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Catholic Culture Dedication

Msgr. Graham Leonard, RIP: the Anglican bishop who pounded on the door

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 07, 2010

Take a good look at our report today about the death of Msgr. Graham Leonard, and follow the link to the obituary in the London Daily Telegraph. It’s a powerful indictment of the Catholic hierarchy in England.

In 1988, when he was the Anglican Bishop of London, Leonard began thinking seriously about becoming a Roman Catholic. The Daily Telegraph tells us that he consulted with a Vatican official in London, who “calmly told him to remain where he was, for the sake of ecumenism.”

Stop there, and think about it. Bishop Leonard had reached the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the one true Church. He wanted to join the Catholic faithful. But a Vatican official—the Telegraph story does not identify him, but presumably it was someone serving at the apostolic nunciature in London—encouraged him to stay out. Was there no room at the inn?

Fortunately Leonard was unsatisfied with that response, kept knocking on the door, and was eventually received into the Catholic Church. But even when that happened, it happened quietly. Rather than a public ceremony, Cardinal Hume chose a private reception, with no notice to the media—indicating clearly, to all who could read his signals, that he was uncomfortable with this development. So while he was received into the Church, it would be an exaggeration to say that he was welcomed.

Unfortunately Graham Leonard’s experience is far from unique. For a full generation, Anglicans have been pounding on the doors of the Catholic Church. All too often, particularly in England, the doors have remained closed. Things are very comfortable inside; letting in these troublesome Anglicans might upset people. Catholic officials have been more interested in preserving their amicable ties with their Anglican counterparts than in bringing people into full communion with the Church. The welfare of souls—of people who want to be Catholics, want the spiritual sustenance of the sacraments, recognize the authority of the Catholic Church—has been sacrificed to maintain a comfortable status quo. According to the Telegraph account, Pope John Paul II asked Bishop Leonard—the Catholic Pope asked the Anglican bishop—“Why are the English Catholic bishops so unapostolic?” Good question.

Small wonder, then, that even after he “swam the Tiber,” Msgr. Leonard remained uneasy about Church policies. The Telegraph recalls:

While certain that he had made the right decision in moving to Rome, he remained uneasy about the lack of rigour shown by the Catholic bishops on a range of issues, particularly their approach to ecumenicism.

If ecumenism means keeping people out of the Roman Catholic Church, there is something terribly wrong with the process. Yet that seems to have been the norm in England—and to a lesser extent in the US—for years. Informed sources in Rome say that Pope John Paul II was prepared to issue a broad invitation for Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church, but he was persuaded by the English bishops to wait...and wait...and wait. 

Thank God, Pope Benedict XVI broke through that opposition with his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which radically changed the rules and opened the doors to Anglicans interested in Rome. Thank God, too, that Msgr. Leonard lived to see his cherished hope realized, and the Vatican hanging out a “Welcome” sign.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 08, 2010 9:22 PM ET USA

    It's so sad to see so many supposedly catholic bishops and priests undermine the Catholic hierarchy. People think that the Catholic Church will be brought down from without, but it is from within that Satan is working overtime to bring it down. The way it looks now, he has many helpers.Thank God for his message, 'that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." We have His Word.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 08, 2010 7:00 PM ET USA

    Alter Newmanus

  • Posted by: - Jan. 08, 2010 6:33 PM ET USA

    Indeed, very glad Msgr. Leonard lived to see "Anglicanorum Coetibus" after all he endured. William Oddie's book "The Roman Option" gives an eye-opening account of the stonewalling by the English Catholic bishops ca. 1991-2 when there was a very strong movement by conservative Anglicans and so-called "Anglo-Catholics" toward Rome. Believe it or not, the late Cdl. Hume actually comes off as one of the "less-bad" guys in the whole debacle. It's rather hard to find, but well worth a read.