On the fading faith of Anglicanism

Why I think Catholicism is going to continue to attract converts in Britain and serve as a source of hope as the old Anglican establishment continues to crumble.

(Image: Kentaro Toma/Unsplash.com)

I’ve been thinking about two Anglicans named Charles lately.

But before I talk about them, I want to say something about how and why I still talk occasionally about my former ecclesial group.

When I was on my way out of the Episcopal Church and into the Catholic Church in 2018, a very clever friend of mine took me aside and explained an unwritten rule, kept among gentlemen churchmen: When you forsake Anglicanism, you explain yourself once (if you have to) and then you never speak of it again. Move on. Don’t think of the past. Don’t dunk on your old friends. Don’t punch down.

But the farther away from Anglicanism I get, the less compunction I have to avoid criticizing it from time to time. Maybe my friend’s advice is really just his own “cope” (more anon). I’m not trying to sink the ship already on its way down, but sound a loud alarm from the safety of shore to anybody left who will listen.

Now, some of my old Anglican friends are dyed-in-the wool Protestants. They would largely agree with an Anglican thinker like Gerald Bray, whose book Anglicanism: A Reformed Catholic Tradition, I critiqued at length last year in The Lamp. Far from being a branch of Catholicism, Anglicanism has always been, in fact, a hodgepodge of Protestantisms (including a Protestantism that calls itself Catholic!). Puritanism was ultimately ruled out. Paedobaptism has always been non-negotiable. But a wide variety of other Protestant flavors have come and gone in different measures from the beginning. Even those with High Church taste buds were dining happily, and for centuries, at the same “not-Roman-Catholic” table.

I’ve written in many places now about how I came to the conclusion that Anglicanism as Catholicism is ultimately a fiction, but a fiction with a lot of truth strewn within it – truth which now has a home in the Catholic Church. For this reason, I took issue recently over at Catholic Answers with a group of self-styled “Catholic” Anglicans who celebrated a Communion service at the High Altar of St. John Lateran in Rome.

If it’s ungentlemanly to say enough is enough…well, I’ll risk it. I never was a WASP to begin with.

With that, I want to talk about the quintessential WASP, King Charles III, whose recent coronation was in some respects a breath of fresh air. It was full of enchanting spectacle, in a city that deserves to be more than Big Brother’s surveillance fantasy or a “regional banking center-slash-refugee camp.” I love Britain and I love London, and as I have written here before, I even have a soft spot for the British monarchy, and I worry that whatever the monarchy has been good for over the past century may now be in jeopardy because of the moral failures and ideological self-immolation of Queen Elizabeth II’s children. We should all pray, for example, that His Majesty turns out to be more than a stooge of the World Economic Forum.

But the coronation naturally brought up a sticky subject: What about the King’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and his historic title “Defender of the Faith” – part of his royal inheritance from his deranged, debauched ancestor, Henry VIII? What does the continuation of this role mean for the future of the many theories of Anglican identity?

It is an astonishing thought that when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1952, assuming her role at the very top of the Anglican hierarchy, the modern ecumenical movement had not been born. Nor had the Church of England or any other ecclesial group in the Anglican Communion even remotely begun considering ordaining women, marrying same-sex couples, or jettisoning the Book of Common Prayer. Likewise, no one foresaw the introduction into Britain of millions of Muslims and other adherents of non-Christian religions, let alone the secularism that would wash over everything, leading Charles to propose decades before his accession that his country needed a defender of various faiths (or no faith!) rather than the Faith.

Nonetheless, King Charles III ascended the throne affirming what the Anglican thing has always been. He was asked,

Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?

To which he swore,

I Charles do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.

An Anglican friend of mine offered an esoteric reading of the ceremony that makes swearing to be a “Protestant” actually mean something else. But you can dress a king up however you like, and a cope is a cope (let the reader understand).

