A Common Hatred Does Not Warrant Conversion

Pope Benedict is Welcoming Anglicans to the Catholic Church for All the Wrong Reasons


Pope Benedict XVI invited Anglicans dissatisfied with their Church’s liberal policies to convert to Catholicism. (Laurence Kesterson/ Phiiladelphia Inquirer/ MCT)

Published: December 10, 2009

I was relatively young when I was first aware of the efforts of Pope John Paul II to open doors to the Anglican Church, but the fact is that he had begun such efforts in the early 80s with the Pastoral Provision of the Servant of God. The Provision encouraged special pastoral attention to Anglican ministers who leaned toward Catholicism. It allowed for the ordination of married Anglican ministers as Catholic priests. It also provided for the establishment of entirely Anglican parishes and allowed them to maintain certain specifically Anglican elements of the liturgy in their Mass celebrations, while still celebrating a Catholic Mass. Like I said, I was nominally aware of this as a youngster—I knew that there were a significant number of married Anglican ministers who had become priests and that there were entire parishes that had been allowed to convert as a group.

So when the news buzzed about Pope Benedict’s efforts to welcome Anglicans into the Catholic Church, I must confess I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. In fact, for a long time I didn’t really keep informed about the development because, to my mind, it wasn’t a development. I simply wondered where everyone was almost 30 years ago when John Paul set this precedent. I heard the buzz and silently (but not extremely enthusiastically) applauded Pope Benedict’s continuation of John Paul’s illustrious work towards Christian unity.

When no one could really articulate to me what the fuss was about, I finally set to finding out for myself. What I discovered confused and disappointed me. Apparently Pope Benedict is not simply continuing the work of his predecessor by making it as easy as possible for Anglicans curious about Catholicism to learn more about the faith and convert. Rather, he is engaging in a questionable seduction of Anglican ministers and laity by appealing to their own latent dissatisfaction with the Anglican Church. This major PR fail basically consists of the Vatican saying the following: “You don’t like openly gay and female priests and bishops? We don’t either! Let’s hate them together—Join the Catholic Church!” Fortunately, I know the Pope is not the Church. Unfortunately, the rest of the world thinks he is, so this decidedly un-Catholic sentiment is a Catholic one as far as the world is concerned.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to let my life be dictated by the Ignatian saying sentire cum ecclesia, which means “to think with the Church.” What that means for me is that I’ve learned to understand and embrace the Church’s teachings and policies, and when I don’t agree or I don’t get it, I give the Church the benefit of the doubt and assume that my own ability to understand is somehow lacking. Because I think with the Church, I agree with its policies regarding ordination—I believe that the priesthood is reserved for men dedicated to living their lives chastely according to their station, among other things. Since an actively homosexual lifestyle is not considered chaste by the Church, it simply does not make sense for an openly homosexual man to be a priest. I personally feel that in this area, the Anglican Church has got it wrong. I also feel that the fact that the Catholic Church happens to have it right might be a good reason for a non-Catholic to begin to look into what else Catholics might have right. I don’t, however, think that feeling disgruntled, dissatisfied and disdainful is a good reason to convert.

If Anglican ministers and laity want to convert to Catholicism, it should be because they were guided by the Holy Spirit to recognize the inherent truth in the Church, not because they think the Church hates all the same people they do or because it seems convenient. Pope Benedict is encouraging Anglicans to convert for all the wrong reasons, and I feel strongly that the great Pope John Paul II would be disappointed.

John Paul sought tirelessly to make the truth of the Church as visible as possible to those not in full communion with her, so that they might feel more compelled to explore that truth. Only secondarily did he widely open the doors to the Church to make this exploration easier. His emphasis was on the truth. For Pope John Paul, if the image of the Church in the world adequately demonstrated its truth, then the world would be more receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When they arrived at its doors, the Church would be waiting with open arms. Pope Benedict, however, seems to want to present the Holy Catholic Church as just some exclusive club. I had high hopes for Pope Benedict and, until now, I have been ecstatic with the work that he’s done. I pray this is not reflective of the rest of the work he will do for the Church.

For those readers that are Anglican, or really any non-Catholic denomination, I of course welcome you to explore the rich teachings, history and traditions of the Catholic Church. In doing this, you may discover how much the Church has to offer. You may feel compelled by your conscience to convert, and only then should you do so. Don’t convert just because you hate your denomination or a certain group of people within your denomination; convert because you love truth.