Friday, January 8, 2010

Monsignor Graham Leonard R.I.P.

"A new Athanasius" is how we referred to Graham Leonard in the 1980s during the heat of the battle over the purported ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. He visited Australia (including the Diocese of Ballarat), and inspired many of us in our attempt to maintain Christian orthodoxy in the face of the so-called "liberal" movements besetting the Anglican world.

The best obituary so far is in The Times (see below).

Fr Hunwicke speaks for so many when he says on his blog:
"I doubt whether very many bishops, of whatever Church, will, upon their deaths, elicit such an avalanche of heart-felt tributes as will Graham Leonard, Bishop in the Church of God . . . There will be very many priests, both present and former Anglicans, all over England who will be saying his Requiem with the prayers pro defuncto episcopo."

Go HERE to download a pdf of Let God be God, the booklet on feminism and inclusive language Graham Leonard authored with Peter Toon and Iain MacKenzie back in 1989.

The Right Rev Mgr Graham Leonard:
Bishop of London, 1981-91
Graham Leonard wanted above all to be a teacher and a pastor, and so he was.
Circumstances also made him a bishop at the battlefront during the 40 bitter years when the Oxford Movement seemed finally to be unravelling.

Graham Douglas Leonard was born in 1921, son of a liberal evangelical vicar, but educated in strict evangelical fashion at Monkton Combe, where he learnt the loyalty, honesty and straight thinking that made him the man he later became. In 1940 he went to Oxford and read botany at Balliol. He took a shortened wartime degree course before being commissioned in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. At new year 1943 he married Priscilla Swann, a brilliant fellow-student from the Oxford botany school. It was a marriage of great and enduring happiness.

During duty at courts martial he began to understand the workings of law. Unlike many bishops he was never cowed by lawyers and regarded them with a detached smile. After the war he went to Westcott House, Cambridge, where he applied his scientific training to theology. By now he had a fully developed Catholic faith, but in 1947 he was ordained as curate to a middle-of-the-road Cambridge parish, where many of the parishioners worked in the Pye Radio factory. Moving quickly through two rural curacies, he became vicar of Ardleigh in 1952.

Three years later Bishop Gresford Jones made him director of education for St Albans Diocese.

From 1958 he was also secretary of the Church of England Board of Education Schools Council, establishing a concern for education that would later lead him to serve the Church with distinction in the General Synod and in the House of Lords. In 1962 he became Archdeacon of Hampstead and two years later, at the age of 43, Bishop of Willesden.

For the next nine years he was effectively Bishop of North London. Bishops were then still experimenting with ways of getting closer to their people, and Leonard worked out a pattern of pastoral visiting that he maintained throughout his career. All of Wednesday from lunchtime onwards was spent in one parish, and all of Sunday until lunch was over was spent in another. The Eucharist was the central point of each visit, and most confirmations took place at these eucharists. The bishop was no longer a visitor for special occasions but maintained constant personal connections throughout the diocese. Ordinary lay people felt they knew him well.

He actively promoted the division of the unwieldy London diocese into three area bishoprics. Personable and capable, he was also in demand for chairmanships, not least of the Mothers’ Union’s discussions about its response to the emerging revolution in family life. This particular work he found exacting and finally disappointing, because the discussions concluded with decisions that gave impetus to the Church of England’s relaxation of its marriage disciplines.

Anglo-Catholics quickly took him as their spokesman in the debate on Anglican-Methodist union that dominated the Church of England in the late 1960s. The most serious flaw in the scheme was its ambiguity about the unification of the Anglican and Methodist ministries. The formula proposed for this action was deliberately unclear as to whether or not the Methodist ministers were being ordained anew as Anglican priests. Leonard pointed out that this called into question wider theological issues — a point that eventually proved to be the rock on which the scheme foundered in May 1972.

Feelings ran very high and some angrily gave him more blame than he was due. Growing into Unity, the book he wrote with his old friend Eric Mascall and the two leading evangelicals, J. D. Packer and Colin Buchanan (later Bishop of Woolwich), was given less attention than it deserved, though it sowed some of the seeds that contributed to the Churches Together movement that is now bearing fruit.

Cornwall was famous for its Methodist majority so there were some critics of Leonard’s appointment as Bishop of Truro in 1973. They need not have worried. He quickly built warm relations with Cornwall’s Methodists, who responded to his vigorous scriptural and spiritual teaching, and enjoyed the respect he gave them. Few diocesan bishops can have met local Methodist leaders so often.

This was perhaps the happiest time in his life as a bishop. He responded enthusiastically to all that was “Celtic” (the word was still acceptable among historians at that time) in the Duchy. He created an ecumenical advisory group to encourage use of the Cornish language in public worship.

Yet he never completely accepted the cult of “Celtic spirituality” and, though he saw its benefits for the tourist industry, he was well aware that there was no evidence for it in Cornish sources. The Cornish responded warmly to his habit of pointing himself and others straight to God: Leonard’s Cornwall was a prayerful diocese. His personal religion had a distinct charismatic element, most evident in his care for charismatics and those with charismatic gifts, especially healers.

Truro had much in common with other rural dioceses at the edges of England. It had never expected to be a trailblazer, and clergy stipends were depressingly low. One of Leonard’s first objectives was to bring them up to the national average. Some regarded this as an unrealistic challenge, but he quickly succeeded and so cemented his unity with his clergy families.

In the days of “Sheffield figures” — the first attempt to ration clergy numbers according to local need — he strove to get recognition of the vastly different needs of summer and winter populations in Cornwall, but the point scarcely registered in Westminster.

