Born in Leeds, the son of Professor Frederic William Moorman (1872–1918) and his wife Frances Beatrice Humpidge (1867–1956), Moorman was educated at Gresham's School, Holt and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He gained the BD degree in 1940 with his work The Sources for the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi.
In 1929 he was ordained and became curate of Holbeck, Leeds, later of Leighton Buzzard. One year later in 1930, Moorman married Mary Caroline Trevelyan (1905–1995). In 1935 he was appointed Rector of Fallowfield in Manchester.
During the Second World War, Moorman resigned his living and worked as a farmhand in Wharfedale, and during this period completed his thesis Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century for a doctorate of divinity (Cambridge University, 1945).
In 1945 he went to Lanercost Priory and in 1946 re-opened Chichester Theological College. While there, he also served as chancellor of Chichester Cathedral. In 1956 he resigned to concentrate on his Franciscan writings.
In 1959 he was appointed Bishop of Ripon. He was a frequent visitor to the Vatican and led a delegation of Anglican observers to the Second Vatican Council. In 1967 he became the chairman of the Anglican commission which led to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. He remained a member until 1981. He died aged 84 in Durham.
- Sources for the Life of St Francis of Assisi (1940)
- Church Life In England In the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1945)
- A New Fioretti (1946)
- B. K. Cunningham, a Memoir (1947)
- St Francis of Assisi (1950, second edition 1976)
- The Grey Friars in Cambridge (Birkbeck Lectures, 1952)
- A History of the Church in England (Adam & Charles Black, 1953, 3rd revised edition 1973)
- The Curate of Souls (1958)
- The Path to Glory (1960)
- Vatican Observed (1967)
- A History of the Franciscan Order (1968)
- The Franciscans in England (1974)
- Richest of Poor Men (1977)
- The Anglican Spiritual Tradition (1983)
- Medieval Franciscan Houses (1983)
- John Moorman at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- John Moorman at leighton-linslade.com
- Obituary in The Independent, 18 January 1989
- John Moorman, Anglican, Franciscan, Independent by Michael Manktelow (Canterbury Press, 1999) - ISBN 1-85311-310-7
- Papers relating to Moorman, including his correspondence, at Lambeth Palace Library
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