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Why do some Catholics “swim the Thames?”

Why do some Catholics “swim the Thames?”

Catholic priest Father Alexander Lucie-Smith wonders out loud why some Catholics become Anglican.

Writing in The Catholic Herald, his thoughts reflect the English context, but have some parellels in the American experience. Some of what he writes is interesting while other parts betray a provincialism on the Roman side. It is not surprising that he doesn’t really “get” Anglicanism, just as I suppose, many of us don’t really “get” Roman Catholicism. There is still a lot of ecumenical work to do.

As Lucie-Smith sees it, here :are a few reasons why Catholics become Anglicans:”

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.

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.

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.

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.

The above would all be significant but relatively small groups of people. The single largest phalanx of ex-Catholics, as far as I can gather, as those lukewarm Catholics who have been evangelised by Anglicans and have joined a thriving and lively evangelical congregation. My evidence for this is anecdotal, but my guess is that a place like Holy Trinity Brompton contains a significant number of people who were baptised Catholics, but who have now come to Jesus through the Alpha course. So, what should we do?

The comments are worth skimming.

“Anglicans get their Christianity lite but good fellowship. Catholics get the Truth but lousy fellowship.”

Fellowship is not part of the authentic church, apparently.

“In between there were those who believed, in the recent words of General Synod representative in York, that Anglicanism meant that you could hold any opinion you liked but not too strongly.”

This criticism in a way makes the C of E sound good.

“I suspect that some Catholics become Anglicans because they do not wish to be associated with the uncharitable, dogmatic bigotry which, sadly and depressingly, so often raises its head in the comments columns of the CH.”

“I can’t speak with great authority or experience, but almost every single Catholic to Anglican I have met has said that he or she made the shift because of some marital difficulty or sexual issue. One or two did switch because their local A/C Church had preserved a more Catholic style of worship than their Catholic parish, and they missed the kneeling communion and eastward position. And,especially among the post V2 generation there have been some who are unaware of the theological differences. But I don’t think one should exaggerate the point. It’s more likely that a Catholic will give up religion altogether than become an Anglican, and we mustn’t forget that the Evangelicals have a very high turnover rate.”

To which Lucie-Smith’s response is:

“This article is not meant to be in any way exhaustive, as the phrase “in my experience” makes clear. In fact all the people I know who have made the switch have said to me that the switch was easily made because the Catholic and Anglican Churches are “the same” or “almost the same. When it comes to matters of conscience, people must follow their consciences, as the Church itself teaches.”

What is your experience? Do you have a story to share that might shed light on Fr. Lucie-Smith’s musings, especially from an American context?

Thanks to Gary Paul Gilbert for highlighting and editing the comments.


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Kurt Wiesner

Gia Hayes-Martin: your post was caught in the spam filter. It now appears in the timeline when you posted it. Sorry for the delay.

Kurt Wiesner

Joan Geiszler-Ludlum

The comments from Father Lucie-Smith reminded me, once again, why I became an Episcopalian. I grew up across the street from my Roman Catholic parish church and school; attended 12 years of Catholic school; and loved most of it. Until I became an adult and realized how little the Roman Catholic church valued me, a woman. Fr. Lucie-Smith, it has little to do with the esthetics that you have so flippantly noted. It has much more to do with appreciating and respecting women as ministers of the church, whether ordained or not. A church that ordains women also values women as leaders. Jesus was a pretty inclusive sort, according to the New Testament. It has always saddened me that His Church is not. I grew up in the Vatican II church which threw open the windows that the succeeding leaders carefully slammed and nailed shut. So that is where you need to begin, Fr. Lucie-Smith: try opening those windows and let the fresh air back in.


I think the Episcopal Church with it’s Anglican heritage, holds the keys to the best Liturgy in Christendom and yet there is a down to earth warmth that keeps things in a perspective.


I left the RCC because of the child abuse scandal, but it was actually the cover-up that was the last straw. Who knew but that the abusers were ill, but what about the supposedly sane leaders in the church who participated in the cover-up?

Even before the child abuse scandal, my relationship with the RCC was an uneasy alliance because of power issues, such as the discipline dealt to some of the finest minds amongst RC theologians and professors in RC universities.

June Butler

Andrew Downs

The two things I’ve heard multiple times by former RCs involved clergy/hierarchical behaviors.

None have yet brought up the sex abuse scandal, which brought incredible anger and disenfranchisement. Similarly, when a beloved bishop in our area died several years ago, his successor separated huge numbers of non-priestly leaders from leadership positions throughout the diocese. These dramatic events (and others like it) of abuse of power have had an enormous impact.

The other reason I’ve heard, and perhaps the more profound one involved having an Episcopal/Anglican priest actually give the individual the time of day. They, for the first time, were treated by clergy as more than just a number.

Philip Lowe

I moved from the Roman Catholic Church to the Episcopal Church in 2009. I had spent 15 years as a convert to the Catholic Church. I was confirmed and received my first Holy Communion in 1995. At that time I was still in the closet about being gay. When I came out in 2000 my relationship with the Catholic Church was never the same. From August 2007 to November 2008 I spent time in the Catholic Church’s ex-gay group Courage. At my last meeting in 2008 my eyes were opened that this was the wrong thing to do. I came back out. In Feb of 2009 I met my partner. The following May we began attending the local Episcopal Cathedral. It was like we had stepped out of one world into another. There were many things I recognized from my time as a Catholic, yet there was also a tremendous difference. Jason and I were accepted there.

On May 15, 2010 Jason was confirmed and I was received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop Prior of Minnesota. When Jason went ahead of me to be confirmed, Bishop Prior personally and publicly invited me to come stand behind him and lay hands on Jason with the Bishop as he was confirmed. That for me, made the last question of our Baptismal Covenant come home for me.

Now when I read something that the local Catholic Archbishop does that upsets me, I remind myself that Bishop Prior is now my Bishop. Okay, I know he is our Bishop.

I think the Episcopal Church with it’s Anglican heritage, holds the keys to the best Liturgy in Christendom and yet there is a down to earth warmth that keeps things in a perspective. There is a deeper sense of thought that allows for various forms of expression and understanding with out “big brother” Church lording over everyone.

The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism still has it’s many issues that remain to be solved. But one of the greater parts of being Episcopalian is that the Episcopal Church recognizes that we aren’t always going to get it right. The Church admits that we have many flaws in our historical traditions. There have been enormous strides made in years past and there will be many others to come.

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