Father Edwin Barnes: Why I Became Catholic

From the National Catholic Register:

Accepting Pope Benedict’s Generous Offer
by Fr. Edwin Barnes

I had always believed that is what I was — a Catholic, albeit an Anglican one. We said the creeds and expressed our belief in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” We were taught that is just what the Church of England was; part of that Catholic Church, separated from a great part of Christendom at the Reformation, but with good reason. We had avoided the excesses and errors of other churches; we were a pure church, one which had “washed its face.”

This was just about tenable all the time the Church of England held to Catholic faith and practice. Of course, there were always others in the same Church who disagreed with us, but we had truth on our side. After all, did not every priest at his induction assent to the belief that the Church of England is part of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”? And had not an archbishop of Canterbury (Geoffrey Fisher) declared that “the Church of England has no doctrine of its own, only that of the universal Church?” And whatever others might personally believe, we knew that their orders were, like ours, received in due succession from the apostles (no matter how Rome might say otherwise).

From the 19th century on, though, we had thought of ourselves as part of a larger family, the “Anglican Communion,” largely the fruit of British colonial success. There were millions outside England who were as much Anglicans as we were. Then, especially in North America, some of these fellow Anglicans began to break ranks, particularly over ordination. The first ordinations of women were illegal; but the American church soon legitimized them, and our church followed suit.

The Church of England claimed to be synodically governed but episcopally led. In the early 1980s, it was a synod that first declared there were “no fundamental objections to the ordination of women.” This has often been misquoted as saying there were no theological objections; but, in fact, theology was not discussed. It was all about “justice” and whether women were capable of “doing the job” of a priest. So began the process, first of ordaining women to the diaconate and then, in 1994, to ordaining them as priests.

This step was hedged about. Those opposed to women’s ordination were said to have an opinion equally permissible as the opposite. There would be no discrimination against priests who would not, or could not, accept women’s ordination. Men might still be ordained holding such views. To ensure this would continue, bishops were appointed who were themselves opposed to women’s ordination, and they would care for those parishes and individuals who remained opposed. Some were already in office (mostly as suffragan bishops); eventually another three were consecrated for this task — the provincial episcopal visitors or “flying bishops.”

There was a very strange theology that accompanied this, one of “impaired communion.” It was a ramshackle solution, but so long as women’s ordination was seen as experimental, and the Church of England was in a period of “reception,” then it was possible to survive as a Catholic Anglican. Both Archbishop George Carey and his successor Archbishop Rowan Williams have said that the experiment was reversible. Few of us believed such a reverse would ever happen. And once women were ordained as bishops, it would become practically impossible.

Throughout this time, I was considering my position as an Anglican. Either our church was Catholic or it was not. If it could treat holy orders as a matter of mere opinion, then all pretense of Catholicity was undermined. Yet how could I abandon those faithful laity and priests who still clung to the hope that the Church of England might yet be as it claimed, “the Catholic Church of this land”? The problem for those bishops still in office (I had retired in 2001) was even more acute.

Then came Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Holy Father’s response to Anglicans who sought his help. It seemed, and it still seems, a most generous offer. We might be ordained to the Catholic priesthood while remaining married. We would have our own ordinary, who would be someone who understood us completely. And we were challenged to bring with us the best of our traditions, our Anglican patrimony.

For me, the whole question has been one of authority. By what authority could the Church of England change holy orders? How could it authorize the ordination of men and women remarried after divorce, when our Ordinal had said a bishop or priest must see that his family was a model of Christian living?

If it could determine these matters without reference to Scripture, tradition or the wider Church, where would it stop?

So, already in parts of the “communion” there are bishops living with their same-sex partners, and in other parts “lay presidency” at the Eucharist is becoming the norm.

I still weep for the Church of England and what it might have been. But still I pray that the ordinariate may grow and give hope to faithful Anglicans that the door remains open for them to join us, in communion with the one Church to which we have aspired so long.

Fr. Barnes, one of this blog's regular contributors, has been kept very busy since his ordination as a Catholic priest, helping to get the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham organized. His own blog, in which he shares some of his experiences, is called Ancient Richborough, and it's always worth a visit.

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

36 thoughts on “Father Edwin Barnes: Why I Became Catholic”

  1. "In the early 1980s, it was a synod that first declared there were 'no fundamental objections to the ordination of women'. "

    In July 1975, actually.

