Tag Archives: bishop

Lapsed Catholics explain why they leave church

TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) As part of a survey to understand why they have stopped attending Mass, a few hundred Catholics were asked what issues they would raise if they could speak to the bishop for five minutes.

The bishop would have gotten an earful.

Their reasons ranged from the personal (“the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”) to the political (“eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”) to the doctrinal (“don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”).

In addition, they said, they didn’t like the church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.

The findings, based on responses to a survey in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., are included in a report presented March 22 at the “Lapsed Catholics” conference at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Conducted by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, the survey, called “Empty Pews,” asked Catholics in the Trenton Diocese a series of questions about church doctrine and parish life to better understand why they are staying home.

While the study was restricted to one diocese, chances are the responses could come from just about anywhere in the U.S., where a 2007 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found one-third of Americans were raised Catholic but one-third of those had left the church.

Or, as Villanova’s Charles Zech put it, “These are issues that affect the whole church.”

The responses can be divided into two categories, said Zech, who co-authored the study and is director of the Villanova center. In one category are “the things that can’t change but that we can do a better job explaining.” The other category, he said “are some things that aren’t difficult to fix.”

Zech and the Rev. William Byron, professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, conducted the survey of 298 parishioners who have stopped attending Mass.

Almost two-thirds of the respondents were female, and the median age was 53, two facts that Zech finds troubling. “That’s a critical demographic. If we’re losing the 53-year-old women, we risk losing their children and their grandchildren,” he said.

About a quarter of the respondents said they still consider themselves Catholic despite not attending Mass. About half offered negative comments about their parish priests, whom they described as “arrogant,” “distant” and “insensitive.”

“One respondent said, ‘Ask a question and you get a rule, you don’t get a “let’s sit down and talk about it” response,'” Zech said. “They feel no one is willing to explain things to them.”

Respondents also said they were troubled by the church’s views of gays, same-sex marriage, women priests and the handling of the sex abuse crisis.

Criticism of the sex scandal was predictable, Zech said. “That doesn’t surprise anybody. They did not manage that well, and they are still not managing it well,” Zech said. “It hasn’t gone away.”

The respondents also called for better homilies, better music and more accountability of the church staff.

Trenton Bishop David O’Connell, a former president of Catholic University, declined to be interviewed about the survey’s results, saying through a spokeswoman that he “needed to spend time with the findings and develop his own analysis of them.”

Though the project was undertaken to learn more about why church attendance continues to decline in the Trenton Diocese, it’s findings have broader implications, Zech said. “These are issues that affect the whole church,” he said.

Although it was an anonymous survey, about one in eight respondents said they welcomed a call from a church official and provided their names and contact information for that purpose. Many more indicated they were pleased to be asked for their input.

“The fact that they took the time to respond gives us a chance,” Zech said. “If some things change, or we do a better job of representing the church’s position, we might woo some of them back.”

(Peggy McGlone writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)

Catholics eye Cleveland closures for national precedent

CLEVELAND (RNS) Before a recent prayer service in a shuttered Catholic church in Holyoke, Mass., parishioner Victor Anop stood before 120 people and made an urgent announcement:

“The Vatican has ordered the bishop of Cleveland to reopen 13 closed churches.”

“Everybody broke into applause,” Anop said in a telephone interview. “People are still talking about it. What happened in Cleveland brings us hope.”

Catholics fighting church closings across the U.S. are keeping their eyes on the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, where Bishop Richard Lennon was overruled by the Vatican for not properly following church law and procedures on closing churches.

Copies of the decrees are circulating throughout the country and even in Canada. Anop and other parishioners of the closed Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church have been holding around-the-clock vigils inside their century-old sanctuary ever since their bishop ordered it closed last June.

In July, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, the same panel that ordered the reopening of Cleveland’s churches, said Mater Dolorosa should stay closed. But the Holyoke squatters appealed to the Vatican’s supreme court and are awaiting a ruling.

Meanwhile, the news from Cleveland has reinvigorated their fight, Anop said. “Cleveland has led the way,” he said. “And now the people of Cleveland need to keep working to get those churches open right away.”

Phillip Penna, who is trying to reopen his church, Corpus Christi in North Bay, Ontario, about four hours north of Toronto, has read a couple of the Cleveland decrees.

