Recently in Canonical Category

Does the next Pope have an S.T.D.?


That is: a doctorate in sacred theology?

In 1995, the eminent canon-law professor Ed Peters wrote a piece for Homiletic and Pastoral Review about the need for bishops to set aside some young priests with academic ability, and get them enough advanced study so that they would be prepared in the future, if called, to serve the Church as bishops. At the time, Peters foresaw a "coming bishop crunch" in the U.S.: a lot of bishops reaching retirement age and perhaps a shortage of qualified priests possessing an advanced degree as required by canon law for a bishop.

Canon 378 lists several official requirements for bishops, and one is that he "hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology or canon law, from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least be well versed in these disciplines."

(In case the word "licentiate" is unfamiliar: it's a graduate degree of lower rank than a doctorate, but it qualifies the holder to teach in a Catholic seminary awarding the bachelor's in sacred theology.)

I thought about this topic the other day when I saw Sandro Magister's column; it was a little chatty talk about some of the cardinals attracting interest as possible choices to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.

One of the names mentioned happens to be my local bishop, Cardinal O'Malley, and it always surprises me to see him on a list like that, since he doesn't happen to hold either of those degrees. He does have a PhD, but it's in Spanish and Portuguese literature. While I trust that he's well versed in theology, I suspect that the cardinals are probably not going to elect anybody Pope unless he really fulfills the requirements with an earned degree in one of the sacred sciences named; and preferably at the doctoral level.

So I decided to make a little survey of the cardinal electors and see who studied what. For the sake of simplicity, I excluded about half the cardinals from my study population: those over 75 and those under 60 years of age, since I doubt that the cardinals will want to elect them.

Dr. Peters' web site has a helpful table of the cardinal electors soon to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, with links to biographies of the 118 current electors. Here's a summary of who has earned a doctorate, and in what field; the lists are in descending order by age, and names marked with a star appear more than once.

Cardinals age 60-75 as of 2/17/13:

Doctorates in canon law
Romeo (IT)
Coccopalmerio (IT)
Monteiro de Castro (PT)
Cafarra (IT)
Brady (IE)
Grocholewski (PL)
Rai (LB)
Vallini (IT)
Bertello (IT)
Tauran (FR)
Versaldi (IT)
Sandri (AR)
Piacenza (IT)
Gracias (IN)
Filoni (IT)
Burke (US)
Harvey (US)
Erdö (HU)*

Doctorates in theology
Amato (IT)
Dziwisz (PL)
Hon (CN)
Wuerl (US)
Scola (IT)*
Irosa Savino (VZ)
Rodriguez-Maradiaga (HN)*
Calcagno (IT)
Sepe (IT)*
Cipriani Thorne (PE)*
Onaiyekau (NG)
Ouellet (CA)
Ricard (FR)
Schönborn (AT)
Alencherry (IN)
Cañizares Llovera (ES)
Collins (CA)
Braz de Aviz (BR)
Scherer (BR)
Koch (CH)
Erdö (HU)*

Doctorates in moral theology
O'Brien (US)
Rodriguez-Maradiaga (HN)*
Pengo (TZ)

Doctorates in Sacred Scripture
Monsengwo Pasinya (CG)
Betori (IT)
Turkson (GH)

Other fields:

Doctorates in philosophy
Scola (IT)*
Rodriguez-Maradiaga (HN)*
Bagnasco (IT)
Sepe (IT)*
Cipriani Thorne (PE)*
Filoni (IT)*
Barbarin (FR)

Pell (AU): Church history
O'Malley (US): Spanish literature
Rylko (PL): Social science
Nycz (PL): Catechetics
Dolan (US): Church history

Which cardinals have the most academic accomplishments? Well, it's a little hard to say, since I'm leaving out the licentiates here. But within this limited survey, the top is Oscar Rodriguez-Maradiaga of Honduras, with doctorates in theology, moral theology, and philosophy, plus a diploma in clinical psychology and conservatory studies in piano! What a guy!

Perhaps the most unusual field one of the cardinals has studied is industrial engineering. Cdl. Cipriani was an engineer working for W.R. Grace before he entered priestly studies.

To summarize: of the 67 cardinals in this age range, 18 have doctorates in canon law; 21 in dogmatic theology; 3 in moral theology, 3 in Scripture.

And 24 do not have that top-level degree in one of the sacred sciences required by the canon -- which really surprises me.

And the names of those outliers include some illustrious cardinals whom I would not mind seeing as Pope: George Pell (Australia), Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don (Sri Lanka).

[Welcome, readers from WDTPRS!]

Thanks to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has just published its 1978 document of guidance for bishops discerning private revelations.

Yes, you read that right. It's 2012, and we're talking about the publication of a 1978 document. If anything proves the old quip "Roma eterna, sed civitas Vaticana sempiterna" ("Rome is eternal, but Vatican City is almost eternal"), it's this.

The document, usually known as Normae Congregationis from the first words of its title, was issued in 1978 and sent to bishops. It contains principles and general procedures for bishops on how to judge a claimed private revelation. It was issued with the intimidating marking sub secreto, a warning that it was not to be published: not because it contained anything startling, but probably because it hadn't undergone the full review process a public document would receive.

But "information wants to be free", as the saying goes, and from 1994 to 2010 various writers, from Japan to France, and from Canada to Italy, have published it in Latin and in vernacular versions. It appeared in at least one canon-law dissertation, and I even contributed to its spread a little by publishing an English translation made with two colleagues (and yes, the leader of the project did have permission from his bishop). Most recently, the vaticanist Andrea Tornielli got a copy by simply asking the CDF for it, and his copy had no instructions about keeping it secret, so he published the Latin text and an Italian translation in February 2012.

Cdl. Levada writes in a preface that the document had in effect passed into the public sphere, so CDF chose to make its release official, here in Latin and with five vernacular translations, including the English version, Norms regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations. Cdl. Levada's preface also discusses the issue of private revelations in general and mentions how the topic came up in the bishops' Synod on the Word of God, and expresses his hope that the document will be helpful to pastors and experts needing to deal with this pastoral issue.

I just finished reading the anthology Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church: Reflections on Recent Developments, edited by Stephen Cavanaugh (Ignatius Press).

The collection of essays is an orientation to the "Anglican Use" phenomenon by some of its leading advocates: the book covers its origins and development, its current status and possible future, with helpful articles about liturgy, ecumenism, and the experience of entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.

I'm particularly grateful for the articles on liturgy. Brother John-Bede Pauley, OSB's essay on the monastic character in Anglican liturgy is a help in understanding what the "Anglican patrimony" means as a gift to the Church. Prof. Hans-Jürgen Feulner's introduction to comparative liturgy and its use in studying the development of rites and texts indicates the sort of studies the Church will need in order to develop a set of rites for the new Anglican Ordinariates. These will need to be suitable for the Ordinariates in various countries, and thus will have to improve on the current Book of Divine Worship, developed hastily in the 1980s for "Anglican-use" congregations in the US; it drew heavily on texts of that era: the U.S. Episcopalian 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1975 ICEL Roman Missal (soon to become obsolete).

It's not often you get to say that a bit of news reflects a history-making event, but this is one: Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay has been studying the case of a Marian apparition reported in 1859, witnessed by a young immigrant from Belgium by the name of Adele Brise.adele_brise.jpg Today, the bishop announced his verdict: the event is confirmed to be of supernatural origin, and the faithful are free to believe in the apparition.

This makes the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Wisconsin, under the title of "Our Lady of Good Hope", the first and only Marian apparition in the United States to be validated by Church authority. I can only wonder what lies ahead as the grace of this event is to be explored and shared for the good of God's people.

Today's announcement from the diocese is on-line, along with the relevant decrees by the bishop presening his judgment on the apparition and designating the long-standing chapel at the site to be a diocesan shrine. The web site of the newly-designated Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help (Notre Dame de Bon Secours) at Champion, WI also has information.

New York Times Smears (2)

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UPDATE (4/6): Please note the correction to this story added below.

It just wouldn't be Holy Week without a media attack on the Church, would it?

First, a recap for those who haven't seen much of the story yet: a March 25 NY Times article accused Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) of shielding a pervert priest from punishment under Church law in 1998.

As John Schultz cited below, a piece for National Review Online by Canadian priest and writer Fr. Raymond de Souza compared the Times' shoddy article with the documentation it offered as evidence, and showed that the paperwork contradicts the Times' claims. Moreover, the primary source for Laurie Goodstein's so-called reporting, the disgraced former Archbishop of Milwaukee Rembert Weakland, has more axes to grind than the crew on American Loggers.

Now an authoritative eyewitness to the case has joined the controversy directly.

Canon-law judge Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL, who conducted the trial against Fr. Lawrence Murphy, states that neither the Times nor any other media outlet has bothered to contact him to verify any of the facts, or even the statements which the Times presented as quotations from Brundage.

He says that the basic premise of the Times story is wrong: Murphy's trial was never actually stopped, even up to the day of his death. Without that, the whole trumped-up accusation against Cdl. Ratzinger collapses.

Since the website of the Catholic Anchor newspaper has been swamped with readers today and is currently unable to function, here's a link to Brundage's article, reproduced in full in Damien Thompson's weblog at the Daily Telegraph.

CORRECTION (4/6): Fr. Thomas Brundage has issued a correction about a statement he made in the article cited above. Based on documents, he acknowledges that the trial was indeed stopped by Abp. Weakland, shortly before Fr. Murphy's death. The point that CDF did not stop the case remains valid.

New York Times Smears

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From Father Raymond J. de Souza, a response to the New York Times.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Read the whole thing.

Well, ya learn something new every day


I thought priests were obliged to say Mass daily, but according to this article, it's not so.

Thanks to the friend who asked about it!

A friend of mine belongs to a ecclesiastical movement going through a rough patch at the moment. Like many laity affiliated with this movement, he is troubled by the information that has come to light about the founder's secret life, how it may have affected the movement's methodology and practices, and the response of the movement's superiors thus far. Mostly, though, he is horrified for the victims of the founder. (Okay, I'm sure most of you can guess which movement he belongs to.)

While expressing his disappointment in what has happened, coupled with hope the movement will accept reform from the Holy See, he said: "At least we don't have to worry about schism. That's the one thing this movement has always prided itself on: obedience to the Holy Father. They would lose all credibility with rank-and-file if they went into schism."

