Rorate Caeli

FLASH: Queen's Chaplain converts to Catholicism!

Even though papers of record like the New York Times have not deemed as newsworthy the story of one of the former Queen’s Chaplains who has very recently converted to Catholicism, for those of us Catholics who have real concern over the present state of the Catholic Church, this story is indeed of great interest, or should be.

Gavin Ashenden will receive Confirmation on December 22, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, during a Mass at Shrewsbury Cathedral from Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury.  The Diocese of Shrewsbury said that Ashenden’s Anglican orders will be suspended upon his reception into the Church, and he will become a lay Catholic theologian.

Ashenden told the Catholic Herald: “I watched as Anglicanism suffered a collapse of inner integrity as it swallowed wholesale secular society’s descent into a post-Christian culture.” His conversion was the end result of some years of discernment in which he saw signs of the Church of England’s deliberate denial of what he called “the integrity and insight of biblical, apostolic, and patristic values”—what we would call Catholic Tradition.

He left the Church of England formally in 2017 after a passage from the Quran denying Christ’s divinity was read at the Cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Glasgow. He had been consecrated as a bishop in the Christian Episcopal Church, one of the several “continuing Anglican communities” that came into being because of dissatisfaction with the state of contemporary official Anglicanism.  Ashenden went on to declare that he was “convinced that the consecration of women to the episcopate represented the replacement of apostolic and biblical patterns with the competing culture of the values of Cultural Marxism, and dissenting from the increasing accommodation of the Church of England to radical secular views on gender.” He notes the importance of St. John Henry Newman in his journey to the Catholic faith:  “I am especially thankful for the example and prayers of St. John Henry Newman….(whose experience) also inspires ours, and charts the way to our proper ecclesial home which is the rock that is the Petrine charism of faith, and witness to our struggle for salvation and heaven.”

What will be the reaction of Catholics to this story?  For the great majority of Catholics there will be no reaction, for they will not have heard about it and even if they did would not understand it as having anything to do with them. For those we may call “liberal” Catholics, liberal in the not positive sense that Newman warns against in his Bigletto Speech, there will be a negative reaction:  one more conservative ex-Anglican coming into the Church at a time when what the reasons for his “conversion” are up for grabs and hopefully will undergo radical change in the not too distant future.  One can presume that most of the German bishops are among those who will be annoyed by this “conversion”.

Then there is the reaction of those Catholics who are “Traditionally minded” (which I will abbreviate as Tms). These are the Catholics who are uneasy—to say the least—with the current situation in the Church where it seems that the Catholic Tradition itself is under attack by those who in High Places, it may be said, would be quite at home in the Anglican Church that Ashenden has left.  

One reaction will be one of welcome to someone who will help fight the battle against the secularizing forces in the Catholic Church. And that is a good and proper reaction. But I fear that in the present climate, many Tms will adopt a cynical attitude and say things like: “Don’t bother to become a Catholic. Because the reasons why you are becoming Catholic are on the rocks. The whole thing is going under. Women deacons and then women priests are on the way.  The bishops are silent about grave attacks on Tradition from Rome. They cannot be depended on.  Homosexuality continues to be a grave problem in the clergy.  There are signs of weakness in the abortion struggle on the part of the clergy.  The noxious effects of the sexual scandals of the past twenty years go on and on. Pagan idols are placed on Catholic altars.  The banality of worship is emptying out the churches. Etc., etc., etc.”

That temptation to blinding negativity must be resisted and resisted mightily.  The courage of this man to become Catholic, formerly a bishop, and now as a layman, and what this means for him personally—which involves real sacrifice—must be celebrated. Because what he sees in the Catholic Church is true.  Tms must affirm this truth by learning what the Catholic Tradition is. They must read Church history, they must read the Church Fathers, they must fast and pray for the current state of the Church, and they must be joyful about their Catholic faith, against which the gates of hell will not prevail, and the gates of hell are certainly stronger than a bunch of 1960s retreads and their disciples who think they can reshape the Church in an image that is not only passé but of no interest to most Catholics, especially young Catholics who are discovering Tradition for themselves in the Traditional Roman Mass and are falling in love with the Mass and are hungry to know more about their faith. Tms must stop combing the internet for bad news about what is happening in the Church.  This does not mean that they should stop their ears and become Pollyannas. But it does mean that they should never participate in the sometimes virulent attacks on the Church in the guise of defenders of Tradition.  

The Advent season is drawing to a close.  The shortest day of the year is just a few days away.  And then the light begins to increase, begins to increase just as we celebrate the coming into the world of the Light of the world.  Christmas joy must fill our hearts in this holy season, and the source of that joy cannot be in our hearts at the same time as despondency and negativity about the Church and our faith.  Remember this:  the child born in Bethlehem is the Head of the Church. He and no other.  Venite, adoremus!

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla