Damian Thompson says they have made an outstanding contribution to the Church in Britain. Ed West interviews some prominent converts Last week, The Catholic Herald revealed that the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfieet, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, wants to lead his traditionalist flock into full communion with Rome. The reaction of some Catholics was indignant. "The last thing we need is more ex-Anglicans,they groaned. Such a response is not only un-Catholic; it also betrays depressing ignorance about the history of the post-Reformation Catholic Church in England.
Just as the Church of England's identity has been shaped by its Roman roots, so the English Catholic Church has drawn some of its lifeblood from Anglican converts. Indeed, at times they have come close to providing its life-support system.
Just think how impoverished the whole Church would be if the Rev J H Newman of St Mary's, Oxford, had not converted. And do not forget the widowed Archdeacon of Chichester, Dr H E Manning, without whom Catholicism would never have become such a formidable presence in the late Victorian era.
In the 20th century, Knox, Chesterton and Waugh contributed more than any cradle Catholic to the cultural self-confidence of the English Church. And, from the 1970s onwards, the growing crisis of authority in Anglicanism led some of the brightest and holiest clergy of the established Church to seek union with Rome.
At the time, just as now, some Catholics were suspicious. Yet those suspicions quickly disappeared as our new friends many, but not all, of whom were re-ordained found indispensable roles for themselves.
In most cases. ex-Anglican clergy have adapted to the pastoral demands of the Catholic priesthood so successfully that, unless they are married, it can be difficult to tell whether they are converts at all.
For example, I first encountered Canon Stuart Wilson, Rector of St Mary's, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, when he was a leading politician in the General Synod. Yet these days he is so quintessentially Catholic that even I forget that he had a previous incarnation.
Westminster diocese would be lost without ex-Anglicans, one of whom, the former Rev Alan Hopes, is now a bishop. The splendid new administrator of the Cathedral, Canon Christopher Tuckwell, was received into the Church in 1994; the diocesan director of vocations, Fr Chris Vipers, is also an ex-Anglican. Meanwhile, one of Britain's most distinguished architectural historians, Anthony Symondson, is now a Jesuit priest, having left his Anglican ministry in the mid-1980s.
As for the London Oratory the centre of an exciting traditionalist revival among young Catholics it is hard to imagine how it could survive without its ex-Anglican priests. Fr Ignatius Harrison. the Provost, is a convert; so is the charismatic figure of Fr Julian Large, whose knowledge of classical rubric and vestments is second only to that of Mgr Guido Marini, the papal Master of Ceremonies (a job he may one day hold).
Some former Anglican priests are now married Catholic priests. Some are parish priests in all but name; others have made first-rate university and school chaplains. Fr Peter Geldard, chaplain to the University of Kent at Canterbury, has evangelised a whole generation of students; he truly is a phenomenon.
It would be silly to pretend that every convert has brought tremendous gifts to the Church; a few priests ,have, sadly, made their way back to the C of E (and are now, I suspect, wondering where on earth to go next). But, on the whole, the reception of so many clergy, writers, musicians and other devout lay people has reinvigorated the Church at a crucial time.
One of the blessings of the arrival of former Anglo-Catholics is that they bring with them precisely the skills needed to implement Pope Benedict XVI's liturgical reforms. The best Anglo-Catholic liturgies and by this I do not mean the most ornate are performed with an attention to detail and a devotional intensity that arises partly out of the movement's need to prove a point that they are true Catholics. Once received into the Church, the former Anglicans do not need to prove anything; but the intensity remains.
Many Anglo-Catholics "get" Pope Benedict's theology of worship in a way that some cradle Catholics do not. The next wave of Anglican conversions, if it comes, could be the most important of all.
THE AUTHOR CANON JOHN REDFORD
THE author of Bad, Mad or God teaches theology at Maryvale, where he also instructed former Anglican priests. He was an Anglican deacon himself when he converted in 1960, and then studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and also lectured at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, for 12 years.
"I came over quite a long time ago, and there was no question of ordination of women back then. The validity of orders wasn't a question either: I could accept potentially valid orders in the Church of England. It was a desire for a unity with the visible Church. The theological problems I had in the Church of England were unanswered, and at the time I was in a good theological college.
