Our Lady of the Atonement and the Ordinariate

A Typical Mass Celebrated at Our Lady of the Atonement

What is the Ordinariate, and why should Our Lady of the Atonement wish to join?

The question of what are the Ordinariates and why parishioners of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, in San Antonio, should even want to join is a natural question at this time.  As such, I thought it would be helpful to put some thoughts down for consideration on this important issue.

Recent events have been confusing. Our Lady of the Atonement was formed under the 'Anglican Use Pastoral Provision' long before the Ordinariates for former Anglicans were created by Rome. These Anglican Use parishes, originally authorised by Pope St. John Paul II, served as a prototype for the Ordinariates, and Our Lady of the Atonement was/is one of the most successful of them all. When the Ordinariates were created, it was generally assumed that all the Anglican Use parishes (including Atonement) would likely join them. However, while it has always been the express wish of the parish, and her pastor (Fr. Christopher Phillips) to join the Ordinariate, it has been delayed for years. Most recently, however, some disturbing events have unfolded involving the sudden and unexpected removal of Fr. Phillips by Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, and comments made by His Excellency that seem to imply an intention of keeping Our Lady of the Atonement within the Archdiocese. For this reason, it is imperative that members of Our Lady of the Atonement, and parents who's children attend the parish school, understand exactly what is going on.


First, a bit of history in regards to what the Ordinariates are and why they were created, and how Our Lady of the Atonement finds itself in this current situation. From the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
What is Anglicanorum coetibus? 
This is an apostolic constitution issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009 that authorized the creation of "ordinariates," geographic regions similar to dioceses but typically national in scope. Parishes in these ordinariates are to be Catholic yet retain elements of the Anglican heritage and liturgical practices. They are to be led by an "ordinary," who will have a role similar to a bishop, but who may be either a bishop or a priest. 
Note: Anglicanorum coetibus is pronounced Anglican-orum chay-tee-boose. 
Why did Pope Benedict authorize this? 
Anglicanorum coetibus was a response to repeated and persistent inquiries from Anglican groups worldwide who were seeking to become Catholic. Ordinariates seek to provide a way for these groups to enter in "corporate reunion"; that is, as a group and not simply as individuals. This will allow them to retain their Anglican liturgical heritage and traditions. 
How does an ordinariate work? 
According to the Complementary Norms for the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, issued in November 2009, an ordinariate is "juridically comparable to a diocese." 
An ordinary (an individual with a role similar to a bishop) who may be a bishop or a priest - is appointed by the Pope and is a voting member of the Episcopal Conference. If a priest is married, as Monsignor Keith Newton, the Ordinary for Our Lady of Walsingham is, he may not be ordained a bishop. 
How does this differ from the "pastoral provision"? 
The pastoral provision was established by Pope John Paul II in 1980 to provide a way for individual Episcopal priests, including those who may be married, to be ordained Catholic priests for dioceses in the United States. It also allowed Anglican parishes to become Catholic parishes or chaplaincies within existing dioceses. Since 1980, three parishes and a number of smaller groups have been established. They are commonly referred to as "Anglican Use" communities, since they use The Book of Divine Worship in their liturgies, a Vatican-approved Catholic resource that reflects traditional Anglican prayers and formularies. 
Anglicanorum coetibus is new in two ways: it applies to the world, not solely the United States, and it allows Anglican groups to be received into the Catholic Church - not through a local diocese, but through a new entity, an ordinariate that, though similar to a diocese, is national in scope and reflects Anglican liturgical and other traditions.
When the Ordinariates were created, they were created, not only for new groups to be received, but for parishes such as Our Lady of the Atonement, which is currently under the Pastoral Provision created by Pope St. John Paul II.  At this time, all other parishes of the Pastoral Provision have moved to the Ordinariates, and they were allowed to do so with all of their members, property, buildings, etc.  Requesting to join the Ordinariate is a right under Canon Law, and it is a right which has been upheld for the 8 other parishes from the Pastoral Provision, who have since made the switch.  Because this is a right, it needs to be made clear that Father Phillips has done nothing wrong in making this request.  Also, this was previously voted on by parishioners, so Fr. Phillips is not alone in expressing this desire.  Furthermore, in direct opposition to how he is handling the situation now, some internet archives report that Archbishop Garcia-Siller previously promised to support the right of Our Lady of the Atonement to leave the Archdiocese, and to join the Ordinariate (read more here).


