Michael Coren didn’t have to be Catholic. Actually, he’s had several opportunities to walk away from the enterprise altogether. Born to a Jewish cab driver in Essex, England, in January 1959, he became a Roman Catholic in his 20s while still living in the U.K.
After moving to Canada in the late ’80s, he abandoned the Catholic Church for evangelical Christianity. A journalist and author known for his bruising honesty, sharp wit, and often provocative style, Coren continued to have a strained relationship with Rome, even though he was married to a cradle Catholic and was raising his children in the faith.
In 2004, Coren recommitted himself to the Church and has become one of its most vigorous and plainspoken advocates. He’s the author of fifteen books in total, including biographies of G. K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In Canada, Coren is the host of the talk show “The Arena” on the SUN News Network and writes a syndicated column for ten daily newspapers.
Now he’s written The Future of Catholicism, published in November. A remarkably compact volume for the breadth of its title, it begins with the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in March 2013 and looks at the ways the Church may change, the ways it cannot change, the role of the pope’s leadership, and the survival of Western Christendom in the face of secularization, indifference, and the rising influence of Islam.
Coren took time to answer some questions from Breitbart News on his views and prognostications.
What was the purpose of this book?
“It’s not just for people outside the Church, for people in it as well. It was all about addressing all the most common questions: where the Church can change, and where it can’t — not won’t, can’t — change. It cannot contradict Scripture. It can’t suddenly break from the deposit of faith.
I have to say, there are chapters about various issues, including one on the pope. He is not a progressive; he is a reformer. He may reform the Curia and change the way the Church communicates, but the teaching remains the same. There’s a lot of nonsense being written. People want stories, rubbish, about him being threatened by the mafia or not being a real pope. It’s a huge digression from the real issues.”
What did you discover about Pope Francis during your research?
“His orthodoxy and courage. I knew he was a very good man; I didn’t realize how strong he’d been in Argentina. They may have a democracy there, but there are very unsavory people on both sides — the hard left and the hard right — who disagreed with him. He’s always been a man of the people, taking public transport to work and so on. There are a lot of guns and a lot of dangerous people in Buenos Aires, so I was very impressed with that.
I was very impressed by the way he reached out to people who were not Catholic. It showed a weakness of media that people assumed he’d come from nowhere.”
Today, many self-proclaimed Catholic colleges and universities are virtually indistinguishable from their liberal secular counterparts in their policies, campus life, and educational emphasis. The Cardinal Newman Society, which makes school recommendations based on Catholic identity — both in instruction and culture — doesn’t list Notre Dame University or any Jesuit-run institution (such as Boston College, Gonzaga and Georgetown) on its list of faithful Catholic schools. Georgetown alumnus William Peter Blatty, author of “The Exorcist,” has even brought a canon-law action against Georgetown to force it to reclaim its Catholic identity or renounce any ties to the Church. Should Catholics be concerned that the Church’s proud tradition of higher education, which stretches back centuries, may be fading away?
“I don’t really care what a bunch of Jesuits at Georgetown say — it’s a dying order. The seminaries today are full of very orthodox, top guys. So, I don’t think we should worry too much about this. The reality is that mainstream Catholic education has been pretty much lost [in Canada] and the United States.
But there’s a whole new generation of Catholic colleges — Ave Maria, Christendom, Thomas Aquinas and so on — that are doing wonderful work. The Church has always faced these sorts of challenges. They’re not new. We musn’t be imprisoned in our own age.
Yes, there are challenges. Yes, there are people — God forgive them, because I find it hard to — who have done enormous damage. They have robbed Catholics of their education and their faith. They will have a lot to answer for. But we can’t worry too much about that. It is a smaller Church, but it still is the Church. It still has the only answers.
We have to struggle a bit. We have to listen to what the pope is saying. We have to explain to people what we believe and communicate the message in a more efficient manner.”
What about Catholic parents who send their kids to college, only to have them lose their faith?
“You have to work out, with fear and trembling, your own path to knowing God’s love. So, I get a little tired of people moaning that their kids are going to college and losing their faith… Well, what did they think would happen? Do they think they would go to a public university, full of non-Catholics or failed Catholics, and expect them to be reassured? No, this is not what happens. It’s a nasty world out there.
There are Christians, as we speak, who are being beaten to death. We have to be a bit tougher; we really do.”
On the other hand, information on Church teaching and history, official Vatican documents, and apologetics are available as never before. Is that helping?
“There are more resources available now than at any other time in human history. I talk about this in the book, actually. People get very upset, and they think it’s all going to hell, but it’s not. We need to put a bit of effort into this. We have more skilled apologists than we have ever had, often converts who evangelize the Church. Catholic Answers, they’re doing absolutely marvelous work.
There are all these blogs and websites. We have publishers like Ignatius Press. Thirty-odd years ago, we had some pretty bad bishops, and we had priests who were virtually preaching heresy. Most of that is gone now. We have wonderful people in positions of authority. Let’s hold onto that.”
What are converts like yourself bringing into the Church?
“When you come into something afresh, you have to do a lot of the work yourself. You have to learn. Converts are frequently the most zealous. I think it’s particularly energized Catholicism, because those coming from the Evangelical tradition have tried to apply Bible knowledge to the Church through the Catholic faith. It works wonderfully well, because, of course, the Church is the confirmation and continuity of Scripture.
Today people convert — the Muslim world is different — but people in the West convert because they believe. If you believe, you want to understand why you believe and what supports that system, so you do the work, not because you’re better than anyone else, but because there’s an interest there.”
Whats the most important thing you hope people take away from your book?
“That it reassures people, particularly people who are more conservative. What I find regrettable is that there are more-conservative people in the Church who think this pope is not for them, that they’re being let down, and “if only Benedict was still there.”
They really musn’t do that. Actually, they have to question their own faith, because this is fundamental — Jesus gave us the Church; He gave us the papacy; He gave us the Magisterium. If we believe that, then we have to listen to the direct successor to the man He gave the keys of the kingdom to, St. Peter, and that is Pope Francis.
We can’t play silly games. If we do that, we become what is known as Protestant. That’s fine; if that’s what you want to be, you must be that. But we believe in papal authority. He will not lead us astray; God gave us that guarantee. He’s not leading us astray.
Because he might not be exactly the pope you wanted him to be, how dare you be so proud and arrogant to believe that he must be shaped in your image? You must be shaped more in his image. He’s changing the conversation; he is making the world listen to the Church, which I’m afraid it hasn’t been for too long. That’s a wonderful thing.
I wish people would just get out there and do the work, rather than sitting there in their rooms obsessing. They should be tired, because they have so much work for what they believe. They wouldn’t have time to worry. [They should] work on their prayer life and the Sacraments. Listen to what the pope is saying about sin and the work of the devil; he’s not a liberal.
He’s the pope.”