Anglican orders not 'invalid' says Cardinal, opening way for revision of current Catholic position


Leo XIII’s remarks that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void” have been a major stumbling block to Catholic-Anglican unity.

One of the Vatican’s top legal minds has opened the way for a revision of the Catholic position on Anglican orders by stressing they should not be written off as “invalid.”

In a recently published book, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, calls into question Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 papal bull that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void.”

“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’,” the cardinal says in volume of papers and discussions that took place in Rome as part of the “Malines Conversations,” an ecumenical forum.

“This about the life of a person and what he has given …these things are so very relevant!”

For decades Leo XIII’s remarks have proved to be one of the major stumbling blocks in Catholic-Anglican unity efforts, as it seemed to offer very little room for interpretation or revision.

But the cardinal, whose department is charged with interpreting and revising Church laws, argued the Church today has a “a very rigid understanding of validity and invalidity” which could be revised on the Anglican ordination question.

“The question of validity [regarding the non-recognition of Anglican orders, while the Pope would give pectoral crosses, rings or chalices to Anglican clergy], however, is not a matter of law but of doctrine,” he explains in a question and answer format. “We have had, and we still have a very rigid understanding of validity and invalidity: this is valid, and that is not valid. One should be able to say: ‘this is valid in a certain context, and that is valid another context’.”

Cardinal Coccopalmerio also recalled Pope Paul VI’s meeting with then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in 1966. It was a famous meeting as the Pope gave the archbishop his episcopal ring and also, according to the cardinal, a chalice.

“What does it mean when Pope Paul VI gave a chalice to the Archbishop of Canterbury? If it was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, it was meant to be done validly, no?” he explains. “This is stronger than the pectoral cross, 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.”

Pope Francis has also pushed ahead with a number of symbolically important ecumenical initiatives such as travelling to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the reformation. The Pope has also called for Christian denominations to act as if they are already united and leave the theological disagreements to be resolved later.

Yet the major difficulty for the Catholic Church in recognising Anglican clergy would be the perception of validating women priests, something that was strongly ruled against by John Paul II.

The new collection of papers also includes the records of two discussions that took place between Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI - when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - and the former Anglican Bishop of the Diocese in Europe, Geoffrey Rowell.

On Anglican orders, Bishop Rowell quotes Cardinal Ratzinger as saying: “we cannot do anything about Leo XIII’s words but there are, however, other ways of looking at things.”

While the Pope Emeritus does not follow up with any suggestions, he does accept that Anglican eucharist services have value.

“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.

Elsewhere in his contribution, Cardinal Coccopalmerio distinguishes between the “differences” and “divisions” between Christians: the latter, he stresses, should only be over fundamental things such as the divinity of Christ.

“Today, Churches are divided, or, rather, they say that they are divided because they lack common elements which, however, are not fundamental because they are not a matter of faith,” he explains.

“We say: ‘you don’t have this reality, which is a matter of faith, and therefore you are divided from me. But in fact it isn’t a matter of faith, you only pretend it to be.”

While a revision of Leo XIII’s position on Anglican orders would be a milestone, the cardinal also stresses the situation is currently somewhat “unclear.”

“We have had, and we still have a very rigid understanding of validity and invalidity: this is valid, and that is not valid. One should be able to say: ‘this is valid in a certain context, and that is valid another context’.”

What does this even mean? An ordination is either valid or it is not.

If a woman says she is pregnant, would that statement be too rigid, lacking flexibility?

This would be huge news!

What the heck is going on???

This is an interesting article and, if not misrepresented, Cardinal Francesco is certainly breaking new ground. Though I suppose that brings a question from me about what Papal Bull is exactly as I assume it’s not an infallible document if Pope Leo XIII’s words aren’t a final say on the matter. I just find this interesting overall. (Though I know I’d be grateful if someone with more knowledge to explain some of the intricacies could chime in.)

Does this mean that, when attending a Catholic Mass, I may take communion there instead of opting for a blessing?

Where is GKC when we need him? I am not sure if he could be of some help.

