Dr. Gavin Ashenden will be received into the Church just before Christmas.
Just weeks after the canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century Anglican theologian who became a Catholic, an Anglican bishop who once served as a chaplain to the Queen of England announced that he will be received into the Catholic Church.
Dr. Gavin Ashenden, who has had a rocky relationship with the Church of England over women’s ordination and its stand on cultural issues, will be received into the Church on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury will perform the ceremony at Shrewsbury Cathedral.
Ashenden, who will become a layman when he becomes Catholic, told Aleteia that Bishop Davies has asked the Vatican for permission “to bestow priestly orders on me.”
“So I enter the Church unconditionally as a lay theologian and wait for the discernment” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said.
According to the Catholic Herald, Ashenden said he was “helped in his conversion by taking up the Rosary and by looking into Eucharistic miracles.”
“The fact that [the miracles] were unknown amongst those who celebrated the Anglican version of the Eucharist, carries obvious implications,” he said.
Ashenden also cited his deep conviction that the Catholic Church is the only alternative to the tyranny of “cultural Marxism.”
In a December 19 essay in the Catholic Herald, he recounted how in the early 1980s, as a young Anglican priest, he smuggled Bibles, books, and medicine into communist Czechoslovakia for Orthodox and Catholics.
“My trips to Prague in particular involved carrying suitcases of theological books to furnish an underground Catholic seminary so that priests could continue to be trained and ordained despite a ban on ordinations in the state-controlled Catholic Church,” he wrote. “The underground Catholic Church there was the only organized and ideological alternative to totalitarianism. … Little did I know that my experiences of the underground Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia would act as a catalyst and an example to bring me to my true spiritual home.”
He said that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the freeing of Eastern Europe was not the end of Marxism. Under a different form cultural or neo-Marxism, is “driving what most people know as the irritant of political correctness,” he said. “It is more than an irritant, it is a new assault on liberal democracy and the Christian Church.
It has recently begun to discriminate against Christian beliefs and attempts to silence Christian voices in the media, workplace and the public square. What began as a campaign against wearing the cross at work has shifted gear to the exclusion of Christians from media, politics and public service.
Ashenden studied Law at Bristol University before studying for the priesthood. He trained at Oak Hill Theological College in London and was ordained by Bishop Mervyn Stockwood in Southwark Cathedral in 1980. After postgraduate study in the Psychology of Religion with the Jesuits at Heythrop College in the University of London, he completed a doctorate on the life and work of the Oxford Inkling, Charles Williams, and subsequently published Alchemy and Integration: A study of the Life of writing of Charles Williams. He spent 23 years at the University of Sussex as a senior lecturer and senior chaplain, lecturing in the Psychology of Religion and Literature, and convening an MA program in Monotheist Mysticism. During this period he presented a weekly Faith and Ethics radio program for four years on the BBC. He also become Presenter of the the international Faith & Ethics podcast.
He wrote in the Herald article that at the university he had become a sympathizer for progressive causes, but felt a growing unease.
“Behind the progressive value system there was emerging a determination to promote the twin and related evils of thought-crime and the ending of the freedom of speech,” he wrote. “University culture is (or was) about 10 to 15 years ahead of life on the outside, and I saw that this secular ‘crusade’ against the faith would soon spread throughout our liberal democracy, and at stake was freedom of speech, freedom to believe, and freedom to evangelize and to worship.”
In each generation Christianity has to either convert its surrounding culture or be converted by it. The history of the West is the history of this struggle. As an Anglican I believed for some time that I had the advantage of working out my faith in a broad Church, which gave me plenty of room for exploring. That may have been the case until Anglicanism began a sudden capitulation to the increasingly intense and non-negotiable demands of a secular culture. I watched as Anglicanism suffered a collapse of inner integrity and as it swallowed wholesale secular society’s descent into a post-Christian culture. Above all, in the redefinition of “love.” This involved a replacement of the values of self-sacrificial compassion with a culture of growing narcissism. It was associated with a narrowing concentration of view that restricted itself to seeing humanity through the lens of categories of power, the redistribution of power and so-called privilege.
Instead of confronting this “demolition of Christian culture,” he said, his Church “sought to placate it.”
All the Churches in the West face the same challenge. Some friends have warned me that I will not find the grass any greener on the Catholic side of the fence. Of course I won’t. The Catholic Church faces exactly the same spiritual, cultural and political crisis. But pilgrimage is not about comfort, it is about truth and integrity.
Ashenden was a member of the General Synod of the Church of England for 20 years. In 2008 he was appointed a Chaplain to the Queen. He spent a number of years as a member of the ecumenical priestly fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus (Charles de Foucauld). He resigned his chaplaincy to the Queen in 2017 after criticizing a service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow which included a reading from the Quran denying Christ’s divinity.
“He left the Church of England that same year to become a bishop in the Christian Episcopal Church, a breakaway group of traditionalist Anglicans,” the Catholic Herald said. He was convinced that ordaining women to the priesthood and consecrating them bishops represented the implosion of apostolic and biblical order. He explained his decision in this video:
As he gets closer to coming into communion with Rome, he said he is “especially grateful for the example and prayers of St. John Henry Newman,” who “did his best to remain a faithful Anglican and renew his Mother Church with the vigor and integrity of the Catholic tradition.”
“Now, as then, however, his experience informs ours that the Church of England is rooted in the values of secularized culture rather than the bedrock of biblical, apostolic and patristic tradition,” Ashenden told the website Church Militant. “Newman’s experience charts the way to our proper ecclesial home which is built on the Petrine charism in our struggle for salvation and Heaven.”
Ashenden said he’s also been influenced by a 1963 apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to children at Garabandal in Spain. “Curious and skeptical, I was watching the film [of the children during the apparition] with a child psychologist friend who noted that ‘whatever was going on with the children it was essentially real, as ecstasy among children could never be faked.’ And from there I found the whole history of Our Lady’s apparitions beginning with Gregory Thaumaturges in the 3rd century through to Zeitoun in Cairo in 1968 and indeed the present day, deeply compelling. Circumstances brought me a friendship with Abbé René Laurentin, the Catholic Church’s expert on Marian apparitions, and my theological perspective blossomed into a deep dependence on the rosary. Curiously, this was accompanied by an unwanted visitation of metaphysical evil which only the rosary seemed to overcome.”
Bishop Davies told Church Militant it was “very humbling to be able to receive a bishop of the Anglican tradition into Full Communion in the year of the canonization of St. John Henry Newman.”
“It has been a special joy to accompany Gavin Ashenden in the final steps of a long journey to be at home in the Catholic Church,” Davies told the website. “I am conscious of the witness which Ashenden has given in the public square to the historic faith and values on which our society has been built. I pray that this witness will continue to be an encouragement to many.”
Much of Ashenden’s ministry now is found on the internet, where he posts weekly homilies.