Texas — Charles Hough already had quite a career, including 18 years in the prestigious post of canon to the ordinary in the Episcopal Church’s Fort Worth Diocese. Now he wants to become a Catholic priest.
Hough hopes to lead a group of former Episcopalians in Cleburne, Texas, who have asked to belong to the new Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, created by Rome for former Episcopalians. Every Saturday, from 9 to 4, he participates in a newly developed program of training for former Episcopal clergy.
He and approximately 60 other former Episcopal priests around the United States, many of whom are married, are studying for the priesthood using a teleconferencing system to hear lectures and discuss their intense course of readings. While some men join the teleconference alone, Hough gathers with several other men at a Catholic church.
A similar group meets in Baltimore for the weekly teleconference. Hough has special ties to one of the other Texas participants — Charles Hough IV, his son, another former Episcopal clergyman who hopes to become a Catholic priest.
Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, who was installed as ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter on Feb. 12, said the planning for the program of study for these men began late in the spring of 2010 and is based on a document prepared specifically for former Episcopal clergymen by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This was in turn based on Pope John Paul II’s pastoral exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds) on preparing men for the priesthood. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document is the basis for course preparation in both the U.S. and the U.K. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal documents, and other assigned readings are the backbone of the studies in both countries.
Randy Sly, who became a Catholic in 2006, believes that the reliance on papal documents as teaching guides is particularly important.
“The thing I especially like about our course,” said Sly, a former bishop in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, a breakaway group that stresses both Anglican and evangelical traditions, “is that it is giving not just Catholic theology, but an immersion into the Catholic worldview. This will help us think like Catholic priests.”
Msgr. Steenson has also assigned one of his favorite books, New York’s Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan’s Priests for the Third Millennium, which he describes as “the finest book I have ever read on how a priest should be prepared for the priesthood.”
“The goal is that every ordinariate priest should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Latin-rite counterparts,” said Msgr. Steenson. “I am going to tell ordinariate priests that it is smart to learn to celebrate the Novus Ordo very well because that will make them more useful.”
But onetime Anglican priests will not have to reject the traditions of their former communion, and, indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has called upon them to preserve some of the beauty of Anglicanism as they come into the Catholic Church.
Ordinariate priests will have the option of using the Book of Divine Worship, a book of liturgical services and prayers that has been vetted by Rome and which uses much of the beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer so beloved by Anglicans.
Although most of the aspirants to the Catholic priesthood already have been granted the necessary “nulla obsta” from Rome, all candidates will be evaluated a second time by Rome after they have completed their course of studies and been examined on it. If Rome is satisfied, then the Vatican grants a “rescript,” and the path to ordination is clear.
“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wants to review our candidates one last time,” said Msgr. Steenson, stressing that it is key that “everything is done decently and in good order” before the go-ahead for ordination is granted.
If all goes well, the men in Msgr. Steenson’s teleconferencing course will be ordained deacons and then priests by the end of the year.
Because he is married, Msgr. Steenson cannot be ordained a bishop, and so he will have to ask bishops of the Catholic Church to ordain men for the ordinariate.
The course of studies, which has been accelerated to allow men to begin to work with people who in many cases came into the Church with them, ends May 14, but many of the candidates will continue some type of formal study even after they are ordained. All candidates who did not come into the Church with a master’s degree in theology will be required to do further formal study…
Some hard work. Ordination in the Ordinariate is clearly not cheap and easy, nor should it be.