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ANGLICAN ORDINARIATE: Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson is out, Bishop Steven Lopes is in

ANGLICAN ORDINARIATE: Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson is out, Bishop Steven Lopes is in
Changing of the episcopal guard signifies next step in evolving Anglican-Catholic relationships


By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
Nov. 27, 2015

HOUSTON, TEXAS -- The first inkling that there was anything afoot at the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter came Tuesday morning when an email popped up stating: "Pope Francis Names First Bishop to Lead Catholics Nurtured in the Anglican Tradition."

The surprising missive also noted there was to be a live midmorning news conference scheduled to take place at the Houston-based Chancery with a follow up call-in telenews conference at noon to introduce Monsignor Steven Lopes as Pope Francis' choice be the American Ordinariate's first bishop. At that point Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, who has been the Ordinariate's first ordinary -- jurisdictional leader with authority but not a bishop -- stepped aside and became the Ordinariate's first Ordinary Emeritus and will continue to function as the Ordinariate's appointed apostolic administrator until Monsignor Lopes is consecrated and enthroned on Feb. 2, 2016. At that point Monsignor Steenson will officially step back from the public eye and Bishop Lopes will step into limelight as a new page in the life of the North American Ordinariate is turned.

Monsignor Lopes, a California native, is of Portuguese not Spanish extraction and to prove it he pronounces his name "LOpes" (rhymes with ropes) rather than "LoPEZ" as the Spanish do. The 40-year-old was born after Vatican II and ordained a priest in 2001; he became a monsignor in 2010. The new bishop-to-be has a stellar theological pedigree. He received his theological training at the prestigious Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. There he wrote his doctrinal discretion on the "Trinitarian Theology of the Eucharist."

He was ordained to the diaconate in Rome and to the priesthood in San Francisco. Next February he is to be elevated to the bishopric in Houston to become the first bishop ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Following his priestly ordination Fr. Lopes' first pastoral assignment was to St. Patrick's Catholic Church in San Francisco. He was then assigned to St. Anselm's Catholic Church in Ross, California before returning to Rome and joining the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith where he has labored for the past decade.

Preserving Anglican patrimony

For those in the know, Monsignor Lopes has been involved behind-the-scenes in the preservation and promotion of Anglican Use liturgy and the formation of the Ordinariates -- Pope Benedict's dream outlined in Anglicanorum Coetibus coming to full fruition through the personal ordinariates. The ordinariates allow for Anglicans and Episcopalians to convert to Roman Catholicism and enter into full communion in Catholic Church en mass and yet retain some of their unique ethos, patrimony and churchmanship including liturgy. Anglicanorum Coetibus states that the Anglican patrimony is "a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared." In short Anglicans can become fully Roman Catholic and still retain their unique Anglican accent in worship style.

During the Houston news conference Monsignor Lopes showed he has a sense of honor. In fielding a media question about to explain this to non-Catholics, the Monsignor shot back, "How do you explain this to Catholics?" His quick quip was met by laughter.

The bishop-designate explained that the earliest seeds planted by Pope Pius XII during the 1950s. In time it grew into the ordinariates granting the first dispensations to convert married Anglican clerics into becoming married Catholic priests. This little known practice continued to allow a growing number of priestly conversions reflecting the special relationship the Catholic Church has with the Anglican Communion. That unique ecclesial relationship is even highlighted in the Vatican II documents.

History of Ordinariates

To date three ordinariates have been erected -- the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham established in 2011 for England and Wales; the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter erected in 2012 for the United States and Canada; and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, also created in 2012 for Australia. Until now each ordinariate has been overseen by a former Anglican or Episcopal bishop given the rank of monsignor but not being elevated to a bishop because they are married.

In England and Wales Monsignor Keith Newton a former Church of England Bishop of Richborough leads Our Lady of Walsingham ordinariate; Monsignor Harry Entwistle the former Western Regional bishop for the Traditional Anglican Communion in Australia heads Our Lady of the Southern Cross ordinariate; and Monsignor Jeffery Steenson former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande steps down as the first ordinary of the Chair of St. Peter ordinariate in the United States and Canada while turning his leadership reigns over to Monsignor Lopes.

Catholic Canon Law dictates that only an unmarried man can be ordained bishop in the Roman Catholic Church; through the Pastoral Provision the various ordinariates Episcopal and Anglican priests who have converted to Catholicism can become married Catholic priests. Monsignor Steenson is a convert from The Episcopal Church and is married with children and grandchildren. Monsignor Lopes, a birthright Catholic, is single.

Even though Monsignor Lopes has no Anglican roots, he has become passionate about Anglican patrimony and the Anglican Use liturgy in particular. He seems to be thoroughly versed in all things Anglican having lived, worked and worshipped among former Anglicans who have swam the Tiber. He speaks in terms of "we- us-ours" rather than in "they-them-theirs" terminology thus personally identifying himself with Ordinariate members. He has visited all three Ordinariates in the world and has been in Houston at least four times interacting with the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and visiting Our Lady of Walsingham. During his first 18 months as bishop he hopes to be able to visit all of the Ordinariate's widely-flung congregations and groups both in the United States and Canada.

