14 March 2007

A new priest, a new congregation

What joyful news! For almost two and a half years a faithful man and his parishioners have been waiting. Patiently waiting. And now the news has come. Permission has been granted for the ordination of Eric Bergman (pictured above, signing his Profession of Faith as a Catholic), and also for the formation of a Catholic congregation in the Diocese of Scranton, under the patronage of St. Thomas More. This will be the newest addition to the Anglican Use in the Latin Rite, all made possible because of the Pastoral Provision approved by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II in 1980. Following is the article from the Scranton diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Light.

Former Episcopal Minister to be Ordained to the Priesthood

A former Episcopal clergyman and convert to Catholicism, Eric Bergman, will be ordained a Catholic priest next month.

His walk towards ordination to the priesthood began almost two and a half years ago, on the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, 2004. Bishop Joseph F. Martino and Mr. Bergman met that day in the Chancery Building of the Diocese of Scranton. At the time Mr. Bergman was the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in the Green Ridge section of Scranton, having served in that capacity for more than five years. On that late October afternoon he came to Bishop Martino with a question, “Are you willing to see the Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II implemented in the Diocese of Scranton?”

The Pastoral Provision, Bishop Martino knew, was issued in 1980 by our late Holy Father as a means to reconcile Anglican Christians to Mother Church. It allows for a former Anglican clergyman to be ordained a Catholic priest and then be appointed the pastor of a Catholic congregation made up of his former Anglican parishioners.

Bishop Martino also knew that the Pastoral Provision permits former Anglicans to retain elements of their patrimony that are consistent with Catholic faith and practice, most particularly in the use of an “Anglican style” Sacred Liturgy, published in the Book of Divine Worship.

Mr. Bergman explained to Bishop Martino that his own family and several other families from the Church of the Good Shepherd desired to become Roman Catholic. Months after his meeting with Bishop Martino, Mr. Bergman reflected upon that tumultuous time in the life of his former parish, “We were saddened to leave the Episcopal Church, and at the same time we were very much attached to our tradition, many of us having been Episcopalian all our lives. A good number of my parishioners and I were thrilled to learn about a way that we could build a church upon the Rock of St. Peter, without having to say good-bye to those parts of our heritage that are truly Catholic. We resolved to find out if the Pastoral Provision were a possibility for us.”

Fortunately for Mr. Bergman and his parishioners, Bishop Martino said yes to their petition. He agreed to have the Pastoral Provision implemented in the Diocese of Scranton, creating for Mr. Bergman and his parishioners the St. Thomas More Society of St. Clare Church in Scranton. He made Mr. Bergman the director of the Society and appointed Msgr. William Feldcamp as their pastor.

After 10 months of catechetical instruction at St. Clare Church, 40 members of the St. Thomas More Society were confirmed and received their First Holy Communion at the Vigil Mass for All Saints’ Day, on Oct. 31, 2005. Since then an Anglican Usage Mass has been celebrated for them every Sunday afternoon at St. Clare Church by Msgr. Feldcamp and five other priests of the Diocese with permission to celebrate this Mass: Father Charles Connor, Monsignor Vincent Grimalia, V.G., Monsignor Dale Rupert, Father James Rafferty and Father Edward Scott.

Bishop Martino is not the first bishop to assent to a request to ordain a former Episcopal clergyman and create this type of community. In 1983, in San Antonio, Texas, the first Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite personal parish was erected, and Father Christopher Phillips, the pastor, was ordained a priest. Since then several more Pastoral Provision communities have been founded in dioceses across the United States, the most recent prior to the St. Thomas More Society being the Congregation of St. Athanasius in Boston, Mass., established in 1998.

William Cardinal Levada, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was responsible for reviewing Bishop Martino’s request to erect just such a community here in the Diocese of Scranton, a request sent last June to the Holy See for approval by Pope Benedict XVI.

On Feb. 8 Mr. Bergman received the news from Bishop John M. Dougherty, Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton, that the Holy Father had given permission for Mr. Bergman’s ordination to proceed. This was the happy outcome of a two-year application process, undertaken in conjunction with the Pastoral Provision Office, which is under the leadership of Archbishop John Myers of Newark, the Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision.

The process began with the compilation of 13 documents, each of which attested to Mr. Bergman’s suitability as a candidate for ordination to the priesthood. After being reviewed by Bishop Martino and Bishop Dougherty, this dossier was sent by Archbishop Myers to Cardinal Levada in Rome.

