Deerfield Revisited

The Question of the Conditional Consecractions

Spokesmen for what is left of the ACC (USA) have declared the conditional consecractions done at Deerfield Beach by Bps .Mercer, Boynton and Mize to be "invalid". In response, some have speculated that this declaration is no more than a variation on the theme of fox and grapes. Perhaps; but that does not answer the arguments that such spokesman have put forward. On what grounds do they base their claim?

Their first argument is that, taking place as they did in Deerfield Beach, FL, the conditional consecractions constituted an 'invasion' of the ACC Diocese of the South. The second is that, since (on their view) there could be no good reason to doubt the validity and regularity of the Orders of the (former) ACC bishops who were conditionally consecracted, therefore the act amounted to a "second ordination", and was thus an act of 'sacrilege.' Such an act, they claim, would not only be void, but would consitute grounds for excommunication of consecractors and consecracted alike. Many ancient Canons with language using terminology about 'invasion,' 'reordination and 'invalidity' have been cited (in English translation). How sound is the case?


As to the first argument, it is sufficient to point out that the ancient Councils and the Canons issued by them presupposed a situation in which there was only one Caltholic Church, and where, as a consequence, the dictum of "One Bishop for one city" could be applied not only to jurisdiction over souls, but over territory as well. That situation patently no longer applies. We have, at the very least, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglican Christians, all Catholics, occupying the same geographical areas. Dare I say that, every time he ordains a priest, Bishop Bullock (Roman Catholic, Diocese of Des Moines) "invades my Diocese?" The argument depends upon the claim, absurd on its face, that the "rump-ACC" (as one English correspondent now calls it) is the only Catholic Church in the United States.

In our century, the concept of 'jurisdiction' can apply only to people, not to turf. And it can apply only to those who submit voluntarily to the claim of any bishop to some authority over them. Those conditionally consecracted at Deerfield Beach were unwilling to submit to any such claim by Archbishop Lewis of the ACC Diocese of the Original Province of the ACC. The consecrations were done on behalf of another Church body, independent of and not a part of the ACC. Archbishop Lewis can no more claim "invaded jurisdiction" from such an act than he could forbid the pope to sell a painting from the Vatican art collection.

The second argument contains two premises. The first is that ACC Orders are absolutely valid and regular. The second is that any further ordination (even conditional) of someone in such Orders is invaild and further subjects both ordainer and ordained automatically to Degradation from Holy Orders, so that not only that ordination but any future Ministerial acts of such persons are absolutely null and void. We need to look at these premises one at a time.

The ACC derivers its Holy Orders from the consecractions at Denver, CO on January 28, 1978. At that event, four men were consecracted. One of these, Bishop Morse, was accused of having secured election (for the Diocese of Christ the King) at an irregular meeting, reportedly held at a restaurant and under some conditions of secrecy, involving only some of the people who should have had a voice in the selection of a bishop. Another of these, Bishop Mote, was elected at a hastily called, late-night meeting of the newly invented Diocese of the Holy Trinity during the course of the St. Louis Congress, a meeting clearly not called for the purpose of electing a bishop. Further, in a letter to Mr. Michael Mansbridge-Wood (who was then assembling a dossier on the ACC for presentation to the Bishop of Ballarat), Chuck Buell, then Administrative Assistant to the Metropolitan of the ACC, admitted that such documents as warrants and testimonials of election were unavailable at least in part because it was important to keep the hierarchs of ECUSA ignorant of what plans were going forward. This adds the further question of proceeding "in secret."

Any or all of these unusual goings-on may well be perfectly justified on grounds of expediency based on the highly unusual circumstances in which they were in any sense 'regular' proceedings cannot be claimed by any sane, much less reasonable, individual.

The same may be said of the actual consecractions themselves. Two bishops (Albert Chambers and Francisco Pagtakhan), neither acting with jurisdiction or with the permission of his own Church, consecrated one bishop-elect (Dale Doren) A telegram from Bishop Mark Pae of the extra-provincial Anglican Diocese of Taejon, Korea indicated his assent to Bishop Doren's consecration, but was later repudiated (but after the fact) by Bishop Pae.

The newly consecrated bishop then joined the other two in consecrating three more (Robert Morse, Peter Watterson and James Mote). That is a most unusal and irregular proceeding. Further, the question of the intention and state of mind Bp.Pagtakhan has been raised, inevitably, by his activities since that time in con-secrating, and often shortly thereafter repudiating, some dozens of men in and for at least three different "continuing Anglican" jurisdictions.

Again, under the very unusual circumstances which pertained, resort to these equally unusual methods of securing the Episcopate may well be entirely defensible. what is not defensible is any claim that such methods were 'normal,' 'canonical,' or 'regular.'

Does this mean that 'ACC orders' are invalid? No, it certainly does not. But at this point it is necessary to bring into our discussion the concept of a discussion the concept of a distinction between 'validity' and 'regularity.'

During the period of about a century at the time of the after the issuance of the 'ancient canons' cited in opposition to the Deerfield consecractions, the questions arose of whether sacramental acts by clergymen of unworthy character had any effect, and as to whether sacramental acts administered in ecclesial bodies separate from the Catholic Church had any efficacy.

