After Long Battle, San Antonio, Texas, Parish Joins Catholic Anglican-Use Ordinariate

by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D. • ChurchMilitant • March 21, 2017

[Enhanced from other sources by AQ moderator Tom]

SAN ANTONIO – In a victory for a Texas parish, the Holy See has approved the admission of Our Lady of Atonement Catholic Church into the Anglican Ordinariate, effective March 21.

Our Lady of the Atonement was the nation’s first pastoral provision parish, established in 1983, after Pope John Paul II made special provisions for former Anglicans to found Catholic parishes where traditional Anglican liturgy is offered. The Vatican established the North American Ordinariate in 2012, and ordained its first bishop, Steven Lopes, in 2016.

The Holy See is now directing that all pastoral provision parishes in the United States and Canada be integrated into the Personal Ordiariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Our Lady of the Atonement will join 40 other Ordinariate parishes in North America.

Father Christopher Phillips, temporarily removed from ministry by his bishop last year, is expressing gratitude [as] he announced on his Facebook page:

This has been an historic day. Our Lady of the Atonement is now a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Fr. Moore and I are incardinated as priests of the Ordinariate.

Of course, there is an immense amount of work to be done in moving from one jurisdiction to another. Bishop Lopes described it as “trying to untangle fish hooks.” There will need to be ongoing conversations and cooperation with the Archdiocese of San Antonio as our property, including all the buildings, are transferred. We have construction loans presently guaranteed by the archdiocese which now need to be redone. The list of practical details go on and on. Because of that, the Vicar General of the Ordinariate, Fr. Timothy Perkins, has been appointed to be Administrator in order to facilitate those things. He will, of course, continue his work in Houston, visiting the parish once or twice a month. Bishop Lopes is in conversation with the archbishop, working out the details concerning the continued service of our faithful and long-time deacon, Dn. Michael D’Agostino, and Fr. Moore is appointed to be Parochial Vicar.

I return to the parish as Pastor Emeritus to carry on my regular pastoral, liturgical, and sacramental ministry, and especially what I love the most — back to my place in the school with our wonderful students.

I am delighted with this! As I told some of our people today, “I get to continue to do all the things I love, and poor Fr. Perkins has to do all the hard stuff!”

As of today we return to being the parish family we have always been, but poised for even greater adventures. I am grateful for our years in the Archdiocese of San Antonio — it was the soil in which we grew and flourished. But I am now looking forward to new relationships in the Ordinariate, and to serving God under a new bishop, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Steven Lopes.

Church Militant reported in January that Abp. Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio had removed Fr. Phillips as pastor of his parish, which had a reputation for orthodoxy and reverent liturgy.

A January 19 letter Siller distributed to parishioners read: “I have asked your pastor … to dedicate some time to reflect on some specific concerns that I have shared with him.”

It continued, “These specific concerns relate to expressions in the life of the parish that indicate an identity separate from, rather than simply unique, among the parishes of the archdiocese.”

Parishioner Charles Wilson, chairman of the St. Joseph Foundation, had called Siller’s decision “illegal and abusive.”

“He gives the impression that we are simply in a period of ‘reflection and prayer,'” Wilson said. “I can tell you with certainty that this is not true. Instead, the archbishop has initiated the canonical process to remove Fr. Phillips as our pastor.”

Fr. Phillips appealed to Rome, specifically to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to bring the parish into the Ordinariate. After the congregation’s approval, Pope Francis gave his final approval.

Bishop Lopes, head of the Ordinariate, is having a general parish meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the new move. According to Fr. Phillip’s announcement:

Bishop Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter has asked that we have a general parish meeting tomorrow evening (Tuesday, March 21) at 7:30 p.m. We will be meeting in the St. Anthony Hall. You may enter through the main doors of the church and go down the hallway past the courtyard, or you may enter the exterior door where the portable classrooms are. Bishop Lopes has received the Decrees from the Holy Father which were issued in response to our petition, asking that the parish be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ordinariate. Bishop Lopes will be here to explain what it means for us, and he will also answer any questions you might have.

If you would, please spread the word about the parish meeting. There are parishioners who are not on the email list I am using, and I want to be sure everyone possible knows about it.

It appears that our difficult situation has been resolved, and I look forward to us being together as one parish family.

The Chair of St. Peter stated on its website:

The first Pastoral Provision parish in the U.S. is coming into the Ordinariate.

Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and its school, the Atonement Academy, have been transferred to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, effective March 21. At the direction of the Holy See, all parishes of the Pastoral Provision are to be incorporated into the Ordinariate: a special diocese for Roman Catholics who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the liturgy and evangelizing mission of the Ordinariate.

Founded in 1983 in San Antonio, Our Lady of the Atonement was a parish of a “Pastoral Provision” established by Pope John Paul II to allow for former Anglicans to form Catholic parishes within existing U.S. dioceses. With the establishment of the North American Ordinariate in 2012 and the ordination of its first bishop in 2016, the Holy See now expects all Pastoral Provision parishes in the U.S. to be integrated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.

The Ordinariate expresses its deepest gratitude to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for welcoming and caring for Our Lady of the Atonement since its inception, and for the Archdiocese’s ongoing commitment to the Church’s care for the unity of Christians. Through continued collaboration in the coming months, the Archdiocese and the Ordinariate will remain dedicated to supporting the natural evolution of this Pastoral Provision parish into the Ordinariate.

Our Lady of the Atonement and its school join more than 40 Ordinariate parishes and parochial communities in North America. Ordinariate parishes celebrate Mass according to a special form of the Roman Rite, using Vatican-approved texts which for centuries nourished the faith in Anglican contexts and prompted members’ desire to join the Catholic Church.

In 2009, the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, authorized the creation of global “Ordinariates”: a type of diocese which could receive groups of former Anglicans directly into the Catholic Church. (There are three Ordinariates in the world: Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom; the Chair of Saint Peter in the United States and Canada; and Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.)

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  1. Who owns the property?

    • A good question.

      The announcement (which I posted in its entirety from the ordinariate’s website) says that both the church and the school have been transferred from the archdiocese to the ordinariate. A short statement from the archdiocese (of which I could not find the text on the archdiocese’s website but only a few quotes from a San Antonio Express-News article) confirms that (“With this decision the Pastoral Provision no longer exists in the Archdiocese of San Antonio”) and adds, “The responsibility for the parish, to include its properties and school, now transfers from the Archdiocese of San Antonio to the Ordinariate” – presumably including the parish’s debt to the archdiocese (especially for expansion of the church and the school), which I guess that the parish will have to pay to the archdiocese, because the ordinariate has no resources of its own other than cathedraticum assessments to its few (and small) parishes and missions.

      The local newspaper article also says, “Jenny Faber, the ordinariate’s spokeswoman, said Phillips would remain at the parish as pastor emeritus and a new pastor would be named in about a year to 16 months.” Some other sources have said earlier that one of the reasons why the parish did not join the ordinariate when it was formed in 2012 after Pope Benedict XVI issued his apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus” creating the ordinariate system for former Anglicans and Episcopalians – was that Fr. Phillips feared that the then Ordinary of the ordinariate, Jeffrey Steenson (a former Episcopalian “bishop” who was ordained a Catholic priest and then made a monsignor to enable him to be the Ordinary) would replace him as pastor with (as one source describes it) one of his own “cronies” who came over with him from the Episcopal Church. The current Ordinary, Stephen Lopes (a “cradle” Catholic and “real” bishop) has (as one source describes it) a “better” and “fairer” perspective on running the ordinariate and thus would be “fairer” in seeing the need and choice for a replacement for Fr. Phillips, who founded the parish in 1983 after leaving the Episcopal Church as rector of a Rhode Island parish and subsequently being ordained a Catholic priest in San Antonio (see for more details of his life).

  2. Thank you, Tom. I really shouldn’t post a question while running off to work, because you kindly take it as a charge to find an answer.

    I just revisited the blog from an Anglican convert who is dismayed by the whole “Anglican-use” exceptions that he views as serving to let Anglicans stay Anglican rather than become Catholic. Those who are interested will find a lot of background on the whole sordid affair of Fr. Phillips, his potentially tainted deacon, his cultish school, and his off-the-books payroll, in the March archives of John Bruce’s site:

    Here’s one article from the page:
    What Do They Bring To The Party?

