23 December 2019, The Tablet

Former Queen's chaplain joins Catholic Church

Former Queen's chaplain joins Catholic Church

Gavin Ashenden shares a moment with Pope Francis
Courtesy of Gavin Ashenden

A prominent Anglican clergyman and former chaplain to the Queen, Gavin Ashenden, has been received into the Catholic Church.

In an article for The Tablet he explains: "I am awash with relief, a sense of fully belonging, and with an unashamed sense of the depth, richness and authenticity of the fullness of Catholic faith."

Ashenden, who had also been ordained bishop in a continuing Anglican church after leaving the Church of England, was received by Bishop of Shrewsbury Mark Davies. Now a member of the laity, his bishop has written to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asking for his future to be considered, which could possibly open the door to ordination as a Catholic priest.

Married with grown-up children and a grandson, Ashenden could nevertheless receive special dispensation to become a Catholic priest. Many married former Anglican clergy have been ordained Catholic priests, both through the Ordinariate and through such special dispensation. 

Ashenden, 66, told The Tablet that his journey to Rome had been "straightforward", like being on a moving escalator. He quoted Britain's most famous convert, St John Henry Newman, canonised this year: "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." He said: "The culture has been moving in one direction while I have been moving in the other."

He had been convergent with the Catholic faith for a long time, but needed something extra to make the final leap. "It was probably my local bishop saying, Come and help us." He had also received many emails from other people along similar lines, but thought carefully because, as he puts it, becoming a Catholic is not like joining a team. It involves a major submission to authority. 

"The history of this is that the Church of England has been negotiating the pace of cultural change for 40 to 50 years. This has had a political dimension to it." One of the things he had hoped for back in 2012, when agreement to ordain women bishops was reached, was a third province as a home for "catholic" Anglicans. He was then asked to accept episcopal responsibility in another Anglican body, one outside the Anglican Communion. When he realised that this was not going to lead to a coming-together of like-minded traditionalists and conservative evangelicals, he began once again to consider his future, and where his ecclesial home might lie. 


Gavin Ashenden and Pope Francis

He was looking for stability and coherence. "The only ecclesial outfit that does provide that ecclesial glue through the Magisterium is the Catholic Church."

So what are his views on Pope Francis, described as a reformer Pope?

"That is probably the $64,000 question. But what has he actually changed? The answer is, nothing." He continued: "Whatever the truth is ultimately, I am sufficiently well-read to know that the Church has enjoyed the widest variety of Popes and continues to enjoy the protection of the saints, the angels and the guidance of the Holy Spirit on its journey of faith." 

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