Michael Coren Register file photo

Professional Catholics must be professional and Catholic

  • May 7, 2015

According to the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Catholic Register columnist Michael Coren was received into the Anglican Communion on April 19. Despite Coren’s fame as an apologist for the Roman Catholic faith, his break with Rome went almost unnoticed. The news was made public by a tweet congratulating Coren on his reception. This disappeared from Twitter, although not before a sharp-eyed reader took a screenshot and posted it to a blog.

Initial reactions to his conversion included shock, sorrow, doubt, scorn, satire, exhortations to pray and emails to Roman Catholic organizations. In Coren’s words, preserved on yet another blog: “Some right-wing Catholics finally realized I’d been an Anglican for a year and spent last 24 hrs telling everybody.”

Imagine being called “right-wing” by Michael Coren. But I digress.

“Everybody” included the editors at The Catholic Register, Catholic World Report and The Interim. None of them had been told by Coren that he had ceased to consider himself a Roman Catholic. They assumed, as they continued to publish his columns, that he was still a Roman Catholic. In these tolerant days, dissent on “the pelvic issues” is not considered a formal act of schism. Coren had continued to describe himself as “orthodox” and “a Catholic.”

This is where the hair-splitting begins. Although the vast majority of English-speakers instinctively understand the word “Catholic” to describe Roman (Ukrainian, etc.) Catholics, there has existed, especially since the 1840s, a faction of the Anglican Communion that emphasizes a claim to full Catholicity. This movement insists that Anglicans have the essential marks of the Church: valid orders, valid sacraments and apostolic authority. It believes they can have all this without being in communion with the Pope. Such Anglicans self-identify as “Anglo-Catholic,” and my husband Mark used to be one.

Since meeting Mark, I have learned a lot about Anglo-Catholicism. We have many friends who are also former Anglo-Catholics; we seem to collect them. Some are nostalgic for the good, old Anglo-Catholic days before women priests, let alone bishops. They enjoy reminiscing over Anglo-Catholic clergymen they have known, including one who sighed over clerics who married, “I’m afraid he’s gone off the rails.” As for homosexuality, a typical Anglo-Catholic attitude was, “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t scare the old ladies.”

I am grateful to these Anglican clergy — most of whom have died or become Roman Catholics — for their ministry. Not only were they kind to Mark, the child of a broken home, they taught him the basics of the Christian faith, how to sing, how to pray, how to carve at table and how to speak intelligibly. Thanks to their encouragement, he was the first of his family to go to university. They even instilled in him a love for the papacy; they dearly wished the Pope would recognize them as Catholics.

Roman Catholics have never considered Anglicans to be Catholics, so it can be disorienting when Anglicans describe themselves as such. And this Anglican use of the word “Catholic” may explain why for an entire year Coren has presented himself to his audiences, including his paying Roman Catholic editors and hosts, as “a Catholic.” That said, we might well ask ourselves if Coren has been deliberately concealing his new religious identity.

For this is the real issue. Losing one’s faith, regaining it and losing it again is not in itself evidence of a lack of integrity. The brilliant Anglican novelist Rose Macaulay illustrates this in her 1923 novel Told By an Idiot. Her loveable clergyman character, Aubrey Garden, changes his religion, and therefore his job, whenever his conscience dictates. But I note that the fictional Mr. Garden is always up front about his conversions.

As sad as Roman Catholics may find the loss of a celebrated apologist — and I the goodwill of someone who has encouraged me in my work — it is even sadder to discover that he has been equivocating about his religious identity for an entire year. It is beyond the pale that he has mocked us for not suspecting.

For an affectionate look at Anglo-Catholic culture, at least as it flourished in the Church of England before 1963, I highly recommend Macaulay’s masterpiece The Towers of Trebizond. But in terms of any matter touching upon the Catholic faith, I cannot recommend anything Coren has written or said for the last year. As a Roman Catholic in communion with the Holy See, I do not believe that an Anglican — above all a secret one — can  speak authoritatively about “the Catholic Church.”

(Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer living abroad and the author of two books, Ceremony of Innocence and Seraphic Singles.)

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People in this conversation

  • Lena

    Wonderful Dorothy! My thoughts exactly about this. Why wouldn't he bother to be upfront with us?

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  • Vox Cantoris

    Dorothy, you have been fair, charitable and yet at the same time, firm and honest. Mr. Coren took money from the Catholic Register, Catholic World Report, Legatus and others for the last year and now he mocks Catholics on his social media that he had already been gone. Good job!

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  • rob johnston

    as a protestant,basic christian i view this whole issue as scribes and pharasies name calling.....when Jesus said he was sending the comforter after his reserection, it was to the whole church, to empower them to share His gospel good news to the world.....He spent his time here reaching followers,

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  • rob johnston

    he condemned the law based church then and most of the new testiment is paul admonishing the new church of christ in their search for right following....the holy spirit is given to the whole (catholic meaning universal) church,every believer by God's grace....your pope,my pastor, you and I....AMEN.

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  • Luciano

    Thank you for publishing this. What Mr. Coren did was absolutely hypocritical. Let us all pray for him and his family. He is lost.

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