I came across these posts on a Catholic Facebook group: the first is a question from an Anglican young man wishing to convert to Catholicism, and a reply written by a former Anglo-Catholic priest, now layman, who offered such an interesting reply, I thought it would make a good article (post used with permission).
“Looking for advice. I’ve been in the Anglican communion for the past few years, but now question the validity of Anglican Orders. I also believe in Catholic Eucharistic doctrine.
I attend Catholic mass a couple of times per week, but now struggle to even attend the Anglican mass due to my Catholic convictions.
What I struggle with even more is receiving the Eucharist at Anglican mass as I believe I need the sacrament of Penance. We only receive a general absolution (whether or not it’s even valid).
Should I be abstaining from the Anglican Eucharist until I am received into the Catholic Church?
Is it possible to attend Catholic confession before conversion?
If I ask for Penance from my Anglican Priest, would this be valid based on my intention?
“Ok, as a former Anglo-catholic Anglican priest, let me chime in here. You pose several questions here, and let me try to answer them as best and honestly as I can.
Anglican orders from the Catholic Church’s perspective do have problems on a number of levels. As has been discussed above, the Catholic teaching on the matter comes from Pope Leo XIII’s looking into this matter in the early late 1800s. You can read his encyclical here: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13curae.htm Basically the conclusion was that Anglican orders of “null and utterly void.” It does have some polemical language in it that is perhaps not at helpful as it could have been, but that is the gist of it, and that was the nature of interfaith dialogue at the time.
I am still torn on this issue from a personal standpoint. Yes, the Anglican church was founded on some very series issues. A lot of people want to make it all about Henry VIII’s divorce, which I think is unfair. The events leading up to the final break go back to the Middle Ages or even prior. England had an ongoing row with the Pope over political matters of internal interference of the state, etc. This goes back to King John and Richard the Lion Hearted and all that. Even before that the Pope backing the Normans invasion in 1066. It was a feud between the nobles in England, the King, and the Pope literally for centuries over what right the Pope had to interfere in the internal affairs of another kingdom.
It kind of went back and forth, but one of the final issues was Henry VIII’s divorce, although if that had been the only issue, then that could have been reconciled because there was a period between wives 3 and 4 that Henry VIII had no living wife, either by death from natural causes (cancer and childbirth) or unnatural ones (he had wife Numero Dos executed.) I maintain if Henry VIII had really wanted to be reconciled to the Catholic Church at that point, he could have been with some public penance by the Pope. I have no doubt if it meant England stayed in the Catholic church, the Pope would have bent over backwards to make that happen, but by that point Henry VIII had become drunk with his own power and wealth at the hands of the dissolution of the monasteries and whatnot.
Before I completely launch off into a historical lecture, let me bring this back to the pastoral level. One of the major reasons I converted was because I was unclear personally whether I had valid Catholic orders, or more precisely whether I was purveying valid sacraments. I had read the papal encyclical on the matter a number of times. It raised valid concerns, but I do have some logical rebuttals to it that I won’t go into here that I have still yet to unravel to my own satisfaction, but I try to receive the matter and teaching on faith.
Really, my issue was not so much the issue of Apostolic Succession (or lack thereof), but at least the Episcopal Church’s own teachings that seemed to invalid it’s Catholic ministry. Case in point: the Sacrament of Confirmation. If you look at the first draft of what because the current 1979 American Book of Common Prayer that was proposed for ratification to General Convention, you will note that it has no rite for Confirmation in it at all. In fact, it was specifically omitted because many Episcopalians wanted to get rid of the sacrament altogether. In fact, it passed the House of Deputies and was about to pass the House of Bishops for ratification when one bishop apparently stood up on the floor and said, “Oh dear, if we get rid of Confirmation, whatever will we do when we visit parishes if we can’t do confirmations?” At which point, if got kicked back for further consideration and a last minute hodgepodge rite was tacked on that finally passed. But you still have a lot of Episcopalians who want to get rid of Confirmation and say “everything flows out of Baptism.” We got that crammed down our throats at seminary, but I never bought it.
I can give numerous other examples, women’s ordination, virtually any sacrament can be changed or even eliminated just because General Convention says so. This is not a Catholic understanding of ecclesiology or sacramental theology at all. In fact if you look at the Catechism in the back of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, you will notice that only Baptism and Eucharist are labeled as sacraments. The other 5 are terms “sacramental rites”-whatever that means exactly. I had been through seminary and read through that catechism 100’s of times and never noticed that. When I did, and began researching was it meant in terms of floor debate and what not, really my understanding of John Henry Newman’s Oxford Movement Anglicanism really began to unravel because how could we possibly make a claim to sacramental validity if we couldn’t even agree as to what was and was not a sacrament in any meaningful sense? To me, that was the beginning of game over.
Now, having said all that, I do still take some umbrage with the idea that my ministry as an Anglican priest was completely devoid of any grace, that all the sacraments I ever performed were virtually worthless, aside from perhaps baptism which any lay person can perform under emergency situations. There were times of great grace during the Eucharist, during certain confessions that I heard, that I know that somehow the Holy Spirit was there in a real, meaningful sense imparting grace. Maybe that was very much in spite of my Anglican problems and invalid orders, not because of them, and I will get into any proverbial gunfight with anyone anywhere who would dare to tell me that somehow in those instances God’s grace was not present to myself and my parishioners in a meaningful sense. Maybe not the wholeness of the faith, but was there somehow, someway.
So, to get back to your questions, in the strictest Catholic sense, then Anglican confession, Eucharist, etc., cannot be claimed to be have sacramental validity in any knowable or concrete sense as can be proven or demonstrated by Roman Canon Law and such as that, but I cannot in conscience tell you that such things are completely without any spiritual meaning or grace because I think they are on some Protestant level. God does speak to and through Protestants. We must never forget that. Again, perhaps not in the fullness of the faith, but in some way, God is there.
I wish I could give you a more definitive answer. There are people here who would frame these issues in a much more black and white winner vs. loser type manner, which I cannot in conscience do. The best advice anyone ever gave me is if you are going to fall in love with the Catholic church, make sure you fall in love with what it truly is, not what you wish it to be. If the Catholic church you think you are converting to is a fantasy of your own mind’s eye, then you will be a very unhappy Catholic indeed because the Church is full of sinners, clergy and lay, on all levels of the Church. The Catholic Church is not made of perfect people. If it was, neither you nor I would ever have been invited because we would not meet the membership criteria.
If in the conversion process, if you are not at peace with where you are going, be careful. May God bless you on your journey. It may not be an easy journey, but the God of peace will lead you to all peace. Never forget that.”
A follow up comment a little bit later:
“After writing all this up and going to the store and coming back, one final thought occurs to me. John Henry Newman’s last homily as an Anglican priest before converting was entitled “A Parting of Friends.” That’s also wise advice.”