Some Theologians Call for Recognition of Anglican Ordinations

December 22, 2021
Canterbury Cathedral

A group of Catholic and Anglican theologians have publicly called on the Vatican to review and rescind an 1896 papal document that declared Anglican ordinations “absolutely null and void” (Letter Apostolicae Curae by Leo XIII).

“Where we once walked separately, we now walk together in friendship and love,” wrote members of the Mechelen Conversation Group after tracing the history of ecumenical agreements between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion and reviewed examples of collaboration and gestures of recognition.

The judgment passed by Pope Leo XIII in his apostolic letter Apostolicae Curae in 1896 “does not accord with the reality in which the Spirit has led us now,” declared the members of the group, a kind of informal dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans which started in 2013.

Members of the group presented their document on December 15 at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. This 27-page document is titled “Sorores in Spe - Sisters in the Hope of the Resurrection: A New Response to the Condemnation of the Anglican Orders.”

Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that although the Vatican does not sponsor the group's dialogue, “we are very happy” that the issue of Anglican orders is “being considered in the totally different ecumenical context today, when so much has been achieved in Anglican-Catholic relations.”

“From a Catholic point of view, it is about finding the theological and canonical language that would better reflect what we are doing in practice, which is to recognize real ministry in other churches,” he told Catholic News Service.

The context of Sorores in Spe is the theological and practical difference in relations between Catholics and Anglicans over the past 125 years and, most importantly, since the official theological dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics was established in 1967.

The theological and canonical motivations for Pope Leo XIII's decision were the flaws in form and intent in the Anglican ordination rites, for “it was not clearly established that the priest received ‘the power to consecrate and to offer the true Body and Blood of the Lord’” and because the Anglican Communion had introduced a rite not approved by the Church.

But the official concerted declarations of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission since 1970, notably on the Eucharist and on the ministry, “testify to an intimate family resemblance between our traditions, which reveals an already shared communion,” declares Sorores. in Spe.

Finally, “the fact that women in most Anglican provinces can now be ordained does not in itself mean that the papal condemnation of 1896 should be applied to the current situation,” the document states.

Following the reasoning of the document, the new - ecumenical - context would be able to modify the judgment made by Pope Leo XIII.

This would ignore the sacramental theology of the Church almost completely. Pope Leo XIII ruled that the new rites introduced by the Anglicans did not have the formal elements to constitute a Catholic rite, and, moreover, had been introduced against the Church. This judgment is not subject to the fluctuations of time. It is based immediately on the rite.

That Anglicans apply it to women is yet another argument to claim that it is not Catholic, and therefore, in the words of Leo XIII, is “absolutely vain and utterly void.”