top ad banner top ad banner top ad banner

Page 29, 30th April 1994

30th April 1994
Page 29
Page 30
Page 29, 30th April 1994 — SPECIAL REPORT

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.



Related articles

The Exception May Disprove The Rule

Page 3 from 30th April 1994

Dr Leonard Ordained As Catholic Priest

Page 27 from 30th April 1994

An Exception Which May Disprove The Rule

Page 14 from 14th May 1994

Bishops Extend A Broader Welcome To Incoming Anglicans

Page 26 from 27th November 1993

Two More Bishops Take Roman Option. Two Retired Church Of

Page 45 from 8th October 1994


The case of Dr Leonard

Michael Jackson

The former Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, has been received into the Catholic Church and ordained conditionally for the Catholic priesthood. The circumstances are explained by the secretary of the Committee for Christian Unity of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (see leading article).

Earlier this week it was announced that on 6 April Dr Graham Leonard, the former Anglican Bishop of London, was received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Hume and that on 23 April the Cardinal conditionally ordained him to the priesthood. A comment on some points in the press statement might be helpful from someone who has been involved in the discussions of the Catholic Bishops' Conference on how to deal with cases of former Anglican clergy who seek ordination to the priesthood in the Catholic Church after their reception into full communion.

These cases have presented the Catholic bishops with an urgent pastoral question: are the Anglican orders of those who are approaching the Catholic Church valid? In , other words, if these former ministers are judged to be suitable for priesthood in the Catholic Church, are they to be ordained? If so, would that ordination be absolute or conditional?

In the guidance it has given to the Bishops' Conference on these questions, the Holy See has clearly upheld the judgement of Apostolicae Curae — Leo XIII's Bull of 1896 — that the nativa indoles ac spiritus ("native character and spirit") of the Anglican ordinal makes it insufficient to confer valid Holy Orders. The Latin term refers to the intimate connection between the faith of the Church and its expression in the ordinal. Those who drew up the 1552 Anglican ordinal wanted expressly to reject Catholic doctrine on priesthood and Eucharist, excluding every reference to elements that would indicate such Catholic doctrine; by doing this, according to the judgement of Leo XIII, they rendered the formulas of the ordinal (the sacramental form and the complementary prayers) incapable of validly conferring what they positively exclude.

The only way of overcoming the inade quacy of the Anglican rite would be a change in its nativa indoles ac spiritus. The key point here is the connection between the faith of the Anglican Communion and its expression in the ordinal. This issue was addressed publicly in an exchange of letters between the president of the (then) Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Willebrands, and the co-chairmen of the second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II), Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Bishop Mark Santer. In his letter of 13 July 1985, Cardinal Willebrands noted important developments since Apostolicae Curae, in particular the liturgical renewal in both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. "In the Roman Catholic Church this has led to the promulgation of new rites in the Pontificale Romanum of Pope Paul VI. In the Anglican Communion many member-Churches have introduced new ordinals, while at the same time retaining some use of that of 1552-1662."

Cardinal Willebrands went on to consider the work of ARCIC I on Eucharist and ministry and ordination. This work is still undergoing a process of clarification and evaluation. Cardinal Willebrands concluded his remarks: "If at the end of this process of evaluation the Anglican Communion as such is able to state formally that it professes the same faith concerning essential matters where doctrine admits no difference and which the Roman Catholic Church also affirms are to be believed and held concerning the Eucharist and the ordained ministry, the Roman Catholic Church would acknowledge the possibility that in the context of such a profession of faith the texts of the ordinal might no longer retain that `nativa indoles' which was at the basis of Pope Leo's judgement."

The clarifications achieved through the work of ARCIC on Eucharist and ministry have not, however, in the Holy See's judgement, yet proved to be sufficient grounds for verifying such a change in the nativa indoles ac spiritus of the Anglican ordinal, though this may be possible in the future. Consequently, those who seek admission to Catholic priesthood after their reception are ordained absolutely.

On the one hand, then, the general judgements of the Holy See concerning Anglican orders stand. These judgements relate to the Anglican ordinal and the faith of the Anglican Communion as a whole.

But, on the other hand, a further question has now been posed through the particular case of Dr Leonard. Would it be possible to speak of a change in the nativa indoles ac spiritus of the Anglican rite in an individual case — in a particular ordination under certain conditions such as would make it possible for the words of the ordinal to bear the proper meaning of the sacrament as understood and intended by the Catholic Church? This is a difficult question. It is directed to individual cases. The answer in some cases might be "certainly not", but in other cases it might be "we are not sure: there is a 'prudent doubt' ".

I shall return to this when I comment on Dr Leonard's particular case. Before I do so, I want to point out a significant change to the ordination rite which has been authorised for use in the ordinations of former Anglican clergy. It concerns their former ministry.

How does the Catholic Church view the , previous ministry of former Anglican clergy? On the one hand, their ministry is not judged to be the same as Catholic priesthood. On the other hand, it is not judged to be completely lacking in value in the order of grace and salvation.

