Rome Wins! My Journey to the Episcopal Church and Back

Bill Quinn
LMSW/Christian Counselor

My journey and struggle with my Catholic Faith began in the summer of 1999. At that time, I was a social work major in college. I loved the school and my classmates and have many fond memories of my time there. Mass in the chapel with my fellow students was a great experience, especially at Christmas time. The previous year, I had taken social inequality. In this class, our Marxist professor drilled into us the “facts” about society. They were as follows: Society was largely socially constructed, including behaviors and morals. Certain groups (specifically white men) were at the top. Everyone else (African Americans, homosexuals, women etc.) were oppressed by them, in varying degrees. Now, this is true to a certain extent. I know this, as a person with a disability.

However, this professor was extreme and radical. (Unashamedly I might add.) Anyway, he took it upon himself to demonstrate his point by dividing the class into three separate groups. These were metaphoric men, metaphoric women and a group of neutral observers. He treated each group differently according to their status, giving the women more work than the men and giving the men far more privileges in class than the women. The neutral observers were somewhere in between. I was lucky enough to be labeled a metaphoric man, but I was captivated! If women were really treated in society the way that the metaphoric women were, then as a man I was an oppressor! I felt deeply sorry for my “female” classmates who were treated awfully, to the point where I was ready to roll my power chair to the other side of the room! It never occurred to me at twenty-one, that this social experiment was the creation of a white male professor who had no first-hand knowledge of the thoughts and feelings of women, and that it might be sexist of him to presume that he did.

I was dumbfounded! I had been a devout Catholic since birth and had often raised my hand to defend the Catholic Faith without thinking simply because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. Yet, here I was in a church that was cold and autocratic! Women could not even become priests! This was not to mention oppressing ten percent of the population by not blessing gay unions! Forget about birth control! I continued to defend the Church but my faith was scarred. In my heart and mind I was struggling.

The Search Begins

Now at the same time that I was becoming “enlightened” by this professor, something else was occurring. I began to feel what I thought might be a calling to the priesthood. However, I felt that I could never be celibate. I knew that many Episcopalians had joined the Catholic Church and had even kept part of their own prayer book liturgy. In fact, some had served as diocesan priests while being married to their wives and having children! How could this be? I began to wonder if anyone had gone the other direction. After all, even my devout Catholic father had told me years ago that the only difference from Catholics was that Episcopalians did not accept the pope or the Church’s teaching on divorce. How different could the two churches really be if this was so? (It turns out that they are quite a bit different, but more on that later.) 

Besides, they had women priests and allowed priests to marry! They also had gay-friendly congregations that welcomed homosexuals instead of oppressing them. I wasn’t quite ready for this last thing but it was starting to appeal to me. This was not because I myself was gay, but I sympathized with their minority status. Nevertheless, this did not matter. I could simply find a conservative parish that was pro-life and was traditional about marriage. (I have never wavered on abortion.) Hey, this could work out! Maybe this was God’s will after all. 

However, I was terrified at the thought of leaving the Catholic Church. After all, the words of Our Lord in the Gospel were, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18 ESV). Besides, how could I tell my father? (He died shortly before this writing. May his soul rest in peace.) He was such a devout Catholic and had been in the seminary. He might not accept it. Moreover, this was the church that was founded by a lecherous king looking to satisfy his lustful desires! This is what I had been told and have always believed, but I had to explore. One day, I called the local Episcopal parish with my hand trembling on the phone. 

When the minister answered, I said something like, “I understand your church is close to the Catholic Church in terms of doctrine.” “That’s right,” he replied. “And you allow priests to marry and you have women priests?” “Yes,” he said in a distinctly British accent which was somewhat arrogant now that I look back on it. “Well if you read your bible, the first person commissioned to preach the Gospel was Mary Magdalene…The pope walked away from us during the time of Elizabeth, not Henry VIII. They have their history wrong there.” I didn’t say anything but immediately called my Chaplain on campus, Father Luke. “Hi Father Luke.” (He is also now deceased.) “What do you know about the Church of England?” “Historically, a great deal. What do you want to know?” 

I then proceeded to tell him that I had been told that the Church of England had broken with the pope during the reign of Elizabeth. I can’t remember what he said exactly all these years later, but I think he tried to explain to me that she was considered illegitimate by the Church since her parents, Ann Boleyn and Henry VIII, had never been actually married. Since she tried to assert her entitlement to the throne over the objection of the Church, she had been excommunicated. Next, I explained to him that I was having difficulty with certain Church teachings. I mentioned women priests and clerical marriage. “Will I be excommunicated if I have a problem with these things?” “It depends on what you do with the problem,” he responded. 

