An Episcopal church in Maryland will be the first in the nation to join the Roman Catholic Church, both church groups announced Monday.
Both the members and pastor of St. Luke's Episcopal parish in Bladensburg, Md., will be converting to Catholicism under a process set up by the Vatican to bring disaffected Episcopalians and Anglicans into its fold.
St. Luke's, a small congregation of about 100, will come under the care of the Archdiocese of Washington until an ordinate is established in the United States.
"My decision to seek reception in the Personal Ordinariate of the Roman Catholic Church was not influenced so much by a desire to leave Anglicanism as it was to enter into full communion with the Holy See of Peter," the Rev. Mark W. Lewis, rector of St. Luke's Parish, said in a statement.
For several years, The Episcopal Church – the U.S. member of the Anglican Communion – has been consecrating women clergy and openly homosexual bishops.
Lewis indicated those issues alone are not what led St.Luke's to leave Anglicanism, but rather it was a desire for a more defined religious authority.
"The theological issues that are being debated within The Episcopal Church, and indeed all of Anglicanism are not of themselves my reasoning for seeking reception into an Ordinariate," said Lewis. "They have, however, illumined a more significant issue in Anglicanism, namely that of lacking the Apostolic authority to defend the faith, guard unity, and settle disputes."
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who oversees the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, said in a statement that the diocese will "welcome St. Luke parishioners warmly into our family of faith."
Lewis was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2001 and became rector of St. Luke’s in 2006. Even though he is married, a "pastoral provision" established by Pope John Paul II in 1980 will provide a way for Lewis to become an ordained Catholic priest.
During the transition period, Lewis will continue to be the pastoral leader of the church. He will be assisted by Father Scott Hurd, a former Episcopal priest who was ordained a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, who will serve as chaplain.
Parishioners of St. Luke's must also undergo a formation process before being able to join the Catholic Church. The conversion process is expected to be finalized later this year.
Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has supported St. Luke's decision, allowing the members to worship in their church building under a lease agreement that allows them to purchase it.
The Vatican issued an apostolic constitution called Anglicanorum coetibus in November 2009 that would authorize the creation of “ordinariates,” which allows Anglican parishes to enter into "full communion" with the Catholic Church while retaining elements of the Anglican heritage and liturgical practices. Pope Benedict XVI made the provision after receiving numerous requests from Anglicans who were discontent with the liberal direction of the global Anglican body.
The first ordinariate was established in England in January 2011.