"Anglo-Catholicism wasn't an , issue. I said to Anglo-Catholics: 'Why don't you join the Church itself, if you accept the authority of the Church over the Bible? What is stopping you becoming a Catholic?' The only reason it separated was over the authority of the Church. So for me it was either evangelical Anglicanism or Catholicism. There was no middle way before me. In 1959, just before I was ordained a deacon, the 'Roman fever' was getting bad.
"Perhaps becoming Orthodox was all right because they have the validity of orders. I was sitting on a train when a chaplain to the Italians in Birmingham got on. I got talking to him and asked: 'Are the Orthodox Catholic?' No, because they lack the fullness of unity with the Holy Father, he replied.
"That did it for me. I couldn't resolve the issue. The fever got worse and worse. It was an emotional and intellectual demand.
"I was a deacon, appointed to a parish in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. "It was just there, as I sat in my flat, and I started reading John of the Cross. That was the end of it. I opened the Bible at random what everyone says you shouldn't do. I read Ephesians and so I got up to try to find a Catholic church.
"The Irish housekeeper was startled by the sight of a tall Anglican curate. I saw an old priest of 90 sitting in his chair. I said I'd like to become a Catholic. 'Oh yes,' he said, 'they're coming over in droves.' After that I went to Downside Abbey for six months.
'Devotion to Mary was not really a problem, but the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception were a problem because they weren't necessarily in Scripture. The other thing was the Eucharist. I was strongly drawn to the Real Presence. In the Church of England I felt the 'real absence'.
"I wrestled over the concept of transubstantiation. I had to read extensively, I can't explain this verbally but I knew it to be true. It took me a long time. It was reading Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica which resolved my questions regarding transubstantiation. Also, the Church's authority in the disciplinary rules such as the ordination of women. And John of the Cross. It was the fever of a person in love, in love with the Church, the Bride of Christ.
"I do not think that the law of priestly celibacy should change, but there are perhaps some exceptional circumstances in which a married man could be ordained. Married deacons have been successful."
THE CAMPAIGNER VALERIE RICHES
TIRELESS family campaigners over the last four decades. Denis and Valerie Riches converted together in 1982 ant/ founded Family Publications in 1988.
Valerie Riches became a social worker in the 1960s. Along with many others disturbed by many social developments, especially the Abortion Act, she started the Responsible Society, which later became Family and Youth Concern.
She also became involved in the Family Education Trust. Denis helped with the group, and founded Family Publications after retiring as a managing director of a communications company.
Last October the Riches were invested as Knight and Dame of the Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great in Oxford. Fr John Saward described them as "a Christian knight and his lady".
They were married in 1947 and their joint autobiography. Built on Love, was published last year, as Denis was battling cancer. Denis died in December.
-In 1982 my husband and I came in together. I had some form of Catholic knowledge as I was sent to a convent, because I was badly behaved. The nuns were instructed to teach me manners but not to indoctrinate me. but the experience stayed with me. My husband was brought up as a Christian Scientist but in his teens he began to fall away from it. His mother lived to over 100 so there may have been something in it!
The Riches' conversions came soon after a meeting with Pope John Paul II. which she described as "quite the most uplifting and moving experience of our lives". "We particularly remember his great warmth, his penetrating eyes," she said.
"My husband was a more reluc tant convert than I was. I became aware of Catholicism in the 1970s, after a correspondence with Malcolm Muggeridge, when we talked about his conversion and how we might meet on the other side. He came into the Church in the same month. in November 1982.
"I became aware of the Church because I worked with issues dealing with the family. I was sort of Church of England. I never felt spirituality settled in the Church of England. We used to take our children because we thought it would be a basis. But the Catholic Church had so many answers.
"Interestingly enough.I came in at a time when the Church was coming in for criticism. But it had spiritual direction, built on love.
"I found some of the subsidiary things about relics rather difficult. But they weren't central to the Faith, but a side effect.
"My children haven't followed the same path but they may well do in time. One of my brothers became a Catholic and I always admired him for it.
"The Church of England has never been a body of one belief. There isn't that sense of stability that there is in the Catholic Church, which is comforting in our society, to have something solid.
"It was a step that both of us took, neither of us had a moment's doubt. Malcolm Muggeridge said it was like feeling the feet at the table or answering the bell that was long ringing, the bell that was ringing in my youth. And it was a great joy that my husband came with me."
THE JOURNALIST CHARLES MOORE
THE FORMER editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs and The Spectator was one of the converts of 1994.
"What prompted me to leave was the decision to ordain women. I considered myself Catholic within the Church of England, then the Church of England had acted in an tm-Catholic way. My objection was not the ordination of women; it was the idea that the Church of England unilaterally rule on Scripture. That of course makes you consider what they can do next.
"I had always thought perhaps I should become a Catholic. I didn't feel very strongly that it was alien, but a lot of people do. Those things that people always raise infallibility, contraception, or that you're giving up freedom of thought either they weren't true or they weren't important to me. What I found is that people seem to think that becoming a Catholic is like signing up to a series of opinions you're forced to hold. It's a matter of accepting the status of the Church. Once you do that it would be logical to be in it even if you object to some things in it. Jesus intended a divine society and this is it, even if you don't like a particular pope or certain issues.
"The liturgical differences are much less great between the two churches. I like the Anglican ' parishes system. The Catholic one is perfectly good but you're not in the nice churches. I like the Anglican cast of mind, the cultural atmosphere, but that has decayed.
"I didn't bargain for the fact that it would upset people. Often it causes family problems. You ask yourself: Are you somehow rejecting your family?''
THE ADMINISTRATOR CANON CHRISTOPHER TUCKWELL
THE NEW administrator of Westminster Cathedral was received into the Church in 1994.
"The decision of the Synod was the deciding moment that moved me. It was something I had been thinking about and praying about for at least 10 years from my days in the West Indies, where I had a very happy relationship with a Roman Catholic neighbour. At his suggestion I made my annual retreat with the Benedictines.
"All sorts of reasons put me off. It wasn't appropriate in the West Indies, it would have been hurtful to my bishop, and I had reservations about my family, how they would feel about it. I had a very nice parish where I was very happy. Every time I wanted to do it I kept being given another nice parish.
"It wasn't so much the vote as the aftermath. I knew the division it would cause. In my deanery there was a lot of ill-feeling. That atmosphere had decided it for me. "The initial step was an interview with Bishop Nichols. At his invitation he gave me his phone number and said: 'Don't hesitate to call.' I came away utterly convinced of what I had to do. His response to my approach really clinched everything. Things moved swiftly and easily from then.
"I was received into the church in Stonebridge Park, north-west London, and given a warm, good welcome, a lovely welcome from the other priests. I thought I must be extremely fortunate that there was no hostility. The majority of us were about 50 so we'd all had 20 to 25 years experience of parish ministry. I don't think we brought anything unique. Much of the pastoral approach we just continued from our Anglican days."
THE HISTORIAN CHRISTOPHER LEE
THE HISTORIAN and author of This Sceptred Isle, 1603 and Nelson and Napoleon converted this Max' after a "journey of 20 years". He teaches theology at Birkbeck College as well as writing books and radio plays.
"My instinct is that converts of whatever sort quite often overwhelm with their enthusiasm. And what I've discovered is that the Church fails to tell its own people and everyone else how exciting it is. It sounds very naïve but it's true in my case. The other thing I've discovered is people are very inquisitive. They say: 'Why on earth go to Rome? Is it women priests?' I enjoy telling them that the sense of coming home is enormously important.
"As a convert I'm converted to the Church of Rome rather than a bornagain Christian. My faith is no more enhanced. It is a choice of how one worships. Worship is very exciting in the Church of Rome. An Anglican would never dream of going to Mass three times a week but there is noth ing unusual about going every day. I was obviously inclined to be AngloCatholic. I'm not an Evangelical, I wouldn't go around Trafalgar Square with my finger in the air singing hymns. It is the quiet excitement of being a member of the Church.
