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.
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
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