Rome opens U.S. Catholic home for ex-Episcopalians

January 3, 2012

American Episcopalians upset with their denomination's acceptance of
gay and female clergy can now convert to the Roman Catholic Church while
keeping many cherished traditions in a special new U.S. diocese that
was established on New Year's Day by Pope Benedict XVI.

The
Houston-based diocese, called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of
St. Peter, will allow a special Anglican-style Catholic mass that can
include sections from the Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican
liturgies.

This new structure grew out of a controversial 2009
effort by Pope Benedict to convince conservative Anglicans to align with
Rome under an exemption that allows Anglican priests, laity and even
entire congregations to convert while keeping their prized music and
prayers.

Bishops who convert under the rite will be allowed to
function as Catholic priests but not as bishops. Married Anglican male
priests will be able to remain married and serve as Catholic priests,
though unmarried priests who join will not be able to marry later
without renouncing their priesthood.

The American ordinariate is
only the second such jurisdiction established since Benedict launched
the process; the first was set up a year ago in England, the birthplace
of Anglicanism, and others are being considered for Canada and
Australia.

It is still unclear how much of a draw the new
jurisdiction will be. So far, some 100 former Episcopal priests have
applied to become Catholic priests in the U.S. ordinariate, and about
1,400 individuals—as well as six small congregations—have sought to join
the Catholic Church under the new provision.

After a year's time,
the ordinariate in England and Wales still counts only 1,000 formerly
Anglican laypeople and 60 former Anglican priests as members.

Some
Episcopalians in the U.S., like some Anglicans in other countries, have
opted to affiliate with conservative Anglican bodies or breakaway
traditionalist groups rather than become Catholics.

The U.S.
ordinariate will be led by Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal
bishop of New Mexico and father of three who became a Catholic in 2007
and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2009.

In a statement on
January 2, Steenson was enthusiastic about the new rite. However, he
also cautioned that Episcopalians who join will face "a steep learning
curve" in trying to integrate under such a novel arrangement.

"Pray
that we may strive to learn the faith, laws, and culture of the
Catholic Church with humility and good cheer," Steenson said. "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."  —RNS