“We think our bishop made similar errors,” said Penna. “What’s happening in Cleveland is monumental. It’s really emboldened us. We’re ready to go.”

Many believe Rome is unhappy with U.S. bishops closing hundreds of churches over the last decade — especially century-old structures that are architectural gems and elaborately appointed with priceless art. Many were old ethnic churches in inner-city neighborhoods.

“I’m wondering if Rome is saying, ‘Enough is enough,'” said Michael Dunnigan, a canon lawyer at the St. Joseph Foundation, a parishioners advocacy group in San Antonio.

“I’m no mind reader,” he said, “but I imagine that Vatican officials looking at America must wonder to themselves: ‘How can the bishops of such a wealthy country close so many churches, abandon their great cities and exile to the suburbs the great Catholic witness in both flesh and stone?'”

Dunnigan, who has been representing parishioners for 14 years, said overturning a bishop’s closing of a church was unheard of.

“We’ve been in the wilderness for ages with cases like this,” he said. “It’s been almost impossible to win, to prevail against a bishop. But now there’s hope.”

The 13 Cleveland churches — out of 50 that Lennon closed between 2009 and 2010 in a finance-driven downsizing — had appealed to the Congregation for the Clergy, saying they were self-sustaining parishes that should not be closed.

While the cases were under appeal, the diocese was prohibited from selling the properties, so they have been sitting empty and padlocked. Word got out March 7 that the Congregation ruled in favor of all 13 parishes.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the news,” said Joe Fuisz, a parishioner fighting to reopen St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pa. “I thought, ‘No, the press must be mistaken.’

“Up until now, we had no real success stories to look to. Now, going forward, people are looking to Cleveland.”

Lennon has 60 days to appeal the reversals of his closing orders; the bishop said in a statement that his advisers were reviewing the rulings.

Peter Borre, a Boston activist who represents 24 parishioner groups in 11 dioceses throughout the country, said Lennon erred both in procedure and substance of church law when he “suppressed” parishes — which means he dissolved them — and shuttered the church buildings.

“This is a tectonic shift in Vatican parish policy,” said Borre. “This is not just idiosyncrasies of a few odd cases here and there.”

(Michael O’Malley writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.)

Bishops’ point man on ‘religious liberty’ gets a promotion

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (RNS) If there is any Catholic bishop in the U.S. who probably didn’t need a bigger platform, it would be William E. Lori, who was named Tuesday (March 20) by Pope Benedict XVI as the next archbishop of Baltimore.

For the past decade, Lori has led the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, but in recent months he’s become the public face of the hierarchy’s new signature issue: the fight for “religious freedom.”

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., testifies on President Obama's proposed contraception mandate before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. Photo courtesy House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

It’s a fight that has defined Lori’s career — and is likely to define the public face of the church in the months to come.

In political terms, Lori has been tasked with coordinating the bishops’ opposition to the White House’s birth control mandate as well as opposing gay marriage and a host of other hot-button controversies.

Last September, Lori was tapped to lead the bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty in order to sharpen the bishops’ message and raise their profile after years of playing defense in the clergy sexual abuse scandals.

In recent months, Lori has testified in Congress three times, and the bishops’ fight with the White House has dominated the headlines and even seeped into the 2012 presidential race.

“To tell you the truth, I feel a sense of urgency about it,” Lori said, with some understatement, in an interview a few days before his promotion. “But at the same time it’s a work that’s important and fulfilling and I enjoy it.”

Quiet and soft-spoken, Lori nonetheless brings a single-minded focus to defending sacred principles while also deploying the kind of double-edged humor that a religious leader needs to do battle in the public square. He can be sharp to the point of sarcastic but also self-effacing in regards to his own career.

“They say timing is everything,” Lori said with the quiet laugh of a man who tends to see the irony and absurdity of so many aspects of modern life.

Now, with the move to Baltimore — the oldest archdiocese in the U.S. — timing is again Lori’s ally. At just 60 years old, his new post will put him that much closer to the action, and now he’ll have a papal imprimatur to bring with him.

Unlike the gregarious Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lori is slightly-built and almost shy. He likes nothing more than reading history, and loves books so much that he named his pair of sibling Golden Retrievers “Barnes” and “Noble.”

