Terry Mattingly

Terry Mattingly

As always, rumors swirled around the favorites in the 2002 race to become the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.

Efforts to derail Bishop Michael Nariz-Ali of Rochester were different, in part because he was born in Pakistan – fluent in Urdu and Farsi – and was poised to become the first non-white leader of the Church of England. Others noted that he attended Catholic schools as a boy and practiced that faith.

Progressives warned that Nazir-Ali was too conservative on issues dividing Anglicans. He opposed the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians, while defending ancient teachings on marriage. He was a fierce critic of Sharia law and “radical Islam,” while defending persecuted Christians around the world Most of all, critics noted that he was a strong evangelical leader in the global Anglican Communion.

Nazir-Ali insisted that he was “evangelical and Catholic,” even as he lost his shot at the Throne of Canterbury.

That’s the same label that he used when he stunned the Anglican world by announcing that he was returning to Roman Catholicism. He is expected to be ordained as a Catholic priest this Sunday (Oct. 30), serving in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a canonical structure established in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI that allows Anglicans to enter Catholicism while retaining many Anglican rites and traditions. The 72-year-old Nazir-Ali is married and has two children.

This move was necessary “because I believe that the traditional Anglican desire to adhere to the fullness of apostolic, patristic and conciliar teaching can now best be maintained in this way,” the former bishop announced.

Writing in The Daily Mail, he called the decision a “bittersweet moment.”

“Bitter, because I am deeply saddened that the Church of England is not the church I joined. There are many individual parishes, priests, and believers who remain committed to biblical faith and values. But as an institution it seems to be losing its way,” he said. “Sweet, because I am excited about the opportunities that joining the ordinariate will bring: to uphold human rights and help millions of suffering Christians and others round the world.”

Another major factor was his years of experience in global dialogues between Canterbury and Rome, Nazir-Ali explained, appearing on the “Al Kresta in the Afternoon” program on Ave Maria Radio. Even as significant theological agreements were being reached, the U.S. Episcopal Church and some other Anglican provinces were “undermining them by behaving in ways that were opposite to the spirit of the agreements and sometimes the letter of them,” said Nazir-Ali.

Anglicanism’s current crisis, he concluded, is rooted in an “inability to make decisions together that affect everyone that then stick, as it were.” Thus, “when push comes to shove” there is no common authority on how to interpret scripture and defend church traditions.

This is crucial, he said, since “we are facing, in our world, numerous daily issues where the faithful need guidance, to be told which is the way of the Gospel.”

Ironically, bitter disputes between liberal Catholics in Europe, especially Germany, and conservative Catholics in the Global South, especially Africa, resemble the conflicts that have rocked Anglicanism for decades, noted an evangelical Anglican activist who has followed Nazir-Ali’s work for many years.

“Yes, Anglicanism has seen better its better day, and will again. Roman Catholicism has seen its better day, and we pray that it will see a better day again,” noted Kevin Kallsen, host of the Anglican Unscripted video podcasts. “But you can’t trade Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism and say you’re seeking a more pure religion – more pure doctrine, a more pure church.” Rome may be purer “on paper,” he insisted, but “in practice” that isn’t the reality, at this point in church history.

It’s true that, in the days ahead, liberals and conservatives in both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church may debate the importance of this leap of faith by Nazir-Ali, said broadcaster Al Kresta, reached by telephone.

“But one thing is certain,” stressed Kresta. “This man is more than a defender of the faith. He has been a hero to evangelicals and a lion fighting for the rights of believers around the world who have suffered for the faith. Michael Nazir-Ali has been out there attacking the gates of hell, not standing safely on the sidelines.”

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