In the midst of the media frenzy over “Oprah-famous”, telegenic Father Alberto Cutié moving from the Roman Catholic Church to The (Anglican) Episcopal Church (TEC), there has been an interesting sub-story in the confusion of long-time (20 years?) Religion Correspondent of The Times Ruth Gledhill. In essence Ruth very surprisingly does not seem to understand the traditional sacramental teaching of Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and others that ordination, like baptism cannot be “undone”.
Initially Ruth wrote a startling paragraph which she later deleted:
If Father Cutié is not eventually dismissed from his orders, but even if he is, and then goes on to become an Episcopal priest, will he need to be ordained again? And whether re-ordained or not, will the Catholic Church then view his orders as ‘absolutely null and utterly void’ or not? If not, could this apparent tool of ecumenical discord have the potential to bring about eventual healing between our two churches, beginning a line of succession that the Holy See could recognise as Apostolic? Forgive me please for the betrayal of ignorance in these questions, but if any readers have the answers, I would be most interested to know.
This paragraph appears not to understand the Vatican cannot undo his orders, Anglicans accept Roman Catholic orders and do not “re-ordain” them, and a priest cannot start a “line of succession” – only bishops can.
After some coffee Ruth must have realised some of her confusion, but she replaces the paragraph with one that is still startlingly befuddled:
I’ve deleted an earlier paragraph and am substituting this. To paraphrase Socrates it is a wise woman who knows she knows nothing, but I perhaps did not phrase my original question very well in my haste to finish the blog and get back to the poolside. ‘Speaking in thongs,’ as one wit has observed. I know of course that in the normal course of events, Catholic priests going the Anglican way do not need re-ordination and that Anglicans recognise Catholic orders and that once a priest in the Catholic Church, always a priest. What I was trying to ask, perhaps rather incompetently, was, in the event that no proper procedures, not even notification to the bishop, have been followed and Rome exacts revenge by deprivation of orders or whatever the ultimate penalty is what then? Anglicans probably would think it made no difference but what would the correct position be? That was what I was hoping to discover from readers.
Ruth continues to think that the Vatican can “exact revenge” and deprive someone of their orders. Let’s just put traditional sacramental theology on this issue as simply as one can: no one, not even the Vatican, can unbaptise someone, unconsecrate the Eucharist, or un-ordain a validly ordained deacon, priest, or bishop.
Plenty of Roman Catholic priests have joined the Anglican church. To ordain them again would be a sacrilege as it would be denying God’s action in what are clearly valid sacraments. All that the Anglican diocesan bishop does is check the documentation of ordination and can then decide, if appropriate, to give him a position by licensing him to the priestly role in the diocese.
Further internet discussion on Father Alberto Cutié has strayed into discussions on the 1896 papal bull, Apostolicae Curae, which pronounced Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void”. These discussions appear unaware that since then Roman Catholics have also reformed ordination rites making them highly similar to Anglican ones. Furthermore, as well as Roman Catholic lines of succession within Anglicanism, since 1931 Anglicans and Old Catholics have been in full communion. Old Catholic orders are accepted as valid by the Vatican, and Old Catholics have, since 1931, been fully involved in Anglican ordinations, restoring continuity in the minds of those who considered there had been some sort of “break”.
Finally, there has been outrage by some against TEC for accepting Father Alberto Cutié’s request to join them – to the point of seeing it as further proof that TEC is not part of the Christian religion. There are plenty of websites where people can add their diatribes about TEC or the invalidity of certain orders. Comments below are about the sacramental theology addressed in this post and follow this site’s comments policy.