Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, is reportedly denying the teaching of Pope Leo XIII on the validity of Anglican holy orders, according to an article by Christopher Lamb of The Tablet, a liberal Catholic magazine based in the United Kingdom.
According to Lamb, the cardinal said in a recent book, referring to Anglican holy orders, "We have had and we still have a very rigid understanding of validity and invalidity: this is valid, and that is not valid. One should be able to say: 'this is valid in a certain context, and that is valid in another context.'"
The remarks constitute a complete departure from Pope Leo XIII's words on these matters in his 1896 encyclical Apostolicae Curae, defining Anglican orders as "absolutely null and utterly void."
Canonist Dr. Ed Peters criticizes Coccopalmerio, saying his rejection of the Church's "rigidity" on holy orders opens the door to protestantism: "Once we go down that path, we don't know anything any more and we are pretty much Brother Billy Bob’s Faith Community in the old gas station down by the park."
Coccopalmerio's comments are not his first expression of heterodox views. In February, in a book by the cardinal titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he wrote that the faithful who "find themselves" in irregular unions without a declaration of nullity or an amendment of life can receive Holy Communion, provided they "want to change that situation, but can't act on their desire."
According to Catholic teaching, being a priest is more than wearing vestments and giving a sermon and witnessing marriages, as Protestant pastors and Catholic deacons are able to do. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1583) teaches that when a priest is ordained, "The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently."
The Church teaches that when a man is ordained a priest, he receives an indelible character upon his soul and becomes a priest ontologically through the sacrament of Holy Orders administered by the bishop. The indelible character, according to CCC 1582, referencing the Council of Trent, cannot be repeated or only temporarily conferred. Baptism and confirmation are the two other sacraments, which confer unrepeatable, permanent indelible characters on the human soul.
Because the character of the priesthood enables a man to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist, an invalidly administered sacrament of Holy Orders does not confer on a person the ability to consecrate the Blessed Sacrament. What Pope Leo XIII said about Anglican orders means that the Anglicans have no true Eucharist, despite their claims to the contrary.
Pope Leo's encyclical was met by Anglican bishops who argued against the Holy Father's definition. Today, Anglicans are divided on the nature and purpose of both Holy Orders, as well as the Anglican Eucharist. Self-professed "Anglo-Catholics" tend to hold Catholic beliefs about sacraments, while maintaining that the Anglican Communion retains valid orders and therefore a valid succession of bishops. Low-church, charismatic and evangelical Anglicans hold disparate, more Protestant understandings of the ministerial priesthood. So while the pope has definitively taught that Anglican priests are not true priests, Anglicans do not agree amongst themselves whether they are or not.
Saint John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, said regarding the nature and glory of the priesthood and the unique abilities of a priest:
Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin or to an angel; will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; he can say to you, "Go in peace; I pardon you." Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven.