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Confusion of ministry and priesthood in thinking on holy orders

by
02 March 2011

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From the Revd Rodney Marshall

Sir, — The former Bishop of Fulham speaks about his own and Rome’s acceptance and affirmation of his previous ministry in the Church of England (Letters, 25 February), but knows as well as I do that to speak of ministry is an attempt to confuse the issue. What is important here is not ministry but priesthood, and, though closely related, ministry and priesthood are in fact two different things.

The Roman Catholic Church may well be happy to affirm the previous ministry of former Anglicans, but it is certainly not prepared to accept their priesthood as that of the Catholic Church nor the validity of the sacraments celebrated by them. This is made crystal-clear in the Apostolic Constitution setting up the Ordinariate, where we are told that former Anglican priests are to be “ordained absolutely in accordance with Apostolicae Curae”.

This specific reference to the Bull of Leo XIII indicates that, whatever may be thought of their former ministry, their orders are still “absolutely null and utterly void”. This is what causes concern to many Anglican priests, and makes them hesitant about joining the Ordinariate.

Many of us, including, I suspect, John Broadhurst, were ordained according to the Prayer Book. It was made quite clear in that ordination that we were being ordained priests, not of the Church of England, but of the Church of God. On this basis, I, and many others, believe that we are Catholic priests marked with the indelible character of holy orders, and that the sacraments that we celebrate are true sacraments of the Catholic Church. Nothing that the Church of England can do subsequently can alter that, and though, through the years, my ministry has taken many different forms, my priesthood has remained the same. It is not my ministry that I want to be affirmed by Rome, but the reality of my priesthood in the Catholic Church.

Confusing ministry and priesthood may help those who have joined the Ordinariate to salve their consciences, but it does nothing to further a very important debate.

RODNEY MARSHALL
St Helen’s Vicarage
Athersley, Barnsley
South Yorkshire S71 3AF

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