There has been a recent scuffle on the internet about the validity of Orders in the Anglican Catholic Church. The person concerned is a priest of one of the American continuing Anglican Churches and seems to be drifting towards the position of radical Roman Catholic traditionalism. For those people, putting it simply, there are no valid Orders anywhere, except possibly in the Orthodox Churches. Even that would be doubtful because the Sacraments would be deprived of validity through the changes in the rites (cf. Apostolicae Curae) or the lack of the power of jurisdiction from the Pope. If there is no Pope, hard luck!
This is certainly a caricature that does not reflect the position of most traditionalists and sedevacantists. The reductio ad absurdam would seem to invalidate the claims of all sacramental Christianity. Either Christianity is all bunk or the Protestants were right. It is not my intention to write an apologia for the Orders of the Anglican Catholic Church. Nothing would change the belief of a person who is convinced of the contrary. The matter has been discussed recently, and Fr Jonathan Munn expresses a desire for help to get his ideas together on this subject. I think he has done very well for himself as he has written on his own blog article DUK Birthday Preparations. He feels daunted not so much by the questions of Donatism, St Augustine and St Cyprian but the tangle of canon law. One problem with the traditionalists is ontologising canon law, making ontological reality out of conventions and laws in spite of principles of interpretation like ἐπιείκεια (the principle in ethics that a law can be broken to achieve a greater good.) and salus animarum suprema lex. Canon law cannot be used (or interpreted) to “suicide” the Church. This diabolical dilemma of choosing between validity or liceity is nonsense. The machine has a dead-man’s handle and a pressure safety valve.
Roman Catholicism traditionally follows the anti-Donatist theology of St Augustine, which would make it theoretically possible for a bishop to use his sacramental powers to ordain and consecrate bishops and priests of nothing (episcopi vagantes). Eastern Orthodoxy follows the Cyprianic position according to which such wantonly irregular ordinations are not only illicit but invalid, lacking any sacramental power. The most extreme position I have found expressed by a serious theologian was Cyrille Vogel in Ordinations Inconsistantes et Caractère Inamissible.
In his preface, Vogel approaches the Roman Catholic position very critically. This contested position is resumed by saying that any bishop or priest, even under excommunication or other canonical sanction, who confers an ordination using the rite of the liturgical books and with the intention of “doing what the Church does”, does so validly. Usually, the Church will not accept and canonical effects of such an ordination, and will receive a repentant person in the state in which he left the Church. Thus a priest having received an illicit episcopal consecration would be received back as a priest, but generally in practice as a layman. The immediate consequence of this doctrine is the multiplication of episcopi vagantes and priests without a canonical title or mission. Frankly, why would we care in our world of absolute religious diversity?
This principle depends on the conferring of a metaphysical and ontological “character” in the recipient’s soul. “Once a priest, always a priest“. This character is deemed to be indelible or inamissible (word not to be confused with inadmissible). Vogel’s thesis is that such a doctrine is foreign to all the oriental Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Churches. It is also foreign to the Old Catholics of the Union of Utrecht and the Churches of the Reformation including Anglicanism. For Vogel, if a priest or a bishop loses the canonical exercise of his ministry, he also loses the very quality of his ordination and lapses back to the lay state. I know of no translation of this book in French into English, but its methodology and use of authorities and quotes is impeccable. It would be a difficult one to refute.
Roman Catholicism has tended to declare the ordinations of “heretical bodies” invalid, not for canonical reasons, but because the rites had been modified manifesting a “positive contrary intention” (I don’t intend to do what the [Roman Catholic] Church intends). Apostolicae Curae of 1896 promulgated by Pope Leo XIII is based on this principle. Similarly, the traditionalist priest Fr Anthony Cekada wrote these pieces to use the principles contained in Apostolicae Curae to conclude the invalidity of ordinations and consecrations conferred in the Roman Catholic Church but using the rites promulgated by Paul VI.
I am not endorsing this position but merely showing that it exists and needs to be approached critically. It almost concurs with the reply to Apostolicae Curae by the Anglican Archbishops in 1896, Saepius Officio in which this observation was made: In overthrowing our orders, he [Leo XIII] overthrows all his own, and pronounces sentence on his own Church. It is also striking that the Anglican Archbishops affirmed belief in the inamissble character of ordination. If you go to the crankier elements of the sedevacantist world, you will find ideas like SSPX being invalid because Archbishop Lefebvre was consecrated by a Freemason! The end is nigh!!!
He also wrote, perhaps approaching Vogel’s position, at least partially. Episcopi vagantes in the USA are a real problem for the traditionalists and sedevacantists. Many are indeed quacks and charlatans, and discredit the more serious among independent clerics.
