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The Stolen Heart of St. Laurence O'Toole and the Anglican Church's Loss of a Catholic Heart

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
March 7th, 2012
Catholic Online (

Not so very long ago, the rejection of artificial contraception as immoral was the common heritage of all Christians, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  It was the received moral teaching for all Christian Churches and all ecclesial communions.  It was something they all shared based upon their common Scriptural heritage, their shared Christian sentiment, and the natural moral law.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Only a few days ago we learned about the theft of the heart of St. Laurence O'Toole (ca. 1128-1180), the great medieval Catholic Irish saint canonized by Pope Honorius III in 1225.  From a noble family, St. Laurence was a monk who eventually became Abbot of the Abbey of St. Kevin at Glendalough ("Valley of the Two Lakes").  He declined the offer of the bishopric of Glendalough when offered in 1160.  St. Laurence, however, was later encouraged to accept the Archbishopric of Dublin, which required him to leave his Abbey and its monastic life. 

Desiring to continue his religious life, he donned the canonical habit and instituted a canonical life for the Cathedral priests based upon the Arrousian Rule.  A great reforming bishop and consummate pastor, St. Laurence encouraged liturgical reforms and the use of Gregorian chant, mediated political disputes, dispensed great charity to the poor, the sick, and the hungry, was named Papal legate, and built and rebuilt churches, including Christ Church Cathedral.  He was a model bishop.

St. Laurence was buried at the Abbey of Our Lady at Eu in Normandy.  His heart, however, remained preserved at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, which Church was alienated from the Catholic Church and incorporated into the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII.  By historical accident and political theft, the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral therefore became the custodian of this great Catholic saint's heart. 

Sadly, on March 3, 2012, the steel cage in which the heart was placed was forcefully opened, and the Saint's heart taken from the Church.  The Anglican Church was not in any way negligent for the loss of its heart.  It was a victim of theft.

In a way, however, another heart of the Anglican Church was taken long time ago.  But the loss of this heart was caused by its own negligence; indeed by its own bishops.  The theft occurred in 1930, at the Seventh Lambeth Conference. 

What heart was it that the Anglican Church lost in 1930? 

The heart it lost was the traditional Christian teaching regarding the use of artificial contraception. 

Not so very long ago, the notion that artificial contraception as immoral and was not acceptable to Christians was the common heritage of all Christians--Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  It was the received moral teaching for all Christian Churches and all ecclesial communions.  It was something they all shared based upon their common Scriptural heritage, their shared Christian sentiment, and the natural moral law.

Indeed, in the Sixth Lambeth Conference of 1920, the Anglican Church teaching regarding artificial contraception was aligned with all Christendom, including the Catholic Church.  The Sixth Lambeth Conference taught that it had "grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family," and that it desired to "utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers-physical, moral, and religious-thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race." "In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself," the Anglican Church continued, "we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage."

But a mere decade later, at the Seventh Lambeth Conference in 1930, the Anglican Church caved in.  It lost its heart.

Here was its teaching, adopted by its bishops by a vote of 193 ayes and 67 nays, manifestly changed from a mere decade past.  Though it encouraged periodic abstinence as the "primary method" of the exercise of responsible parenthood, the Church capitulated to the modern ethos, in a great moral apostasy, "that other methods may be used." Thereby the Anglican Church invited into its Communion a way of life that was against an ethic of life, against received Christian teaching, and against the natural moral law. 

The cage of its sexual doctrine was violated by its own bishops, and the heart of the Christian teaching on conjugal life stolen from that communion.

The act of the Seventh Lambeth Conference was to cause Pope Pius XI to issue his encylical Casti Conubii, On Chaste Marriage, which reaffirmed the received Christian teaching that "any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin."

"I am devastated," said the Anglican Dean of Christ Cathedral regarding the theft of St. Laurence O'Toole's heart, "that one of the treasured artifacts of the Cathedral is stolen."  It is, he concedes, a "priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father."  And so it is.

The relic's theft is sad indeed, and good cause for the emotion of devastation.  But more devastating yet was the loss of the priceless treasure of the Anglican teaching on artificial contraception in 1920 which linked the Anglican Communion at one time with its foundation in the Catholic Church and her founder, Jesus.  This teaching--which not so long ago bound all Christians bar none--was stolen by the Anglican Church's own bishops in 1930. 

That--even more than St. Laurence O'Toole's heart, as grievous a theft as that may be--was the real devastation.  That is the theft every Anglican should be talking about and over which every Anglican should feel himself or herself aggrieved.  


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at

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