Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
HOUSTON — Ten years is not a long time in the life of the Church, but in that time since their founding under Benedict XVI the Ordinariates, three Catholic dioceses with Anglican traditions situated across the globe, have worked with dedication to advance the Church’s Gospel mandate.
On Nov. 4, 2009, Benedict XVI issued his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, allowing a wave of Anglican and Episcopal congregations and priests to become fully Catholic and keep their Anglican traditions. Pope Francis has also further advanced what Benedict XVI started, unleashing the Ordinariates for greater Catholic evangelization, witness, and growth.
In this interview with the Register, Bishop Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which covers North America, discusses the jubilee year the Ordinariates are now celebrating. He shares the reasons behind the Pope’s strong support, the challenges of the past 10 years, and what lies ahead for the evangelical and ecumenical mission of the Ordinariate.
What does this jubilee year, the 10th anniversary of Anglicanorum coetibus, mean for the Ordinariate?
I think it begins with the fact that a Jubilee, the anniversary celebration, understanding Jubilee from the Bible, even from the Old Testament times, is looking back with gratitude in order to look forward with hope. And so part of that looking back with gratitude, part of the spirituality of Jubilee is that it is in some way expressive of God's mercy. And it's an experience of God’s mercy. So, we announced actually this week that the Holy Father through the Apostolic Penitentiary has granted us a plenary indulgence for the Jubilee celebration. And the plenary indulgence is given to any member of the Christian faithful, who participates in Mass with an Ordinariate community on Nov. 3, which the inauguration [of the jubilee].
So all Catholics can obtain it?
All Catholics, any member of the Christian faithful, can attain that indulgence by worshipping with an Ordinariate community on Nov. 3 when we celebrate our anniversary. But you know a Jubilee isn't a moment. It opens this time of gratitude and hope. And so we're going to be celebrating it as a whole year from Nov. 3, 2019 until Sept. 27, 2020 which will be the liturgical commemoration of Our Lady of Walsingham. So the plenary indulgence that we have been given, in addition to everybody anywhere in an Ordinariate community on the third has been extended to every day throughout that period from Nov. 3 till Sept. 27 for any member of the Christian faithful again, who makes a pious visit to the Cathedral and Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham here in Houston. And that can be attained every single day.
That seems to be a confirmation of support from the Holy Father for the Ordinariate and its mission?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I have found the Holy Father and the Holy See to be very generous with us when it comes to these things. The concession of the daily indulgence for the entire year, I thought was particularly gracious.
What other kinds of confirmations have you had from the Holy See about the direction and mission of the Ordinariate. Why does the Holy Father view its mission as so important for the Church today?
Well, I think the Holy Father very rightly, and this begins in my very first conversation with Pope Francis. I mean, obviously I was very involved with Pope Benedict in the work that led to Anglicanorum coetibus, so I'm very familiar with that. But in the very first conversation with Pope Francis, after he named me bishop, just a few days actually before it was publicly announced, when he and I were speaking, he directly mentioned the missionary aspect of the Ordinariate, that the Ordinariate if done well, can be a sign of not only ecclesiastical unity and communion, but the means of it. It's a way of welcoming people into full communion in a new way. Benedict opened a new way of entering full communion where all of those traditions, all of that history, all of that theology, that nurtured you to the point of seeking full communion, you don't have to leave at the door of the Catholic Church when you enter in, but you can bring these very same liturgical, pastoral, theological traditions with you in an enriching way. Yes, he doesn't stop there. I mean, he also understood this as therefore having a very powerful narrative: that faith, Church, communion, all of these things means something and are worthwhile in themselves, and are worth putting your life on the line for striking out into the deep if you will, to use that image from the Gospel. And that can be a very powerful narrative to people who are at least nominally within the Church, baptized Catholics or whatever, or for whoever for whatever reason their faith has grown lukewarm and their practice has grown spotty at best or something like this. That they can be welcomed and supported and encouraged in a particular way.
So, we start with this conversation in his kind of more typical way of “Avanti, Avanti, go out there, do this thing!” You know very encouraging that way. But since then, he has intervened twice in our legislation. And both times have been in order to make it easier for people to obtain canonical membership in the Ordinariate. So, I think from his point of view, the more that we can make this missionary the more that we can engage this work of communion, which is the heart of Anglicanorum coetibus, because it's the heart of why we're celebrating this Jubilee, the more lively of an expression of Catholic faith this can become.
What would you say are the milestones the Ordinariate has accomplished in the past 10 years?
Well, you know, you're building a diocese from scratch. And I wouldn't want to begin with the practical realities of that. But the practical realities of that are so many, and so varied, as to be overwhelming. We don't build dioceses from scratch.
So when you're trying to build it from scratch, I'm reaching out to all sorts of bishops with questions about clergy retirement, pension, insurance, property and liability, safe environment procedures and personnel procedures. And it's not that bishops don't desire to be helpful — they do, but in a lot of cases, they weren't able to help because their own diocesan institutions by that point are so old that nobody remembers why the decisions were made initially in this way.
So the practical thing of trying to build this Ordinariate, build a diocesan structure with very few models, here I would have to acknowledge some wonderful assistance that we were given by the Knights of Columbus, by the Catholic Benefits Association, by the Catholic Mutual group ... these groups were just enormously helpful in helping us to think through structures.