I'm not so sure. I pray schism doesn't become an option, that the movement accepts and cooperates with the Holy See's apostolic visitation, but the Church has seen stranger throughout its 2000-year history. Many of these smaller schisms began as movements that prided themselves on fidelity and obedience to the Rome. And many opted for schism when Rome eventually stepped in to suppress the movement, or fundamentally reform it.

Here, in a nutshell, is how the process often plays out. Please note that a movement may skip a step or two on its way to schism, or a couple steps may vary:

1 - A charismatic churchman begins a new movement that pledges complete obedience to the Holy Father.

2 - In pursuing its so-called complete obedience to the Holy Father, the leader and/or the movement downplays the role of the diocesan bishop.

3 - The movement begins to quietly work around the authority of the local bishop.

4 - Bishops who raise concerns or criticism of the movement are portrayed by the movement's leadership, either openly or quietly, as not supportive of the Holy Father and Catholic orthodoxy.

5 - Criticism from bishops and Church experts is dismissed by the movement's leadership, which to the movement's follows will trump up photo ops with the Pope or a papal blessing as proof the movement enjoys the Holy Father's support.

6 - After numerous complaints from bishops, Church experts and other Catholic faithful, the Roman Curia gets involved.

7 - The movement is initially supportive of curial intervention and investigation, sure that the curia will vindicate the movement and/or founder.

8 - The curial dicastery or apostolic visitator, more or less, finds that the complaints of bishops, experts and concerned laity have merit.

9 - In pursuing its so-called complete obedience to the Holy Father, the leader and/or movement begins to downplay the role of the curia or churchmen appointed by the Holy See to look into the issue.

10 - The movement begins to quietly work around the authority of the Roman curia or curial delegates.

11 - Concerns expressed by curial officials or apostolic visitators or apostolic delegates are portrayed by the movement's leadership, either openly or quietly, as not supportive of the Holy Father and Catholic orthodoxy.

12 - The standard papal blessings and photo ops come out for a second round as the movement says to its followers: "We have the support of the Pope. But he's under a lot of pressure from enemies in the Curia. Please pray for him."

13 - The Holy Father intervenes, either directly or indirectly, to disband the movement, pronounce it schismatic, etc.

14 - The movement refuses to abide by the action, claiming the Pope has been misled or fed false information or otherwise had his hand forced by the movement's enemies in the Church, many who live in Rome and work at the highest levels of the Church.

15 - Talk about how many saints have been persecuted by high-ranking Churchmen throughout the Church's history, how this is only a temporary misunderstanding, distinctions between the papal office and the person holding it, and how a future Pope will vindicate the movement.

What you will notice is that nowhere throughout the pattern is the movement prepared to admit its substantial faults, as identified by those outside of the movement. Additionally, when serious criticism pops up against the movement, they will often quibble the minor points while missing the deeper the issue (i.e. "Fr. Founder didn't fly to Venice every year and vacation for six weeks on the community dime. Rather he made an annual trip to NAPLES, for FIVE WEEKS AND FOURC DAYS, to rest his delicate health so that he could carry out apostolate the rest of the year, which is the only reason he stayed in four-star hotels and ate at expensive restaurants. Get your facts straight!)

I pray this won't happen in my friend's case. However, I shared with him this pattern, so that he will at least be aware of some of the signs of potential schism.

In his first interview since the Legion announced its apostolic visitation , Archbishop O'Brien of Baltimore speaks the truth in charity. Basically, this visitation is a chance for the Legion to gets its act together, but they need to cooperate fully with the Holy See.

Are you confident the Legionaries are ready to cooperate?

I hope so. I'll put it that way: I really do hope so. It depends on so many individuals being open, because it just takes a few to try to block it and to mislead. I hope that the Legionaries will realize that in the long run, this is going to help them.

You're recently had talks in Rome with Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, the superior of the Legionaries. Are you confident he's ready to cooperate?

I can't say. I'm quite sure he would want to see this thing cleared up, and I hope he'll realize that the best way is to encourage everyone to cooperate.

What are the issues that the visitation should consider?

In the first place, they have to look at Maciel himself. What are the facts, who knew them, when did they know them, and why did it take so long for them to become public? They should look at the financial dimension. They also need to examine who the victims are, and what's being done to meet the needs of those victims.

Then, they need to look at the structure that Maciel created. There was a good deal of secrecy in his own life, and there's secrecy in the structures he created. It would be helpful to know why there is such secrecy. For example, why is there such an effort with their seminarians to limit their exposure to the real world out there? What are their recruiting strategies for vocations to the priesthood? How above board are they? What are the numbers involved, how many priests have been ordained and how many are still active in the priesthood with the Legionaries?

The whole interview is worth reading by clicking here.

[UPDATE: I have updated part 6 below for a second time. My initial understanding of the time-frame for RC promises now appears to have been incorrect. There may also be other updates as I am now receiving more information from LC sources. - Pete]

With the Holy See having announced an apostolic visitation of the Legion of Christ, a modest discussion is taking place in the canon law world over a number of canonical and pastoral issues relating to the Legion and its lay affiliate Regnum Christi (LC/RC). I've formed my own reflections, some of which I share below.

Before I begin, there are three things I feel the LC must do to restore credibility and regain the trust of orthodox Catholics outside the movement (and many on the inside) who are both angered and hurt by this crisis. That is, besides accept and implement what reforms the apostolic visitors may reccomend.

The first is a clear and sincere apology to Fr. Maciel's alleged victims. The second is to speak the truth plainly about the current situation. And the third is to stop playing hardball with its critics.

In the recent past the LC/RC has sued ReGAIN, as well as that involving the Sellors, who founded the Familia programme before falling out with RC (click here). Now there are reports, from the same sources that helped convince the CDF to reopen the investigation against Fr. Maciel that led to his 2006 invitation to retire, of a Legion priest mentioning a lawsuit against a parent of a Legion seminarian who showed up at a Legion apostolate and persuaded his son to come home with him.

While I haven't heard the Legion's side of the story - I've been unable to get a contact number for Legion spokesman Jim Fair [Update: a reader emailed me his number late Monday evening] - my communication with sources close to the family tell me the son came voluntarily, albeit somewhat grudgingly. So I haven't seen any evidence of kidnapping.

You can read more about the incident here. If one believes the father acted criminally, then call the police and press criminal charges. Otherwise, if what was allegedly said by the LC priest is true, then parents may think twice before allowing their sons to go off to Legion seminaries in the future.

Besides, with the Legion currently asking everyone's patience and understanding, the alleged content of the priest's phone call reminds me an awful lot of what Christ warned against in Matthew 18:28-34. Specifically, "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?"

On to my other points:

1 - How does a diocese find out what LC/RC apostolates are taking place within their diocesan boundaries?

I'm far from being an expert on this point, but my understanding is that many RC apostolates in North America are incorporated under the Mission Network. A list of their apostolates can be found by clicking here.

Personally, I see a lot of good ideas there being implemented by a lot of good laity who are simply trying to carry out lay apostolate in fidelity to the Church. No matter what happens, I hope the RC can be salvaged, especially since most RC with whom I have corresponded are very open to reform. What I think would be helpful is if bishops and pastors provided stronger oversight over RC, or at least closer collaboration. In fact, this crisis has really taught me to respect the role of the diocesan bishop in the life of Church ministry, as both a successor to the Apostles and as the legitimate hierarchical authority within his diocese.

2 - Additionally, Archbishop O'Brien in Baltimore has been a model for demanding transparency from the LC/RC in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He has also prohibited LC/RC from giving spiritual direction to minors in the Archdiocese. I believe this to be a wise and prudent decision on his part, and think that other dioceses should take a good look at the Archbishop's reasons for doing so.

3 - Along the same lines (and this comes more from being a pro-family journalist than a canon lawyer) the LC operates minor seminary-type boarding schools for boys as young as twelve. Some of my friends attended these schools during their teens. I hardly saw my them after they went off to these schools.

Several parents have told me the boys are limited to approximately two weeks during the summer, and a short Christmas and Easter break. The rest of the time is spent at the minor seminary, where contact with parents is extremely limited, and reportedly monitored.

I really question how healthy it is in today's society and culture to separate young people from their families, especially in light of Pope John Paul the Great's Familiaris Consortio. I know many older churchmen who I admire, including the current pope, attended minor seminaries of youth. But today is a different age. And besides, as far as we know, Our Lord received his religious education from the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.

In today's society, where our greatest ministerial need is to the family and family structure. So shouldn't we be encouraging as much formation in the family as possible?

As a pro-family journalist, God has blessed me with the opportunity to interview many great bishops, priests and religious about their vocation. With one exception, all have stressed how essential their family was to fostering their vocation, as well as how their experience with family life while growing up greatly aided them in pastoral ministry within today's context.

Additionally, this raises another pastoral concern that I keep hearing about from many RC parents. They discern the need to take some time away from the movement while the Holy See sorts things out, but are not sure how to pull their sons (who they seldom see anymore) from the Legion's minor seminary-type schools. This further complicates the pastoral process of spiritual healing, in my opinion.

4 - There has been a lot of speculation and debate - among canonists, pastors and laypeople - about the content of LC/RC constitutions. I cannot comment authoritatively because I have been unable to obtain a copy from LC/RC sources, despite multiple requests in the past. However, the following on wiki-leaks purports to be sections of their contents.

To the best of my recollection they match those that were previously available from the ReGAIN Network (a loose association of concerned former LC/RC members) prior to the 2007 or 2008 legal settlement that forced ReGAIN to remove LC constitutions from their website. (ReGAIN ran out of money and could no longer afford the legal fees).

As an interesting side note, my understanding is that the LC did not contest their content, but rather the Legion reportedly argued theft of intellectual property. (See WaPo write-up here).

5 - As far as leaving Regnum Christi, I understand that RC members make private promises (or vows, depending upon who you talk to in the movement) when they join. These can be dispensed by the local ordinary (diocesan Bishop, vicar general, or episcopal vicar) in accordance with canon 1196. The process in most dioceses is pretty simple. Simply approach your parish priest or bishop, explain the situation, and request a dispensation from the promises or vows. Many bishops and priests are concerned with what's happening, and will gladly assist you. It's a pretty simple process in most dioceses.

