... take heed to thyself and to doctrine: be earnest in them. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee ... (1 Timothy 4:16)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anglicanorum coetibus & Apostolicae curae

In his analysis of the significance of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, Fr Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ, Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, states that ‘the ordination of ministers coming from Anglicanism will be absolute, on the basis of the Bull Apostolicae curae of Leo XIII of September 13, 1896’.

I can’t find this stated explicitly in either the Apostolic Constitution itself nor the accompanying Complementary Norms, but neither is the possibility of ordination sub conditione in the manner of the ordination of Mgr Graham Leonard, and so it is fair to assume that ordination of former Anglican ministers will be, as Fr Ghirlanda says, absolute on the basis of Pope Leo XIII’s condemnation of Anglican orders as ‘absolutely null and utterly void’.

Some of my Anglican colleagues will find this deeply troubling – though not so troubling I would hope that they felt ultimately unable to respond positively to the erection of Personal Ordinariates for people such as us.

Others – Anglican and Catholic – may regret that an opportunity wasn’t made for a review of Apostolicae curae, not because Anglicans per se have given the Catholic Church any particular incentive by our corporate behaviour to reconsider the validity of Anglican orders – we haven’t; but simply perhaps to resolve possible queries of historical accuracy in Apostolicae curae, as raised in Saepius Officio and from time to time by others.

I would however want to suggest to those who might find absolute rather than sub conditione ordination of ministers coming from Anglicanism troubling that it is infinitely preferable to what seem to me to be either of the most obvious alternatives.

The first of these – forensic investigation of the ‘ordinal DNA’ of each former Anglican minister, followed by sub conditione ordination for those whose personal lineage is up to scratch and absolute ordination for everyone else - would be tortuous and time-consuming and, worse, invidious in the different treatment of persons coming from the same essential background and seeking the same thing of the Church.

The second – sub conditione ordination for all former Anglican ministers entering a Personal Ordinariate erected under Anglicanorum coetibus – might seem on the face of it generous and pastoral, but would implicitly deny the need for absolute and objective assurance for the whole Catholic Church and all the faithful with regard to the validity of the sacraments celebrated within the Ordinariates, and could have the feel of Anglican fudge about it.

Subjectively and emotionally, the denial of ‘my priesthood’ is for some Anglicans a serious obstacle presented to them by absolute ordination, but I would suggest it is entirely proper in the context of the need for absolute and objective certainty for all concerned.

After all, Anglican fudge in the matter of Holy Order – as exemplified in the concept of a period of reception in the matter of the ordination of women: are they; aren’t they? - is certainly not one of the treasures of Anglican patrimony that Personal Ordinariates are being erected to perpetuate.

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  1. Those priests who are troubled by the thought that re-ordination is in someway a 'denial' of their 'former' priestly ministry really shouldn't be. I would suggest that those of us who were ordained in good faith by a doctrinally orthodox Anglican Bishop can rest assured that they have been used by God for His purposes since that day. The Apostolic Constitution is incredibly generous for those of us who, for years, could not see a way through the mess we are in. If re-ordination is the price to pay for this to work, then so be it.

    Plus, if Anglo-Catholics are involved, those re-ordinations will be marvellous celebrations of Priesthood, with a damn good party afterwards! How very appropriate in this, +Benedict's Year of the Priest!


  2. I entirely agree.
    And the idea of conditional ordination for all reminds me a little of the proposals for Anglican-Methodist unity in the 60s, usually described as "ill-fated".

  3. Comment on the issue of re-ordination seems always to revolve around issues of personal pride or unwillingness to repudiate one's past ministry. What I almost never see commented upon is the fact that the once-for-all sacraments (baptism, confirmation, ordination) cannot be repeated without sacrilege. This is Catholic doctrine! Are we going, at the very point at which we are entering Catholic communion, to start picking and choosing which doctrines we choose to believe? Or, if we believe our previous priestly ordination to have been valid, are we willing to begin our new ministry by being complicit in a sacrilegious act – somehow convincing ourselves that this sacrilege doesn't matter, or can be justified by some higher consideration? (And on that basis, Father, are you willing to contemplate baptising people for a second time if you judge the cause to be sufficient?)

