Anglicanorum Coetibus Hermeneutics

In about 2010 and the following year, we were all speculating about Anglicanorum coetibus and whose petition it was answering. Mrs Deborah Gyapong has written Syncretism? Bait and switch? A look at reality in the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican Patrimony. There have been some comments on Facebook.

At the time, Archbishop Hepworth was telling us that it was all about the petition from Portsmouth of October 2007, which I witnessed as a simple priest under the Archbishop’s oversight in his Patrimony. Certainly, at the time, Rome was unaware that Archbishop Hepworth was a former Roman Catholic priest and divorced-and-remarried. We in the TAC were unaware that Forward in Faith and some individual Anglican Communion bishops has been approaching Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF for a long time. If the Portsmouth petition had no influence in the emergence of Anglicanorum coetibus, it was an amazing coincidence.

Monsignor Andrew Burnham, someone I am inclined to trust has said:

The approach I made with Keith [Newton] was in 2008. Once AC had been published, (Nov. 2009), we were summoned to Rome. Keith went there in January 2010 and the three bishops (I.e. with John Broadhurst) went back in April 2010 for a larger scale meeting (without TAC). Jeffrey. Steenson, Archbishops Wuerl and Collins, Longley and Bishop Hopes were there too. Subsequent to that three-day meeting, the CDF called in the TAC.

The CDF called in the TAC? Certainly not Archbishop Hepworth. The only time Archbishop Hepworth met Cardinal Müller was in Canada, and the Cardinal treated him quite coldly. I can only imagine there would have been groups of priests and bishops from the TAC making approaches independently from Archbishop Hepworth. The latter was being strategically sidelined to avoid his canonical irregularity spoiling the whole thing for clergy who had never been Roman Catholics. In the end (2012) Archbishop Hepworth had to resort to almost blackmail by accusing Australian priests of having sexually abused him as a young man. Perhaps the accusations against two deceased priests might have been credible, but not the one against Monsignor Dempsey. It backfired, and that was the end of Archbishop Hepworth as far as Rome was concerned – and for the remainder of the TAC that didn’t join the Ordinariates.

These “repeated and insistent” Anglican approaches to the Holy See are the stuff we’d all like to read about in a book one day. In the meantime, thanks for helping make it happen!

Fr Barker is currently writing a book about this very matter! Looking forward to it very much.

I hope to read the book by Fr Barker, and I trust he found my material on the TAC Archive useful. My own blogging from the time (The English Catholic) could only be partial because I did not have the information in retrospect (as is beginning to appear now) – perhaps this naivety will give authenticity to my writings as a “raw source”.

The later facts would bear out such a theory: once Archbishop Hepworth was out of the way, a good number of bishops and priests joined the Ordinariate. I was left on the beach, and although the TAC in England took me in as a priest on Archbishop Prakash’s behest, I honourably resigned and joined the ACC. There was no point in my applying to Rome on account of my own canonical irregularities, and also because there is no Ordinariate presence in France (other than an Ordinariate priest in ordinary parish ministry in a Roman Catholic diocese). What did I believe in? I joined the ACC because it corresponded with my belief as a Catholic and offered me the possibility to go through life with my head high. I am grateful to Bishop Damien Mead and our diocesan Board of Ministry, and honoured to serve as a priest in my small capacity.

In the end, I don’t matter and there is no reason why anyone should care about me. I witnessed the whole thing, even though many bits of information were out of my reach. I am glad the Ordinariates came into being, and meeting some of the English prelates and priests in Oxford was for me an honour. They are good men and their ministry is fruitful. May God bless them… Some good TAC bishops and priests found their way “home”, and that can only be a good thing. Being in correspondence with Dr Timothy Graham, who attends an Ordinariate parish, was largely at the origin of my idea to set up The Blue Flower. In Oxford, I kept out of harm’s way, but they were cordial. Some have become quite stuffy, but others have mellowed and become more open to the continuing Anglican world. I hope and pray there will be more contact and dialogue, even though we the ACC and other continuing Anglican Churches will not go into communion with Rome.

I am presently reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church, Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, and it is quite harrowing as the author compares different interpretations of the present confusion and disorder surrounding the first ever Jesuit Pope. Catholicism is not an institution, but a Sacrament of Salvation, our faith in Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word and our communion that transcends all human barriers and intrigues. We are already in the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church is in us!

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22 Responses to Anglicanorum Coetibus Hermeneutics

  1. Rev22:17 says:

    Fr. Anthony,

    You wrote: In the end, I don’t matter and there is no reason why anyone should care about me.

