28 August 2015, The Tablet

Prominent Welsh priest on why he decided to leave the Catholic Church

A prominent priest in the Diocese of Menevia has announced he is leaving the Catholic Church for the Anglican Communion.

Fr Ceirion Gilbert was a parish priest at Briton Ferry in Neath, director of youth services, chaplain to two secondary schools, secretary to the bishop’s council and in charge of the diocese’s online and social media presence. He is also a fluent Welsh speaker. He has now, however, announced he is to be received into the Church in Wales on 12 October and will continue ordained ministry in the Diocese of Llandaff.

In the letter below he explains why he decided to leave the Catholic Church.

Just above the picturesque village of Llansteffan, nestled on the banks of the beautiful Carmarthen Estuary, lies the ruins of a medieval castle and, just below it, the impressive manor that substituted it when the era of castle strongholds and all that they were needed for passed into history. Since then times have changed again, and when I walk along the beach on the other side of the river and look up at them, they remind me that very little lasts for ever, and that what so often is seen as absolute truth is, in fact, contingent upon so many things - time, especially.

I think that is true for us, as well. If we are honest with ourselves (something that is not always easy) we realise that over time, and formed and trans-formed by experience, even our deepest held convictions and the building-blocks that construct our identity - faith, politics, values, nationhood - evolve and mutate. The fortresses that we once built become obsolete as we need new words and "homes" to accommodate what and who we become. It is never easy, because it involves demolition and re-construction, but (as even the scriptures remind us) there is a time for that, too.

On hearing of my decision to leave the Catholic Church after twenty years - the last ten in ministry as a priest -and continue my priesthood within the Anglican Communion, the reaction of many - friends, parishioners, and others - has been one of overwhelming support and continued friendship, an incarnate " ecumenism" that (as is so often the case) is "ahead" of the official church's position. But there has also been an assumption that I am leaving because I am unhappy, or feel somehow let down by the Roman Catholic Church and my experience of it. Neither, in fact, is true. Of course there have been "ups and downs", as there are for all of us in all walks of life, but I have nothing but fond memories of the communities I have had the privilege of serving, firstly in Italy and then in Wales; communities where I have forged bonds of friendship and faith and where "ordinary" people have taught me something extraordinary about courage, compassion, faith and love, above all. These are the greatest treasures that I carry with me, and that I hope will enrich my future ministry in the Church in Wales. I am also profoundly grateful for what the Roman Catholic Church has given me; a church whose own sacramental theology acknowledges that I am, and always will be, a priest ordained by the Bishop of Padua ten years ago, something for which I will always be grateful and a church that will remain in my prayers and close to my heart.

So why change? Perhaps because in that collision between the Absolute and my story, in that uncomfortable, ever- shifting "messy" space where, however, Grace is revealed and our own very personal Salvation narratives are written, I have come slowly to an awareness of two other truths too, that - for me, at least - are absolute and necessary edifices for my life and ministry to build and become what it should be.

The first is my belief in the profound "one-ness" of the Church; that the church is wherever and whenever in a life or in the life of a community Christ is proclaimed as Lord, and the Paschal Mystery of sacrificial and hence life-nurturing Love proclaimed, not so much in rite and liturgy but in reality and life. The question that will be asked of us before the Gates of he Kingdom of heaven will not be what particular brand of Christianity we belonged to but, surely, the one question that takes different forms in the Gospel stories but remains essentially the same: "Have you loved? Have you been a person of compassion, solidarity, of healing and hope, as you were able, in the places and with the people whose stories touched your own?" Love one another, as I have loved you. Ecumenism is not about doing everything we can do so that "they ( non-Catholics) come back to us" (an interpretation that, sadly, seems still to be in practice that of the Catholic Hierarchy) but is rather about dismantling the unnecessary and obstructive barriers of dogma and definition, history and tradition that have decimated our common home and prevent us from seeing the clarity of that simple but immense and profound truth. We are all disciples, walking in our own ways, in our own time, with our own baggage, and yes with our own styles and differences of expression and language - but together following him, the crucified and risen one. Where he leads us, not where we think we should be going.

And it is him, his words and his life that have led me to that other "truth" that I find defines my life and my choices - and this decision, as well. What is the Church - and ministry and priesthood and liturgy and sacrament- really "for"? What are we here to "do"? It is, I believe, about continuing in history and in the human stories of those entrusted to our care the principle of incarnation; of the liberating and life-giving presence of God that John so wonderfully sings about at the beginning of his Gospel. It's about doing in our lives and as a church precisely what that incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, did in his short life on earth: giving a voice to those who had lost it (or who were being ignored), healing to those who were left to die, hope to those who were in despair, and life "in its fullness" to all who search for it. It's about recognising the profound inalienable dignity of every woman and man without exception and doing what we can so that they can live fulfilled and happy lives. Ultimately, about hearing every voice, discerning every language, bringing together in a common home that wonderful symphonic truth of humankind. And that home for me, today, is within the Anglican Communion, where it does, yes, get cramped, and noisy and "messy". But so often incarnation is.

The edifices of history remain, and - just like the castles of Wales - teach us something, but only if and when we recognise that the world swirling around their feet and rushing past the doors of our Cathedrals and all the structures we build (real and ideal) is constantly changing, constantly searching, constantly re-building its identity and re-evaluating what truth is. It has something to say to us, just as much as what we have to offer it. About life and love, justice and peace, about that fundamental yearning that defines and directs every human heart. To be accepted and acknowledged, to be confirmed in that sacred dignity of each existence. That is the challenge of the church in every age, built on the one certain foundation found not in Rome or Canterbury or Constantinople but in Christ, and his call to build together in the here and now of our history the one, constant, borderless and ageless truth of his Kingdom.

