by the Rev’d Jesse Abell, former Secretary, SCP North America
THE HISTORY OF THE SOCIETY OF CATHOLIC PRIESTS begins with the Church of England, which first approved the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1992. At that time, many of the catholic-minded priestly societies did not accept the validity of women’s ordination. As a result, some members, such as the Reverend Michael Hart, SSC, gave up their affiliations with the existing societies in order to support women in Holy Orders.
In 1994, Fr. Hart convened a local group of catholic-minded priests, both men and women. Soon after this group found compatriots in the Diocese, and by the summer a new society, the Society of Catholic Priests, was formed, with the support of the Right Reverend Roy Williamson, then Bishop of Southwark, who agreed to be its Episcopal Visitor. The first class of fourteen initiates were admitted to the Society by Bishop Roy on September 15, 1994.
The first conference of the society was held the following September, at which a constitution and organization structure were formally adopted. The Society essentially is a federation of local chapters, each of which has its own Episcopal Visitor and which elects its own officers. The members at large would gather every year for an annual conference and would elect national officers. Local chapters would be inaugurated with a mass at which new members would be admitted. Chapters would meet periodically to conduct business and to admit new members.
The word spread quickly. An article about the new Society, entitled “Not for Our Own Sake,” appeared in the Affirming Catholicism Journal (UK), sparked greater interest, and resulted in new members being admitted and new chapters being organized. Interest in the Society, it seems, was not limited to England. Priests in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Europe inquired about organizing local chapters. Even priests in other Churches, like the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht, sought membership.
MEANWHILE Anglicans in the United States and Canada were experiencing their own challenges in living out the catholic faith in their churches. For them, there was not so much a need to promote the acceptance and recognition of female and homosexual clergy, but rather a struggle for the traditional catholic expression of Anglicanism in North America.
These clergy, who included both moderates and progressives, felt a need for fellowship of priests who promoted the use of the Prayer Book as the standard of the Church’s liturgical life, the celebration of the sacraments as means of God-given grace, and a reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In 2006 and onwards, a number of these priests began to inquire about creating an SCP presence here in North America.
In 2009, the Reverend David Cobb, rector of Christ Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and Robert Hendrickson, a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York, began to network catholic-minded priests and to form a new province of SCP in North America. This new province of the Society of Catholic Priests was inaugurated at Christ Church, New Haven, on November 10, 2009, with the 120 members of The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada being admitted to the Society by Canon Andrew Nunn, Rector General of the Society in England.
SINCE THAT TIME, the province has continued to experience growth as more clergy discover its presence in the Church. Currently Fr. Cobb serves as our Convener, helping coordinate our common life among clergy in some 20 local chapters around North America.
The province welcomes like-minded bishops, priests, deacons, and professed members of religious orders to join its fellowship. Membership is also open to seminarians who are preparing for ordination to the priesthood; they may be admitted to provisional membership and later become full members upon their ordination. Lay men and women are invited to support the work of the Society through their prayers.
UPDATED  – Father Cobb stepped down as Society Convener, and the Rev’d Bill Carroll took over the leadership of the Society. Conferences moved out of New Haven to Detroit (2011) and Los Angeles (2012).