Historic Day for Catholics of Anglican Heritage as Pope Francis Names First Ordinariate Bishop

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter will be the first of the ordinariates established for former Anglicans to have a bishop.

Bishop-elect Steven Joseph Lopes was appointed Nov. 24 by Pope Francis as bishop for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
Bishop-elect Steven Joseph Lopes was appointed Nov. 24 by Pope Francis as bishop for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. (photo: Courtesy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter)

HOUSTON — Catholics of Anglican heritage are getting an early Christmas present from Pope Francis: The Holy Father has appointed the first Catholic bishop ever to lead one of three non-territorial dioceses (known as ordinariates) established to preserve the Anglican patrimony in the Catholic Church.

The Vatican announced in a Nov. 24 statement that Msgr. Steven Joseph Lopes, an official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would be consecrated as bishop for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which encompasses Anglican-tradition Catholic communities in the U.S. and Canada.

“It is a great joy and privilege to be joined to this particular church under the patronage of St. Peter and to share in its mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Bishop-elect Lopes said at the Tuesday news conference. He praised the ordinariate’s Catholics of Anglican heritage, saying their courage and sacrifice to live in communion with the Bishop of Rome “can and should move the heart of every Catholic.”

The episcopal consecration is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2016.

Pope Francis’ appointment of Msgr. Lopes marks the first time a bishop has been selected to lead one of the world’s three personal ordinariates — Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom; the Chair of St. Peter in the United States and Canada; and Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.

Benedict XVI authorized the creation of ordinariates for Anglican communities — including Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists or African Methodist Episcopalians — seeking to enter the Catholic Church with his 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and retain their Anglican liturgical and musical patrimony.

Pope Francis later expanded the evangelical mandate of the ordinariates by saying that their membership was open to not only former Anglicans, but also to those seeking reception of baptism or confirmation and to family members of those baptized or confirmed in the ordinariates. Any Catholic, however, may attend ordinariate Masses and fulfill their Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who are not official members are involved in the ordinariate community as affiliated friends.

Bishop-elect Lopes, however, is not a former Anglican. Originally ordained a celibate priest for the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 2001, Msgr. Lopes became immersed in Anglican traditions through work in the Vatican for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he has been since 2005. He was involved both in setting up the ordinariates under Benedict XVI and approving the new Roman missal for the ordinariates, Divine Worship: The Missal, under Pope Francis.

Up to this point, the ordinariates have been led by former Anglican bishops, who were ordained as Catholic priests but could not be ordained bishops since they are married men. Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson has led the Chair of St. Peter Ordinariate as its ordinary since its beginning in 2012.

“This is one of the few times in the history of the Catholic Church where you move from an ordinary to having a bishop,” Msgr. Steenson told reporters. He will no longer serve as ordinary, but as administrator of the ordinariate, until the bishop-elect’s ordination.


Thanks to Two Popes

Bishop-elect Lopes praised Benedict XVI for his ecumenical vision that reminded Catholics the “unity of faith allows for vibrant diversity in the expression of that faith.”

“I am grateful for the fatherly care Pope Francis continues to show for the ordinariates, born from the rich patrimony of English Catholicism,” he added, thanking the Holy Father for the gift of the new Roman missal called Divine Worship, which incorporates Anglican patrimony into Catholic worship.

Bishop-elect Lopes and Msgr. Steenson will celebrate Mass according to the new missal on the First Sunday of Advent at the ordinariate’s principal church, Our Lady of Walsingham, in Houston.

Msgr. Steenson said the intention from the outset was that the ordinariates would be led by a bishop. He explained that he requested the Pope send the North-American ordinariate a bishop more than a year ago. He pointed out that a celibate bishop would be in a position to foster celibate vocations to the ordinariate’s priesthood and ensure its future.

“I cannot stress enough to you the joy and happiness of this day for me,” he said, adding it would strengthen their Catholic identity.

“When St. Ignatius of Antioch talked about what the Church should be, he said the Church should be the people of Christ that are gathered around their bishop, who represents Christ.”


Catholics Approve

The North-American ordinariate Bishop-elect Lopez will lead consists of 42 parishes with approximately 70 ordained priests and deacons serving Catholics with Anglican traditions in 30 states and Canadian provinces.

Father Jason Catania, an ordinariate priest serving in Kitchener, Canada, told the Register that he has met Bishop-elect Lopes and found him “extremely impressive” when he spoke to a convocation of clergy two years ago.

“He has been involved in setting up the ordinariates from the beginning and is intimately knowledgeable about everything,” he said. “I think he’s uniquely qualified, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Father Catania added that having a bishop — in addition to the new liturgy steeped in Anglican patrimony — sends a definitive signal to Anglicans and the wider Catholic Church that the ordinariates are not a “temporary stop-gap” measure, but are a “permanent structure of the Church.”

“Because he will be a bishop, he will be able to speak with his counterparts in dioceses where we have our communities located as an equal and will be able to call up the bishop and talk about the [ordinariate] community there bishop to bishop,” he said. 

Thomas Osborne, a parishioner at Our Lady of Walsingham, the ordinariate’s principal church in Texas, said they all “respect and love Msgr. Steenson” and added that it was encouraging Pope Francis selected Msgr. Lopes, who is “not an outsider” and has a “good grasp of the Anglican ordinariate.”

The parish has grown since the ordinariate was established, Osborne said, and having a bishop will make it easier for confirming the ordinariate’s congregations and fostering new priestly vocations.

“The place has just exploded, and we’ll have to add another Mass, I think,” he said.

Osborne said the new bishop will have to clarify remaining issues about the status of Roman Catholics who are not Anglican converts, but joined parishes, such as Our Lady of Walsingham, when they were Anglican-use and not yet part of the ordinariate. Anglican-use parishes were parishes led by priests who had formerly been Anglicans and accepted into the Church under the pastoral provisions established by St. John Paul II. They fell under jurisdiction of the local Catholic bishop and used a Catholic adaptation of the Anglican liturgy known as the Book of Divine Worship, which will now be suppressed in favor of Divine Worship.

Most Anglican-use parishes, with few exceptions, are now part of the ordinariate. Osborne said given the criteria of ordinariate membership, it is still “unclear” whose discipline Catholics who are not former Anglicans but are attached to the parish fall under — the ordinariate’s or the local diocese’s.  


Bright New Future

Part of Bishop-elect Lopes’ ministry as the first episcopal ordinary will be traveling and encouraging new celibate vocations. Anglican parishes traditionally have had a married priesthood, but the norm for the ordinariates will be the Latin rite’s tradition of a celibate priesthood.

Bishop-elect Lopes told the Register that while former Anglican clergy who are married will still be candidates for ordination to the Catholic priesthood, he does not intend on ordaining married men who are not former Anglican clergy.

However, he said that sharing the Latin rite’s Catholic vision for the celibate priest, to image the spousal love between Jesus Christ and his people, will help ordinariate parishes raise up vocations to the priesthood. Currently, they have one celibate man in formation.

Ultimately, he believes the ordinariate communities will be a force for evangelization in the Church.

“These people here are evangelists to their core,” he said, explaining that they know the value of “unity, communion and acting upon your faith,” thanks to their journeys of finding the fullness of faith and their traditions in the Catholic Church. 

“They have a very compelling story to tell,” he said. “The more they tell their story of embracing the fullness of Catholic communion, the more they will invite others to that same journey of faith.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.