“I am dialed-down quite a bit from Cardinal Dolan, no doubt about that,” Lori said during an interview in the chapel at Sacred Heart University.

Lori learned the virtue of hard work from his immigrant family, especially his Sicilian grandfather, who arrived in America in the depths of the Great Depression and managed to launch a successful fruit and vegetable store. Born in Louisville, Ky., and raised in nearby Indiana, Lori watched his grandfather work in his garden until he was 87, and it was a lesson he never forgot.

“I’m happy, and I love working,” he said. “Happiness and hard work go hand in hand.”

It was also a lesson Lori took to the seminary, and it paid off. After studies in Kentucky, he earned a master’s degree from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained in 1977. He earned his doctorate from Catholic University five years later, and after a brief stint as an associate pastor in suburban Washington, he went to work for the late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington.

Lori wound up working for Hickey for 18 years, serving in a variety of posts and learning even more about what it meant to work hard: “There are two words that I feared most at 10:00 at night from the cardinal: ‘Second wind.’ That would mean you were going until one in the morning.”

In 2001, Lori was appointed to Bridgeport. Knowing that he could be made a bishop, he says he checked to see which dioceses had vacancies, and saw two: Bridgeport and Fairbanks, Alaska. “I said a little prayer that it might be the former. I’m just not that good at ice fishing and flying a Cessna,” he said.

Within months, Lori was facing two huge crises: the 9/11 attacks that claimed many of his new flock, and the clergy abuse crisis that has continued to dog the hierarchy.

While Lori is known for his orthodoxy on doctrine and social issues, he was praised by many for taking a hard line in dealing with abusive priests, and in dealing with subsequent financial scandals that emerged. On the other hand, Lori also fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep documents on private settlements with victims — reached before he became bishop — sealed. He argued his case on religious freedom grounds, but eventually lost.

But two other episodes helped shape his outlook. One was a proposal by a pair of state senators to change the structure of Catholic parishes to have lay people, rather than priests and bishops, in charge. Critics suspected it was legislative mischief prompted by Lori’s vocal opposition to Connecticut’s gay marriage law.

Lori rallied the state’s bishops and thousands of Catholics in a public campaign against the bill, which died fairly quickly. But it provided a template for Lori’s current national approach.

“If it’s just bishops speaking, in a democracy, we understand that as charming and as reasonable and as innately delightful as we all are, we’ll have a better chance for a hearing when there’s a lot of people out there saying, wait, this is a problem.”

Another case, however, showed that Lori also knows the value of a strategic retreat. In 2007, Connecticut mandated that all hospitals provide emergency contraception to rape victims, a mandate that Lori and the other Connecticut bishops resisted much as they have the White House’s current contraception mandate.

Within months, Connecticut bishops said they had undergone “an evolution in thinking” and now believed that the Plan B pill would not necessarily cause an abortion and so could be used at Catholic medical facilities.

Lori says the decision was a prudent one, based on the facts, and that the current Obama mandate is different because it includes other pills that are closer to abortion, as well as sterilizations. Despite the White House’s assurances, he also doesn’t believe that compromise proposals will not force the church to pay for contraception.

In that view of President Obama, Lori is voicing skepticism shared by the bishops but not necessarily their flocks. That sort of disagreement is the kind of thing that really gets his “dander up,” as he said in explaining why he wrote a “nippy” response to an editorial in the Jesuit magazine America that had critiqued the bishops’ wisdom in the religious freedom battle.

“I felt that an ironic — some would say sarcastic — little piece was a knife to cut through the fog,” Lori said, relishing the memory of the exchange. “I enjoy a good piece of writing that has a bit of an edge to it, and other people do, too. We’re all big boys and girls.”

Lori believes that exuding joy as a bishop, not to mention displaying a sense of humor, is key to preaching the gospel. But if Lori’s approach and sense of humor isn’t to everyone’s liking, he insists that too much is at stake to let personal feelings get in the way.

“Once you have preached the principle that a government can define a church and tell a church what to do, well, it could tell us about contraception today, it could tell us about abortion tomorrow, and physician-assisted suicide the day after that. It is the principle of the thing,” he said.

“We certainly have to speak reasonably and civilly. But we also have to speak prophetically. And sometimes prophets are thought to be strident.”

