This past week, the U.S. branch of the Traditional Anglican Communion formally requested entry into the Catholic Church. They did so under the terms of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus , issued last fall by Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Douglas Grandon is a former Anglican priest who became a Catholic in 2003 and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., in 2008. His spiritual journey has taken him from Pentecostalism to evangelicalism to the Episcopal Church and finally to Catholicism.

He currently serves as associate pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Moline, Ill. He spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake.

Where are you from originally, and what is your faith background?

I’m from northern Illinois. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I first heard the Gospel at the age of 14 at a coffee shop that offered free donuts, coffee, pop and a little bit of folk guitar music. I heard the Gospel there and responded to it a few weeks later by attending the Pentecostal church of the fellow I met there. That’s where I was during my high school years.

Later, I joined the Evangelical Free Church, a Scandinavian breakaway church from the Lutheran Church. As I was being drawn toward Catholicism, but was a little too afraid of the Catholic Church, I spent several years in the Episcopal Church. It was there that I met the very fine Episcopal Bishop Edward McBurney.

What led you to become an Episcopal pastor?

As an evangelical, I was a missionary in the former Yugoslavia for five years. I started an Evangelical Free Church in Peoria and was pursuing a doctoral degree in historical theology. I was reading, very seriously, the Church Fathers, and going back before the Reformation, I began to realize there was a huge gap in my understanding of the Church historically. I had studied the medieval Church and the Church Fathers as an evangelical, but when I began to read them more seriously, I took them more seriously. This caused me to understand that liturgy and the sacraments were an important part of the Church’s experience.

What kept you from the Catholic Church?

I had a lot of prejudice about the Catholic Church. As a high school kid, my Pentecostal church had drummed into me that the Catholic Church was anti-Christian, and that after the death of the apostles, the Church went into darkness and only came out with the Reformation.

There were many things that I thought the Church believed, taught and practiced that I was wrong about. I had to kind of hold my nose when I became Episcopalian because the national Episcopal Church was in pretty much a mess, but the Diocese of Quincy, Ill., had a series of faithful bishops whom you could describe as evangelical and small “c” catholic. It was attractive to me and a safe place from which to explore more fully what it meant to be Catholic.

When did you first feel drawn to the Catholic Church?

Episcopal Bishop Ed McBurney gave me the book Evangelical Is Not Enough. That book really impacted me. It showed me that the Church was not purely evangelical as an institution. That’s what caused me to feel like I needed to make a move toward a Church with bishops, liturgy and sacraments.
As I was reading the Church Fathers, I saw the centrality of the Eucharist and the necessity of bishops if you’re going to be in a well-ordered Church.

When I went to England for a year of study and preparation for Anglican ordination, I imagined that the Church of England would come to the rescue of the wayward Episcopal Church and help those who wanted to be faithful to the Anglican tradition. There, I saw that they were as confused as we were and they were in no position to come and help us. There was no solution to this problem of lack of authority in the Anglican Communion.

What hurdles did you face?
There were theological and practical hurdles. Theologically, it looked like Catholics were giving worship to Mary. I didn’t understand the difference between veneration and worship. As an evangelical, I wasn’t comfortable with the whole sacramental system. The Anglicans helped me a lot with that. I also didn’t see the need for bishops. I was taught that every individual church was autonomous. I also had to get over purgatory and the role of the pope.

Practically, becoming Catholic for me meant laying my ministry on the line. Ever since I was 15, I understood that I was called to ordained ministry. While that understanding developed over time, I was hesitant to lay that on the altar and never get it back.

What led you to seek ordination as a Catholic priest?

I remember meeting with our new Catholic bishop in the Diocese of Peoria, Daniel Jenky, about a year before I came into the Church. He was very kind to meet with me. I told him during the course of the conversation that I was coming into the Church because I needed the Church; the Church didn’t need me. I wanted him to understand that, and that he didn’t owe me a job or ministry or priesthood. He told me that he was aware of the Pastoral Provision for former Anglicans and that he was very happy to sponsor me as a possible priest from the diocese.

When I came into the Church, I didn’t know what I was going to do. My wife’s income wasn’t enough for our family. I didn’t know, but I believed that God would take care of us.

About a month after I came into the Church, I was asked to be the chair of the religion department and the senior religion teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport, Iowa. In the spring of that academic year, Bishop Jenky asked me if I would become the director of the catechetical office for the diocese. I ended up doing that for about five years, and it was very instrumental in my spiritual growth. I came to know the good and bad points of catechesis in the Church and the crisis that we’re just coming out of.

After being in the Church for about a year, we began the formal process of putting together a dossier and working with the Pastoral Provision office. Seton Hall University prescribed a course of study, and a year later there was an examination. Thanks be to God, I went through that process and was approved. I always say that the one advantage I have over the celibate priests who didn’t go through the Pastoral Provision is that not one of them had to have their life, education and experience examined by the Pope himself.