A - For purely pastoral reasons, I suggest you meet with your pastor (or if possible the local ordinary) after the dispensation is granted, should you decide God is calling you to pursue one. I feel that pastoral followup is important because several former LC allege (and have told me, both publicly and personally) that the expression "Lost vocation, sure damnation" was repeated to them in the past.

Many who leave the movement purport to continue struggling with this thought after their departure, some for years. I'm not sure how credible this claim is - except to say the individuals who told me this also proved credible in other allegations they made against the Legion - nor am I sure whether it carried over to the RC. However, if this was shared with you or you personally struggle with this issue, bring it to your pastor or local Ordinary.

B - Whether one discerns God is calling him/her to stay and reform the movement from within, or to leave, I have strongly suggested to every RC member seeking my advice that he or she write the diocesan bishop, expressing both the positives and negatives. This goes back to what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems of the movement, namely, that in many dioceses the LC/RC appear to have limited contact with diocesan authorities.

6 - Along these lines I hope the Apostolic Visitors won't be limited to the LC, but that they will also be given the mandate to visit and make recommendations about the LC. My biggest concern is the apparent lack of stability of Third Degree members. If I understand correctly, they make a commitment to the movement that are renewable every two years. (Again, making their constitutions available would help clarify discrepancies that have arisen over this point.) This strikes me as the ecclesiastical equivalent of living together without the benefit of marriage (minus the sin of fornication, of course!).

[Update 2: I have deleted a section here that noted contradictory claims over whether the commitment to RC Third Degree was one or two years, vows or promises, after coming across the following article on the RC website. As of April 7, 2009 at 1:20 p.m. Eastern, it appears to be promises renewable every two years. That being said, the problem here, in my opinion, is not whether they are vows or promises, for one year or two, but whether RC Third Degree receive adequate health care coverage and other benefits while dedicating themselves to full-time RC apostolate.]

With all the caveats that come when one hears from former members who don't recall the most positive of experiences, several former Third Degree RC members allege that they were without health insurance and other basic benefits during their time as Third Degree, having been told to trust God. Some also claim to have been suddenly sent home when they developed medical issues.

Again, I haven't heard the LC/RC side of the story, but there are enough former members making this claim publicly that it's being added to the allegations swirling about the Legion. Thus bishops and parents of potential Third Degree members may want to ask questions, and the RC may want to take a proactive approach, to ensure that the LC/RC is meeting the Church's social justice obligations.

7 - I have heard similar complaints (again without getting the LC/RC side of the story) from former LC about LC seminarians, also called brothers. Additionally, I have heard - both from LC and former LC sources - that their seminarians are not given a specific time frame for ordination, but that it just kinda happens when the LC feel a brother is ready. If true, I am reminded of Fr. Frank Morrisey's classes on religious law. Fr. Morrisey is one of the Church's foremost experts in this area and he always stressed the importance of having a specific time-frame (albeit with some flexibility) toward ordination or permanent incorporation into an institute of consecrated life. This is another area that I hope the apostolic visitors will look at.

8 - For some reason, more than any other institute, comparisons to Jesuits or Opus Dei keep popping up when discussing the LC/RC. Other people who interact with the movement report the same phenomena.

With apologies to Jesuit and Opus Dei readers, I tend to hear variations of: "I thought RC was just like Opus Dei, but more active and connected to a priestly apostolate," or "I thought the Legion was the new Jesuits, practicing obedience the way the Jesuits use to."

On the surface, there appears to be some similarities. This in itself is not problematical in that an institute's charism belongs to the Church, and so institutes throughout the Church's history have borrowed from institutes that came before. Thus as a Catholic journalist much wiser than me noted, the problem does not appear to be what LC/RC borrowed from the Jesuits and Opus Dei, but rather what they may have forgotten to borrow.

With regards to the Opus Dei comparison, I believe the spiritualities are quite different. For RC members who are curious why, I recommend reading St. Josemarie Escriva's The Way and/or Frances Fernadez's In Conversations with God to gain a better understanding in Opus Dei spirituality. I assume RC individuals raising these questions are already familiar with RC spirituality.

As far as the Jesuit comparison, Nathan O'Halloran, a Jesuit scholastic and Franciscan University of Steubenville alumni, who prior to entering the Jesuits was encouraged to consider the Legion as an alternative, has blogged an excellent reflection. In it he contrasts the Jesuit understanding of obedience with what he believes to be the Legion practice of obedience. Although I found a few of his comments to be a tad polemical, he offers some excellent insights on how Jesuit obedience is sensitive to a person's conscience when asking for religious obedience. You can read the article here.

9 - All of us, both inside and outside the RC/LC, need to take refuge in St. Joseph, patriarch and protector of the universal Church.

Apology to Dr. Edward Peters

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I've removed my earlier post 'Canon Law, Ed Peters and me'.

There were a number of problems which, when brought to my attention, I agree were problematical on my part, and I apologize to Dr. Peters:

- I don't know what previous experiences Dr. Peters has had with the LC/RC, therefore I have no business speculating on whether he was surprised by revelations about Fr. Maciel.

- It referred to a private conversation that I initiated. This was unprofessional on my part, and I offer no excuses. Especially when I reported that he did not seem to concerned about our differences, which I had no business reporting or speculating upon.

- In so doing I suggested more familiarity between us than is the case, as we have never met in real life or worked on any canon law project together.

- Dr. Peters was not calling for the suppression and reconstitution of the LC/RC, but is suggesting it as a possibility.

Additionally, while I believe I reported accurately when I said Dr. Peters' response tended to focus more on the structural problems these revelations suggest, whereas I was asking more the question what do we do with current LC/RC members, I in no way was implying or intended to imply that Dr. Peters is not equally concerned about what to do with these people.

Therefore I apologize again to Dr. Peters. There is no excuse for this lapse in professional judgment, and I pray I have not tarnished Dr. Peters' reputation in any way.

Ed Peters has put together another response to the Legionaries of Christ / Regnum Christi (LC/RC) crisis, which is well worth reading. You can check it out here. Since I'm likely to be asked for a response, here's a line-by-line:

I think that Fr. Alvaro Corcuera's apparent claim that he knows nothing about Maciel's behavior, except that Maciel sired a daughter, is utterly unbelievable. I have nothing else to say about this kind of stone-walling. I will simply re-endorse Dr. Germain Grisez's and Mr. George Weigel's proposals for direct intervention by the Holy See.

Out of Christian charity I will assume Fr. Alvaro is telling the truth. The Holy See should intervene anyway. Directly.

The situation is so muddled that I cannot see how the LC/RC can fix it without outside help and expertise. Of course I'm just one canonist out of thousands in the Church. But given how the LC/RC have maintained Fr. Maciel's innocence for years, the severity of the allegations against him - both proven and unproven, and other structural problems within the movement, how the initial response has been bungled, it will be difficult for the LC/RC to regain the trust of orthodox Catholics without assurances that Rome has performed a thorough housecleaning of the movement.

Apologists for the LC/RC are already stating that Fr. Alvaro and the LC/RC are following Rome's instructions. And Rome has stated it has no immediate plans to step in, but would do so if requested by the Legion. So it might be best is the Legion simply go through the official step of asking Rome to step in directly.

Moving on Peters's rebuttal of the "reform-from-within" assertion and the "carry-on-the-charism" assertion:

Assertion 1. Because the Legion and Regnum Christi have within their ranks many obviously good and faithful Catholics, they should be allowed to try a reform from within. Response: the presence of good and faithful Catholics within an organization, particularly when the organization (in terms of Church history, if nothing else) is so young, says almost nothing about whether the organization itself is sound and/or salvageable.

Here is where I think Peters needs to make a distinction. Those making the "reform from within" suggestion (like myself) are not a unified camp. Some maintain the LC/RC should be permitted to reform from within, without any direct outside intervention. Very unlikely to work, as proven by the fact Fr. Maciel got away with his misdeeds for so long. And even if it were possible, there's still the problem of restoring the RC/LC's credibility.

Like Peters, I believe the LC/RC's current structure is deeply flawed, and have for some time, according to criteria developed with Fr. Frank Morrisey - one of the Church's foremost canonical experts on religious law and structures of institutes of consecrated life - and cult expert Michael Langone. You can read a summary of the criteria here. (Please note: I am not claiming that all of these criteria apply to the LC/RC, but those that do need to be rooted out if the LC/RC is to reform.)

Having said that, given that the majority of LC/RC members are orthodox Catholics faithful to Rome, I believe a "reform from within" is possible if the Holy See intervenes directly and appoints someone credible from outside the LC/RC to do a thorough investigation of LC/RC practices, and oversee their reform. It needs to be someone known for prayer and orthodoxy, experienced in religious life, and highly respected within the Church. For example, Cardinal Francis George from Chicago or Archbishop Seán O'Malley from Boston. Of course this assumes LC/RC members cooperate - not only in letter, but in spirit - with the reform.

Such a reform must begin with a sincere apology to Fr. Maciel's victims, followed by restitution. Also, no more excuses suggesting Fr. Maciel's innocence, or trying to dampen the severity of his sins. Of course the structural weaknesses that allowed Fr. Maciel to get away with his double-life for so long must also be fixed. Good faith only gets one so far. Peters identifies the question many canonists are asking, namely whether there are structural problems to the Legion, expressing them as only he can, when he states in response to the second assertion:

There is, I think, at least as much reason to wonder whether Maciel set up an institute in order to assure himself of ample access to sexual targets and unaccountable funds, or whether he suffered from some warped psycho-emotional condition that enabled him to compartmentalize pious devotional practices and sexual predation for decades on end...

Here is where I take a somewhat harder line than Peters. I don't wonder. In fact, I'm pretty sure Fr. Maciel set up the LC/RC to, as I put it in the following interview, acquire, maintain and protect his access to victims.

I won't comment on funds, except to say well-placed sources within and outside the LC/RC told me that Fr. Maciel was frequently given thousands of dollars in cash without any questions being asked. I haven't looked into the issue deeply enough to give it much thought; it's entirely possible the financial irregularities came after, as a by-product of the sexual irregularities. Of course, none of the above excludes the possibility Fr. Maciel also had a serious psychological condition.

But I've skipped ahead a bit. Here's how Peters begins his response to the second assertion:

Assertion 2. Maciel's canonical crime spree was a grave personal failing, but it does not negate the L/RC 'charism', and they should be allowed to continue their work. Response: This argument misses the key question, namely, whether in fact Maciel ever bequeathed an authentic charism to the L/RC...

