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Michael Nazir-Ali's Catholic conversion causes waves in Anglican world

Michael Nazir-Ali's Catholic conversion causes waves in Anglican world
The noted CofE cleric is one of a growing number of Anglican bishops to "Swim the Tiber"

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
October 15, 2021

Headlines broke Thursday which rocked the Anglican world down to its core.

"Ex-Bishop of Rochester converts to Catholicism after accusing the Church of England of 'jumping onto faddish bandwagons' about identity politics and cultural correctness" ...

"The impact and significance of Michael Nazir-Ali's conversion to Catholicism" ...

"A great Anglican churchman converts to Rome" ...

"Former bishop converts to Catholicism after slating woke Church of England" ...

"Prominent Anglican bishop who served in US received into Catholic Church"...

"Former Anglican bishop to become Catholic priest" ...

"Celeb Anglican bishop comes home to Rome" ...

The prominent Anglican Bishop ... the ex-bishop of Rochester ... the celeb Anglican bishop ... the great Anglican churchman ... the former Anglican bishop is none other than the former bishop of the ancient Diocese of Rochester in England, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali.

Bishop Nazir-Ali had made the hard decision to leave the Church of England, and Anglicanism as a whole. He joined the Roman Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

I am personally acquainted with the English bishop, and I have interviewed him. But based on that interview, I was not expecting his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Several years ago, during one of his excursions into the United States, he presented a comprehensive three-part presentation on the topic "Ecclesiology at the Crossroads" where he explored the history, nature, and work of the church, at the 2013 Forward in Faith-North America Assembly at Our Lady of Snows in Belleville, Illinois.

At that time, I had the joy and pleasure of interviewing him. I had developed a deep respect for the British bishop after listening to his many teachings. That FiF-NA interview was one of the highlights of my journalistic career, along with interviewing Bishop William Wantland (IV Eau Claire) on the occasion when he was named the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma.

Also, I have several times transcribed Bishop Nazar Ali's various teachings for Virtue Online as the good Bishop spoke at Mere Anglicanism or GAFCON or Christian Concern conferences or for the many other presentations he made.

The man is brilliant. He is all of six weeks older than myself, but has a wealth and depth of knowledge of theology, Anglicanism, Anglican history, patristic history, catholicity, and Catholicism which is encyclopedic.

He can speak and teach for an hour or more without Note One. It's all stored in his memory, which he can bring forth at the speed of a thought.

Whenever interviewing him, or translating his teachings, I am always left scurrying to theology books, history books, or deep Internet searches to get names and dates and the significance of the people, places, and the events that he peppers throughout his discussions. I have learned much about Anglicanism.

Bishop Nazar Ali's move to the Church of Rome is going to be met by some Anglicans with the disdain, resentment, rejection, and ridicule which goes back to Elizabeth I.

For the most part it is very difficult for the simple person-in-the-pew to either "Swim the Tiber" or "Swim the Thames." There is a lot of traffic going both ways between the two denominations. But that swim is much harder for a person of note such as an Anglican bishop or a politician. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the swim in 2007.

When a Christian converts in or out of the Roman Catholic Church, they are many times met with strong feelings -- families reject them and friendships break up. They are met with hostility rather than understanding.

"Such conversions (to the Catholic church) have often been attended by fierce controversy and have usually involved a real sacrifice by the convert," writes Daniel Johnson in The Article.

And with a high-profile person, like Bishop Nazir-Ali or former Bishop Gavin Ashenden, worldwide headlines are generated and they are open for ridicule.

The same is not necessarily true when a mainline Protestant Christian switches denominations from Lutheran to Presbyterian, Baptist to Congregationalist, Methodist to Episcopal, or the Assembly of God to the Church of Christ. Hardly an eyebrow is raised. Family members hope their son or daughter or sister or uncle enjoys their new church home.

But the same is not true with the Roman Catholic Church. Even if a Catholic becomes Anglican, the rancor on the home front is just as brutal as if the Anglican becomes Roman Catholic.

There is that much animosity between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. And that animosity has been simmering since the Reformation.

When someone like Michael Nazir-Ali, with a high church profile, goes to Rome it is a deeply personal decision, one which involves his soul and for him, his very salvation.

This is ultimately something between the individual person and God. It is not an easy nor quick decision to make, nor is it made lightly or unadvisedly.

But it is something the person feels down to the core of their soul. Something they must do for their soul's sake. For them, their very salvation is tied up in it.

So that person has to ultimately obey God wherever He is leading. If God is leading someone INTO the Catholic Church, they have to go. If God is leading someone OUT of the Catholic Church, they have to leave.

And it is up to the rest of us to try and understand something we do not understand and uplift them in prayer. To give them the benefit of the doubt.

