A priest friend of mine has been wondering whether, had Bishop Morris merely speculated upon the recognition of protestant orders in his pastoral letter in 2006, and not raised the possibility of the ordination of women, he might have been able to retain his position as bishop of Toowoomba.
I don’t know. But I do know that the recognition of Lutheran orders as they stand is as impossible as the recognition of the attempt to convey Catholic orders upon women. An email from Pastor Weedon on another mail list some time ago has prompted me to follow a line of investigation that he suggested in that email, referring to the dialogue statements of the American Lutheran Catholic dialogue.
In May 2004, the USCCB published The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries.
95. What follows for the relations between our churches from the analysis above, supported by the biblical and historical explanations that follow below? Building upon the earlier Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues, Eucharist and Ministry and Facing Unity,(156) we propose steps toward a full, mutual recognition and reconciliation of our ministries and the ultimate goal of full communion. We are aware of common challenges to overcome. Nevertheless, the mutual recognition of ministries need not be an all-or-nothing matter and should not be reduced to a simple judgment about validity or invalidity. In order to assess the degree of our koinonia in ordained ministry, a more nuanced discernment is needed reflecting the way that an ordained ministry serves the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, stands in continuity with the apostolic tradition, and serves communion among churches.
96. We recommend that our churches recognize our common understanding of the interdependent structures of church life and ministry, namely, the diocese/synod with its bishop and parish/congregation with its pastor or priest. This common understanding is reflected in a shared sense of the single sacrament of Order (sacramentum Ordinis) or the one office of ministry (Amt). The differences between us in emphasis and terminology need not be church dividing even though they challenge each church to overcome imbalances in its own tradition.
This statement was made with a certain degree of “hopefulness”, which it may not be so possible to sustain today. Yet it is notably less positive than the quotation given in the footnote (156) above from the 1970 US Catholic Lutheran dialogue report “Eucharist and Ministry”. In that dialogue report 24 years earlier, the Catholic theologians on the dialogue had positively concluded:
As Roman Catholic theologians, we acknowledge in the spirit of Vatican II that the Lutheran communities with which we have been in dialogue are truly Christian churches, possessing the elements of holiness and truth that mark them as organs of grace and salvation. Furthermore, in our study we have found serious defects in the arguments customarily used against the validity of the eucharistic Ministry of the Lutheran churches. In fact, we see no persuasive reason to deny the possibility of the Roman Catholic church recognizing the validity of this Ministry. Accordingly, we ask the authorities of the Roman Catholic church whether the ecumenical urgency flowing from Christ’s will for unity may not dictate that the Roman Catholic church recognize the validity of the Lutheran Ministry, and correspondingly, the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the eucharistic celebrations of the Lutheran churches. (pp. 31,32)
A lot has changed since 1970. Let us not say that our Catholic doctrine has “developed” in this area (I don’t want to open that can of worms again) but it is true that the perennial teaching of the Church (even as it was in 1970) has been greatly clarified since the days in which theologians could, with a straight face, use the phrase “in the spirit of Vatican II” in a dialogue report! The chief difficulty facing both these reports, and one that the 2004 report is obviously trying to find a way around, is the 2001 statement “Dominus Iesus” which declared in no uncertain terms that
the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense…
All hope is not lost, of course. That same paragraph goes on to say:
however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.62 Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.
It is clear then that the opinions of the Catholic theologians expressed in the 1970 statement were simply mistaken. They believed there was “no persuasive reason to deny the possibility of the Roman Catholic church recognizing the validity of this Ministry” because Lutheran Churches “are truly Christian churches”. “Dominus Iesus” made it clear that the problem was the other way around, that the Lutheran Churches could not be recognised as “Churches in the proper sense” precisely because they “have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery”.
The 2004 statement “The Church as Koinonia of Salvation” grapples mightily with this problem, suggesting that “a shared sense of the single sacrament of Order (sacramentum Ordinis) or the one office of ministry (Amt)” might be the solution. They believed that “the mutual recognition of ministries need not be an all-or-nothing matter and should not be reduced to a simple judgment about validity or invalidity”. They called for “a more nuanced discernment” on the question of what pertains to “continuity with the apostolic tradition” in this matter.
Well, since then, there have been a couple of clarifications that make even this a somewhat vain hope. In 2007 the Holy See with the approval of Benedict XVI released a document called “Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine of the Church”. The fifth and final question in this document was:
Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?
Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.
The footnotes to this answer are references (19 & 20 respectively) to the Second Vatican Council Decree “Unitatis redintegratio,” 22.3 (so much for the “spirit of Vatican II) and “Dominus Iesus,” 17.2.
In other words, it will take more than just some “nuancing” to get around the difficulty that from the point of view of what is neccessary for full validity of Catholic orders, Lutheran orders are deficient. There is, of course, a simple solution to the problem, and it is one that many Anglican priests and bishops are currently availing themselves of in order to have their ministry fully recognised as valid by the Church: entering into communion with the Roman Pontiff and accepting ordination at the hands of validly ordained Catholic bishops in that communion. It is a gift that the Church is more than happy to offer to our separated brethren, but a gift which, I expect, Lutherans are not inclined to either desire or accept. In the end, Lutherans, like Anglicans, will need to accept that there is simply no amount of “nuanced” reflection and interpretation that can get around a simple historical fact: that the continuity of apostolic orders within their communions was interupted at the at time of the Reformation.