Prayerfully Confronting and Overcoming the Difficulties, The Anchor, November 6, 2009

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
November 6, 2009

We discussed last week the very positive development of Pope Benedict’s decision to establish personal ordinariates for Anglican faithful and clergy seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict’s magnanimous gesture was understandably welcomed with joy and hope by those Anglicans who had approached Rome asking for a structure by which they could be received.

Resolving messy situations is never easy, however, and it comes as no surprise that various issues, concerns and potential obstacles have been raised by Anglicans and Catholics alike that — after the initial euphoria has worn off — need to be confronted. Several are of sufficient seriousness that they might tempt away from full communion even some of those who had originally petitioned Pope Benedict for a bridge and whose initial reaction to the upcoming Apostolic Constitution was exultation that it had exceed their highest expectations.

Perhaps the biggest issue, especially for Anglican clergymen seeking full communion, concerns the validity of Anglican orders. As Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced on October 20, Anglican bishops and priests desiring to enter the Church and to serve as Catholic priests will need to be ordained as Catholic priests. This signifies the consistent practice and position of the Catholic Church since the Anglican split in the 1500s that, as Pope Leo III wrote in his 1896 Bull “Apostolicae Curae,” Anglican orders are “absolutely null and void.”

Without getting into too much detail and history, there are three reasons for this conclusion of the Church, based on three of the things that are necessary for a valid ordination: the ordination ceremony must be celebrated by a validly ordained bishop with a valid intention according to a valid rite. When Thomas Cranmer rewrote the Catholic liturgical books in 1552 to form the Edwardine Ordinal, he changed the words of presbyteral and episcopal ordination rites in such a way that there was no longer the necessary specificity of what the imposition of hands was intended to do, rendering those ordinations invalid. Even though in 1642 the words of the rite were improved upon to add this specificity, every Anglican bishop alive in 1642 had been ordained invalidly according to the Edwardine rite and hence was not capable of validly ordaining other bishops or priests; therefore, all of the ordinations that occurred subsequently were invalid. Finally, in Cranmer’s revisions, it was explicitly stated that the intention of the rite was not to do with Catholics believe ordination to do — to change the male ordinand ontologically — but merely commission him to a particular type of service. For all three of these reasons, Anglican orders have always been considered invalid by the Church. This is why Anglican clergy seeking to enter the Church and be ordained as Catholic priests have needed to receive valid ordination from a Catholic bishop.

Some Anglican clergy are objecting to this condition in Benedict’s apostolic constitution because their participation would demonstrate or at least imply that their ordination as Anglican priests was invalid and, therefore, since they were not valid priests, their celebration of the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick would also have been invalid. To accept ordination as a Catholic priest would be to admit, they say, that, despite their good intentions and their subjective conviction, bread and wine never changed into Christ’s body and blood in their hands, the Lord was never worshiped in Eucharist adoration, and sins were never forgiven at their words of absolution, because they had no sacramental power to do any of these things. It’s obvious why this would be such a difficulty for them, because presumably they would never have been doing what they’ve been doing since they became Anglican clergy unless they believed that what they were doing was valid. A few high-ranking Anglican clergy who are very grateful overall for the Pope’s creating a bridge for them have stated that they desire to enter the Church “provided that” what they have done up until now be recognized as valid. Ultimately the crucial issue for all involved is one of the objective validity of priestly ordination, not the subjective sincerity of individuals in having believed themselves ordained and having acted in good faith. The objective validity is crucially important to the Church not just to make an historical point, but to ensure that the sacraments celebrated by priests be indisputably valid, since the salvation of others may be at stake.

The second issue involves what to do with many of the married Anglican priests and bishops who have been among those petitioning the Pope for a means to enter the Church. Last Saturday, Cardinal Levada released the draft text of a section of the Apostolic Constitution, which said that “those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfill the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.” He added that, consistent with the practice of the Catholic Church since the 1980s, the admission of married men to the order of priest will still be an exception to the general rule of priestly celibacy and will be considered “on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.” The difficult will be found in the details of many of the cases.

For example, one of the principal Anglican bishops who has been petitioning the Holy See was originally a Catholic priest who left the Church to get married, got divorced and remarried, and now has several children from the second wife. In his case, his ordination as a priest is valid because he was ordained a Catholic priest, but both of his marriages are likely invalid on account of his previous priestly ordination; even if he had received a dispensation to marry, his “second” marriage to his present wife may likely be invalid anyway on account of his previous bond. Should he wish to serve as a Catholic priest again, the issues involved in these marriages will need to be addressed. Moreover, several other Anglican clergymen have likewise been in multiple marriages and, therefore, prior to any serious discussion of their being ordained priests, there will need to be investigations of which (if any) of their marriages would be valid. If their “first” marriage were valid, for example, their “second” marriage would be invalid and hence they would not be granted an exception to be ordained as a Catholic priest as long as they were in an invalid marriage. This raises a question, of course, not just about their readiness to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders but their readiness to receive the other sacraments for which someone cannot be in an invalid marriage.

Finally, there are a slew of practical issues that will confront those seeking full Communion. For Anglican parishes and dioceses, there will be many legal wranglings with regard to the title of the property in which they now worship, whether it belongs to the parishioners or to the Anglican dioceses. For Anglican clergymen seeking ordination as Catholic priests, especially those who are married and have children, there will doubtless be some financial uncertainty on account of the status of the endowments of their parishes, how many of their parishioners come with them, and whether their pay scale will remain the same in the new ordinariate. It would be inconceivable that a formerly Anglican Catholic priest who is married with children would be able to support that family on the compensation that Catholic priests normally receive in the United States.

For all of these reasons, those crossing the Tiber will be carrying various some crosses. All Catholics need to pray insistently for those whom the Lord is drawing across that bridge, so that they carry those crosses with faith and hope, knowing that, by doing the Lord’s will, the Lord will draw enormous good even out of the heaviest crosses.