After letting him know what I was thinking of doing, I said, “I don’t want to break with the Church.” I was terrified! “Well if you enter an Episcopalian seminary, you’re going to break.” He also told me that the man who orchestrated Henry’s break from Rome was a man named Thomas Cranmer. Finally, he said that the Catholic Church did not consider ordinations in other denominations as valid. “Of course,” I thought in my head. “They are not part of the ‘true church!’” (It turns out this is not the reason at all for the pope’s decision on the nullity of Anglican Orders.) This was to be important later. 

The Search Continues

The next stage of my journey was an intellectual one. I started reading some books from the library on the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. I then went to meet with my Catholic pastor. He asked me what was drawing me to the Anglican Church. This kind monsignor (who is now an auxiliary bishop in my diocese) listened to my complaints about the Church and responded gently for about an hour. I told him in no uncertain terms about my problems with the Church’s teaching on women priests, contraception and homosexuality and my desire to be a married priest. In the end, he said I would have to search things out for myself. I can’t say much else about the meeting.

However, one thing that has always stuck with me is the idea that when procreation is removed from sex, anything becomes acceptable. (This it turns out is something that all Christians recognized until 1930, when the Anglican Church came under pressure from secular sources, i.e. eugenicists, and approved contraception in limited circumstances, the other denominations following suit.) My next step was to call the local Episcopal pastor near my house. He was a conservative Episcopalian. I had the following dialogue with him:

“Father.” (He was a high churchman.) “When you consecrate the bread and wine, do you believe it becomes the Body and Blood of Christ?” “Of course,” he replied. “And you allow priests to marry and women to become priests?” “Yes.” I also had an exchange with him about not believing in Calvinist theology. I asked him if he was a member of the high church, to which he replied that they tended to be. Even then I was starting to get a sense that there was a difference between high and low church Episcopalians but thought from our conversation that belief in the Eucharist in the Catholic sense was universal among Anglicans. (I was wrong but did not or did not want to see it.) 

Still Struggling

I was so excited I could hardly contain myself! I knew what I had to do. The following Wednesday I went to their seven o’clock Eucharist. Again, I was dumbfounded! This was the Mass I had grown up with, except for a few minor changes! I had never been to an Anglican service before and yet I was able to join in most of the responses without the prayer book! They even knelt to receive communion! I was going to convert and probably would have, had I not gone to a Catholic Healing Mass and prayed for an answer to my dilemma. At the Mass was a woman who had been an Episcopalian and become Catholic. She said she loved the Catholic Church. On the one hand, I took this as God’s answer and tried to put it out of my head. 

However, it did not work. Every time I went to confession, this issue would come up with the priest. I got different advice from different people. One day, I finally decided to leave and told a priest in the confessional. He asked me how I could leave the Church and told me that this was my soul we were talking about! I did not go the next morning as planned but eventually I began to visit the Episcopal Church each week. They now had a different pastor. After several conversations with him, he told me that the Catholic view of the Eucharist (transubstantiation) was not universal among Anglicans. In fact, he took a receptionist view of the Eucharist. This is essentially the Calvinist view, which states that the Eucharist becomes the Body and Blood of Christ for those who believe it does; the sacrament is not transformed until it is physically eaten. 

This evangelical Anglican pastor was very kind and compassionate. But I thought he was wrong! I desperately wanted to believe that the Anglican and Catholic beliefs about the Blessed Sacrament were one and the same. Incidentally, this pastor and his wife later left the parish because the majority were Anglo-Catholics and did believe in transubstantiation! Many were former Catholics. I remained on the mailing list for the church and was somewhat confused. By this time, both my parents had assured me that this was my decision and that they would not intervene. But I digress.

Jumping Ship

Soon after the other pastor left, the church called a new rector. He had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church and called himself Anglo-Catholic (very high church). I was right after all! After some more searching, I was finally ready to join the Episcopal parish. I called this priest and told him I would be coming to the Eucharist that night. This time, I received communion with the congregation and intended on staying. I was so excited to have finally made the leap from this cold autocratic institution that was the Catholic Church! (Or Rome as the Anglicans call it.) I met with the pastor and told him that I was interested in priesthood. By this time, I realized that although I believed in gay marriage and giving the sacraments to homosexuals, I could not in good conscience perform a same-sex marriage. In my heart, I must have known it was wrong.

