Ex-Anglican Bishop Tells Why He Became a Catholic
Acceptance of Women Priests "Was the Detonator"
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MADRID, Spain, NOV. 6, 2001 (Zenit.org).- It is not common for an Anglican bishop of London to convert to Catholicism.
But this is the case of Monsignor Graham Leonard, who this past weekend attended a congress in Madrid, organized by the Path to Rome association of converts to Catholicism.
In an interview with ZENIT, Monsignor Leonard explained the reasons for his conversion.
--Q: What was the origin of your conversion?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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.
--Q: Did you perceive this sliding into subjectivism, into relativism, in the last years or did you realize that it was at the root of the birth of the Anglican Church?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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 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.
--Q: Did this kind of process happen often?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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 realized all this, I also understood that I could no longer exercise my priestly ministry in these conditions.
--Q: Was the fact that the Church of England accepted women priests decisive?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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.
--Q: 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?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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.
--Q: How did your children accept your decision?
--Monsignor Leonard: We have two children and five grandchildren. They accepted our decision and respected it, but they decided to continue to be Anglicans.
--Q: Have you felt welcome in the Catholic Church?
--Monsignor Leonard: Very much so, without any reservations.
--Q: Are the Anglican priests happy who, like you, have become Catholics?
--Monsignor Leonard: Yes, without a doubt. I don´t know any one who is not happy.
--Q: What work do they do, following their conversion?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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 bishop of Birmingham. Just a few weeks ago I finished giving a retreat to the Benedictines in England.
--Q: 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?
--Monsignor Leonard: What is essential about the Petrine primacy is not the honor 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.
--Monsignor Leonard: Because for unity to be authentic it can only be based on truth. It is the Pope´s responsibility to ensure this unity in the truth.
--Q: Do you think concessions should be made in the ecumenical dialogue to attain unity more easily?
--Monsignor Leonard: I don´t think we should speak of concessions. Truth is not discovered through negotiations, but in obedience.
--Q: How do you see the crisis the Catholic Church is suffering?
--Monsignor Leonard: 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 revitalization that is taking place in the parishes.
Basically, as a crisis made by the powers of evil, what it attempted is to spread subjectivism as a method to ruin and destroy divine authority.
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.