Catholic ‘and’ Episcopalian

By Dan Webster
Posted Jan 4, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] January brings an annual event, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan 18-25).  Across the country you will find ecumenical services in various houses of Christian worship, all with the intent to bring about Jesus’ prayer for us to his Father, “…that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22)

This new year also officially brings to the U.S. Roman Catholic efforts to create a church home for disaffected Anglicans and Episcopalians. A liturgical rite (aka, “ordinariate”) has been established for parishes and clergy wishing to leave the Anglican tradition and unify with Rome.

St. Luke’s parish in Bladensburg, Maryland,  in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington was the first to be received last October. Baltimore’s Mount Calvary Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, with its 20 voting members, will be next.

Much has been made in the mainstream media of the popularity for such action.  History and current data reveals otherwise.

According to national survey data from the Episcopal Church, 12 percent of Episcopalians are former Roman Catholics. The figures are higher in areas of the Episcopal Church where the predominant faith is Roman Catholic.  A very small percentage of our 7,000 Episcopal parishes have witnessed a majority of their  members leaving for other expressions of the Anglican tradition.  Far fewer have sought a return to Rome.

I am one of the 12 percent.  Raised Roman Catholic,  I was instructed in the Baltimore Catechism, attended Catholic schools, spent time in a Catholic seminary in college, and came of age during the Second Vatican Council.  Those leaving the Roman church have their own reasons.  Mine included the primacy of the pope, exclusion of women in leadership positions, and the discrimination of LGBT Christians.

There’s a book about us.  In Finding Home, Stories of Roman Catholics Entering the Episcopal Church (Cowley, 1997), Christopher L. Webber chronicles the journey of 11 Catholics into the Episcopal Church.  One is the Rev.  Matthew Fox, the former Dominican now a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of California and founder of the University of Creation Spirituality.

“My decision to embrace the Anglican tradition,” said Fox in 1994, “is about including some anglo-saxon (and celtic) common sense into twenty-first century catholicism.”  Fox cited the Dominican tradition of Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart as completely compatible in Anglicanism.  They included “the broad themes of mysticism, social justice, Christian unity, and the central concern for creation,” wrote Webber.

“I think the Episcopal Church became the church envisioned in Vatican II,” the Rt.  Rev.  William Swing told me when he was my bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of California.  He said he received at least one serious inquiry per month from Roman Catholic clergy seeking to become Episcopal priests during his 26 year episcopacy.  (Swing is the bishop who received Matthew Fox.)

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was begun just over 100 years ago by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement when they were still Episcopalian with roots in the Order of the Holy Cross. Later, they became a Roman Catholic order.  Trying to keep track of all this could make an ecclesiastical traffic cop dizzy.

For Roman Catholics, Christian unity may come down to union with Rome as an ordinariate for various denominations under the authority of the pope and the Magisterium.

Or maybe it will be something altogether quite different.  It may be a system or non-institution that any of us have yet to imagine, although it’s difficult to imagine the need for such.  Nearly all denominations accept each other’s baptism if done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Isn’t that unity? Aren’t we already one if we agree on common membership in the Body of Christ?

The ordinariate is Rome’s latest effort toward unity as defined by the Vatican.  For me, I strive every day to be a faithful Catholic, just not Roman Catholic.

The late John Cogley, a former Roman Catholic author, editor of Commonweal and columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, may have said it best when writing about his journey into the Episcopal Church:  “I do not look upon this move as a ‘conversion’ since I have not changed any of the beliefs I formerly held.  Rather, it is a matter of finding my proper spiritual home.”

I suspect former Roman Catholics and former Episcopalians could each say the same of their new spiritual home.  And they would both be right.

— The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Diocese of Maryland and former media relations director for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Comments (20)

  1. Alan Duesterhaus says:

    As another person raised Roman Catholic who found the Episcopal Church I agree with and appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

  2. Ed Adcock says:

    The fluid exchange of former Roman Catholics and former Anglo-Catholics, i.e. all Anglicans – “High”, “Low”, or “Broad”, reinvigorates two branches of the universal church. Let us look forward to the fluid exchange of Catholics and Orthodox. John 17:22 is being fulfilled, albeit slowly by our time-reckoning. God is working God’s purpose out…..

    BTW: While driving, I still tell radio announcers that they’re talking about ROMAN Catholics and that Anglicans are also Catholic!

    /s/ A simple layman 🙂

    1. Richard Augustine says:

      Thank you for pointing that out! I am so frustrated when people automatically think this equation, “catholic = Roman Catholic,” we Anglicans/Episcopalians are also part of the holy catholic church as professed in the Nicene creed. I often describe myself, like Father Dan, a catholic, but not Roman Catholic. I used to use the term “Anglican Catholic,” then I found out there is a conservative “breakaway” church by that name; I, being a liberal Anglican, currently attending “low” parish, refuse to be identified with any conservative “breakaways.”

