Ed Peters weighs in on Anglican Orders

Father Z led me to this post by Canonist Ed Peters on the Tablet story by Christopher Lamb citing Cardinal Coccopalmerio on the validity of Anglican Orders.

Here are some excerpts, but do go over and read the whole thing:

” . . . while Anglican orders are themselves invalid, some Anglicans are nevertheless validly ordained—not in virtue of their Anglican orders, to be sure, but in virtue of a post-Edwardian reintroduction of valid orders (conferred by break-away Catholic bishops or Orthodox prelates), such that a given Anglican minister might, by doing an ‘ordination pedigree’ search, be able to trace his orders back to a prelate possessed of valid orders. Such a query can be tedious, of course, and it might impact only a small number of Anglican ministers, but I think it only fair to acknowledge the possibility. (For what it’s worth, I think the Roman decision to ordain “absolutely” all Anglican ministers coming into full communion who wish to serve as priests—if applied without regard for the possibility that some could trace their orders to a bishop with valid orders—is problematic). Maybe this unusual source of sacramental validity is what the prelate had in mind.

If, by the way, our speaker above were not a credential canonist, I would pause to make it clear that the canonical-doctrinal conclusion of the invalidity in Anglican orders does not, repeat not, mean that “nothing happened” at, or as the result of, the rites undergone by Anglican ministers. Such rites can of course be occasions of great grace for their recipients and ministry conducted in their wake can, and doubtless has, helped many to grow closer to Christ. But canonists need no reminding that the power of a devotional rite to dispose one toward a closer cooperation with grace is not to be confused with whether a specific sacrament was (i.e., validly), conferred thereby, and so I mention this point only for the sake of others following this discussion.


That said, and as important as the above questions might be, the cardinal’s further statement, one directly attributed to him, also deserves a closer look: namely, that the Church has “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.’”

That, folks, is huge.

To that last sentence, Father Z responds:

Huge is right.  Once we go down that path, we don’t know anything any more and we are pretty much Brother Billy Bob’s Faith Community in the old gas station down by the park.

From what I understand, a number of our clergy could trace their orders back to a valid pedigree, but not all.  But they accepted unconditional ordination for a number of reasons, among them the outward certainty for everyone in the Catholic Church of the validity of their orders.


1 thought on “Ed Peters weighs in on Anglican Orders

  1. I think that there’s more to this issue than meets the eye.

    >> 1. In the Catholic Church, there’s no room to dispute the conclusion of the bull Apotolicae curae by which Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican orders to be “utterly null and void” as of the date of its promulgation. The historical fact is that the Church of England used an invalid rite of ordination for more than a century before the Church of England spawned the many provinces of the present Anglican Communion, making it impossible for valid orders to have survived within that body.

    >> 2. There’s also no doubt that the participation of so-called “Old Catholic” bishops (that is, bishops of the churches of the former Union of Utrecht), who possessed valid orders, in Anglican episcopal ordinations within the Anglican Communion after the promulgation of Apostolicae curae would have conferred valid orders on those co-ordained thereby, and that subsequent ordinations by those bishops would have continued the chain.

    >> 3. However, changes to the discipline of the sacrament of Holy Orders within the broader Anglican Communion give serious doubt as to whether the present theological understanding of the sacrament of orders is sufficiently consistent with that of the Catholic Church and the churches of the Orthodox Communion to avoid a material defect of intent in the conferral of the sacrament. If not, the restored chains of valid ordinations are again broken.

    Catholic doctrine of the sacraments maintains that each level of Holy Orders imparts character to the soul, and thus cannot be repeated once conferred validly. The practice of absolute ordination of those previously ordained in the Anglican Communion or in Protestant churches is thus a clear statement that they never possessed valid orders. If such a candidate could demonstrate a chain of ordination back to one or another of the so-called “Old Catholic” bishops, however, there’s little doubt that the Vatican would investigate it further, possibly leading to recognition thereof — but only if the chain was not subsequently conflated with theological changes that would create a material defect of intent.

    Of course, the time required to research this matter also probably would delay the Catholic ordination or recognition of orders, as applicable, for those involved, and thus would delay their ability to exercise orders in the Catholic Church in any case. Thus, the apparent “path of least resistance” — absolute ordination — undoubtedly was the most expeditious approach.



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