This, then, is what separates our positions at the moment. If one believes the LC/RC lack a true charism, then Peters is right in suggesting Rome may have to shut down the movement completely and reconstitute it. (Without a true charism, there is nothing to reform.)

On the other hand, if one believes the LC/RC possess a true charism from Christ, but that it has become seriously clouded by Fr. Maciel's sexual vice, then it may still be possible to rescue the charism. Of course it will still require delicate surgery on Rome's part. It's possible the movement is so far gone that the necessary reform is no longer possible. The LC/RC will have to show they are capable of true reform.

Peters then says (skipping over the part I had quoted earlier, out-of-sequence):

I do not know whether the L/RC can (following a complete leadership replacement!) reform itself from within, although I am almost certain that they cannot;

A complete leadership change may be the only thing that can save the LC/RC at this point. Certainly this is how I feel, humanly speaking, although the Holy Spirit could intervene in a way that canonists haven't imagined. But, assuming most of the current leadership was honestly in dark about Fr. Maciel's double-life, this speaks to a weakness in LC/RC formation that so many clergy suspected so little for so long. This is not to say they were bad people or terrible priests - only that they appear to lack a certain skill-set needed to exercise prudent governance over a large religious institute.

This is not uncommon among young institutes of consecrated life where one is dealing with leadership known for its holiness (let alone living a double-life). I've experienced this at least twice in my career as a canon lawyer. A young institute and its young superior come up with some grandiose ideas, or overlook the obvious. An older priest, with several years of priestly experience before joining the institute, jumps in points out what's being overlooked, or otherwise brings some common sense to the discussion. Older priests can help guide a young superior of a young institute through sensitive pastoral issues, temper and focus the zeal of younger newly-ordained priests, and put bishops as ease knowing there is someone with experience keeping an eye on the new institute.

The problem with the current LC/RC superiors is that none of them kept an eye on Fr. Maciel. This is not surprising. Abusers cannot bear close scrutiny, which would threaten their access to victims. Fr. Maciel reportedly handpicked his superiors. Not surprisingly, he often named young priests who lacked practical pastoral experience. Which is why most Catholics would feel more confident about a reform of the LC/RC if Rome stepped in directly.

and I do not know whether Maciel developed an authentic charism for clerical, religious, and lay life, but I have serious doubts that he did.

And now the question of charism. The reason orthodox Catholics have struggled so deeply with the crisis, in fact the reason there are such strong feelings of anger and betrayal, is that the LC/RC's good works have been visible to us for so long. But looking back in retrospect, so too have the institutional signs of Fr. Maciel's double-life. How does one reconcile such a stark contrast?

Normally, an institute's charism is tied to its founder and its good works. However, the two don't match in this case. Some argue that the LC/RC's founding charism was fraudulent from the start. Others argue that God used Fr. Maciel as His imperfect human instrument. In reflecting upon this dilemma, attempting to reconcile these questions in my own mind, I stumbled across the biography of Saint Rafael Guízar Valencia.

Saint Rafael was Fr. Maciel's uncle and the bishop who oversaw most of Fr. Maciel's seminary formation prior to dismissing his nephew from the seminary. Saint Rafael exemplified many of the Christian virtues LC/RC attempt to emulate as members of their movement. In fact, his life story reads like a blueprint for the LC/RC's good works, and LC/RC members in past have recognized his influence in the founding of their movement.

Perhaps - and this is highly speculative on my part - Saint Rafael is the true spiritual founder of the LC/RC movement, and the instrument used by God to transmit its charism. It's something for LC/RC members to pray about.

Ches of the Sensible Bond has just written a very touching post explaining his journey back to the heart of the Church from the SSPX. Do take time to read it, and it is one of the best posts I have ever read on the topic (click here).

Ches mentions that he seriously began to reconsider the SSPX's position vis-a-vis Rome after Fr. Paul Aulagnier's controversial interview with the Wanderer. I remember that interview well. Father knew going into the interview that he was risking expulsion from the Society; however, he chose to do so anyway, stating that schism was becoming a bigger risk with each passing day.

For those who are not up-to-date on their traditionalist history, the first risk proved real. The SSPX expelled Father when it hit the streets. The event shocked many within the traditionalist world because Fr. Aulagnier had been the true founder of the SSPX (rallying the initial group of SSPX seminarians and coaxing Archbishop Lefebvre out of retirement), the first cleric ordained for the SSPX (and the only one ever ordained licitly for them), and the SSPX cleric closest to the Archbishop.

At the time, Campos had just reconciled and Rome had laid down a serious offer for the SSPX. Fr. Aulagnier felt the time had come for the SSPX to accept Rome's offer, stating that conditions had improved since 1988 and the Archbishop would have accepted the offer were he alive. More importantly - and boldly given the SSPX tendency to close ranks - Father warned that the SSPX was headed toward what he perceived as a "psychological schism" among traditionalists, who had never experienced the memory of Rome.

Here is the text of the interview, as it appeared in the Wanderer four or five years ago:
Those who know the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) know Fr. Paul Aulagnier: He was among Archbishop Lefebvre's first class of SSPX seminarians, the first French seminarian to be ordained into the SSPX, and one of the SSPX's strongest proponents of the episcopal consecrations in 1988. As a former assistant to the superior general, Fr. Aulagnier and Archbishop Lefebvre remained close until the archbishop's death.

Recently, Fr. Aulagnier has spoken in favor of a SSPX reconciliation with Rome. Luc Gagnon, a correspondent from Quebec, interviewed Fr. Aulagnier for The Wanderer. The Wanderer noted, "While some major differences remain over some of our positions at The Wanderer and those of Fr. Aulagnier, we are nevertheless encouraged by Fr. Aulagnier's honesty and good faith in seeking a resolution to the current division between the SSPX and Rome. Along with Fr. Aulagnier, we invite our readers to pray for an end to this division."

Indeed, many pray that the Rome gets serious about indults, and wide, generous access to the holy, timeless, and powerful Tridentine Mass, as SSPX has.


Q. Since you are the first French priest ordained for the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, were you close to Archbishop Lefebvre? How did he inspire you?

A. Yes, I was close to Archbishop Lefebvre. I knew him well and I strongly appreciated him. He was so cordial, pleasant, a great prelate, but humble, simple, thoughtful for those who surrounded him. He had heart. It was difficult to not love him. He had a magnetic personality. I knew him while during my seminary days at Santa Chiara, the French Seminary in Rome. We were in the midst of the Second Vatican Council in 1964. The seminarians followed, as much as they could, this ecclesiastical event.

The seminary professors often invited a particular conciliar father to spend the evening with us. They were of every tendency. It certainly brought some of us joy to hear Archbishop Lefebvre on the two or three occasions he was invited. Differing from the others, he spoke little about the council. Rather he spoke about the priesthood to which we desired Ordination. Like several of my fellow seminarians, I appreciated his presentation of the Catholic priesthood.

In the midst of the council, everything was changing. In a university seminary, minds react quickly, undergo influences, and seek to understand. We participated at the seminary in all the systematic changes of everything - of the common life, of the house rules, of theology, of scholastics. In the midst of this spiritual and intellectual agitation, we needed to be careful, to reflect, to inquire, and to read a lot in order to remain informed.

We painstakingly followed such journals as Nouvelles de Chrétienté, Itinéraires, and La Pensée Catholique to follow the conciliar debates. Without these journals, I do not know if I would be a priest today. Without Archbishop Lefebvre, I certainly would not be. The superiors of the French seminary would not have accepted me. My mind was not open to the proposed novelties.

Our little group of traditional seminarians quickly saw ourselves becoming the object of criticism. When many of us were refused tonsure in 1968, we turned to Archbishop Lefebvre. Having resigned as superior general of the Spiritans, Archbishop Lefebvre was now free to found a seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland. I remember when he approached Bishop Charriere of Fribourg about this project. The bishop accepted it and even encouraged him. The archbishop saw the finger of God.

I became part of the first class of nine seminarians. My diocesan bishop at the time authorized the transfer. Being the most experienced seminarian - I already had four years of seminary under my belt - gave me the opportunity to become close to Archbishop Lefebvre. During walks, he would gladly converse with us. He even confided in us spontaneously, spoke of his projects, of his priestly ideal, of his hesitations. He often shared his African memories, his memories of the council, his decision to publish his essay, "To Remain Catholic, Must We Become Protestant?"

This essay explains the whole of Archbishop Lefebvre. He hated the modern world's revolutionary spirit that refused subjection, submission, subordination to a created order, to a divine order. Archbishop Lefebvre had been formed by the thinking of Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XII. These were his masters. He remained faithful to them all his life. For Archbishop Lefebvre, God as Trinity is everything.

Q. What functions did you have in the heart of the SSPX before coming to Quebec?

A. My "ecclesiastical career" is simple. I served three years as a professor and the sub-director of our seminary in Econe, and 18 years as district superior in France. Along with my confreres, I built the French district from two houses in 1976, when Archbishop Lefebvre entrusted me with this district. My brother priests and I worked hard over the next 18 years to found priories, churches, chapels, schools, journals, and retreat houses.

When my mandate expired in 1994, I needed a break and went to England. I was always a rebel. In 1995, I asked to be installed in Normandy. I loved the Normands. I left Normandy after founding DICI, an information agency. It was a new form of apostolate for me and I had a passion for it.

In 2001, I was made superior of an autonomous house in Brussels. Then, "no longer in the good books" with the SSPX's leadership, I spent another sabbatical year in Quebec. As I became more and more vocal about my differences with the direction taken by the SSPX leadership, I resigned as assistant to the superior general. I had held this office since Archbishop Lefebvre founded the SSPX. He had first appointed me to this office on November 1, 1969.

Q. Why were you strongly in favor of the consecrations of 1988?

A. I personally saw in it the wisdom of Archbishop Lefebvre. I knew he loved the Church, that he wanted to serve the Church. He did it all his life. He did it in Africa, for many years as apostolic delegate for francophone Africa. He knew the Church better than most. He had numerous contacts with Pius XII, with Roman congregations. He was appreciated by all, by many. He had the opportunity in his life to choose and prepare numerous bishops, to organize numerous episcopal conferences in Africa. As superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, he was in contact with all the great religious and political leaders of the world.

