In Interview: Bishop Steven Lopes

What does the bishop of an Ordinariate do? “He flies. A lot,” according to Bishop Steven Lopes. He is typically on a plane three times a month visiting far-flung parishes and communities. But the bishop took the time recently for a wide-ranging interview with Pray Tell about his work as bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter for the U.S. and Canada, a community for former Anglican clergy and laypeople within the Catholic Church.

Lopes reported that the Ordinariate has 71 priests (15 are retired), 6 permanent deacons, and 42 parishes and parochial communities (9 in Canada). While it is difficult to determine the number of laity actually involved with the Ordinariate, the canonical members number about 6,000, with approximately another 5,000 who belong to a diocese but are registered with an Ordinariate community.

Lopes admitted that the Ordinariate has not grown as much as had been expected. “Initially there was perhaps a presumption – warranted or not – that there would be a continuous stream of whole parishes entering into the Ordinariate,” he said. That has not been the case, for a variety of reasons.

Lopes spoke of a “sense” of intimacy” within Ordinariate parishes, which are often quite small. “There is a great seriousness given to adult faith formation,” he said, “resulting in a well-formed and participatory laity.

Worship in the Ordinariate is known to be a bit on the traditional side, with attentiveness to beauty in language and music. Their missal includes as an option, for example, the old offertory prayers eliminated in the Roman rite after Vatican II. Bishop Lopes does not see an implicit criticism of the reforms of Paul VI in this. He notes that the sources for their missal – “the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the Sarum Missal – are actually older than the Tridentine reform and the Missal of Pius V [of 1570].  So things that ‘look like’ what we Catholics know as Tridentine often predates that form.” But the missal also includes options that track the post-Vatican II reforms, such as a Eucharistic Prayer like EP2 (the short one) in the Roman Missal.

Mass in the Ordinariate is celebrated ad orientem, with the priest facing the same direction as the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer. “This is simply the long pastoral experience of these communities,” the bishop said, “without the ‘heat’ or baggage of conversations on the orientation of liturgical prayer that one often encounters.” Not having grown up with Anglican worship, Lopes especially appreciates “the richness of sung Mass propers, a deep repertoire of choral music, and full-voiced congregational singing.”

Finances are a challenge for such a small operation with so many clergy to support, and many small communities are unable to support a full-time priest. Lopes is busy working to establish a priests’ retirement program, trying to cover clergy health insurance, negotiating insurance coverage for properties, and raising money to fund education of seminarians. “The running joke in our chancery is that there are few problems that cannot be fixed by a good amount of money,” Lopes said.

Bishop Lopes is at pains to dispel the notion that the Ordinariate is unecumenical and represents a slap in the face to the Anglican and Episcopal churches from whom sheep are stolen. “I am encouraged by the warm relationship I maintain with several Episcopal and Anglican bishops,” he said. “The ecumenical principle” behind the Ordinariate “is that unity in the profession of Catholic faith allows for a vibrant diversity in the expression of that same faith. That is, to my mind, exactly what ecumenical dialogues have been building towards.”

Bishop Lopes doesn’t give much credence to reports that Pope Francis is cool toward the Ordinariate. I can only go on my own conversations with the Holy Father,” he said. “I found Pope Francis to be very well informed indeed” about the Ordinariate. Further, Lopes said, “I have found him always to be very, very encouraging.” Pope Francis approved the Ordinariate Missal and appointed Lopes bishop, which can be taken as signs of his desire to strengthen this initiative of Pope Benedict XVI.

Here is the interview with Bishop Lopes.

PTB: So, a Latin Roman Catholic of Portuguese-Polish extraction is bishop to U.S. Ordinariate Catholics in the Anglican tradition! In your nearly two years in office, how has the cultural and ecclesial sharing of gifts gone so far?
SJL: And what a transition it has been!  Though, to be fair, the transition is also that of a priest who has lived and worked in Rome for 12 years returning to the United States, and of a native (and pious, I would add!) Californian moving to Texas!  So, what is the old saying…shift the gears you find, and grind the ones you don’t.