    And please explain why conditional ordination "would implicitly deny the need for absolute and objective assurance for the whole Catholic Church and all the faithful with regard to the validity of the sacraments celebrated within the Ordinariates." The whole point is that where there is any doubt whatsoever as to validity, the sacrament is conditionally re-administered for the avoidance of all possible uncertainty. If there are those of the faithful who do not understand this, then it is incumbent upon their pastors to instruct them, not to cave in to their ignorance.

  4. Fr. William,

    Thank you for pointing this out. I've been reading a number of blogs on this specific issue and so far this has not come up (much to my annoyance).

    Conditional ordination solves 2 problems in one swoop:

    First, it provides an absolute certainty (a certainty no less than that of "absolute ordination") where there was doubt.

    And second, it does so while protecting the integrity of that sacrament should it have occurred (thus, as you note Fr., avoiding sacrilege!).

    As a Roman Catholic (and former Anglican), I'm frankly less concerned about Anglican and Catholic pride on this matter than I am about the integrity of the sacraments. -This- is the issue we need to be discussing!

    Even if 98% of all Anglican orders are invalid, it seems that in the remaining instances there's at least enough -reasonable- doubt to warrant conditional ordination.

    I hope that even if absolute ordination is the norm, there is some recourse for those who have serious reason to think their orders are valid so that their situation can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

    Otherwise, there will be more than a few in a moral dilemma that goes deeper than personal feelings.

  5. Thank you, Anonymous, I was beginning to think it was just me! From our Flying Bishops down, there seems to be a complete unwillingness to grasp the point that the doctrine of the Church we will be joining ought to make it impossible to receive ordination in that Church while still believing one's previous ordination to be valid. (How scandalous – surely to both "sides" – is the common practice of a departing Anglican Priest holding a "Farewell Mass" for his parishioners immediately before conceding that he has never celebrated a valid mass in his life.)

    Fortunately, as Fr Giles correctly points out, the statement about absolute ordination is in neither the Apostolic Constitution nor the "Complementary Norms" (i.e. the Code of Practice – something I thought we traditionalist Anglicans weren't supposed to be in favour of!), but in a third-party commentary. So I suppose there is still room to hope that wisdom will prevail – as otherwise much injury will (for no good purpose) be done to many consciences.

  6. Forgive me labouring the point, Father, but there appears to be sufficient misunderstanding on the issue of conditional ordination for it to need spelling out. The "conditional" aspect consists not in saying "you may or may not be a priest at the end of this ceremony" but rather "you may or may not have been a priest at the start of this ceremony – but you sure as heck will be by the end of it!"

    For some years now, I have been astonished at the number of my colleagues (in SSC etc.) who really do not grasp this simple point.

  7. Fr William

    Your point as to why does the question of ordination of former Anglicans in the Catholic Church seems to default to the personal and subjective is a good one. For something that is so objectively important, the discussion around it ought to be objective also.

    However, I guess that in my experience when it does come up, the quickest and most common response seems to be along the lines of: 'I couldn't deny my priesthood', and I for one feel uncomfortable about that rather personal, almost proprietorial, description of something that doesn't belong to me but to the Church.

    As to conditionality, I think I at least am quite clear about where the conditionality is - ie, in the state one would be in at the beginning of the ceremony, not the state one is in at the end. As I said in my post, sub conditione ordination is to do with the state of the 'ordinal DNA' - who ordained me, who ordained him &c &c ... . If anyone does as you suggest think that the conditionality is the state one is in at the end of the ceremony, they are indeed deeply confused.

    So the question becomes what the objective qualifying criterion or criteria are for sub conditione ordination. Clearly it can't be granted to anyone who turns up asserting themselves to have been a priest in some ecclesial community or other, and the care that was apparently taken over examining Graham Leonard's ordinal DNA before he was ordained sub conditione shows I think that it is proper to situations where objective probability but not certainty can be established in a particular case, rather than something that could be generally applied across a group whose individual circumstances might vary between credible possibility and objective probability.

