Welcoming the Anglicans: A Conversation with Monsignor William Stetson

Msgr. William Stetson is the secretary of the pastoral provision, the structure provided by Pope John Paul II in 1980 to enable married former Episcopal priests to be ordained as Catholic priests. The pastoral provision also empowers the establishment of “personal parishes” — groups to which the Church grants special pastoral care (in this case, non-Catholic Christians from the Episcopal Church) — that follow the Anglican Use liturgy.

The pastoral provision is overseen by an ecclesiastical delegate — at the time of its institution, then-Bishop Bernard Law. Since 1996, the ecclesiastical delegate has been Archbishop John Myers of Newark. Monsignor Stetson works for the archbishop — meeting candidates, managing the examination process, and guiding the application for dispensations to Rome.

I interviewed Monsignor Stetson during a retreat for priests of the pastoral provision in Tampa, Florida, this week.


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Father Longenecker: You’ve been working in this area for more than ten years, and you belong to the Opus Dei prelature. How is the new personal ordinariate different from a personal prelature?


Monsignor Stetson: In the new ordinariate, the faithful will receive all their pastoral care from priests in the ordinariate. In a personal prelature, the faithful normally receive their sacraments and pastoral care from the clergy of their diocesan parishes.


FL: The Anglican personal ordinariate — who’s in? Who can belong?


MS: Former members of the Episcopal/Anglican Church who, at the time of coming into full communion, request in writing to be members of the ordinariate. Also, priests — married or single — may request to be part of the ordinariate, and then they may move forward through the selection and discernment process to be ordained as Catholic priests. It is also possible for the faithful who are presently Catholic, but who converted from Anglicanism, to belong to the ordinariate.


FL: What about cradle Catholics who have converted to Anglicanism? Can they belong to the ordinariate?


MS: This touches the question not only of those individuals but also Latin Catholics who wish to belong to the ordinariate for whatever reason. The Apostolic Constitution says that those who were baptized as Catholics outside the ordinariate will not normally belong to the ordinariate, unless they belong to a family that is part of the ordinariate.


FL: The Apostolic Constitution assumes that each individual who wishes to be part of the ordinariate will receive proper catechesis. I run our local RCIA, and there are always a number of irregularities of marriage and denominational issues. How will these be managed?


MS: One of the first responsibilities of the new ordinaries will be to establish a proper process to receive congregations into full communion. The pastoral provision, which has received six or seven congregations, has already developed a procedure. You’re right, a process of group catechesis is gone through — everyone makes their profession of faith, and one by one the irregular marriages will be regularized in the normal manner within the existing diocesan tribunal system.


FL: Will the new ordinary have powers to establish his own marriage tribunal?


MS: Normally it will be handled by the diocese in which the persons reside, but there is provision for the ordinary to establish his own tribunal, if need be, in the future. However, this is unlikely for practical reasons.


FL: Some Anglican priests and bishops are also in an irregular state regarding their marriages or their denominational allegiance. What happens to them if they want to be part of the ordinariate?


MS: The ordinary will have been selected carefully. He will have the responsibility of ascertaining the suitability of any applicant for ordination into the Catholic Church. The normal canonical impediments to ordination will apply to former Anglican applicants as well.


FL: So if a man was ever a Catholic and then became an Anglican, he can’t come back and be a priest within the ordinariate?


MS: That’s correct, and this normally applies to men who are Anglican laymen as well as former Anglican clerics.


DL: Is there a loophole in the Apostolic Constitution regarding the future ordination of married men who are not already Anglican priests?


MS: The Constitution states that the present provision is to be continued. That is, that married former Anglican priests may apply for ordination. It also says that in the future, ordinariate celibacy for priestly candidates is to be the norm. However, there does seem to be a possibility that married men might apply on a case-by-case basis according to “objective criteria” established by the ordinary and approved by the Holy See. I guess we have to wait and see what that “objective criteria” is.


FL: Finally, what words of encouragement do you have for our Anglican brothers and sisters who are watching and waiting and praying about their future?


MS: I’m reminded of the words of the Holy Father John Paul II to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, when Anglican priests were in crisis in the early 1990s. He said, “Be generous to these men.” Now, as Benedict XVI, in Anglicanorum Coetibus he is continuing to be generous. So I encourage our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion to respond to this generosity with faith and courage.

I encourage them to give thanks for the generous welcome to the family home that the Roman Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, has made to them. I ask them to carefully consider how the implementation of these norms may be done in their country, and to rely on the constant guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit.



Father Dwight Longenecker is the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His upcoming book, Beheading Hydra: A Radical Plan for Christians in an Atheistic Age, will be published by Sophia Institute Press in the Spring. Read more at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

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