Ambrose Moran and the Validity of Orthodox Orders

Aug 9, 2018

For the sake of argument, let us take for granted that Ambrose Moran truly underwent an episcopal consecration ceremony in 1976 by an Orthodox bishop, and since the Catholic Church has historically accepted the validity of the sacraments administered by the Orthodox, would we not therefore be able to conclude that Ambrose Moran is truly a bishop?  The simple answer is “no”.  Let me explain.  When the Catholic Church teaches that the Orthodox have valid sacraments, we must understand that there are some general assumptions being made, such as:

 

1. The priest or bishop is truly a priest or bishop.
2. The priest or bishop has the right intention, that is, to do what the Catholic Church does.
3. The rite itself has valid matter and form.
4. The rite is scrupulously adhered to.

 

Now when the administration of the sacraments is under the control of the Catholic Church, the above assumptions are generally not questioned and therefore one may have a moral certitude as to the validity and consequent acceptance of the sacraments administered by Catholic clergy.  However, this is not the situation with the sacraments administered by the Orthodox; rather, each case must be investigated.  We must remember that the Orthodox have been in schism with the Catholic Church for nearly a millennium.  During that time there have been many factions that have broken off from each other and even disagree with each other for one reason or another regarding, for example, who is a valid priest or bishop.  What has happened to the Orthodox is akin to what has happened to the Protestants after they broken off from the true Church of Christ in the 16th century; they have become a mess.  Understanding this, then, and even when one can prove that he underwent an episcopal consecration ceremony by an Orthodox bishop, we cannot as Catholics claim to have a moral certitude that he is truly a bishop without a thorough investigation being done, which needs to consist of the following, at a minimum, by the competent authorities1:

 

1. That the rite used was a received and approved rite of the Catholic Church.
2. That the rite was scrupulously adhered to.
3. That the supposed bishop performing the consecration was truly a bishop.  This would involve investigating points 1 and 2 for him and all those in his line going all the way back to the last Catholic bishop.

 

You can foresee that this could be an exhausting and time consuming process, and yet still end up with uncertain results.

 

In regards to Ambrose Moran’s case, even if we take for granted that he truly underwent a consecration ceremony by an Orthodox bishop, we cannot have a moral certitude that he is a valid bishop.  The above formula would have to be applied by the competent authorities.  But what if we can prove that his consecration was probably valid?  Would not this, then, make it morally lawful to receive the sacraments from him?  The simple answer again is “no”.  The following proposition was condemned by the Holy Office in 1679 under Pope Innocent XI:

 

“It is not illicit in conferring sacraments to follow a probable opinion regarding the value of the sacrament, the safer opinion being abandoned, unless the law forbids it, convention or the danger of incurring grave harm.  Therefore, one should not make use of probable opinions only in conferring baptism, sacerdotal or episcopal orders.”
(Denzinger 1151)

 

Therefore, even if we take for granted that Ambrose Moran underwent a consecration ceremony by an Orthodox bishop and that we can prove that his consecration was probably valid, it would still be morally unlawful to receive the sacraments from him.  We must first have a moral certitude that he has the power to confer the sacraments, which would need to consist of the competent authorities first proving with a moral certitude each point of the formula stated above.

 

In addition to needing to prove with a moral certitude each point of the the formula, note that I qualified that the investigation be done “by the competent authorities”.  Can we consider Fr. Pfeiffer and/or Fr. Hewko competent authorities to prove with a moral certitude that Ambrose Moran is a true bishop?  One of the requirements of a competent authority should be that he have no vested interest in the case in question.  Otherwise, he will be biased to seek evidence in favour of his wish or determined position. Now the Kentucky Fathers have made their position clear; they accept Ambrose Moran as a true bishop.  They originally arrived at this conclusion almost three years ago because of statements made by Ambrose Moran and documents received from him, despite the evidence presented to the contrary.  From the start, the original investigation on their part was biased because they needed a bishop for their seminary.  Since then, they have become more desperate for a bishop, so much so that they approved the recent conditional ordination of Fr. Poisson from the hands of Ambrose Moran.  Now I hear that Fr. Pfeiffer is likely to come out soon with some presentation providing evidence of the validity of the episcopacy of Ambrose Moran.  Will this evidence be evidence already presented or new evidence?  If it is the former, then this evidence has already been sufficiently refuted to at least place a positive doubt on the matter; if it is the latter, then how unbiased will this evidence be when Fr. Pfeiffer has already doubled down by the approval of the conditional ordination of Fr. Poisson?

 

In conclusion, even if we take for granted that Ambrose Moran truly underwent an episcopal consecration ceremony in 1976 by an Orthodox bishop, we cannot state with a moral certitude that he is truly a bishop unless a thorough investigation is done, which needs to consist of the following, at a minimum, by the competent authorities1:

 

1. That the rite used was a received and approved rite of the Catholic Church.
2. That the rite was scrupulously adhered to.
3. That the supposed bishop performing the consecration was truly a bishop.  This would involve investigating points 1 and 2 for him and all those in his line going all the way back to the last Catholic bishop.

 


If the validity of one’s priesthood is in question, then a thorough investigation would need to be done, which needs to consist of the following, at a minimum, by the competent authorities:

 

1. That the rite used was a received and approved rite of the Catholic Church.
2. That the rite was scrupulously adhered to.
3. That the supposed bishop performing the ordination was truly a bishop.  This would involve investigating points 1 and 2 for him and all those in his line going all the way back to the last Catholic bishop.

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