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Sean SalaiAugust 16, 2016
Bishop Steven J. Lopes (The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter)

Bishop Steven J. Lopes is the first bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, a structure equivalent to a diocese for Roman Catholics in the United States and Canada who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition. The ordinariate is among three personal ordinariates in the world, which were created to provide a path for groups of Anglicans to become fully Roman Catholic while retaining elements of their worship traditions and spiritual heritage in union with the Catholic Church. Established by Pope Benedict XVI on January 1, 2012, and headquartered in Houston, Texas, the ordinariate serves Roman Catholics in 42 parishes across North America.

Appointed by Pope Francis in November 2015 and ordained a bishop on Feb. 2, 2016, Bishop Lopes succeeds Monsignor Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopalian bishop and married priest who was named ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter when it was founded in 2012.

A California native and the son of two educators, Bishop Lopes attended Catholic schools and the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco before entering seminary. During his training for the priesthood, he studied philosophy at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned an S.T.L.. Ordained by Cardinal William Levada as a priest in San Francisco in 2001, he served two parishes in the archdiocese before returning to Rome to earn an S.T.D. from the Gregorian, where he also taught theology while serving the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as an aide to Cardinal Levada from 2005 to 2012.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Lopes secretary of the Vatican commission Anglicanae Traditiones, which developed Divine Worship: The Missal, a new book of liturgical texts for the celebration of Mass in the personal ordinariates around the globe. This new missal replaced the Book of Divine Worship (2003) that Pope St. John Paul II authorized under a 1980 “pastoral provision” that also allowed married former Anglican Communion clergymen to be ordained as Catholic priests. On July 18, I interviewed Bishop Lopes by email about his ministry and the Ordinariate.

Many Roman Catholics do not know what “personal ordinariate” means. What is this personal ordinariate for Catholics nurtured in the Anglican tradition and what does your ordination as its first bishop mean for Catholics?

The ordinariate is a canonical structure comparable to a diocese. Pope Benedict XVI created ordinariates for those communities from the Anglican tradition who were entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. While dioceses are divided into geographical regions, the ordinariate is not territorial. It is called “personal” because it is comprised of those parish communities that share a common liturgical, pastoral and theological heritage of English Catholicism, wherever they happen to be.

In creating this new structure, the Holy Father judged that there was something particular about these communities coming into full communion that they could share with the universal church. The creation of a non-territorial diocese of these communities was the way to integrate them into the life of the Catholic Church, while at the same time providing them the stability and structure they needed to preserve and develop their own unique identity and patrimony. There are two other personal ordinariates in the world: the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Great Britain and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.

In your meeting with Pope Francis about this appointment, what was your sense of his reasons for extending Vatican support of the ordinariate and of his attitude toward the unique ministry you’ve undertaken?

Pope Francis was enormously encouraging! It is clear to me that with his approval of a proper missal for the ordinariates and with my appointment as bishop, he is giving concrete expression to the vision of Pope Benedict XVI for the unity of Christians. That vision is essentially this: Unity in faith allows for a diversity of expression of that same faith. For his part, Pope Francis spoke to me about providing stability for our communities and their integration into Catholic life, but also of our unique role in evangelization, both to our Protestant sisters and brothers as well as to those within the church whose faith has grown lukewarm.

You are the Roman Catholic bishop of 42 North American parishes in full communion with Rome, celebrating a form of the Roman Rite Mass, but your Catholic cathedral looks different and worships differently from the Catholic cathedral of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo that is also located in Houston. How do you explain this difference to Catholics of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston?

Our liturgical expression arises out of the experience of English Christianity during the last 500 years. It is the Roman Rite as it was taken up and developed within an Anglican context and now reintegrated into Catholic worship. It is understandable that the nuances and accents would perhaps be different, but the basic shape and structure of the Mass remains the same. The Holy See has given the name “Divine Worship” to our liturgical and sacramental rites, so we worship according to the “Divine Worship” form of the Roman Rite.

