SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The former Episcopal Church bishop for New Mexico and west Texas has been named to a Roman Catholic Church post overseeing former Episcopalians across the U.S.
Jeffrey Steenson resigned as Episcopal Bishop of the Rio Grande in 2007 and was ordained a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2009.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/xpqcbE ) that Pope Benedict XVI appointed Steenson last week to head the new Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston.
Similar to a diocese but national in scope, the new ordinariate will include parishes and communities that left the Episcopal Church for Catholicism. They will be “fully Catholic, while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions,” such as the Book of Common Prayer, according to a news release.
More than 100 clergy have applied to be ordained Catholic for the ordinariate, and 1,400 individuals from 22 communities have asked to join the new organization.
Most left in protest of the Episcopal Church decision to ordain gays and lesbian as priests.
Steenson received his theological training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and Harvard Divinity School, and holds a doctor of philosophy degree from Oxford University
He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1980 and served parishes in Great Britain and the U.S. He was canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande in Albuquerque and elected bishop in 2004.
Steenson was ordained a Catholic priest under a provision that allows married former Anglican clergy who convert to remain married and serve as Catholic priests. They cannot remarry should they become widowers.
After studying in Rome, Steenson became a professor in patristic studies (early Christian writers) at the University of St. Thomas Center for Faith and Culture in Houston. He and his wife, Debra, have three adult children and one grandchild.
The first ordinariate was set up a year ago in England, and others are being discussed in Canada and Australia. The ordinariate for England and Wales has about 1,000 former Anglican lay people and 60 former Anglican priests, according to Religion News Service. Other disaffected congregations have opted to affiliate with conservative breakaway groups rather than become Catholic.
In his 2007 resignation letter, Steenson said his “conscience is deeply troubled about where the Episcopal Church is heading.”
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has more than 2 million members. Dozens of congregations have left the church since 2003.