Anglican priest returns to Catholic Church

April 02, 2009

Albert and Abby Scharbach took bites of fruits, crackers and cheese inside their Federal Hill home, which they only moved into just before Lent.

Their six children ran around the house, playing together as they continued discovering their surroundings on a late March afternoon.

“We want to bring them to a place of permanency and a fullness of the faith,” said 37-year-old Mr. Scharbach.

Keelan, 11, Isaac, 10, Cady, 9, Ander, 6, Ellie, 4, and Thomas, 3, are preparing for the next stage of their religious journey with their parents.

The Scharbachs, practicing Anglicans for the last several years, believe they have found that sense of belonging in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Roman Catholic Church, which the family hopes to join during Easter Vigil at next-door Holy Cross parish.

“We’ve always thought that this is the only church that has remained steadfast on moral issues and has a worldwide witness to that,” Mrs. Scharbach said. “It’s a worldwide voice saying, ‘This is wrong.’ ”

Asked why this is the time for him and his family to convert, Mr. Scharbach offered a simple answer: “The magisterium – to be in communion with the Holy See.”

Just months ago, Mr. Scharbach was a promising Anglican priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, near Philadelphia.

Mrs. Scharbach, 35, taught the couple’s children at home.

The husband had been contemplating a move to Catholicism since his days of learning at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

His route to Catholicism was rather circuitous. He said he was “nominally” raised Catholic and received baptism, Eucharist and confirmation as a youth. Ultimately, he rejected the magisterium he has come to embrace.

Seminary research planted seeds of doubt. In a letter to the Good Shepherd leadership committee that explained his departure from the Anglican priesthood, he said a “supernatural hush” came over him at his library table.

“The arguments I found refuted all the objections offered by my professor for the validity of the papacy,” he wrote. “I was enthused. I was moved. I was even a bit awed.”

He also saw the fracture of the American Episcopal Church as dividing the body of Christ. The Catholic Church, unlike others, was still standing.

“I realized I can live without being Roman Catholic, but I couldn’t die without being Roman Catholic,” Mr. Scharbach said.

Mrs. Scharbach had seen nearly every aspect of Mr. Scharbach’s path back to Catholicism. A child of former Catholics herself, she met her husband at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., during the 1990s.

The couple moved to Pennsylvania so he could attend seminary, and their family continued to grow.

Mr. Scharbach’s priestly career was promising in the Philadelphia area. He was recently presented the opportunity to plan a church with $1 million available in funding. He envisioned a church that was “evangelical, catholic and charismatic.”

Leaving the Anglican tradition and embracing Catholicism was a leap for everyone.

“We thought maybe he’ll go to school,” Mrs. Scharbach said. “We just weren’t sure how God would make it work. I said God had to paint it in such bold colors because of my lack of faith.

“Now, I can look at it every time and see this, and this and this,” she said, pointing in the air as if to connect the dots. “All of these pretty dramatic things surround this decision.”

After he scoured the Mid-Atlantic region, events started to align. He was offered the position of pastoral associate for Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, and the archdiocese provided the family housing at an old rectory next to Holy Cross.

“To not be a priest but still work for the church is a real blessing,” Mr. Scharbach said.
Father Patrick Carrion, pastor of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, said the family will bring a new dimension to Holy Cross.

“They seem very dedicated to their faith,” Father Carrion said. “It’s always nice to see a lot of youthfulness in the church.”

Mr. Scharbach said he is ready to be a Catholic in practice once again.

“I no longer have any barriers,” he said. “I have this gratifying sense of peace.”