All this gave him experience and wisdom. He knew the Church in its internal structure. I trusted in him more than others. The consecrations were not an easy decision for him. I myself favored them. I could not see how Catholic Tradition, the Catholic priesthood, the Catholic Mass would survive without any assured episcopal succession. It is the bishop who ordains the priest. It is the priest who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, renewing the Sacrifice of the Cross. This Sacrifice of the Cross is at the heart of the Church, as it is at the heart of the thinking of our Lord, at the heart of the divine plan of salvation. The Mass is essential to the Church, to the world, to any city.

With Archbishop Lefebvre gone, no bishop at that time possessed the courage to continue his work. One must never forget that. Our battle was always centered on the Mass. Thus, if Archbishop Lefebvre had not consecrated in 1988, his priestly work would have been finished. How can you maintain a seminary if you cannot ordain seminarians? How could you perpetuate the sacrifice of the Mass if there were no longer any priests? These are the simple reasons that allowed me to support the perspective of the consecrations by Archbishop Lefebvre.

Q. Do you think that the same reasons would be valuable today? Or are there any dangers in waiting for a reconciliation?

A. Today, the conditions would not allow for what was done in June of 1988. Several of my confreres will, perhaps, hit the roof when they become aware of this interview. It does not matter. I am free to state my judgment and I never liked yes men.

Why would the consecrations not be reasonable today? Because many Romans have changed and now acknowledge the very difficult situation in which the Church finds herself. Cardinal Castrillon's Mass of May 24, 2003 is not burning straw. This is the fruit of a long evolution which began, it seems, around 1992, with the publication of a series of books of Cardinal Ratzinger and a series of conferences, homilies, and an interview with Cardinal Stickler. At St. Mary-Major, Cardinal Castrillon spoke for the Church by recalling the "right of citizenship" of the Mass of St. Pius V.

Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit is also very important. Additionally, I think that there is a danger in seeing this conflict last for ages. The Church is a visible and hierarchical society. If one lives too long in an autarchy, one ends up losing the meaning of what a hierarchy is. We are thus in danger, the time passing and the opposition remaining, of forgetting Rome and organizing ourselves more and more outside of Rome. This needs to be acknowledged.

This is why we must always remain in contact with Rome, not only for them to progress in the right direction, but unceasingly to remind ourselves of their good memory. We are of the flock. If we remain satisfied with our situation, then there is a danger of "psychological schism." The young people are of my opinion. I call it as it is. The SSPX leadership thinks I exaggerate, but our younger generations have never known a normal ecclesiastical situation. Thus I have accepted "this Canadian exile" for my ideas.

Q. Why do you believe that the reconciliation of Bishop Rifan and his priests is a positive step not only for the traditionalists of Campos, but for every traditional Catholic?

A. One reason is the danger of schism which I just expressed. Secondly, my friendship with these heroic priests has led me to experience their traditional parishes and their numerous works. I have especially seen even here the problem of the Mass. The attitude of Rome is new. Rome gave the Mass to our friends, the priests of Campos. And this freely and without condition. Rome recognizes their right, their facultas to celebrate the Traditional Mass in all the churches of their apostolic administration. I studied their statutes at length. So, for me, these things are going in the right direction in favor of the Mass.

The Campos agreement did not require the compromises made by the Ecclesia Dei institutes in 1988. Campos received a frank recognition of the right to the Tridentine Mass without having to recognize that the new Mass is "legitimate and orthodox." They were simply asked to recognize the validity of the new Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre always recognized and taught that the new Mass was valid. There is a great difference between "validity," "legitimacy," and "orthodoxy." Something can be valid without being legitimate and orthodox.

Q. Many priests of your Society, including Bishop Fellay, have praised the new encyclical of the Holy Father Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Do you consider the new encyclical to be a positive sign on the doctrinal and liturgical level?

A. Yes and greatly so. This encyclical is truly a positive sign on the doctrinal and liturgical level. One sees here an authority that is newly aware of the drama which affects the Church and her liturgy. The liturgical reform, such as it was conceived and applied after the council, has denatured the liturgy by not respecting its end. The liturgy is essentially worship rendered to God. The priest offers, in the name of the people, "for the living and the dead," for the people who are united to this action, the sacrifice of Christ which renders to God "all honor and all glory."

The Catholic liturgy has a transcendent dimension. It orients us toward God. It subjects us to God. There is a similarity between the Roman liturgy and the heavenly liturgy. Read the Book of the Apocalypse of St. John and you will see that heavenly worship is directed toward the Father and the Lamb of God, the paschal Lamb to whom the angels and the elect sing and magnify the power, the divinity, the glory, the sanctity of God. The Sanctus of our Mass is a divine praise. All this is, for many, lost, so much so.

The Catholic hierarchy is finally aware of it. It is never too late in order to do good. It wants to correct the "shadows." How can one not rejoice at this? This is yet another reason why I favor our superiors legalizing our situation in the Church. It is necessary today to be inside with a recognized right of the Mass of St. Pius V on the altars of Christianity. One must have the sense of what is possible. To ask too much is to ask for nothing. The Holy Father has spoken. We must help and participate in the liturgical restoration in the Church.

Q. At the time of the Mass of May 24, 2003, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos said during his homily: "The old Roman rite thus conserves in the Church its right of citizenship in the heart of the multiformity of Catholic rites whether Latin or Eastern. What unites this diversity of rites is the same faith in the eucharistic mystery, thus its profession has always assured the unity of the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." Do you believe that this affirmation is correct or not?

A. Yes, I have greatly appreciated the words of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos on May 24, 2003. They were not pronounced lightly. They were weighed by the cardinal. He knew their importance, their repercussions in the Church, their effects and consequences. He paid attention, believe me, to what he was saying. He recognized the right of the Tridentine Mass in the Church. He stated the law for good: The Mass of St. Pius V has never been abolished canonically by any authority in the Church, and certainly not by Pope Paul VI. This was, in 1986, the answer given by the Commission of Cardinals appointed by John Paul II. This commission, at the time, stated the law. This did not please the modernist wavelength. One had, out of weakness, hushed up the affair. It was necessary to wait until 1995 for an ecclesiastical authority, Cardinal Stickler, to dare reveal the thing and state the law publicly: "The Mass has not been abolished."

Today, everyone says this. All the cardinals who thought over the question are saying this. Cardinal Medina says this, after having said quite the opposite in 1999. Cardinal Arinze as well. He is the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship. He is the authority on this subject. As for Cardinal Stickler, he is a canonist whose authority is recognized. Cardinal Ratzinger, who is the workhorse of liturgical restoration in the Church, says it in all his recent books. He also assisted Pope John Paul II in the editing of the Holy Father's latest encyclical we have mentioned. This new honesty is extraordinary. Almost 40 years have gone by where everyone said quite the contrary.

Additionally, the return of the Mass of St. Pius V will not be done in one day. It takes its time, little by little. Regarding liturgical plurality on which Cardinal Castrillon is rooted, I am, of course, in favor to the degree where the "reform of the reform" will allow the rite of the parishes to come closer, little by little, to the Traditional rite. In herself, the Church has always respected liturgical diversity. Take note of the attitude of Pope St. Pius V! Here, there was a matter of a rite which will re-traditionalize. The only condition required is that the rite in question expresses the Catholic faith.

Q. In the context of these positive stages, is the reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome possible in the near future?

A. One Mass does not establish a custom. Thus I will speak about restoration of normal relations between Catholics of goodwill. This restoration is more than desirable. It is necessary. In a month? In three years? I do not know. Yet the more that time passes, the more the restoration becomes urgent. But again, minds must be prepared.

Q. Do you think that the recent transfer of Bishop Williamson to Latin America has a link with the eventual reconciliation of the SSPX and Rome?

A. I believe it was simply routine. One should not imagine conflicts or hidden reasons where none exist. Granted, Bishop Williamson is one of the most firm opponents to a reconciliation with Rome. But that has nothing to do with his transfer to Argentina. He will likely remain opposed in La Reja. He is suspicious in nature. And suspicion leads to error. He thinks that "the Romans," as he likes to say, have not changed. It is his opinion. This opinion is dominant with Bishop Fellay today, but will it be tomorrow?

Q. Considering your friendship and close proximity with Archbishop Lefebvre, do you think that he would have accepted the offer of reconciliation that Rome had recently presented to the SSPX in the line of the accords of Campos?

A. I sincerely believe that today Archbishop Lefebvre would have accepted an accord with Rome. He would have been, perhaps, more cautious and demanding on certain points than Bishop Rangel, but the archbishop would have gone to the end this time. The requirements Rome demanded of the Campos traditionalists are these: the recognition of Pope John Paul II as the legitimate Successor of Peter, the recognition of the Second Vatican Council interpreted in the light of Tradition, the recognition of the validity of the Novus Ordo Missae, and a free discussion of the council that avoided dialectic and polemic. Archbishop Lefebvre had already accepted this in 1988. One should not be afraid to say this, and I wish someone would tell me why they should not be accepted today.

With regard to the obligation of the Campos priests to study the council, I would like someone to show me the harmfulness of such a thing. One can reasonably criticize what one knows. How did the SSPX have symposiums, form its position except by studying the council? Our position is certainly not that of the Roman hierarchy. Thus today a free discussion of the council is indispensable. Yesterday, it was impossible. And for this, it is very important to know the council. It is amusing that, with us, there are taboos. One needs to set these aside. Archbishop Lefebvre would have asked some precise questions concerning the council.

Additionally, through an apostolic administration, we would have better protection today than in 1988. Our bishops, recognized by Rome, would have this role of protector that Archbishop Lefebvre desired in the Roman commission he proposed. And a personal apostolic administration would change nothing of what we do and of what we are. It is the ideal situation. It would basically espouse the reality that we live and that we are familiar with. It is organizational pragmatism that would establish "legally" in the eyes of all what we do, which is fundamentally legal and legitimate.

Q. In closing, we wish to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share some of your thoughts with us, and we would also invite our readers to visit your web site at:

Just got back from a wonderful family vacation to Mackinac Island where our family celebrated July 4th with the Catholic parish in St. Ignace by going on a vesper's cruise. What could be more glorious than celebrating America's birthday amidst fireworks while singing the Divine Office with 300 other people?