    No, I don’t agree. The Father of All Mercies sent his only son to this earth to die and rise for your salvation. That fact is all the evidence I need of how much you DO matter.


    • Thank you for the kind thought, but I am not being negative. You can die in the street and people will just step over your body. Only a few would care to do the proper thing, at least call for help. We live in a world that is on the whole indifferent and hostile, where Original Sin is evident and all-powerful, second only to God Himself. I am not a Jansenist or a Calvinist, but life brings me to awareness that there are very few “noble” souls. It sounds irreverent, but it is a tall order for the Redemption which is increasingly a Mystery of Faith for me.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Tangentially, but perhaps relevantly, the emphatic character of “Apostolicae Curae” was a long time in appearing. What if the Holy Father or a future Pope were effectively to reverse it? If that be considered impossible, why?

    • The problem with reversing Apostolicae Curae is that it is believed to be infallible, therefore irreversible. Therefore, the way for the RC Church to proceed is to erode the notion of validity of orders, and then dialogue with the mainstream Anglicans and Episcopalians. It depends how long we have Pope Francis or a successor in the same 1970’s line. Sorry to be cynical – 🙂

      • Dale says:

        I think that future Popes will make our dear Pope Francis seem quite a traditionalist.

      • You may well be right. Fewer and fewer people will care as there will be less and less money to go round. Management of decline…

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Fr. Anthony,

        You wrote: The problem with reversing Apostolicae Curae is that it is believed to be infallible, therefore irreversible. (emphasis in original)

        I think that the term “infallible” is a bit too strong here, as the document was not promulgated ex cathedra. Nevertheless, it is clearly a definitive determination by the magisterium of the Catholic Church, a reversal of which would require clear proof that its conclusion that Anglican orders are “utterly null and void” was based on either gross misunderstanding or factual error. The magisterium of the Catholic Church usually conducts a very thorough investigation before promulgating such a decision, so a reversal would be highly unlikely.

        That said, this determination does not preclude a new development that would change the situation in some material way. Such a development would be fully consistent with Archbishop Hepworth’s public statement some years ago that Vatican officials had conceded the possibility of exceptions to the norm of regarding Anglican orders as utterly null and void. In the case of episcopal ordination, such “exceptions” would require both (1) an ordaining or co-ordaining bishop who has undisputed apostolic succession AND (2) the use of a valid rite of episcopal ordination. In the case of ordination to the order of deacon or presbyter, it would require (1) an ordaining bishop who has undisputed apostolic succession AND (2) use of a valid rite of ordination to the respective order.

        It would seem that the historical participation of bishops of the churches of the Union of Utrecht in Anglican episcopal ordinations beginning in the early 1900’s might have created such an exception — several lineages of bishops within the Anglican Communion whom the Vatican could recognize as validly ordained — but the Vatican seems to be ignoring this development. The Vatican recognized valid apostolic succession in the churches of the Union of Scranton until that body approved ordination of women (c. 2005), prompting the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) to sever ties with the European members of that body and subsequently form the Union of Scranton (with the Nordic Catholic Church, the first bishops of which were ordained by bishops of the PNCC). The Vatican continues to recognize valid apostolic succession in the churches of the Union of Scranton.


      • Newman spoke of “creeping infallibility”, meaning an understanding of infallibility that goes beyond the actual definition of 1870. Anyway, it’s not my problem.

        Archbishop Hepworth is no source of information because his relations with Vatican officials were non-existent. He only met Cardinal Müller once, in Canada, and the Cardinal was cold with him. It is interesting that John Bruce, the one who has recently scolded you in his blog, supports a role played by +Hepworth in the question of St Mary of the Angels, Hollywood. We live in a twisted world.

        As far as I am concerned, if Anglican orders are invalid, so are the novus ordo rites as reasoned out in the sedevacantist essay to which I have linked in this thread. Archbishop Lefebvre’s position was that the rite in itself was “valid”, but could be more easily “made invalid” through the heretical beliefs of “liberal” bishops and ordinands. There is an alternative: it isn’t rites that make “validity” but the existence of a “Church”, which can be as small as some of the historical oriental Churches, continuing Anglicans or small Old Catholic Churches. If that is so, you beat the episcopi vagantes problem. In the past, the possibility of episcopi vagantes being considered as valid by Rome was not excluded. Now, they are considered as invalid and irregular for ordination (unless they had never been RC).

        Some Anglican bishops have been given conditional instead of absolute ordination when they became Roman Catholics because they had the “Dutch touch”. That went out of fashion years ago.