A natural question for parishioners, parents, and students, is why Our Lady of the Atonement should desire to switch from the Archdiocese of San Antonio to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in the first place.  The first reason, and most benign, is that it would place the parish, school, and parishioners in a structure which is designed to foster and protect the things that make Our Lady of the Atonement unique. The parish would have a bishop who understands her liturgy, traditions, and heritage, and who is committed to protecting and nurturing them. Current seminarians, some of whom have come from Our Lady of the Atonement, and who will soon be priests, will have been formed in such a way that they will already understand the parish and its unique situation, her liturgy, and her spirituality. As noted by Fr. Longnecker in a recent article:
For the first decades of the parish’s existence it existed within the diocese of San Antonio. However, in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI established the Anglican Ordinariate so that Catholics from the Anglican tradition might have their own “church within a church.” 
The Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is the Anglican Ordinariate for North America. Now that the ordinariate is established, it should be obvious to everyone that the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement’s true home is in the non-geographical jurisdiction of the Anglican Ordinariate.
The phrase “non-geographical jurisdiction” that Father Longnecker uses is one that has potential for confusion.  What does this mean?  The easiest example, and given the make-up of the people of San Antonio, one that might make this easier to understand, is that of the Archdiocese for Military Services, which exists for all persons serving in the military, regardless of their physical location.  It has its own bishop and structure that exists within the Catholic Church, but outside of the typical territorial diocese, based purely on location.  Just like the Archdiocese for Military Services, the Ordinariate is a diocese that is not tied to any particular physical location, but exists for all persons who belong to a parish just like Our Lady of the Atonement.

The second reason Our Lady of the Atonement should desire to join the Ordinariate, and this seems unfortunately more sinister in nature, is the current situation that exists in the parish in relation to the removal of Fr. Christopher Phillips as pastor. Despite what has been reported by the Archbishop, this is likely an attempt to remove Fr. Phillips permanently, and is not merely a time for "reflection and prayer."  It has been reported, by reliable sources, that steps have already been taken in regards to the process of removing a pastor permanently, which is where the 15-day period comes from.  From the Code of Canon Law for permanent removal of a Pastor:
Canon 1742, paragraph 1
"the bishop must, for validity, indicate to the parish priest the reason and the arguments, and persuade him in a fatherly manner to resign his parish within 15 days".
The only way the parish (including the school) can continue as it is, is within the ordinariate. The Archbishop's letter made it sound as though after fifteen days of "reflection" Fr. Phillips would be coming back.  Reports indicate that is untrue. As can be seen above, this is likely a step in the process of removing a pastor according to the Code of Canon Law. It has been reported that His Excellency, per his own words to more than one reliable source, has made it clear that Fr. Phillips will not be the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement as long as it is in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

In addition, and this goes far beyond the fate of one man, the Archbishop has made it plain that, despite his claims of respect for what the parish does and what it stands for, his apparent intent is to fundamentally transform the parish in order to do away with the character, the ethos, the very nature of the parish.  It appears that he desires for Our Lady of the Atonement to become a regular parish of the Archdiocese, with perhaps one Anglican Use Mass per week.  This may even include the installation of a new headmaster at the school, who will radically alter the curriculum, to include the teaching of the Faith. As noted by Fr. Dwight Longnecker, in a recent article:
Inside sources indicate that the Archbishop wants to turn Our Lady of the Atonement into an ordinary parish of the archdiocese, allowing just one Anglican rite Mass per week.
These concerns have been confirmed by a number of credible sources in recent days, sources which include persons outside of Our Lady of the Atonement Parish who have absolutely no stake in this personally.  Moreover, the current situation goes far beyond the question of who is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement today and in the near future.  It is also about who gets to appoint the next pastor. Will it be a bishop who is committed to the preservation of that which the parish, with God's grace, has worked so hard to develop?  Or, will it be a bishop who desires the removal of many of the things which have led to the tremendous growth and the vibrant faith-life of the parish?


One of the questions that pops up when this topic is broached is that of who can and cannot join the Ordinariate.  I have heard, through reliable sources, that a message may be distributed within the parish with the suggestion that the parishioners of Our Lady of the Atonement should not wish to join the Ordinariate because some members of the parish might not be able to join. The implication, obviously, is that those members would have to leave the parish and/or the school. IF you hear this, please know that this is categorically NOT true.

First of all, it is important to note that, when other parishes from the Pastoral Provision moved to the Ordinariate, all parishioners who desired to come along were grandfathered in, regardless of whether or not they were former Anglicans or “cradle” Catholics.  Even if that were not the case this time, it would still not prevent anyone at all from being a parishioner of Our Lady of the Atonement.

As is stands, in the unlikely event that all parishioners are not “grandfathered” in the way they have when all other parishes of the Pastoral Provision made the switch, most parishioners in Our Lady of the Atonement could already join the ordinariate formally. Those who could not, are still FULLY able to register as parishioners, have their kids in the school, receive the sacraments, etc. No one who wishes to be a part of the life of the parish would be excluded in any way. All current parishioners, and all Roman Catholics who wanted to join in the future, would still be full members of the parish. The following is straight from the Ordinariate website:
What if I am not eligible for membership? 
If you are a Roman Catholic who cannot affirm one or more of the above questions in the previous section, you are still strongly encouraged to register as a parishioner in an Ordinariate parish and participate fully in the life of your local Ordinariate parish. Parish membership in one of our communities does NOT require one to be a registered member of the Ordinariate.
As one can see, this is a situation that is both complex and unfortunate, and in many ways it is not as it seems upon first glance.  Let us all pray for a swift and positive resolution to this current crisis.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

Read Shane's Books

Become a Benefactor of this Internet Apostolate