San Antonio Parish is now Ordinariate

Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church
in San Antonio, Texas

Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, in San Antonio, has been admitted to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon from the North American Ordinariate website:

This means that Our Lady of the Atonement (OLA) is now an Ordinariate parish and school, falling under the jurisdic authority of Bishop Steven Lopes in Houston, Tx., having been transferred from the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The decision was made in Rome by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter on February 22, 2017, and was later approved by Pope Francis himself. Final arrangements for the transfer of property will be completed over the next few months.

It is done. The trial and ordeal suffered by the congregation of OLA is finally over. Fr. Phillips will be reinstated as the pastor emeritus of OLA immediately, having himself been incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate and excardinated from the Archdiocese. This will make him an Ordinariate priest. His responsibilities to the Archdiocese, and obedience to the Archbishop, have ceased. His new ordinary is Bishop Steven Lopes. Members of OLA, who have sought membership in the Ordinariate are now granted just that.

As pastor emeritus, Fr. Phillips will re-assume the exact same pastoral roles he previously had over the parish and the school, minus all administrative roles. This is for very practical reasons. The process of transferring OLA from an Archdiocesan to an Ordinariate parish will be long and tedious. Financially untangling OLA from the Archdiocese will be no easy task. It's one of the Archdiocese' largest parishes, one of its more substantial financial contributors, and is undergoing a major construction project with loans currently guaranteed by the Archdiocese. So untangling OLA from the Archdiocese of San Antonio is going to be a full-time job in itself, for people with expert financial wisdom, who are used to handling this sort of thing. Responsibility for this has been given to Vicar General of the Ordinariate, Fr. Timothy Perkins, who will act as the parish administrator from afar -- at the Ordinariate chancery in Houston. For all practical purposes, on a pastoral level, Fr. Phillips is still the man in charge at OLA for the time being.

In addition to Rome's decree that OLA enter the Ordinariate, Rome has also decreed that all remaining "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" parishes and communities be transferred to the Ordinariate as well. (I am only aware of one other parish that meets this specification -- the Congregation of St Athanasius in Boston, Massachusetts.) Once these communities are transferred the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" will effectively cease to exist and become a page for the history books.

It should be duly noted, in no uncertain terms, that members of the Archdiocese who wish to remain members of the Archdiocese, and simultaneously remain members of OLA, are free to do so and enjoy all the benefits of membership in that parish. (The same would apply to the other Anglican Use Pastoral Provision communities as well.) Changing the juristic status of OLA, from Archdiocese to Ordinariate, absolutely DOES NOT change the membership of parishioners who wish to continue as members of OLA yet remain members of the Archdiocese. Within the Ordinariate, parish membership and Ordinariate membership are two different things. It is possible, and has always been the case, for one to be a member of an Ordinariate parish, yet remain under the juristic authority of the local bishop/archbishop. It's important to understand here that the Ordinariate is (and always has been) only for people who want it. So, if you are a member of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, in San Antonio, and you wish to remain a full member of the parish, while simultaneously remain under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, you may do so. Simply speak to the pastoral staff of OLA for details as to how this works. Please, and I cannot emphasise this enough, please do not believe false rumours that this transfer of OLA's jurisdiction somehow magically cancels your membership in OLA if you choose to remain part of the Archdiocese. It does not! As a member of the Archdiocese you are free to be a member of OLA too. Our Lady of the Atonement will consist of members of both the Ordinariate, and members of the Archdiocese, sitting side-by-side in the pews, indistinguishable from each other. That's how it works in all Ordinariate parishes. If you have heard otherwise, you have been misinformed. Again, simply speak to the pastoral staff of OLA for details.


Update 3-24-2017: It has come to my attention that the Archdiocese of San Antonio is behind these false rumours. In an online statement, dated 3-21-17, the Archdiocese made this erroneous claim...
"Parishioners of Our Lady of the Atonement Parish -- who must be enrolled in the Ordinariate in order to be members of the parish --"
Click to Enlarge
Image Capture from Archdiocese of San Antonio website
on 3-24-2017

This is a false statement, as noted above, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church may have members from both the Ordinariate and the Archdiocese. Hopefully, the Archdiocese simply made this statement in error. We in the Ordinariate have encountered this problem before, wherein diocesan staff will occasionally misinform the public (usually in error) that membership in an Ordinariate parish is only for members of the Ordinariate, and that diocesan members are not allowed to join. Again, this is not true.

