Does an Ordinariate actually need a Bishop?

(an op-ed from David Murphy)

Not only were most of us quite surprised when Monsignor Steenson resigned as Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in the USA and Canada and  Monsignor Steven Lopes was appointed Ordinary in the rank of bishop, but I was particularly dismayed by the reason which he gave for his resignation.

He apparently believes that the Ordinariate was somehow lacking since there was no bishop. He cited St. Ignatius of Antioch regarding the position of the Bishop in his local church, suggesting that an Ordinary who has not been ordained bishop is somehow deficient in this regard.

After studying again the founding documents of the Ordinariates I find that I must with the utmost respect and in all humility disagree with the Monsignor’s reasoning. Of the three canonical functions of a bishop, sanctification as well as governing and teaching (which together make up jurisdiction), there are only two specific sanctifying faculties which the presbyter Ordinary does not possess, because they are directly transmitted by episcopal ordination and cannot be delegated. These are ordination and the consecration of sacred chrism. All the other powers can be delegated to a presbyter by the Pope, as is the case with an Ordinary of a Personal Ordinariate. This is the opinion expressed in all of the commentaries on the Code of Canon Law which I have consulted on this point.

It is indeed not even true to say that there is a preference for the Ordinary being a bishop in episcopal orders. Unlike in the case of Military Ordinaries, where the Apostolic Constitution Spirituali militum curae specifically states:

SMC II § 1: Ordinariatui militari, ut proprius, praeficitur Ordinarius dignitate episcopali pro norma insignitus, qui omnibus gaudet iuribus Episcoporum dioecesanorum eorundemque obligationibus tenetur, nisi aliud ex rei natura vel statutis particularibus constet.

(translation: an Ordinary normally invested with the dignity of a bishop)

the Complementary Norms to the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus provide that the Ordinary can be a bishop or a presbyter, with  no preference specified.

AC Complementary Norms Art. 4 § 1: The Ordinary may be a bishop or a presbyter appointed by the Roman Pontiff ad nutum Sanctae Sedis, based on a terna presented by the Governing Council. Canons 383-388, 392-394, and 396-398 of the Code of Canon Law apply to him.

The canons cited all refer to the powers of a bishop. In fact the Complementary Norms go on to make direct provisions for the case where the Ordinary will be a married ex-Anglican Bishop (Art. 11 § 1), but as Art. 4 § 1 clearly indicates, having been an Anglican bishop is not a precondition, ANY married presbyter can be appointed Ordinary.

There is no suggestion that appointing a non-bishop is a temporary or interim measure and that in putting together a terna in future preference should be given to a celibate priest who can be ordained bishop.

It may be the current wish of the Curia or of the Pope himself to appoint a bishop as Ordinary, but this will essentially be for “cosmetic” reasons (perhaps to increase his status in the eyes of his fellow members of the Bishops’ Conferences or to make a positive statement about the importance and the permanence of the Ordinariates as an ecclesial structure), but there can be no suggestion that the episcopal power of the Ordinaries who are married non-bishops is in any way deficient. To make this absolutely clear the power of the Ordinary is “vicarious” (whether he be a bishop or not!!) so that there can be no doubt that the Ordinariate is a local church in the full sense of the word and its leader a fully-fledged Ordinary with full jurisdictional power (governing and teaching) guaranteed by the Holy Father.

Monsignor Christian Wirz, Officialis of the Diocese of Hildesheim in Germany and a priest affiliate of the Ordinariate, wrote unequivocally in his canonical thesis “Das eigene Erbe wahren” (Essen, 2012) that it would be ludicrous to suggest that the character of a Personal Ordinariate as a local church depended in any way on the level of ordination of its Ordinary and that it would change back and forth if the Ordinary is a bishop or not.

I share Father Wirz’ reasoning and believe that a presbyter Ordinary has just as much magisterial authority as a bishop Ordinary and that his chair in the principal church is therefore a “Cathedra” and the church itself a “Cathedral” from Day One, and not only now that a bishop has been appointed. It would hardly make sense for it to cease to be a cathedral if the next Ordinary is not a bishop.

An analogous situation is that of the abbot in a territorial abbacy, like Montecassino in Italy. He is an Ordinary in every sense of the word and although he could be ordained bishop, being a celibate monk, interestingly this does not happen, and his abbey church is known as a cathedral (La cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e San Benedetto abate).

In conclusion I personally believe it would be a mistake for either of the other Ordinaries to feel himself morally obliged to follow the example of Msgr. Steenson and resign to make way for a bishop, or for a Governing Council in future to feel obliged only to include celibate candidates in the terna which they present to the Holy See. The situation of the North American Ordinariate does not represent a case of precedence.

(Msgr. Entwistle will, of course, be retiring soon anyway because he has already reached the canonical age of retirement of 75 years.)

Is it not a part of the Anglican patrimony for an Ordinary to be able to be a married pastor and is it not for this reason that specific provision was made for this situation in the Apostolic Constitution, since convention does not currently permit a married man to be ordained bishop? I personally see no reason why we should not continue to have Ordinaries who are presbyters and married if they are the best men for the job.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Does an Ordinariate actually need a Bishop?