The news that another group of Traditional Catholics have reconciled with the Church! has the scoop:


Rome, Jul. 2 ( - The Transalpine Redemptorists, a small traditionalist community on the island of Orkney, has been reconciled with the Holy See, the Rorate Caeli blog has revealed. Father Michael Mary, the vicar general of the Transalpine Redemptorists, announced on the group's own blog that the community had been informed that the suspension of its priests has been lifed by the Vatican. "All canonical censures have been lifted," he said, and the group has been welcomed into "undisputed communion" with the Holy See. The traditionalist leader said that he had "humbly petitioned" the Vatican for a restoration of communion, in a June 18 meeting with Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the president of the Ecclesia Dei commission. The Vatican replied positively on June 26, he reported. Father Michael Mary expressed his gratitude, and that of the Transalpine Redemptorists, to Pope Benedict XVI, "for issuing, last July, the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum which called us to come into undisputed and peaceful Communion with him."


Let us continue to pray that the SSPX will soon follow.

How excommunication is administered


Actually, Rich, an excommunication can be administered in two ways:

- as a penalty after a judicial trial (ferendae sententiae)
- declared if incurred automatically by the individual's action (latae sententiae) if he or she violates a law that carries with it the penalty of excommunication.

Schism is one such action. Schism is failure to subject oneself to the Roman Pontiff, or to act in communion with those in communion with the Roman Pontiff. In this case, the bishop is stating that the mystic refuses to subject herself to him - he being the lawful bishop in communion with the Roman Pontiff. This carries an automatic excommunication for schism when the refusal is obstinate and on-going.

For more explanation on this topic, see my article published last summer in This Rock Magazine, "Strong Medicine: Canon Law and Excommunication". Or better yet (shameless plug alert) check out a copy of my new book with Michael Trueman, just recently released, Surprised by Canon Law, Volume 2.

For years, the Korean bishops have been trying to stop the activities of would-be mystic Julia Kim (now Julia Youn) at Naju, Korea. She claimed to have a weeping statue of Our Lady; she claimed to suffer the stigmata; she claimed that the Eucharist turned into visible, bloody flesh in her mouth, including in 1995 when she received the Sacred Host from Pope John Paul II.

The Archdiocese of Kwangju issued several declarations against the claims of supernatural miracles in the case, and on January 21 of this year, the confrontation reached a decisive point when the Archbishop of Kwangju declared Youn and those who participate in her activities excommunicated for grave disobedience.

Although my sympathies are with the bishop, parts of the canonical decree seem odd: e.g., I'm not sure that canon law allows for a latae sententiae excommunication for the sort of disobedience the Archbishop cites. (E.g., see the SJF's discussion of c1371.) On the other hand, the decree seems to treat adherence to Mrs. Youn's claims as a matter of schism. Perhaps Pete Vere or Ed Peters (keeper of the "Excommunication Blotter") will be able to clarify this for the good of the faithful.

A press report is on-line at Mirifica, and also follows after the jump...

Much ado about Bishops


I must disagree with Deal Hudson's latest column attempting to interpret Bishop Paprocki squeaking out Archbishop Burke for chair of the USCCB's canon law committee.

I have nothing but respect for Archbishop Burke. Back when he was bishop of Lacrosse, WI, his chancellor Ben Nygen and I often consulted on canonical issues that would prove controversial in the media. Archbishop Burke would have been an excellent candidate for the position.

But Bishop Paprocki is also an excellent candidate. He may not be as visible in media, but he is extremely respected in canon law circles for his orthodoxy and his knowledge of the law. He too has given me excellent advice when approaching the media with controversial points touching upon canon law, and I have been the recipient of his hospitality at canon law conventions or when visiting Chicago. And like Archbishop Burke, he too is not scared to publicly correct politicians who pass legislation at odds with Church teaching. This was the case here.

It was during my last visit to Chicago that Bishop Paprocki invited Michael Trueman and I to breakfast, and urged us to begin writing Surprised by Canon Law volume 2. The book, which was released by Servant last week, is available by clicking here. Bishop Paprocki is one of the individuals who encouraged us to write it.

This is one of the reasons I'm happy to be a lay canonist and not a bishop. Both men were strong, orthodox, knowledgeable candidates for the chair. I don't know which one I would have voted for.

Which is why I disagree with Deal that this is a sign of the USCCB giving Archbishop Burke the shaft. Given the caliber and orthodoxy of these two bishops, I think the real sign here is that the USCCB is committed to moving in the right direction with regards to canonical issues.

Update on Holy Trinity parish

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I wasn't able to live-blog this afternoon's meeting about the future of Boston's Latin Mass parish, but I did send the news to Dom Bettinelli, who posted the info on his site.

Fr. Maciel Accusations

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Some of you have been asking me to comment on Ed Peters' reflection on Fr. Maciel's penance. As usual, I agree with Ed on some things but disagree with him on others. That being said, my perspective is going to be coloured.

Although I was never formally involved in the case, some of Fr. Maciel's more recent accusers approached me a few years ago for canonical advice. I heard their stories and I offered what canonical advice I could at the time.

I won't deny this experience shook my faith in the Church. I thank God for His sustaining grace during this time.

Yet there's an old expression in canon law that the petitioner's case seems overwhelming until the respondent opens his mouth. I never spoke to Fr. Maciel for his side of the story. Nor was I appointed to adjudicate this case.

Therefore, I don't feel that it would be appropriate to engage Ed in a public debate. I would, however, ask everyone to please keep both Fr. Maciel and his alleged victims, whose stories I found believable, in prayer.

Now the Fr. Maciel has been "invited" to relinquish all public ministry as a result of CDF's investigations into sixth-commandment violations, what will happen in the religious community he founded? Will the Legion of Christ continue to speak of him reverently as "our father"? Will it remain an order that appears to select its seminarians in part for their pretty-boy looks?

One has to have some sympathy for members of the LC and the Regnum Christi lay group; they're good Catholic folks, sound in faith, who do many good things. Yet the founder of those groups misled them about himself, and they have to come to terms with the fact that he apparently committed some heinous crimes. His personality, with its defects, shaped the culture of those groups, giving them some dysfunctional aspects, so those communities will need their own efforts at truth, reconciliation, and reform. Alas, the LC's spokesmen seem to be circling the wagons so far.

The canonical accusers deserve credit for telling their story against a popular figure praised by thousands, including Pope John Paul II. God bless them for their courage, and may He bring healing to whatever harm Maciel caused them.

(The VIS announcement follows, and John Allen's NCR report is on-line.)

Update: Ed Peters has a commentary.

Update 2: Here's a link to the Legion press release. Reader Michael Gorman spotted that the URL I cited earlier went to an old press release instead of today's. Thanks! While today's release does not deny the charges outright, it still maintains the idea of Maciel as a Suffering Servant, choosing "not to defend himself in any way". Perhaps it's too early to expect an expression of regret from Maciel for his actions, or from the LC for its erroneous defenses of him.

(Part One Here)

I found the Wanderer interview with Paul Likoudis where Bishop Bruskewitz offers the ten reasons why he refused to participate in the John Jay study:

"1) This study is not directed to developing programs for the protection of young people. . . . The study seems to be to satisfy curiosity.

"2) Serious sins against the Eighth Commandment are likely to be part of the result of the study: detraction, calumny, slander, contumely, etc.

"3) The study asks to include information even for inconclusive allegations and anonymous allegations.

"4) Many of the accused in the files of many dioceses are dead and will not be able to defend themselves.

"5) No equivalent study has ever been made in the United States so that there is no comparison to any other sector of people in the United States, such as Protestant ministers, public school teachers, doctors, youth ministers, artists, newspaper reporters, etc.

"6) The United States federal government Office of Health and Human Services refused to grant a certificate of confidentiality for the study as requested by the National Review Board.

"7) The reporting of the study does not promise to place into context the overwhelming number of priests who do not and did not ever commit any sexual abuse of minors.

"8) The study is skewed and inaccurate from the start because any self-reporting can include both inflation and deflation of information.

"9) About one-third of all the Catholic clergy in the United States are not included in the study, since religious orders and other communities (for instance, Jesuits, Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, etc.) are not included.

"10) The administration of the USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] which signed the contract with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has given the ownership of all the information into the possession of the college."

Over at his blog, Dr. Ed Peters is asking whether Bishop Bruskewitz is right to refuse compliance with USCCB's review board. In a nutshell, the answer is yes. Dr. Peters might be a canonist, but so are Bishop Bruskewitz and Msgr. Thorburn (the Bishop's close advisor, closer friend and Vicar General.) In fact, both of these individuals were accomplished canonists before finding themselves in their current ecclesiastical office.

Now the tone of the good Bishop's letter is admittedly a tad combative, but this is more a matter of pastoral theology than canon law.

That being said, Peters appears to overlook the principles of canon law (and in this case the Divine law) that the Bishop is trying to uphold. The first is a very fundamental principle of natural justice: Every accused has the right to face his accuser. (See my blog entry above).

The Bishop has repeated asserted that the audit, as it is currently structured, violates this fundamental principle of justice. Having read the text of the John Jay questionaire myself, it appears to me (and I'm a canonist too) that the Bishop is right. Simply put, beyond other weaknesses that call into question the audit's methodology, the questionaire does not allow for an accused priest to defend himself.

I suspect this is why everyone keeps griping about Bruskewitz, but nobody actually challenges his "non-compliance" before the Roman Rota or the Congregation for Bishops. The universal law provides these two options for bringing about the correction of wayward bishops.

This is not the first time Bishop Bruskewitz has found himself in the middle of a controversy. This wouldn't be the first time his actions were challenged in Rome. Bishop Bruskewitz has always maintained he would willingly submit to the Holy See's decision if over-ruled in Rome.

I believe that the Bishop is a man of his word, however, this has never been put to the test. Why? Because the Holy See has always upheld his controversial actions/decisions.

Secondly, it is a matter of the Divine law that Christ instituted His Church as a hierarchy. Within this hierarchy, laypeople submit to Bishops, not Bishops to laypeople. No merely ecclesiastical law -- including the particular law establishing the national review board and its various derivatives -- can contradict the Divine law.

This is why the charter (at least the version given recognitio by the Holy See) establishes the review board and its derivatives as merely consultative. They have no binding power over any bishop. This is clear in the text of the charter itself. In fact it was clearly worded this way, at the Holy See's insistance, after some Bishops tried to give away too much power in the first couple of drafts. (Which is what got the bishops in trouble in the first place; many more-or-less abdicated their responsibilities to psychologists and other lay experts).