COGIC reinstates bishop after criminal charges dropped

The Church of God in Christ has lifted the suspension of a New Orleans bishop after a judge ruled that the charges of forcible rape, sexual battery and indecent behavior brought against him were too old to prosecute.

A Tuesday (March 6) statement from the church said its General Board had removed the suspension against Bishop Charles E. Brown and would have no further comment. The statement did not indicate that the denomination sought to interview the alleged victims. Brown was unavailable.

Brown, 59, leads two Pentecostal churches: Full Gospel Church of God in Christ in New Orleans and Williams Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ in Houston. He is also the jurisdictional bishop for the New Orleans area.

Brown was arrested last June on a complaint by an unidentified woman who said he had molested her as a minor. COGIC officials suspended him in September, shortly after the allegations became public.

Afterward, two other women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. He was indicted on a charge of forcible rape in one of the encounters.

Prosecutors also filed four charges of indecent behavior or sexual battery. All of the crimes allegedly took place between 1977 and 1989. Brown denied the charges and pleaded not guilty.

Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman ruled that the statute of limitations, as written when the crimes allegedly were committed, long ago ran out. At that time, the victims were required to report them no later than 10 years after they turned 17.

(Bruce Nolan writes for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

Quake-damaged cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand to be demolished

The earthquake-damaged Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand is beyond repair and will be demolished and replaced by a new cathedral with a different design, said Bishop Victoria Matthews on 2 March.

The 131-year-old landmark ChristChurch Cathedral was severely damaged in last year’s 22 February earthquake, which killed 185 people. The building sustained further damage from several aftershocks and had been cordoned off.

Matthews said the Cathedral will be taken down, as it would be too expensive and dangerous to rebuild. It would cost $42 million to rebuild using existing parts of the building or $84 million for a complete reconstruction–at least $41 million more than insurance could fund.

“This decision has been made with prayer, with great deliberation, and an utmost concern for safety. We acknowledge the high level of community interest and sense of ownership as the cathedral was both an iconic building and a place of regular worship by many.”

The deconstruction will bring the building to a level of two or three meters, with the base of the church to be used as a prayer garden. Heritage items and taonga (treasures), such as stained glass windows, will be retrieved.

“There would be no bulldozers or wrecking balls. This will be done with deep respect and love for a building that has served us so well for so long,” said Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, who called the decision to demolish the cathedral “heartbreaking.”

“It is not an easy decision for the church. It is not an easy decision for many of us to accept, either,” he said.

Christchurch city counselor Aaron Keown said demolition would happen “over my dead body.”

“I would be in there chaining myself to the building to stop that and I know lots of other volunteers would come in to do that,” he told the Christchurch Press.

“The Cathedral is the revered Mother Church,” said Matthews, “but it is not the only thing we have to consider. Twenty five other churches are very seriously damaged; five further churches have been demolished.”

Matthews said the Christchurch diocese will establish a transitional cathedral “to bring hope to Christchurch and provide a much-needed venue where the community can pray, reflect, and gather for worship.”

Breakaway bishop who denounced gay bishop found murdered in Brazil

A conservative Brazilian bishop who broke away from his church over the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire was found murdered with his wife in the northeastern town of Olinda, according to the diocese.

Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti and his wife Miriam were found dead on Sunday (Feb. 26). Their adopted son, Eduardo, is a suspect in the stabbing deaths, church officials said.

Conservative Anglican media sites reported that Cavalcanti was returning from a parish visit.

Cavalcanti launched the breakaway Anglican Church — Diocese of Recife after Bishop V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

According to a 2006 story by Episcopal News Service, Cavalcanti asked the House of Bishops in Brazil to express its opposition to Robinson’s election. When Brazilian bishops refused, Cavalcanti left the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, the officially recognized Brazilian branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Cavalcanti canceled relationships with U.S. dioceses and participated in irregular actions within the U.S., including confirmations in Ohio in 2004 without the diocesan bishop’s permission, ENS reported.

In 2011, when Brazil legalized gay marriage, Cavalcanti wrote that his country had legalized sin and “immorality.” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attempted to mediate the dispute between Cavalcanti and the established church, but to no avail.

In 2005, Cavalcanti was defrocked on the grounds that he broke communion with the official Anglican church in Brazil. When he left, he took 32 clergy and their congregations with him, according to ENS. He claimed church properties and refused to relinquish many diocesan documents.