    Your point however about the sacrilegious readmission of a sacrament is significant. So, given that, what argument might I nevertheless offer for being ordained in forma absoluta?

    'Only' this; that I cannot believe that the Holy Father or the Catholic Church would ask me to do something objectively sacrilegious, and if ordination in forma absoluta was what I was told to do, then it becomes a matter of obedience, and I don't think it conscientiously or intellectually lazy to be obedient.

    So we shall have to see whether Fr Ghirlanda was correct in asserting that for the Ordinariates, Apostoilicae curae does indeed apply ...


    The third para. of the above comment benefits from a couple of additions, ie:

    'As I said in my post, sub conditione ordination in the Catholic Church is to do with the state of the Anglican 'ordinal DNA' - who ordained me, who ordained him &c &c ... .'

  9. And what of the poor pew Anglicans, the vast majority of whom, high churchmen included, will have little interest in leaving their churches and church communities to join some virtual reality outfit of 'personal ordinariates'?

    The meaning of Apostolicae Curae is plain: it is the rock on which Anglican/Catholic corporate reunion must surely founder, as no Pope would ever repudiate the judgement of one his predecessors. The supposed nullity of Angican orders is an integral part of both Catholic teaching and of the tradition of the Church, things particularly valued by extreme Anglo-catholics, or so they would claim.

    But Catholicism is not a pick-and-mix religion (this is one of its chief attractions), and the requirement for unconditional ordination of Anglican convert priests/ministers cannot be avoided as an urgent matter of both intellectual honesty and personal integrity. Any Anglican clergyman must surely know for certain whether he believes himself to be a priest or not. If he does not believe himself to be a priest, or if he is not certain, then immediate resignation is the only honourable remedy.

    Just let every Anglican priest/minister of religion who proposes to abandon his flock in this way explain in his parting sermon the implications for each and every one of his parishoners of the possibility (or should it be said reality?) that he, as their pastor, had never been a priest at all.

  10. "... if ordination in forma absoluta was what I was told to do, then it becomes a matter of obedience, and I don't think it conscientiously or intellectually lazy to be obedient."
    In other words, it is not for us to work everything out for ourselves. We don't need to be personally or individually convinced on every point of doctrine, only to believe what the Church believes. That is not lazy but realistic.

  11. How many of the laity have similar concerns about getting themselves re-confirmed?

  12. Little Black Sambo et al...

    The issue of whether or not a man is a priest is not just some 'point of doctrine', it is absolutely fundamental.

    There has been some recourse on this blog to those most un-Catholic practices of delusion and rationalisation. The Pope does not call for unconditional ordination of convert Anglican clergy because he wants to see some demonstration of obedience, still less does he wish to commission an act of objective sacrilege - of course not! He requires it because he believes in the teaching of his own Church: Anglican clergy ARE NOT PRIESTS.

    A man assured of the validity of his status as a priest would never submit to the humiliating and blasphemous fiasco of re-ordination. And neither is this a matter of pride or individual vanity: a man's belief in his personal status as a priest is expressing de facto a belief in the process by which he became one - that is what is important. A man who is not assured of his status should, as I have said before, consider his present position without delay.

    The recent liberalising tendencies in the C of E have been a source of dismay to many traditional Anglicans, both Catholic and Evangelical. But the tone of the most extreme Anglo-catholics suggests a refusal on their part to recognise those of a different churchmanship as fellow Christians. Beyond that there is an almost desperate desire to achieve insualtion and then total separation for fear of contamination. This is the real origin of the debate concerning the absurdities of Apostilicae Curae and the no small matter of reordination.

  13. I think that all that we respectively can and perhaps should say on this thread has been said and so I am going to close the combox.

    What the various contributions - for which I thank LBS, Fr William, Neill and the various anonimi - has shown is that no-one is trying to duck the significance of this issue.

    And while we've all been focussing on (re-)ordination, the point that clergy and laity may find (re-)confirmation just as problematic has at least been mentioned by Neill.

© Giles Pinnock
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