On 5 February, his 79th birthday, Archbishop Francis Cajetan Spataro retired after sixteen distinguished years of service as the fourth Primate and Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church. Archbishop Spataro has also held the office of Provincial of the East, USA, since 1992, latterly concurrently with the Primacy.
Paying tribute to Archbishop Spataro, his successor as Primate, Archbishop John Kersey said, “The service and example of Archbishop Spataro has been exemplary. He has been responsible for restoring the Apostolic Episcopal Church to its original heritage in both Anglo-Catholicism and Western Orthodoxy, and through his ministry has provided a constant witness to the transformative power of the love of God to heal, comfort and inspire others. Through his work in the Vilatte Guild, he has kept our origins and history alive, even at times when that history was misrepresented and denigrated by others. He has proved a valuable advisor and a capable mentor over the years, and has succeeded in maintaining the distinctive character of the Apostolic Episcopal Church as a communion with an active mission of service. We have all been enriched by his wide insights into our own faith and the other philosophies and beliefs in which he is knowledgeable, notably Orthodox Bahá’ísm, concerning which he has produced scholarly work. Indeed, in his breadth of vision, Archbishop Spataro has proved himself a worthy successor to our founder, Archbishop Brooks, and has continued the legacy of teaching and scholarship that has been part of the AEC from its inception.”
Succeeding as Primate in 1998, Archbishop Spataro inherited a church that was in search of a firm purpose amid the flurry of ecumenical links that had been established far and wide in the preceding decades and several disputes that had emerged among its clergy. What was needed was a return to order, and this could only be established through a restatement of faith and principle and a concentration upon ministry at the heart of the church.
Accordingly, the AEC reaffirmed its core identity through its membership of the International Confederation of Traditionalist Anglican/Episcopalian Churches, a Continuing Anglican federation, which not only gave it a wider outreach within the United States but brought it into communion with several churches in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Archbishop Spataro also returned the Primacy to New York, the home state of the AEC from its foundation, and became a member of the Queens Federation of Churches, itself a member body of the U.S. National Council of Churches affiliated to the World Council of Churches. Within a short time, Archbishop Spataro was able to write that the AEC was now part of the world’s mainline Anglican Traditionalist churches, and no longer “some little Old Catholic jurisdiction”. The ecumenical links that were made at this time with Orthodox, Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran churches have endured to this day and brought forth ministerial fruit.
The story of Archbishop Spataro’s pastoral ministry at Camp St Cassian, at the former St John’s Episcopal American Orthodox Church, and latterly through ecumenical links in New York and beyond, has been told on the History pages of this website. We should also mention his service in the Order of Corporate Reunion, to which he was first appointed in 1994 and where he has latterly held senior office as Primate of the interior church bodies of the Order, continuing the eighty-year bond between the AEC and the OCR. A further legacy is the Society of St John Cassian, established in 1990 to join together clergy of the OCR with other Anglicans and Old Catholics in the aim of seeking Catholic Unity as represented by the Pope in the West and the Ecumenical Patriarch in the East.
Archbishop Spataro’s biography is told in his work Live in His Faith which recounts his journey through his teaching career and varied faith experiences to the Orthodox vision that is his today. He intends to devote his retirement to the practice of the hesychastic tradition and to Zazen. We wish him many years, although we are sure that it will not be long before we meet in fellowship again.
In retirement, Archbishop Spataro will be designated Emeritus Primate of the AEC. He has installed his successor as Provincial of the East, USA, Archbishop Paul Lorentzen, and will be succeeded as Primate and Presiding Bishop by Archbishop John Kersey, who has served as his co-adjutor since July 2014. As a mark of our recognition of Archbishop Spataro’s service, the AEC will confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology upon him via its seminary, the Holy Apostles Glastonbury Biblical Seminary.