Newman & Anglican Orders

by Michael Sean Winters

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Blogger extraordinaire Rocco Palmo has a link up to some photos taken of the bishops of England and Wales during their ad limina visit this past week. In addition to their meetings with the Holy Father and other Vatican officials, they celebrated Mass together in the Chapel of the Three Kings, which is located in the building that houses the offices of the Propaganda Fide. It was there that John Henry Newman was ordained a Catholic priest and the Mass served as one of the many ways the Church will in Britain will be focusing on Newman’s life in anticipation of his beatification this autumn.

But, the Mass also pointed to one of the difficulties that persist among those Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholic and who are investigating the terms of the new personal ordinariates that the Vatican has agreed to establish to facilitate these efforts at reunion. Newman, of course, had already been ordained an Anglican priest before he converted to Rome, but the Catholic Church does not recognize Anglican orders, so Newman was ordained again in the Catholic Church. Both Pope Leo XIII and Pope John Paul II investigated the issue of Anglican orders and in the case of John Paul II, he explicitly wanted to find a way to recognize their validity. But, the verdict came back: The break in the apostolic succession was clear and, so, Anglican orders could not be recognized.

In all the hubbub about the personal ordinariates, very few people, including many of the Anglican bishops most intent on swimming the Tiber, have recognized that this hurdle still exists. These Anglican priests and bishops will have to be at least conditionally ordained in the Catholic Church. Seeing as neither Church recognizes the idea of “re-ordination” the implication is obvious: These men who have been Anglican priests all their lives will have to admit that they were not really priests at all. That is a big hurdle.

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