Pope formally creates group to attract dissident Episcopalians

Former Rio Grande bishop to lead 'ordinariate'

[Episcopal News Service] The Vatican on Jan. 1 officially formed an “ordinariate” in the United States to welcome former Episcopal parishes and priests – including married priests – seeking to enter the Roman Catholic Church, according to a press release from the Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter under the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Jeffrey Steenson, the former Episcopal Church bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, was named as the first “ordinary” and will have the title of monsignor, according to the organization’s website.

“For perhaps the first time since the Reformation in the 16th century, a corporate structure has been given to assist those who in conscience seek to return to the fold of St. Peter and his successors,” Steenson wrote in a Jan. 2 statement. He added that such a response has its roots in the end of the 6th century when Pope Gregory the Great insisted that St. Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, be a patient pastor with the people around him thus showing “how the Church gathers her people from many different cultures and lands.”

An ordinariate is a geographic region similar to a diocese, though typically is national in scope. Ordinariate parishes will be fully Catholic, while retaining aspects of Episcopal heritage and liturgical tradition, according to Vatican documents.

As of yet, the ordinariate’s website notes, only the entity itself exists. While “many communities of various types are expressing interest in the ordinariate,” according to the website, none have been accepted. Those types of communities envisioned to be part of the organization, the website says, are “parishes, groups, and religious communities.”

As of Jan. 1, the website says, “1,400 individuals, part of 22 communities, have expressed their interest” in joining the ordinariate. The website also reports that “the rectors and members of two former Episcopal communities seeking to join the Ordinariate were received into the Catholic Church.” St. Peter of the Rock, in Fort Worth, Texas, was received Sept. 25, 2011, and St. Luke’s, in Bladensburg, Maryland, was received Oct. 9, 2011. Others are currently preparing to be received, the ordinariate’s site says.

In addition, as of Jan. 1, the website says “over 100 Anglican priests have applied to become Catholic priests for the ordinariate,” 47 of those have advanced to the second stage of that process and “most of them” will this month begin a formation course intended to lead to Roman Catholic ordination.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, is the United States delegate of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will handle requests for membership in the U.S. ordinariate.

Steenson’s leadership of the ordinariate points to concessions made by the Vatican to the nature of priesthood in the Episcopal and wider Anglican traditions. The married father of three became a Roman Catholic priest in 2009 under a Vatican exemption dating to 1980 that allowed married priests.

Because he is married, Steenson cannot be ordained as a Roman Catholic bishop and he thus cannot ordain men to the priesthood, according to the ordinariate’s question-and-answer section. He can, however, wear a pectoral cross and miter, and carry a crozier. He will be installed as the ordinary on Feb. 19, according to the website.

Steenson left the Episcopal Church in late 2007, having told a House of Bishops meeting in September of that year that remaining an Episcopalian “may lead me to a place apart from Scripture and Tradition.” He told the bishops that his departure was not “a repudiation of the Episcopal Church or Anglicanism,” but was instead “the sincere desire of a simple soul to bear witness to the fullness of the Catholic Faith, in communion with what St. Irenaeus called ‘that greatest and most noble ancient Church.'”

He is now a member of the faculty of St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas, and has created the formation program for former Anglican clergy seeking to become priests for the ordinariate. The Rev. R. Scott Hurd, a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, will assist Steenson for three years with the title of vicar general. Hurd, also a former Episcopal priest, is married with three children.

Married Episcopal and Anglican priests who become Roman Catholic priests may remained married but cannot marry again if their wives die. Those who enter the Roman Catholic process as unmarried priests cannot marry later on.

The so-called “pastoral provision” established by Pope John Paul II in 1980 also allowed Anglican parishes to become Catholic parishes or chaplaincies within existing dioceses. Since 1980, three parishes and a number of smaller groups, commonly referred to as “Anglican Use” communities, have been established, according to the website. Those parishes will not immediately become part of the ordinariate and are not required to. They will have to apply for admission. One such Anglican Use parish is Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church and Shrine in Houston. More information about Anglican Use groups is here.

The Jan. 1 announcement was not a complete surprise, despite some news coverage that might have made it seem to the contrary. In October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the formation of “ordinariates” for former Anglican parishes and priests. The first ordinariate was established for England and Wales Jan. 15, 2011.

Anglicanorum coetibus, the papal document authorizing the establishment of ordinariates, is here.

The notoriety of Our Lady of Walsingham, whose protection both ordinariates claim, began in 1061 when an English noblewoman of Walsingham, England, reported that the Virgin Mary appeared to her in a vision. A shrine was built to commemorate the vision and it became one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Middle Ages. The shrine and monastery was destroyed during the English Reformation but both Anglican and Roman Catholic devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham revived in the 20th century.

ENS coverage of the 2009 original announcement is here and a follow-up story with further details and reaction is here.

Among other news outlets reporting on the creation of the U.S. ordinariate are

Associated Press,


Los Angeles Times,

National Public Radio,

Houston Chronicle,

Fort Worth Star-Telegram,

National Catholic Reporter,


Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.


  1. Jason Stylite says:

    A hardy “Welcome Home!” to all those Anglicans returning to the fullness of faith. May those involved in this journey home find their commitment to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior deepened.

