View From Rome
11 May 2017
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For decades one of the major stumbling blocks to church unity has been the five words uttered in 1896 by Pope Leo XIII, when in the papal bull Apostolicae Curae he concluded that Anglican ordinations were “absolutely null and utterly void”. This phrase is an open wound for those seeking to heal the divisions between Catholics and Anglicans, a theological ravine so far impossible to bridge.
Not anymore. An historic revision could be on the cards, with Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, one of the Church’s top legal minds and an ally of Pope Francis, now suggesting that Leo XIII’s declaration was overly rigid. “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’,” he says in a recently published book. “This is about the life of a person and what he has given … these things are so very relevant!”
His remarks appear in a volume of papers recording discussions that took place last year in Rome, the lastest instalment of the “Malines Conversations”, a long-running ecumenical forum. The cardinal, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, recalled the symbolic importance of Pope Paul VI’s meeting with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in 1966. On that famous occasion, the Pope removed his episcopal ring and gave it to the archbishop, along with a chalice.
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