The following is another study on untrained traditionalist clergy. (1) Canonical criteria for determining fitness for priestly ordination. (2) Sinfulness of conferring orders on the unfit. (3) Orders conferred by the unfit enjoy no presumption of validity. (4) The unfit may not exercise their orders. (5) Objections and answers.
All that gives a lot of information about these questions of “us and them”, how “we” have valid orders and can claim to be or represent the true church, and how we can arrive at the certitude of “their” orders being invalid. Therefore, “their” church is false, a counterfeit, a forgery, a deception against which the uncritical faithful – like children – have to be protected.
If my readers are interested in this question, I invite them to open the above links and read the available literature. I haven’t the heart to go into all this. It makes me quite nauseous. However, I am prepared to be helpful by asking the question “Have you thought of …?”
There are several parts of the question about Orders in the Anglican Catholic Church.
The first is Anglican Orders in General. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches re-ordain clergy who convert to them. Most Orthodox Churches also re-ordain Roman Catholic clergy who swim the Bosphorus. Sedevacantists re-ordain priests who were ordained with the Pauline rites. I suspect that the SPPX does the same thing. The big question is Valid for whom? Do we have to be approved of by the Roman Catholic Church? Are they the judges of everything, even more so given that there is a case against their own orders?
I am brought to the dilemma of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado opera saying that the village executioner may not cut off another’s head until he’s cut his own off! Self-decapitation is both difficult and dangerous (ouch)! I am tempted to approach this problem of each-other’s ordinations with the same flippancy.
Even though we do not use the 1568 Roman Pontifical, our rites do express the intention of doing what the universal Church does. From the beginning, our Church has constituted a College of Bishops. This constitutes a Particular Church which is not the Universal Church but participates in the Universal Church. When receiving clergy from elsewhere, our Church often uses the sub conditione solution for re-ordination. The SSPX explains conditional ordination in scholastic and canonical terms. I too received conditional ordination from Bishop Damien Mead when I came to the ACC. I had been ordained a deacon regularly in the Roman Catholic Church (to boot, in the traditional Roman rite from Cardinal Palazzini who had been consecrated in the old rite), but to the priesthood by a bishop who had been consecrated by the flamboyant +Clemente Dominguez y Gomez, himself consecrated by Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo-Dinh-Thuc. The conditional ordination simplifies a lot of potential polemics: I am valid for the Church to which I belong. I refer to my original ordination of 24th June 1998 for my anniversary celebrations. That is standard practice.
Post-Reformation Anglicanism has other ways of dealing with irregular ordinations. To this day, the Church of England will not accepts priests it has not itself ordained. I would be on shaky ground trying to deal with that point of view. This short article Valid but Irregular sheds some light on how things are judged by Church of England authorities. The title Valid bu Irregular suggests a similar position to that of the Roman Catholic Church, definitely not Cyrille Vogel’s position!
One problem evoked is episcopal consecration by a single bishop or at least less than the usual three. Many Roman Catholic consecrations, especially in missionary or persecution situations, have been allowed to be conferred by a single bishop. When Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops in 1988 for the SSPX, he had one co-consecrator, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer. Rome condemned the consecrations for their irregularity but affirmed them to be valid. There are certainly extraordinary situations when regular Anglican consecrations were conferred by only one bishop. If anyone can find examples, I would be delighted to hear about them. Would the ACC lack validity because it was not founded by a canonical act of the Anglican Communion “in communion with Canterbury”? The question seems absurd. Being in a state of schism or dissidence has never affected validity except for the Orthodox. At least in practice, all Anglican Churches subscribe to the inamissible character of ordination. Only the very low church people would deny that ordination is a Sacrament.
The cleric who started all this asked Archbishop Haverland to “let him go” quietly as a condition for not kicking up a fuss. Someone else tells me that he is very near to some quite cranky traditionalist or sedevacantist groups in America. It is a classical move: “burn up” one’s old church before making a move, which justifies the person’s “unstable” move and change of allegiance. In spite of my Archbishop’s reasonableness and respect of the cleric’s desire to make a move, the cleric has made a big fuss after all.
It is plain that the Anglican Bishops who conferred the Episcopate on the ACC acted with the intention of continuing their own Church in the context of a crisis situation making objectively schismatic acts necessary and justifiable. I have no problem with the validity and liceity by epikeia of such an act.
Like Fr Munn, I remain committed to participating in the priestly ministry of the Anglican Catholic Church as a whole and I continue to participate actively in the Diocese of the United Kingdom as a priest in the Patrimony of the Metropolitan. For the others, all I can say is Bien faire et laissez braire! Let us do good ourselves whatever noise others make like braying donkeys.
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Addition from 28th January 2022. This article by Sarah Wagner-Wassen (wife of one of our priests) has just appeared, which is a brief history of Apostolic Succession in the Anglican Catholic Church. The bestowal of episcopal orders — the case of the Anglican Catholic Church