In 1998, four years after he was received into the Catholic Church, Charles Moore had an audience with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He gave the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a copy of an article he had written describing his journey from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
“Rather than just putting it in his pocket and throwing it away he read it on the spot,” he recalls. “It felt like having a tutorial. I mean, he didn’t cross-question me but I was rather embarrassed that this great mind was poring over my words.”
Few Anglican converts, of course, are lucky enough to receive a personal welcome from a future pope. For many, leaving a familiar world of altar rails and embroidered kneelers involves considerable upheaval. That is why Moore has agreed to become a patron of the Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, launched this week to support ordinariate members.
Moore’s patronage is a coup for the Friends. He is, after all, one of Britain’s most respected journalists. He writes three columns a week: two for the Daily Telegraph, one for the Spectator. In his spare time he is working on the second volume of an authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher (both volumes will be released after her death).
When I call Moore he is walking down a London street in what sounds like a gale. The buffeting stops when he turns into what I like to imagine is a cosy gentleman’s club. He explains why he agreed to become a patron of the Friends despite the pressures on his time.
“When people become Catholics, having been Anglican, they do need both spiritual and material help,” he says. “It’s a very good thing therefore that it is being organised and supported.”
Like many writers, Moore seems to think in images. He comes up with a striking one to describe the ordinariate.
“If it’s true that in my Father’s house there are many mansions, there should be a good Anglican mansion, which is Catholic but has Anglican characteristics and where Anglican spirituality can flourish in a Catholic way,” he says.
“Anglicans becoming Catholics find that in practice there hasn’t been anything much. So it’s like arriving in a foreign country and not knowing anyone. Inevitably there’s going to be some of that. But you can do your best to help, not only for their good but for the good of the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church always needs new ideas and new blood however venerable it is.”
Moore sees the ordinariate as Pope Benedict’s attempt to get this new blood pumping through the veins of English Catholicism. He says he was delighted when the ordinariate was unveiled in October 2009 but felt the announcement was botched.
“My gut reaction was that it was a very good idea and long overdue,” he says. “But I thought that it was rather badly handled in the way that it was first presented to the world. It was somehow made to look like an act of theft from the Church of England. I think that was because both sides weren’t fully squared on it.
“It was a good idea to have a joint press conference with the Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury. But there’s no point in having it if you’re not right about it. I don’t know whose fault that was but it was a problem and it created some ill-feeling.”
Moore says that the hostile reaction to the Pope’s initiative was based ultimately on an older misunderstanding.
“One reason that the English tend to be anti-Catholic is that they think it’s anti-English,” he suggests. “This is a mistake. It’s an understandable mistake, however, because of all sorts of things in our history.
“I find it quite amusing that when you talk to a lot of English people they talk about ‘our churches’ as physical buildings. When you point out that they are Catholic, in the sense that that’s when they were built, they do know that as a matter of historical fact but they don’t quite believe it. They think that somehow these churches are expressive of Anglicanism. And of course they are in their liturgy and order but they’re not in their origins.”
Some Catholics were just as unsettled as Anglicans by the ordinariate, but for different reasons. They worried that the newcomers would create a High Church enclave packed with lace-decked married clergy. Moore thinks such fears were misplaced.
“A lot of Anglican traditions obviously are variations of earlier Catholic traditions,” he says. “But sometimes they are good variations. And so if they come back in going the other way round – instead of breaking away at the Reformation, coming back in later on – they shouldn’t be expunged. They should be developed and welcomed.
“How much of Anglicanism is actually, at a deep level, anti-Catholic? I would argue not very much. The dispute is about authority and orders, and it’s a very important dispute. There are elements in the Anglican Church who are very out-and-out Protestant. But nevertheless in the liturgy, most of the attitude to the Bible, the history of the episcopate, a whole range of attitudes and practices, they are like cousins of the Catholic Church, not opponents.”
I wince when I remember the first time I met Moore. He was editor of the Telegraph and I was a young journalist hoping for a break. I arrived at his 11th-floor office in Canary Wharf breathless with anxiety. He came out to talk to his secretary and we shook hands. Then we went into his glass-doored office and, for some reason, I tried to shake hands again.
“Erm, I think we’ve already done that,” he said with a smile. My heart sank. But over the next half hour I was struck by his kindness and patience, as well as the remarkable intelligence behind his intense brown eyes.
Moore has a gold-plated CV: Eton, then Cambridge, followed by the editorship of the Spectator (1984-1990), the Sunday Telegraph (1992-1995) and the Daily Telegraph (1995-2003). He is a graceful and perceptive writer and was the kind of editor who could spot a dangling modifier at a hundred paces. When he hands in his columns they are said to be flawless. (Rumour has it that he once slightly misquoted Virgil in an article lamenting the ignorance of young people – before the error was corrected by someone barely out of their teens. I’m not sure I believe it.)
Moore’s wife, Caroline, is also a writer. She decided not to follow him across the Tiber in 1994 and remains a committed Anglican. “You could say that I’ve been living in a one-household ‘ordinariate’ for the past 15 years,” Moore wrote in 2009. He insists that he and Caroline are “not in a state of militant disagreement” about Church matters.
But to judge from their exchange in the Spectator shortly after the ordinariate’s creation they must have some pretty lively theological discussions. In the article Moore said he hoped that Rome would recognise that the “deeds and prayers” of Anglican clergy were valid, even if their orders were not.
“I could not join a church that taught that George Herbert was no priest,” Caroline shot back.
Moore understandably sympathises with Anglo-Catholics who wish to remain in the Church of England. “It is difficult,” he says. “But really that derives from the ultimate problem which is that the Catholic approach in the Church of England has been under attack via synodal government and church leadership for a long time.
“I think it’s important to recognise that there are two things that happen when you become a Catholic from this Anglican position. One is that you decide that the Anglican position is unsustainable. The second is essentially a separate decision to become a Catholic. It’s natural to think of one and then think of the other, but they are separate decisions.
“While I respect those who remain I do think it’s difficult. It’s very hard to sort it out intellectually.”
In spite of the ordinariate, he argues, there will always be Catholic-minded Anglicans in the Church of England.
“I don’t think Anglo-Catholicism is a spent force,” he says. “It’s almost a cultural characteristic. But I think its place in the C of E is much diminished and is unlikely to recover there.”
Under the ordinariate’s norms it is possible for former Anglicans received into the Catholic Church before 2009 to join the group. Although Moore feels fully at home in the Catholic Church after 17 years, he sounds intrigued by the idea.
“I’d be very interested to know what that involves,” he says.
No doubt there would be much rejoicing in the ordinariate if their influential patron became a fully fledged member.