In a recently published book, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, calls into question Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 papal bull that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void.”
“When someone is ordained in the Anglican Church and becomes a parish priest in a community, we cannot say that nothing has happened, that everything is ‘invalid’,” the cardinal says in volume of papers and discussions that took place in Rome as part of the “Malines Conversations,” an ecumenical forum.
“The question of validity [regarding the non-recognition of Anglican orders, while the Pope would give pectoral crosses, rings or chalices to Anglican clergy], however, is not a matter of law but of doctrine,” he explains in a question and answer format. “We have had, and we still have a very rigid understanding of validity and invalidity: this is valid, and that is not valid. One should be able to say: ‘this is valid in a certain context, and that is valid another context’.”
“Today, Churches are divided, or, rather, they say that they are divided because they lack common elements which, however, are not fundamental because they are not a matter of faith,” he explains.
“We say: ‘you don’t have this reality, which is a matter of faith, and therefore you are divided from me. But in fact it isn’t a matter of faith, you only pretend it to be.”
While a revision of Leo XIII’s position on Anglican orders would be a milestone, the cardinal also stresses the situation is currently somewhat “unclear.”
Well, here are my thoughts.
I’m glad to be Catholic and know with certainty that our priest’s orders are valid, our Eucharists are valid, our communion with the Pope is without question.
I’m reminded of the debate around Amoris Laetitia and the way arguments on ecumenism that see positive elements in other ecclesial communities have been extrapolated to argue for positive elements in irregular relationships.
Saying there is no validity in Orders, is similar to saying an irregular marriage constitutes adultery, no?
One can approach things from a legal, juridical perspective or from a subjective, interior perspective. Do subjective motions of the conscience trump doctrine and ecclesial law?
On the orders question—-that’s all water under the bridge for us in the Ordinariate, but it is interesting to see how the ongoing debate, which is about much bigger questions concerning the nature of objective truth and its relationship to conscience are playing out.
UPDATE: This article is receiving much commentary on the Anglican Ordinariate Informal Conversation Forum. With permission, I am reposting Fr. Christopher Phillips’ contribution.
The Church has never asked us as converts to deny our past ministry. Of course God can work in whatever way He wills to do; however, saying that “something happens” is not to say that the Catholic sacrament, instituted by Christ, has taken place. The Spirit may blow where He wills, and the worship of protestants can certainly be occasions on which God’s grace is given – but that is seen by the Church as something which happens despite the lack of valid of orders. If we wish to be acting according to the mind of Christ, then we should seek and desire that all be in communion with St. Peter and his successors. Then we have the guarantee of Christ that we are following His divine Will.
When I celebrated the Eucharist as an Anglican priest, was I offering the Catholic sacrament? No. Did God work in the hearts and lives of those to whom I was ministering? Yes, He did – and I saw evidence of it – but no matter how much I “felt” I was a Catholic priest, I was not, and no matter how much I believed what I was offering was the True Body and Blood of Christ, objectively it was not.