Saturday, September 29


Episcopalian Convert Bishops Have Valid Orders?

This year, Episcopal bishops Clarence Pope and, last week, Jeffrey Steenson, converted to the Catholic Church. I wrote, when discussing this, that it was not known whether these men would seek ordination in the Catholic Church.

However, in a very bizarre turn of events, these two (married) men may already have valid Catholic orders.

In 1971, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe, James Peter Davis, joined with Episcopalian bishops as a co-consecrator of Episcopal bishop Dr. Richard Trelease. There is journalistic evidence of this:

Abluquerque Journal, Dec. 16, 1971, p. A-2—“While Dr. Trelease knelt before a temporary altar, eight Episcopalian bishops and Archbishop James Peter Davis of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Bishop Hines laid their hands on his head to signify his consecration to the office.”

In response, the Vatican is said to have privately disciplined Archbishop Davis, forcing him into retirement. I would have to check the appropriate acta to see whether Davis’ resignation was accepted for reasons of age or for the ambiguous “section two” of the retirement canon.

That Episcopal bishop (Richard Trelease) reigned from 1971-1988. He was replaced by bishop Terrance Kelshaw, who reigned from 1989-2005.

Reportedly, when Kelshaw was ordained, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe, this time Robert Sanchez, again served as co-consecrator. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is said to have photographic evidence of Archbishop Sanchez clearly shown with his hand bishop Kelshaw’s head. To me seems less certain: some people have said the photo depicts the 1971 ordination, not a subsequent ordination, and I have not heard anything about Rome disciplining Sanchez.

When Clarence Pope became Bishop of Fort Worth around 1983, he requested Bishop Trelease as one of his co-consecrators. This is why Clarence Pope, in his first conversion to the Catholic Church, requested being re-ordained only “conditionally.”

Now, arriving at Bishop Steenson. Bishop Steenson was consecrated on January 15, 2005. Bishops Terrance Kelshaw and Clarence Pope both served as co-consecrators in his ordination.

These consecrations were done, perhaps with the exception of the 1971 consecration, with a revised ritual form that the Anglican Communion submitted to the Vatican and which the CDF certified was acceptable to validly pass on apostolic succession—so that if someone with valid orders were to use it, the resulting episcopal ordination would, in fact, be valid.

Questions of intent may be a factor, but under the principle of “ecclesia supplicit,” and the other circumstances, it seems they were quite likely valid.

Thus, whatever the possible doubts may be, the Catholic Church finds the whole of the situation seems sufficiently compelling that the current Roman Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe, Michael J. Sheehan, has reportedly requested that Bishop Jeffrey Steenson prepare a vita and submit it to the Archdiocese to further investigate Steehan’s ecclesial history.

I should say that this article is mostly a distillation of rumors from the website Standing Firm.

Update: Someone commented that all of these statements are very qualified. That is on purpose, because it is not my competency to make any actual judgments on the matter--the Church does that. I am pointing out the possibility that the Church could rule that these bishops have valid orders: I am not trying to say/argue that they do, only that the Church could judge that they do--or that they do not. If the Church rules positively, I imagine the bishops could be re-ordained conditionally; if not, the bishops would be re-ordained, if at all, absolutely.

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