Blog Post

Pope Erects Historic Ordinariate in U.S. for Disaffected Anglicans

Pope Benedict XVI's first official act of the New Year was to announce the official establishment of an ordinariate in the U.S. for Anglican groups and clergy who wish to become Catholic, making it one of only two such structures in the world.

Catholic Online is reporting that the Vatican made a rare Sunday announcement of the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter in the Bishops Conference of the United States to indicate the high level of importance they are placing upon it.

At the same time, the Pope announced the appointment of the first Ordinary, the Reverend Jeffrey Neil Steenson, 59, a former sportswriter turned Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in 2007.

The former rector of an Episcopal church in Texas, Steenson also served as a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Rio Grande in Albuquerque, New Mexico; however, he is married and although the Church disregards the celibacy rule for married former Anglican priests, it does not allow Anglican bishops to keep their rank when converting. Thus, Steenson, who is the father of three adult children, will serve as a priest, not a bishop, in his new capacity.

The Ordinariate was placed under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Walsingham and will be based at Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church and Shrine in Houston, TX.

During a press conference at the parish on Monday, Steenson asked for prayers for him and for those who become members of the ordinariate.

"There is so much to learn, and it is a steep learning curve," he said. "Be patient with us as we embark on this journey. Pray that we may strive to learn the faith, laws and culture of the Catholic Church with humility and good cheer. But pray, too, that we do not forget who we are and where we have come from, for we have been formed in the beautiful and noble Anglican tradition."

He also expressed his surprise at being tapped by the Pope for such a high-profile position. "I assumed I'd be a simple parish priest somewhere," he said.

But the Pope had other ideas for Steenson, who has a doctorate from the University of Oxford and a masters degree from Harvard Divinity and was heavily involved in the organization of the Ordinariate, particularly in the area of educational formation.

Steenson's counterpart in England, Msgr. Keith Newton, Ordinary for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for England and Wales, expressed his delight at the appointment and the erection of only the second such structure in the world.

"The appointment of Fr Steenson marks the official establishment of the second Personal Ordinariate for those from the Anglican tradition who wish to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, whilst retaining those elements of Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony consonant with Catholic faith and practice," he said.

"The Holy Father's vision for the visible reunion of Anglicans with the Holy See continues apace. As we enter in 2012, we pray that many more will take up Christ's call - ut unum sint - and fulfill the prayer of generations for an Anglicanism united but not absorbed."

Thus far, more than 100 Anglican priests in the U.S. have applied to become Catholic priests for the ordinate and about 1,400 individuals in 22 Anglican communities also have expressed interest, according to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The creation of the Ordinariate is the latest effort by the Vatican to reach out to Anglicans disaffected during the past three decades by the ordination of women, changes in the liturgy and, more recently, the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in 2003.

The Anglican church has its roots in the Church of England, which split from the Holy See in 1534 when English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment.

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®