Cradle Catholic snobbery as ridiculous as any other kind

Some zealous and enthusiastic converts

It was not until my first year at University that I became aware that some converts were unhappy about making a qualitative distinction between converts and cradle Catholics. I was told that the comparison was usually to the disadvantage of the converts.

Until then, I had just admired converts because they had found their way to the faith and taken the trouble to go through whatever steps were deemed necessary in their local parish before being received into the Church. My youthful reading included John Henry Newman, GK Chesterton and Ronald Knox, all of whom I enjoyed immensely; they helped me to have a certain reverence for the category of people “converts” and it simply would not have occurred to me to think of someone as a second class citizen in the Church as a result of their having made a conscious adult decision to join it.

Later, I came to understand how much of a price some converts had paid in their family and social lives for becoming Catholic. As a priest, I have had the privilege of knowing many former Anglican clergy and the difficulties that they experienced. It made me warmly welcome the establishment of the Ordinariate.

As a young student, I first thought that complaints about the distinction between cradle Catholics and converts were over-sensitive, but my earlier life had sheltered me from snobbery which I only ever knew from caricatures of it in television. Coming up against it occasionally in young adult life was a shock, whether it was me or someone else who was the target. I suppose that some cradle Catholics do actually regard converts with disdain, in the ridiculous way that some of those who have inherited large amounts of money look down on those who have worked hard and made their own fortune.

Like all analogies, the comparison with new and inherited money is limited. Nobody who makes their way into the household of the faith has lacked the help of God’s grace. Converts will tell their often fascinating stories of how both providence and actual graces have surprised, challenged, and delighted them at different times. At the same time, cradle Catholics cannot simply rest on what they have been given: of course they give thanks for their parents who baptised them and brought them up in the faith, but they have also had to remain true to that faith despite obstacles, and not become part of the vast company of the lapsed.

Some converts are indeed zealous and enthusiastic about the faith, but that should not be surprising to cradle Catholics: it should be a call to examine one’s conscience. And the last time I looked, Canon 212.3 does not have any clause excluding those who came into the Church in adult life.

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