“I want the pope to be proud of us…”

The head of the new Ordinariate, bringing Anglicans into the Catholic Church, spoke recently with CNS, and had a lot of interesting things to say about his new role, and his life.  The married father of three — and former Episcopal bishop — Father Jeffrey N. Steenson will be installed in his new post next month.  Also next month, a class of about 40 former Episcopal priests will begin an intensive, Internet-based course of studies to become Catholic priests.

Part of the Q&A with Fr. Steenson:

Q: Some people have said it’s not really fair, because married Catholic priests can’t come back. How would you respond to that?

A: It’s kind of easy actually. That would be to compare apples and oranges. 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. So, I don’t want it to sound critical, but for those Catholic priests who left to get married and then want to come back again, that’s a whole totally different question for them. And I don’t think it is comparable to what the ordinariate is about.

Q: As the only married member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, what do you hope to bring to the discussions at national bishops’ meetings and in the committees to which you are appointed?

A: (Laughs) I can’t even imagine. Well I was taught, in my days in the Episcopal House of Bishops, in those early days you were taught to be there, to be square and to keep your mouth shut. And I think I will have a lot to learn and I don’t anticipate doing much talking. But a lot of relationship building, I think. I’ve been to two meetings of the bishops now and it’s amazing to me that a business meeting is a business meeting, no matter what communion it’s in. So some of it is pretty tedious. I think one of the differences I see, though, is that the unity that exists among the Catholic bishops is far greater than what I see among the Episcopal bishops. I was quite taken by that, you felt that there was just a greater consensus on important things. Plus the USCCB has (Cardinal-designate Timothy M.) Dolan — I have never seen a man run a meeting so effectively as him. I’m astonished by how good he is. I’ve never seen anything like it, at any level.

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.

And the other thing I’d like to do if I could see him is to thank him for his Christology book that he wrote. It’s sort of a life-changer for me — “Jesus of Nazareth” 1 and 2. I’m a utility infielder at the seminary, in other words they throw me classes to teach when no one else can do it and last year I was given Christology. So the seminarians and I just read Pope Benedict, and it was an astonishing experience to do that. I think we all walked away from that experience in something of an awe for Benedict as a theologian. I’d like to thank him for that too. As a theologian I would say that in “Jesus of Nazareth” part 2, his chapter on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is probably the most extraordinary piece of theology of our time. It’s astonishingly adventuresome. I mean, he opens up doors that, I don’t know, it just took my breath away. That’s probably more than your readers would be interested in, but I would vote that chapter on Gethsemane as one of the most amazing pieces of theology done in our time.

Q: Two of your sons have special needs.

A: Yes, our two boys have Asperger’s syndrome. They’re adults now. One of them lives with us; he’s employed by Walgreens, which has a phenomenal program for disabled adults. I’m amazed at Walgreens. That’s Eric. And our other son, John, lives in Seattle, on his own, and he’s a software engineer for Amazon.com. And we hold him up in prayer, more than once a day, to have our little boy out there on his own. … We moved him out in July, so about half a year now. He loves his work there. He talks about Uncle Jeff, you know, the head of Amazon. He’s been a very good employer. And then our daughter Kristina, she’s a pediatric doctor in Traverse City, Mich., with her husband and our grandson, Peter. We’re very proud of him.

None of our children has come into the Catholic Church yet. All of them are very, very interested and I think the boys will come in relatively soon. … Our children are all very strong Christians. Eric I think belongs to every young adult group in Houston, from Catholic to Baptist. He gets his social outreach through that; he’s welcomed by Christian groups.

Read it all. It’s great stuff.

  • Selah

    To refer to any mere ” man ” as Your Holiness or Holy Father or Holy See is to blaspheme God.
    God is alone HOLY ! 1 Sam 2 : 2

  • Laura

    Prayers and good wishes to Fr. Steenson. May I make a prayer request for my father, Fr. Larry Lossing, of Orlando, Fla.? He is on of the first few former Anglican priests to become Catholics (in 1984), and is very ill. Please and thank you!

  • Alan

    The Anglican Church tried to be everything to everyone; it ended up being nothing to nobody.
    I am an Anglican turned Catholic.