        The question is academic except in the marginal cases of clergy becoming Roman Catholics. Some theologians go so far as to say that ordination is valid for the Churches to which given priests belong, that being all there is to be said.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:


        Am I right in thinking that the first time you wrote “Union of Scranton” you meant “Union of Utrecht”?

        Your second paragraph was very interesting in the context of Dr. Tighe’s links – thank you! This was one of the ‘areas’ in which I was trying to think if I could formulate a question or two. E.g., re. the matters of the content as distinct from the mere fact of Papal promulgations (of whatever distinct form). What, for example, would – or might – happen if a Pope clearly asserted the superiority of the argumentation of “Saepius officio” to that of “Apostolicae Curae”?

        Fr, Anthony,

        The third paragraph of your reply got me the more intently thinking about some interesting affirmative “Orthodox Statements on Anglican Orders” of the 1920s-30s which Fr. Robert Hart published on 9 February 2010 on the anglicancontinuum blog.

      • I haven’t read Saepius Officio for quite a few years, but it would seem to me that the main argument is if Anglican Orders are invalid, Roman Orders are also invalid for the same reasons (theologically or ideologically motivated changes in the rites, etc.). This is the kind of argument brought up by the sedevacantists in their argument against the validity of the novus ordo rites. I should look into the article you mentioned about the Orthodox positions.

      • William Tighe says:

        “The third paragraph of your reply got me the more intently thinking about some interesting affirmative “Orthodox Statements on Anglican Orders” of the 1920s-30s which Fr. Robert Hart published on 9 February 2010 on the anglicancontinuum blog.”

        I have read these Orthodox statements, although many years ago. My recollection is, that what they are saying is that if Anglican churches could satisfy the Orthodox that their faith and practice is fully Orthodox, albeit not “Byzantine,” and if they wished to formally enter the Orthodox communion, then and in that case there would be no need to reordain Anglican clergy in effecting that union. Some Orthodox churches, however, rejected the validity of Anglican Orders, and have issued statements to that effect. I know – but this may be merely a confession of ignorance on my part – of no instances in which an Anglican clergyman who became Orthodox was received “by confession” – i.e., reciting the Creed without the filioque – “and concelebration” (i.e., with the Orthodox bishop), without (re)ordination, whereas there are numerous instances of Catholic clergy, both “”Eastern Rite” and “Latin,” being received in that fashion.

      • The real problem is individuals or groups wanting to cross from one Church to another in order to continue the same life as they had before the disturbance in their Church of origin. If there were none of these “conversion” movements, there would be no need for one Church to judge the Sacraments of another. Some Orthodox would reordain Roman Catholic priests. Orthodox Churches don’t want people or priests from elsewhere, and the RC Church is more concerned for ecumenism with mainstream Anglicanism than converts.

      • Rev22:17 says:


        You wrote: Am I right in thinking that the first time you wrote “Union of Scranton” you meant “Union of Utrecht”?

        Yes, you are absolutely correct — and thank you for catching my typo!


      • Dale says:

        Dr Tighe is quite correct about Anglican orders and the Orthodox. To my knowledge, no Anglican priest or deacon has been received in orders. Many of the so-called Orthodox acceptance of Anglican orders tend to be both clever as well as ambiguous. The of Dr Tighe, which is true, “that if Anglican churches could satisfy the Orthodox that their faith and practice is fully Orthodox, albeit not “Byzantine,” and if they wished to formally enter the Orthodox communion, then and in that case there would be no need to reordain Anglican clergy in effecting that union” is certainly one such example of Orthodox pandering to Anglican sensibilities. No Orthodox ever really expected this to happen; and it also makes no sense, orders are either valid or they are not. Adopting certain theological and liturgical principals does not make non-existing orders magically valid. The “Evangelical Orthodox” adopted eastern practice and theology long before being officially accepted, all were ordained; their theology did not make their orders valid.

        Another ruse on the part of the Orthodox, and I am thinking of the Romanians here, was to declare that Anglican orders are “valid” for Anglicans; which also means nothing. Are Methodist “orders” valid for Methodists? Well obviously yes; but that does not mean they are valid for the Orthodox. Yet, the Anglicans, misunderstanding Byzantine church politics, have always touted this as an Orthodox recognition of the validity of their orders.

        Not too long ago all Catholic clergy were received, at least by the Russians, via vesting. This includes confession of the Orthodox faith absolution from heresy and schism, and during the divine liturgy the priest is vested in Byzantine vestments with the bishop calling out “worthy” as the priest is vested. But the orders were considered valid and there was no “re” ordination. This practice is followed less and less and most converting Roman Catholic clergy are ordained as if they never had orders of any sort (surprisingly, nowadays eastern rite clergy are still received via vesting, which makes very little sense outside of nationalism, since Catholic orders are the same regardless of rite). My own experience with one Russian bishop is that if the priest was ordained via the old rite, they were received via vesting, those ordained with the new rite by ordination (which means that there are some who question the validity of the novus ordo ordination rites. In the case of this bishop, when I asked him about this, he mentioned the Roman condemnation and their reasoning of Anglican orders as his reason for his actions).