    A visitor has very cogently reminded me of a point I need to make before I say anything else about syncretism:

    When you take up what the movement brings to the Church other than alternative lifestyles for the clergy, I do hope that you will consider the numbers of both lay and ordained former Anglicans now laboring diligently and quietly in the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church.

    There are many former Anglican Catholics among my correspondents, and they’re surely among the group to which my visitor refers. There are also many who’ve come in via the Pastoral Provision or Anglicanorum coetibus — I would point to David Moyer as one who seems to have been called to subordinate strong personal preferences to a much larger purpose, but he’s by no means the only one, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that all OCSP clergy are in the Phillips mold, or the mold of those who seek to emulate him. But some are. The numbers of former Anglicans who do labor diligently, I’m sure, far outnumber those in the OCSP of any persuasion no matter what. Many thanks to my visitor for urging me to point this out.

    I didn’t realize this at the time, of course, but this blog got its start about 1980 when, late in the evening at an Episcopalian confirmation class, I suddenly thought to ask the priest about something I’d been seeing on the local news: another Episcopalian parish nearby, St Mary of the Angels, had been making a big point that it was “Anglo-Catholic”. What, I asked, did “Anglo-Catholic” mean?

    His answer: “These are people who want the prestige of calling themselves Catholic without paying the dues you have to pay actually to be Catholic.”

    It’s occurred to me all along that the whole Anglo-Catholic project represents a series of exceptions — or, expressed differently, exemption from dues, or, expressed differently, substitution of private judgment, or, expressed differently, resistance to authority. Since I’ve been writing about OLA and Fr Phillips, my traffic has roughly quadrupled. Not everyone is pleased with what I’ve reported here, I think because Fr Phillips is thought of as the major figure in the Anglican ecumenism movement. But Fr Phillips himself is a bundle of exceptions. He’s a married priest with a family. He owns a house next to the parish property. He doesn’t bother to attend diocesan conferences and retreats. A visitor points out that, appointed pastor of OLA prior to the last revision of canon law, he is probably there permanently, but, as he himself expressed it, as a practical matter, he can’t be relocated no matter what.

    My regular correspondent notes,

    I would imagine that virtually none of the former “continuing” Anglican parishes which make up the majority of OCSP groups were able to provide their priest with a rectory. I would imagine that most of the clergy who came into the Church by this route own a house. In the absence of a pension plan this would have seemed a prudent option.

    But this underscores the huge exception that has to be carved out for all these former Anglicans — the OCSP is unable to support the vast majority in any case, house or not. What are the unpaid priests assuming they can get in exchange for no money? But as children can be mere facts on the ground for women who use them to manipulate men, domestic circumstances make it impossible to relocate any of these married priests. Irrespective of canon law, they’re de facto all in permanent appointments.

    The liturgy is a big exception. Ugly and unsatisfying, the puzzling thing about it is that the uniate mass was never authorized by any body, Anglican or Catholic, before 1983. It is simply not Anglican patrimony. It was used in some Anglo-Catholic parishes without any sanction in the 20th century — but in that, it represented resistance to authority! Some patrimony.

    The idea of parishes voting themselves into or out of their diocese or the OCSP is congregationalism, and it’s on display in the OLA case. It’s significant that my regular correspondent cited “continuing” parishes as a justification for Fr Phillips’s situation — and if the CDF rules in favor of OLA, it will simply be acknowledging the enormous exception involved in Anglicanorum coetibus. In effect, the Church looked the other way when the “continuing” parishes voted themselves out of their former jurisdictions, but it welcomed them into the Church once this was done. But OLA shows that if one of these broadly speaking “continuing” parishes “wants” to change jurisdictions, the principle is still there.

    I’ve made no secret that I think Cardinals Manning and Mahony were correct in refusing to accept St Mary of the Angels as an Anglican Use parish. Cardinal Mahony’s point was on target: if the parish couldn’t accept TEC’s authority, what made them think they’d accept Rome? OLA’s history strongly suggests the parish and Fr Phillips have been a headache for the successive Archbishops of San Antonio. I’m not sure why Bp Lopes wants this headache.

    The only good thing about the “continuing” movement in the Church is its small size, its limited appeal, and its likely short life span. But as my visitor points out, the vast majority of former Anglicans haven’t come to the Church with a “continuing” mentality.

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