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Why do Catholics become Anglicans?

We must take a leaf out of the evangelicals’ book in trying to attract people back to Catholic churches

By on Wednesday, 30 November 2011

My last posting about those Catholics who attend Anglican services thinking that they are Catholic services generated rather a lot of comments, one of which gave me pause. I am unable to find this comment in the plethora of contributions, but it was from an Anglican vicar who said that up to half of the congregation in one of his churches consisted of former Roman Catholics.

Indeed this is a recognised phenomenon and I too have come across it: people who swim the Tiber in reverse. We are not talking here of those tourists in London who go to a service in an Anglo-Catholic Anglican Church which they assume is High Mass, but rather those Catholics who live here and who have joined Anglican parishes, effectively becoming ex-Catholics.

Some, I think, would rather like to ignore this trend, or claim that the numbers are too few to be worth talking about; but I think it would make sense to ask ourselves why this happens, and see if there is anything we can do to improve our own parishes, if indeed people are leaving because of dissatisfaction with their parishes.

Here are a few reasons why Catholics become Anglicans, in my experience:

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?

Instead of getting hot under the collar, I think we should all agree that there is no substitute for good liturgy and good pastoral practice; and that we should try and make our parishes as welcoming and as friendly as possible. And we should not turn our noses up and providing a good aesthetic experience for the glory of God.

But it must go further. We also need to realise that there has to be sound teaching and sound learning of the doctrine of the faith. And we need to take a leaf out of the book of churches like Holy Trinity Brompton. We have got to be more evangelical. And as I write this, I am conscious of just how much I fail to be sufficiently evangelical. Catholics, and especially Catholic clergy, who scoff at the evangelicals make a huge mistake. We have got a lot to learn from them: their dedication, their sound adherence to the Creeds and the Bible, their strong moral positions, their pastoral planning and methodology, their deep personal faith, all these have much to recommend them.

So, I think we can learn from the Rev Nicky Gumbel; and from St Charles Borromeo too, come to think of it, and the Curé of Ars, and all the other great pastoral saints in our tradition.

  • Lepewhi

    I believe that there are a certain number of Catholics that go to Anglican/Episcopalian churches because they don’t see themselves any less Catholic, just worshiping in a place that is comfortable.  These Churches share so many things in common and so many of the things that aren’t shared are often politically driven. As a gay Catholic, I feel much more appreciated and loved in an Anglican church than in a Church that teaches that we are not to engage in something that is natural to us as given by God, yes by God, as sexuality is, when in a committed relationship. Also, the Catholic liturgy has been dumbed down to a level that is not challenging or beautiful, just kindergarten church.  I don’t want to go back to the Trent Mass or anything, but a lovely liturgy, good music, beautiful architecture, warm and accepting people, not judgemental and bigoted.  I know that I sound angry, I’m not.  Some of the people that helped form me into the adult that I am now have mostly all been Catholic. But, with the wave of anti-gay bashing from the Vatican, happy clappy Masses, the willingness to allow priests from the Anglican Church to remain married in the Roman Catholic Church if they change affiliation, while already Catholics priests can’t be married, hiding predator priests…. Some Catholics feel that most of the differences are based on power and control, not everyone wants to be controlled. Why not go back and forth.  If one spirituality doesn’t work for you and you feel yourself a Catholic, why not be a Catholic in a place that practices as you know, but with a beautiful liturgy, good music and can be openly gay? I will always be a Catholic, no matter if I attend an Anglican church or RCC church. It’s what I know, and I don’t see them as mutually exclusive.   This is not about, my Church is better than your Church, as indeed, we, as Catholics believe that non Christians can enter God’s graces, why cast aspersions on someone that chooses to find God in an Anglican or Orthodox Church? They aren’t turning their backs on God, but want to face God, just want to have an honest and adult experience of God that is their’s, and not anyones to judge. I see that you are a Dominican(priest?). Fr., I mean no disrespect and will always love and continue to be a Catholic, but maybe not always attend a RC church. God loves everyone, I think on that one point, we agree. PAX

  • Williamwalker08

    If you are an active homosexual you are not a true Christian regardless which church you attend. 

  • Ebonykawai

     I have. I actually have quite a few theological issues with the Catholic church. So did Martin Luther, lol.

  • Ebonyawai

     EXACTLY. But they don’t want to recognize this. The problems with the Catholic church are much deeper than what was stated in this article. MUCH deeper, and that’s why people are leaving. 

  • Ebonykawai

     LOL, try “sister”.

  • Ebonykawai

     If they are finding ‘truth’, why are they so uncharitable and unloving?? That’s not exactly the descent of the Holy Spirit, is it?

  • Ebonykawai

    “We insist we are right and 2,000 years of wisdom & truth taught
    since the Apostles and the early Church Fathers MUST be wrong for the
    sake of our personal convenience.”

    Actually, the problem is that the Catholic church is ignoring A GREAT DEAL of what Jesus and, later, the Apostles taught! For goodness sake, you have groups of people who raise money to discriminate against others! The Pope is saying that GBLT individuals are not “fully developed humans.” What the heck is that? Isn’t that what was said in WW2, that Jews were not really fully human? What happened to “Love is patient, love is kind…”?? What happened to “Love one another” and “Love your neighbor”? What about “Jesus Christ is our only advocate and mediator”, not Mary or a bunch of man-made saints.

    No, just keep coming up with what YOU think the problems are, and ignore what’s going on in reality. But know this, among myriad other issues: that if the Pope/church is infallible in faith and morals, yet found it a-OK to hide sexual abuse in hundreds and maybe thousands of cases, that pretty much tells you that the Holy Spirit is NOT present. Fact.

  • KC

    I am not considering a conversion to Anglicanism because of marriage rites, aesthetics or church politics. I am repelled by the Catholic church because of the child-abuse sex-scandals involving Catholic priests AND the church’s response – or, perhaps in many cases, “non-response” would be more precise  – to them! But, yes, a secondary reason for my potential conversion is that I reject the subtle and pervasive belief in the Catholic church that women are somehow not ‘fit’ to serve in the clergy. At my age (53) strictures on the use of birth control are no longer relevant, but the … pontificating (excuse the pun) on private matters between a husband and wife also disturbs me. Of course, if a man – and the Pope is a man; an educated theologican, yes, but still a human being who can make mistakes – is considered infallible, then it becomes extremely difficult for him to revise his opinions in light of new information. This is not to say that I believe morality is relative – I do NOT believe that – but, on the issue of birth control, for example, the moral question is whether a married couple is willing to accept the children given to them by God’s grace; not whether they should be required to have a child every year! (And please do not speak to me about the very ineffective ‘rhythm method’ of contraception!)

  • Joe Q

    But we can’t talk to people when others are praying in church. The time after receiving Jesus should be spent talking to Him while He is supersubstantially close.  And before for talking to Him in the tabernacle. We are being mean to Catholics who want to visit Jesus before, after and during mass instead of visiting plain humans and doing small talk to them with God waiting for our attention. They might need quiet to pray. And quietness is conductive to prayer time.

  • Joe Q

    The Catechism says “Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
    1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.”59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.”

    He is responsible for not thoroughly checking out the truth of both sides with the internet which is usually always available.

  • ET

    5. The corruption of the Roman Catholic church excees the corruption of the Anglican church. You don’t think scandal drive Catholics away?
    6. The appeal of the “via media,” that middle ground between Catholic and Protestant. It has an appeal to both sides. Our Anglican church is 25% former Catholics and 25% former evangleical/fundamentalists Protestants