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Do They Simply Transfer?
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Q: I know that some male Episcopalian priests have become Roman Catholics. Can they be assigned to parishes like regular Catholic priests? What about Episcopalian bishops and deacons?

A: Pope Leo XIII commissioned a study on this in 1895. The majority of its members concluded that ordinations in the Anglican Church are null and void. The following year the pope wrote Apostolicae Curae, an apostolic letter confirming that position. Even so, some Catholics consider this an open question.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI gave a bishop’s ring to Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury, an Anglican. Last October, Pope John Paul II gave a pectoral cross to Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury.

Several of Anglicanism’s 39 Articles, drafted in the 16th century, were carefully phrased to emphasize the differences in belief between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church (for example, about transubstantiation).

Some Episcopalian priests have become Roman Catholics and later have been ordained as Roman Catholic priests. Cardinal John Henry Newman (died 1890) and Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (died 1892) did that. Manning was a widower when he became a Roman Catholic. Eventually, he became archbishop of Westminster (England).

Since 1982, approximately 130 married and 25 celibate Episcopal priests in the United States have become Roman Catholics and have later been ordained as Roman Catholic priests. (Although some Anglicans and Episcopalians describe themselves as “Catholics,” in the rest of this answer that term will be used to designate only “Roman Catholics.”)

If Anglican priests and Protestant ministers are married when they become Catholic priests, they promise not to remarry should they become widowers. Those who are celibate at the time of ordination promise to remain celibate.

Roman Catholic men ordained as permanent deacons make a similar pledge, reflecting the practice of the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Episcopalian deacons who become Catholics and are ordained as Catholic deacons make the same promise.

Most married Roman Catholic priests serve as teachers or chaplains or engage in some other non-parochial ministry.

In early 2003, Pope John Paul II appointed Alan Hopes as an auxiliary bishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster, England. Father Hopes was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1968, became a Catholic in 1994 and was ordained a celibate, Catholic priest the next year.

Ecumenical relations between Roman Catholics and Episcopalians have been complicated by the decision of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. to ordain as a bishop a priest involved in a same-sex union and by the decision of several regional churches within the Anglican communion to ordain women priests and women bishops.

Q: I have heard that once a person reaches a certain age (perhaps 70), he or she is no longer required to attend Mass every Sunday, to fast or to abstain. My 82-year-old mother-in-law says she has never heard that. Can you help resolve this?

A: In the Roman Catholic Church, those who have completed “their majority” (age 18 in the United States) and not yet begun their 60th year are obliged to fast on the prescribed days (Code of Canon Law, canon 1252).

Your mother-in-law is correct about abstinence and attending Sunday Mass. There is no age when these obligations automatically cease. A person could, however, be unable to do either because of a health condition or other legitimate reason.

Q: Has the Catholic Church condemned The Da Vinci Code? I read it and consider it trash. Why hasn’t there been an outcry from Rome about the misrepresentations found in this book?

A: Although it is presented as fiction, some parts of it reflect meticulous research. Other parts of it are sheer invention, such as the assertion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children.

On page 169, one character says, “Everyone loves a conspiracy.” This novel is certainly full of conspiracies, especially the assertion that when Constantine the Great became emperor in the fourth century, the Catholic Church suppressed reliable information about Jesus (provided by the Gnostic gospels) in favor of a more easily controlled “party line.” In fact, the Church’s agreement on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was reached more than 100 years before Constantine became emperor.

In 1967 the Catholic Church abolished the Index of Forbidden Books. Since that date it has challenged certain books about doctrinal or moral issues, but not novels.

I am puzzled that an author who incorporates very careful research in some sections (layout of the Louvre, for example) misrepresents the controversy over the Gnostic gospels and uses the term “the Vatican” to describe who made all major Church decisions since the fourth century.

The author, Dan Brown, practically says that all the Roman Catholic Church’s problems throughout history originate from its decision to have a celibate clergy. Hardly.

Brown’s misrepresentations are not confined to the Catholic Church. On page 309 one character asserts that sacred prostitution was practiced in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Not so.

The same caution that viewers need regarding TV docudramas is valuable here.

At Newsletters/SFS/an0101.asp, readers can find a useful article about how the Church settled on the 27 writings of the New Testament.

Q: What is the Church’s stand about people who claim to communicate with the dead? Is that like praying to saints? Or is it wrong? They are not claiming to foretell the future—only to communicate with deceased people.

A: Men and women who make their living by claiming to receive messages from dead people run the risk of violating the First Commandment—not to have any god besides the Lord.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future” (#2116).

The text continues: “Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and re-course to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”

Those who claim to communicate with the dead are not doing the equivalent of praying to saints. Few people claim to receive direct messages from saints—and for those who do, such claims can never require belief or assent on anyone else’s part.

Q: My Catholic co-workers and I are confused about whether the Roman Catholic Church in the United States allows eating chicken on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of Lent and Good Friday. Some say that the Church’s law prohibits both red meat and chicken. Others disagree. Also, do we have to eat fish?

A: On the days indicated above, Catholics who have completed their 14th year may not eat meat. That includes chicken, which the Church considers to be meat.

Your confusion probably arises because some vegetarians do not consider chicken to be meat and will, therefore, eat it. Other vegetarians consider fish to be meat and thus prohibited for them. The Catholic Church does not consider fish to be meat.

All vegetarians are free to follow their preferences—except on those days when their definition of meat conflicts with the Church’s understanding about that.

No Catholic is required to eat fish on a day of abstinence. He or she may eat fruits, vegetables, cereals or any other food that is not meat.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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