  3. George Gibson says:

    Well Said Dan.

  4. Rev. William King says:

    I am so pleased to read Dan Webster’s commentary on the latest act by the Church of Rome in its effort to subvert the work of the Holy Spirit who is ever moving through the diversity of spiritual gifts and traditions found throughout the household of the Church universal. I, like Dan, came out of the Roman tradition and into the Episcopal and Anglican tradition some 30 years ago when I was welcomed by Bishop Stough of Alabama. I finally had found the room in God’s house where the furniture was arranged in a manner that strengthened and deepened my faith. And now again, Rome is attempting to re-arrange and to steal spiritual furniture that does not belong to it. When will Rome realize that the Holy Spirit moves where she so wishes and not where Rome so orders her to be?

    There will be a certain level of sadness felt as we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year because Rome has spoken again that unity will only be on its terms.

  5. AliceMarie Slaven-Emond says:

    I am so pleased to have found my “proper spiritual home” in the Episcopal church after 50+ years of Roman dictatorship and a large percentage of priests who live lies; Even more delighted to find out that Rev. Mathew Fox moved to a more progressive and honest group!

  6. John W Ward says:

    Maybe we are not leaving Anglican tradition, but rather reclaiming the authentic tradition prior to the reformation that un-converted Henry VIII started by ego-tripping at Calvary”s expense. Too many of the un-converted church members and clergy of today find the perfect incubator for self-centered do-my-own-thing religion in Episcopal churches. Many thanks Rome for your hospitality and the net to catch those of us who wish to grow beyond the pride of the flesh.

  7. Bruce Bogin says:

    I find other important reasons why the Roman Catholic church is in error. Since its inception it has demonized sex. Beginning with the unnecessary myth that Mary was a virgin rather than a young maiden. There is nothing at all wrong with Mary having engaged in sex with Joseph just as any proper Jewish wife would do. And through the centuries the Roman church has posited that sexual activity between married people must always have as its prime goal procreation. Why? What is so terribly wrong with married people (and adult unmarried people for that matter) engaging in sex just for the sheer pleasure of it? And what kind of institution demands celibacy of its working staff? Could it be that by the 12th century the church was almost totally staffed by closet homosexuals and thought that demanding celibacy would disguise the fact? And what kind of young men will give up sex in order to serve as clerics? Is not such a willingness indicative of some kind of personality disorder? And if our Creator created within us an appetite for sex, is it not some kind of insult to Him to forgo sexuality, particularly in His name? I for one cannot take seriously a man who will forgo sex in this way starting with the Pope and on down.

  8. Rev. Linda M. Maloney says:

    John Cogley (whom I always read avidly and with pleasure) spoke my mind exactly. But I had a hard time explaining it to Episcopal boards and committees when I was seeking ordination! I was deeply saddened, during a recent trip to Jordan and Israel, to be forced to listen to a Roman Catholic priest in Capernaum go on and on about how non-Roman Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence, etc. Episcopalians have a pretty good knowledge of Roman Catholicism, since so many of us share both traditions, but ignorance of the Episcopal Church on the part of Roman Catholics remains deep and broad.

  9. Father Steven A. Scarica says:

    I have been reading the pros and cons of the Roman Church’s institution of the Ordinariate. As much as the Romans claim that it is a sort of safety-net for Anglicans on the right way to Salvation, in a real sense, it plays into the hands of those who see the Roman Catholic Church, not in the realistic sense of political and religious domination, but more in “The grass is greener on the other side of the street” theology. There was a saying that said that, “When Rome sneezes, Anglicans catch the cold.” For Anglicans, they see in Rome the “romantic” aspect of the Church. They don’t see the behind the scenes politicking, the iron fist of the Vatican and the “good ol’ boy system taken to its most refined degree. Instead Anglicans see a kind of “unity” that seems to indicate that everyone in Rome is on the same page, when in fact, it is all an illusion. Early on, I was nurtured in the Roman tradition and discovering the Anglican faith in college. It was as if Anglicanism for me, was and is the Roman Church taken to the next obvious step. There was elbow room for all in a Church that was not of the “cookie-cutter” variety. People often forget that even within the Western Church there were various Rites which differed from each other; Gallican, Mozarabic, Celtic, Latin etc. ARCIC has been meeting for more than a half century discussing the faith we have in common and with which we differ. We’ve agreed on ministry, faith, Eucharist, scripture, Mary and now are tackling the role of authority. We have more in common than not in common, yet still we nit-pick & graciously agree to disagree, to what extent. The most frustrating thing for me is the way that Rome uses the Holy Eucharist as carrot at the end of a stick. Instead of the Eucharist as a means to that perfect Unity in Christ, for Rome, they have made the Eucharist the one and only expression of Unity in Christ. It’s funny to realize that no one, that we know of at the Last Supper, was Baptized, except for Jesus. Also, the one who would betray Jesus (sinful man that he was) was also there at the Table to receive Jesus’ most Precious Body & Blood in that 1st Holy Eucharist. Jesus saw that special Meal as to lead His Disciples to a more perfect Unity. Not that they had already reached total unity or perfection – but a place from which to being. For the Roman Catholic Church to therefore make the Holy Eucharist the litmus test to the true Unity in the Church, is to treat the Holy Eucharist as a weapon. Though we are all called to perfection, it will never happen until that time when Christ will come again, in Glory, to judge both the Living and the Dead at the Last Day. Therefore for Anglicans (not just the Ordinariate kind) and Romans not to gather at the Altar for Eucharist, is a miscarriage of faith and thus a missed opportunity for both Churches to practice Christ’s Words, “That they all may be One.”