The Brazilian church’s recognized diocese in Recife elected another man as bishop in 2006.

2 Catholic Priests Kidnapped in Sudan

South Sudanese rebel militia loyal to the Sudanese government have kidnapped two Catholic priests in Rabak, Christian sources said.

A large truck smashed through the gates of the St. Josephine Bakhita’s Catholic Church compound in Rabak, 260 kilometers (162 miles) south of Khartoum, on Jan. 15 at 10 p.m., and the assailants broke down the rectory door, the sources said. The Rev. Joseph Makwey and the Rev. Sylvester Mogga were kidnapped at gunpoint.

Four days later, on Jan. 19, the kidnappers forced the two priests to call their bishop with a ransom demand of 500,000 Sudanese pounds (US$185,530), 250,000 Sudanese pounds each.

Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok told Compass by phone that there was no direct communication between the bishop and the kidnappers, though the priests managed to convey that they were being mistreated.

“We are worried about the two priests,” he said. “They are not treating them well.”

The kidnappers have attempted no communication with church leaders since then, Adwok said. Neither Makwey, in his 40s, nor Mogga, in his mid-30s, are supporters of southern Sudan military forces in territorial conflict with Sudan over border areas, added.

Eyewitnesses told Compass that they saw the assailants severely beating the priests while abducting them. The kidnappers also looted the priests’ living quarters, stealing two vehicles, two laptops and a safe.

The incident caused panic and terror among Christians in Rabak, with church leaders saying they fear for their lives as they become targets of the Islamic government and its allied militias.

Sudan has seen a steep increase in persecution against Christians, according to an annual ranking by Christian support organization Open Doors. Sudan – where northern Christians experienced greater vulnerability after southern Sudan seceded in a July referendum, and where Christians were targeted amid isolated military conflicts – jumped 19 places last year from its 2010 ranking, from 35th to 16th, according to Open Doors’ 2012 World Watch List.

Sudanese law prohibits missionaries from evangelizing, and converting from Islam to another religion is punishable by imprisonment or death in Sudan, though previously such laws were not strictly enforced. The government has never carried out a death sentence for apostasy, according to the U.S. State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report.

Christians are facing growing threats from both Muslim communities and Islamist government officials who have long wanted to rid Sudan of Christianity, Christian leaders told Compass. They said Christianity is now regarded as a foreign religion following the departure of 350,000 people, most of them Christians, to South Sudan following the July 9, 2011 secession.

Sudan’s Interim National Constitution holds up sharia (Islamic law) as a source of legislation, and the laws and policies of the government favor Islam, according to the state department report. Christian leaders said they fear the government is tightening controls on churches in Sudan and planning to force compliance with Islamic law as part of a strategy to eliminate Christianity.

As he has several times in the past year, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Jan. 3 once again warned that Sudan’s constitution will be more firmly entrenched in sharia.

“We are an Islamic nation with sharia as the basis of our constitution,” he told crowds in Kosti, south of Khartoum. “We will base our constitution on Islamic laws.”

His government subsequently issued a decree ordering church leaders to provide names and contact information of church leaders in Sudan, sources said. Christian leaders said the government is retaliating for churches’ perceived pro-West position.

Muslim scholars have urged heavy-handed measures against Christians to Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

L.A. bishop resigns after fathering children

A Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles has resigned after admitting he is the father of two children, both now teenagers.

The Vatican on Wednesday (Jan. 4) announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, 60, who was born in Mexico and grew up in Los Angeles.

Ordained in 1977 and named a bishop in 1994, Zavala developed a reputation for fighting on behalf of immigrants and the poor and against the death penalty.Coming 10 years after the clergy abuse scandal erupted in Boston, Zavala’s resignation could further tarnish the credibility of the church’s U.S. hierarchy as it seeks to move beyond the abuse scandal.

Most recently, Zavala had overseen the bishops’ communications office and media outreach, and his own scandal could also hamper the bishops’ high-profile public campaign against gay marriage.

It is also a setback for efforts by the American bishops to develop Hispanic leaders to minister to the burgeoning population of Hispanic Catholics in the United States.