Update 3-27-2017: I am pleased to report that the Archdiocese has revised their statement now, omitting the incorrect information. The new revised statement does not explicitly say that those under Archdiocesan authority may be members of Our Lady of the Atonement, but at least it deletes the incorrect information which said that you could not be a member of Atonement unless you were a member of the Ordinariate. I applaud the Archdiocese for making this correction.

Click to Enlarge
Image Capture from Archdiocese of San Antonio website
on 3-27-2017

With this revised statement, I think it is fair to say that the Archdiocese has finally acknowledged that you can be a member of Our Lady of the Atonement parish, and still remain under Archdiocesan authority. This means, as I said above, that Ordinariate and Archdiocesan members can both be members of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, and sit in the pews side-by-side, indistinguishable from each other.


In regard to Archbishop Garcia-Siller, he has lost this battle. OLA has been transferred to the Ordinariate. His apparent attempts to hamper this process have not succeeded. They were terribly misguided and unfortunate, but they are over. It is done, and it is time to move on. OLA may have been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ordinariate, but it still physically exists within the territorial region of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Archbishop Garcia-Siller is not the first bishop to make a mistake. He's not even the first bishop to make a mistake regarding the ordinariates. (I believe there were some episcopal fumbles in the UK some years back.) These things occasionally happen. They are unfortunate when they do, and at times stressful, but Christian charity demands forgiveness, and I think Archbishop Garcia-Siller is owed that. To the members of OLA, who have suffered greatly through this entire ordeal, I appeal to you in the name of Christian charity to forgive Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller for his actions against Fr. Christopher Phillips and the congregation of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church. I understand this may be difficult for some of you, and you have every right to be angry, however, please take some time to let this all sink in and pray about it. I'm sure that with time, prayer and reflection it will become clear that forgiveness is the only real way forward now.

The "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" was created in the early 1980s by Pope St. John Paul II, for the purpose of welcoming Anglican converts into the Catholic Church by allowing them to bring their English Catholic heritage with them. This English Catholic heritage is called the "Anglican Patrimony." Under the terms of this Pastoral Provision, such parishes and communities were established in the United States alone, under local diocesan authority, by bishops who were welcoming and friendly to the idea. Consequently, there weren't very many such parishes throughout the United States, and most of them were in Texas. Our Lady of the Atonement (OLA) in San Antonio was the first such parish, and Fr. Christopher Phillips was the founding pastor.

The "Anglican Use Pastoral Povision" remained the only expression of the Anglican Patrimony within the Catholic Church for 30 years. Then in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI created the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, which allowed for an expansion of the Pastoral Provision on a global scale. This constitution was issued due to an increasing interest on the part of many Anglicans, throughout the world, to enter the Catholic Church under terms similar to the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision." However, there were some concerns. One of the main concern of such Anglicans was the openness of Catholic bishops to the idea. For example; such a Pastoral Provision parish might be established in a diocese under one friendly bishop, but then find itself in danger under the reign of his successor, who is not so friendly. So Rome decided to establish "ordinariates" under the terms of Anglicanorum Coetibus. These ordinariates would allow such Anglican Patrimony parishes to govern themselves totally independently of the local dioceses, through an Ordinary (which could either be a monsignor priest, or a bishop) who would oversee them all in a given region. It's sort of like the Military Archdiocese, which is really an Ordinariate, that just governs particular parishes on military bases, and those military personnel (and their families) who attend such parishes. It's also like a religious order, or prelature, which just governs specific people and parishes. This would allow these Anglican Patrimony parishes to function as a particular church, in and of themselves, within the worldwide universal Church. In North America, these exist within the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, founded in January of 2012, which oversees such parishes in the United States, Canada and all U.S. territories.

When Anglicanorum Coetibus was first announced in 2009, Fr. Christopher Phillips was the first Catholic priest, of the Pastoral Provision in the United States, to express interest in joining the upcoming ordinariates. He knew that parishes like Our Lady of the Atonement, which were part of the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision," were the prototype for the ordinariate model of Anglicanorum Coetibus. He immediately spoke with Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez, then Archbishop of San Antonio, about this matter. Archbishop Gomez was highly sympathetic to Fr. Phillips at the time, but responded by asking; "What's the rush?" Understanding that the transfer of such a large property and congregation would entail some sensitive arrangements, Archbishop Gomez advised a slow process, and Fr. Phillips was agreeable to this.

In the years following, a similar sentiment was expressed by Gomez' successor, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, and Fr. Phillips patiently waited along with the OLA congregation for five years! As the years passed however, it became apparent that the time had come for the transfer to be final. Canon Law permitted OLA to make the request on its own, and Fr. Phillips acted lawfully as the parish's representative, after the parish leaders had voted on the matter. This happened late in the summer to early fall of 2016. It was at that time that Archbishop Garcia-Siller started to change. (It should be noted here that OLA has always fulfilled and exceeded its obligations to the Archdiocese.) As the date for the CDF hearing on OLA approached, the Archbishop Emeritus of San Antonio, Patrick Fernandez Flores, died on January 9, 2017. OLA was originally erected as a parish by Fr. Phillips under Flores' reign during the early 1980s. Phillips enjoyed both the blessing and full support of Flores all the years since then. Shortly after Flores' death, Archbishop Garcia-Siller began to take action against OLA by removing Fr. Phillips from service as her pastor 10 days later on January 19, 2017.

Sources close to this blogger report that the Archbishop then demanded Phillips' resignation or he would press canonical charges to have him permanently removed. Phillips would not back down. During this time, the OLA parish was informed that Fr. Phillips had done nothing wrong and was simply taking a period of time off to reflect on his ministry over OLA. The parish was told that while Phillips was not in any trouble, his ministry was not in the best interest of OLA (whatever that means). This was the letter sent out by the OLA staff shortly after Archbishop Garcia-Siller's announcement…
Dear Parents and Parishioners: 
We were notified today of the canonical process being initiated by the Archdiocese to remove Fr. Phillips as the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Parish as well as the head of The Atonement Academy. The Archbishop stated that Fr. Phillips has done nothing wrong, yet claims his ministry is detrimental to the faith of the people and keeps the people of the parish separate from the communal activities of the archdiocese. 
As more information becomes available, we will share it with you. Fr. Phillips has been removed from the parish grounds for the next 15 days and cannot respond to any contact from parishioners or school families. 
Please pray for God's will to be done. 
In Christ,

The (Atonement Academy) Administrative Team.
For many of us outside of Atonement, this was the first we had heard of the matter. Later we were given access to the Archbishop's letter…

(click to enlarge)

It was at this time that I blogged on this matter myself. You can read that entry here. Shortly thereafter, stories appeared all over the Internet concerning the matter, and it was even featured on EWTN's World Over program with Raymond Arroyo. The story segment begins at about 9:50 on the video feed...

Phillips remained in exile from OLA in his home property much longer than 15 days, and many believed he would never return. His home, which is attached to the parish grounds, is privately owned by Phillips and his wife. The original rectory, on the parish property, is now occupied by the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration. It was reported to this blogger that Archbishop Garcia-Siller had inquired by what right they live there, but that is all. It is unknown what the Archbishop's plans were for the rectory, if any, had he prevailed in this case.

What is important now is to understand that the drama concerning the entry of OLA into the Ordinariate is now over, and things will gradually begin to return to normal at the parish. The parish is safely under the jurisdiction of Bishop Steven Lopes and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. Henceforth we can expect a rather tranquil parish life for the long-term foreseeable future.

I have spoken with many people, both clergy and laity, across the Ordinariate from Texas to Canada. They are all thrilled by news of OLA entering the ordinariate. They have longed for this day for many years, to be reunited with their spiritual brethren of the Anglican Patrimony. During this crisis they prayed earnestly for OLA and for Fr. Phillips, imploring our Lord for a swift and decisive resolution. That day has now come. It is time to bury the hatchet with Archbishop Garcia-Siller and move on.

It has always been the destiny of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church to enter the Ordinariate, and the Ordinariate is her rightful home. OLA was erected under the terms of the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" well over 30 years ago. The creation of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the subsequent establishment of the three ordinariates in the UK, North America and Oceania, demonstrated that the intent of the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" was always temporary. Pope St. John Paul II created it as a prototype, and it was studied as a prototype, leading up to the ordinariates. When all of the Pastoral Provision parishes eventually enter the North American Ordinariate, the Pastoral Provision will then cease to exist, and be entered into the history books as a successful ecumenical experiment that led to the ecumenical triumph of the ordinariates. Praise be to God!


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 '' 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.

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Matthew M said…
Thank you for this overview. Now that I am older (will turn 70 on November 3) I'm wishing I had moved to Texas after selling my place in SoCal. I love Washington State but it is a spiritual wasteland even compared to down there!
I do hope that the good Bishop of San Antonio has the humility to apologize to the people of Our Lady of the Atonement.
Athelstane said…
Hello Shane,

Thanks for what is easily the best summary of the entire situation I have read to date. Great work.

One niggle, or even question, perhaps: I am not sure that the Pastoral Provision is *entirely* defunct now. Certainly two of its provisions - that for the creation of Anglican Use parishes, and that for the creation of a liturgical book for them - are both defunct now. But it is unclear tome whether the third provision - for the reception of Anglican (and even Lutheran) ministers for ordination - will be wound down now, too. It may well be that not every such minister would want to go into the Ordinariate; and likewise, it may be the Bishop Vann and his counterpart in England swing enough stick to keep the provision alive.

Well, time will tell. But at least for OLA and the U.S. Ordinariate, this story has had a happy ending. And that is a pleasant surprise to me.
Texas2Step said…
My husband and I have been members of Our Lady of the Atonement for about 15 years. The joy throughout the parish at having our pastor back, and at entry into the Ordinariate (finally!) is palpable. When we attended the meeting at which this was announced, we were thrilled to see the tremendous attendance; cars were parked blocks away from the church and the hall was overflowing. In a city where all manner of liturgical silliness was tolerated, even supported, by the archdiocese for many years, OLOTA has been a haven for both discouraged cradle Catholics and for those who make their way to the RCC from the Anglican communion. It is a truly beautiful parish in both buildings and in spirit, and now we are fully united with our sister parishes in the Ordinariate. With God, nothing shall be impossible.
Just after the idea of Ordinariate was announced, I attended with many others a meeting at OLA. We were all so filled with hope. Many of us Anglican priests applied for re-ordination. Many were rejected, as the Ordinariate itself was not "without sin". I equate the closed doors with a parable. It seems that many many bishops have labored long under the sun and cannot accept those who began work at the 11th hour (and who have wives). The bias is there; it is real. Perhaps the bishops at large like the current bishop in San Antonio are tempted to use worldly judgement.
Having lived in San Antonio off and on for almost fifty years, I have some knowledge of the episcopate there. I certainly agree that it is time for all parties to bury the hatchet and forgive. At the same time, it is important to understand one of the reasons why this situation, which should never have taken place, arose. San Antonio has always been in the finest autocratic Spanish tradition. After Arch. Fury retired, it was the custom to appoint an Hispanic archbishop despite that a large number of Catholics are not Hispanic and a significant number are descended from original German settlers. This mistaken approach denigrates the universality of the Church and makes it appear as some sort of ethnic or national church. Past experience with this attitude in the eastern US was not a great success. Archbishop Gomez, the previous ordinary, could have handled this in a completely acceptable manner, however his primary interests appeared to have been some form of social action ministry instead of pastoral pursuits. It is truly hoped that all have learned from this unpleasant experience and that it need not be repeated elsewhere.
Texas2Step said…
Pueblo Southwest: You are right - the trend has been to appoint Hispanic archbishops in San Antonio, and it seems to be more for social than spiritual reasons. I believe the vast majority of us do not care about the racial or ethnic background of our leaders, as long as they are faithful to the Church and to their office. Archbishop Flores, God rest his soul, definitely put social concerns before spiritual, openly defying the Vatican on higher education and telling the newly confirmed that their chief duty was to finish college before getting married. Any liturgical trend, no matter how silly or misdirected, was permitted, in the name of being open to Vatican II. He did, however, permit and protect the existence of Our Lady of the Atonement Parish.

Archbishop Flores's successors were also friendly to OLOTA, up until the creation of the Ordinariate. I hate to think that their main motivation for blocking our move was that we always gave to the Archbishop's appeal, over and above the amount levied against our parish. I hope their concerns were primarily spiritual. In any case, this problem should not occur again in the US, as the Vatican ruling stipulated that any future parishes of the Anglican Use should be directly absorbed into the Ordinariate.