Here's a sampling of the text itself. Please note the words in bold:

Article 8

...The Committee is to advise the USCCB on all matters related to child and youth protection and is to oversee the development of the plans, programs, and budget of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. It is to provide the USCCB with comprehensive planning and recommendations concerning child and youth protection by coordinating the efforts of the Office and the National Review Board...


The Office for Child and Youth Protection, established by the Conference of Catholic Bishops, is to staff the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People and be a resource for dioceses/eparchies for the implementation of “safe environment” programs and for suggested training and development of diocesan personnel responsible for child and youth protection programs, taking into account the financial and other resources, as well as the population, area, and demographics of the diocese/eparchy...


The Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People is to be assisted by the National Review Board, a consultative body established in 2002 by the USCCB...

The Board will also advise the Conference President on future members...

While the Bishop may not be in compliance with the national review board, he is in compliance with canon law -- both universal and particular. He has heard the advice of the Review Board and its various derivatives, and he has chosen to reject it where he feels their advice conflicts with his obligation as a Bishop to uphold the natural principles of justice. He has also defended the proper role of the episcopacy against those who would attempt to usurp it.

Put another way, what is particular law is the implementation of the national review board as outlined in the charter. The charter clearly establishes the national review board as a consultative body with no actual coercive power over bishops.

Here is a third issue. Does Bishop Bruskewitz deny, in the words attributed to him, that the national review board and its derivatives have any standing under canon law? While his words admittedly appear to be those of understatement, ridicule and scorn, it seems to me that the answer is no when one looks at the actual words he uses. The Bishop is strait-shooter, but he is also a good canonist. You can bet he carefully crafted his comments.

Here's a line-by-line analysis.

Some woman named Patricia O'Donnell Ewers,

While not the most polite tone, I assume the bishop has correctly identified the name and gender of his accuser. It may be rude, but it is neither heretical nor schismatic.

who is the Chair of something called "A National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People",

Similar to above. His tone may be one of understatement and ridicule, but he seems to have correctly identified her title. The national review board is "something".

has said that her Board "calls for strong fraternal correction of the Diocese of Lincoln."
True. This is what her board is calling for.
The Diocese of Lincoln has nothing to be corrected for,

I personally believe this is true, as does every other canonist with whom I have discussed the Bishop's reaction to the national review board over the years (Dr. Peters being the only exception). Nevertheless, this appears to be the source of the controversy. As previously stated, the universal law provides the means for correcting wayward bishops. Let a canonist who disagrees with the Bishop take up the cause in Rome.

since the Diocese of Lincoln is and has always been in full compliance with all laws of the Catholic Church and with all civil laws.
Again, I believe this to be true. Note that Bishop Bruskowitz didn't say "in full compliance with all the recommendations of the national review board and/or its derivatives." This is not necessary since the board enjoys no legislative power; it was established in particular law as strictly an advisory board. If Bishop Bruskewitz is not in compliance with canon law or civil law, then please show me where.
Furthermore, Ewers and her Board have no authority in the Catholic Church
This is not how I would have worded it, but the statement is true. The board is advisory. This is clear from the charter. It is a matter of particular law. The board cannot bind a bishop.
and the Diocese of Lincoln does not recognize them as having any significance.

Brilliantly subjective. His Excellency does not say that he does not recognize the board; he simply states that he does not recognize the board as having any significance. Like any good canonist, he left himself some wiggle room.

[snip text which, although true, is irrelevant to controversy at hand, namely whether the Bishop is subject to the board]

The Diocese of Lincoln does not see any reason for the existence of Ewers and her organization.

Same as above. I agree with Amy Welborn that the Bishop should have made it clear he was not speaking of Ewers personally. I also think the tone is somewhat strong. I think this was a "teachable moment" and the Bishop should have used a more gentle tone to reach a broader audience rather than a New Oxford Review tone that distracts from the substantive issue being debated.

Nevertheless, this is a matter of pastoral theology and not canon law. And since my expertise is in the latter and not the former, I will leave the tone for pastoral theologians to debate.

The Bishop's statment is again subjective. He is expressing an opinion. He does not deny the board's existence or its mandate under canon law. He simply states he does not see the reason for it. He is well within his canonical rights to do so.

In the end, canon law -- both universal and particular -- is clearly on the side of Bishop Bruskewitz. The national review board may be a matter of particular law, but so are its limitations.

I've been asked by several parties, including the parents, to assist in the Phoenix case involving the autistic boy who cannot receive Holy Communion. Therefore I am not in a position to comment. Nevertheless, here is an earlier essay I co-authored on the issue of sacramental reception for those with special mental or cognitive needs.

That being said, please keep me in prayer as this is the most difficult case I have ever been involved with.


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Professor Ed Peters notes an LA case in which a judge has ordered a priest to answer questions about whether a suspect confessed to him; the judge claims that the confessional privilege doesn't cover that fact.

Dr. Peters explains why there's really no material evidence to be gained from such a question anyway, and spells out what a priest may not licitly disclose.

Update: There's a little news, so I'm moving up this item, which was formerly dated 12/16/05.

A social service agency that runs a program for the homeless in our parish hall has been given an extension to continue operating until April, so it's reasonable to figure that that applies to the parish too. Deo gratias!

December 16, 2005

A spokesman for the archdiocese announced on Tuesday that, contrary to earlier statements, my parish would not be closing this Thursday:

Terry Donilon, Statement:

This past spring the Archdiocese of Boston extended the closing date of Holy Trinity Parish to December 15, 2005.

Since that time, the Archdiocese has been in communication with parishoners of Holy Trinity regarding their concerns and has also been in communication with Bridge Over Troubled Waters [residence for homeless teens] and the Medeiros Center [day shelter for seniors], a program of Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses. [The two social service programs are located in our church hall and the unoccupied floors of the rectory.]

Holy Trinity Parish will not be closing on Dec 15th.

At this time, the Archdiocese intends to pursue further communications with parishoners and representatives of the tenant agencies concerning future plans.

I know that seems like a pretty non-committal announcement, but it's about par for the course, as the pastoral solicitude of the local curia goes. (The attentive reader will have noticed that the Archdiocese of Boston doesn't even know how to spell "parishioner"!)

Anyway, we're still here! A happy and holy Advent!

Who owns the parish?

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Charles Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation devotes his December newsletter to an article about the parish as an institution, the relation of the parish to the diocese, and the standing of parishes in civil law. He also gives an overview of parish-related cases appealed to Rome, and the apparent fact that there really is no reliable canonical remedy for most bad administrative decisions. But that doesn't stop him from helping people seek remedies to the extent possible.

Proceeding "by degrees"

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The Pope met with Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of Saint Pius X and Cardinal Castrillon (Congregation for the Clergy) today. Papabile is watching the story. Since Pope Benedict has wanted to extend permission for the old rite more broadly, doing so at the Synod on the Eucharist in October may make a reconciliation easier.

Ever since I co-authored More Catholic Than the Pope with Patrick, people have asked me what to look for when evaluating a new religious movement. Here are twenty signs of trouble to look out for.

Is your shipboard chaplain legit?


AP reports on an effort to stop some deceptive attempts at ministry:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has started screening priests who celebrate Mass aboard cruise ships to prevent unqualified clergy from ministering to Catholic passengers.

The bishops have approved more than 650 priests to work on cruise lines in a process designed to weed out unsuitable candidates such as clergy who were suspended in the church's sex abuse scandal or those who have left the priesthood.

Priests who apply for the program, which started a year ago, must have their bishops' approval and are subject to yearly review. All dioceses conduct their own background checks on priests, said Doreen Badeaux, secretary general of the Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic ministry devoted to seafarers.

Celebrity and Holland America lines are working with priests approved by the Apostleship, while other cruise lines continue hiring clergy privately or using agencies such as Rent-A-Priest, a group that provides former, now-married priests who are no longer authorized to conduct Mass.

Eventually, the bishops hope all cruise lines will adopt a more thorough screening process for clergy.

``It wasn't being regulated by the bishops' conference and they weren't doing background checks on these guys,'' said the Rev. Sinclair Oubre, president of the AOS-USA, a chaplains' organization affiliated with the Apostleship of the Sea. ``Since we started this, some of the cruise lines have become more alert.''

AOS-USA National Director Fr. John Jamnicky writes in the organization's December newsletter:

We continue to hear complaints from Catholics who take cruises on Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Carnival; that some of the priests that celebrate Catholic Mass and introduce themselves as Roman Catholic Priests are in fact [...] schismatic priests, suspended priests, former priests, or just plain impostors.

My latest from Planet Envoy...

What Every Catholic Apologist Should Know About Canon Law

I BIT MY TONGUE AND RESISTED the urge to fire off an angry email. Reading through an on-line discussion board for budding Catholic apologists like myself, I had come across a message written more with an excess of zeal than with a correct understanding of canon law. Granted, the offending message was written with the best of intentions, and I also admired the offending author as a competent biblical apologist when it came to defending the Catholic faith against Protestant challenges. Nevertheless, this apologists competency with the Bible didnt extend to the Code of Canon Law. And the question had come, not as an attack upon the Church, but from someone sincerely seeking to return to the Church.


COOL! Just in time for Christ-Mass, Amazon has bundled my two new books, namely, More Catholic Than the Pope, which I co-authored with Patrick Madrid, and Surprised by Canon Law, which I co-authored with Michael Trueman. Purchased together from Amazon, you save over four bucks.

I know, this is another shameless plug for my books; but this being Christmas and I being a doctoral student with two little children...I need the royalties!

The shoe drops in Shohola


Good news: a corrupt religious order has been suppressed!
The bad news: a few years ago, the community's vision sounded rather promising, and a lot of us were rooting for it.

Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton announced last week that he was suppressing the Society of St. John, a community of traditionalist priests founded with the aim of fostering Catholic culture and the Tridentine Mass.

The Society, founded in 1998, had an ambitious plan to found Catholic villages and a liberal-arts college, but $5 million in donations for those purposes seems to have gone to lavish spending.

The Society even racked up over $2.6M in debts and got then-Bishop Timlin's agreement to have the diocese co-sign for it. That had to be a sign to anyone with an attention span that something was wrong. For that matter, any Catholic in the U.S. who got their elaborate and attractive fund-raising mailings could tell that money was not being spent wisely.