Would the apostolic constitution have made your journey into the Church any easier?

It would have made it easier, because one of the difficult things about leaving one ecclesial community for the Church is leaving friends and traditions. There are a lot of things that make life very pleasant wherever you serve as a pastor. I left wonderful friends behind. There’s a book about this wrenching experience written by Cardinal Newman and the others who left the Church of England in the 1840s titled The Parting of Friends.

The constitution allows for the possibility of communities of Anglicans around the world to come into the Church together. That will be very, very helpful. I’m grateful for the graciousness of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican.

What do you find to be the most difficult part of being a Catholic priest?

To be a Christian, but particularly to be a priest, you have to be willing to climb on the cross every day and stay there and suffer. Service means some degree of suffering, but there is so much delight in all of that as well.

Life isn’t about being happy every day, which is distinct from being filled with joy. Our circumstances of life will not always bring maximum happiness. I can think of other things that I could be doing that would make me happier, but there is nothing that could bring greater joy than being obedient to Christ and suffering for his name.

The media has said that the Church is “rustling, poaching and sheep stealing.” Do you see the constitution that way?

The London Times had a headline to the effect that the Vatican’s tanks were parked on the lawn of the archbishop of Canterbury. From my years in the Church of England and the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church has been doing the opposite of conducting “raids” on the Episcopal faithful and clergy. It’s been anything but an invasion or raid.

There have been negotiations going on for decades now. When the Episcopal Church decided to ordain women and women bishops, and then a practicing homosexual man as bishop, and to provide liturgies for homosexual “marriage,” this threw a bomb into the middle of those negotiations.

Since the time of Newman, a Catholic party has existed within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. They have a historic memory that was revived by Cardinal Newman. They recognize that they are separate, yet they’ve maintained a strong commitment to the liturgy, the sacraments and the historic understanding of the papacy. They’ve been making overture after overture either individually or corporately to try to find some way to re-enter the Catholic Church.

When it became clear that the Church of England was going to ordain women bishops, my friend Bishop Andrew Burnham realized that you could no longer say you were a “third branch” of the Catholic Church if you were so corrupting the potential line of apostolic authority being passed down. If women were ordaining priests, there was no way you could say that you were Catholic any longer, and so he began serious conversations with the Vatican.

In addition, all of the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church saying they would recognize the authority of the pope. The TAC represents some 400,000 Anglicans worldwide.

Finally, Pope Benedict realized that it wasn’t enough to write a letter to express solidarity, but that he needed to send them a lifeline that would allow them to come in together, and what a lifeline it was. Bishop Burnham said, “We asked for a lifeboat, and they sent us a galleon. We should be free to get on it and not be quibbling about all of the conditions.”

The constitution will allow for the creation of personal ordinariates in which the new Catholics would be able to retain some of their cultural and liturgical elements. What would that include?

Through the Pastoral Provision, the Vatican has allowed some communities to use an Anglican-use liturgy, which is a slightly revised version of the beautiful liturgy that is used around the English-speaking world by Anglicans.

In addition, they could use their particular garb, which came out of the pre-Reformation English Church. There are also prayers that could be said that are part of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which would not be anathema to the Catholic faith.

There are different liturgical flairs that can be retained. It’s been said by those who have gone to these Anglican-use communities or Anglo-Catholic parishes that there’s a certain beauty that’s been preserved in the Anglican approach to worship which you don’t always find in the post-Vatican II liturgy in the Catholic Church. They can retain anything that would not be inconsistent with the Catholic faith.

Under the constitution, Anglican priests who are already married may be ordained as Catholic priests, but a married Anglican bishop could not be ordained as a Catholic bishop, is that correct?

That’s right. This is part of the ancient Catholic tradition and Anglican tradition — to have married priests. The Eastern-rite Catholic Churches have also allowed marriage [before ordination].

But there is no tradition for us to have married bishops. Early on in the Church’s history it was decided that our bishops had to be celibate.

Bishops will have to decide which is more important — their miter or being in full communion with the Catholic Church. For many, this will be an extremely difficult position, because there’s a lot that comes with the miter. It takes a great deal of humility. It’s like the camel that needs to fit through the eye of the needle — you have to take everything off its back to get it through there.

Pope Benedict and the Vatican have shown that they are willing to go the nth degree to accommodate a community like the Anglicans. This is a great example for the Orthodox as well, that we would not require too much of them.

How do you see the constitution impacting the Anglican Communion worldwide and the Episcopal Church in the United States?

The Episcopal Church will be only mildly impacted. Most of those clergy and bishops have already left who had any Catholic sense. In the U.S., the primary ones who will consider this would be the Anglo-Catholics.

In England, there will be a huge impact on the Church of England. It’s estimated that as many as a thousand Church of England Catholic-minded priests could come into the Church. There will be several bishops coming into the Church as well.

We ought not be discouraged that they don’t all come immediately. There will be a first wave of them, and the others will come in over time.

Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.