On the Ordination of Anglican Bishop Leonard as a Roman Catholic Priest

Author: Cardinal George Basil Hume


Dr. Graham Leonard, former Anglican bishop of the Diocese of London, requested and has been granted admission into full communion with the Catholic Church. At the same time he expressed a desire to be ordained priest in the Catholic Church. The case of Dr. Leonard was carefully studied in Rome as a result of his personal petition to the pope.

In November 1992 Dr. Leonard began a period of preparation for his reception into full communion and for ordination to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. After full consultation with the competent authorities in Rome and with the authority of the Holy See, he was received by me on April 6 and ordained priest also by me in the chapel of Archbishop’s House on April 23.

In their statement of Nov. 18, 1993, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales said: "We would never suggest that those now seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church deny the value of their previous ministry. According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the liturgical actions of their ministry can most certainly engender a life of grace, for they come from Christ and lead back to him and belong by right to the one church of Christ."

Nonetheless it is necessary to keep in mind that ordination conferred within the Anglican Communion is judged invalid in the apostolic letter Apostolicae Curae. The value of this letter, given by His Holiness Leo XIII in 1896, has been upheld by the Holy See, even though some important theological clarifications relating to ministry and eucharist have been made by the Anglican Communion.

An exchange of letters between the president of the then- Secretariat for Christian Unity (July 13, 1985) and the two presidents of the second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, ARCIC II (Jan. 14, 1986) had expressed the hope that following dialogue and clarification such a unity of faith could be reached in the areas of ministry and eucharist that the way to a re-evaluation of these questions by the Catholic Church would be opened.

Unfortunately this position has not yet been reached. Consequently, since the church must be in no doubt of the validity of the sacraments celebrated for the Catholic community, it must ask all who are chosen to exercise the priesthood in the Catholic Church to accept sacramental ordination in order to fulfill their ministry and be integrated into the apostolic succession.

While firmly restating the judgment of Apostolicae Curae that Anglican ordination is invalid, the Catholic Church takes account of the involvement, in some Anglican episcopal ordinations, of bishops of the Old Catholic Church of the Union of Utrecht who are validly ordained. In particular and probably rare cases the authorities in Rome may judge that there is a "prudent doubt" concerning the invalidity of priestly ordination received by an individual Anglican minister ordain in this line of succession.

There are many complex factors which would need to be verified in each case. It is most unlikely that sufficient evidence will normally be available, but in Dr. Leonard’s case, very full documentation was available which enabled the authorities in Rome to reach a judgment, and in this particular case that judgment was that a "prudent doubt" exists. Of course, if there were other cases where sufficient evidence was available, the balance of that evidence may lead the authorities to reach a different judgment.

After extensive research and careful consideration of the factors necessary for validity, the authorities in Rome instructed me to ordain Dr. Leonard to the priesthood conditionally, in accordance with the norms of Canon 845.2. In such a case, during the course of the ordination liturgy the church prays that almighty God will grant the candidate the grace of the Catholic priesthood in case he has not received it through his ordination celebrated in the Anglican Communion.

This reordination was required out of respect due to the sacrament and the necessity to ensure the validity of the exercise of priestly office. The Catholic Church welcomes Dr. Leonard into full communion and into his new life of ministry as a priest in the Catholic Church.