A reader asks, "Do Anglicans have a Valid Apostolic Succession; if so can you please explain why the Roman Church doesn't acknowledge them?"
First of all, let's look at some definitions.
Historic Episcopate - The laying on of hands from one (actually usually three) bishop(s) to another in an unbroken succession of ordination that extends back to the very early church if not to the Apostles themselves.
"For Anglicans, the historic episcopate declares to us that the Gospel is not only an idea or a proposition or a proclamation, but the animating force of a living community communicated over and over again from one person to another. The bishop, in this succession, is thus a living image of the unity of the faithful in and with God, a unity yet to be consummated but already at work in us across the barriers of time and space."(L. William Countryman, an Episcopal seminary professor, in a paper presented to LED III in June 1984, cited in Toward Full Communion, p. 33.)
Apostolic Succession - As defined in Lutheran-Episcopal dialogues,
Apostolicity contains four major strands - faithful teaching, the sacraments, a recognized ministry, and involvement in mission - "the Church's continuity with Christ and the apostles in its movement through history." Apostolic succession is "a dynamic, diverse reality" embracing faithfulness to apostolic teaching; participation in baptism, prayer, and the eucharist; "sharing in the Church's common life of mutual edification and caring, served by an ecclesiastically called and recognized pastoral ministry of Word and sacrament;" and "continuing involvement in the apostolic mission" of the church by proclaiming the gospel through word and deed. Apostolic succession is not to be understood "primarily in terms of historic episcopate."
In other words, the apostolic succession is not only the laying-on-of-hands from one bishop to another over the centuries, but a cord formed by four important strands. While Anglicans have maintained the historic ministry explicity through the episcopate, the historic ministry has also been maintained through the Lutheran tradition as well, even in the absence of bishops. Similarly, while Anglicans have always preached the Gospel, the Lutherans have upheld its centrality most forcefully. (Original here)
This newer definition of Apostolic Succession was necessary because it was apparent that Lutherans hold to apostolic teachings and practices even though German Lutherans reluctantly dropped the Historic Episcopate during the Reformation. In older literature, or when talking with Roman or Eastern Orthodox theologians, the two are usually thought to be the same.The embodiment of the Apostolic Succession in the person of a validly ordained bishop is the only way that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believe it can be properly transmitted. Since the question has to do with Roman Catholics, I will now focus on the status of orders between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
Of course, there was a lot of bad blood (and a lot of real blood) between Romans and Anglicans in the tumultuous years following the reign of Henry VIII. Anglicans have always (to my knowledge) accepted the validity of Roman orders, although it has to be pointed out that "low-church" Anglicans of that time (Puritans and Presbyterians) would not find it a question worth asking, since the Historic Episcopate was at best adiaphora and at worst a "Romish Practice."
The question of Roman recognition of Anglican orders is not so simple. Prior to 1896, various Popes had declared that Anglican orders were invalid, but there had not been a thorough exploration of the issue and there were divided opinions within the Roman church. Some "high-church" Anglicans and some Romans hoped for a reunion of the churches, with official mutual recognition of orders being the first step. The outcome of the process within the Roman church resulted in the 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae by Pope Leo XIII, declaring that Anglican Holy Orders were "Absolutely null and utterly void." What was the basis of this decision, considering that Anglican bishops could trace their succession through the same bishops that the Romans did?
The primary answer was that the Anglican ordination service introduced in the Edwardine Ordinal of 1552 were defective in form and intention. For Roman Catholics, the primary role of a priest is that of a person who makes the daily sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus at the altar. The Edwardine Ordinal did not have any language referring to the sacrificial role of the priest, so in Roman eyes, the entire point was missed and rites celebrated according to it were invalid. Anglican Eucharistic theology upholds sacrificial language around the role of a priest, but it is not the only or even primary role of a pastor for most Anglican pastoral theologians. Many would point to a primacy of preaching the Gospel.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York replied in 1897 with the encyclical Saepius Officio. The strident affirmation of sacrifice on the Roman side as the center of priestly identity was largely a product of Counter-Reformation polemics against Protestants. The Archbishops pointed out that many rites used historically in the Roman church did not contain this language. Even more significantly, none of the ordination rites of the Eastern Orthodox Churches used such language, and Rome recognized their orders as valid! By Leo's reasoning, all Eastern Orthodox ministers and an undetermined number of Roman ministers were actually invalidly ordained. Finally, they pointed out that during the brief return of Roman authority under Queen Mary, not one priest ordained under the Edwardian Ordinal had been required to be re-ordained.
This is where the debate ended in the 1800s. with Anglicans receiving Roman Catholic ministers into the Anglican Communion with no re-ordination, and Roman Catholics re-ordaining Anglican ministers who wished to become Roman.
There have been writers on both the Anglican and Roman sides that have argued that Apostolicae Curae could be re-argued, since the 1662 revision to the Prayer Book restored the questioned language. Roman Catholic writers have also noted that the addition of Old Catholic bishops of the Union of Utrecht into the line of succession for Anglicans may have possibly eliminated any basis for doubt of validity.
In 1988, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) issued a doctrinal commentary that listed Apostolicae Curae as one of the teachings to which Roman Catholics must give "firm and definitive assent," Therefore raising it to the level of dogma and making it difficult to revisit. In addition, the ordination of women to both the priesthood and episcopate in parts of the Anglican Communion make any new progress unlikely.
So do Anglicans have a valid Historic Episcopate? I believe we do. Our lines of succession come not only from the pre-reformation Church in England, but also through the Old Catholic and Baltic Lutheran lines. Were our ordination rites ever "defective?" Only if you accept the Counter-Reformation Roman definition of priestly sacrifice as the only norm of the church, thus declaring generations of Roman ordinations and all Eastern Orthodox ordinations invalid.
But what about women? Roman Catholic theologians would say that the proper "substance" is not proper in a woman, meaning that a woman by her very nature simply cannot be ordained. I always like to tell a story that Bp. Mark Dyer told us in Sacramental Theology in seminary. "When Mary knelt at the foot of the cross and was the only one in the world who could really say 'this is my body and my blood poured out for the life of the world,' she opened the way for women's ordination." Indeed, most Roman books on the priesthood will link priestly identity very closely with Mary, but then point out that Mary was not a "normal" woman (Immaculate Conception) so that it can't be applied across the board. My Mariology is very different, but that's a topic for a different entry.
Wikipedia - Apostolicae Curae
Document - Aposolicae Curae
Document - Saepius Officio
Addendum: Further reading in One, Catholic and Apostolic resulted in finding a footnote that "given the dates, the purity of the Scottish line, and the liturgical forms used in the Reformation and post-Reformation era, Scottish succession alone may be at least partially immune to the condemnation of Apostolicae Curae." "When James II arrived in France with Bishop John Gordon of the Scottish Episcopal Church, he was then received without reconsecration into the Roman church by the Bishop of Meaux at the request of the pope." (p. 213) So it may be that Anglicans that derive their succession from the Nonjuror Scottish line are not technically under Apostolicae Curae, including American Episcopalians. Not that it changes anything on the ground, but it's interesing.....