As I wrote elsewhere recently, I happen to think Catholicism is going to continue to attract converts in Britain and serve as a source of hope as the old Anglican establishment continues to crumble. In the United States, as in Britain, the data are a bloodbath. In America, I tend to think trying to re-brand Anglicanism as a hip Law vs. Gospel Lutheranism or even a heady, manly Calvinism could have some legs for a generation or two, and particularly in well-endowed parishes in the southern half of the United States. But sooner or later, it will be game over in those genteel enclaves too. In the end, there will just be Catholicism or nothing.

And this brings me to the other Charles – Charles “Charlie” Holt, whose present ordeal is shaping up to be a different example of what Anglicanism is, and why it’s doomed.

Charlie is an Episcopal priest, and an old colleague of mine from my past life in a collar. We both served as rectors (the Episcopalian word for pastors) in parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, based in Orlando. He was happy to be a Protestant, even vigorously defending Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity on a clergy e-mail forum. I was fiercely defensive of my Catholic theory, but I always admired Charlie’s guts.

Charlie went on to start Bible Study Media, which produces small group study resources, and he later joined the staff of a large Episcopal church in Houston, Texas. Last year he was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida (based in Jacksonville), but as of this writing, he has not been able to receive the Episcopalian version of consecration and start using the miter and staff (and cope!).

Before I say more about Charlie’s situation, I should briefly explain how one becomes a bishop in the Episcopal Church. In most dioceses, an announcement is made that a new bishop will be elected on a given date, and nominations for candidates are invited. In most cases, a candidate needs the support of at least a few clerics and laypeople of the diocese to get on the ballot. In some cases, the diocese’s rules make it much harder. But once on the ballot, there is a “walkabout” period where all the candidates’ names are made known, and they are invited to various events, usually over a period of a few months. The election then takes place, with all canonically-resident clergy voting, as well as a fairly large number of lay people elected from their parishes. The clergy and laity vote separately, and a successful candidate must win two-thirds majorities in both orders, with the results announced after each ballot. Voting continues until one candidate reaches the necessary threshold.

Once elected, the winner must receive consent for his or her episcopal consecration from two-thirds of the sitting diocesan bishops in the Episcopal Church, as well as two-thirds of the Standing Committees of the dioceses. (A Standing Committee is a small group of clergy and lay people elected to serve a diocese in various ways, including serving as the ecclesiastical authority in the absence of a bishop.)

If this all sounds strange to Catholics, it should. Although Episcopalians claim a tenuous connection to the episcopal electoral practices of the Early Church, what in fact has happened is that the selection of bishops is held completely hostage to ecclesiastical hobbyists who care enough to get themselves in a position to vote. And this is related to another big problem with Anglicanism – namely, the convention and/or synodal governance that has authority to put even the basics of the faith to a vote, all with a blasphemous veneer of following the Holy Spirit where she leads. I joked to some friends the other day that I hope the Holy Spirit shows up soon and tells Anglicans to vote that she doesn’t exist anymore and the whole charade will be over.

Anyway, my old colleague Charlie is against “gay marriage”, although the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted in 2018 (I was there) to mandate it in every church of every diocese. So, while he does not personally have to preside at a “gay wedding”, and as a bishop, he could certainly ordain more people who likewise refuse to do it, it’s going to happen in his diocese. He can even teach that “gay marriage” is unbiblical, untraditional, against the Natural Law…whatever…but the matter is settled for Charlie’s ecclesial group at large. There is one teaching and one practice, and it mirrors all the tiresome secular tropes: “love is love,” etc…

So here’s what’s happening: Charlie was elected bishop, and predictably, progressives did not like the result. They then found procedural grounds to force a re-do, but Charlie won again. Now the bishops and committee members who need to sign off on the results appear to be hesitant to consent. Charlie’s former bishop (a progressive) supports him. But one of his old friends, another bishop, is not so sure (see here and here). If all else fails, his detractors may try to play the racism card, which, knowing Charlie as I do, is a bad faith bluff if there ever was one.

So, why is Charlie’s case worth my violating the former Anglican gentleman’s gag order?

