From bigotry to benevolence: The conversion of Michael Coren
By his own admission, the writer and commentator Michael Coren was a pretty obnoxious character a few years ago, saying, as he put it himself, some "pretty bloody stupid things."
He was rabidly conservative. He attacked the militant left, homosexuals, the idea of same-sex marriage, people with AIDS — and at one point, Michael Enright.
This week, the two Michaels met for the first time when Coren came to The Sunday Edition studio for a wide-ranging conversation.
Coren shared the backstory to "his change of heart and mind," which led him to abandon Catholicism and embrace the Anglican Church. He described that journey in a book called Epiphany: A Christian's Change of Heart & Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage.
When Coren publicly reversed his position on same-sex marriage, many of his friends and colleagues went ballistic. He was threatened, work dried up, and his world was rocked to its moorings.
He began visiting an Anglican Church in downtown Toronto, where a cleric once recognized him sitting in one of the pews, and inquired to see how he was faring given the negative reactions to his conversion. It was a bridge from one religious group to another. Coren has now almost completed his studies, to become an Anglican priest.
He talks about his dramatic shift ai philosophy and theology, with the host of The Sunday Edition, Michael Enright. Here is part of their conversation.
Enright: Good morning. We've never met formally but we did have — when we were both younger — a disagreement; a feud. I made some critical comments about the institutional Catholic Church, not the faith of ordinary Catholics. And I was excoriated by you, or 'ex-Coren-ated' by you, in print and on the radio.
Coren: Yeah, I think there was a touch of hyperbole in what you said. If I remember rightly: 'the largest criminal organization in the world outside of the Mafia'. I wouldn't quite go that far, because I don't think people join the Mafia to do good work and I think many — most Catholics want to do good. But I would agree that the institution enabled the most terrible crimes to be committed.
How did you feel years later, perhaps a decade and a half later, when the connections between the Vatican and the Mafia were established? Did you feel any sort of 'oops' in there?
In terms of the way I spoke about you, no, I felt all sorts of regret for many years, it's been five or six years, about things I've said about people. But I always knew that the Church at certain levels had links to organized crime. More of an issue for me is the way — I mean that's human corruption — the bigger problem for me now is that the patriarchy and some of the teachings of the church about life and sexuality make abuse not possible, but likely.
By the way, I accept your grovelling apology...
I mean it, actually. And I've apologized to all sorts — to better people than you, sir. [laugh]
Why did you split from the Catholic Church? You joined the church. You weren't born a Catholic.
No. My dad was Jewish, my mom not, and I was raised in a very secular, quite anti-religious home, because I think they'd both seen prejudice in their various communities or lack of them. I became a Catholic in '84 and my wife is Catholic and she still is.
For me, it's a very long story but I think that the real catalyst was issues of sexuality and I could simply no longer hold onto my Christian faith and still have views on homosexuality that discriminated. More and more, I believe that I have seen so much love and commitment ... Gay Christian men in particular. And I couldn't reconcile Catholic teaching, which ... is incredibly hostile and in fact is even worse under this Pope than it was under the previous Popes. People don't realize that and I couldn't reconcile those views with my Christianity.
But it wasn't the child rape, the sexual abuse of children by many clergy in the church. It wasn't that that drove you out?
No, because that — and I suspect many Catholics would say the same — is terrible crimes committed by people who are hiding in the Catholic Church. I don't think that's sufficient any longer ... As I mentioned I do think teachings allow this to happen. When you exclude women aggressively, when you make sexuality such a quintessential aspect of teaching — which it shouldn't be; it's not particularly relevant. When you have so much homophobia, when there is a patriarchy, when there's secrecy, abuse is inevitable.
Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Click the 'listen' button above to hear the full conversation between the two Michaels.