  1. CatholicLeft says:

    I respect your arguments, Mr Murphy, but feel that your concerns may be posited on the fear that a former Anglican Bishop may no longer be in a position to be Ordinary. I have a great admiration for Monsignor Newton and wish him a long ministry as Ordinary, but would love to see the OOLW have a bishop, as other types of ordinariates do. A bishop is, by the very fact of being an apostle, a symbol of diocesan unity, not contingent on any other. Is it not also part of the Anglican Patrimony that the Ordinary be able to be a celibate pastor?
    There are, and will be, celibate clergy among those of the Ordinariate who could be ordained as bishops in the future. For the Anglican tradition to grow in the Church, it can’t be dependent on convert clergy but must, in the decades ahead, be self-sufficient.

    • I should hate people to think that I am against the idea of a bishop being Ordinary – of course not and I welcome Bishop Lopes with all my heart, but as you say, I am wary that by insisting on a bishop as Ordinary an important provision of Anglicanorum coetibus is being swept under the carpet. My personal preference would be for the Ordinaries who were former Anglican bishops to be ordained bishop, and who is to say that a consensus cannot one day be found with the Orthodox to allow the episcopal ordination of married men? That would certainly represent a breath of fresh air for the Orthodox Church too, as currently only monks can be ordained bishop.

      By the way, I have deleted or not allowed comments which speculated on the personal motives of Msgr Steenson, as this is most certainly not the point here. Monsignor Steenson is a wonderful man whom I admire greatly and who has done the Ordinariate great service. I utterly respect his decision to stand down.

      David Murphy

      • William Tighe says:

        “who is to say that a consensus cannot one day be found with the Orthodox to allow the episcopal ordination of married men?”

        Perhaps, although I have some doubts; but I believe it would, if it were to happen, require some decades or a couple of centuries to happen.

      • Jakub Majewski says:

        You are incorrect in asserting that only monks can be ordained bishops by the Orthodox. Married priests can be ordained bishops, but are required to separate themselves from their wives at this point. Traditionally (I’m not sure to what degree this still happens), when a married priest was ordained bishop, his wife would herself enter a monastery.

        The Catholic and the Orthodox Churches have a different way of adjudicating the matter, but both the same thing: a man cannot serve two masters, and therefore, a bishop, being a successor of the apostles and thus in a sense being himself an apostle of Christ, cannot also be a husband or a father, for either he will neglect one, or the other. And frankly, from what I’ve seen among former Anglican priests who have returned to the Catholic Church, even for a “common” parish priest, being married and serving as priest is a great burden.

        I mean, those of us, lay people, who are married, understand that marriage is a full-time commitment. And so is the priesthood. I greatly admire priests who, due to various circumstances, have ended up combining these two full-time commitments. It is impressive indeed, that they manage! But why would anyone really want to agitate for greater responsibilities for such men? Why do you think it would be beneficial to anyone if the Orthodox Church permitted married bishops?

        It seems logical and reasonable, by the way, that the married ordinaries of the Anglican Ordinariate are a temporary measure implemented to solve a difficult situation, but has no inherent value of its own. By this I mean that there are clearly benefits to having bishops as Ordinaries (the main benefit being simply that it’s the norm in all other parts of the Church, but also such already-mentioned practicalities as being capable of ordaining priests), whereas there are no benefits to having non-bishops as Ordinaries, except the temporary benefit of allowing former Anglican bishops, men who naturally have authority among former Anglican priests to serve as Ordinaries. This benefit will evaporate in time, as the former bishops retire or pass away, and it seems pointless to mourn this change. Rather, it should be seen as the next step in the normalisation of the Ordinariate. Clearly, Pope Benedict’s decision was not intended to provide a mere shelter for Anglicans, but rather to truly re-integrate the Anglican tradition into the Church. Thus, the intention must be for the Ordinariates to be self-sufficient, rather than relying in a constant in-flow of ex-Anglican priests, which in turn means that unless there is a change in discipline in regards to marriage within the Church in general, it is virtually certain that in a matter of decades, all the Ordinariates (whether there is three of them, as now, or more) will be headed by bishops who are not married, and have been in their Ordinariate from ordination. Remember, it is not inconceivable (and certainly it is to be hoped for!) that in the future, the Ordinariates will expand to the point where the Ordinary may indeed be an Archbishop or a Cardinal, and his Ordinariate may actually consist of multiple dioceses.

  2. Joseph Golightly says:

    David, so what do you do when the Ordinary recommends a man for ordination (supported by the Holy See) but then is overruled by a local bishop? So in effect little power?

    • I understand that indeed events of the kind you describe, Joseph, would seem to have happened; I am, however, not 100% au fait with the details of the cases.

      As far as I know, the approval of the local bishop was sought for the first wave(s) of ordinands (mainly as a second line of assurance for a new ecclesial entity).

      However, I can see no canonical reason to continue this process and the local bishop most certainly does not have a veto. The Apostolic Constitution states clearly that “the Ordinary … will admit” men to the order of presbyter (AC VI. § 2). The only other consent needed is from the Governing Council (cf. Complementary Norms to AC Art. 6. § 1: “In order to admit candidates to Holy Orders the Ordinary must obtain the consent of the Governing Council”).

      According to AC VIII. § 1 the opinion of the local bishop must be “heard” for the erection of a personal parish on the territory of his diocese (but no mention is made of ordination).

    • Rev22:17 says:


      Canonically, an ordinary who is not a bishop may ask any bishop to ordain candidates for the ordinariate. Thus, refusal by the local diocesan bishop is not an obstacle.

      The purpose of obtaining a votum from the local diocesan bishop in the case of candidates coming into the ordinariate from other jurisdictions is simply that the local diocese is more likely to know the candidate through ecumenical contacts than the ordinariate. My understanding is that there’s no need for that votum in the case of vocations that arise within the ordinariate’s communities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s