You might remember the name Michael Coren, the British-born Canadian journalist who used to write for some Catholic publications, including Catholic World Report. I interviewed him a time or two on the Catholic Answers Live radio show. The man had something to say and, if a bit abrasively, he said it well.
Years prior, I used to read his column in the Canadian pro-life newspaper The Interim, and caught him once in a while on CFRB radio in Toronto. I was, frankly, impressed by his willingness to debate third-rail issues like abortion in the fulsomely left-wing Canadian media sphere.
There was one odd thing. In 1993, he did a sit-down interview for Toronto Life magazine with Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, the now deceased archbishop of Toronto. Coren obviously gained His Eminence’s trust—the same man who gave Coren a media award for service to the Church the year before—and sat down with him under friendly pretenses. It was a set-up, and Ambrozic got a shellacking. Coren seemed to take umbrage when the unguarded (and un-media savvy) prelate said some unsavory-sounding things, including calling gays in Toronto “poor devils.”
Otherwise, his reputation was as a thinking man’s defender of Christianity. He had joined the Catholic Church in the 80s, but left in the 90s for evangelicalism, citing (in this 2015 interview) his interview with Cardinal Ambrozic and saying, “I just wanted something simpler, a relationship rather than a religion.” His on-air articulate bulldog persona and strong prose style (he wrote biographies of C.S. Lewis, H.G. Wells, and J.R.R. Tolkien) made him a staple as a public speaker and newspaper columnist in Canada.
Then he came back to the Catholic Church, and eventually wrote books like Why Catholics Are Right (2012). I reached out to him to be a guest on the Catholic Answers show to talk about it, flattered that he cited my anti-contraception book. Despite Coren’s hubris-tainted title, I enjoyed his book very much and told him so. Endorsers such as Archbishop Charles Chaput also gave it high accolades, all well deserved. And because of his ability to parry difficult callers on live radio and his seeming grasp of Catholic theology, we invited him back.
Then, the other shoe dropped.
In a 2014 Toronto Sun column, he announced his change of heart regarding “gay issues,” having “been parachuted into clouds of new realization,” and so on. Beyond that it was rather vague. Very surprised, I called him and left a message. Nothing back.
He shot off another column in which he labeled the community he fled “the Church of Nasty,” and went on a tear against his Romanist enemies, real and imagined. Catholics were now “cruel” “ultra-conservative fundamentalists” or otherwise “the far right” and he’s the victim of “hate” now that he’s been “enlightened.” You get the drift.
At this point the management of Catholic Answers and EWTN decided, rightly, to pull his books off the shelves and to ixnay any further appearances on the show.
When some Catholics began posting intemperate things about him for leaving the Church, I left him a voice message expressing regret at the ugly ganging-up he was getting, and that if he ever wanted to talk, he could give me a call. No reply. I followed up with a more detailed email explaining the situation as sympathetically as I could, although agreeing with the decision. Again, no reply.
Fast forward to the day a friend who works in Canadian media let me know sardonically that “our mutual buddy” had made mention of me in his new pro-gay book, Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart & Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage. Huh? Sure enough, Coren had indeed replied to my email: by publishing it in his book as proof of how mean those Catholics were to him.
After retrieving my jaw from the floor, I felt what most of my colleagues in Catholic media felt toward him: not anger, but disorientation as to why this happened, and sadness. Another page from our bulging No Good Deed Goes Unpunished file.
What kind of person publishes an obviously personal email (which I stand by) in a book? It’s rich, too, in light of his insistence to CWR editor Carl E. Olson that their private conversation must remain private. Of course.
Coren’s abandonment (the first one, I mean) of Catholicism for the “read your Bible” Protestantism of the Canadian televangelism show “100 Huntley Street” lasted a decade or so before the ol’ religion door spun round again, and he came back to the Catholic Church—reinvented as an uber-apologist and putting out vehemently pro-Catholic material: defending all the hard sayings in his signature take-no-prisoners style. My friendly interactions with him were during his pro-papal period.
Then, like a bit of mauve glitter sparkle tossed in the wind, he bolted to…liberal Anglicanism. People leave the Catholic Church for all sorts of reasons. In this case, for at least a year c. 2014-2015, Coren pretended to belong to the same Church as St. Thomas More, took money from conference organizers, and got on radio shows as a Catholic apologist, all the while attending services in Toronto in the church founded by Henry VIII.
This is called lying. Best line from his Church of Nasty screed: “I’m boringly honest and have never defrauded anyone.” This is called chutzpah.
His religion hopping involved reversals on several basic issues, from abortion (he’s now proudly pro-choice) to Islam. Yes, the same author of Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity can go on to write an article in which he rails against Canada’s “Islamophobia industry.”
There appears to have been an economic motive. His former employer, the Sun News Network, which carried his TV show, was faltering by 2014. It went under in February, 2015—gosh, around the time Coren issued his pro-gay epistles. Seeing the writing on the wall, he attempted to join the upstart conservative Rebel News platform, founded by another ex-Sun News host, Ezra Levant.
Coren lasted a week there. When, inter alia, he penned a National Post article attacking parents who objected to the explicit sex-ed curriculum being pushed on school children by the lesbian then-Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, the canny Levant saw the lack of alignment, and let him go.
A cynical interpretation would say that with no other conservative media gigs left in Canada, a jobless Coren ran mea culpas up the flagpole, hoping to snag work at a place like the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting Company (which worked, albeit not permanently) while putting maximum distance between himself and his former defenses of the natural moral law on sexuality.
This past October, Coren announced, “In Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, the mother church of the Anglican diocese of Niagara, Bishop Susan Bell laid hands on me, and through her episcopal authority ordained me into holy orders.” The only comparable moment, he insisted, was getting married 32 years prior. So, rebranded as Anglicanism’s answer to Father James Martin, SJ, “Rev. Michael Coren” swapped his pink promotional-photo tie for a Roman collar to indulge an indisputable preoccupation with homosexuality. Understandably, not all Anglicans in Canada are tickled (pink or otherwise) by his latest dupe.
Yes, for the new Anglican thought leader, the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name became The Thing That Can’t Shut Up About Itself. Why the incessant harping about homophobia? Why decorate your Twitter profile with a glowing blurb from homosexual atheist and actor Stephen Fry? Why describe yourself as “very straight” while waxing enthusiastic about #LGBTQIA issues? (You’re not alone if you have no idea what all that stands for.)
If the past is the best predictor of the future, it’s only fitting that the next crowd to approach when the Anglican thing doesn’t pan out is either sedevacantists or atheists. The best outcome of all—although humanly unlikely—would be to stop with the arrant nonsense and return home to Rome. The good news, which ups the chances? God specializes in prodigal sons.
More good news: If Michael Coren ever wants to refute his new books, all he has to do is read his old ones. They’re very good.
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