- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2011

An Episcopal parish in Maryland will be the first in the United States to convert to the Roman Catholic Church under a new streamlined conversion process created by Pope Benedict XVI, leaders of both church groups said Monday.

St. Luke’s Episcopal parish in Bladensburg will come under the care of Washington Catholic Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, who is forming a U.S. ordinariate — effectively, a national diocese — for Episcopalians converting under the pope’s plan.

Washington Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane said he approved St. Luke’s decision and will allow the congregation to worship in their church under a lease with an option to buy the building.

Pope Benedict in 2009 issued an unprecedented invitation for Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining some Anglican liturgical heritage. Anglicans worldwide have been on the brink of schism over how to interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, ordaining women and other issues.

The 2-million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. body of the Anglican Communion, caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Only one other U.S. Episcopal parish, Mount Calvary of Baltimore, has responded to Pope Benedict’s invitation by voting to join the Catholic Church.

Before the pope created the “personal ordinariate” for Anglicans, the Catholic Church accepted Anglican converts on a case-by-case basis.

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