The Anglican orders and the Catholic Church – analysis

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“What is important is the journey towards unity.” Pope Francis with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

CNS photo/Vatican Media

It was on this day, 63 years ago, during the closing ceremony of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, that Pope John XXIII announced that he would convene a Second Vatican Council, a historic event that definitely had to “restore” relations between the Christian churches.

On January 25, 2022, the ceremony at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is celebrated in the context of the unprecedented synodal journey undertaken by Pope Francis, a process with a potential similar to the council to radically change the way in which Christians see each other. and work together.

Francis sees the synod process as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to learn from other Churches and Christian communities about synodality in their traditions, while the Vatican’s department for Christian unity and the synod office have encouraged local churches to include other Christian leaders in the synod process. The purpose of the synod is to hear from all the “People of God”, defined in the catechism as all those who are baptized, which includes those of the dominant confessions.

“When will unity be achieved? That’s the question, right? Pope Francis asked an ecumenical delegation from Finland last week. He then quoted the Orthodox theologian Jean Zizioulas, who ironically suggested that this would not happen until “the eschaton”, the end of time. But as Francis hastened to add: “What is important is the journey towards unity”.

Could this trip include a change in the position of the Catholic Church on Anglican orders, which just over 125 years ago Pope Leo XIII declared “absolutely null and void”? This decision of 1896, Cures Apostolicae, continues to hurt some Anglicans and is seen as an obstacle to unity. Late last year, an independent group of Catholic and Anglican theologians called for the teaching to be abolished.

The tablet understands that the matter has been raised directly with the pope in recent months, who in turn has requested that the matter be considered by Vatican officials. Although there is no sign that Cures Apostolicae will be upset, for several decades Rome has moved away from the language used by Leo XIII and is moving towards a recognition of the fruits of the Anglican ministry. This is already a very different approach from that found in the 1998 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Profession Fidei, which asserted that the teaching on Anglican orders was one of the “truths connected with revelation” and should be held definitively.

The change builds on the teaching of Vatican II, which recognized the “significant elements” that build the Church outside the “visible borders” of the Catholic Church, and on the many agreed statements on doctrine that have emerged from formal dialogues between Anglican and Catholic theologians since the council.

“This issue hurts, and Anglicans are reluctant to raise it,” a Church source said. The tablet. “It is a wound in the relationship between the Churches and it would be great if a small step could be taken to heal the wound, especially as Pope Francis recognizes in practice the Anglican bishops through his joint initiatives with the ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’.

While the ordination of women in the Anglican communion seems to make any general recognition of Anglican orders impossible, as Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, explained at a conference release in 2020, it created a “new problem”. The direct language of “null and void” has already been softened at the local level.

The recent ordination to the Catholic priesthood of former Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali included a prayer that acknowledged the “fruitfulness for salvation” of his ministry as an Anglican priest. It was originally composed by Cardinal Basil Hume for the ordination as a Catholic priest of the former Anglican Bishop of London, Graham Leonard. (Rome agreed to Hume’s request that Leonard’s ordination be conditional due to “cautious doubt” as to the invalidity of his ordination in the Church of England.) At the ordination of Father Nazir -Ali, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “We seek to build on the fruitfulness of the priestly ministry that you have faithfully exercised.

Five years ago The tablet reported that Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, one of the Church’s most respected legal experts, argued that Anglican orders should not be described as “invalid” and called for a “less rigid understanding of validity and disability”. He added: “You should be able to say, ‘This is valid in one context, and this is valid in another context'”.

The synod process could provide the impetus for a reassessment of Cures Apostolicae as Christians seek to journey together towards unity. Francis knows that synodality cannot simply consist of talking. It must also involve making decisions.

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