    1. Steven Barrett says:

      Father, the next time any of your former Catholic parishioners tell you about the “grass is always greener” quip they’ve surely been hit with along the way towards Canterbury, ask them how practiced was the sneer that went with the quip. I used to dish it out myself until I caught on once and for all upon watching Pope Francis taking so much backhanded disrespect from the people who were always first to demand full respect for the Magisterium. But when a Pope came along who wanted to shake things up … wasn’t that a different kettle!?

  10. John Swanson says:

    I attended an Episcopal church as a child, although my parents didn’t. Then at age 28 I became Roman Catholic. At age 39 I joined a Baptist church, but returned to the R.C. Church at age 51. I left again at age 62. Now I am 67. Not sure what to do next. I’m probably hopeless. God bless!

    1. Steven Barrett says:

      John, I’m 64, raised Catholic, went to and graduated from Biscayne College (then run by the Augustinians, now the Archdiocese of Miami) and was comfortably Catholic up to my late 30s. Then upon my dear wife’s suggestion for a compromise, she a former Congregationalist turned Epsicopalian, I attended a local Anglican parish and was considered a member by virtue of family ties. But I was still hedging. Then we joined a moderately conservative ABC church and remained members for a while but about a decade into our tenure there, I became a Catholic again. (Well, to use the old line, once a Catholic always a Catholic.) During the past few years my wife started taking an interest in attending our old Episcopal parish’s all stops pulled Christmas Eve Eucharist. Grace Episcopal in Amherst, MA kills the grumpiest secret Scrooge buried deep in any grumpy Christmas Eve Eucharist attendee who walks through its doors. But we were still hedging a bit because of our conservative beliefs on some of the “controversials” … That was easy enough to handle once some commonsense thinking was applied. Despite any PC codes, real or imagined, and college towns in the northeast are chock full of ’em, once you enter an Episcopal parish’s doors, take your weekly program and a seat and participate in the liturgy … nobody’s snooping or peeking at you or even having the gall to give those whispers that go like, “Who the heck is he to walk up to take communion, he’s been divorced several times over and the woman next to him is a “regular” at the local town clerk’s office. ” As I mentioned below, my breaking point was the big brouhaha (minus the ha ha’s) in Rome during the Synod when Pope Francis was openly challenged for his far more far-sighted and genuinely compassionate and merciful stance towards accepting Communion while in (to put short and sweetly, canonical limbo) or mixed families such as mine. Ridiculous. My wife and I have been married for 32 years, raised four adult children and blessed with one grandson, but we can’t receive Communion without causing creased brows (both on lay and ordained foreheads)?!? As Francis laid it out, time for the clericalism and legalism to go. Be gone! (What killed Benedict’s papacy and undermined the poor man from the start?)
      John, consider your soul, your psyche and peace of mind. Take it from a guy who was so burned out for awhile on “churchy” matters, and I’d done my share as a diocesan reporter and church sexton. I never lost my faith in the teachings of Catholicism, and especially I never lost faith that there was a God in Heaven Who loved me and my family. But I just couldn’t bring myself to get over to Mass and the local Catholic parish was only a five minute walk from my home. The Masses were as dull as dishwater no matter how hard the Pastor worked on his homilies. (He’s a very good homilist. But it’s his parish, too old and set in its ways, just as the diocese and Church overall. Kumbaya doesn’t kut it. But try and get that across to the people so engrossed in “social justice” that they’ve seemed to forgotten that living one’s faith should do justice to the One who gives us the energy and ideas to help reduce social injustice. Episcopalians care just as much but they’re not into wearing sackclothe, dousing themselves with ashes and asking why others aren’t as miserable as they are. That’s what’s become of the Catholic Church in America today.
      I haven’t abandoned my Catholic faith, I just rediscovered it in the Episcopal Church and don’t consider myself “protestant” even small-p protestant in the least. God Bless ya and hope this helps.

