New questions, challenges confront Fr. Jeffrey Steenson, Episcopal-turned-Catholic leader

As the Anglican Ordinariate (officially known as the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter) becomes a reality, thoughts from its head, Fr. Jeffrey Steenson, former Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande, who was ordained a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., in February 2009, from Catholic News Service:

Q: Are there special challenges to governing a church jurisdiction that covers so large a geographical area?

A: I’m sure there are going to be many, and it’s primarily going to be for the clergy to be able to build relationships with each other. We’re going to be virtual in so many respects. We’re going to really depend on technology to keep communication open. Our formation program for the clergy is going to be run via a really high-tech Internet system that will allow real-time, two-way communications, which I’m told has never been attempted before in any kind of a theological exercise. So that will be hard, and I’m concerned that a small group — I mean, this church (Mount Calvary) is not going to have any problems — but a small group that is out in the middle of nowhere doesn’t feel isolated and forgotten. So we will have to work really hard on that….

Q: Has the formation of the ordinariate given a new impetus or prompted a renewed interest in joining the Catholic Church among new groups of Episcopalians?

A: Oh yes, there has been. Probably maybe 30 extra priests have contacted us at some level. It’s not an easy journey, even the ordinariate, because the priest really has to be willing to make the journey to the Catholic Church and not just escape from his own. So it requires commitment and a lot of prayer to think through and a lot of sacrifices have to be made. And it’s very hard to start all over again. So I do expect that it will grow, but my goal has been that as we form these guys they will be able to stand equally with their Latin Catholic counterparts, that they’ll be as well formed and be able to function in the priesthood at the same level.

Q: Why is the ordinariate needed when individual Episcopalians and even married Episcopal priests have been able to join the Catholic Church through other routes for years?

A: When the apostolic constitution was published, there was an explanation written by (Jesuit) Father (Gianfranco) Ghirlanda, who’s the canon lawyer at the Gregorian University, that’s kind of the official commentary on it. And he answered that question by saying that the reason for the ordinariate is to guarantee the existence of the liturgical identity and patrimony. So whereas in the pastoral provision for an individual converting, they just kind of merge into the local Catholic culture, we’re expected to keep this patrimony, these traditions alive, because the pope said there is something precious about them that is worthy to be shared with the rest of the Catholic Church. So Father Ghirlanda said the ordinariate is to guarantee the freedom to keep this liturgy alive. I mean liturgy in the broadest sense of the word — the music, all that constitutes the Anglican tradition.

Q: Why is the process different for groups of Anglicans than for individuals who want to become Catholic?

A: Of course if it is an individual layperson they go through RCIA in their own parish. If it is an individual clergy person or priest, they would go through the pastoral provision which is administered by Bishop Kevin Vann in Fort Worth. And that will continue. The pastoral provision basically uses the same program of priestly formation that exists for the seminaries, only it’s kind of tailored to an individual, so it’s whatever Father So and So needs in order to do it….

When we became priests in the Anglican Church, we became priests in an ecclesial tradition that permitted married clergy. So the Holy See is simply recognizing that and allowing us … it’s an ancient principle from the early church. Whatever stage of life you are in when you come into the ministry, that’s where you stay. So if a man came as a celibate, he would be required to maintain that discipline. If one came as a married man, he would be expected to be a good husband. And if he should ever be widowed, then he would embrace the discipline of celibacy. It’s not a new rule, it’s basically the old Eastern discipline about married clergy….

Q: If you had the opportunity, what would you say to the Holy Father?

A: Thank you, first of all. This wouldn’t have happened without him. This was not an idea that developed in one of the dicasteries of the Curia. This came right from the top and he had to convince a lot of people. So I feel that Pope Benedict put himself out on the line on this, and I want to be sure we don’t let the Holy Father’s words fall to the ground. I want him to be proud of us and see that we are making a fruitful contribution to the church….

Read it all.

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