The Tablet on Anglican Orders

The Tablet as an interesting article by Christopher Lamb on Anglican Orders, based on a new book by Cardinal Coccopalmerio.  

Lamb writes:

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.

5 thoughts on “The Tablet on Anglican Orders

  1. The decree of Leo X111 is still technically “reformable” that is it may not be accurate in calling Anglican Orders 2absolurely null and utterly void.” Were Cranmer and the English reformers intentionally rejecting Catholic Tradition? Were they correctly reacting to corruptions of then Catholic practice and understanding of the Mass; or were they over-reacting to some ignorant practices and erred as a consequence. Luther is reported to have seen a priest celebrating seven Masses for the dead consecutively in St Peter’s. There were “Massing” priests who only celebrated Mass for the dead. Was that a proper use of the ordained ministry? .


    • I don’t see that any of this is relevant to the question of the binding status of AC. The nullity of Anglican orders was explicitly reaffirmed in 1998 in an official doctrinal commentary released with the 1998 Apostolic Letter, Ad Tuendam Fidem. In this commentary, which addressed the degree of credence which Catholics should give to emergent teachings of the ordinary Magisterium, the CDF listed as an example of truths “which are to be held definitively … the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations.”

      In any event, the advent of priestesses and bishopesses in the churches of the Anglican Communion renders the whole question of Anglican orders otiose.


      • Yes, from all the hundeds of encyclicals Pope Benedict could have chosen as an example to illustrate his point, he selected Apostolicae Curae, which was taken as a bit of a finger in the eye by Anglicans at the time, as I recall.


      • Yes. I agree. The changes in the discipline of ordination in the Anglican Communion have, at best, cast new doubt as to whether Anglican theology of the sacrament is consistent with Catholic/Orthodox theology thereof, and whether the intent is to confer what Catholic and Orthodox Christians understand to be the sacrament. The Catholic response to a similar change of discipline in the European “Old Catholic” churches of the Union of Utrecht c. 2005 indicates that the action cast similar doubt on the validity of orders, going forward, in that body.

        Note that the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) here in the States avoided similar difficulties by severing communion with the rest of that body when the European members took that action. Thus, the PNCC and its affiliates in the Union of Scranton (most notably, the newly formed Nordic Catholic Church) continue to maintain undisputed orders.



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