Well, on the face of it, it’s just one of thousands of examples of just how sad Anglicanism has become when a man who believes what Christians have always believed is not allowed to lead. But the fact that Charlie is, to my knowledge, a proud Protestant, makes it all the more ridiculous. He is happy enough to take comfort in his own biblically-rigorous religious opinion and act on it accordingly; but he is also happy to serve in a church where the opposite opinion is the majority.

In the end, there is no way for a conservative like Charlie or the mainstream Progressives who oppose him to say to each other that one is right and the other wrong. That’s the big problem with Protestantism, including Anglicanism. Without a living authority, everything is private judgment – a point of such monumental importance, but which is almost universally ignored by my former co-religionists, that I feel no compunction disappointing my old comrades to make it again and again. An Anglican can side with the progressive majority or the minuscule, conservative minority, but it’s still every man his own pope.

Just because I like Charlie Holt, I hope things work out for him the way he and the people who elected him want. But part of me hopes an epic fail here will change hearts. I joked on Twitter: “Can’t wait for the conversion story that begins, ‘It was on the fourteenth failure to get Charlie Holt elected Episcopal bishop of Florida that I suddenly realized the claims of the Roman Catholic Church were true…’”

Charlie replied to my tweet, “Haha. That is actually pretty clever Andrew.”

But to my mind, it’s Anglicanism that has been too clever by half for too long. Too clever for me anyway.

So before I play dumb again, I’ll leave you with the conclusion I offered at the end of my article from The Lamp, mentioned above:

Anglicans stand at a fork in the road, unable to continue on their nineteenth-century way. The way forward for Anglicans as individuals and collectively is not in the past. By God’s grace, the Protestant Humpty Dumpty of Anglicanism had a great fall, and it is foolish to try to put him together again. Nor is there a new creature waiting to be constructed from the remnants. All that remains now is to pick up the pieces—some of them quite lovely—and bring them home where they belong.

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About Andrew Petiprin 17 Articles
Andrew Petiprin is a former Episcopal priest, and is the author of the book Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself. He came into full communion with the Catholic Church with his wife and children on January 1, 2019. Andrew is a lifelong Christian, was a Marshall Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford from 2001-2003, and was a Fellow at the Word on Fire Institute for several years. Andrew and his family live in Plano, Texas.


  1. Thanks for this article. I’ve been following the story of Charlie Holt on Anglican Unscripted (as interpreted by two orthodox Anglicans).
    Beautiful last sentence.

  2. What you describe is a situation in the UK and North America but from what I understand it differs for Anglicans in the Global South.
    We had an historic Anglican church in my former diocese. The majority of its congregation joined up with an African bishop when controversies concerning the family and marriage were accepted by the US Episcopal bishops. There was a legal dispute over the church property. The traditional Anglicans lost and relocated to another site. They are growing and thriving though and the progressive faction that gained back the historic church continues to dwindle in number.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head (wiyhout becessarily intending to) regarding the factional struggles in the Anglican community. You mentioned “progressives” and “conservatives.” In the Catholic Church, there can never be such a struggle. There is one and only one Truth. There can be very be multiple opinions about what the Truth is.

    (As someone whose ancestors are buried in a 12th century country churchyard in Martley, Worcester, my consolation about every Anglican church is that all were once Catholic and worshipped God with the True Mass).

    • I wrote: “There can be very be multiple opinions about what the Truth is.”

      Of course, I meant to write “There can NEVER be multiple opinions about what the Truth is.”

      • You write, “There can NEVER be multiple opinions about what the Truth is.” Of course there can. And there are, both within the Church and without.

        The issue is what the truth is. The Catholic Church claims, at the highest and not so high levels, to have sole access to the truth. The arguments supporting the claim are strong, even compelling, at least to some. But has the claim be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt? See the posting by “Don Corleone.”

      • Thanks for that correction. I was about to take pen in hand (?) and write a scathing reply but you saved me the opportunity to make a youknowwhat out of myself.

