Depressing Article by Digby Anderson

This month’s edition of “new directions”, the magazine of Forward in Faith, publishes a fundamentally dismal article by Digby Anderson, entitled “Disillusion and departure”. Fr. Anderson makes two basic points in his article. The first is that, as he puts it, disillusionment with the CofE is experienced by Anglo-Catholics as “part of their patrimony“. You might think that this statement in itself is defeatist enough, i.e. that there is not and never has been a logical future for Anglo-Catholicism in the CofE.

But he goes on to say that to his mind there is no natural home for Anglo-Catholics in any church. Not only does he equate the diocesan Catholic Church and the Ordinariate on the one hand with the separatist, if not heretical, SSPX on the other hand, but goes on to list the various Orthodox churches, the Old Catholics and the Continuing churches as apparently equivalent alternatives. And as a criterion of choice he appears even to raise practicality above principle.

There follow some excerpts from Fr. Anderson’s article,the complete text of which can be found here.

“Disillusion and departure are integral parts of Anglo-Catholic tradition. The Movement started in 1833, 181 years ago. By 1842, just nine years later, Newman, disillusioned, retired from it. Since then a succession of prominent members have experienced disillusion, like him, not with the faith but the church, and left. Those who are disillusioned today experience it as part of their patrimony. …”

“For those who wish to leave, there is a wider choice of destinations. There is Rome Central but also Rome Ordinariate and the Romeish SSPX. There are Greek, Russian, Serbian, Antiochian and other Orthodox Churches, Old Catholics and Continuing Churches. Many are valid if irregular. They may not all be practical destinations but their validity makes it impossible for conscientious catholics not to consider them. …”

“But what role should practicality play in choice? Should it not be principled as Newman’s was? Every disillusioned member will have some personal circumstance which he ought to consider, or should he?” For instance, should married couples try to be members of the same church? What about financial implications or change of address and responsibilities to older family members? …”

Interestingly he then asks:

“Who could you go to today for informed advice? …”

In his next section he proceeds to dismantle the Catholic Church, to try to rule it out as an alternative – not, as one might fear, because it is too papist or Unenglish, but because it is too liberal, And he takes the Popes as his principal witnesses:

“Pope Benedict was definite about the nature of the decadence affecting the modern church in Europe. It affected his church too. It was a problem of the decadence of European Christendom. It was specially manifest in the desacralization of the liturgy but also in the church’s “impurity” – he called for a smaller purer church. And other popes have talked of evil at the heart of the church.”

“… so many of their churches have the same infantilized liturgy as ours. So many of their bishops trot out the same soft-left secular welfarism as ours. They look like ours, they sound like ours, sigh and simper like ours. They, like ours, have stood by while governments dismantle the family. Though they maintain traditional marriage discipline in church, they do so half-heartedly and congregations are full of lone parents.”

He then accuses the Catholic Church of lacking in “sacramental conviction”:

“They may have technical sacramental assurance but there is little sacramental conviction. Which is worse; to lose sacramental truth or to have it on the altar and turn your back on it while you affirm community values and be there for people where they are.”

And, of course, Pope Francis is guilty of “impulsive liberal impulses”:

“There are currently murmurs from the Orthodox, very quiet because distant and under-reported, about some of the current pope’s impulsive liberal impulses on morality.”

Apparently for reasons of “ecumenical etiquette” Fr. Anderson does not go on to criticise the other churches. He would have done well to have used the same reserve in his biassed and unjust comments about the Catholic Church.

By its nature, the Catholic Church possesses a doctrinal stability, which, whilst not stifling theological or liturgical discussion, makes it clear what is the deposit of faith and what not. Pope Benedict would be justifiably offended to be named as a witness for excluding the current Catholic Church – with all its faults – from the alternatives open to an Anglo-Catholic. And most certainly the structure which he created for precisely this clientele, the Personal Ordinariates, can hardly be accused of “infantilized liturgy”, “soft-left secular welfarism”, “half-heartedly maintaining traditional marriage discipline”, lacking in “sacramental conviction”,  even neglecting the sacrament on the altar. What absolute nonsense!

I am reluctant to invite Anglo-Catholics to leave an Anglican Church in which they feel at home, however difficult their situation might be, and I am personally distressed when disillusionment takes hold of them and causes them to question their allegiance to their church.

