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Doing the Reverse Tiber Backstroke

Doing the Reverse Tiber Backstroke

Catholic priest Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith enumerates the reasons he thinks Catholics would desire to become Anglicans.

Pencil ready?

Firstly, marriage, and in recent times, civil partnerships: Because the Anglican church will often bless unions the Catholic Church does not recognise, some people have gone to the vicar for weddings or services of blessing and then stayed with the vicar’s community.

In other words, a Catholic-to-Anglican convert is someone too lazy to do the work of remaining within an environment that exacts his or her patience beyond the point of conscience and especially when civil rights are in question.

Okay – sorry, go ahead:

Secondly, aesthetic reasons: I know of some who have decided that their pretty village church with its warm-hearted community is the place where they want to be. Many of these people, in my experience, have not been particularly religious. While they may consider themselves parishioners, they would but infrequently go to the Anglican Church.

Fr. Lucie-Smith’s main body of church experience is within an environment that privileges some other tradition over Catholicism (due to establishment). You can hear a little of the attendant vinegar in his voice when he describes the local Church of England parish church as “pretty.” But I hardly understand what a beautiful church building has to do with frequency of attendance, nor do I grasp why you wouldn’t want to be a part of something you consider “warm-hearted.” (And let’s not assume that visually unattractive churches are the only places to find unrelatable cold-fish Christians.)

Thirdly, church politics: usually when people have a blazing row with the parish priest over the positioning of the hymn board or some other cutting edge matter, they vamoose to another parish. Sometimes, though I have heard of only one case, they storm off “to join the other lot”, as they put it.

Pettiness, in other words, is a chief hallmark of an Anglican. “Anglican,” in this case, being a person not equipped for subtlety, but rather with a blunt imagination and the inability to carry on an adult relationship with another human being.

Fourthly, female ordination: some Catholic women have left the Church to join the Anglicans so that they can be ordained. Some lay people may have joined the Anglicans because they support female ordination.

Yes, some Catholic women have left to join the Anglicans to be ordained. Others have left with them, so that the women who are dear to them and are clearly so called can experience that ordination – not as some cheap novelty, but because they are the right people for that sacrament and the right people to serve the people of God.

The foregoing arguments mostly strike me as a pretty superficial reading of the situation. Not that marriage equality and women’s ordination aren’t tremendously important matters, but this only touches the surface, and in a painfully careless way.

Or at least it does if the list is thought to be exhaustive. I’m afraid Fr. Lucie-Smith presupposes that at the very least, the doctrine, structure, theology, preaching and music (indeed all the liturgy) of the Anglicans will be left wanting. In his world, Catholics become Anglicans in order to be more explicitly lazy, petty, irreligious, and heretical.

But of course, that’s just not the church we know. Is it?


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Ann Fontaine

Why is it then that more RC clergy by about 20-1 (as I recall from the Red Book) are becoming TEC than the other way around.

Adam Spencer


I think you’re on to something that makes lots of Episcopalians very uncomfortable. We’re all very good at saying what we don’t believe, what one doesn’t have to do, what we don’t need to agree with. We’re also really good at replacing those things with Environmental Sustainability, Milennium Goals etc… Those are VERY fair critiques. If anything angers me in my being an Episcopalian it is a lack of serious theological, doctrinal and devotional MEAT to sink my teeth into. The Roman Catholics have their serious problems but a continued deep engagement with theology and doctine and a rich heritage of devotion and prayer aren’t among them. It is hard, sometimes, to put into words this particular frustration with our tradition but I think we could use some of that rigor towards deepening what we’re FOR and about as Christians. It troubles me that our theology seems to consist mostly in very broad, vague and unoffensive statements or else undertaking yet another work of eco-theology or deconstruction of the Gospel, rather than doing a serious catechism towards deepening our common faith in Christ…But I’ll stop yapping.


Speaking as one who “swam the other way” ten years ago, I found the article pretty shallow. As a happy Episcopalian, I find the liturgy on this bank of the proverbial river to be more careful, the preaching immeasurably better and the commitment of the community and its members greater. But the heart of the difference, for me, is the experience of membership. As a Roman Catholic, I felt more a member of the auxiliary. Having done vestry service, I have a wholly different appreciation of membership than I ever enjoyed before.

Lou Poulain

Apps 55753818692 1675970731 F785b701a6d1b8c33f0408

It’s arrogance like that of Fr. Lucie-Smith that makes me all the more content in my decision to swim the Thames. I always thought, however, that I would have left in anger. Instead it was the case that my spouse and I simply couldn’t find a Roman parish in our area where we felt welcome.

-Cullin R. Schooley


Insults and ignorance are often par for the course when Anglicans and Catholics start talking about swimming the Tiber in either direction. I think Cathleen Kaveny got it closest to right last year when she published “Long Goodbye: Why Some Devout Catholics are Leaving the Church” in Commonweal last year:

“… From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering. But why not stay and fight? First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.”…

Steve Schewe

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