  2. The 1975 decision was disingenuous because it led people to distinguish between 'theological objections' (for which there was thought to be no basis) and 'ecumenical objections' (which were thought to be worthy of respect). In fact, the 'ecumenical objection' (that a church could not change holy order and still claim to share that holy order with the ancient churches from whom it had derived it) is, fundamentally, a 'theological objection', because it is about ecclesiology and therefore about Christology and therefore about theology. As Fr Edwin says, the substantial theological issues were never – and never have been – tackled. The former Bishop of Rochester reportedly despaired of having the Rochester Report (which did raise the theological issues) properly discussed.

    Fr Andrew

  3. Excellent, excellent treatise of whence the orthodox came and where we find ourselves today. There is a shading of prospective from the British to the American view. I highly respect you for not denying the Reformation or its need at the time. Not all who have called themselves Anglican over the last four hundred years are doomed!

    The bur under each of our saddles, as we say out west, can be different. Yours appears to be women's ordination while married ordained is fine (not with Rome). My issue is the corruption in the Roman church and the unorthodoxy of the Anglican church. It should be noted that every unorthodox idea espoused by Anglicans came from dumpster diving behind a Catholic University, abbey, or seminary.

    Benedict is orthodox and spent his whole career fighting heresy within the Roman church; Liberation Theology, etc., etc. But, he is an old man. Romans in the United States are noted for being far to left of their pontiff. The pope has huge house cleaning problems remaining just to bring things back to the level of main stream ethics (low bar). http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014902522_christianbrothers29m.html

    Your answer was to move to an Ordinariate. Things are different in England than in America. Ordinariates look to be DOA, dead on arrival, here in America. Fawning sycophants, ring kissing, and blind obedience just aren't in our culture and nature.

    1. J.M.J.

      Herb wrote:

      "…Ordinariates look to be DOA, dead on arrival, here in America. Fawning sycophants, ring kissing, and blind obedience just aren't in our culture and nature…."

      Where in the world do you get this idea?


        1. J.M.J.

          Father Ed –

          It would so appear!

          It is interesting that a common tactic of many of the anti-Catholic enemies of both The Church and Anglicanorum Coetibus often resort to a common tactic of making vauge allegations, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of fact, and then disappear or at least hang around but refuse to ever back up what they say or claim.

          Such is often the case with the allegations of so-called "corruption."

          The argument goes like this. The Roman Catholic Church is corrupt. Anglicans don't have this problem . Since it (RC) is corrupt one should not join the Ordinariate. Non sequitur to the max!

          Even if for the sake of discussion we were to say there is corruption present and ongoing in the Roman Catholic Church, (I make this statment as a point of example and discussion, not of fact) that does not translate to the same problem in the Ordinariate.

          We can look at the example in England. The Ordinary is a former Anglican Bishop. The clergy are former Anglican Priests. The people are former Anglicans. The only canonical connection to the rest of the Roman Catholic Family is the Holy Father. If corruption comes to exist in the Ordinariate it will have to have been brought in and developed by the former Anglicans.

          The enemies of The Church, together with what I truly hope are unwitting accomplises are trying to throw everything they can up to discourage the faithful, and keep people away from Unity with the Vicar of Christ.

          We need not be discouraged by this, as we know from the promise of our Blessed Lord Himself that the gates of hell will not prevail against The Church, and the Ordinariates are soildly connected parts of this Church.


          1. I do agree. Liberal, dissident Catholics have much to lose should the Ordinariate be firmly entrenched as an entity within the Latin Church. For one thing, they believe in the essence of Catholicism (which makes them such great believers) relative to the liberal, pick-and-choose cafeteria Catholics. Honestly, these dissident Catholics are better off in a liberal-minded Church that shares their inclination.

            1. Actually Christopher, I think that liberal Catholics, if they thought about it, would welcome the Ordinariate. With an established Ordinariate parish, most of the traditionalists in their area would likely migrate to Ordinariate parishes, leaving the more liberal folk to do their thing without objection. Much like parishes that divide between Rite 1 and Rite 2, this division might calm the waters if all Catholics can get the notion that various liturgies and styles can co-exist without threating the others.

          2. "Even if for the sake of discussion we were to say there is corruption present and ongoing in the Roman Catholic Church, (I make this statment as a point of example and discussion, not of fact) that does not translate to the same problem in the Ordinariate."

            Sean, I usually find that the most effective way to draw the sting from these infantile charges of "corruption" in the Catholic Church is to agree with them. Corruption covers a multitude of sins committed by sinful human beings and consequently is as present in the Catholic Church as it is in every other organisation which exists on earth.

            If people bothered to read the Gospels they would know full well that Christ never promised us a Church free from sin and in fact warned that it would be quite otherwise.

            The great wild goose chase which began at the Reformation was the quest for a "pure" Church and 35,000 "denominations" later they still haven't managed to invent it. If anybody's reason for having a problem with any church can be reduced to a charge of corruption of the said body, then ultimately the real problem that exists lies very much within themselves. If they ever found and joined their imaginary pure church they would immediately corrupt it by virtue of having joined it.