The Catholic bishops have expressed their wish to give due acknowledgement to the life of service which former Anglican clergy have given in the Church of England. They took as their basis certain texts in n.3 and n.22 of Vatican II' s decree on ecumenism. In these texts, the Council acknowledges that there are "elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself'. These "can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church". The Council also recognises that, in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or community, their sacred actions can most certainly truly engender a life of grace and can aptly give access to the communion of salvation (d. n.3). In a statement issued at the end of the Bishops' Conference meeting in November 1993, the Catholic bishops said: We welcome those who have served as clergy in the Church of England, and we will endeavour to express in specific ways the value of the ministry they have exercised. We gladly acknowledge and esteem their faithful celebration of Word and sacrament in the Church of England. We would never suggest that those seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church deny the value of their previous ministry.

At that meeting they agreed to ask the Holy See to find a suitable way of expressing this acknowledgement in the ordination liturgy. The question was taken very seriously by the authorities in Rome, who recognised its pastoral importance.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith agreed that, in the ordination liturgy for Dr Leonard, a suitable prayer should be included. After discussion with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments the following text was sent to Cardinal Hume for his agreement and use:

"N [candidate's name], the Holy Catholic Church recognises that not a few of the sacred actions of the Christian religion as carried out in communities separated from her can truly engender a life of grace and can rightly be , described as providing access to the community of salvation. And so we now pray. (A period for silent prayer follows.) Almighty Father, we give you thanks for the X years of faithful ministry of your servant N., in the Anglican Communion (or: in the Church of England), whose fruitfulness for salvation has been derived from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.

As your servant has been received into full communion and now seeks to be ordained to the presbyterate in the Catholic Church, we beseech you to bring to fruition that for which we now pray. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


This prayer is important pastorally and psychologically for it acknowledges the value of a person's previous ministry in the Church of England. It also has a theological significance for it interprets texts in n.3 of Vatican II's decree on ecumenism, where they are of a general nature, and applies them specifically to the Anglican Communion or the Church of England.

At Dr Leonard's ordination, this prayer was said at the beginning of the rite of ordination, which then proceeded as usual, with the exception of a few minor changes appropriate to the circumstances and with one very important addition. It is this addition that I should like to consider now.

It brings us back to the question I left earlier: would it be possible to speak of a change in the nativa indoles ac spiritus of the Anglican ordinal in an individual case — in a particular ordination under certain conditions such as would make it possible for the words of the ordinal to bear the proper meaning of the sacrament as understood and intended by the Catholic Church?

Cardinal Hume was instructed by the Holy See to ordain Dr Leonard to the priesthood conditionally. He was also instructed to include in the ordination liturgy, immediately before the imposition of hands, a statement which should include the words "Si non es iam valide ordinatus" ("if you are not already validly ordained").

Why? The Code of Canon Law, canon 845 §2, allows for conditional reordination where there is a "prudent doubt" about the effect of a previous ordination ceremony. If his Anglican ordination had been judged to be certainly invalid then he would have been ordained absolutely (following Apostolicae Curae). However, the Holy See decided that, in his case, a doubt exists concerning the invalidity of his Anglican ordination. What gave rise to this doubt? A number of factors taken together.

First, Dr Leonard's petition to the Pope made reference to his belief that he had been ordained as deacon, priest and bishop in the Apostolic Succession. This belief was founded on the fact that those who were involved in his consecration both as priest and bishop were in the Apostolic Succession through the Old Catholic Church formed by the Union of Utrecht (1889).'

What is the effect on validity of order of the participation of Old Catholic bishops in some Anglican episcopal ordinations? The Catholic Church has not issued a judgement on the validity of the orders of Old Catholics, but it is known that in a small number of cases in recent decades, Old Catholic priests who have been received into full communion have been admitted to priesthood in the Catholic Church without reordination. So, there is a practical supposition that bishops of the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht are true bishops and are therefore suitable ministers of ordination. But "suitability" (being able to ordain validly) is not the only issue.

Apart from a person's capacity, in canon law, to be ordained, there is the question of his intention to receive Catholic priesthood. Dr Leonard's documentation convinced the authorities in Rome of his Catholic intention at his priestly and episcopal ordinations and of his profoundly Catholic theology concerning ministry and sacraments.

Then there is the question of the rite of the ordinal. In the case of Dr Leonard, he was able to provide the authorities in Rome with very detailed documentation, which testified to the matter (imposition of hands), the form (formula of ordination), and the intention of the Anglican bishops in the Old Catholic lineage who took part in his priestly and episcopal ordinations. These three factors were judged to have changed the nativa indoles ac spiritus of the Anglican ordinal, in this case, in such wise as to call into doubt the invalidity of Dr Leonard's ordination.

He was therefore ordained conditionally.

'There is mutual recognition of ministry and intercommunion between the Old Catholics and the Anglicans. Accordingly, Old Catholics and Anglicans have at times shared in episcopal consecrations. An article by Canon Christopher Hill next week will expound the situation at length. — Ed.