  • Fr. Jim

    @Selah: A simple definition of “holy” is simply “to be used for God’s purposes” or “to somehow reveal the divine.” As Catholics, we see God’s presence in so much of our world. The ordained receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, as their work is to be an conduit of God’s grace. We bless ourselves with holy water, reminding ourselves of our baptism when we became one with Christ. We honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the template for Christian families. We use holy cards that contain images of Jesus, Mary, the other saints – as inspiration to guide us on the path of holiness. We are led by the pope whom we affectionately refer to as “Holy Father,” as he is the Vicar of Christ, charging us to lead lives of holiness in response to God’s loving grace. Try not to take the scriptures out of context. We’re not equating the pope with God, but simply recognizing his role as the chief shepherd and servant of Christ’s Church.

  • Selah

    __ Jim , i respectfully disagree that ” blessing with holy water ” can not in any way be linked with baptism and being one with Christ. Proper Christian baptism occurs when one is immersed and has professed that he/ she is a sinner, repenting and asking for forgiveness sincerely declaring that Jesus is Savior and Lord thus beginning the process of sanctification having been justified by the shed blood of Jesus Chist on Calvary. Baptism does not save but it is an outward expression on a true inward relationship with Jesus Christ. Any ” true ” Christian is a ” saint ” and this is evident in Paul’s writings in the NT. Colosaians 1: 2 ; ” to the saints ( the consecrated people of God and believing and faithful brethren in Christ ).Also in Philipians / Ephesians etc.
    What I perceive in all of this is a ” ritualistic religion ” without a relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • Jack B. Nimble

    Not to rain on any one’s parade or engage in sour grapes (as an Anglican), but this venture seems very much rushed and cart before the horse. Even now Fr. Steenson does not know how the group will be supported financially, nor is the nature of the “patrimony” to be preserved know to him or the converts.

    Singing evensong on Sunday afternoons to some C of E composer’s music (if that’s all we’re talking about) is very thin gruel indeed. Using the Novus Ordo for mass? Might as well have gone through RCIA and just become a regulation RC. Also, doesn’t TEC have a copyright on the 1979 prayerbook? How do you guys just “cut and paste” portions of it? The Vatican should have come up with an approved liturgy first and not as a rushed afterthought. I am impressed though by the almost universal positive comments the former Anglicans have for their faith formation and lives as Anglican/Episcopalian priests. So “Alan” you might want to review their comments and temper the triumphalism.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Selah…

    I appreciate your thoughts, but you are straying perilously close to anti-Catholic bigotry. Don’t bash my faith — or anyone else’s — or you’ll be banned.

    This is a place for dialogue and discussion, not self-righteous condemnation.

    And the “___ Jim” salutation? Really? Your bias and hate is showing.

    Thank you.

    Dcn. G.

  • Laura

    Thank you, Dcn. Kandra. A faith forum is no place for bigotry of any sort.

  • Mourad

    Dear Jack B. Nimble, Perhaps in your desire to be nimble you did not think too hard about some realities. Firstly, of course, the Book of Common Prayer properly so called was written well before the TEC was even though of. What will be copyright in the 1979 TEC edition will not be that important. It will not be used in the US Ordinariate any more than in the Ordinariate over here in England What books are authorised for use are (i) those rites lawfully used in the Latin Church and (ii) as an interim measure the Book of Divine Worship used in US Pastoral Provision parishes. A liturgical commission is hard at work to develop a distinctive Ordinariate book and it is my understanding is that it will start from the pre-Reformation Sarum Use and seek to deliver an appropriate English text while avoiding some of the undesirable innovations of Master Cranmer.

    Here in England, Catholics hold our mother tongue in the same high regard as any other denomination. The language of the Tudors and the Stuarts is very much part of our English heritage. So if we are going to have liturgies in the vernacular, then it is best that we have them in an appropriate hieratic language such as the unbowdlerised Prayer of Humble Access. So we expect great things from the Ordinariates in this regard.

    As for finances, I don’t suppose St Augustine had much of a budget when he was sent by the Pope to evangelise the English. But the Catholic Church has survived here notwithstanding the best efforts of Henry VIII and others. We have had to build our places of worship twice over – once before the Reformation and again after Catholic Emancipation. I am sure that those coming into communion with the Holy See will by the Grace of God build their churches, and see to the other temporal matters.

  • Selah

    Dcn.G ,
    Can you explain to me what you believe Matt 23:9 says?
    ” And do not call anyone in the church on earth father, for you have one Father , who is in heaven “

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Selah…

    It’s a question many Evangelical Protestants wonder about.

    There’s a very good explanation at this link.

    God bless,
    Dcn. G.


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