Oklahoma's Episcopal bishop said switching from one denomination to another is nothing new.
“Just as the Roman Catholic Church has received people from other denominations, the Episcopal Church has received people from other denominations as well,” the Rt. Rev. Edward Konieczny, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, said Wednesday.
Konieczny's comments came in response to news that Pope Benedict XVI established a new U.S. ordinariate, similar to a diocese, on Jan. 1.
The Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter will allow a special Anglican-style Catholic Mass that can include sections from the Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican liturgies.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. body of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
“What they're basically doing is taking the traditional Anglican approach and becoming part of the Catholic Church,” said George Rigazzi, a canon lawyer who is director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City's Office of Family Life.
“They are allowed to keep their uniqueness as Anglicans but still be in communion with Rome.”
This new structure grew out of a controversial 2009 effort by Pope Benedict to persuade conservative Anglicans to align with Rome under an exemption that allows Anglican priests, laity and even entire congregations to convert while keeping their prized music and prayers.
Bishops who convert under the rite will be allowed to function as Catholic priests but not as bishops. Married Anglican male priests will be able to remain married and serve as Catholic priests, although unmarried priests who join will not be able to marry later without renouncing their priesthood.
The American ordinariate is only the second such jurisdiction established since Benedict launched the process; the first was set up a year ago in England, the birthplace of Anglicanism, and others are being considered for Canada and Australia.
Rigazzi said he attended a meeting about the new ordinariate in July and thought the idea was wonderful.
Rigazzi said he is familiar with Anglican traditions as well as Catholic traditions because he was raised Episcopalian. He converted to Catholicism at age 18.
“The beauty of this is they are maintaining their tradition while being in communion with Rome,” he said.
“It's part of the quest for Christian unity, at least that's the way I see it.”
Rigazzi said he did not see the establishment of the ordinariate as “an intent to undermine anybody.”