  11. Jean Olsen says:

    As someone who grew up Roman Catholic in Chicago, I have a slightly different viewpoint on my RC to Episcopal changeover. If you are familiar with Chicago, you will know that Holy Name, the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is located just one block away and around the corner from St. James, the Cathedral Church of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. As a very close friend of mine said, when he also made the change before me, “I didn’t leave the church, I merely switched bishops.”

  12. Tom Miller says:

    Thanks for this column! As yet another convert from Roman Catholicism to the Episcopal Church, I’m sometimes frustrated by all the news coverage about conservative Episcopalians becoming Roman Catholics. The door certainly swings both ways!

  13. I am an estranged lifelong Catholic in the process of joining the Episcopal Church and am so grateful I found this website.Like many former members,I am leaving because I do not agree with the infallibility of the Pope, or the treatment of women. Nor do I agree that male Priests should be celibate.

  14. John S. Shehan says:

    In 1979 I was baptized into a non-canonical Orthodox body. Doubting its authenticity, I migrated over to the Catholics and went part of the way through the catechism. 21 years later, I made the “leap” again–this time bercoming Catholic after attending Lutheran and Episcopal churches off an on for years. Reading Garry Will’s book “Papal Sin” in the not-too-distant past made me realize why I had balked at becoming Catholic in the first place. The book exposes the intense intellectual dishonesty that comprises the Church of Rome. Now, after about a dozen years as a Catholic, I am seriously considering going back to the Episcopal Church (or the Lutheran Church). The hingepoint in Will’s “Papal Sin” is the compelling evidence that Rome was governed by a group of elders for quite some time before an actual standing bishop was enthroned. That makes Rome’s claim to episopcal pedigree questionable–and ultimately invalidates any claims it has ever made to primacy. The late Greek Orthodox archbishop Michael Constantinides once remarked: “Throughout its history, the papacy has waged wars, inflicted inquistions on the faithful, brought about conditions in the Church that led to the Great Revolt (the Protestant Reformation), and finally created ideas as to infallibility. And all of these things in the name of God.”

  15. Elizabeth Siler says:

    Hello! I am in the process of leaving the RCC and joining the Anglican communion in the form of the Episcopal church. I found this interesting! Thanks for writing it! I’m always amazed at how the media makes much of an Episcopal church going over to the RCC but nothing is said of the fact that on any typical Sunday I find myself in the pews at my EC parish with so many people who were RCC — maybe 1/2 of the parish I now attend used to be RCC! My personal prayer . . . I don’t want to hate the RCC (it’s so easy to get angry with it). I want to love the Anglican communion and not be thinking in such negative terms about the RCC. But I HAD to move on. I couldn’t bear the papal/Vatican corruption and repression, the unrealistic attitudes about birth control (in the fact of the major environmental crisis of overpopulation), the complete lack of respect for women. I’m always happy if people can recommend good reading for me. . . so if you know of some good things to read as I move into the EC . . . please let me know! Thanks and God bless you all!

  16. Steven Barrett says:

    The final straw for me came recently just after the Synod on the Family broke up in Fall of 2015 and all sorts of pot shots were taken at Pope Francis, not so much from the laity where taking shots at the Pope is common sport. No, this time it came from very prominent clerics, including one Cardinal from Guinea, Robert Sarah, who flat out challenged Francis on intercommunion, esp. between married spouses whose present marriages are in a state of canonical limbo while awaiting an annulment. Go figure, a wife beating husband who gets a divorce but doesn’t remarry, may still be able to receive communion. But, his former wife, who just happened to find a good loving husband and a devout follower of the Lord and perhaps even an Episcopalian, is not allowed to receive communion in both faiths according to Roman rules until and unless she receives an annulment from the first marriage. Now she might also have children from that marriage. But how does she tell the kids the marriage through which they were conceived and born through never existed. Poof! That requires a lot more faith in magic than faith in Christ in the Eucharist. Pope Francis wants to ease up but the moment he does, the canonical experts in the Curia stop him at every juncture. This is pure mutiny and a slap in the face of the Holy Spirit Who guided the men who selected Jorge Bergoglio to be their next successor to St. Peter. Something tells me the old boys club in Rome has yet to get over Francis famous rip into the clericalism paralyzing the Vatican and this is their way of getting even. Thankfully my wife and I don’t have this problem as I am leaving the Catholic Church (formally) soon to join the Episcopalians.
    And what a refreshing change it is when I attend an Episcopalian Mass: They take the whole Eucharistic celebration and feast a lot more seriously than their elder spiritual Roman cousins, and that’s a very sad spiritual commentary I thought I’d never have to share in print. But thank God somebody does!

  17. Christopher Casey says:

    I am a former catholic now a episcopal. My fiancée is catholic and we are both divorced. If we wish to marry in a episcopal church do we need both of our marriages annulled?

Comments are closed.