        Finally, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia re-ordains all converting Catholic clergy, and to practice re-baptism of Roman Catholics as well. Our friend Patrick is one such example. They completely reject the grace of Catholic sacraments. For them all non-Russian Orthodox are unbaptised pagans.

      • William Tighe says:


        I know of cases in which an Eastern Catholic (“Byzantine-Rite”) celibate priest left the priesthood to marry, became Orthodox, and was (re)ordained in the Orthodox jurisdiction into which he had been received, while another Eastern Catholic priest, likewise a celibate, left to become Orthodox, but remained celibate, and so was received by “vesting” in that same Orthodox jurisdiction. I have heard of the same thing in the cases of former Latin Catholic priests who became Orthodox (reordained if they married after leaving the Catholic priesthood, received by vesting if remaining celibate) but I do not know whether in these cases it was in the same Orthodox jurisdictions. I do not wish to be cynical, but it almost seems to me that this differential was more a device for getting around the prohibition of marriage after ordination in the Byzantine tradition, than anything else.

      • Dale says:

        Bill, you are completely correct. And I know of several of these former Catholic priests, who married, became Orthodox and then were declared to never have had been priests in the first place and then were ordained. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons given for refusing Julian Joseph Overbeck as a priest was that he had been ordained a Catholic priest and then married, which is contrary to Orthodox canon law; but I suspect it was more an issue of the western rite. But not too long ago, in one Byzantine jurisdiction a widowed Orthodox priest was allowed to re-marry and permitted to continue in the priesthood. But the more normal procedure today is simply to re-ordain converting Roman clergy.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Dale and Dr. Tighe,

        Thank you for all this interesting attesting of and discussing details!

        A few quick general questions (quick to pose, that is!). Is this something entirely on the diocesan level, among the Orthodox? Or do Metropolitans and Patriarchs have a say in such ‘practical’ theological and ecclesiological decisions – as more than bishops among bishops, whether formally or in practice? Do the Orthodox have ‘conditional re-‘ sacraments? Formally, or only (‘as it were’?) in practice? Do such things vary (formally) on ‘supra-diocesan’ levels (e.g., between ‘autocephalous’ Churches)?

        And, in how far may the Papo-Franciscan Church (so to call it) be likely to be moving in similar directions on the ‘national episcopal conference’ level?

  3. Caedmon says:

    The pope is supposed to be infallible only on matters of faith and morals. Is the validity or otherwise of Anglican orders really a matter of faith and morals? I would have thought it was more an administrative matter.

    • William Tighe says:

      Please see:

      Excerpted from the latter:

      “With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations …37”

      To put this excerpt in its context, please see sections 6 and 11 of that latter document.

      • Thank you for this clarification. My intention here is not to offend pious Roman Catholics, but to be clear that the dogma of infallibility has created a situation from which one cannot recover. The more they define and are found wrong in theoretical or practical terms, the more credibility is lost. “Infallibility fever” must have made sense in the heady days of Pius IX, but it is clearly nonsense today. I cannot help thinking that if someone from the “future” had presented the novus ordo rites of ordination and episcopal consecration to Cardinal Merry del Val and Leo XIII, and said they were Anglican rites, they too would have been condemned as invalid. See this article as an example of Roman Catholic scholasticism applied to the Paul VI rites. Following such a view (which is not mine) it’s OK if the RC institution does it, but not if done outside the RC inbstitution. People see through that kind of nonsense very quickly. Then falsus in uno falsus in omnibus.

        C’est grave!

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Indeed, thanks! (Having read both, I will have to ruminate to see if I have any other questions to venture to pose.)

      • Dale says:

        Fr Anthony you stated, and I believe quite correctly, the following:

        “I cannot help thinking that if someone from the ‘future’ had presented the novus ordo rites of ordination and episcopal consecration to Cardinal Merry del Val and Leo XIII, and said they were Anglican rites, they too would have been condemned as invalid.”

        Several years ago I made the same observation to a fairly traditional Catholic priest, and stated that if the issue is a lack of intention in the Anglican ordinal then the same is true of the novus ordo version as well. His only response was, “Well the novus ordo is approved by the Pope, so it cannot be invalid.”

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