HOUSTON — Father Jeffrey Steenson, who was named by Pope Benedict XVI on New Year’s Day as the first to lead the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, said that the new ordinariate for former Anglicans and Episcopalians must be true to both the Catholic Church and its Anglican patrimony.
An obviously overjoyed Father Steenson, 59, who according to one report sported cufflinks with the motto “Keep Calm & Carry On,” said that Pope Benedict, who authorized ordinariates for former Anglicans and Episcopalians in 2009, had charged them to preserve certain elements of Anglican worship.
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham — the first one to be created — was established in the United Kingdom in January of last year. The Chair of St. Peter is the second ordinariate to be erected, though Anglicans in Australia also hope to have an ordinariate established there.
“The establishment of the Personal Ordinariate is a historic moment in the history of the Church,” Father Steenson said. “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.”
A former Episcopal bishop who entered the Catholic Church in 2007 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2009, Father Steenson proclaimed himself to be “mesmerized” by the name of the new ordinariate.
“I am so excited about the title of the ordinariate,” said Father Steenson, “because we who are pilgrims coming into the Church want to embrace this beautiful teaching, the primacy of St. Peter in Rome, where St. Peter sits in his chair and teaches us.”
Speaking in a press call-in from Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church in Houston, an Anglican-use parish founded in 1984 that will serve as the principal church of the ordinariate, Father Steenson was flanked by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Kevin Vann of Forth Worth, Texas.
Bishop Vann is in charge of formation for former Episcopal priests who seek ordination to the Catholic priesthood under Pope John Paul II’s 1982 Pastoral Provision.
Married Priest With a Miter
Father Scott Hurd, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who will serve as vicar general of the ordinariate during its first year, was also on the call. Father Hurd is a former Episcopal priest.
More than 100 former Episcopal priests in the United States have asked to become Catholic priests under the ordinariate provisions, while around 1,400 laypeople are reportedly seeking to become part of the U.S. ordinariate. Two formerly Episcopal communities came into the Catholic Church last fall.
Asked about former Episcopalians who came into the Church before 2009, Father Hurd said that Anglicanorum Coetibus (Concerning Groups of Anglicans), the document that authorized the ordinariates, is vague about their status. However, he added that clarifying the status of these former Episcopalians is “on top of our inbox.”
They will be able to worship with the ordinariate, as will other Catholics, but Father Hurd said it’s not yet clear whether they can become “card-carrying members” of the Chair of St. Peter Ordinariate.
Father Hurd said that former Episcopal priests who ask to become Catholic priests must discern whether they have a vocation to be priests of the ordinariate or seek to be incardinated in a traditional Catholic diocese.
Father Steenson, former bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Rio Grande, will be a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and entitled to wear a miter, but he will not be ordained a bishop. That is something only open to an unmarried man. Father Steenson is married and the father of three adult children and one grandchild. His wife, Debra, also came into the Catholic Church.
Since he will not be a bishop, Father Steenson will have to depend on Catholic bishops to ordain priests for the ordinariate.
Cardinal DiNardo said that his archdiocese will pay Father Steenson’s salary and offer help with some of the administrative burden. But the ordinariate “has been launched in a spirit of apostolic poverty,” Father Steenson noted on the ordinariate’s website, USOrdinariate.org. It will need to raise money to defray the costs of its operation.
Cardinal DiNardo hailed Father Steenson, an Oxford University and Harvard-educated expert on the early Church Fathers who teaches theology on the faculty of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, as a “wise and prudent administrator who will bring a vibrant intellect and humility to his role as head of the ordinariate.”
Steep Learning Curve
Father Steenson asked for prayers for himself and for those who will become Catholics through the ordinariate. “There is so much to learn, and it is a steep learning curve. Be patient with us as we embark on this journey,” he said.
“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,” said Father Steenson.
He recalled that Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize the English in the sixth century and that St. Augustine had become the first archbishop of Canterbury.
Letters from Gregory the Great to Augustine, encouraging him to always be “a gracious and patient pastor” to those in faraway England, have been preserved in the Venerable Bede’s great Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.
Father Steenson noted that Anglicans “love to read the letters” because they are “a great witness to how the Church gathers her people from many different cultures and lands.”
The new ordinary observed that Pope Benedict’s decree established the ordinariate by saying that “the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls” and that, “as such, throughout its history, the Church has always found the pastoral and juridical means to care for the good of the people.”
“In what Pope Benedict has given us today, I hear the voice of Pope Gregory the Great: ‘For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.’ What a beautiful testimony to all that Catholic Christianity is,” Father Steenson said.
In a characteristically Anglican note, the new ordinary stressed the need for cordiality. “Here is one thing I earnestly desire to share with you from the outset,” Father Steenson said. “Anglican spirituality has always emphasized the need to be gentlemanly in all of our relationships. May you see in us always the virtue of courtesy.”
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.
Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter