This book, 'A Review of Anglican Orders: The Problem and the Solution' by George Tavard, is now over 15 years old, but still is one of the most recent and thorough examinations of its sort. As Tavard states in his foreword, 'This was not the first time I approached the question. I engaged in similar research during three years that I spent in England from 1949 to 1951. This research ended in my utter confusion regarding the extremely complicated aspects of the question in the sixteenth century.'
Tavard even suggested that excommunication be a proper tool to prevent people from writing more things to clutter up the situation. Despite this, Tavard ventured forward with this text in the late 1980s. Writing from the Roman Catholic side, he nonetheless approaches the issue of the invalidity of Anglican orders from the Roman Catholic perspective with some insight and possibility of solution.
'What Roman Catholic theology designates as the problem of Anglican orders was a creation of the past two centuries.' The 'problem' as it exists today was not necessarily a conscious construct of the Reformation, but in many ways a problem of the interpretation and revisioning of the actions of the time by the later church. This came to a full pronunciation of the invalidity of Anglican orders vis-à-vis the church of Rome under the pontificate of Leo XIII, in 1896, with the letter 'Apostolicae curae'. From Cranmer to Leo, the problem grew into something almost Byzantine in nature.
Tavard presents the pros and cons as they would have been presented to Leo XIII, suggesting that Leo's decision was done 'in the light of neo-scholastic theology [that] was dear to Leo's heart.' This was not necessarily a determinative decision, and certainly not one that was issued under the rubrics of infallibility. It also may have been based on the mistaken vision that such a pronouncement of invalidity would encourage conversion en masse to the Roman church.
Tavard's historical explanations are among the more clearly presented on this topic. However, it is his section on possible solutions that is perhaps most worthy of reading. These possible solutions include the presumption of validity, an argument from context (the church/community is the ordaining body), supplemental regularlisation and others. None of these are perfect solutions on either side of the issue; each would be subject to negotiations that take place at various levels.
Tavard argues for the presumption of validity to replace the presumption of invalidity as a first, productive step. However, this would be only the beginning, as Tavard states, of accepting intercommunion-leading-to-full-communion status of Anglican and Roman Catholic orders. Tavard doesn't develop the steps leading from this very fully, citing the experience of Bishop Butler and his three-stage plan for relations between Canterbury and Rome, that it ended up being far more complicated and multi-layered that one might think at first.
If this seems to outsiders (and even to insiders) as a dispute in Swiftian terms, or a theological argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, readers can be forgiven for thinking such things, for the church (alas) still engages in such exercises. However, if there is ever to be a full reconciliation, work such as Tavard's (and those he highlights) is important.