  4. Just about everything Mr. Petiprin says of Anglicanism is true of today’s Catholicism, if not more so. The Catholic Church that stands athwart the various heresies of modernism or post-modernism exists only on paper — for that matter, only in *some* papers of select, fringe Catholic authors who are hated by their own pope and most of their bishops. Official Catholic theology today, as promulgated by Pope Francis, whose devotees consider him to be something very close to a literal demigod, now holds that popes can grant literal adultery licenses to unrepentant horny married people whose marriages have broken down, that God wills the existence of non-Christian religions, and that the Church can err, and has erred, in her solemn, official moral teaching (e.g., with regard to capital punishment), and that Pope Francis receives direct revelations from God that literally all his predecessors, the Biblical authors, and the Church Fathers and doctors were power-addicts who hated mercy.

    Official Catholicism teaches that the sacred liturgy is the pope’s personal plaything, that he’s allowed to abolish the Mass and replace it with rites of his own devising so long as (so the official theology concedes, for now) he retains the magic words of institution.

    And in practice, the Catholic Church today is the world’s leading purveyor of the false religion represented by leftist liberalism (including its Anglican variant). The overwhelming, vast majority of Catholic clergy are in the exact same position as Mr. Charlie Holt: If they are sufficiently vocal in opposing the LGBT agenda, they cannot be ordained deacons or priests, let alone be appointed bishops. Anglicanism’s synodal processes are imperfect, but it yields far better theological and pastoral outcomes than the modern Catholic process, where popes appoint and depose bishops at their own private capricious will, with no due process. (Pope Francis recently and unilatterally deposed a Puerto Rican bishop for being less than enthusiastic over Covid vaccines!) A far larger percentage of the world’s Anglican bishops are vocally opposed to theological modernism, especially the LGBT agenda, than is true of the world’s Catholic episcopacy. These bishops are also married and, seemingly, much more psychologically well-adjusted and better preachers to boot. They actually care about the word of God, instead of merely sucking up to the pope and paying lip service to party lines.

    One has to be seriously delusional to believe the institutional Catholic Church today stands for serious Christianity. Under Pope Francis especially, Catholicism is increasingly the stupid man’s religion, with anti-intellectual neo-traditiionalism on the one hand and post-modern papistical positivism on the other. It is no longer the religion of Augustine and Aquinas in any meaningful sense. Indeed, one is far likelier to find a serious appreciation of and engagement with these figures within Anglicanism than what passes for real-life Catholicism today.

    Every normal person knows that the very last person one ever expects to hear the Gospel from, let alone actual solicitude for the salvation of men’s souls, is a Catholic priest. Petiprin’s understanding of “Catholicism” is simply his own preferred brand of quasi-high-churchmanship (maybe actual high-churchmanship if he attends the traditional Latin Mass). The actual Catholicism of the real world is a Halloween coalition of neo-traditionalists, modernists, post-modernists, and neo-conservative useful idiots who will swallow literally any novelty the pope commands them to. It’s actually a lot worse than the Anglican situation, because at least with the latter there’s a heck of a lot more tolerance for liturgical high-churchmanship, solemnity, beauty, and even theological conservatism than there is in Catholicity, where these things are actively persecuted to near-extinction instead of just marginalized.

    • I would say that “neo-traditionalism” is anything but “anti-intellectual.” However, the rest of your analysis is spot on. The Pope, the overwhelming majority of bishops, and a clear majority priests in the world today do not hold to the perennial Catholic Faith to any meaningful degree. Most of them are not Christian in any sense of the word. Nevertheless, as a Catholic, I would say that the Church is not dead, but is in a drastic, unprecedented state of occultation, from which She may yet emerge strong, vibrant, and orthodox. The same cannot be said of Anglicanism or any other Protestant “church.” They have all been on life-support from their founding.

    • Thanks very much, Don Corleone, for your summation of the present situation in the Roman Church. You are correct and disturbingly so. The Roman church is facing a far greater collapse than Anglicanism is at the present time for all the reasons you indicate above. For some reason ex-Anglicans, especially former clergy like the author of the article above, take pleasure in highlighting the difficulties of Anglicanism while studiously ignoring the plight of the Roman Church they have joined. Gavin Ashenden is another in this category. Andrew Petiprin, take the mote out of your eye next time rather than harping on about the speck in the eye of Anglicanism. Something like 75-80% of Anglicans are orthodox believers. We have left the Episcopal church and now are leaving the CofE because of their failure to uphold the faith of the Apostles. Have a listen to the Kigali Statement as read by the Archbishop of Nigeria on April 21 2023:
      Will Roman Catholics have the courage do the same when the time comes for them to say …enough is enough.

      • James Bishop: “We have left the Episcopal church and now are leaving the CofE…Will Roman Catholics have the courage do the same..?”

        “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'” John 6:68.

        The Church, the one and only Church founded by Jesus Christ, and which Simon Peter leads, has the words of eternal life. Those words might have, from time to time, been reduced to a mere whisper, but all you have to do is come closer, and open your heart to realize they’re still there, true and alive.

        Many sons and daughters over the centuries try to deface this pearl of great price, coat her in mud, scratch her luster, bury her in filth, but she survives and outlives all attacks because the Lord says He will not abandon her.

        Those who leave her are the cowards. If the Lord will not abandon her, He alone is our courage. So should we stay with her, His Bride and our Mother, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Church stands with Mary at the foot of the Cross, and so will I.

    • And this article does not seam to deal with the Anglican Church in North America, unless it is the reference to “a heady, manly Calvinism.” With Pope Francis at the helm, it seems at best untimely to take pot shots at others.” “I prefer they way they do it to they way we are not doing it” comes to mind. God please bring revival to the Roman Catholic Church.

  5. Beautiful article.

    I don’t see how Protestants in general can’t see the inherent contradiction of claiming whatever version/belief of “sola Scriptura” they cling to and the actual application of such a belief that has led to such a break of Christendom.

    This article, at least to me, showcases the fact that when one claims this belief, even if it’s not explicitly stated, they ultimately think of themselves as authority to decide what the faith is.

    Sounds similar to the current Synod on Synodality to me, in my opinion.

  6. Stay tuned.
    Canadian Anglican bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Cyrus Pitman, has just come out of retirement to join the ANiC (Anglican Network in Canada), which is part of ACNA (Anglican Church of North America).

  7. I,too am a former Anglican and Also a former evangelical who went to England to study at one of the fine evangelical seminaries only to return to the US as an unordained closet Catholic. It took another 20 years before I cane out of the closet and actually became a card carrying Catholic. As a Catholic now for a few short months of 40 years I can look back at my Anglicsn experience with very mixed emotions. I can’t be smug, however, and pretend that Rome is immune to the woes that destroyed Anglicanism. I see the great bark of Peter taking on much water as we speak and see that we must step up and man the pumps and purge the foul water that has come on board. May God help us.

  8. Yet what would you say to Reverend Calvin Robinson, an orthodox Anglican who experienced cowardice in the Ordinariate personally? Monsignor Newton cancelled Rev. Robinson from speaking at the Ordinariate parish in London due to a complaint by an apparently homosexual member of the choir. Rev. Robinson was going to present an Easter special from the parish.

    The Ordinariate is apparently cowardly and kows to secular pressure. No bravery there.

    • I try to watch Calvin Robinson as often as possible. His program airs on GB News Saturdays. It’s available on You Tube also.

  9. While appreciating Petiprin’s personal analysis of Anglicanism, as an ordained priest with the Anglican Church in North America I find numerous problems with his assertions — and these require far more attention than I am giving them.

    First, he fails to define the Anglicanism to which he makes reference — although it is implied. There are Anglican bodies that are growing, and exponentially so, especially in the two-thirds-world countries. In my own sphere of influence alone, in the USA, I am seeing many people flock to the Anglican Way. Almost every week there are new converts in local parishes — and many seekers.