Leonard was surprisingly well read in poetry, and delighted in cats and children. Yet he and Priscilla were no more than moderately happy in Lis Escop, the see house. It had been built during the 1960s in a beautiful setting above the Fal at Trelissick, but was glumly designed, more like an institution than a home and hard to reach, seven miles outside the city and a long walk from a country bus stop. Priscilla nevertheless produced a worthy Cornish garden, and they both enjoyed finding rare fungi and orchids in the woods, which rang with happiness when the grandchildren arrived. He revelled in music, especially Elgar and impromptu recorder consorts.

He overworked shamefully. As chairman successively of the General Synod Boards of Education and (from 1976) of Social Responsibility he had to travel to London on England’s slowest main line.

His stance on ethical questions was always to seek a firm scriptural and theological basis, then produce a moderate expression of traditional principles. His pastoral care in cases of difficulty was deeply compassionate; though he might be exasperated by the ideas of more radical bishops, he often acted very much as they did in specific cases.

His ecumenical involvement also demanded travel. He was a member of the Commission for Anglican/Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions, which he enjoyed, though they were not very productive. In 1975 he attended the fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi as an elected delegate of the Church of England. From 1977 he was closely involved in the ill-fated Covenanting for Unity debates of 1982, when he again became the standard-bearer of Anglo-Catholic reluctance.

He happily ordained women deacons and constantly encouraged women to use their gifts of spiritual direction and theology, but he earned enmity once again for his negative approach to the ordination of women as priests. Only those who were very close to him knew how often and with what agony he reappraised his position. It would have been a relief to him if he could have taken the majority view, and he understood his opponents far better than they thought.

Emotional considerations powerfully fuelled the debate, but both sides had strong rational arguments. For Leonard the most important intellectual argument was fundamentally ecumenical.

As an Anglo-Catholic he could not justify the comparatively small Anglican Communion abandoning its own claim to be regarded as a Catholic Church by ignoring pleas from the great Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which opposed the innovation of women priests. The question dominated every part of church life for two unhappy decades and was not settled until 1992, after Leonard had retired.

Appointment as Bishop of London in 1981 reduced his travelling, but was itself controversial. Though much of the diocese wanted him eagerly, liberals, especially more radical leaders, feared him. There were stories of irregularity about his appointment, but all were denied by Lambeth and Downing Street, and they simmered down before his memorably happy enthronement in St Paul’s.

Now directly responsible for pastoral care of the cities of London and Westminster only, Leonard kept up his regular visits to parishes, never losing touch with the laity. He believed he had also helped the growth of affectionate relationships between the cathedral and the rest of the diocese.

Though he was poles apart in theology from Alan Webster, the Dean of St Paul’s, they developed a personal relationship that led the bishop to boast he was the first Bishop of London to be given the key of the cathedral back door. His appointments, as at Truro, continued to surprise. They were often impulsive, sometime brilliant, sometimes disappointing, rarely dull.

His house was very close to the House of Lords. He enjoyed his duties there, though he began to tire of the flummery. He had sympathy for the Conservative Government, but surprised many by opposing it on housing and on the fate of the Greater London Council. His theological view would always override any purely political allegiance. In discussions on the Education Act he played a leading part in solving questions about religious education, for which he was much praised in Church and Parliament, although he was attacked for giving too much respect to non-Christian religions.

Some of his closest friends were perplexed by the Tulsa Affair in 1988. A priest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who claimed that the American Episcopal Church had ejected him because of his traditional theology, asked Leonard for episcopal care. Leonard’s response was negative at first, but within a year he was convinced that there had been an injustice.

Since the congregation had been dismissed from the Episcopal Church, Leonard thought he was free to act. He met the Bishop of Oklahoma, who thought otherwise. Leonard proposed to go to Tulsa and confirm some candidates who had been prepared for that sacrament. The Archbishop of Canterbury showed distress, but gave no decision. Leonard conducted the confirmation. Nothing further happened; but the essential fragility of Anglican unity had shown itself.

At 70 Leonard retired from London to his house in Witney, Oxfordshire.

Meanwhile, the liberalisation of the Church of England showed every sign of going farther. Once off the battlefield, he could view the situation more dispassionately. He had been reading revisionist historians of the Reformation and, though convinced of the validity of his own ordinations, he began to reassess the fundamental theory of Anglo-Catholicism. He concluded that Anglicanism was not an ecclesial organism, and could never be other than a Tudor political device. In 1993 he became the first diocesen bishop of the Church of England to “cross the Tiber”.

Several hundred Church of England priests were for similar reasons poised to take the same route, or had already taken it. Few were directly influenced by him; his part in the acceptance of many of them for Catholic ordination was probably more important. As Bishop of London he had long been a friend of Cardinal Hume, who now stimulated Rome to positive action.

These priests were ordained unconditionally, but Leonard himself was ordained conditionally, with due regard to the Old Catholic element in the ordination pedigree of modern Church of England bishops. The ordination took place in the chapel of Archbishop’s House, Westminster, early in 1994.

Despite his residence in Oxfordshire, he had the status of a retired priest of the Westminster archdiocese. Cardinal Ratzinger became something of a friend. Leonard was quickly immersed in a hefty programme of talks and retreat addresses in various countries.

His teaching was if anything more appreciated than it had been in the happiest of his Anglican years. Like most others who entered the Catholic priesthood from the Church of England at that time, he was soon talking of his new sense of liberation.

In 2001 he was made a Prelate of Honour with the style of Monsignor, in recognition of many years’ service to the Christian religion in England.

Soon afterward his health began to falter. Although he had ceased travelling, and did less work outside local parishes, he retained his many friends and was serenely content.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

The Right Rev Monsignor Graham Leonard, Bishop of London, 1981-91, was born on May 8, 1921. He died on January 6, 2010, aged 88.


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