Former Anglican priest ordained a Catholic bishop

Father David Waller Father David Waller will become the first bishop ordinary of the Walsingham Ordinariate. | Credit: Photo courtesy of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

In a first, a former Anglican priest has been consecrated as a bishop in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Located in Great Britain, the ordinariate was created to give Anglicans a pathway to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Bishop David Waller received his episcopal ordination in Westminster Cathedral in London on June 22, which is the feast day of the English saints John Fisher and Thomas More.

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, imparted the episcopal blessing. Also presiding over the Mass was Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Bishops Stephen Lopes and Anthony Randazzo, heads of the Anglican-Catholic ordinariates in the U.S.-Canada and Pacific-Australia. 

During the Mass Fernandez spoke on the “treasure” of the Church’s apostolic succession, beginning with St. Peter and the apostles and continuing to this day, saying: “What I have received from the Church, I now pass onto you.”

As bishop, Waller will lead the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which has parishes throughout England, Scotland, and Wales.

Members of the ordinariate participate in a Mass and liturgical tradition that is rooted in Anglican patrimony while still being in total union with the pope and the Catholic Church.

Along with its sister ordinariates in the U.S.-Canada and Pacific-Australia, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 through his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. Though open to Catholics of all backgrounds, the ordinariate primarily exists as a way for former Anglicans to be received into the Catholic Church while still retaining many of their English traditions and practices.

While the ordinariates in the U.S. and Australia have their own bishops, neither of whom were former Anglicans, Waller is the first bishop to lead the ordinariate in the U.K. Previously the Walsingham Ordinariate had been led by Monsignor Keith Newton, a former Anglican who was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church but could not be ordained a bishop due to being married. Newton, who is 72, is retiring.

The Vatican’s decision to make the head of the ordinariate in Britain a bishop has widely been seen as a signal of support and confidence from Rome.

In an interview with OSV News, Waller said that though there have been rumors that “Rome was going to put an end to our ordinariate,” he said that “this was never the attitude of the Holy See, which has always been supportive and caring.”

Following Saturday’s ordination, the Walsingham Ordinariate said in a statement on its website that “it is a great honor that Pope Francis has appointed one of our own priests to be the second ordinary and shows his commitment to the ordinariates established under Anglicanorum Coetibus by his predecessor.”

From Anglican priest to Catholic bishop

Waller, 63, joined the Anglican priesthood in 1992, converted to the Catholic Church in 2011, and became a priest that same year. Before being appointed to lead the Walsingham Ordinariate he served as its vicar general.

After receiving three recommendations from the ordinariate’s governing council, Pope Francis announced he was appointing Waller as the new head of the ordinariate on April 29.

The Walsingham Ordinariate was the first of three in the world to have had an influence in choosing its leader. In April, Newton told the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, that he believed allowing this faculty, one that is usually left to the apostolic nuncio, “showed the Holy See’s confidence in the ordinariate in the U.K.” 

Father Mark Elliott Smith, rector of the ordinariate’s central church, Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory at Warwick Street in London, told CNA that he believes the new bishop’s ordination is “immensely good news for the ordinariate here in the U.K.”

“Not only is Bishop David our first bishop ordinary, he is a priest originally incardinated in the ordinariate, ordained in 2011 alongside all those who first gratefully accepted the invitation of Anglicanorum Coetibus,” he explained. “To my mind it demonstrates that Rome has confidence in the way the ordinariate has progressed in the 13 years since it was established and trusts in its ability to discern how it is to be led, and identify the qualities needed in its leader.”

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Smith said that Waller’s elevation “is also a clear signal that it [the Vatican] believes that the ordinariate’s distinctive liturgical heritage has the power and the beauty to draw people to Christ and his Church” and that “it will give renewed energy and purpose to the ordinariate as it begins a new phase of its life.”

In a statement shortly after his announcement, Waller said it was “both humbling and a great honor” to have been appointed and added that “the past 13 years have been a time of grace and blessing as small and vulnerable communities have grown in confidence, rejoicing to be a full yet distinct part of the Catholic Church.”

This story was updated on June 26, 2024, at 10:27 a.m. ET with the comments from Father Mark Elliott Smith.

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