At 12 noon today, CST, I was able to take part in a telephone press conference with the Ordinariate Chancery in Houston, at which Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson introduced the newly appointed Bishop-elect Steven Lopes.
Apart from the Ordinariate Communications Director, Jenny Faber, the participants also included Mary Ann Mueller of Virtueonline and Mark Anderson of the Catholic News Service.
Asked why he had retired, Monsignor Steenson quipped that he had not had enough time for his hobby of piloting his own small aircraft (as opposed to the thousands of airmiles which he had accumulated in one of the largest Catholic circumscriptions in the world – Msgr Steenson was known to describe the territory of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter as from Hawaii to Newfoundland and from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle).
But in a more serious tone he went on to elucidate his belief that the Ordinariate was incomplete without a bishop leading and teaching his clergy and people. He quoted St. Ignatius of Antioch who, as in Chapter VIII of his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, described the Christians gathered around their bishop, as around Jesus Christ.
“Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as where Christ is, there does all the heavenly host stand by, waiting upon Him as the Chief Captain of the Lord’s might, and the Governor of every intelligent nature.”
Monsignor Steenson explained that he has a full teaching load at St. Thomas’ University for the Summer Semester, but until Bishop-elect Lopes’ ordination on February 2nd, 2016, in Houston (the location is still to be fixed) he will act as Apostolic Administrator of the Ordinariate. He will then remain a priest of the Ordinariate as Ordinary emeritus.
Asked what his first activities will now be, Bishop-elect Lopes jokingly mentioned flying but then went on to say that he would preach at the first Solemn Mass at Our Lady of Walsingham using the new Divine Worship Missal on the First Sunday of Advent in five days’ time. The principal celebrant will be Monsignor Steenson and he will concelebrate. In this context the new bishop referred to his “Cathedral”, and when specifically queried on this point, he stated that just as Military Ordinaries have a cathedral, as in the United Kingdom (Aldershot), the Bishop Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate would have his “cathedra”, the seat from where he teaches and presides, in his principal church, which will then become the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. The following photograph taken on November 24th shows Bishop-elect Lopes with his new cathedral in the background.
Bishop-elect Lopes will take up permanent residence in Houston from the beginning of 2016 after clearing his desk at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. He is particularly looking forward to his work in the US and Canadian Bishops’ Conferences, of which Msgr Steenson will remain a member as Ordinary emeritus.
One of the questions directed to Bishop-elect Lopes concerned the fact that he will be leading an Ordinariate made up of former Anglicans nourishing their Anglican patrimony although he himself is a cradle Catholic. Monsignor Steenson did not hesitate to explain how Monsignor Lopes had been closely involved with the Ordinariate project for the last ten years at the CDF. He was the secretary of the Anglicanae Traditiones commission which drew up the Divine Worship liturgy and therefore had more experience in matters of Anglican patrimony than most people.
On the question of vocations to the priesthood, the bishop-elect explained how the Ordinariate is subject to the discipline of celibacy and that there is already one seminarian preparing for the celibate priesthood and two candidates waiting to enter seminary. The Ordinariate will continue the practice of petitioning Rome for a dispensation from the obligation to celibacy for married former Anglican clergymen, but the Ordinariate will not be putting other married men (so-called “viri probati“) forward for ordination.
In the conference I took the opportunity to thank Monsignor Steenson for his work as Ordinary and to wish Bishop-elect Lopes every blessing and Godspeed for his new mission.