Makes one wonder why the Anglican priests who came into the Catholic Church as part of the Personal Ordinariates had to be re-ordained then doesn’t it…

He is not the first Cardinal to suggest that some Anglican Orders might be valid. I can remember Cardinal Hume saying something similar 20 years ago. Many Anglican bishops and priests hold essentially Catholic beliefs. There are obviously many grave issues involved in Catholic-Anglican ecumenical relations, such as women priests and bishops. The Anglican communion is now seriously divided among itself. It is difficult to imagine re-communion any time soon.

The question is the legitimacy of their ordinations, not the orthodoxy of their beliefs. Pope Leo XIII declared that due to the changes of understanding in the nature of the Mass and the priesthood enshrined in the Edwardian ordinal , Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void.” If something that can be so boldly and dogmatically stated can be turned upside down, then what of the other beliefs of the Church that we hold so sacred? What purpose does this serve?

Fr. John Hardon, S.J.† spoke often about this. A change in the Rite of Ordination made after the split from Rome was fatal to its validity. Certainly to Catholic and possibly also to the Orthodox.

Frankly, this sounds an awful lot like the same old talk about normalizing same sex unions, or communion for the re-married. “Can’t we all just get along” theological entropy.

You have to remember the Edwardian Ordinal was for a period of time and corrected prior to 1896. Following AC in 1896 the continuity was largely taken care of by Union of Ultrecht bishops attending Anglican Bishop Consecrations, and various other lines of succession (such as the Brazilian RCC with Archbishop Carlos Duarte) Costa introduced in the 1950’s.

Largely these are discounted by the RCC as “Vagrantes” because some successors had succession but not necessarily large churches.

I know the total lack of recognition is a stumbling block for some Anglican Priests. If for no other reason than a sacrament cannot be repeated and should their ordination be valid but illicit, they have a concern over repeating the sacrament. Should the RCC decide to have “conditional ordinations” of Anglican Priests who come over, which by nature would only be men, I think several would be open to entering full communion.

As suggested, GKC would probably have more thorough info.

With all due respect to Cardinal Coccopalmerio, I’m not sure I’ve ever read something more meaningless. I won’t for a second deny that there is value and good in an Anglican ordination, that does not make their orders valid. You can’t just say that “this seems nice and there is good in it” to suddenly make something “valid.”

Not necessarily, but possibly. Saying that Anglican orders and sacraments are valid does not logically entail open communion. However, with respect to the Orthodox, whose sacraments Rome has long recognized as valid, Rome pretty much practices open communion, not reciprocated.

I actually kind of agree I was having a discussion with an Anglican friend of mine(ACNA) and I was explaining to her why I believe that the communion she received was not a valid Eucharist but I also added that that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get anything out of it. I mean God can and does work with non- Catholics all the time. I mean God can work his grace through any way he sees fit I mean he is God.

And just who is “WE”?

The Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has articulated the points with great precision…and quite well.

I remember when Cardinal Ratzinger addressed a parallel point in the 1990s, as a follow up to Unitatis Redintegratio and with regard to the work of the Lutheran dialogue.

Frankly, I am horrified by the lack of the most basic knowledge of theology and ecclesiology which I encounter on this website. It hardly deserves the name “Catholic Answers” at all.

It is as if people here are decades behind where we currently are, both as a theological community in the academy and above all the dicasteries, which people here seem ignorant about, even at the most fundamental level.

Reading and engaging this forum, I have essentially concluded, is simply a waste of time.


What it really comes down to is whether an excommunicated bishoped validily can ordain someone, because that is basically what happened in the anglican church and some lutheran churches during the reformation. They claim they have preserved the apostolic succession in this way.

Does anyone know why the Church sees orthodox orders as valid but not anglicans?

Actually, it doesn’t come down to the fact of excommunication. Instead anglican orders are invalid because the rite of ordination itself was changed after the break with Rome such that it no longer represented the Catholic Church’s understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Now that all of the validly ordained (pre Henry VIII) are dead, nobody is left who can validly hand on the Sacramemt or preserve Apostolic Succession in the anglican church.

What confuses me in recent times is the apparent fascination with the anglican church by some areas of the Catholic Church.

It is always the case that those making such comments are not British, otherwise they would see what a dire state of crisis the anglican churh is in in this country. It is hardly a model of “the way forward” and instead suggests quite the opposite.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit