At their last two meetings (Milwaukee, November 10-11, 1987, and Boston, September 6-8, 1988), members of the Joint committee of Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bishops have heard presentations and discussed in several sessions the perpetuity of the effects of Ordination. They also reviewed the recently released statement of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church--"The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church with particular reference to the importance of Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and Unity of the People of God." The Joint Committee of Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bishops now issues this summary of its discussions:
Three general points of agreement on Orders were noted:
- the three sacred orders of Diaconate, Presbyterate, and Episcopate have a sacramental nature;
- these orders are exclusively conferred by Bishops with unquestionable apostolic succession; and
- Ordination implies a setting apart. Roman Catholic theology has emphasized an indelible sacramental character to explain this distinctive status as a special configuration to Christ the High Priest. Thus the Sacrament of Orders adds an essential specification to the indelible characters resulting from Baptism and Confirmation--sacraments more recently described as relating all the faithful to the mission and witness of Christ.
From the Orthodox point of view, the distinctive status resulting from Ordination is intended to last permanently. A cleric, however, may be the subject of deposition because of serious sin which creates a permanent canonical hindrance to performing his sacred function. In such a case, even though he may be penitent, he cannot be restored to clerical status. On the other hand, there are some offenses of a canonical nature for which the penalty of deposition is foreseen but that are not necessarily an obstacle to canonical reintegration to Holy Orders, if they are not an impediment to ordination itself.
With either the Roman Catholic understanding of character or the Orthodox understanding of the creation of a permanent hindrance due to sin, "reordination" is impossible. Even in cases when a Roman Catholic cleric may lose clerical status either through cause or petition, the sacred Ordination never becomes invalid. For both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, when a member of the clergy who has been ordained in a church that shares with them an understanding of the Priesthood and by a Bishop in an unquestionable apostolic succession is received into either the Orthodox or the Roman Catholic Church, his ordination should be recognized. It should be noted, however, that until such time when the practice of the Orthodox Church will be unified, these cases will be decided by each Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
Following the 7th Meeting in Boston
October 1, 1988