Damian Thompson reports this morning that Mgr. Graham Leonard has died. I never moved in the Anglo Catholic circles of Graham Leonard, but came to know him well after we both found ourselves in the Catholic church in the mid 1990s. By then Mgr. Leonard had retired as the Anglican Bishop of London and had been received into the Catholic Church. He kindly contributed a chapter to my first book, a collection of conversion stories called The Path to Rome. The book has become a best seller in England, being re printed every year since it’s publication.
Like John Henry Newman, Mgr. Leonard was from an Evangelical home. As a young man he would get involved in ‘beach missions’–Anglican evangelical enterprises in which college kids would hit the beaches with flannel graph boards, Bible story books and games to entertain and evangelize kids on vacation. He eventually heard the master’s call to ‘come up higher’ and became and Anglo Catholic, rising to be Bishop of Willesdon, then Bishop of Truro in Cornwall, and finally Bishop of London.
When he considered becoming a Catholic he recounted to me his conversation with Cardinal Basil Hume: Graham Leonard argued that he wanted to bring along with him all the important elements of the Anglican patrimony. Cardinal Hume asked what those would be specifically. “What elements of Anglicanism would you wish to bring in that are not already part of Catholicism or which you would not be able to practice within Catholicism?” Mgr. Leonard said he was stumped. While there were things from the Anglican patrimony that he wished to share with Catholics that was already possible. What Catholicism excluded Mgr. Leonard wished also to exclude. Mgr. Leonard took the rather pragmatic view that as a priest everything worthy within Anglicanism would be available to him within Catholicism. I agree.
He was famously ordained as a Catholic priest conditionally. He had convinced Cardinal Ratzinger that his orders (which had been cross fertilized by through the Old Catholic succession) were ‘valid enough’ for there to be some doubt. Mgr. Leonard would recount with a twinkle in his eye that Cardinal Ratzinger said to him, “I won’t say that you’re not a priest.”
My own memories of Mgr. Leonard are of a warm hearted and courteous English gentleman priest of the old school. He always had a kind word for everyone. I never saw an ounce of snobbishness or arrogance in him. In addition to his wordly accomplishments he was most of all a holy man–a lover of God and of his fellow man. May he rest in peace.