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Married bishop heads new structure

Pope Benedict XVI named a married former Episcopal bishop to head the first US organisational structure for disaffected Anglicans and Episcopalians who want to join the Roman Catholic Church.

The Reverend Jeffrey Neil Steenson, a father of three and Catholic convert, will lead the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, the equivalent of a diocese, that will be based in Houston, Texas, but will operate nationally.

The Vatican created the first such ordinariate in Britain last year. Other ordinariates are being considered in Australia and Canada.

Rev Steenson stepped down in 2007 as the Episcopal Bishop of Rio Grande, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after the Episcopal Church elected the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Rev Steenson had said he was "deeply troubled" about the direction of the US denomination and he described the Catholic Church as the "true home of Anglicanism".

The Episcopal Church is the US Anglican body in the United States.

Benedict in 2009 issued an unprecedented invitation for Anglicans to become Catholic in groups or as parishes, at a time when traditional Anglicans in several countries were increasingly upset by the ordination of women and gay bishops.

Formerly, Anglican converts to Catholicism were accepted on a case-by-case basis.

The Pope's decision created tensions with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the world Anglican Communion, who like his predecessors had been in talks with Vatican officials to bring Anglicans and Catholics closer together.

The 77-million-member Anglican fellowship has its roots in the Church of England, which split from the Holy See in 1534 when English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment.

At the time of the Pope's announcement, Anglicans were already fracturing over Bishop Robinson's election and other issues.

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