I was having a discussion with someone and I said that if a Catholic priest took a Protestant service, it would not be bona fide Protestant service. They replied that Catholic priests can become Anglican members.

Which makes me wonder if I was wrong: can a Catholic priest lead Anglican services; and which services (if any) would not be bona fide Protestant when performed by a Catholic priest?

Please do answer based on whichever Anglican church would say the service really was Protestant.

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    Your first sentence doesn't make any sense at all! You will also need to be much more specific: there will be different answers for leading the prayers of the service from the sacraments like communion.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 0:27
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    One more suggestion: unlike the Catholic Church which has centralised rules, each country's Anglican church sets its own rules, so it would be easier to answer if you picked one specific country.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 0:33

4 Answers 4


The churches of the Anglican Communion recognize the validity of Holy orders conferred by the Roman Catholic Church, so that a Bishop, Priest or Deacon who converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism, would remain a Bishop, Priest or Deacon, and could serve in the appropriate roles in the Anglican Church, subject to the relevant canon(s) of the various constituent churches of the Communion. It is also probably true, that a Catholic Bishop, Priest, or Deacon could be permitted to exercise his role in an Anglican church on a one time basis. In either case, though, whether a full conversion or a one time event, this would violate Roman Catholic canon law, and the Catholic Priest, Bishop, or Deacon, would likely be automatically excommunicated by virtue of having performed the act.

As far as going the other way, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes Anglican orders as "absolutely null and utterly void" (Pope Leo XIII's Apostolicae Curae §36), so an Anglican converting to Catholicism would have to be ordained in the Catholic Church. This does, in fact, happen, and there are some number of Anglican clergy who have converted and been ordained and who serve as Priests in Roman Catholic environments, even when those Priests are married.

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    My understanding is that they are conditionally ordained, as the apostolic succession is ambiguous at best. Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 5:11
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    @cwallenpoole, I'm not sure whether you're talking about Catholics converting to Anglicanism, or Anglicans converting to Catholicism.
    – brasshat
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 5:28
  • @brasshat Anglicans recognize RCC orders. RCC view Anglicans as "maybe they're ordained, maybe they aren't." This is because of a change in the rite of ordination (which invalidated their orders) combined with the fact that the Old Catholics (a group from the Netherlands I think) later started participating in the consecration of Anglican bishops. Since the Old Catholic had valid orders, then a bishops ordination is conditional on whether he was ordained by a valid bishop and consecrated by a valid bishop. Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 15:59
  • This means that it is possible that a bishop was ordained a priest invalidly but a valid bishop was there for the consecration. Since a man must be a priest to be a bishop these lines start getting very muddled very quickly. Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 16:00
  • @cwallenpoole: There is no doubt that the Catholic Church always considers Anglican orders invalid because the Anglican ordination rite is defective, regardless if a valid bishop performs it. Pope Leo XIII wrote in Apostolicae Curae §36: "…we pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void."
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 4:55

There are three things which are necessary for a sacrament to be valid. The form, the matter, and the intent. I once heard a priest say that he could come riding into the Church naked, on an elephant, and so long as he had unleavened bread and wine, said the mass using the right words, and intended for the Mass to be valid, it would be.

Having read the Book of Common Prayer's rubrics, if RC priest intended to use them for Mass, that is, I believe, sufficient for it to actually be a Mass. It would be valid but illicit. He might receive a sternly worded letter from the Bishop. Maybe. (I know of one parish which largely re-wrote much of the Mass to make it rhyme (!), they did it for years before the bishop told them to stop).

As to "leading a Protestant service", if a priest is intending to confect the Eucharist, then is it Protestant? On the other hand, if the priest is not intending to have it be a Mass and there is still communion, or the priest tries to use illicit matter (coke instead of wine, wonder bread instead of unleavened), that would be a much more serious offense.

It also might be noted that ordination is something permanent. It cannot be undone. Even a defrocked priest has the ability to say Mass, but it is a sin to do so (in most circumstance). So the question really is a matter of what the priests intention is.


I will add to brasshat’s answer the perspective of the Catholic Church.

As brasshat mentioned, the Catholic Church does not, in general, recognize the validity of Anglican Holy Orders (see Apostolicae curae, especially number 36), hence—unless a particular cleric can prove that he has obtained valid Holy Orders, say, from an Orthodox bishop—it must conclude that, in general, Anglican priests and bishops do not validly confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist. (In order to confect the Eucharist, one must possess at least the rank of presbyter.)

For that reason alone, it would be gravely illicit for a Cathlic priest to take on an Anglican service, especially since Anglicans have a wide diversity in opinion regarding the nature of Holy Orders and the Eucharist.

In any case, even if the Anglican Church had valid Holy Orders, at present it exists in a state of schism with the Catholic Church, and Canon Law explicitly prohibits communicatio in sacris; that is, participation in sacred rites of a group not in communion with the Catholic Church:

Can. 1365 A person guilty of prohibited participation in sacred rites (communicatio in sacris) is to be punished with a just penalty.

It is entirely possible, of course, for a Catholic priest to leave the Catholic Church and enroll in the Anglican Church—but such an action is not, from the Catholic Church’s point of view, licit or laudable. (For example, if he wished to return to the Catholic Church, he would probably not be allowed to resume his priestly ministry.)


As an Anglican priest and the Anglican Chaplain on the island of Ibiza I performed a marriage in Ibiza, for a Catholic couple. Their Catholic English parish priest in England completed all the necessary paperwork and authorities, petitioned their Diocesan Bishop of Durham who gave a dispensation for the couple to be married by me. This was sanctioned by the Vicar general of the Catholic Church in Ibiza and authority to take the wedding was conferred by the bishop of Ibiza. The couple were married by me in San Agustin and the marriage was recognised and validated by both denominations. I requested the presence of the parish priest of San Agustin, I was not required to do this, but he also signed their marriage licence. It was wise to do this but neither his presence nor his countersigning the licence was required. I guess my Holy Order were verified and line of Apostolic succession was valid.

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    That is right: the Catholic party was given what is called a dispensation from canonical form, which means that he (or she) is not obligated to be married by a properly authorized witness (which usually means a Catholic priest or deacon; in very extraordinary cases, a Catholic lay person can also be authorized). Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 9:30
  • This is a good anecdote, but I think the last line about Holy Orders is untrue from a Catholic canonical perspective.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 16:04

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