A Washington area Episcopal-turned-Catholic priest is among the leaders of a new national diocese formally announced Monday that will support Anglican parishes that join the Catholic Church.
Rev. R. Scott Hurd, an Alexandria resident with a wife and three children, will manage the day-to-day operations for the unprecedented new national body, which will allow Anglican parishes or priests to become a part of the Catholic Church while retaining some of their own traditions, including allowing priests to be married. Hurd, 44, became the second Episcopal priest in 2000 to be ordained within the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
Pope Benedict XVI authorized the creation of the new diocese in 2009, in response to requests from disaffected Anglican groups. The Vatican had previously created a different path for American Anglicans to convert to Catholicism in 1980, but this new ruling makes more room for whole parishes to transition together, maintain liturgical and musical traditions, and be part of a national body.
The Episcopal Church, with more than 2 million members, is the American branch of the Anglican Communion. Modern theological interpretations by Episcopal leaders, including decisions about opening the clergy to women and gays, have alienated some members. Thousands have left in recent years to join Anglican splinter groups. Others have sought to join the Catholic Church, from which the Anglican Church separated five centuries ago.
In a conference call with reporters, Hurd said the journey from his Episcopal upbringing to his Catholic ministry has been rewarding. “I believed there were certain elements missing from the Anglican expression of Christianity that I could only find from the Catholic Church,” he said. “The tug of the Holy Spirit becomes very strong.”
St. Luke’s Church in Bladensburg last summer became the first parish in the country to convert to Catholicism under the new rules. Hurd, who serves as a chaplain there, also has worked for a decade in the central office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and as an assistant at St. Hugh’s of Grenoble in Greenbelt.
About 100 Anglican priests and more than 1,400 individuals have inquired or applied to join the new Catholic body.
The new leaders addressed some of the technicalities of the shift.The national diocese will be called an “ordinariate,” and it will be led by an “ordinary,” whose role is similar to that of a bishop, but who cannot hold the title of bishop if he is married.
The Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop who became a Catholic priest in the archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., in 2009, will be formally installed as the ordinary in February. He is married with three children and a grandchild.
Unmarried Anglican clergy who are ordained Catholic priests will not be permitted to marry, but those who are already married can petition the Vatican to remain so.
Traditional Catholics will be welcome to worship in the conversion churches, but membership will be reserved for those who come from an Anglican tradition. Exceptions could be made for Roman Catholics marrying into the faith. “We don’t want to divide families,” Hurd said.
The headquarters will be in Houston, where there is a community of Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism. Steenson created a course at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston for Anglican priests who want to become part of the new national diocese.
“This is the first time since the reformation that we have had a corporate structure that has been created to help those sons and daughters of the reformation make their way home,” Steenson said.