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Bouncing Out of the Church

At Michael Coren’s website the banner at the top of the main page features a mug shot of him at the left and, for the remainder of the rectangular space, a blue background on which are superimposed nouns and adjectives that describe him.

The nouns are “talk show host,” “author,” “columnist,” and “public speaker.” All of those are accurate.

The adjectives are “compassionate,” “spiritual,” “interesting,” “controversial,” “gutsy,” “strong-minded,” “witty,” “ethical,” “opinionated,” “confident,” and “articulate.” I don’t know Coren and have never watched his television program or read his books, so I can’t say for sure, but I’ll accept that those adjectives describe him accurately.

There is one last adjective—actually, adverb-plus-adjective—that certainly is out of place: “brutally honest.”

You can’t use “brutally honest” to describe someone who, for a year, held himself out to be a loyal, practicing Catholic when in fact he was attending services at an Anglican church instead of Mass at a Catholic church.

Earlier this month Coren, 56, confirmed publicly that he had abandoned Catholicism for Anglicanism.

Coren was born in England and has resided in Canada since 1987. His books include biographies of G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, but his best-known book probably is Why Catholics Are Right, which was published in 2011.

Three years after that book appeared, Coren decided that Catholics are wrong—about homosexuality and contraception, among other things.

So he unpoped. Secretly.

Earlier this month he revealed his formal reception into the Anglican Church, but he actually had made the switch a year ago. During that year he acted, at least in public, as a Catholic: on his television program, in his columns, in his lectures. In July 2014—at a time when he already was attending an Anglican parish—he wrote in a column that he would “die for my faith.”

That was understood by his readers to be the Catholic faith, because at that point he still held himself out to be a Catholic and was writing for Catholic publications. Perhaps, using a mental reservation, he meant his faith as an Anglican, which is what he already was in practice, but the fact is that he said he was one thing when he really was another.

This was not Coren’s first change of religious allegiance. He was born into a nominally Jewish family and became a Catholic when he was 26. It didn’t last long. After watching a Canadian televangelist, he became an Evangelical—that was in 1993—claiming to have had a conversion experience. That didn’t last long either. He came back to the Catholic Church. A decade later he began worshipping in the Anglican Church of Canada, becoming a formal member in 2015.

In my view, that was an error. Anyone leaving the Catholic Church, for any reason, makes a tremendous blunder, precisely because the Catholic Church is the sole church that Christ founded.

I acknowledge that human nature is damaged and that the intellect and will don’t always work well, either singly or in concert, so I’m not surprised to see people bouncing from one religious position to another. I’m not surprised about it, and I don’t get worked up about it. I’ve seen it too often (distressingly often in converts who become public defenders of the faith).

But I do get worked up about truth in advertising.

I think a man ought to be whatever he says he is. If he is a bus driver, he shouldn’t hold himself out to be a race car driver. If he has a fat bank account, he shouldn’t hold himself out to be poor. And if he’s something other than a Catholic, he shouldn’t hold himself out to be a Catholic. To claim to be a Catholic when you’re not is to lie. When you lie, you aren’t true to your listeners, to your readers, or to yourself.

“To thine own self be true,” Polonius advised his son, Laertes. If you are true to yourself, “thou canst not then be false to any man.” And the reverse generally is true: if you are true to others, you will be true to yourself. Transparency works in both directions.

I don’t know Michael Coren and haven’t followed his career, but I think I’m safe in saying that it no longer will be a Catholic career.

He no longer will write for the National Catholic Register or Catholic World Report, and EWTN won’t go ahead with a scheduled interview of him. He will be persona non grata at websites where he once was persona grata. He no longer will be praised by beleaguered Catholics for speaking or writing in defense of the faith.

Much of Coren’s audience will vanish. He will be distrusted, because he acted distrustfully. People accept a change in religion more readily than prevarication about a change in religion. They may not like the one, but they really dislike the other.

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