A Maryland Episcopal parish will be the first in the United States to join the Roman Catholic Church under a new streamlined conversion process created by Pope Benedict XVI, leaders of both church groups said Monday.
The 100-member St. Luke's Episcopal Parish in Bladensburg, Md., will come under the care of Washington Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Washington Episcopal Bishop John Chane, a leading liberal in his denomination, said he approved St. Luke's decision and will allow the congregation to continue worshiping in the church under a lease with an option to buy the building.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 issued an unprecedented invitation for Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining some Anglican liturgical heritage. Anglicans worldwide have been on the brink of schism over how to interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, ordaining women and other issues. Critics accused the pope of poaching converts, but the Vatican said Benedict was only responding to requests from Anglicans.
The 2-million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. body of the Anglican Communion, caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Episcopal conservatives responded by creating an alternative fellowship, the Anglican Church in North America, which says it includes about 1,000 congregations in the United States and Canada.
Only one other U.S. Episcopal parish, Mount Calvary of Baltimore, has responded to Benedict's invitation by voting to join the Catholic Church. That congregation is still negotiating property use and other details.
Episcopal parish is first to turn Catholic