"I spent many years at sea. I remember coming back after going around the world, coming home and everything was familiar. It was almost like nothing had moved, and that was extraordinary important. That's how it feels. There is a sense that it is a place of ancient ritual.
"I think I probably miss the buildings. I don't miss four or five hymns in a service. To my mind the Mass should be quiet. But if I know there is a good preacher I will still go to a sermon."
THE BLOGGER FR RAY BLAKE
FR BLAKE is the parish priest at Sr Mary Magdalen in Brighton and writes a popular blog (http:Ilmarymagdalen. blogspot.com). He joined the Catholic Church in 1974.
"People were doing it [converting) even in 1974. It was the end of that great post-war period of conversions. I said in my blog I thought of Orthodoxy but people like Chesterton, Belloc and Waugh underlined how English Catholicism was.
"The shrine at Walsingham was that whole thing that encapsulated the thing of authority. 'By what authority?' was a big question for me. But I had felt quite secure in the Church of England. My mother was a lapsed Catholic. My father came from an Ulster Protestant background.
"One of the things I admire about converts is their adherence to the Catholic faith, that they've actually had to think about it. Converted Anglican clergymen have had to teach the faith to their Anglican congregations. What I do admire about so many is that they really do see the need for doctrinal catechesis. They do understand that doctrine makes the difference. Cradle Catholics have an assumption that everyone understands faith to some degree.
"Anglicanism is congregational. People are attached to their church buildings and their parish. The very fact that these pastoral provisions are being made will mean many will hang on to see what is in the small print. There might be other options for others."
THE THEOLOGIAN FR A1DAN NCHOLS
THE DOMINICAN FT Nichols is an academic and author of The Realm, a call for the conversion of England. He currently serves as the first John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer at Oxford University, the first lectureship of Catholic theology there since the Reformation.
He was born in Lancashire in 1948 and graduated from Christ Church, Oxford. In 1970 he joined the Dominicans and was ordained priest in 1976. From 1983 to 1991 he was a lecturer in Dogmatics and Ecumenics at the Pontifical University of St Thomas, Rome.
He was an affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University's Divinity Faculty ftom 1998 to 2000.
He is well-known for his threevolume commentary on the work of Hans Urs Von Balthasar and his landmark study The Thought of Pope Benedict XVI.
"What do I miss about the Church of England? Feeling at home in ancient parish churches in the deep countryside; having the same religion as the monarch, Dr Johnson and Geoffrey Hill (the poet); Coverdale's Psalter; the sense that 'the vicar' is for everybody and, correspondingly, vague but warming benevolence; bishops in convocation robes; the New English Hymnal (except we have it in my priory) and anthems by Stanford; buildings by Sir Ninian ComPer, and the glass and vestments to go with them; being daringly High Church; the absence of illtempered post-Conciliar disputatiousness.
"What don't I miss? Doctrinal confusion. Which is why I am a Catholic."
THE POLITICIAN JOHN GUMMER
THE FORMER Environment Secretary is a vicar's son and was a member of the Church of England Synod until his reception in 1994.
"It was about authority. It always seemed to me that once the Church of England decided it had the power to alter the structure of the Church, it had become a sect. Once you had done that, what's to stop you doing anything else? From consecrating a divorced, practising homosexual? It was only able to hold together on the concept that it had sustained the essentials of the Catholic Church. From then on it wasn't possible.
"It's so wonderful not to spend the whole time fighting things. The C of E is such an unquiet church. It is also now the state church again in that it is teaching the morality of the state. How they have dealt with people who are rudely called traditionalist is totally un-Christian and unacceptable. The argument that to make provision for their conscience would involve discrimination is nothing to do with Christianity, but the new secular morality.
"I think most of us feel we have just come home. I don't feel like a convert. I'm very careful to behave -in a way that is not the way of the traditional convert. I don't wallop about it. I'm reticent about voicing disagreement the whole time. Apart from that I never think about it. I only wish I had done it 40 years ago.
"As for those who may seek to return, I say to them: it's very difficult that moment of parting of friends, it feels like you're letting down the people you fought the battles with. But the moment you've done it you don't think about it Come on in: the water's warm."