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Father Steenson: ‘Leave All that Anger Behind’

If the Ordinariate in the United States is a Vatican effort to poach disgruntled Anglicans, Sunday-golfing ex-Anglicans or never-were Anglicans, its newly appointed leader has not received that memo.

In fact, says the Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson, Anglican does not appear in the new body’s formal name, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, because members will make no pretense of remaining Anglicans. And anyone who wants to enter the Ordinariate because of anger toward Anglicanism rather than a desire for deeper communion with the Roman Catholic Church probably ought to wait.

Steenson, who was bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of the Rio Grande from 2004 to 2007, will be invested as the first Ordinary of the Ordinariate during a Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, Feb. 12.

“It is spiritually so critical that they leave all that anger behind. We want people who are happy with their spiritual lives and are not fighting old battles,” Father Steenson told The Living Church.

“I don’t think angry people make it into the kingdom of Heaven. I think they have to work it off in Purgatory,” he said. “Their souls are in turmoil. They’ve got to pray their way to a place of peace. Decisions usually turn out to be bad when they are made in anger.”

Steenson speaks from experience, as a man who spent years wrestling with ecclesiology before resigning his office in the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops and submitting to a year of basic training to become a Roman Catholic priest.

“It is spiritually arduous to make the walk. But you wake up one morning and you realize, I’m not angry anymore,” he said. “I’ve lost weight because I’m not under stress anymore.”

The Ordinariate will honor the Anglican patrimony of its founding members, through its use of beloved hymns and the Book of Divine Worship, which combines Rite I of the Book of Common Prayer (1979) with the Roman canon.

On the first Sunday that Steenson celebrated Mass from the new translation, it made him remember the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer (1928).

“I feel like I’m learning to be a polyglot,” Steenson said. “I was very excited about the new translation of the Missal. Theologically, it’s extraordinarily rich.”

After his investiture, he will be known as Monsignor Steenson. Although he will not ordain new priests, he will have seat, voice and vote in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I didn’t expect that at all,” he said about having a vote in the USCCB. “This came as a total surprise to me.”

Steenson expressed a similar wonderment about being asked to lead the Ordinariate. He planned to continue teaching patristics for a few more years at Houston’s University of St. Thomas and then possibly to return to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, whose archbishop, Michael J. Sheehan, helped Steenson work through his questions about joining the Roman Catholic Church.

“No one in their right mind would accept this,” he said of his new duties, in which he will continue working full-time for the university but will serve the Ordinariate in his free hours, without salary. “It is the challenge of creating a diocese from scratch, overnight. … When the Holy See asks for something, the answer is ‘Yes, sir.’”

He speaks fondly of the Episcopal Church’s 26th presiding bishop, with whom he shares a love for general aviation.

“One of the people I’m still very grateful for is Katharine Jefferts Schori. She was absolutely wonderful in helping me through that,” he said of his departure from the House of Bishops. “I could not have asked for better pastoral care from my presiding bishop.”

The theological differences between them are evident, Steenson said, but “as a human being, as a pastor and as a pilot: sympatico.”

If his new nationwide vocation places him in further contact with Bishop Jefferts Schori, “I would welcome that,” Steenson said. “I would want to be careful not to stick my nose where it was not welcome, but if a hand is ever extended I would certainly respond to it.”

Steenson welcomed the response to his appointment by the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of Texas, whose office is merely ten miles away from the University of St. Thomas.

“I have no anxiety and I hope that the Ordinariate will be a place where some who feel spiritually homeless may find a dwelling place; and a place where others may come to a better understanding of their own Anglican heritage,” Bishop Doyle wrote Jan. 3. “I have chosen to follow God in Christ Jesus through the particular and unique church community of the

Episcopal Church. I am unabashedly Episcopalian and I love my church.

“We in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas are a people in mission and we are focused on the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, such that men and women will be drawn into relationship with him as Savior and follow him as Lord in the specific fellowship of the Episcopal Church; which is part of Christ’s universal and catholic church,” Doyle added.

“Bishop Doyle’s letter was really well-written and I was comfortable with it,” Steenson said.

Steenson is thankful for the friendships from his years in the House of Bishops, and many of them continue. “Those relationships will become really important to me now. We know that there’s a certain awkwardness here,” he said.

Just as during his years as a bishop in New Mexico, Steenson will rely on bishops for pastoral warnings about troubled priests or congregations heading his way, and he will offer the same guidance to them.

“One of the things I learned early on in my years as a bishop is that you never play the game of Old Maid with other bishops.”

Steenson said his students at the university have teased him since his appointment became public knowledge.

“They’re merciless about it,” Steenson said with a laugh. “They think I should start a pub here called the Broken Crozier,” because during Steenson’s years in New Mexico his crozier once broke apart.

He used clear duct tape to repair it, he said. “That was a symbol for something.”


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