Connect the dots between the murder of Catholic parliamentarian Sir David Amess and the reception of former Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali in the Catholic Church.
“While it is often said that good can come from someone’s death, it’s hard to see what good can come from this senseless murder.”
This is what Sir David Amess wrote, the British MP stabbed to death while meeting his constituents on October 15. He wasn’t writing about himself, of course, but about the murder of fellow MP, Jo Cox, in 2016. But the words apply all the more to Sir David who, by universal and multi-party consensus, was the best of British parliamentary tradition.
A Conservative MP since 1983, Sir David was a devout Catholic who many said: “his Catholicism meant everything to him”. He is survived by his wife Julia and their five children.
“My Catholic faith has supported me throughout my time as an MP, guiding me in all aspects of my life,” Sir David wrote. “I have been a strong advocate for animal welfare and a strong supporter of the pro-life movement.”
The political culture in Britain is different from that of the United States, and Sir David was an example of a devout Catholic who devoted his energies to protecting the most vulnerable – unborn children, the poor struggling to heat their homes, animals subjected to unnecessary cruelty.
Sir David’s murder was apparently an act of jihadist extremism. The suspect, Ali Harbi Ali, a naturalized Briton from Somalia, was charged under terrorism law rather than just murder, saying police believe an Islamist dimension was at play.
The Islamist murder of a Catholic parliamentarian links the story of Amess to another major religious story in Britain, the conversion of the Anglican Bishop Emeritus of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, to the Catholic faith.
Nazir-Ali, now a lay Catholic awaiting priestly ordination in a few weeks in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – the non-territorial “diocese” created by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglican converts – was one of the most prominent bishops of the Church of England.
Born and raised in Pakistan, he served as Bishop of Rochester, the former diocese held by martyr St. John Fisher in the early 1500s. In the 1990s, Nazir-Ali emerged as one of the voices of the Church. Most theologically sophisticated and convincing Church of England of the public. The fact that he is a Pakistani-British national duel has made his public profile all the more remarkable, given the Church of England’s establishment status.
In 2002, he was one of two names appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican world primate. The post went to Rowan Williams instead.
The conversion of Nazir-Ali is not, in itself, shocking news. He is the 14th The Bishop of the Church of England has converted to Catholicism in the past 30 years. Indeed, “ordinarias” were created in large part because so many Anglican clergy wanted to become Catholics and continue to exercise their pastoral ministry as priests.
The reasons for Nazir-Ali’s conversion are also standard, so to speak. He was fed up, as he wrote, that the Church of England “is hopping on all the trendy identity politics trains, and mea culpa on Britain’s imperial past.
“With my past, I don’t consider myself a convert,” says the former Pakistani Anglican priest and English Anglican bishop. “Conversion takes place from one religion to another. I see this more as an accomplishment, that what Anglicanism in its classical form held dear is being accomplished in the advancement of the ordinariate.
This is more or less what America’s most famous converted priest, Father Richard John Neuhaus, said during his transition from Lutheranism to Catholicism in 1990. Nothing genuinely Christian has been left behind; it was the accomplishment of a path already started for a long time.
The link between Amess and Nazir-Ali? Before Sir David’s murder, the most famous Catholic politician murdered by jihadist extremism was Shahbaz Bhatti. Indeed, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs.
Unlike Sir David, Bhatti’s death was not unexpected. Having been offered asylum abroad because of the danger to his life, Bhatti remained in Pakistan even though he knew he would be killed. In 2016, the Catholic bishops of Pakistan opened the cause for him to be beatified as a martyr.
Nazir-Ali has lived in an Islamic culture since his upbringing in Pakistan. He knew his genuine spirit and the corruption to which he was subject. The presence of Nazir-Ali was a light from an Islamic country that had come to Britain; the alleged murderer Ali was in the dark.
Amess and Bhatti were Catholic officials killed in the line of duty. But Sir David and Dr Nazir-Ali also shared something in common, a defense of Orthodox Christian heritage in an England that seems unable to account for its own Christian heritage. Sometimes this incapacity is greater in his established church.
Sir David and Dr Nazir-Ali were both considered “traditional” or “conservative” in their respective worlds. They were traditional in their Christian orthodoxy, of course, but their creativity made it hard to describe then as “conservative.” They were faithful in their doctrine and innovative in their approach.
Pakistan and England, Orthodoxy and Extremism – this is what connects England’s two greatest religious stories this week.