PTB: Help us with vocabulary. Do we say Anglican or Anglo-Catholic or Church of England or Episcopal, or what terms are appropriate, and what not, in connection with the Ordinariate?
SJL: People are always in search of shorthand, and so we are often called “The Anglican Ordinariate.”  My stock response when I hear that is: Well, whether the Anglicans have an Ordinariate or not I could not say, but our folks are all Roman Catholics!  Look, the problem is obvious.  Our name takes one obscure, abstract concept (Ordinariate) and links it to another theological, abstract concept (The Chair of Saint Peter), resulting in a somewhat unwieldy name.  But it is who we are.  Our clergy and faithful do not like being called Anglican, both because this is insensitive to actual Anglicans, and because it is a subtle way of suggesting that their entrance into full communion is less that total.  We are Catholic in every sense.  Also, our clergy and faithful share a common heritage, but they actually come from various jurisdictions and Anglican bodies, of which the Episcopal Church is just one.  Some would gladly identify as having been Anglo-Catholic in the past.  Many others, however, identify more readily with the evangelical tradition in Anglicanism.  So, The Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is what we go by.

PTB: Tell us about the U.S. Ordinariate. What are the basic statistics on clergy, laity, and communities?
SJL: We have 71 priests (15 are retired), 6 permanent deacons, and 42 parishes and parochial communities (9 in Canada).  Statistics are a tricky business when it comes to the lay faithful.  We have those who are canonically members of the Ordinariate (about 6,000), those who are canonically members of the territorial Diocese but are registered parishioners of an Ordinariate community (another 5,000), and many more Catholics who simply attend Mass at an Ordinariate community either regularly or occasionally.

PTB: Is the U.S. Ordinariate continuing to grow, or has it seemed to have reached a plateau? How does this compare with hopes and expectations at the time the U.S. Ordinariate was formed?
SJL: We continue to experience good growth, for which we give thanks to God.  Initially, there was perhaps a presumption – warranted or not – that there would be a continuous stream of whole parishes entering into the Ordinariate.  This is actually very difficult for a number of reasons.  There are complicated questions of property and ownership, and many people are very attached to their parish churches.  There are other issues of pastoral life when only a percentage (even when it’s a large percentage) of a parish decides to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.  Parish groups continue to enter – we have had 2 since I became bishop – but this is less common.  More common is for our existing parishes to found a mission community starting with a group of Ordinariate parishioners that have to drive a long distance for Sunday Mass, a mission which begins to grow and develop on its own.  We have started four of those in the last two years.  Additionally, we sometimes receive a request from current or former Anglicans to begin a community in a certain area.  When we are able to send a priest or deacon to assess the situation and begin ministering to their needs, a group grows up very quickly.  Many former Anglicans who have become Catholic over the years welcome the opportunity to reconnect with the heritage, liturgy, culture, and “style” of parish life they knew before becoming Catholic.

PTB: What do you see as the most important gifts and charisms the Ordinariate has to offer to the Catholic Church?
SJL: The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus speaks of the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral patrimony of Anglicanism as a “treasure to be shared” with the whole Catholic Church.  There are tangible expressions of this patrimony, such as our liturgical rites for Mass and the Sacraments.  This is a beautiful expression of how the Roman Rite was taken up and developed in an Anglican context and is not reintegrated into Catholic worship.  Other elements of the patrimony are less tangible, but nevertheless important.  The “way” we do parish is qualitatively different, and not just because our communities are often so much smaller than diocesan parishes.  We structure fellowship, meetings, catechesis, and devotions precisely to encourage a sense of intimacy, even within the context of our larger parishes.  There is also a great seriousness given to adult faith formation, resulting in a well-formed and participatory laity.  I am certainly not suggesting that these things do not happen in other Catholic parishes, as they certainly do.  But I do find that, consistently and intentionally, Ordinariate parish life is experienced as a larger reality than Sunday Mass attendance.

PTB: What are the main challenges facing the Ordinariate?
SJL: The geographic expense of the diocese is an obvious challenge.  Our priests and our communities really have to work at developing a sense of shared identity and mission.  Not easy when the closest Ordinariate community may be a many-hour drive away.  The running joke in our chancery is that there are few problems that cannot be fixed by a good amount of money!  Much of my work is necessarily “under the hood,” establishing the administrative and financial foundation any diocese needs in order to thrive.  In the last two years, we have initiated a priests’ retirement program an pension fund.  We have had to negotiate insurance coverage for all of our properties and communities.  We have accepted seminarians for the priesthood (praise God!), and now we have to pay for their tuition and seminary studies.  I still have to work on health insurance coverage for our clergy.  We are putting into place these basic building blocks, many of which have a high start-up price tag.  And, frankly, I would love to be less inward-looking and more missionary.  Our Ordinariate communities are initially very small, and many cannot support the salary and benefits for a full-time priest.  One area of obvious development would be to put together a mission fund to be able to bear some of the cost of supporting these new communities, many of whom are doing wonderful work in catechesis, evangelization, and social outreach, to give them a chance to thrive.