The great theologian, St. Augustine, was foremost among thinkers in the West in treating these topics. He pointed out that, if the unworthiness of a clergymen vitiated the sacraments administered by him, then faithful Christians could never be sure whether they were receiving true sacraments or not. Further, it would make the sacraments acts of men rather than acts of God. Likewise he insisted that when the Church's sacraments were properly administered even outside of the Church, they were in a real sense acts of the Church. Those, for example, baptized by heretics might not receive the benefits of grace which baptism should bring, but once reconciled to the Church they were not to be baptized again.

Out of this discussion arose what later became the distinction between 'valid' and 'regular.' A sacramental act not done according to the rules" would be irregular, yet still have its effect, i.e., be valid. This distinction became a commonplace of theology in the Western part of the Church.

Prior to that time, however, the word 'invalid' (akvpos) could be taken to mean either 'of no effect' or 'un canonical.' It is so used in the 'ancient canons' cited against the Deerfield consecractions. But that is an anachronism. It can no longer be used in that way, at least by those of us in the Western Church. (The distinction to which St. Augustine's position led has never been fully accepted in the Christian East, which still tends to regard sacramental acts done outside Orthodox canonical requirements as of no effect whatsoever.)

Are the opponents of the Deerfield consecrations, then adopting an "Eastern position" on this question? Are they insisting that the Augustinian Distinction be rejected in favour of the older view? Hardly that, for then the Denver consecrations would be struck down equally. You cannot say, "One set of rules for me, but a stricter set for you." Nothing is gained by shooting your opponent with a bullet that must first pass through your own heart.

So ACC Orders, then are surely valid but hardly regular, and one widely recognized good reason for conditional ordination (or consecration) has been exactly the matter of 'regularizing' Orders where some question of 'canonicity could be raised.

As to the second premise, that "reordination" of those in valid Orders is a sacrilege and vitiates all further sacramental acts of those involved: it begs the question by assuming, falsely, that the conditional consecrations at Deerfield were 'second ordinations' in the sense used by the Councils. They were not.

Further, those who put forth this claim simply have not done their homework. Just as one easy example, the Polish National Catholic Church (the recognized Old Catholic Church of the Union of Utrecht in America) reordains (conditionally) every clergyman who joins the PNCC from another Church, and it does so as a matter of course. This is true whether the joining clergyman is Anglican,Roman Catholic or Orthodox. The PNCC takes the position that, by doing this in every case, they are in fact saying nothing, one way or the other, about the Orders of any cleric who joins. It is simply universal policy and procedure. Thus Roman Catholic priests, e.g., who have joined the PNCC, have been reordained all along. Yet the ACC, from Denver on, has assiduously courted the favor of the PNCC and sought to establish talks aimed at Intercommunion.

Further, the practice of reordination, even absolutely rather than conditionally (the latter being fairly a fairly recent phenomenon) is not as non-existent, even in the West, as the critics of Deerfield would have us believe.

An Archbishop of Canterbury no less, Theodore of Tarsus, regarded the British Christians he found in England as heretics (because of their method of determining the date of Easter), and their sacraments as null and void (the Eastern view again, not surprising in an Easterner). A French theologian (Saltet) who investigated this topic in the 19 th Century quotes a statement by Eddius that Theodore required even that St. Chad be reordained, "... through all the ecclesiastical grades." Pope Constantine II (767 AD), having been ordained irregularly by passing through the grades too quickly, was then deposed by the Lombards, and his ordinations declared 'invalid' (not just irregular) by his successor stephen III, thus adding to the confusion of terms. In 880 the Archbishop of Milan, one Ansbert who had been excommunicated for contumacy, consecracted a bishop (Joseph) of Vercelli. pope John VIII declared thid consecraction uncanonical, then declared it null and required joseph to be reordained. In the 10 th Century Ratherius, Bishop of Verona, determined to reordain all clerics ordained by this opponent Milo during the twelve years in which Milo had held the See. These are only some of the examples available even to the casual historian.

It is not necessary to approve of this sometimes rather seedy ecclesiastical politicking with the sacrament of Orders to see that, if the simple act of recordination were sufficient to vitiate all future sacramental acts by those involved, the whole matter of the Apostolic Succession might well be brought into question, so frequently has it occurred. These is also the matter of what such a theory would have to say about thousands of faithful Christians having been deprived of true sacraments throughout the course of Christian history.

Thus neither basis of the attack on the conditional consecraction at Deerfield Beach can stand examination. That the ACC had such exclusive possession of 'Catholicity' as to make any act by any other Church any act by any other Church an "invasion" of its rights and territory is a claim of almost unimaginable arrogance. It betrays the very attitude that, once it became pervasive among the ACC hierarchy, caused many to give up on that body and seek another home. That an act of humility and pastoral intent, the Willingness to give up to God whatever claims to "better Orders" one might think one has and proceed with one's brothers within a common heritage, and to minister to the consciences of those who held sincere (even if misguided) doubts: that such an act should an act should be deemed 'sacrilegious' says more about the 'religion' of those who so name it than we are comfortable in knowing. It appears to be a religion in which man-made laws must bind even God, so that He must reject the prayers of those who seek to do His will and come together. Such claims violate not only the facts of the case and the logic of the argument, but also the spirit in which we are requred by our Master to approach each other: "See how these Christians love one another".

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Archbishop Samuel P. Prakash
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