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September 17, 1991 Fort Worth Episcopal Parish Votes to Join Roman Catholic Church 91173

Episcopal News Service

Citing its disapproval of the recent actions of General Convention, a parish in the Diocese of Fort Worth has voted to leave the Episcopal Church and seek affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church.

The 150-member Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington, Texts, voted nearly unanimously on August 2 to sever ties with the Episcopal Church. "We were very disturbed by the outcome of the General Convention," said the Rev. Allan Hawkins, rector of the parish. "We were concerned about the church's inability to affirm traditional Christian morality."

Although the recent General Convention did reaffirm the church's traditional teaching that sexual relations were only appropriate within the context of marriage, some traditionalists were angered that the convention did not approve a canon law binding clergy to that teaching. Traditionalists have also expressed disappointment that the House of Bishops chose not to censure two bishops who had recently ordained noncelibate homosexuals.

Bishop Pope responds

In a statement responding to the action of the parish, Bishop Clarence Pope of Fort Worth indicated that he would not stand in the way of the parish's decision to leave the Episcopal Church. Pope is president of the Episcopal Synod of America, an organization of traditionalist Episcopalians that opposes what it perceives as liberal trends in the church.

Although a decision on the parish's relationship to the Diocese of Fort Worth would not be determined until the diocesan convention in October, it appears that Pope will not fight St. Mary's over control of its church property. "My concern is for the care of the souls of the members of St. Mary's, and not for their property," Pope said.

"We are grieved at this parting of the ways," said Hawkins, who is originally from England. "I have great affection for Bishop Pope. He is a man of remarkable courage and integrity."

After a three-hour session the diocesan Standing Committee voted not to stand in the way of St. Mary's decision. "We're really saddened by their decision, but in some ways we understand it," said the Rev. Thomas Hightower, chair of the committee. "We wish they had gone another way."

Roman Catholic officials have not commented publicly on action of the parish. However, Hawkins reported that Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Daley was "most kind and understanding" when he heard of the vote.

Parish may invoke 1980 'Anglican Use' provision

Hawkins reported that the parish would seek affiliation with Rome under a provision approved by the Vatican in 1980 that permits individuals to move from Anglicanism to the Roman Catholic Church. The provision allows individuals to use a modified version of the Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

A handful of Episcopalians who have converted to Roman Catholicism have organized "Anglican Use" churches in San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. However, St. Mary's is the first Episcopal congregation in Texas to seek affiliation with Rome.

"There is no provision from a Roman Catholic point of view for a local congregation to negotiate its way into the Roman Catholic Church," said the Rev. William Norgren, ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church. Norgren said that the "Anglican Use" provision was adopted to make individual converts from Anglicanism feel comfortable as Roman Catholics -- not as a tool to pave the way for entire parishes to leave the Episcopal Church and join the Roman Catholic Church.

Norgren suggested that there would "be no ecumenical problem" for incorporating the Episcopal parish into the Roman Catholic Church, if authorities in both churches agree. However, he said that the Roman Catholics would likely require a pastoral meeting with each parishioner to determine that he or she was prepared -- as well as willing -- to accept Roman Catholicism.