Should the then Cardinal Bergoglio have advised Tony Palmer to convert to Catholicism? In fact, the more we learn about Tony Palmer, the more interesting the question becomes. He was very involved in joint Catholic-Charismatic renewal and evangelization ministries. Wouldn’t that ministry have been undermined if he became Catholic? Was Cardinal Bergoglio, in this instance, correct in advising him to stay put?
The doctrinaire would say, “The Catholic Church is the one, true Church. Everyone outside it is going to hell and therefore it was wrong to tell Tony Palmer not to convert!” Unfortunately it’s not always that easy. Sometimes it is better, for all sorts of reasons, for a person to stay where they are. Those of us who work with converts–especially clergy converts–(and I get about two or three emails a month from clergy thinking of converting) realize that for family, faith and financial reasons immediate conversion is not always the answer. If a person is moving towards the Catholic faith we meet the person where they are and walk with them on that journey. It took me twenty years to finally take the step to become a Catholic.
Therefore one can’t judge Cardinal Bergoglio’s call with Tony Palmer.
What I can do, however, is say what converting to the Catholic Church rather than remaining an Anglican did for me.
Firstly, it gave me clarity of vision. In the Anglican Church all was a muddle of relativism and personal opinion. Once I became a Catholic things began to move in a positive direction. My mission, my calling and my beliefs were clear enough that I could engage in mission with much more enthusiasm and purpose.
When I spoke to Tony Palmer on Skype in early July he told me he was already Catholic, but that the Pope had told him to wait and keep on doing what he was doing, that it was better for him to remain outside the Church for now. Something to that effect. It kind of went with his telling the participants at the Kenneth Copeland conference they were all Catholics since the joint Lutheran Roman Catholic Statement on Justification of 1999.
I had to go talk with my spiritual director about all of this. I loved Tony Palmer, but I was not sure about whether he fully grasped or agreed with Catholic ecclesiology and what Catholics understand as a definition of Catholic.
My spiritual director told me the Pope probably sensed he was not yet ready to become Catholic and thus told him to keep doing what he was doing.
I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. What Pope Francis seems to be opposing when he talks about “proselytism as solemn nonsense” is rushing the work of the Holy Spirit by insisting on doctrine when people are not ready for it.
I have to remember, those who pushed the One True Church apologetics on me pushed me away from the Catholic Church. When I entered the Catholic Church I was ready to give full assent to Her teachings.