What do you think?


You can post as a subscriber user ...

User comments (15)

Comment by: Ana Mae
Posted: 22/09/2015 01:51:05

Thanks for the time it took to write your article - but small loss.

Comment by: anniemiry
Posted: 19/09/2015 17:35:03

Ceirion Gilbert has displayed an attitude that I find common among modern converts, especially those coming over in the past 30 years or so from Anglicanism.

For many, it is simply like changing one's club: after all we are all the same REALLY aren't we?

As if Anglicanism were another branch of the Catholic Church.

One notices that Fr refers to the 'Roman' Catholic Church and, in expressing gratitude for what the 'Roman' Catholic Church has given him, he leaves her and joins a more congenial group across the road. There seems to be a deep lack of understanding of what the Catholic Church is and claims to be: the one, true Church founded by Jesus Christ.

I am sure that there is a lot more to this story and one is very tempted to use the old adage: 'Cherchez la femme'.

Comment by: Orientstar
Posted: 19/09/2015 08:54:39

I am sorry but I really didn't understand what he was trying to say and I wanted to. I can understand leaving the Catholic Church for Othodoxy - though tough in Wales! But joining the Anglicans? Unless it's the "usual" but that doesn't seem clear. Could The Tablet try first and publish it in Welsh? I would appreciate it and it might be clearer

Comment by: trustnoone
Posted: 15/09/2015 07:32:29

i knew Father Gilbert and an excellent caring principled and inspiring priest he was.
i appreciate his trying to explain why he is leaving the Roman Catholic Church but feel this article does not clearly explain why that is.

As beth says above there may be more to the story but that is none of our business, i wish him well the Anglican church is getting an excellent priest.

Comment by: clairejxx
Posted: 12/09/2015 05:54:35

The paragraph beginning 'The first is my belief in the profound "one-ness" of the Church;...' is beautiful and inspiring.

However, I feel like Beth, there is more to be said.

I speak as one who has recently been received into the Catholic church from the Anglican. I too felt called to move but my identity was a key issue.

I miss women priests but welcome the multiculturalism of the people in the Catholic church.

Comment by: tony laird
Posted: 09/09/2015 16:58:19

I don't want to be unfair to Ceirion Gilbert, and I acknowledge that The Tablet will close this thread soon.

If he wishes to join the Church in Wales, then that is his business, and it is a decision to be respected.

However, if he publicises this choice in a lengthy essay, then it is quite proper to subject his work to the criticism it deserves; if doing so constitutes a "shallow response", then the claimant ought to illustrate where this alleged shallowness lies.

Comment by: Neal Australia
Posted: 05/09/2015 01:10:30

Thank you Ceirion for sharing your story. The risk of sharing at such a deep level is being exposed to shallow responses. I know that the journey through life is far from predictable though, like you, if there is genuine searching God provides food for the journey as only God can.
Thank you again, grow strong in your ministry - Be joyful, keep the faith!!

Comment by: tony laird
Posted: 02/09/2015 17:26:32

Frankly, this is complete rubbish. Look at para 4, for example: "...in that collision between the Absolute and my story, in that uncomfortable, ever-shifting "messy" space where, however, Grace is revealed and our own very personal Salvation narratives are written..."

Nf is unduly generous in offering Ceirion Gilbert an A+. It is not worth a gamma double minus.

Comment by: Professor Michel Lejeune
Posted: 02/09/2015 10:16:59

Surely he goes to length to explain something deeper. But can we really grasp all he says? Is this the bottom line? I do not think there was need to give so much explanation ... just state that you did not feel at ease any longer in the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to leave!

Comment by: Paul Martin
Posted: 02/09/2015 04:08:12

As a Roman Catholic-at-birth, Anglican/Episcopalian later in life and now Roman Catholic, I appreciate the way way he describes the fluid nature of the movement of God's grace and love in his ministry. Perhaps the why is imbedded in the description of God's movement and in the love that has come to him from God's People rather than from a sense of negation. Perhaps it is a movement toward rather than movement away. In any event, God be with you.

Comment by: David Redrobe
Posted: 31/08/2015 17:41:08

I do not understand the suspicious and negative comments so far. I think and perceive that using non "Roman Catholic" reflections, language and openness, Fr Gilbert makes it very clear, in a very sensitive way, why and how his pilgrimage has lead him to move into another expression of the Christian Faith. Ecumenism, which authentically is not a "religious word" but one that has a global meaning, a meaning that has been denigrated by the Church. Ecumenism is not about sucking people into the same mould in order to "save" their souls, as many Conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches would maintain. It is about difference and diversity and although that exists in many universal Christian Communities in a "cramped,messy and often noisy" way, that for me is more exciting and enriching than the ruts of rutualism and dogma that attempts to limit the work of the Spirit in the lives of those women and men, married and gay, who believe they are called to the Priesthood. I wish Fr Ceirion well and I hold him in my prayers. Pax, David.

Comment by: Beth
Posted: 30/08/2015 17:48:11

It is very hard to tell why he left the Catholic Church based on this description. I suspect there's more to the story.

Comment by: nf
Posted: 30/08/2015 07:05:58

Interesting ... He sets out to tell why he left the Catholic Church, writes an excellent essay that deserves an A+ and says nothing. Reminds me of politicians worldwide. A sign of the times I suppose.

Comment by: Beth
Posted: 29/08/2015 20:11:33

This doesn't really answer the question of why he left the Catholic church.

Comment by: Avila Power
Posted: 29/08/2015 05:55:39

Interesting article. What a shame.........

  Loading ...