My little piece seems to have acquired threads of comments in various places. Since I took up blogging, I have been intrigued to discover that the most decisive negative comments generally seem to come from those who haven't read the piece concerned and/or know very little. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that there is very little point in replying, because if they haven't read the first post, they probably aren't going to read a painstaking reply from me either. So I won't. The other thing that strikes me is that there are some people out there who quite desperately want Anglican Orders to be invalid. That somebody could regretfully come to such a conclusion, compelled by the facts, I could understand even though I disagreed. But the animus ...
Instead, I will attack the question from a different angle. In the bona fide attempts of the Anglican episcopate (back in the days when, whatever their failings, they believed in Christian Unity) to solve this question and establish that Anglican bishops are bishops in the same sense as Roman Catholic bishops, we seem to have been dogged by bad luck. The procedure used after 1933 was that the schismatic Dutch bishops executed and sealed Latin documents declaring their intention to convey, as principal consecrators, the episcopate they had received; and then imposed hands, at the same moment as the Archbishop of Canterbury, saying aloud the Form of Episcopal consecration. Or rather, they used the words which were once commonly held in manuals of Sacramental theology throughout the Western Church to be the Form. The Dutchmen deemed this to be safe, assured, and secure.
It wasn't. In the 1940s Pius XII declared that the words previously considered consecratory were not; instead, that a sentence in the long quasi-Eucharistic prayer in the Pontifical was to be held to be the essential Form. In fact there were good scholarly and theological reasons for this, but, for us, it had the unfortunate result of weakening the foundations of the procedures in use since 1933. Subsequently, in the aftermath of the Council, the Vatican apparently decided that the quasi-Eucharistic prayer concerned did not itself express terribly well the theology of the Episcopate; in the grotesque Bugniniesque passion for discontinuity of the time, the whole prayer was dumped and replaced by a prayer of questionable and oriental provenance (which has led the some of the more extreme members of the Lefebvreist tradition to wonder whether bishops consecrated with it are validly consecrated ... what a tangled web we weave ...).
We Catholic Anglicans face a future in which it is essential that we sever ourselves from the ministerial mass damnationis of the main ecclesial body. Within a few generations, the Anglican mainstream, with womenbishops as well as womenpresbyters, will be a body in which nobody will know whether a 'priest's' orders are valid without going through the chancellries checking an endless successsion of who-consecrated-whoms. We need, not as a luxury but as a basic survival-necessity, an episcopate separate from all this. The sooner we face up to this, the better. I am not certain that we are wise to be so singleminded in our struggle to secure some minimum structure for toleration within the mainstream that we leave this question on one side, for a later period of leisure that will never come. There are rumours that there is a retired bishop willing to be the first to brave the wrath of Henry VIII's wraith by committing the ultimate sin of 'illegal consecrations'. In my view, this cannot come soon enough. Apart from the theology, it would show that we really do mean business.
But there is something else that is necessary. The brave and careful attempt after 1933 to relegate Apostolicae curae to the history books foundered for the reasons I have skipped through above. The most that Rome - officially - will acknowledge, as in the case of Graham Leonard, is that the invalidity of some Anglican Orders is now a matter of doubt. We need to do '1933' again, and this time we need to get it right. I do not believe it would be impossible to find a bishop out there of impeccably valid orders who would be prepared to give us, so to speak, a hand. We should put the matter beyond question by having consecrator and consecrands signing documents giving a careful theological rationale of what is being done and, using a bit of deft overkill, perhaps the consecrator could use all three of the Forms which Roman Catholics have, over the last century, regarded as essential! And would there be any objection to all of us in ministerial office receiving a sub conditione reordination? Certainly not on my part.
Thus we could firm up our ecclesial identity as a preliminary to the most exciting ecumenical step forward since Cardinal Pole absolved this realm from schism on the Feast of S Andrew in 1554.