However, it fills me with dismay that an Anglo-Catholic should not wish to remain an Anglo-Catholic, even in his new ecclesiastical home. The move from Catholic Anglican to Anglican Catholic is not enormous and is totally logical, moving from disarray and disunity into “Unity in diversity”, from doctrinal chaos into magisterial stability. Are the Ordinariates not the obvious home for those who treasure both their catholicity and their Anglican heritage and who wish to bring that patrimony into communion with the Universal Church?

It is derisive to refer to disillusion as Anglo-Catholic patrimony. Fr. Anderson would do well to reflect again on his conclusions.

David Murphy

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6 Responses to Depressing Article by Digby Anderson

  1. Joseph Golightly says:

    Bitter and twisted he lives in a 1930s Anglican Church. How on earth he can make throw away comments about the Catholic Church is amazing. I wonder how often he attends churches other than the one he ministers in?

  2. sottocapo says:

    I am a convert to Catholicism and although English I really know very little about the Anglican church. But when I started to explore the possibility of whether God was real I wanted to explore that question in the Catholic church because even being completely outside the church and knowing nothing about it I found something very attractive about it. I also saw it as being “the real deal” whatever that meant. The Anglican church on the other hand gave out a very vague and confused message and it was not attractive to me. When I read these comments from Fr. Anderson what strikes me is an incoherence. I don’t get a clear message of the Gospel from him and his reasoning is confused. The Catholic church certainly has it’s problems but in every parish I have ever belonged to there have always been many holy people, including priests and a real devotion to Jesus. We can also pick up a Catechism and read clearly what the church teaches on every issue.

    I just pray that Fr. Anderson is given the faith to see the beauty of the church and know how welcome he would be. I think it is unkind to call him “bitter and twisted” to me he is lost and obviously searching and I pray that he comes and joins us as a brother in Christ.

  3. Harry says:

    I’ve re-read Fr Anderson’s article in ND and find it sad and nihilistic, I must admit that I was surprised at its inclusion, but at first reading hadn’t fully grasped the full extent of his disillusion. I think it’s uncharitable to refer to him as bitter and twisted, I can’t comment however on the nature of the Anglican Church in 1930 as I’m very much a post-WW2 baby boomer. let’s hope that Fr Anderson and others like him find a way forward from this very depressing situation.

    • Rev22:17 says:


      You wrote: I’ve re-read Fr Anderson’s article in ND and find it sad and nihilistic, I must admit that I was surprised at its inclusion, but at first reading hadn’t fully grasped the full extent of his disillusion.

      Yes, this discourse reminds me of Beckett’s play, En Attendant Godot (“Waiting for Godot”) in which two pathetic characters are awaiting the arrival of an individual by that name.

      But perhaps Fr. Anderson is trying his best to play a very difficult hand. I suspect that those in charge of Forward in Faith (FIF) are probably scraping to keep members from departing from the Church of England and from the ranks of FIF. Asking someone to write an article addressing their despair and disillusion over recent developments within the Church of England (CoE) seems like a reasonable recourse in such a situation. This particular article, although pathetic, is probably about the best that its author can do under the present circumstances.

      The reality, however, is that this article may well backfire, bringing many of those in whom it strikes a chord to their senses and motivating them to explore other options, including the ordinariates, more closely.


      • Harry says:

        Yes, I used to be a member of FiF which is now closely associated with ‘The Society’ (SSWSH). I still read ND online but it’s very different from what it used to be, the demise of 30 Days was a particular loss. Now ND, along with ‘Together’ seems very much more directed towards the view of trying to live alongside the decision of the General Synod regarding women in the episcopate, while still regarding itself as representing the catholic movement in the Church of England. I can’t really understand their point of view, but I don’t think this is the place to discuss that. One interpretation of the article, as you suggest, is to dissuade people from leaving the C of E by painting a depressing picture of the alternatives, you could say it’s a case of ‘the devil you know….’ but as you say it could well misfire. I remember Waiting for Godot from many years ago, in defeated me then and still does so your reference goes above my head, but thanks for trying.

  4. John Pursaill says:

    Oh dear, I thought Christianity was about love and self-sacrifice. I wonder if this is the same Digby Anderson I knew teaching at Luton College in in the late 60s and early 70s. If so it is sad that he has come to such a pass. But perhaps there is another side to him. The Digby Anderson I knew had considerable wit, humour and flamboyance even if, also, some rather outrageous opinions towards the extreme right of the spectrum.

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