Retired Anglican bishop Peter Forster becomes Catholic, news report confirms

Peter Forster, who was Anglican Bishop of Chester from 1996 to 2019, and who was received into the Catholic Church in 2021. Peter Forster, who was Anglican Bishop of Chester from 1996 to 2019, and who was received into the Catholic Church in 2021. | Chris McAndrew/ (CC BY 3.0)

Peter Forster, a former Anglican Bishop of Chester, was received into the Catholic Church in Scotland last year, a Church of England news site has reported. He is the third leading Church of England clergyman to become Catholic in the last year.

Church Times, an independent Anglican news site, confirmed the news in a Feb. 4 report. Forster had written regular reviews for the publication through 2019.

Forster helped lead the Anglican Diocese of Chester for over 22 years and was the longest-serving Church of England bishop, according to Premier Christian News. His former diocese has some 273 parishes. He retired in September 2019 at age 69, and moved to Scotland with his wife Elisabeth.

The news of Forster’s conversion makes him the third Anglican prelate to have entered the Catholic Church in the last year. Michael Nazir-Ali, former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, was received into the Church in September and was ordained a Catholic priest on Oct. 30. Jonathan Goodall, the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, resigned in September to enter full communion with the Catholic Church.

Forster had served as a member of the English Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee. He has been critical of a “drift” in ecumenical relations “from a vision of full visible unity to an essentially debased vision of reconciled diversity,” the Church Times said.

The retired Anglican bishop had supported the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood and the Chester diocese was the first to have a woman bishop. At the same time, he was critical of the Church of England’s approach to women bishops and how this affected relations with other Christian bodies. He thought it was “astonishing” that the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission had not published anything on the ordination of women.

The Church of England broke from the Catholic Church in the 16th century, adopting a different theology and sacramental practices. Its head is the English monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The Catholic Church generally does not recognize Anglican holy orders as sacramentally valid.

Forster has been involved in some debates of the day. As an Anglican bishop seated in the House of Lords, he opposed 2013 legislation to recognize same-sex unions as marriages in England and Wales, though Parliament successfully passed the bill.

In 2015, in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical on God’s creation Laudato si’, he co-authored a critical commentary with Bernard Donoughue, a Labour Party member of the House of Lords and a lay Catholic.

Forster and Donoughue said the encyclical struck them as “well-meaning but somewhat naïve.” While the Pope’s “ecological spirituality” recommends much that is “valuable and commendable,” they said “to regard economic growth as somehow evil, and fossil fuels as pollutants, will only serve to increase the very poverty that he seeks to reduce.”

Their commentary was published as a briefing for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a U.K. thinktank focused on climate and energy policy. The foundation takes a position sceptical of anti-climate change policies which it says “may be doing more harm than good” both to the environment and to the world’s poor.

Forster has faced scrutiny over his handling of several Anglican clergy reported to be involved in sexual abuse of children. In 2009, Chester diocese priest Gordon Dickenson admitted to Forster that he had sexually abused boys, insisting that he would never abuse again, but the bishop did not pass this confession on to authorities.

Dickenson, who had been involved in a sex abuse scandal in the 1970s, was convicted of eight counts of sexual assault against boys in March 2019. Forster gave up safeguarding duties to another local bishop pending the outcome of an independent review into how he handled the case, Premier Christian News reports.

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