Hispanics account for most of the growth in U.S. Catholicism, and within a generation they are projected to be the majority ethnic group in the church. But out of nearly 300 active bishops in the United States, just 26 are Hispanics. There are 13 retired Latino prelates, including Zavala.

The Vatican provided no explanation for Zavala’s resignation, saying only that it had been accepted under the canon law requiring a bishop to step down “because of illness or some other grave reason.”

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said in a letter released Wednesday that Zavala told him in early December that he is the father of two teenage children, both still minors, who live with their mother in another state.

Assuming the two children are 17 or younger, they would have been born after Zavala had been appointed a bishop. Calling the news “sad and difficult,” Gomez said that Zavala has been out of ministry and “living privately.”

He said the archdiocese “has reached out to the mother and children to provide spiritual care as well as funding to assist the children with college costs.”

He did not identify the family out of respect for their privacy, nor did he provide any details on how involved Zavala was with the children and their mother, and whether or how he had been providing for them financially.

Gomez appointed Monsignor James Loughnane, a priest who has worked many years in the San Gabriel area that Bishop Zavala oversaw, to take over Zavala’s duties until a replacement is named.

Vatican launches Catholic home for U.S. Episcopalians

American Episcopalians upset with their denomination’s acceptance of gay and female clergy can now convert to the Roman Catholic Church while keeping many cherished traditions in a special new U.S. diocese that was established on Sunday by Pope Benedict XVI.

Rev. Jeffrey Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop, was named the Ordinariate Chair of Saint Peter by Pope Benedict XVI. Steenson, who is married with three children, became Catholic in December 2007.

The Houston-based diocese, called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, will allow a special Anglican-style Catholic Mass that can include sections from the Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican liturgies.

This new structure grew out of a controversial 2009 effort by Pope Benedict to convince conservative Anglicans to align with Rome under an exemption that allows Anglican priests, laity, and even entire congregations to convert while keeping their prized music and prayers.

Bishops who convert under the rite will be allowed to function as Catholic priests, but not as bishops. Married Anglican male priests will be able to remain married and serve as Catholic priests, though unmarried priests who join will not be able to marry later without renouncing their priesthood.

The American ordinariate is only the second such jurisdiction established since Benedict launched the process; the first was set up a year ago in England, the birthplace of Anglicanism, and others are being considered for Canada and Australia.

It is still unclear how much of a draw the new jurisdiction will be.

So far, some 100 former Episcopal priests have applied to become Catholic priests in the U.S. ordinariate, and about 1,400 individuals — as well as six small congregations — have sought to join the Catholic Church under the new provision.

After a year in existence, the ordinariate in England and Wales still counts only 1,000 former Anglican lay people and 60 former Anglican priests as members.

Some Episcopalians in the U.S., like some Anglicans in other countries, have opted to affiliate with conservative Anglican bodies or breakaway traditionalist groups rather than becoming Catholics.

The U.S. ordinariate will be led by the Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop of New Mexico and father of three who became a Catholic in 2007 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2009.

In a statement on Tuesday, Steenson was enthusiastic about the new rite, but also cautioned that Episcopalians who join face “a steep learning curve” in trying to integrate under such a novel arrangement.

“Pray that we may strive to learn the faith, laws, and culture of the Catholic Church with humility and good cheer,” Steenson said. “But pray too that we do not forget who we are and where we have come from, for we have been formed in the beautiful and noble Anglican tradition.”

Episcopal bishop cleared of ‘abandonment’ charge

The Episcopal bishop of South Carolina, who has distanced his diocese from the national denomination since its sanction of openly gay bishops, has not “abandoned” the Episcopal Church, a church committee announced Monday (Nov. 28).

Bishop Mark Lawrence, an outspoken conservative, has said that he wants to remain part of the Episcopal Church, even as he decries its “false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity.”

The Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire in 2004, and a lesbian priest as an assistant bishop in Los Angeles last year.

In protest, the South Carolina diocese, which covers the eastern portion of the state, has declared itself “sovereign” within the national denomination, rejected the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and withdrawn from some governing committees.

However, the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops “was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the church,” said Bishop Dorsey Henderson, the panel’s chairman.

Under church law, bishops who reject the doctrine, worship or discipline of the national denomination are deemed to have abandoned the church.

Henderson, the former bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, said that it is “significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church — that he only seeks a safe place within the church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it.”