The pastor (a conservative Anglo-Catholic who believed practically everything we do as Roman Catholics and still does) warned me that I was in the most liberal diocese in the Episcopal Church. He wanted me to know this before I started the long arduous process of becoming a priest. I began to make phone calls and was told sometimes politely and sometimes not that I would not have a chance in the Episcopal Church (TEC), with conservative values. One person told me that I would not have a chance in his parish because of the way I was talking. Another one (a priest) actually had the nerve to ask me how many straight Roman Catholic priests I knew! Containing my anger, I said, “quite a few!”

I was starting to get a sense that this was not going to work. I did not realize it, but my reversion process had begun. After all, I could not solemnize a gay marriage and I was going to remain prolife. Conservatives who left TEC began to warn me that my Episcopal bishop would think me a cave man for my views. This was good, though, for God was changing my heart through this process and I began to know what I believed and to be less compromising about it. I was far more traditional and biblically orthodox than I realized!

Episcopal Splinter Groups

Now, I am not the only one this sort of thing has happened to. Many have sought refuge in continuing church movements who have broken away from TEC over the years. It is beyond the scope of this paper to detail it here. So now, while this was happening, I started visiting and looking into many of these churches. I found that they did not accept abortion or gay marriage, but they had different problems! Specifically, they were what has become known as splinter groups, small and divided among themselves, mostly because of personality conflicts and egos that have developed over the years. 

One bishop even told me to stay away from another parish that was closer to my house because that bishop had left his church, or jurisdiction! These people were worse than the Romans and they basically had the same beliefs! Perhaps this was a microcosm of the whole reformation! What was I supposed to do? At this time, I began to feel a strange attraction toward the church of my birth but there were a couple more things to consider before coming back.

The Old Catholics and CANA

Now, the Old Catholics had walked away from the Catholic Church over papal infallibility in 1870. Once more, they seemed like a good alternative because the Catholic Church recognizes their priesthood as valid. However, the same problem exists in Old Catholic jurisdictions as in Continuing churches. Personality conflicts lead to division among jurisdictions and places to worship are few and far between! Yikes! The Orthodox churches that I briefly explored were also divided among themselves.

I had to explore one more option before returning home again. This was the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). It is basically a joint venture that allows members of a presently forming province which is not yet part of the Anglican communion (they are still awaiting recognition from the archbishop of Canterbury) to be joined to be part of that worldwide communion through the bishop of Nigeria. What a wonderful idea, I thought! I have found home!

I then discovered a bombshell that would force my back against the wall and send me hitchhiking back to Rome with my tail between my legs. Throughout this time, I THOUGHT that Anglican Holy Orders were valid. I soon discovered that they were not! This is a dilemma that has caused agony and anger for many an Anglican priest. Anyway, I was reading a book by a Catholic convert from Anglicanism who postulated that Anglican orders were valid, when I began to see that something was wrong! This theologian stated flatly that St. Thomas Aquinas thought of the Eucharistic sacrifice as nothing but a memorial! Anyone familiar with Catholic theology knows this is not true! While the Eucharistic sacrifice is a memorial, it is also much more. The sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is actually re-presented in the Mass; the eternal sacrifice of Christ is made present here and now. In the Eucharist, we receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; God Himself comes into us.

Knocked off my horse like St. Paul, I started to investigate his main thesis, which was that current Anglican ordinations were valid because old Catholic bishops had participated in most of the ordinations. This would be true, except for one thing. During the reign of King Edward VI, Cranmer and his crew introduced a new rite of Holy Orders, which DELIBERATELY took out necessary parts of the ordination ritual. This makes the Anglican ordinal invalid even if used by an old Catholic bishop! In fact, the Anglican Church itself changed the rite again a century later, because it was missing ANY reference to being ordained a priest. However, at this point, the Anglican hierarchy had already been broken; none of her bishops were valid by this time. I realized then that Anglicanism is a Protestant religion at its core because the reformers wanted to make it so! This means that Anglican priests cannot consecrate the Body and Blood of Our Lord, even if they think they can. It is simply a fact.

Conclusion

It was this information that was the final straw! I went to confession and was home again! The Anglicans lack valid Orders. Rome has them! The old Catholics lack unity! Rome has it! I would be a liar if I said that my faith journey has been easy or that I don’t feel bad about giving up my dream of becoming a married priest. However, I do know that I can enter a Catholic church anywhere in the world and be safe and at home. I also know that the Catholic Church will not fall apart and become divided against itself because we have the promise of Our Lord to Peter, that is carried through our Holy Father. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).

Acknowledgements

I dedicate this paper to my late father, Gregory T. Quinn, whose wisdom and guidance help me tremendously throughout my life. Dad, please pray for me!

Edited by Christopher Centrella

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