Archbishop Myers also arranges for each Pastoral Provision candidate for ordination to undergo a theological evaluation some time during the first year of the process. For his evaluation, Mr. Bergman traveled in July 2005 to Boston to learn how he should supplement the master’s degree he received from Yale University in 1997. At St. John’s Seminary his knowledge of seven subjects was evaluated by the following men: Ascetical Theology, Father John Farren; Canon Law, Father David Cavanaugh; Church History, Father John Langlois; Dogmatic Theology, Father Romanus Cessario; Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Father William Stetson; Moral Theology, Father Jose Ruisanchez; and Sacred Scripture, Mr. Leonard Maluf.

When he returned from Massachusetts, Bishop Dougherty arranged for Father Charles Connor, pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral, to guide Mr. Bergman through his study, according to the syllabus the Pastoral Provision Faculty had formulated.

After a year of study, Mr. Bergman was required to pass one written and one oral exam in each of the seven subjects. The written exams were administered here in Scranton at the Cathedral Rectory, then sent for grading to Seton Hall University, where on October 20 of last year Mr. Bergman took his oral certification examinations. The examining faculty members were: Ascetical Theology, Father John Russell; Canon Law, Monsignor Robert Coleman; Church History, Monsignor Robert Wister; Dogmatic Theology, Father Lawrence Porter; Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Monsignor Gerald McCarren; Moral Theology, Deacon William Toth; and Sacred Scripture, Father C. Anthony Ziccardi.

Archbishop Myers’ secretary, Father William Stetson, informed Mr. Bergman that day that he had passed all 14 exams. With this accomplishment Mr. Bergman had successfully completed all the Pastoral Provision requirements for ordination to the priesthood.

The Pastoral Provision was Pope John Paul II’s generous response to the reality that many Anglicans, including many Catholic-minded clergymen, no longer experience a peace of conscience in the Anglican Communion. Hence, by implementing the Pastoral Provision in the Diocese of Scranton, Bishop Martino has heeded the example of our late Holy Father and other bishops who have done the same.

Moreover, in responding so positively to Mr. Bergman’s petition, Bishop Martino has fostered Christian unity by graciously welcoming into the Church a group of Anglicans who desired full Catholic communion, going so far as to establish a Catholic community that retains traditional Anglican customs of worship.

The retention of their traditional Anglican customs of worship is not all that makes this group of Catholics exceptional, however. Once Mr. Bergman is ordained, the St. Thomas More Society will have as its pastor a married father of four young children. Mr. Bergman and his wife of 10 years, Kristina, are the parents of Clara, 5, Eric 3, Julia 2, and Joan, 4 months. Because he is married, Mr. Bergman had to receive special permission from the Holy See to be ordained. The Holy Father signed for Mr. Bergman a document called a rescript, a dispensation for an individual from a specific canon law, in this case from the canon law requiring celibacy for priests of the Roman Rite.

As to why the Holy Father sees fit to make these exceptions, Mr. Bergman explains, “The Pastoral Provision is just that, a pastoral exception, an extraordinary exception that is made in order that an Anglican clergyman and his flock can be reconciled to the Church together. In other words, the Pastoral Provision allows a congregation to keep their pastor as they convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism. In this way my marriage to Kristina doesn’t stand in the way of achieving in some small measure the unity for which Christ prayed in St. John’s Gospel, ‘Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one’” (John 17:11).”

The Pastoral Provision stipulates that if Mr. Bergman’s wife should predecease him he will not be permitted to marry again, and it also makes clear that when any vocations to the priesthood are fostered by an Anglican Use Catholic community, the candidate is to embrace a life of celibacy before his ordination.

Mr. Bergman will be ordained to the diaconate on March 24 and to the priesthood on April 21. Both ordinations will take place at St. Clare Church in Scranton.

Earlier this year Msgr. Feldcamp had expressed during a homily his hope that Mr. Bergman’s ordinations would take place at the church that has hosted the St. Thomas More Society for more than two years. Last month Bishop Martino agreed that this should indeed be the case, an arrangement that emphasizes the extraordinary nature of these ordinations, while allowing the parishioners of St. Clare Church to host the celebrations.

“The members of the St. Thomas More Society and the people of St. Clare Church have waited a long time for this to happen,” said Msgr. Feldcamp. “We’re all looking forward to Eric being the newest priest in the Diocese of Scranton.”

As he looks to the future Mr. Bergman sees much potential for growth, noting that the other Anglican Use communities that have enjoyed a similar level of support have flourished. For now, however, he’s simply grateful for all that has transpired since that initial meeting with Bishop Martino in 2004.

“Without the labor of Bishop Dougherty, the sponsorship of Bishop Martino, and the generosity of our Holy Father, this unique work would not have come to be,” Mr. Bergman said. “The people of the Society and I are just so grateful that the leadership of the Church has seen this endeavor through. We owe everything to them and to the intercession of our patron, St. Thomas More. We humbly offer our thanks to our bishops and so many priests of the Diocese of Scranton who have helped us – and praise to Jesus Christ in all his saints.”