In 2005 Monsignor Lopes was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- which oversees the implementation of the ordinariates and provides curial oversight -- when he became William Cardinal Levada's priest-secretary. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Levada was charged by Pope Benedict XVI to see that Anglicanorum Coetibus was planted in fertile soil by developing the Complementary Norms for the Pope's 2009 Apostolic Constitution. Monsignor Lopes also developed close connections with Pope Benedict while serving as his chaplain.

Divine Worship: The Missal

As the three ordinariates were launched it became apparent that a common Anglican Use liturgy was needed to be developed. In the United States the Book of Divine Worship was being used, while Canada, England, Wales and Australia each had developed different yet workable liturgies. The push to create a common Anglican Use liturgical Missal for the various Anglican ordinariates became critical. The result is Divine Worship: The Missal which has been authorized for use starting this Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent.

The release of the new Anglican Use missal is heralded as a "milestone in the life of the Ordinariates," and it is described as "the Catholic Mass of the Western Rite, filtered through the Anglican experience, corrected and expressed in an Anglican voice."

The development of the new Anglican Use missal is, in part, a fulfillment of the promises in Anglicanorum Coetibus to "approve liturgical forms for the Ordinariate from the books proper to the Anglican liturgical tradition, in accordance and conformity with Catholic norms." The new Anglican Use missal draws together various Anglican prayer book traditions, stretching back to the 1549 English Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican and Episcopal Books of Common Prayer from the United States, Canada and Scotland, along with the Roman Missal, and weaves them into a familiar liturgy which is a "Catholic Mass of the Western Rite, filtered through the Anglican experience, corrected and expressed in an Anglican voice."

Both Monsignors Lopes and Steenson have been deeply involved in the development of the newly-released Divine Worship: The Missal. In addition to working in the curial office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Monsignor Lopes was also a member of the Anglicanae Traditiones Commission which was charged with developing the ordinariates' new liturgical missal. The Commission was tasked with "identifying Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony and to incorporate it into Catholic worship for the Ordinariates."

During the joint news conferences Monsignor Steenson explained that through personal reflection and prayer he discerned the need for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to have a bishop as its ordinary rather than a mitered monsignor. He conveyed that insight to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a year ago and has been working closely with the curia to bring the Ordinariate to this point of growth and maturity to take the logical next step of turning the leadership reigns over to a bishop.

Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson moves forward

Theologically the 63-year-old Monsignor Steenson could have remained the Ordinary until forced retirement at 75. However, the Ordinariate currently served by a married priesthood -- former Episcopal and Anglican convert priests -- and has not been in existence long enough to develop a celibate priesthood from which to raise up a home-grown Ordinariate bishop. So the Ordinariate reached out to the wider Latin Rite for a bishop who is young enough (Monsignor Lopes is 40) to shepherd the Ordinariate as it develops its own celibate priestly corps from which to raise up an Ordinariate bishop.

Monsignor Steenson did a monumental job in leading the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter from its erection on Jan. 1, 2012 until now. He started with just a mere concept -- an Apostolic Constitution by Benedict XVI and its accompanying Complementary Norms -- and had to develop the largest territorial non geographical Catholic "diocese" in the world from scratch.

He also safely transferred the property of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Ordinariate's principal church from the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, without court battles or legal flare-ups. (OLW is now being raised to a cathedral status). In addition he built the adjoining Chancery offices, and helped to develop an online seminary training program for converting Episcopal and Anglican clergy to study for the Catholic priesthood as they come into the Ordinariate. Under his leadership 42 congregations and groups in 30 states and five Canadian provinces safely landed into the Ordinariate along with 72 priests and counting.

However, he saw the spiritual need of his growing flock -- priests and laity -- to be able to unite under their own bishop and not have to turn to the nearest Latin Rite bishop for priestly ordinations and other episcopal rites to have a fuller sense of being a part of the Catholic Church.

"It was clearly the intention that the Ordinariate be led by bishops," Monsignor Steenson reflected during the news conference."We are in a situation where no one could actually have ordained bishop to those who have come in. As we make this move into the fuller life of the Catholic Church, a bishop is far more effective than a married ordinary."

Even though Monsignor Steenson is stepping away from fulltime day-to-day involvement with the Ordinariate he will still be busy. He is not retiring, he says, merely readjusting his schedule. His will continue as a professor at St. Mary's Catholic Seminary in Houston where he will have a full academic load once the spring term commences. His favorite subject is the Patristic Fathers and he hopes to spend some more time in study and writing about them. He is particularly fond of St. Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo. He will also remain a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and hopes to engage them in his avocation -- flying planes. He is a licensed pilot and has crisscrossed the United States and Canada as the Ordinary. He is looking forward to holding an airplane's yoke in his hands and to once again feel the thrust as his plane gains altitude.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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