Catholic Church Creates New Group for Ex-Episcopalians
The Roman Catholic Church has developed a nationwide group that welcomes ex-members of the Episcopalian Church, the New York Times reported in a Jan. 1 article. Several former Episcopalians joined the new organization because they do not share the same beliefs as the Episcopal Church, such as accepting bishops with same-sex partners, female priests, and the church's leeway in allowing same-sex marriage services.
The group, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, is lead by former Episcopal bishop, Jeffrey N. Steenson and is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Father Steenson claims that he wanted to become part of the Catholic Church because he was dissatisfied with the Episcopal Church as it turned further away from traditional values by accepting both homosexuality and female priests.
The Episcopal Church has supported a number of civil rights issues and believes in full civil equality for gay men and women. The church's General Convention has allowed priests to marry same-sex couples in states where gay marriage has been legalized. In 1977, Ellen Barrett became the church's first openly gay priest and in 2003 Gene Robinson was the church's first openly gay bishop.
The Episcopal Church has seen their membership decline in the past few decades due to their views on female priests and gay clergy members. Several conservative Episcopalians have joined the churches of the Continuing Anglican movement, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of America and the Church of Nigeria.
In 2010, the Associated Press reported that the Anglican Communion suspended the U.S. Episcopalians from serving on ecumenical bodies because a lesbian was elected bishop in California.
Despite receiving criticism from some members and other religious organizations, the Episcopalian Church has not backed down from supporting the LGBT community. EDGE reported in a Jan. 3, 2011, article that two highly placed lesbian Episcopalian clerics married in Boston.
Katherine Ragsdale, the dean and president of Episcopal Divinity School, married Mally Lloyd, the Canon to the Ordinary in early 2011. Right Reverend M. Thomas Shaw, the Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, married the couple. Shaw allowed clerics in the Diocese of Massachusetts to officiate same-sex marriages.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. division of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the best-known component is the state-established Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury heads the church worldwide, although with far less authority than the Roman Catholic pope.
The Anglican Communion has gone through a shake-up nearly as volatile as the Puritan Revolution that led to the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles II. At issue are several liberal tendencies of a church that was once thought of as being the pillar of the WASP establishment, but especially gay matters.
The church, which was founded when Henry VIII broke away from Rome so that he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Ann Boleyn, has never been a stranger to controversy. But the arguments between the much more gay-friendly North -- mostly the British Isles, North America and Australia -- and the South -- Africa and South Asia -- have threatened the unity of the communion.
The Developing World dioceses, which are also the fastest growing in the church, are the most conservative by far. They not only oppose gay marriage, gay priests and gay bishops but also advance arguments for church and government suppression of homosexuality.