Anglican priests’ holy orders – their ordinations – may not be invalid, says Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Text.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) ruled Anglican orders are “null and void” – a ruling Coccopalmerio, who is said to have one of the Vatican’s top legal minds, is revisiting.
“When someone is ordained in the Anglican Church and becomes a parish priest in a community, we cannot say that nothing has happened, that everything is ‘invalid’,” he says.
Validity isn’t a matter of church law, but of doctrine.
Pope Francis has already shown his acceptance of the Anglican priesthood in many ways, Coccopalmerio says.
He also cites a number of examples going back over decades – such as Pope Paul VI giving a chalice to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1966.
“What does it mean when Pope Paul VI gave a chalice to the Archbishop of Canterbury?” Coccopalmerio asks.
“If it was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, it was meant to be done validly, no?
“This is stronger than the pectoral cross [often given as gifts to Anglican clergy], because a chalice is used not just for drinking but for celebrating the Eucharist.
“With these gestures the Catholic Church already intuits, recognises a reality.”
Another Pope who values the Anglican priesthood is Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
Although he does not offer any suggestions about the appropriate way forward for the Anglican and Catholic churches, he sees value in the Anglican celebration of the Eucharist.
“When an ecclesial community, with its ordained ministry, in obedience to the Lord’s command, celebrates the eucharist, the faithful are caught into the heavenly places, and there feed on Christ,” he says.