BY ANNA ARCO
THE FORMER Anglican bishop of London who was received into Catholicism after the Church of England voted to ordain women priests has died.
Mgr Graham Leonard, who was the highest-ranking Church of England clergyman to become a Catholic after the General Synod of 1992 vote, died on January 6, aged 88. He was “conditionally ordained” a priest in the Catholic Church in 1994.
Most of Mgr Leonard’s life was lived in the Church of England, where he was a n Anglican bishop for almost 30 years. He was an outspoken and controversial figure, emerging as the leader of the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church of England and in the battle against the ordination of women priests. He garnered criticism within his own ranks for agreeing to ordain women deacons, which many saw as the first step towards the ordination of women.
Dr William Oddie, the former editor of The Catholic erald, said: “Mgr Leonard was a great leader of the Anglo-Catholic Movement in the years leading up to the General Synod vote. He was very loyal to the Church of England, which he believed had a Catholic identity, and it was only when the Church of England decided it was a different institution that he became a Catholic. He felt that the Church of England didn’t have the right to ordain women priests.” After the vote of the Synod, he felt that Anglo-Catholics were left with three options, either to join the continuing churches, which had broken from the Anglican Communion, to become Eastern Orthodox or to join the Catholic Church. In an article for The Catholic Herald in 1992 he made it clear that joining the Catholic Church was the only choice for bishops. But he called for the “Roman Option”, which was similar to the recent Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which provides a canonical structure for groups of Anglicans coming into full communion with Rome.
He said: “This we would have to do as supplicants and without presumption, asking if a way can be found for us somehow to preserve our Anglican identity while being in communion with the see of Peter.” As soon as the General Synod passed the vote on the ordination of women priests Mgr Leonard, then Bishop of London, met Cardinal Basil Hume, a friend, to discuss the situation. With the “Roman Option” he hoped that AngloCatholics could be received into the Church while retaining their own identity in terms of their heritage and their liturgy. He also visited Rome in November 1992 to discuss the plan with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but plans for the Roman option were shelved.
Fr Ian Ker, an expert on the 19th century’s most famous Anglican convert, Cardinal John Henry Newman, prepared Mgr Leonard for reception into the Church. Cardinal Hume received him into the Church in his private chapel. Fr Ker celebrated the Mass.
Born in 1921, the son of an evangelical vicar, he attended Monkton Combe school and was subsequently educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Botany and took a shortened wartime degree, and moved from the evangelical to the AngloCatholic wing of the Church of England. He was also commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. In 1943 he married Priscilla Swann, a brilliant fellow student from the Oxford botany school. It was a marriage of great and enduring happiness.
He trained for the Anglican priesthood at Westcott House in Cambridge and became a curate in 1947. Following two more curacies he became the vicar of Ardleigh, where he served for three years. In the mid-1950s he was appointed director of religious education of the diocese of St Albans and later became a residentiary canon of the cathedral. During this period he became known as a defender of church schools and rose to prominence.
In 1964 he became suffragan Bishop of Willesden. While Mgr Leonard was at Willesden the Church of England and the Methodist Church were in the midst of negotiations for a reunion. Mgr Leonard was troubled by the theological problems such a reunion might have and opposed the proposals on those grounds.
He was appointed Bishop of Truro in the early 1970s. He was a member of the Anglican Orthodox International Doctrine Commission, coun selled the Archbishop of Canterbury on foreign relations and was chairman of the Board of Social Responsibility in 1976, Mgr Leonard became Bishop of London in 1981 amid controversy, where 70 per cent of parishes and clergy were in favour of his appointment but the suffragan bishops and the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral opposed him. Margaret Thatcher chose him over the other candidate and he held the see of London for 10 years. He resigned when he was 70.
Mgr Leonard’s funeral will take place at the Oxford Oratory on Thursday. A Memorial Requiem will be held at Westminster Cathedral on February 16 at 11am.