Mount Calvary Episcopal Church in Baltimore on Sunday became the first congregation in Maryland to vote to break ties with the Episcopal Church and take steps to join the Roman Catholic Church.
The small Anglo Catholic parish at Madison Avenue and Eutaw Street was feeling increasingly alienated from the Episcopal Church as it accepted priests who did not believe in what most of the congregation saw as the foundations of the faith, according to Warren Tanghe, a former Episcopal priest who is now attending St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park and preparing for ordination in the Catholic church. Tanghe knows members of the parish, where he has assisted in the past, and said they also were uncomfortable when the church began ordaining women, gays and lesbians.
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland issued a statement Monday about the vote, but both the bishop and the rector, the Rev. Jason Catania, declined to be interviewed. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Sean Caine, said the Catholic Church would welcome the congregation.
However, the process is not easy and the members will have to negotiate with the Episcopal Diocese to keep its building. Under Episcopal canons, the property is held in trust for the diocese and national church. However, the deed of the property is held in the name of the parish.
The small congregation has 45 members who were eligible to vote, and 28 voted on Sunday in an election that was overseen by Episcopal Diocesan officials. The vote was 24 in favor of leaving the church, two against and two abstentions. Mount Calvary would like to be an Anglican parish within the Roman Catholic Church.
Caine said that the parish's next step is to send a written request to the archdiocese. The archbishop in Newark, N.J., who is the Vatican's delegate, will then decide whether to accept the request. About 10 Episcopal parishes in the United States have become Roman Catholic over the past 20 years, according to Caine.
A year ago, 10 Episcopal nuns who were known as the Society of All Saints' Sisters of the Poor became a Catholic institution. The nuns still live in their convent in Catonsville, where the order has been since 1917. Tanghe, who was the chaplain to the sisters, said he hopes to be placed in a parish that has Anglican roots.
Across the country, a split has developed between the more conservative Anglo Catholics who are part of the Episcopal Church and the mainstream church. While some congregations have considered breaking with the Episcopal church and joining the new Anglican Church in America, Mount Calvary decided to join the Roman Catholics instead, Tanghe said.
Tanghe said that while the ordination of gays, lesbians and women has gotten a lot of press attention, he believes that the members of the congregation at Mount Calvary also were upset with other fundamental issues, he said.
"There are some Episcopal clergy who openly question or say they do not believe that Jesus was God and man … who say they do not believe that the father and the son and the Holy Ghost are one triad of God … who do not believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ."
The church began ordaining women in 1976, but more recently has elevated lesbians and gays to prominent positions in the church.
The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, said in a statement that "he was saddened that members of this small congregation have found a need to leave the Episcopal Church" but went on to wish "God's blessing on them."