By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It was as simple has handing over a stack of some 20 signed applications.
On Jan. 25, following an Anglican use High Mass, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson personally received the applications from Father Ernie Davis and accepted the Our Lady of Hope Society as part of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
“You might wonder why we do this. It’s because the pope says so,” Msgr. Steenson said, further explaining that the Vatican wants the ordinariate to have on file the documents from each member seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican established the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter two years ago to receive in full communion former members of the Anglican Communion who also desired to retain their own prayers and forms of liturgy as full members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI first announced the structure of the “personal ordinariate” which might, though not quite precisely, resemble a “diocese” covering all of the United States and Canada, for receiving former members of the Anglican Communion in 2009 in the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus.
Pope Bendict also appointed Msgr. Steenson as the founding “ordinary”, and elevated him to the rank of protonotary apostolic, the highest rank of monsignor.
Because he is married — “Happily married for 40 years” — he could not be ordained as a bishop, although he is a full member of the both the United States and Canadian conferences of bishops.
Msgr. Steenson however reminded his newest community that they are attached to a parish which remains a parish of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and celebrates its 4 p.m. Saturday Anglican Use High Mass under the care of a former Episcopalian priest, Father Davis, who remains a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, although the community itself is no longer a “personal parish” of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, but now a “community of the ordinariate.”
“We’re plowing new ground,” he told the community. “Bishop (Robert W.) Finn is the bishop of this place, and that includes our community.”
Confusing? In his homily at the Mass of inauguration, Msgr. Steenson simplified for the community the task before them.
“Fly under the flag of evangelization,” he said. “We need to bring people to Christ.”
Whatever reason that led individual members to full communion with Rome, and whatever hurt or anger they may have experienced, Msgr. Steenson urged them to reach out, particularly to their Anglican or Episcopalian brothers and sisters.
“We did not become Catholic because we opposed something that happened in our old church,” Msgr. Steenson said.
“We became Catholic because it is true,” he said.
“We pray for the Episcopal diocese (of West Missouri) here. We pray for Episcopal congregations in this city. We pray because even though much divides us, we still have a common baptism,” Msgr. Steenson said.
Msgr. Steenson noted that the inauguration occurred as the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity was drawing to a close.
That week, he reminded the congregation, was first proposed by a former Episcopal priest, Paul Wattson, who was received into full communion with Rome in 1909.
“He was one of ours,” Msgr. Steenson said. Early in the 20th Century, “contact with Protestants was not much welcome. Father Wattson’s idea initially received a chilly reception. But he attained the attention and support of Pope Benedict XV in 1915.”
The next “Pope Benedict” recognized that elements of the Anglican “patrimony” could add gifts to the Roman Catholic Church, Msgr. Steenson said.
“Everything in our old tradition that is worthy and true and good, it all has an ecumenical dynamic to be in unity with the Catholic Church,” he said.
“It is a remarkable thing to take the structure of our Book of Common Prayer as an instrument to be a meeting point, and use it to become Catholic.”
And make no mistake, Msgr. Steenson told the congregation. They are not part of a separate rite. They are fully Catholic.
“The ordinariate is not intended to be a separate, ritual church,” he said. “We are not a separate rite of the Catholic Church. We are part of the Latin rite. We belong with everybody else, and we are here to stay.”
Msgr. Steenson said the ordinariate is very much still in its infancy. Extending from the Arctic Circle to the Rio Grande and from Hawaii to Nova Scotia, he operated last year with a budget of $200,000, one employee — his executive secretary, and the generosity of Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, where the ordinariate has its headquarters.
But he noted already that a “family in Houston” is giving the ordinariate its own offices.
“We are going to have a stunningly beautiful chancery at the end of this year,” Msgr. Steenson said.
He also said that the ordinariate will ask each community to donate 10 percent of its income to finance operations, and that there will be a separate appeal for funds, similar to a bishop’s appeal in a diocese.
“But we are so young yet that we haven’t gotten our act together to send out a letter,” he said.