PTB: Tell us about your work. What does an Ordinariate bishop do?
SJL: He flies.  A lot.  Because the diocese is so large in terms of its expanse, I am on a plane an average of 3 times a month going out to the parishes and communities.  And those visits are not just for Confirmations and anniversaries.  Because we are so spread out, it is pastorally important for our people to see their bishop, even regularly, so that have that sense of ecclesial rootedness.  My Vicar General is also on the road quite a bit, visiting especially those communities in formation and encouraging their growth and development.

PTB: I sense that the Ordinariate is acutely aware of its ecumenical mission and careful to maintain good relations with the Anglican communion from which Ordinariate members come. How would you describe this key ecumenical relationship?
SJL: My experience has been very positive and I am encouraged by the warm relationship I maintain with several Episcopal and Anglican bishops.  In the past, some media has tried to portray this effort as inimical to the ecumenical effort, and that cannot be further from the truth.  For one thing, Anglicanorum coetibus was a generous, pastoral response by Pope Benedict XVI to groups of people who were making a direct request of the Holy See.  It is also ecumenically significant in that it demonstrates, perhaps for the first time, that corporate, Eucharistic unity is possible in a way that does not simply assimilate.  The ecumenical principle that informs Anglicanorum coetibus is that unity in the profession of Catholic faith allows for a vibrant diversity in the expression of that same faith.  That is, to my mind, exactly what ecumenical dialogues have been building towards.

PTB: Where is the conversation at concerning the ordination of celibate men to the priesthood, as compared to exemptions allowing the ordination of married men?
SJL: The first pastoral exception to the discipline of clerical celibacy for converting former-Protestant minister was granted by Pope Pius XII.  Pope St. John Paul II gave clarity to the process with the Pastoral Provision in 1982.  So, in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, we continue to welcome married former Anglican clergy to begin formation for Catholic priesthood and, in these cases, the Holy See does grant the dispensation from the obligations of clerical celibacy.  We have 17 such men (14 married, 3 celibate) in formation currently.  New seminarians—that is, young men who discern priesthood in and enter the seminary for the Ordinariate—live the normal life of clerical celibacy.  We have 5 celibate seminarians preparing for priesthood currently.

PTB: Some Pray Tell readers will wonder about the influence of the rather Tridentine Anglican Missal upon the Ordinariate’s current liturgical books. Is there an implied criticism of the reforms of Paul VI in the inclusion of, for example, the offertory prayers? Or did you get there solely by recourse to high church Anglican tradition?
SJL: There is certainly no implied criticism of the reforms of Paul VI.  Indeed, Divine Worship: The Missal incorporates many insights of the post-conciliar reform such as proper Masses for December 17-24, a renewed set of Commons for the celebration of the Saints, Masses for various pastoral needs and occasions, and an Alternative Eucharistic Prayer that corresponds to the Second Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal.  Rather, what we see in Divine Worship is a dual hermeneutic of reform: it’s just that our first reform came in the 16th Century and only later following the Second Vatican Council.  It is important to note that the major sources for Divine Worship – the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the Sarum Missal – are actually older than the Tridentine reform and the Missal of Pius V.  So things that “look like” what we Catholics know as Tridentine often predates that form. Indeed, the major structural elements of our Ordinariate form of Mass arise in that period and include the transposition of the Penitential Rite to just before the Offertory, and the addition of originally-composed, corporate prayers to be said by clergy and faithful: at the Penitential Rite, just prior to receiving Communion, and as a general Thanksgiving after Communion.  It is true that the Anglican Missal did have notable currency in Anglo-Catholic communities in North America and Australia.  Some gestures, postures, and liturgical actions (such as the expanded form of the Offertory you mention) are included in Divine Worship as options.  I have spoken elsewhere of the pastoral hermeneutic of Divine Worship.  Basically, when you have a community entering into full communion, and the Holy See has already recognized the enduring value of their liturgical worship as what prompted the desire for full communion, why would you force that community to change everything about the manner, language, and orientation of their liturgical prayer?

PTB: As you know, there was a strong link historically between liturgy and social justice in the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Is that heritage being brought forward? Or strengthened by the pastoral emphasis of Pope Francis?
SJL: It is.  One of our parishes in Baltimore immediately springs to mind.  It is situated in a very poor neighborhood and so the emphasis on social justice has always been part of its history, both as an Episcopal Parish and now as a Catholic Church.  But that concern for the unity of liturgical worship and care for the promotion of the Kingdom can be found in a number of expressions in our communities.

