The Road to Rome
Editor Charles Moore, from a strong Anglican background, became a Catholic last year. He tells Fr Stephen Trott why
A YEAR AGO Charles Moore, the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, wrote an elegant article setting out the reasoning behind his conversion to Catholicism. It would be hard to find a more Anglican background than his. He was brought up as an Anglican, and confirmed at 13 at Eton, where the style of religion was "pretty middle-stumpish" and High Tory, with "proper Prayer Book Matins". His uncle by marriage is the Bishop of Hereford, and his great grandfather was Winfrid Burrows, Bishop of Chichester, who died in 1929. In his teens, he read TS Eliot and books about the Oxford Movement. Until last year, he belonged to St Silas, Fenton Street, an Anglo-Catholic mission church built about 120 years ago, in what was then a slum area.
There was much about the Church of England that he found attractive. "I liked the liturgy chiefly, and of course the architecture though I recognise the architecture is mainly not Anglican! On the whole the Church of England had managed to be both a national Church, and to maintain an idea of Christian orthodoxy, including a spiritual and learned life, and a tradition of devotion as well. I very much liked the parish system."
He is nostalgic about the style of worship which he has left behind, and the Anglican perspective on churchiness. "I do rather miss a really welldone Matins, Evensong, that sort of thing, though the differences are less marked now, because it's often so bad in the Church of England. I
miss a certain type of person who says "I'm all in favour of the Church as long as they don't bring religion into it. There is a role which the Church of England plays, which I like in many ways, and you see it in things like weddings."
It was the decision of the Church of England to ordain women as priests which brought its claim as a Church into question. "It seems to me that the manner in which the decision was taken, meant that the people who ran the Church of England clearly didn't have a Catholic view of it. They thought that this is just something that you can decide by a majority in your own assembly without reference to the whole of Christendom. I couldn't accept that. "
The result was a period of prolonged and careful reflection, weighing up so much what he held dear in the Church of England, against the promptings of his conscience. "It was much less clear what you ought to do about it. It would be ridiculous to become a Roman Catholic because you are opposed to the ordination of women.
"You have to become a Roman Catholic because you want to become a Roman Catholic. I had long accepted the idea as an Anglican that the Roman Catholic Church was the leading part of the Catholic Church that wasn't a problem for me. What I had to accept was that I did accept its authority, and that the logic of my position was to be a Roman Catholic. There are things about being a Roman Catholic that don't come very easily, but they don't mar the whole. It is unfamiliar. But on the whole I find that stimulating, rather than offputting."
The decision to become a Roman Catholic brought a certain amount of discomfort and misunderstanding. "One thing I have discovered through all this is that people are still very anti-Catholic, partly for traditional protestant reasons, partly because of the old British reasons, thinking it's a foreign power. Partly for a modern version of this, liberal reasons, that you arc handing over your freedom and getting trapped by people who wear black and have secret thoughts. And they raise objections all along these lines. I'd say, don't worry about all this business; do you like the Pope, what about contraceptioh? Will I by worshipping the Virgin Mary, be frightfully superstitious? All these slightly hoary ideas people have about what the Catholic Church stands for.
Becoming a Roman Catholic can still prove surprisingly controversial. "The only other thing I'd say, which is nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of it, but bears thinking about, and surprised me rather, is that it does upset people, some nonCatholics, if you become a Catholic, and particularly it can cause upset in families. My family were nice about it, but they were rather upset about it; there's still quite a strong, visceral fear and distaste for Catholicism in England."
Charles Moore's advice for those considering conversion is not to be distracted from the main issue. "The question I think is, do you accept what the Catholic Church says it is? And you go on from there.
"One thing that people say sometimes is that it's an entirely personal decision. This is a curious phrase, because in one way it strikes me as being absolutely true and vitally important, and in another completely misleading.
"It's not personal in the sense that it's just a matter of preference, and that's no difference. You are talking about what is true, not whatever takes your fancy."
As with others who have left behind the controversies of the Church of England, Charles Moore is finding that the loss of the Anglican things he found precious is more than compensated by the sense of spiritual liberation. "Once you have made the decision, trivial anxieties are pushed aside, and therefore you get closer to what religion is supposed to be concerned with.
"Prayer and studying, and trying to understand something of what it all means. I haven't started walking very far, but now I feel I'm pointing in the right direction".