So, yes, there are some differences. Our liturgy preserves the vernacular, but English as it is articulated in the great prayer books of the Anglican tradition. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer tends to be a primary source for our worship, so the shape and gestures of the Mass includes some attributes from that—Eastward-facing liturgy, primacy of the Roman Canon, a full set of minor propers in English—all of which predate the Missal of St. Pius V in the Catholic Church.

In November 2015, the Vatican promulgated a new missal (Divine Worship: The Missal) for the liturgical use of your parishes. How is your Mass similar to and different from the Mass that other Catholic parishes celebrate according to the Roman Missal?

Divine Worship incorporates some texts and prayers that arise entirely out of Anglicanism, including prayers said in common by clergy and faithful prior to and just after receiving Holy Communion, and the penitential rite occurring just before the offertory. The one thing that every Catholic will recognize, however, is the faith that these words and gestures embody and express.

The new missal is actually the second liturgical book to be promulgated for our use. The first, Divine Worship: Occasional Services, includes the rite for Baptism and Christian Initiation, for weddings, and for funerals. The structure of these rites would be largely similar to what is found in the Books of Common Prayer. The missal for the celebration of Mass is flexible enough in its rubrics so as to allow celebration according to a more traditional form of the Roman Rite—with which many converting Anglo-Catholics are long familiar—as well as celebration, which is closer to the Novus Ordo, with which most Catholic would be familiar.

Although Pope Benedict XVI created the personal ordinariate in response to continued requests by Episcopalian parishes and their clergy to join with the Catholic Church, some pundits criticized him at the time for profiting from divisions within Anglicanism to gather more converts to Roman Catholicism. From your perspective as bishop, why do some Episcopalians join the Catholic Church through your ordinariate and how do you respond to this criticism?

Pundits, by their nature, seem to be either uninformed or misinformed! The truth of the matter is that Pope Benedict displayed great courage and great charity. These communities of faithful, with their pastors, were asking to be received into full communion. They desired to be Catholic, to be guided by the church’s teaching office, and they saw themselves as completing an ecumenical trajectory that includes the ARCIC [Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission] process and the great conversations between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey. Pope Benedict’s response was charity because it responded to this very reasonable initiative and request. It was courageous because it forged a way to enter into full communion as a parish group, thus preserving a proper parochial identity and patrimony. This is the newness of the Apostolic Constitution, “Anglicanorum Coetibus.”

When Pope Benedict XVI established your ordinariate in 2012, there was initially some question about how extensively married former Episcopalian seminarians and clergy might be ordained as Catholic priests, and your predecessor as ordinary (Monsignor Steenson) is a married former Episcopalian priest who could not become a Catholic bishop for that reason. What is the ordinariate’s current policy on ordaining married priests and how has it evolved?

Let me perhaps clarify the question: The issue was the acceptance and ordination of married men who were ordained Anglican priests. This “pastoral provision,” as St. John Paul II first called it, was an acknowledgment of the working of grace in the lives and ministry of these men that should not cease when grace led them to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. With “Anglicanorum Coetibus,” the ordination of married former Anglican clergy is also in favor of preserving the essential pastoral relationship between pastors and their faithful whom they are leading into full communion. So married clergy from Anglican/Episcopal communities who enter full communion with the Catholic Church and seek ordination as Catholic priests can receive a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy and receive sacred orders. But the Ordinariate is not in any way a challenge to the church’s doctrinally-rooted discipline of clerical celibacy. We have wonderful celibate priests, too! Also, seminarians who begin studying for the priesthood in the Ordinariate are expected to adhere to the church’s tradition in this regard. We currently have four men studying for the priesthood and they will be ordained celibate priests. This is not a policy. It is simply the life of the church.

What proportion of your current presbyterate is married, and how do you see that percentage evolving in the future as the Ordinariate becomes more established?

Right now, the great majority are married. That will even out in the next 10 years or so.

Where do your seminarians train?

We have four seminarians; three will be at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and one will be doing a pastoral internship. But the Ordinariate would be free to send its candidates to any seminary.

What kind of people do your parishes serve?

