Pope Francis Evangelizes Catholics Returning to Faith Through Anglican Ordinariate

Catholics who have been baptized but who have not completed the other sacraments of initiation (Holy Eucharist and Confirmation) may now be admitted to an Anglican ordinariate, communities of Anglicans who have entered the Catholic Church as groups, and complete the sacraments.

The ordinariate is intended for Anglicans and former Anglicans who wish to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining some of their own customs and liturgical traditions.

Pope Francis has modified the “complementary norms” for the ordinariate, provided in 2009 by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, through the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, to accommodate those individuals who were previously baptized as Catholics but are not members of a family belonging to the Anglican ordinariate.

Regarding the change, the U.K.-based Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham announced July 9th, “This confirms the place of the personal ordinariates within the mission of the wider Catholic Church, not simply as a jurisdiction for those from the Anglican tradition, but as a contributor to the urgent work of the New Evangelization.”

Blessed Pope John Paul II, soon to be canonized a saint, coined the term the “New Evangelization,” to define the act of bringing the Gospel to formerly Christian nations. Through Pope Francis, the term is also being applied to outreach to those people who were baptized as Catholics but who never completed the process of Christian initiation.

According to National Catholic Register, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states that Catholics wishing to enter the Church through the ordinariate “must meet the objective criterion – lacking at least one of the sacraments of initiation – to join the groups for former Anglicans, and they may not join “for purely subjective motives or personal preference.”

“I certainly welcome this development, which further establishes our place in the work of the New Evangelization,” said Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston, Texas.

“Particularly in North America, with large percentages of ‘unchurched’ peoples, it is inevitable that we will encounter those who have no formal ecclesial relationships but who are seekers of truth,” he added.

The ordinariate for England and Wales was launched in 2011. At least 40 ordinariate groups with 60 priests, including several former Anglican bishops, entered the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

On January 1, 2012, Pope Benedict established the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to allow Anglican and Episcopalian groups in the U.S. to become Catholic as groups, not only as individuals. On that day, Pope Benedict announced that he had chosen Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop to lead the new U.S. ordinariate for Anglican communities wishing to enter the Catholic Church.

The U.S. ordinariate, based in Houston, is similar to a diocese but national in scope. It permits entire communities to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Steenson, who is married, had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1980 and was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande in 2004. He and his wife entered the Catholic Church in 2007.

Steenson was ordained a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2009 and played a significant role in designing the formation program for Anglican priests who enter the Catholic Church and seek ordination under the new ordinariate.

Because Steenson is married, he cannot be ordained a bishop in the Catholic Church, but instead serves as the “ordinary.” While he cannot ordain priests, Steenson has the authority of a bishop in other areas.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C. who had served as the Vatican’s delegate for the establishment of an ordinariate in the United States, said in January of 2012 that he welcomed Steenson’s appointment “with great joy.”

Wuerl said that the creation of the ordinariate is the “fulfillment of the hopes of many Anglicans in the United States who have longed and prayed for reconciliation with the Catholic Church.”

The U.S. ordinariate opened its first parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania in August of 2012. In addition, the Vatican approved a new Canadian deanery for the U.S. ordinariate, launched in December of 2012, making it a North American ordinariate.

In June of 2012, Pope Benedict continued the expansion of the ordinariate by launching one for Australia called the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. The ordinariate will have the status of a diocese and will be under the patronage of St. Augustine of Canterbury.

“I am confident that those former Anglicans who have made a journey in faith that has led them to the Catholic Church will find a ready welcome,” said Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.  

Last December, former Episcopal priest Laurence Gipson, who became a Catholic in October of 2012, said that his reaction to the Catholic ordinariate for former Anglicans is one of “gratitude.”

“The ordinariate, I think, is a wonderful opportunity for people like me, Anglican clergy and Anglican laity, who are seeking Catholic faith,” Gipson said.

Gipson, 70 and from Memphis, Tennessee, said he is grateful to Pope Benedict for establishing the ordinariate, and referred to it as “advancing the cause of unity in the Church.”

“It offers Anglicans a way to affirm the Catholic faith, that is, a way to affirm orthodox or right belief, while at the same time being able to worship God and practice the Christian life according to the Anglican tradition and patrimony,” Gipson told Catholic News Agency.

“The Catholic faith and Anglican use are a great combination,” Gipson added. “Catholics have welcomed us warmly. They’ve extended the right hand of fellowship to us, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Ordained an Episcopal priest in 1971, Gipson served as rector at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, home church to former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush.

Gipson states that he was drawn to the Catholic faith partly because of the Church’s “clarity” in teachings and the “unity of faith amongst the faithful.”

“What I yearned for and sought was a more centralized understanding of authority, the magisterium, the teaching authority which could much more quickly and much more definitely interpret scripture and decide on the faith when it was in dispute and settle those issues.”

The U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have been in dispute in recent decades regarding scripture interpretation, the ordination of women as priests, Christian sexual morality, and other issues.

“I see the controversies as an outcome of the nature of authority in the Anglican Church and the Anglican Communion,” Gipson said. “Without a magisterium to interpret and define the faith, what Anglicanism relies on is dispersed authority rather than centralized authority,” he added.

Gipson reflected, “The Anglican Communion wishes authority to be dispersed. I decided that I could not ask Anglicanism to change its identity for me, so I was the one that had to do the changing.”


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