Former Anglican Bishop of London explains why he became a Catholic

Former Anglican Bishop of London explains why he became a Catholic

Monsignor Graham Leonard

While in Madrid last November to attend a congress organised by the Path to Rome association of converts to Catholicism, Monsignor Graham Leonard, the former Anglican Bishop of London, who had been received into the Catholic Church in 1994, was interviewed by the Zenit News Agency.

What was the origin of your conversion?

My conversion to Catholicism goes back a long way; it was not sudden. For many years I was very concerned about events in what was my church, the Anglican Church.

I have always believed that faith is a gift of God, and that it is not the result of individual discoveries that each one can make.

As a member of the Anglican Church I was very concerned that increasingly greater importance was given to private, individual interpretations of the faith - interpretations that depended on the situation, the environment, on what the Church felt should be decided or commented on at any given moment.

Did you perceive this sliding into subjectivism, into relativism, in the last years, or did you realise that it was at the root of the birth of the Anglican Church?

In fact, it has always been like this since the 16th-century Reformation. In that period, when the Anglican Church was born, faith was expressed as an attempt to respond to the political situation created by Henry VIII. Professor [Sir Maurice] Powicke said it clearly this way: "What can be definitely said about the Reformation in England is that it was an act of state."

The Church in England found itself at the mercy of, and having to be subjected to, the political objectives of the Tudor monarchy. To do so, it ceased to be the Catholic Church in England and became the Church of England.

Did this kind of process happen often?

In fact, this process of adaptation of the faith to the needs of the moment has been repeated since then. For many years, the doctrinal content of the faith depended on the interpretation of the formulations made by jurists.

In recent years it has depended on the General Synod. According to the Lambeth Conference - a sort of synod of all the Anglican Churches worldwide - each church in every country is free to determine how the faith should be understood. When I realised all this, I also understood that I could no longer exercise my priestly ministry in these conditions.

Was the fact that the Church of England accepted women priests decisive?

That was the detonator, because it represented the establishment of a new communion, according to which one must believe in something that previously the Church never required as a matter of faith.

It was a step very much in keeping with the process of subjectivism, according to which each one is free to believe what he wishes. It had already happened with faith in the Resurrection.

You are married, as is usually the case among the Anglican clergy. How did your wife accept your decision to convert, which meant giving up a well-off life as Bishop of London and moving to an uncertain situation?

She would have preferred to become a Catholic before me, but she never wanted to tell me this, so as not to exert pressure on me because of my responsibility within Anglicanism. Like me, she has been very happy since we became Catholics.

Have you felt welcome in the Catholic Church?

Very much so, without any reservations.

Are the Anglican priests happy who, like you, have become Catholics?

Yes, without a doubt. I don't know any one who is not happy.

What work do they do, following their conversion?

The same as any other Catholic priest: in parishes, as university and hospital chaplains, and as professors. For example, one of them, who had been a priest in the London Diocese when I was his Bishop, is now Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Westminster.

In my specific case, the appointment I have received as honorary prelate of His Holiness has been seen by former Anglicans as an approval of the Holy Father, a welcome that we had already received locally.

In my ministry, I have concentrated in giving spiritual retreats to diocesan clergymen, for example, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Birmingham. Just a few weeks ago I finished giving a retreat to the Benedictines in England.

Some, even in the Catholic Church, request that the primacy of the Pope cease to be jurisdictional and become only an honorary primacy. What do you think?

What is essential about the Petrine primacy is not the honour but the jurisdiction. This is so because it is about defending the truth, the rights of the truth. The primacy of the Pope is essential for the Church because it is of divine institution. It is also essential to achieve real unity among the Churches.

Do you think concessions should be made in the ecumenical dialogue to attain unity more easily?

I don't think we should speak of concessions. Truth is not discovered through negotiations, but in obedience.

How do you see the crisis the Catholic Church is suffering?

The crisis of the Catholic Church depends on one's perspective, because there are many positive things in it, like the new movements and the revitalisation that is taking place in the parishes ...

I have total confidence always in the loving power of God and in His objectives for humanity. I trust God totally and, because I believe in God, I believe in the Church that He has given us and that is why I have hope.

It is this Church that must carry to fulfillment the plan of God for the salvation of man.

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