Our parishes are vibrant communities comprised of people of various backgrounds, experiences, ages and nationalities. Many have entered the Catholic Church as adults, coming from other Anglican or Protestant backgrounds. Many more have returned to the faith of their Baptism after a long period away—or embraced Christian faith for the first time—because of the evangelizing mission of our parish communities. Still others have simply grown up in it. While the Ordinariate is new, the parishes of the Pastoral Provision have been around since 1983, and so this form and style of Catholic life has been around for a while. As an example, I would point to the remarkable team of 72 altar servers we have at the Cathedral parish, ranging in ages from 8 to 18. All of them have known no other expression of Catholic life and worship than what has been going on at Our Lady of Walsingham for over three decades now.

You are a product of Jesuit education, having studied in the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco and the Gregorian University in Rome, where you also taught for several years. How has this Jesuit education influenced you?

Let’s not forget the faculty of theology at the University of Innsbruck—I studied under some remarkable Jesuit teachers there! I owe the Society of Jesus a tremendous debt of gratitude. Jesuits not only taught me the faith, but they taught me how to articulate the faith, to reason and give an apologia for the faith, to give an account for the joy that is in me because of the faith. To my mind, that is Jesuit education at its best.

As bishop, you now participate fully in U.S.C.C.B. gatherings and will meet every few years with the pope for ad limina visits to report on your flock. If you could say one thing to Pope Francis so far about what you’ve learned from your experience as bishop of the Ordinariate, what would it be?

It’s all worth it! After all, Pope Francis knows just how much went into the establishment of the ordinariate, and how much goes into the evaluation of each and every clergy applicant to the ordinariate, both at the local level and at the Holy See. But to see this vision realized and the vitality of the people in it — it’s all worth it.

What people, living or dead, have had the greatest influence on your Catholic faith and why?

My parents, certainly. Also my parish priest growing up, Marvin Steffes, C.PP.S. In many ways, Father Marvin stepped in when I needed him most, after my own father was diagnosed with the serious cancer that would eventually take his life. Ostensibly he was teaching me how to cook, but as I stirred, he grilled me on my catechism and expounded on obscure details of history, of which he was so very fond. It was a foundational experience for me.

What’s your favorite scripture passage and why?

Well, I chose a passage from Psalm 111 [“Great are the works of the Lord”] for my episcopal motto, so there’s one! Growing up, the Precious Blood Fathers taught me a great love for St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, especially Chapter 2. That idea of those who are far off being “brought near by the Blood of Christ” is something I have in mind every time I celebrate Mass in one of our communities.

You became bishop at 40 and recently turned 41, which means you now have 34 years to go before the mandatory episcopal retirement age, and it’s quite possible this assignment will be your last one as you establish stability for your new congregations of “English Catholicism.” What are your hopes for the future of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter?

We’re very much in the “pioneering phase,” so it is not easy to see the future! For the moment we have an infrastructure to build, clergy health insurance and retirement plans to develop, catechesis and evangelization to engage, parishes to construct and so on. There’s plenty to do!

Any final thoughts?

Beyond the obvious benefits that it brings to the people in it, the ordinariate is, I firmly believe, a fine example of realized ecumenism. It provides a model of diversity in unity that can reinvigorate the search of Eucharistic communion among Christians.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
7 years 1 month ago
Welcome home. in Christ,
Greg Herr
7 years 1 month ago
"It’s all worth it!" No truer words! First, thank you Bishop Steven for your leadership and guidance. After four years, and starting a community with 17 people, our parish now numbers over a hundred joyful, happy Catholics, and growing! We have begun ministries and outreach to young adults, the needy, marrieds, children, the sick and home bound; joined with local diocesan parishes to serve; established a group of Benedictine Oblates (candidates) for the Ordinariate (ie, North America), and have received several Anglican priests into full communion and our parish....and we have amazing parties! What sheer joy this work has been. As we keep saying over and over, Thank You, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI !! You have been, and remain, a good and holy Father.
Sean Salai, S.J.
7 years 1 month ago

Thanks everyone for reading. Let's continue to pray for ecumenism and for our separated brethren.

Lisa Weber
7 years 1 month ago
Thank you! This is an interesting and informative article.

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