Pope Names First Catholic Bishop to Oversee Anglican Ordinariate

Msgr. Steven Lopes, a Catholic priest from California, will oversee the ordinariate in the United States and Canada.

Bishop-elect Steven Lopes greets Pope Francis at a general audience in Rome.
Bishop-elect Steven Lopes greets Pope Francis at a general audience in Rome. (photo: Courtesy of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter)

HOUSTON — Pope Francis has appointed Msgr. Steven Lopes, a Catholic priest from California, as the new bishop to head the Anglican ordinariate in the United States and Canada, making him the first Catholic prelate to hold the position.

Bishop-elect Lopes, 40, is originally from the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the United States and currently serves as an official for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He will be taking over for Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop, who was appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012 to shepherd the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The ordinariate, the equivalent to a diocese, is for those who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition but are now in union with Rome; it was officially established by the Vatican on Jan. 1, 2012.

Ordinariates are similar to dioceses but typically national in scope. Pope Benedict authorized the creation of ordinariates for Anglican communities seeking to enter the Catholic Church in his 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. Members of the ordinariate are fully Roman Catholic, while retaining elements of Anglican heritage in their celebration of the liturgy and in the hospitality and ministries of their Catholic communities.

The Houston-based ordinariate has more than 40 Roman Catholic parishes and communities across the United States and Canada.

A married Anglican priest can be ordained a Catholic priest but not a bishop. Instead, as in the case of Msgr. Steenson, those priests become an “ordinary,” carrying all the authority of a bishop except that of being able to ordain priests.

Msgr. Lopes’ appointment marks the first time a Roman Catholic bishop has been named for any of the worlds’ 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.

The announcement that Bishop-elect Lopes will be taking over for the retiring Msgr. Steenson came in a Nov. 24 communiqué from the Vatican.

Born and raised in Fremont, Calif., Msgr. Lopes attended Catholic schools throughout his childhood, as well as the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco. He entered seminary in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He studied theology at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., and later in Rome, at the Pontifical North American College.

After being ordained a priest on June 23, 2001, and serving in various pastoral assignments, Msgr. Lopes went on to obtain both licentiate and doctoral degrees in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Since Sept. 1, 2005, the bishop-elect has served as an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and also taught theology at the Gregorian University. He was named a monsignor in 2010.

Msgr. Lopes’ ordination to the episcopate is scheduled to take place Feb. 2, 2016, in Houston.

Though Msgr. Steenson’s retirement is effective immediately, he will serve as the ordinariate’s administrator until Bishop-elect Lopes officially takes canonical possession next year.

A Nov. 24 press release from the ordinariate explained that, with Bishop-elect Lopes’ appointment, Pope Francis “affirms and amplifies Pope Benedict’s vision for Christian unity, in which diverse expressions of one faith are joined together in the Church.

“By naming Bishop-elect Lopes, the Pope has confirmed that the ordinariate is a permanent, enduring part of the Catholic Church, like any other diocese — one that is now given a bishop so that it may deepen its contribution to the life of the Church and the world.”

The press released also noted that Msgr. Lopes’ appointment falls days before the ordinariate will begin using a new book of liturgical texts titled Divine Worship: The Missal, which will be used for the celebration of Mass in personal ordinariates throughout the world.

The texts in the missal have been approved by the Vatican and will be used for the first time on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29.

Msgr. Lopes was deeply involved in developing the text, and since 2011, he has served as the executive coordinator of the Vatican commission Anglicanae Traditiones, which produced the new texts.

In the press release, the ordinariate called the new missal “a milestone” and praised both Benedict XVI’s vision for unity as well as Pope Francis’ implementation. Both of these together “demonstrate that unity in faith allows for a vibrant diversity in the expression of that faith. The ordinariate is a key ecumenical venture for the Catholic Church and a concrete example of this unity in diversity.”

The new bishop-elect was to be introduced by Msgr. Steenson at a live news conference in Houston at 10:30am local time inside the chancery offices of the ordinariate.

After celebrating Mass on the First Sunday of Advent in Houston with the new missal, Msgr. Lopes will return to Rome to finish his work at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He will then return to Texas at the end of the calendar year.

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