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Pope Francis appoints first Catholic bishop with Anglican heritage for UK ordinariate

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop-designate David Waller as the next ordinary – and the first bishop – of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a kind of diocese for Catholics of the Anglican tradition in the U.K. His April 29, 2024, appointment follows the Holy Father’s acceptance of the resignation submitted by Msgr. Keith Newton, the retiring priest-ordinary and former Anglican bishop, who led the ordinariate since its inception in 2011. (OSV News photo/courtesy Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

Catholics in the United Kingdom that are part of the personal ordinariate, a kind of diocese originally set up to receive groups of Anglican Christians into full communion with the Catholic Church, have welcomed Pope Francis’s appointment of their first bishop – and the first ordinariate bishop to hail from their Anglican heritage.

“Although we’re full Roman Catholics, our ordinariate allows us to preserve something of our Anglican patrimony within the universal Church,” Msgr. Keith Newton, the retiring head, or ordinary, of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, told OSV News.

“As a priest, however, I’ve also been one of very few bishops’ conference members not in episcopal orders,” he said. “The Holy See has wanted us to be governed by a bishop, to clarify our ecclesiastical status within the Catholic Church.”

The London-born priest, a married former Anglican bishop with three adult children, spoke with OSV News after the April 29 appointment of his successor, Bishop-designate David Waller, to lead the U.K. ordinariate.

Established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, the personal ordinariates function as Catholic dioceses with Anglican traditions that celebrate the Mass, divine office, sacraments and other liturgies in traditional English according to the liturgical books approved by Pope Francis.

Pope Benedict originally conceived these ordinariates as a permanent, pastoral response to whole congregations from the Anglican tradition – such as Anglicans, Episcopalians and Methodists – asking to enter the Catholic Church with their traditions as intact groups. In 2019, Pope Francis expanded the ordinariates’ missionary mandate to invite all Protestant Christians into full Catholic communion and enliven the faith of Catholics who had weakened or fallen away from the practice of the faith.

Pope Francis’s decision makes the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham the second of the three existing personal ordinariates to have its very own bishop. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Steven J. Lopes in 2016 as the first ordinariate bishop for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which covers the U.S. and Canada; he also appointed Bishop Anthony Randazzo in 2023 as the temporary apostolic administrator for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, which includes Australia, Guam, the Philippines and Japan.

Unlike Bishops Lopes and Randazzo, Bishop-designate Waller is the first bishop coming from an Anglican background to lead a personal ordinariate.

Msgr. Newton said he had been “generally accepted” as the U.K. ordinariate’s shepherd by the U.K.’s Catholic bishops; but he noted it had also been difficult for other prelates to accept the first “overlapping Western jurisdiction” within their Church. Unlike a typical diocese of the Latin Church, which has immediate jurisdiction within a set territorial boundary, a personal ordinariate’s jurisdiction can extend over its Catholic members nationwide or across national boundaries.

Meanwhile, another former Anglican bishop, now a Catholic priest in the U.K. ordinariate, also welcomed Bishop-designate Waller’s nomination, adding that he hoped this added sign of permanence would encourage more individuals and groups of Anglican Christians to seek full communion with the Catholic Church through the ordinariate.

“Without a full bishop, we’ve had to bring someone in for ordinations and other visible sacramental duties, diminishing our own ordinary’s authority,” explained Msgr. Andrew Burnham, who was one of three serving Church of England bishops received into the Catholic Church on Jan. 1, 2011, for the ordinariate and then ordained as Catholic priests two weeks later by now-Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.

As a celibate priest, Bishop-designate Waller is eligible for ordination to the episcopate. Although the Catholic Church has a married priesthood (normative in its Eastern Churches but by exception in the Latin Church) alongside a celibate priesthood, the ancient practice of the Church – one shared with the Orthodox Churches – is to only ordain celibate men to the episcopate.

Because he is married, Msgr. Newton could be ordained a Catholic priest, but not ordained a Catholic bishop. His position as a priest-ordinary, similar to the status of a chorbishop in Eastern Churches, gave him much of the authority of a bishop but without the full powers of a bishop, such as the ability to ordain new priests.

“Given how many people predicted our ordinariate would fizzle out, it’s amazing it’s still functioning, in some cases flourishing, 13 years later,” Msgr. Burnham said. “The appointment of a bishop will give it a new lease of life, and encourage those wondering if this is the way to go.”

The London-based Ordinariate was created Jan. 15, 2011, by a decree from the Vatican’s Congregation (now Dicastery) for Doctrine of the Faith, and placed under the patronage of St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), an Anglican who came into full communion with the Catholic Church, became a cardinal and is known as the most influential English-speaking Catholic theologian of the 19th century.

According to its website, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has more than 80 priests and 50 pastoral groups across Great Britain and Scotland. The ordinariate also has some synodal forms of governance Benedict XVI mandated: the bishop, or ordinary, governs together with a governing council composed of at least six priests and which has deliberative vote on certain matters. Ordinariate priests vote for half of the governing council’s members. A pastoral council, representing various areas of the ordinariate, is also required by the ordinariate’s apostolic constitution in order “to provide for the consultation of the faithful” and advise the bishop on the ordinariate’s pastoral activity.

In an April 29 statement, Bishop-designate Waller said he looked forward to the ordinariate’s “next chapter,” after serving as chair of its governing council and as vicar general since 2020.

“The past 13 years have been a time of grace and blessing as small and vulnerable communities have grown in confidence, rejoicing to be a full yet distinct part of the Catholic Church,” said Bishop-designate Waller, who had both led three Anglican parishes and served on the Church of England’s governing synod before becoming Catholic through the ordinariate in 2011. Once ordained a Catholic priest, he served both ordinariate and diocesan Catholic communities.

“My experience of these past years is that there is nothing to be feared in responding to the Lord and that Jesus does great things with us despite our inadequacies,” he said.

Msgr. Newton explained it had taken two years of consultation before the Vatican finally confirmed Bishop-designate Waller as the right candidate to succeed him. He added that it was “highly significant” his successor would be the first ordinariate priest from an Anglican background to obtain full episcopal rank in the three existing personal ordinariates.

Meanwhile, Msgr. Burnham said he had expected a new ordinary to be “appointed from outside,” as in North America and Australia, adding that he was delighted the U.K. ordinariate had found a suitable celibate candidate from its own ranks who could be ordained bishop.

“The ordinariate has tried to attract Anglicans, enabling them to see what full communion with the Catholic Church might be like,” said the priest, who was Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet from 2000 to 2010.

The bishops of the other two of the Catholic Church’s ordinariates for the Anglican tradition greeted the selection of Bishop-designate Waller and praised Msgr. Newton for his dedicated leadership in their own statements.

“In many ways, Monsignor Newton has fostered the broad identity and mission of the Ordinariate, especially as this still relatively new entity takes its place in Catholic life and contributes to the evangelical dynamism of the whole Church,” Bishop Lopes said.

Bishop Randazzo joined Bishop Lopes in welcoming Bishop-designate Waller, and extended his “profound gratitude and fellowship in prayer” to Msgr. Newton for shepherding the U.K. ordinariate since 2011.

“His dedication and service have been foundational to the growth and spiritual nourishment of the Ordinariate,” Bishop Randazzo said.

Bishop Lopes said Bishop-designate Waller is “a great choice,” citing not just his service as vicar general and on the governing council, but as “a proven parish priest, leading parishes both in the Ordinariate and in the Diocese of Brentwood.”

“As he begins this transition and takes up his new responsibilities as Bishop, he can count on the prayers, encouragement, and support of all of us in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter,” Bishop Lopes said.