This is where charity and kindness come in. And as Pope Francis has said: "Who am to judge?" That would be good advice in this situation.

Bishop Nazir Ali is still our brother-in-Christ who has changed pews.

Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and GAFCON Archbishop Foley Beach (ACNA II) are very kind in their public comments concerning Bishop Nazir-Ali's departure to Rome.

"I am grateful for Michael Nazir-Ali's decades of devoted service to the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. His expertise in evangelism, interfaith dialogue, ecumenism, and theological education has been a great gift," Justin Welby tweeted. "He will continue to be a blessing to the global church as he joins the Ordinariate. I will be praying for him and his wife, Valerie, that this new step in their journey might draw them ever closer to God in Christ."

"I am writing to you today to share the news that Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has joined The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. We are deeply grateful for Bishop Michael's ministry over the years on behalf of the GAFCON movement. He is a stalwart defender of Christian orthodoxy, and my own faith has been enriched and encouraged by his witness and teaching," the GAFCON leader wrote. "Michael is a gift to the global Church, and he has shared with me his willingness to continue to assist the GAFCON movement in any way that might be suitable. While we are still exploring what this might look like, in the near term we look forward to continuing to partner with him in support of the suffering church. Please continue to keep GAFCON, the Nazir-Alis, and the whole Church in your prayers."

The new Catholic convert gave up his Church of England priesthood and gave up his Anglican bishopric on his Name Day -- the Feast of St. Michael (Sept. 29).

Apparently, plans are in the works for him to recoup his priesthood, but the bishopric is forever out of reach. That has got to be a huge suffering to endure.

Michael Nazir-Ali is not the only Anglican or Episcopal bishop to lay down his crozier and take off his mitre to follow his soul into the Church of Rome since 2000.

The growing list includes:

Archbishop Randy Sly, (Supervising Archbishop for the International Office of Communications and the Eastern Providence -- Charismatic Episcopal Church), 2006.

Bishop Clarence Pope, (II Fort Worth -- The Episcopal Church). Bishop Pope first became Catholic in 1995. He returned to TEC in 1998, only to return to the Catholic Church in 2007.

Bishop John Lipscomb, (IV Southwest Florida -- The Episcopal Church), 2007.

Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, (VIII Rio Grande -- The Episcopal Church), 2007.

Bishop Daniel Herzog, (VIII Albany -- The Episcopal Church), 2007. He returned to TEC in 2010 and now is a part of ACNA.

Bishop Ross Davies, (Bishop of the Murray -- Anglican Church of Australia), 2010.

Bishop Paul Richardson, (Bishop of Wangaratta -- Anglican Church of Australia), 2010.

Bishop David Silk, (Bishop of Ballarat -- Anglican Church of Australia), 2011.

Bishop Keith Newton, (Bishop of Richborough -- Church of England), 2011.

Bishop Edwin Barnes, (Bishop of Richborough -- Church of England), 2011.

Bishop John Broadhurst, (Bishop of Fulham -- Church of England), 2011.

Bishop Andrew Burnham, (Bishop of Ebbsfleet -- Church of England); 2011.

Bishop Harry Entwistle, (Western Regional Bishop in Australia -- the Traditional Anglican Communion), 2012.

Bishop Robert Mercer, (Bishop of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe -- Traditional Anglican Communion), 2012.

Bishop Carl Reid, (Bishop Suffragan of Ottawa, Canada -- Traditional Anglican Communion), 2012.

Bishop Peter Wilkinson, (Bishop Suffragan of Victoria, Canada -- Traditional Anglican Communion), 2012.

Bishop Louis Campese, (Bishop of the Eastern United States -- Traditional Anglican Communion), 2013.

Bishop David Moyer, (Bishop of the Armed Forces -- Traditional Anglican Communion), 2014.

Bishop Gavin Ashenden, (Missionary Bishop for the United Kingdom and Europe -- Christian Episcopal Church), 2019.

Bishop Jonathan Goodall, (Bishop of Ebbsfleet -- Church of England), 2021.

Bishop John Goodard, (Bishop of Burnley -- Church of England), 2021.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, (Bishop of Rochester -- Church of England), 2021.

However, not all bishops seek to reclaim their priesthood in the Roman church. They are content to remain laymen.

In addition, three noted Internet bloggers also jettisoned Anglicanism for Catholicism, including: Stand Firm blogger Greg Griffin in 2014; Allan Haley, better known as The Anglican Curmudgeon in 2021; and The Rebel Priest blogger and outspoken Church of England Vicar Jules Gomes in 2019. He has aligned himself with Church Militant, an ultra-conservative American Catholic news apostolate. He is the European and Rome correspondent for Church Militant, and helped to break the story of Bishop Nazir-Ali's new church home.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

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