquisitely fine finer points of Canon Law.
This is where the Hoops come in. When a papal document says that X can do Y without needing permission from Z, what that really means canonically, you see, is that before X can even think of doing Y, he needs permission from Z. So, dutifully, loyally, some of those RC bishops in 2008 immediately turned to the ancient craft of Hoop Manufacturing. And, my goodness, the quality of those hoops! It quite takes our poor Anglican breath away! Special examinations turned out to be the the classiest hoops: examinations in Liturgy; examinations in Latin. "Jump through these, my boy", said the bishops, "and jump through the additional hoop of an interview with me to explore just why you want to do this, and then ... well .... we'll think about it. There! Can't say fairer than that! That's what the Holy Father had in mind!"
One of the most under-discussed elements in the policies of the current pontificate is the principle of Subsidiarity. A few years ago, this notion was quite popular: the idea that decisions are best made at the lowest possible level. There was a brief period when this was seen as a welcome, a refreshing, antidote to a culture of bureaucratic, anally retentive, centralisation of power and of decision-making. Episcopal Conferences did very well out of the fashion. "Devolve it all to us", they cried. "We're the local chaps; we know the local circumstances. Subsidiarity!! It affirms the local Church! It strips power from those beastly bully-boys in the Roman Dikasteries!" And my, were these 'local chaps' angry when John Paul II and his henchperson Ratzinger had the nerve to suggest that, theologically, the 'powers' of Episcopal Conferences were the Emperor's New Suit.
But, on the other hand, it has become clear that when - as in the case of Summorum Pontificum, which devolved liturgical decisions to the lowest conceivable levels - it comes to devolving something below the level of episcopal conferences and their entrenched incestuous power-hungry bureaucracies, Subsidiarity suddenly stops being sexy and becomes a sharp-edged implement of which it might be said (in the immortal phrase of our Anglo-Welsh World War II hero Corporal Jones) that They Don't Like It Up 'Em.
Like our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, we Anglican Catholics think that Subsidiarity is a Very Good Thing. It has been one of our central ecclesiological principles for 150 years. Come to think of it, it's what we mean when we talk about our Patrimony.