The new U.S. Ordinariate for Anglican groups entering the Catholic Church achieved a milestone on May 9 when Father Eric Bergman was incardinated as its first priest.
This conveyance is significant and purposeful in that the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was just established on January 1, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI in response to repeated requests by Anglicans who were seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. As a personal Ordinariate of the Roman Catholic Church within the territory of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, their principal church is located in the Church of Our Lady of Washington, located in Houston, Texas. The ordinary of the Ordinariate is Monsignor Jeffrey N. Steenson, who is equivalent to a diocesan bishop, and was formerly a bishop of the Episcopal Church until his reception into the Catholic Church in 2007.
In accordance with the Code of Canon Law (c. 265-272), in order to become the Ordinariate’s first priest, Father Bergman needed to be “released” from the jurisdiction of the ordinary of the Diocese of Scranton, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, and placed under the jurisdiction of the ordinary of the Ordinariate, Monsignor Steenson. Accordingly, on May 9, Father Bergman was excardinated from the Diocese of Scranton and became the first priest incardinated into the newly established Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
Father Bergman, 41, is a former Episcopal priest who was ordained a Catholic priest five years ago for the Diocese of Scranton. Since that time, he served as chaplain to the members of the St. Thomas More Anglican Use Society, which has been based at St. Clare’s Church in Scranton.
Under the Ordinariate, the society will now become known as the St. Thomas More Parish at St. Joseph Church and will be located at the former St. Joseph property in Scranton starting in late August. The Ordinariate purchased the property from the Diocese of Scranton for $254,000, with $200,000 of that amount raised by the St. Thomas More community during a three-week period this spring.
“This is a significant moment in the young history of the Ordinariate. I am grateful to Bishop Joseph Bambera and to the Diocese of Scranton for their support,” said Monsignor Jeffrey N. Steenson, the Ordinary. “The incardination of Father Bergman, and the reception of several Anglican communities across the United States and Canada over the past few months, are tangible signs of Christ at work in this new undertaking.”
Approximately 60 current or former Anglican priests are preparing to be ordained Catholic priests for the Ordinariate. Ordinariate parishes will be fully Catholic while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions, including liturgical traditions.
Prior to the formation of the Ordinariate, the St. Thomas More Society was among a number of Anglican-use communities that were formed through the Pastoral Provision Decision, rendered in 1980 by the Vatican in response to requests from married Anglican priests who wished to offer themselves for priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as lay Episcopalians who wished to enter the Catholic Church with a common spiritual and liturgical identity.
In its acceptance of former married Episcopalian clergy as clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pastoral Provision Decision grants a special exception to the Roman Catholic Church’s rule of mandatory priestly celibacy. However, the Decision stressed that this particular exclusion “should not be understood as implying any change in the Church’s conviction of the value of priestly celibacy, which will remain the rule for future candidates for the priesthood from this group.”
Father Bergman noted, “I am particularly grateful to Bishop Bambera, and to Monsignor William Feldcamp, the pastor of St. Paul’s Parish and St. Clare’s Church, who has been instrumental in the maintenance of our ministry over the years. St. Thomas More has thrived, and we look forward to our future as an Ordinariate parish.”
Father Bergman, a native of Bethlehem, graduated from James Madison University before obtaining a Master of Divinity degree from Yale. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1997, and served in Scranton as curate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and as rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd. He became Catholic in 2005 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2007. In addition to serving as chaplain to the Anglican Use Society, he had served as chaplain at Holy Cross High School, Dunmore and at the former Mercy Hospital, Scranton. He and his wife, Kristina, have seven children ages 5 months to 10 years.
Underscoring the historic nature of this announcement, Bishop Bambera commented, “I was pleased to be able to cooperate with Monsignor Steenson in order to help facilitate Father Bergman’s incardination process. For the past five years, Father Bergman has faithfully supported the Diocese of Scranton. We are grateful for his service and wish him continued blessings in his ministry.”