Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday named a married priest and former sportswriter who converted from Anglicanism to head the first organizational structure for U.S. converts to Roman Catholicism wanting to retain some of their Anglican heritage.
A Vatican announcement said that the Rev. Jeffrey Neil Steenson, a former rector at an Episcopal church in Texas, will lead the Personal Ordinariate, the equivalent of a diocese. The Vatican created the first such ordinariate in Britain last year.
Benedict in 2009 issued an unprecedented invitation for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church in groups or as parishes. Formerly, converts were accepted case by case.
Married Anglican priests who convert can stay married and become priests in the Roman Catholic Church, an exception to the Vatican's celibacy rule.
Steenson previously served as a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, in Albuqueque, New Mexico, from 2004-2007. But while the Vatican allows married priests who convert to be priests in the Catholic Church, it does not allow married bishops to keep that rank when converting. Thus, Steenson is a priest but not a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.
U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl had announced in November that Anglicans who want to become Roman Catholics would have a formal body to oversee their conversion starting on Jan. 1.
Anglicans have their roots in the Church of England. They split from the Holy See in 1534 when English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment.
Steenson, 59, who converted to Catholicism in 2007, was married in 1974 and has three adult children. He was ordained a priest in the Catholic church in 2009 and assigned to the diocese of Santa Fe, in New Mexico.
He has a doctorate from the University of Oxford and a masters degree from Harvard Divinity School, among other degrees.
The pope's choice has eclectic interests. Steenson's resume, according to the Vatican, includes a passion for flying, and notes that he has private and commercial flying licenses. Steenson worked as a sportswriter for The News-Sun in Waukegan, Illinois, from 1972-1979, including while studying for an undergraduate degree in history.