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sacraments 101 (Or O Level)

Fr Alberto Cutié
Fr Alberto Cutié
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.

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8 thoughts on “sacraments 101 (Or O Level)”

  1. For me the most salient point is that the Anglican Communion accepts both Roman and Old Catholic orders, Old Catholics accept RC and Anglican orders – but the RC Church, accepting Old Catholic but rejecting Anglican orders, breaks the symmetry. Sadness at this situation was one of the reasons I swam the Tiber.

    Thank you for explaining what “101” means – I’d always wondered that!

  2. Ruth seems to be unclear on the “permanent marker” effect, aka, indelible mark, of the priesthood and baptism.

    But hey, if the Vatican “exacted revenge” and the Anglican Church honored it by reordaining the priest, would that not indicate they are deferring authority to Rome, thereby rendering the entire exercise completely moot?

    But in the immortal words of my patron saint, St. Teresa of Avila, “What do I know? I am merely a woman!”


  3. Re. “Furthermore, as well as Roman Catholic lines of succession within Anglicanism, since 1931 Anglicans and Old Catholics have been in full communion.”

    Could you rewrite that sentence? I cannot figure out what “as well as” means there.

    It would be interesting to see what a papal bull would say about the current state of Anglican orders.

  4. Sounds to me as if Ruth understands priesthood to be a “role” rather something that happens at the ontological level. Not sure if I’m using the correct terminology. But that’s how it sounds to me. Sort of like a priest putting on vestments and the Vatican simply taking away the vestments and thereby the priesthood, so to speak.

  5. Peter Carrell

    Picking up on Bill Scott’s comment, Bosco, might I ask (because it does not seem clear from what you say) what your “guesstimated” answer to this question is:

    If – in the light of the developments in the 20thC which you note re Rome, Canterbury, Old Catholics re ordination -Rome took another look at Anglican orders, would it revise its previous conclusion (null and void) or not?

  6. Whilst, as I explained, I am not prepared to see this site become a place where validity or otherwise of different orders becomes a focus, as I have seen that degenerate in other places, some clarification requested in the helpful comments may not be out of place. The 1896 Apostolicae Curae was based on perceived discontinuity in the passing on of Anglican orders as well as certain differences between the RC ordinal and the renewed/reformed Anglican ordinal. The discontinuity, if there was any, may be satisfied by the RC Archbishop of Spoleto becoming Anglican, as well as (Vatican-recognised-as-valid) Old Catholic bishops involved in ordinations in the 20th century. The RC ordinal has now itself been renewed and reformed and it would be interesting to imagine it being run past the authors of Apostolicae Curae. The issue of current recognition, however, would focus IMO on gender. The Vatican could not recognise the validity of the orders of women clergy, nor of male clergy ordained by women bishops. This, however, is little different to within the “Anglican Communion” itself where women clergy and male clergy ordained by women bishops were not recognised and in many current contexts still are not.

  7. Peter Carrell

    Thanks Bosco
    I agree – it’s not helpful to lead the charge on some fruitless debate on the validity or otherwise of orders. But it is always good to hope for progress in ecumenical matters. As I understand what you are saying, there is now minimal RC theological objection to the validity of Anglican orders qua orders (but quite a bit when gender is considered). Yet I assume that the ‘minimal’ might be quite an obstacle … not least because I feel that psychologically it might be difficult to entertain a revision of ‘null and void’ anytime this century!

  8. In fact “101” means the rudiments of a subject, what you would learn in your first (tertiary) course. American universities conventionally assign all classes 3-digit numbers, where the first digit is the year in which one would usually take that class.

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