  2. Well, I am 75 with a younger wife from Nicaragua and 3 teenage ctep children and a year ago I left the roman Church. I was an activist in the 1960’s and 1970. and 80’s – a follower of John XXIII.

    I finally saw thru the false piety of the Roman Church and it’s dictatorship and became an Anglican Catholic along with my family who were raized as Moravians. My Rector is a woman and my heart is healed and her husband is a former Roman priest and we have another Roman priest who is in our congregation.

    Our clergy is human whereas the Roman Church seeks to make their priest above being human and puts them up on a pedistile. I had 3 friends as priest in the 1960’s who were social activist and finally left the priesthood.

    I talk to Roman’s and try to influence them on leaving the dictatorship.

    Anglicans who are becoming Romans must be arch-conservatives – I love my parish here in Reno, NV (Trinity) and all of our members.

    Jesus was a liberator and the Roman Church is on the other side of the coin.

    Praise the Lord. I am a Cursillista since 1963!

    • Locuse Iste says:

      Could it be that you left the Catholic Church because of irregular relationships in your private life – it certainly sounds like it.

  3. Welcoming Former Roman Catholics into the Episcopal Church
    From the desk of the Rev. Prof. Harold R. Bronk, Jr.:
    On Jan. 1 of this year Pope Benedict XVI established an American Anglican Ordinariate in the United States headed by a former Episcopal bishop. The Pope, by offering disaffected ex-Anglicans a place in the Roman Catholic Communion, has raised the issue—indirectly—of what we Anglicans can do about disaffected former Roman Catholics without proselytizing. I believe that it is time for the Anglican Communion and, most especially, the Episcopal Church in the US, to welcome into this branch of ‘Christ’s holy catholic church’ those disaffected former Roman Catholics who are no longer able in good conscience to remain in the Roman Communion.

    In an article in the National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2010, Fr. Richard McBrien, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University, wrote: “In late February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a major survey that found that nearly a third of U.S. Catholics have left the Catholic church. Some have joined other churches, but most have simply slipped from active membership in the Catholic church to become part of a group once described as “lapsed Catholics.” This means that about 10 percent of all Americans today are former Catholics. “ It also means that most of the some 20,000,000 former Roman Catholics have not yet found a spiritual home.

    In the Episcopal Church they will find a reformed Catholic church (the third largest Christian communion in the world) that already exemplifies many of the characteristics that they had hoped to see in the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council:

    · A democratic church in which every office holder—lay or clergy—is elected by the people. From the parish priest to the diocesan bishop to the national presiding bishop, all are elected by the chosen representatives of the clergy and laity.
    · The Eucharistic liturgy with the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the principal act of worship on Sundays and major saints’ days. All baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion in both the consecrated Bread and Wine. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available on an ‘all may; some should; no one must’ basis.
    · The freedom of clergy to marry.
    · Admission to Holy Communion of divorced and remarried people without annulment of the previous marriage.
    · Full equality of women including their admission to all of the ordained ministries of the Church: diaconate; priesthood; and episcopate.
    · Full equality of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
    · Artificial contraception is not considered to be sinful; the freedom of women to follow their own informed consciences in regard to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is approved by a majority of Episcopalians and is not censured by the church. Children and adults are taught the Christian faith in order to apply it to their own lives; priests and trained spiritual directors are available to assist them in their decision-making.
    I propose that the Episcopal Church engage in a campaign at the national, diocesan, and parish level to inform former Roman Catholics that “we recognize [them] as [members] of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive [them] into the fellowship of this Communion”. Former Roman Catholics already in our church, including clergy, could be enlisted to help others understand the needs of former Roman Catholics as they seek further information about our church. I—and, I am sure, others—have conducted workshops and seminars to explain the similarities and differences between our church and the Roman Catholic Church. Most of us, I am sure, would be willing to do that at the diocesan and parochial level as we welcome former Roman Catholics to become part of our church.

    There is no need to create separate ‘ordinariates’ [as the Roman Church has done for former Anglicans] for our former Roman Catholic sisters and brothers—they will feel at home with the liturgy of the Episcopal Church: it is practically identical to the liturgy that they have become accustomed to in the last three generations since Vatican II.

  4. Shawn Daly says:

    This is great-the realignment we’ve all been waiting for. The Episcopal Church can have all the liberals and dissenters and the Catholic Church can have all of the faithful folk. Everybody wins (so to speak).

  5. to Shawn Daly of course you could say that the other way around. The Roman Church can have all the conservatives and deserters, and the faithful folk can continue the struggle of catholic Anglicanism which is to be open and enlivened by the struggle with difference and diversity…true catholicism…I think of these as the ‘faithful folk’!

  6. It is of course not our way to poach other people’s sheep (I well remember a national ecumenical gathering in Australia at which an Armenian Bishop (very ecumenically minded) almost exploded and said “The Lord said Feed my sheep!” Not “Steal sheep from another Christian Church.”)

    If I were being tricky I would be keen to set up a Roman Ordinariate within Anglicanism. I know more RCs who have left than anglicans who have Poped (as we used to say).

    In my (Anglican) congregations, however, we have Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics and Lutherans; I don’t see any value in compelling people to reject their heritages simply so my Bishop might feel we can episcopally confirm people who have been faithful Christians.

    Lot of funny issues aren’t there.

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