            Herb strikes me as very possibly possessing the qualities to make an excellent member of such a corrupt institution as the Catholic Church, and should be encouraged to join the rest of us in our pathetic efforts to become less corrupt. If we can string him along for long enough he might even get the chance to become a corrupt member of a new corrupt ordinarate!

      1. They look (at the moment) a great deal deader in England (and we won't mention Scotland). In North America there is a lot more respect for this famous patrimony that we are supposed to be bringing with us.

    2. I suppose if one says that the Ordinariate in the US is DOA enough, that ones wishes will come to pass. I for one do not see this at all. The problem in the US is that only a few members of TEC or the Continuing groups know anything about the Ordinariate. Even the more Anglo Catholic parishes. It appears it has been well hidden from members of these congregations.

      I attended a meeting in a TEC parish recently, where Anglicans from outside of the parish are starting a group of Anglicans/TEC members who are interested in the Ordinariate. No one, not even the priests, mostly TEC members seemed to know anything about the Ordinariate.

      The meeting was a success and they will now be meeting several times a month at the TEC parish to inform those interested in what the Ordinariate means and the truth of the Catholic Church.

      After the US Ordinariate is announced and more people are aware of it, I believe that we will see more and more members of TEC and the Anglican groups show an interest. I live in a state that has lost several TEC parishes and have joined other Anglican groups, however, there are some TEC parishes that are now going into the Ordinariate. Once the light is shown who knows how many will join the Ordinariate.

      One cannot blame the Catholic Church for the ills of the Anglican Communion. I agree that the Church has many liberal clergy and that Pope Benedict has a hugh task, but he hasn't backed down in his support of the Ordinariates and the Bishops are obeying his wishes. The more important issue is that Catholics can disagree and not follow the faith, however, they can't change the doctrines as they have in the Anglican Communion.

      My daughter lived in England and had close relationships with Catholics there and they were no different than US Catholics in diverse attitudes towards following the teachings of the faith. It might take time for the Ordinariate to be known and grow, but I see a small seed growing into a much larger tree.

    3. "Fawning sycophants, ring kissing, and blind obedience just aren't in our culture and nature [in America]"

      No, you have something much worse. In Britian, Canada, other Commonwealth Realms, for example, we have a monarch who we pay homage to – as a symbol (almost a sacrament) of Divine Monarchy. But we then elect a Parliament, and (indirectly) a Prime Minister, who exercises real power. And there is no ring kissing – although there may be some who exercise blind obedience. But our Head of Government can never claim to be more than Her Majesty's loyal servant.

      But in the United States, you elect a man who for the duration of his time in office, is effectively an Emperor – who not only has incredible executive power, but also practically all the pomp and glory of a monarch. The American government supposedly works on the basis of division of powers, and checks and balances. But historically, the separation between Head of State and Head of Government is one of the best examples of checks and balances within government.

      Of course, you were referring to the Papacy, not the Monarchy, but there are similar examples there as well.

      The United States has the largest number of authoritarian micro-churches and cults, founded on the basis of personality – including blind obedience and ring kissing – of any country in the world. Rather than having one pope, you have so many congregations headed by individuals who make supposedly infallible statements every Sunday, who claim that of all the Christians in the world, they have discovered something that has been forgotten since the time of the Apostles, that only their particular brand of an offshoot of some Protestant variety is the really authentic Christianity.

      And you say that following the Pope would be un-American? But you follow people who are much less credible, and follow them much more fanatically!

      And never, ever, think before you speak… right Herb?

      Pardon my mood today, ladies and gentleman – I'm still basking in the glorious nuptials from the Abbey this morning, and disinclined to listen to any nonsense from Americans (my lovely wife excepted).


    4. Hmmm…another skeptic and doubter uttering depressing, negative words. Come on, be positive here. This is not the end of the world! I would be ashamed if Herb were a Catholic. Herb should be aware that Catholics who do not accept the official Church teaching may opt to leave the Church. This has been the Vatican's stand since the pontificate of John Paul II. Liberalism is a parasite and a cancer; there is no room for it to subsist in the Catholic Church.

  4. "Things are different in England than in America. Ordinariates look to be DOA, dead on arrival, here in America. "


    Such hopeless drivel is getting to be tiresome, especially since the Ordinariate for the United States hasn't been announced yet. BTW – I would also invite you to come "dumpster diving" at the Catholic university where I work and teach…you may actually learn something useful.