We are dealing with a number of converting clergy and certainly in this 10 years, the Ordinariate has 80 priests. We have 45 parish communities. Each one of those persons and each one of those communities is unique in their needs. So one of the enormous tasks over the last 10 years has been developing a program of priestly formation for the converting clergy in a way that recognizes their uniqueness and yet gives them the full breadth and depth of Catholic theology, morals, canon law, and pastoral practice. Also models for the catechetical preparation of laity who wish to come into full communion. What does that look like? What models can you use when you might not have a resident priest? And so we’ve relied on local Catholic clergy, who have very generously stepped in to provide leadership in our communities before we could ever have a priest there. We've relied on online modules from wonderful providers like the Augustine Institute, Evangelium, and even Catholic Distance University. In order to address these needs, we've had to think very creatively. But formation, formation of priests and formation of communities, is massively important.
What about vocations?
Vocations is another big one, I would add. When I became bishop, we had one celibate seminarian; now we have seven. That’s not bad for four years. And all seven and I would point out also three applicants for next year, all come from our parishes.
And we have marvelous vocations to the religious life. We have Ordinariate members in the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. We have Ordinariate members studying for the priesthood in other Catholic dioceses; we have Ordinariate members at the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburga in Colorado. So there’s a way also that the Ordinariate is contributing to the vocational vibrancy of the Church in North America in ways outside of our own diocese.
One of the things that happened over the course of the 10 years was the promulgation of the liturgy, Divine Worship: the Missal. How do you see the liturgical project of the Ordinariate?
There's a thing in the Catholic Church called a ritual church. Like the Ukrainians or Byzantines in general are organized around a liturgical principle. Canonically that is not how we are structured. We are not a ritual church. We are a diocese of the Latin-Roman Church. At the same time, there is no question that the liturgy is the fundamental expression of our identity. That this way of worship, this language, this attention to sacred music, sacred art and sacred space that has nurtured the faith in Anglicanism and now brought that into full communion, that this worship is the most tangible expression of our patrimony, of what we bring to share as a treasure to be shared with the wider Catholic Church. It's not the only the expression of our patrimony, but without this most tangible expression, I don't think you really even get to the other less tangible things like organizational governance, pastoral, theological, spiritual patrimony. Catholic life really does flow from and the return to the Eucharist. And so the way that we celebrate that Eucharist in the Ordinariate is the dynamism for everything else that we do.
So do you see a possibility that Divine Worship: the Missal will eventually be translated into Spanish and or other languages?
There already is a proposal for that because we already have in Miami a Spanish-speaking Ordinariate community. That's not the first thing you think of when you think of the patrimony of English Christianity, right? But the fact of the matter is Anglicans were tremendous evangelizers, and there was a great missionary push through the Caribbean, through the Dominican Republic, through Puerto Rico. And so there are actually a whole lot of persons who are Spanish-speaking, who have been and their families have been Anglican for a long time, and are coming into the Catholic Church. So we already work with it. This is already a reality for us in Miami and a number of those folks are part of our parish in Orlando. So the priest in Miami and comes up quarterly to hear confessions in Spanish and celebrate with the people in Orlando.
What are the remaining liturgical books and office books to come out?
The remaining promulgated liturgical book from the Holy See is for pastoral care of the sick and dying. I would expect to see that early to mid-2020.
The regular public office that's already part of Ordinariate parish life, I also foresee that becoming published in 2020, by about September or October.
How do you see the Ordinariate continuing to enrich the experience of the wider Catholic Church?
Well, you know, it's going to be in small ways, because we're small. There's not a sense of competition. We've already seen some ways with the publication of our gradual for the chants of the Mass. The traditional chants of the Mass, how those can be engaged and incorporated in Catholic worship has been a long debate in the church, since Sacrosanctum concilium. Our particular contribution for that is not only in the publication of the gradual, but in understanding the chants of the Mass as also the property of the people, that the people can join in the praying of these important liturgical texts. So there's always that kind of dialogue. As we look ahead into the next generations, in terms of our own mission, in terms of Catholic education and handing on not only the faith, but the Ordinariate patrimony to the next generation, we already have one school, a K-12 School in San Antonio. We are looking at, you know, the building of a new Ordinariate high school here at the cathedral parish in Houston, and there's going to be a way that we embrace an educational mission that is very particular to us, with emphasis on music, art, classical learning — all of the great hallmarks of the English Cathedral School. And that will be new. That is a new expression of Catholic education. And so as we look towards that, the way that [education] prepares young people for engaging faith in modern culture will be will be, I think an ongoing contribution.
Looking ahead, do you see more progress in the ecumenical dialogue and more Anglican or even Protestant groups coming into communion with the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate?
Sure. Monsignor Mark Langham, who is the chaplain at Cambridge University and was for a long time an official at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity actually, just gave a very, very important and hopeful lecture in this regard at the Gregorian University in Rome that the ecumenical potential of the Ordinariate is really yet to be unpacked. What it does is two things. I mean, it is a reminder that the vision of Anglicanorum coetibus is a very powerful reminder of what still is the fundamental starting point of the decree on ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, that the fruit of ecumenical dialogue is full visible sacramental communion. Because one gets the impression that a lot of the ecumenical movement has moved in other directions. That's not necessarily the articulated goal anymore. But I think it is to our peril if we abandon that, because that's the very thing that our Lord prayed for the night before he died. He didn't pray for that his disciples would work well together in social outreach projects — it's wonderful and a powerful witness when they do — but for unity which is full visible and sacramental. So the focus of that [unity] as the goal of the ecumenical movement is the first thing.
The second thing of course, is the model that the Ordinariate offers other communities — that becoming Catholic, full communion, does not mean complete assimilation. That there is room within the Catholic expression of faith for a diverse means of expressing Catholic faith, whether that be liturgical, whether that turns on structures of governance, whether that be pastoral or theological emphases. That’s there. And the Ordinariate is living, breathing proof of that.
This interview has been edited for length.