PTB: There was some question, right after his election in 2013, about Pope Francis’s stance toward the Ordinariate when he was archbishop in Argentina. Do you have any sense of the Holy Father’s attitude today toward the three established ordinaries?
SJL: I don’t put much credence in what was said second or third-hand by this or that person, purportedly knowing the mind of the Holy Father.  I can only go on my own conversations with the Holy Father about the Ordinariate, and we have spoken twice about it.  First, I found Pope Francis to be very well informed indeed about who we are and what the Ordinariate’s particular mission is.  Second, I have found him always to be very, very encouraging.  It is Pope Francis who expanded a section of Anglicanorum coetibus to underscore our evangelizing mission in the Church.  It is he who approved our Missal and appointed me Bishop, thereby making ever more concrete the vision of Pope Benedict.  And Pope Francis still signs off on each and every petition for a dispensation from clerical celibacy in favor of our married clergy candidates.  We have been tremendously blessed by Pope Francis’ care and concern in these early years of our ecclesial life.

PTB: Final question: What’s it like for you, with your Latin rite background, to celebrate with Divine Worship? What strikes you about this experience?
SJL: It has been a marvelous experience, I must say.  That the prayers, cadences, and liturgical rhythms were initially unfamiliar meant that I had to give a good deal of attention to what I was saying and what I was praying.  That’s not a bad exercise for anyone charged with presiding at the Sacred Liturgy.  As a norm, our parishes celebrate Mass ad orientem, which was also a new experience for me and, since this is simply the long pastoral experience of these communities, comes without the “heat” or baggage of conversations on the orientation of liturgical prayer that one often encounters.  Certainly, the accent on the communal/parochial prayer of the Divine Office is a welcome enrichment, to say nothing about the Anglican musical tradition so apparent in Ordinariate communities.  The richness of sung Mass propers, a deep repertoire of choral music, and full-voiced congregational singing has been striking.

The interview was conducted by email by Anthony Ruff, OSB.


  1. I certainly envy the Ordinariates their ability to use Divine Worship. Unlike the current translation of the Roman Missal, it reads like English, and beautiful English at that. Now that Magnum Principium has decentralised the whole process of producing a vernacular translation of the Missal, it ought to be possible for the English and Welsh Bishops to come up with a version which consists of the Divine Worship translation with those elements that are peculiar to the Ordinariate rite edited out, or at least some of them.

    DW doesn’t even have “consubstantial with the Father” for “consubstantialem Patri”, so it ought to satisfy the most demanding of readers!

  2. I’m curious as to what provisions are being made for Anglican Evangelicals and Classical Anglicans in the ordinariate. Emphasis seems to be on Anglo-Catholic ceremonies, and not on the pure word of God. And this seems to be in opposition to the reforms of the saintly Paul VI who along with Louis Bouyer admired the real Book of Common Prayer.

    1. One parish of the Ordinariate that doesn’t quite fit the Anglo-Catholic mold entirely is Christ the King in Towson, MD. Their roots are in the Charismatic Episcopal Church (a denomination founded by charismatics who were attracted to sacramental worship and historic church structures) and, from what I know, they retain charismatic element in their liturgy, as well as continuing to celebrate Mass versus popuum. From pictures of their Corpus Christi celebration it looks like they’ve gotten more “high church” than most Anglican evangelicals would be comfortable with, but it looks no more elaborate than what you’d find in a typical post-Vatican II parish.

      1. Just saw this! Thank you, Fr. Deacon! The pictures and articles show a vibrant Vatican II style parish, but it does not seem particularly Anglican.

  3. The Ordinariate is fated to fizzle out – most Anglicans of substance jumped ship for Rome years before. Most of the clergy in the Ordinariate were not reared in the Anglican tradition – a large number were Pentecostals, Evangelicals, et c – with no sense of the Anglo ethos. And why in the world have a Portuguese-Polish American for their bishop ? The Ordinariate has never been able clearly to explain why it exists, except for a wannabe English aesthetic of which most of them had no native experience no little to begin with.

    1. Thanks, Bishop Lopes, for this very helpful interview. It gives us in England a better understanding of the particular nature of the Ordinariate in the States compared with that in the UK – but also shows us the far greater concurrences on either side of the Atlantic. As for Winthrop Rawlinson’s comments, perhaps he should look at the Gamaliel principle; if this thing be of God they will not simply “fizzle out”. What he says of’ ‘former Pentecostals, Evangelicals &c’ would apply to their conversion to Catholicism in any case, whether via the Ordinariate or not. If the Ordinariate proves a better way for them (as it often seems to do in England) rather than via a diocesan parish, then thank the Lord for it.

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