    1. ….okay Eddie, I give in. You've convenced me. What is the word on the street for the American Ordinariate? When? Surely confidents of Moyer and Hepworth have dropped some hints. Easter is past. How about Christmas 2011? Surely Campese is in the know as this web site is in cahoots with his church. I can understand if you're sworn to secrecy on the actual date. Surely, you can let it drop if it's a 'done deal'. How about if you just speculate as I have? Is your drivel any better than my drivel? If you're right, I'll man-up and sing your praises (no ring kissing though; so un-American).

      In the meantime, hopefully all you priests aren't celebrating mass until you're properly trained and obtain proper orders.

      1. Mr. Hampton… Herb… you're letting bad manners show, and you are going beyond healthy discussion into a merely argumentative attitude. I ask you to post more carefully, or I will have to ask you not to post at all.

      2. J.M.J.

        Herb wrote:

        "…In the meantime, hopefully all you priests aren't celebrating mass until you're properly trained and obtain proper orders…"

        I won't begin to address your bad manners and lack of respect for the Sacerdotal Office.

        I will, however, address this point of yours, the same tripe often thrown out by those anti-Catholics who reject Anglicanorum Coetibus.

        These priests will follow the advice and council of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continue to do what they are doing until such time as they are in the Ordinariate.

        Following the advice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaking for the Universal Church under the leadership of the Successor of Peter, rather than protestant suggestions will be the order of the day.


      3. Herb,

        Since Mr. Reed has alread addressed the issue of saying Mass, I won't restate what he has already said quite well.

        However your statements about an Ordinariate in America not yet being erected is precisely my point. One can't declare something "DOA" that has not yet been given life. How can anyone know the fate of an Ordinariate that has not yet been established? The fact that an Anglican Ordinariate in America hasn't been erected yet, is not necessarily an indication that the whole matter is already dead.

        I have no idea when an Ordinariate will become a reality in the U.S., or any other country. However I have hope, based on the invitation given to us in the form of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. That hope, supported by prayer, may not provide all the answers but that's okay because that is what faith is all about.

        I do have a question for you , which I am very serious in asking. Why do you wish to concentrate so much on hopeless negativity? This whole time of year is a celebration of fulfilled hope! We have been offered an invitation to join an Ordinariate, and I for one plan to accept it…no matter how long I must wait.


      4. Imagine for a moment, that you are the current president of a global organization present in nearly every country in the world. You have several markets where customer feedback shows a potential demand for your product. In response, you decide to roll out a new concept.

        You do the requisite planning and consider all the variables that you are able to anticipate. You choose one market for your roll out. Prudence dictates this. You also need to discover what you couldn't predict during the planning process–you best planning notwithstanding–before expanding your effort to other markets. You choose the market where you lost significant market share four centuries ago for several reasons, some tangible, some less so.

        You roll out your new concept and select established leaders who have shown, not only support for your concept, but wisdom, stability, and a steady commitment to the cause. They've demonstrated their mettle by their willingness to sign on with your start-up effort, suffer personal loss, and take substantial pay cuts.

        You are ridiculed by some of your competitors. Potential customers, unfamiliar with your product and suspicious of your company, become naysayers. A few potential customers expected different product packaging are a bit unhappy and discouraged. Some, perhaps even a few within your company, predict failure or complain about a waste of company resources. Blogs are filled with uncharitable speculation, prideful comments, and critiques of your new product.

        After just one week–despite limited outlets, a price significantly higher than any of your competitors, and only a few regional managers–you begin to see some encouraging numbers. Naysaying continues. Some competitors claim unfair competitive practices.

        You respond, not with words, but by continuing to lay the groundwork for further expansion and preparing to graduate your first class of branch managers. You pay careful attention to all the details as your plan unfolds, learning as you go. You're planning to expand your new concept to new markets with significantly different cultures, demographics, and competitive landscapes.

        When you're ready, and as your plans are completed, you will expand the concept to new markets. Research continues to suggest a demand for your product. And numbers aside, you knew that just a single new customer would have made the effort worth it. These days, it doesn't make good business sense, but a single new customer is worth more than 99 already on your mailing list. At least that's what your company’s founding president wrote in his journal 2,000 year ago.

  5. Very well said Father, my journey to Rome was nearly identical. That being said, I have often said that I believe the only place the Anglican Patrimony will remain in any recognizable form by the time I'm 80 (in 60 years) is in the Church of Rome. For most of the Anglican Church's history to be Anglican was to be Rome Catholic, admittedly, even then, a unique one. I am Roman, and upon the establishing of an Ordinariate in the United States I will be Anglican again. Full Roman, fully Anglican. The great divorce has ended! However, sadly, I feel that the Episcopal Church of America and the Church of England are on a long slow decline. Women's ordination, homosexual unions, those "churches" have clearly decided to separate from the teaching of Christ. So be it. Let the Anglican church have a new Spring, now reunited with Rome through the Ordinariate. That is my prayer and hope.
    God bless.