    Second, in keeping with all of my ROMAN Catholic friends, Petiprin’s analysis tends toward an institional analysis and not an inspirational or intentional analysis. It is a fact that Anglicanism did not, unlike many other reformations, seek to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” They sought (with a few mistakes) to retain what could be retained, reform what could be reformed and reject the excesses and abuses that even Fisher, More, Colet and Erasmus had been calling the Church to correct — and without much success until Trent. In other words, Anglicanism sought (as in Vatican II) to return to the biblical and Patristic sources. Emphasis, I think, should be placed on Ephesians 4:4-6, Jude 3, 1 Corinthians 15, Acts 2: 42 – 46 and the paradigm of St. Vincent of Lerins. These alone define Catholic without ROMAN Catholic excess. Bray’s Reformed Catholicism, while embracing a far more Protestant emphais within broader Anglicanism, is spot on. Horray for Bray!

    As well, third, the author critiques King Charles as a “Defender of the Faith.” While this critiqe may appear to be reasonable (although Charles has historically supported Christian initiatives and societies such as the Prayer Book Society), it requires far more analysis. Let us recall, as just one example, that the current Pope, many German and French Bishops, as well as a few of our own American Bishops (upon following the Synodal Way) are SURRENDERING THE FAITH. And then, of course, we have the (in my opinion) outrageous and canonically illegal marginilization of the Latin Mass by the present Pontiff. This is a subject in itself! And let us not forget the barring if the faithful from the Sacrament for two years! There is enough sin and shortcoming in Roman Catholicism to occupy a great deal of his time without looking elsewhere.

    In short, while offering an Anglican critique, Petiprin fails to look at his own glass house and, instead, points elsewhere instead of considering the enormous failures of Catholicism being exclusively defined as decidedly and devotedly ROMAN.

    Far more could be said. I am thrilled that Petiprin has found a home in Rome. I celebrate the path he had chosen, and appreciate his EXPERIENTIAL analysis as found in this article. This said, it might be wiser to attend to one’s own glass house without throwing stones. Worldwide anti-Christian sentiment calls us to build bridges, not walls.

    • Thank you for a fair and balanced critique of Mr. Petiprin’s views. Indeed, when and how will we learn to build those bridges we so sorely need?

      Can we depend on the one who in fact holds as one of his titles the name of “bridge builder”? In the present case, I have to say not, at least for the time being. But time, chance, and change happen to us all sooner or later.

      But in the meantime, do we have to engage as Christians, redeemed by the same Savior, in continuous and scandalous fighting, criticism, and turf wars? It hardly is an attractive spectacle for those on the outside who just might be interested in finding a home SOMEWHERE in the Christian community. And besides, it is an awful waste of time and energy taken away from engaging in our divinely mandated mission of evangelization.

  10. The Anglican Church tried to be everything to everybody. It has become nothing to nobody. There is an important lesson here.

  11. “There are Anglican bodies that are growing, and exponentially so, especially in the two-thirds-world countries.”
    My thoughts too. And that growth applies also to Catholics & other Christians. What afflicts the US & UK Anglican/Episcopalians are First World worries.

  12. I am a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church, and knew the author during his Anglican days, so I want to be nothing but cordial in my response. Given that he was writing a blog post and not a book, it is understandable that he frames and simplifies facts to support his narrative. Like Andrew, I came out of free-church evangelicalism in early adulthood (in my case, a half century ago). When I came under the hands of the Bishop of Los Angeles in 1975, I entered communion with the Catholic Church denoted in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. I know myself now to be truly a priest and bishop in that church. While I have some natural affinity for some of the piety and spirituality of the Reformation tradition, I have no interest in being any shade of Protestant. I protest nothing. Yes, the Episcopal Church is a hot mess, with the Church of England not far behind. I have shown myself able to criticize both trenchantly, from within the Anglican community. I consider the Church of Rome to be part of my theological and spiritual patrimony, via St Augustine of Canterbury and Pope Gregory. I long to be in full communion with the Apostolic See, and consider it a scandal that I am not. But I cannot lie by denying who and what I know myself to be in order to make that happen. And I would rather it happen corporately, through a fresh ecumenical move of the Holy Spirit, though I will not see that in my lifetime.

  13. Lots of lessons for us Catholics in the rebellion of orthodox Anglicans against the Church of England, in case anyone is listening.

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