By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It can’t be easy to build a “diocese” from scratch.
But Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson made one thing crystal clear Nov. 9 at an Anglican Use Conference here.
Without the warm and generous support received from the Roman Catholic hierarchy and people, his job in creating the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter for former Anglicans returning to full communion with Rome would have been near impossible.
“We have virtually all friends in the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and the Canadian conference as well,” Msgr. Steenson said during the conference for clergy and laity who have received Vatican approval to use Anglican prayers and liturgies as they become fully reunited with the Roman Catholic Church.
“The USCCB has been remarkable in its support,” he said.
That support has included spiritual, financial, moral and practical support as Msgr. Steenson and a very small staff work to create a “diocese” that will cover the entire United States.
He noted that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, has given the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter office space in St. Mary Seminary.
“We have overwhelmed that office with files,” Msgr. Steenson said.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Msgr. Steenson in January as “ordinary” with the full authority of a bishop for the “personal ordinariate.”
The ordinariate, formed under the 2009 apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, will be the governing structure for former Anglican communities who are “free standing” congregations, and not attached to an existing Roman Catholic parish.
The site of the Nov. 8-10 Kansas City Anglican Use conference, St. Therese Little Flower Parish, is an example of an Roman Catholic parish sharing its church with an Anglican Use congregation, and that parish and Anglican Use congregation will remain under the governance of the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
But Msgr. Steenson reported to the nearly 100 representatives of Anglican Use parishes who came to the Kansas City conference from coast-to-coast, the ordinariate already numbers 36 parishes and more than 1,300 people throughout the United States who will continue to celebrate Mass and Anglican prayers, with the Vatican’s full blessing and encouragement, in forms and language they are most familiar, and in line with Roman Catholic theology.
Those rituals and prayers, called “patrimony,” also carry special challenges, Msgr. Steenson warned.
“Our Anglican form is incredibly beautiful. It is incredibly powerful, and it will be very appealing to baptized (Roman) Catholics,” he said.
“Don’t go fishing in Latin waters in order to grow your congregations,” Msgr. Steenson said. “There are game wardens watching.”
It will be inevitable, however, that some Catholics will be attracted to the Anglican rites, and will leave their Roman Catholic parishes. In those cases, communication and a strong working relationship with the local bishop is essential, Msgr. Steenson said.
“If you have baptized Catholics worshipping in your ordinariate community, tell your local bishop,” he said. “Almost always, the response so far has been, ‘We are all part of the Catholic Church. Work with these people. Bring them deeper into the faith.’
“With patience,” Msgr. Steenson said, “we can work through these pastoral problems.”
Msgr. Steenson also urged, particularly the Anglican Use clergy in attendance, to stay focused on “the mission we have been given.”
That mission, he said, is “to build bridges, to be instruments of reconciliation, to be models of what Christian unity will look like.”
Msgr. Steenson said it is particularly important for communities within the ordinariate to express the “joy” of unity.
“We want people to ask, ‘What is it about you people? Why the joy? Maybe we should find out what we are missing,’” he said.