    P.S. Congratulations on the new Princess.

    1. Actually she is a Duchess in England and a Countess in Scotland. William is a Prince; that does not make his wife a Princess.

      1. I know Wikipedia isn't the most accurate; however:

        "Catherine's style and title in full: Her Royal Highness Princess William Arthur Philip Louis, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus."

        In other words, although she is not a princess in her own right, nor does she have any noble title of her own, she is "Princess William", in the same sense that my wife is Mrs. Michael Trolly. Princess Kate is not on, however.

        1. I am not English .Scotland is still a Kingdom in its own right and part of the United Kingdom by treaty only. We have our own system and Lyon Court. The Countess of Srathearn is not a Princess in her own right and should not be refered to as such in any situation in England or Scotland. Ulster and Wales are not and never have been Kingdoms. This is excatly why all media references here are to her either as the Duchess of Cambridge or the Countess of Strathearn. She does have a title of her own which would survive if William dies before her as the Dowager. The situation will change again when William becomes Prince of Wales and Duke of Rothesay.

          1. Oh man, I'm sorry. I've tried to teach myself all about the history of the U.K. in all its many complicated parts, and I did take a class in it's political system but there are some days when this old yank just doesn't get it. I hope I haven't offended anyone. I've got to stop adding these little post scripts…

  6. "Fawning sycophants, ring kissing, and blind obedience just aren't in our culture and nature."
    I do not fawn sycophants, I do kiss rings, and obedience is the one thing, as Fr Barnes states, which is terribly lacking in Anglicanism today. Now, blind obedience is what TEC requires of its members, for the consequences of not having it is there for every one to see. The "Obey blindly or …" enforcers in TEC are many, alert, and merciless. So, the Ordinariate is the place to be. Thanks be to God and His servant Benedict XVI.

  7. Along the lines with Robert, and FWIW, I kind of minored in English history at college, concentrated on the Stuart period. In honor of this great weekend, and combining both interests–the royal wedding and the beatification of John Paul the Great, I would just note an interesting tidbit: two of the four official patrons of the Society of King Charles the Martyr (of which I am a life member–perhaps other here would like to join?), Lord Nicholas Windsor and Fr. Jean-Marie Charles-Roux, IC, are Catholics. See http://www.skcm.org/welcome.html. Best to everyone on this great weekend.

  8. Hi Guys,

    Great to see so many prominent folks here. :)

    It's definitely an uphill task to lead the Church for Benedict XVI. The liberals are not making things easy for him. They are ever eager to embarrass the Holy Father and the Church before the press and media.

    Revivalism of Catholicism is taking place. The movement is different from country to country. In its most basic form, it's the resurgence in tradition beginning from liturgy. Catholic Churches that dearly hold traditional liturgy close to their hearts have congregations that are more vibrant and high church attendances. The Ordinariate is definitely a step in the right direction. The history of Catholicism is strewn with examples of newly established groups that renew the Church.

    There will always be doubters and skeptics to the Ordinariate. Remember, not too long ago, many have said that such a concept was never going to happen. Well, the Papal Bull, Anglicanorum Coetibus, has shown us otherwise.

    Will the American Ordinariate be established? I remain hopeful and believe it will. I urge patience here. Remember, the challenges in establishing an Ordinariate are different across countries. I believe the reception will be most hostile in England and Wales as it is the birthplace of Anglicanism. Many English Anglicans see the Ordinariate as an afront to the Church of England.

    May the Ordinariate enrich and revitalize all of us through its patrimony. More importantly, may it serve as a beacon of light and hope to all Anglicans doubters and skeptics. AMDG.

  9. Can everyone just ignore Herb, please? He appeared here a few months ago and has never had anything good to say about the Catholic church or Anglicanorum Coetibus.
    He seems to be just a troll, albeit one likely from the Continuum blog school of commenters, so could everybody stop feeding the troll? Thank you. :)

    1. Yes, Herb: we're tired of the old cynicism. We're tired of trying to prove our catholicism as the tide of theological, social, and congregational ambiguities drowns us out. We seek objective Truth, in our journey toward unity with the greater Catholic Church. We have little time for the foolishness.

      Herb, are you comfortable with your spirituality, and with your present expression of the faith? Believe me! On our journey, in the past year, TEC, the "continuers," and all the other nonsense that goes with it, seems long ago and far away.

      Please be more charitable and objective in your comments ?!!

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