The Rev. Jason Catania was ordained an Episcopal priest a dozen years ago. He will be ordained again Saturday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. This time, he will be vested as a Roman Catholic priest.
Catania moved to Roman Catholicism in January, along with the Revs. John Anthony Vidal and David Reamsnyder, two colleagues in the Episcopal priesthood. All three are set to be ordained this weekend. Several dozen parishioners who had been pastored by Catania, 40, at Mount Calvary Church on North Eutaw Street for six years have also converted to Catholicism.
The three former Episcopal priests said they found themselves more aligned with Roman Catholicism and less with increasingly liberal stances taken by Episcopal leaders. The nation's sixth-largest Protestant denomination has been divided in recent years over the ordination of gay men and women and same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church has made efforts to draw Anglicans interested in conversion; even Anglican priests who are married can be ordained.
"It really boils down to understanding of Scripture," said Vidal, 52. "We believe that the Catholic Church is following the early church teachings more consistently."
Changing religious affiliations has become a norm among the American faithful. More than one in four adults has converted from the religious tradition in which they were raised to another, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. About 2.6 percent of U.S. adults have switched affiliation to Catholic, while more than 10 percent have left after being raised in the Catholic Church, the research group found.
Differences of doctrine have spurred some movement among denominations.
The Episcopal church's General Convention has declared homosexuals eligible for any ordained ministry within the church, consecrated an openly gay bishop and written prayers to bless gay unions. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered." It celebrates marriages only between men and women.
The Rev. Susan Russell, former president of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group Integrity USA, and an associate pastor of an Episcopal church in Los Angeles, said these are interesting times to be a Christian.
"These same issues are driving people out of the Catholic Church," Russell said. "Three clergymen leaving because of our stance for women and equality and because we want to protect all marriages is hardly a flood."
Catania said he had hoped that the Catholic and Episcopal churches would eventually reconcile their differences and reunite. "Even when I was ordained in the Episcopal Church, I knew someday that I would end up Catholic one way or another," he said. "It just took me 12 years to get here.
"Because of the recent controversies, reunification seems less and less likely," Catania added. "We are not anti-women or anti-gay. We did this for the sake of Christian unity."
Sharon Tillman, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, said church leaders have relinquished all claims to ownership of the Mount Calvary property and wished the members well. The All Saints Sisters of the Poor, a dozen nuns closely tied to Mount Calvary parish, converted to Catholicism nearly three years ago.
"We have said, 'God bless and good luck in the sincerest way possible,'" Tillman said. "We are all one in the body of Christ."
Archbishop William E. Lori, installed last month as the leader of about 500,000 Catholics in the Baltimore Archdiocese, the oldest in the nation, will ordain seven men, one of the largest groups to become Catholic priests in recent years. Only two new priests have been ordained in the past two years — one of them the All Saints sisters' chaplain — in a diocese facing a decline in the number of men entering the seminary and an aging priesthood.
"The ordination of priests, no matter how many, is always a joyous and special day in the life of a new priest, and certainly in the life of the church," Lori said. "That we have one of the largest ordination classes in several years is an even greater cause for celebration as it signifies the continued vitality of our church and is evidence that God hears and answers the prayers of the faithful for new priests."
Seminarian and deacon Stephen Duane Cotter, 36, a lifelong Catholic, said all seven are coming to the ordination with the same ideals.
"We see the need for priests and we want to serve," he said.
He and his seminary classmates will serve the Baltimore Archdiocese. Catania, Vidal and Reamsnyder are among about 30 Anglican priests to be ordained across the nation this summer in a special ordinariate created by Pope Benedict XVI for those seeking to join the Roman Catholic Church.
"The ordinariate was established as the equivalent of a diocese but is national in scope," said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the U.S. Ordinariate. "It is a liturgical bridge for Anglicans who want to be Catholic but retain their heritage and traditions."
Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop, will lead the U.S. ordinariate from his see in Houston. The pope established a similar ordinariate in England last year and plans to create a third this fall in Australia. Anglican hymns and liturgy can be used in churches led by the new Catholic priests.
"The pope opened the door for us," said Reamsnyder, 38, who was chaplain to Mount Calvary's hospice. "Our entire parish came in together, and we are maintaining our traditions."
Many parishioners had already left the traditional Episcopal Church for the Roman Catholicism. "If this parish had not done this, we would have died," Catania said.
Since January, the three Anglican priests have been in a holding pattern. Until they were ordained Catholic priests, they could not serve Mass or administer sacraments at their own parish. Instead, archdiocesan priests filled in at Mount Calvary. Now, when needed, they hope to fill in when needed at other parishes.
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The Catholic Church is making an exception that will allow Reamsnyder, married 10 years with two children, and Vidal, married 23 years with three children, to serve as married priests.
"My wife is totally supportive of my ministry, and I would not trade that support for the world," said Vidal. "However, that said, it would be easier for me to be true to my priesthood as a celibate man."