The game started to unravel when lay supporters noticed they weren't getting an accounting of where the money was going; it all hit the fan when the two top priests in the group were found to be taking home and sleeping with teenage students from a prep school. Since the members of the Society were all Scranton diocesan priests, the diocese itself is now the target of lawsuits.

Who knew? The story illustrates a bunch of problems we've all heard before: immature priests justifying their kinky conduct with a new self-invented philosophy about sex; arrogant clerics who think that they know better than experienced laymen how to run financial matters and practical affairs; a bishop who (although he did a lot of good in other areas) neglected his responsibility to protect the people of God from a few self-indulgent charmers.

But there is good news: the new bishop has done what he can to put an end to it. Thanks, Bp. Martino.

Rod Dreher wrote about the case in '02, and CWN reported the bishop's decree last week.

In the meantime, the Society's website is still soliciting funds.

Zenit surprised by canon law!

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Sorry for another shameless self-promotion, but Zenit recently interviewed me over my new book Surprised by Canon Law. Although the interview initially began with questions about the book, we soon strayed into all sorts of hefty issues like the legitimacy of children after an annulment, pro-abort Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion, and the inviolability of the seal of confession in light of the recent sexual misconduct crisis among the clergy. Here's a link to the complete text of the interview.

Dr. Ed Peters Responds


In the comments' section below, Dr. Ed Peters responds to two of my blog entries. As previously mentioned, I greatly respect Dr. Peters as a voice of orthodoxy and moderation within the canon law community. I would also urge you to check out his excellent blog, In Light of the Law.

That being said, concerning the first point, which is my criticism of Dr. Peters' analogy, I still hold to my initial position but appreciate Dr. Peter's clarification as to the limits and intention behind his analogy. Concerning the second point, however, I appreciate Dr. Peters' gentle rebuke and hope he will accept my mea culpas.

That being said, in respose to my criticism of his analogy, Dr. Peters writes:

You are a cruel task-master, driving my little analogy beyond its ability! My point then was simply to show people that gross contempt for a doctrine is not necessarily "heresy" about the doctrine, which is where this discussion was at that time. Remember, even the Devil is not a "heretic". My analogy has nothing to do with (and hence cannot fail over) whether Kerry has been personally involved in abortion. Kindest regards, edp.

Thanks for the clarification. I apologize if I gave the impression that I thought this analogy was over whether Kerry has been personally involved in abortion. This was not my intention. Rather, like you, I was trying to point out the difference between heresy and contempt for the faith (or denying the Real Presence and committing a sacralege while still believing in the Real Presence.)

As an aside, I was trying to point out that Kerry doesn't fall under the automatic excommunication of canons 1398 and 1329, par. 2 because to everyone's knowledge he has never directly participated in procuring an abortion. Thus canon law would have to address his pro-abortion record by some other means. Nevertheless, I still think my initial question remains, namely, is contempt for the faith the same thing as asserting one has a right to carry out an intrinsically evil act?

What causes scandal is not that Kerry has personally participated in an abortion, but that he asserts abortion is a private action with no connection to public morality or the common good. Consequently, he also asserts that the individual has a right to procure an abortion and that as a Catholic politician he has no obligation to limit or work towards bringing an end to the harm done by abortion.

Is this heresy? That's the question that needs to be explored.

Concerning my second post, in which I speculated Marc was set-up as a scapegoat by the CDF, Dr. Peters responds:

Say it ain't so, Pete, say it ain't so! Say you don't REALLY think CDF/Cole set up Balstrieri as a scapegoat, that it is obvious the Vatican wanted Cole's letter leaked, and that it planned on consequent deniablity. Say you don't REALLY think they are that callous, conniving, or stupid. Say yours was just a unguarded exercise in conspiracy theory...

Now that I've calmed down, I appreciate you calling me on this one. You're right. For the record, it wasn't so much an unguarded exercise in conspiracy theory as a knee-jerk venting of my frustration with how this has played out. I hate seeing the pro-abort Catholic politicians win again while Marc, who sincerely and in good faith tried to do something to address this scandal, watches things blow up in his face because of his innexperience dealing with the media combined with some mistakes on his part that were not committed out of malice.

Nevertheless, I should have shown more prudence than to post it -- especially when I don't seriously believe this whole blowup is a conspiracy by Cardinal Ratzinger or high ranking curial officials. Additionally, Marc understood the risks when he began this venture, and he freely chose to accept them.

...but that, in retrospect, the simpler explanation is to be preferred: that Balestrieri got carried away with Cole's letter, some Catholic media seized on B's version as a ray of light in the abortion darkness, and between them they raised a hornets' nest of confusion among the faithful, that others among us have had to come along behind and try to clean up to the best of our poor abilities.

My honest opinion, and this is just me speaking personally, has nothing to do with canon law, but I think it's a combination of factors -- none of which involves a large-scale conspiracy, but rather an excess of zeal on the part of B, a handful of people within the US hierarchy who reportedly urged him to leak it, and the Catholic media, combined with damage control by di Noia and Cole when more weight was attributed to the letter than what it possessed. I also agree with Rich Chonak that it seems likely there was some sort of miscommunication between di Noia and his assistant with whom Marc had met in Rome, and possibly a miscommunication between di Noia and Cole.

But again, this is mere speculation on my part. As Marc is a friend of mine and I admire what he was trying to accomplish, even though I believed he had a very difficult road ahead of him, I freely admit I am probably not gonna have an objective view of how things panned out. Which is probably why, my knee-jerk initial reaction aside, I now prefer to believe that this whole meltdown is the result of mistakes and miscommunication between several good people acting in good faith (including Marc, di Noia, Cole, the Catholic media) than believe anyone engaged in this affair behaved dishonestly or out of malice.

I've been around canon law ministry long enough to experience the truth
of Mgr. Pat Powers' statement to us as canon law students that "If you don't
make mistakes, you're not engaging in ministry." And thus I want to thank Dr. Peters for calling me out on one of mine, for which I offer our readers my most sincere mea maxima culpa!

On another note, regardless of how things turn out, I think we are further ahead now in terms of using canon law to redress the scandal caused by pro-abort Catholic politicians. Let's be honest here. Before Marc launched this action, the majority of bishops and canonists questioned Archbishop Burke's use of canon 915 to deny Holy Communion to pro-abort Catholic politicians. Granted, a growing minority (of both bishops and canonists) supported Archbishop Burke's decision, however, it was still being called into question.
It is now taken for granted that a bishop can invoke canon 915, and a recent example of a bishop placing a pro-abort Catholic pol. under interdict has also come to light. Additionally, Marc's broken some new canonical and doctrinal territory that can hopefully be used more efficiently in future against pro-abort Catholic pols.

Fr. DiNoia confirms his part


This weekend's fuss about the "pro-choice = heresy" letter was three yards and a cloud of dust, but the dust is beginning to settle.

Canonist Marc Balestrieri reports that his version of events and Fr. Gus DiNoia's version are in agreement on an important point: that Fr. Basil Cole wrote his "excellent and solid" account of the relevant doctrines at DiNoia's request. Get the details in Marc B.'s press release (October 20).

(Via Dom.)

Response to Dr. Ed Peters


Ironically, I'm listening to GNR's Sweet Child of Mine as I blog this response to fellow canonist Dr. Ed Peters. Just for the record, Dr. Peters was one of the individuals who inspired me to take up canon law. Thus I hold him in the highest esteem -- both in his capacity as an individual Catholic and in his professional capacity as a canonist. So my following response should be understood in this context.

With regards to the controversy surrounding the response to Marc Balestrieri, Dr. Peters writes:

Coles theological analysis does, however, move us closer to the central canonical question raised in this matter, namely: whether advocacy of abortion, by a knowledgeable Catholic, in and of itself, is heresy. Now, for the reasons ably outlined by Cole, obstinate doubt or denial of Church teaching on abortion may well be regarded as heresy. But our concern is different: is disregard of Church teaching on abortion, perhaps even chronic contempt for it, necessarily heretical? Consider: If I deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I commit heresy. But if I throw the Eucharist in the gutter, I commit the crime of sacrilege (1983 CIC 1367), not heresy (1983 CIC 1364).

So, a Catholic politician might say, I believe that human life begins at conception and that abortion kills an innocent baby. But I want to be elected to office, and that means I support abortion. Such reprehensible words/deeds would be gravely sinful and would place the politician in peril of his soul. But it is not clear that his sin would be heresy. At least, it is not clear how this scenario would be held as heresy, and we not be required to hold virtually every other deliberate violation of grave moral law as heretical.

As Dr. Peters points out, this situation involves a number of very fine nuances. I think Dr. Peters may have missed one, and consequently I think he misunderstands Marc's position. Dr. Peters enjoys a reputation in the canon law world as one of the most honest individuals you will come across, so I know he would not deliberately misrepresent Marc's position. But Marc employed a nuance in his argument that took me a while to grasp as well.

Here's the situation. To borrow Dr. Peter's analogy to the Real Presence, we're not strictly talking about heresy vs. sacrilege. To my knowledge, Kerry has never directly procured an abortion, which, using Dr. Peters' analogy, is the equivalent to throwing the Eucharist in gutter. Rather, Kerry has asserted that abortion is a private matter and thus the individual has a right to procure an abortion.

Thus a more accurate analogy would be if John Kerry stated: "I believe in the Real Presence and I believe that throwing the Eucharist in the gutter is a sacrilege, but I also believe that this is a personal matter between a satanist and his or her priest. Therefore, I will defend the constitutional right of satanists to desecrate the Eucharist."

Does one possess the right to descrate the Eucharist?

Similarly, the question with Kerry is whether or not the Church can ever recognize abortion as a right.

I agree with Dr. Peters that participation in an ecclesiastical crime is not necessarily the same thing as heresy. One can procure an abortion while believing abortion is wrong. Nevertheless, the debate would be moot if Kerry had directly participated in an abortion, since canon 1398 already provides for the automatic excommunication of those who directly procure an abortion, while canon 1329 accounts for accomplices without whom the criminal act would not have been possible.

So at issue here is the public dimension of abortion. Does abortion merely concern private morality, or is there a public dimension to this issue as well? According to Kerry, it is a matter of private morality. Hence his claim, "I'm pro-choice, not pro-abortion." Whereas the Church recognizes the public moral dimension surrounding abortion, in that abortion entails the slaughter of an innocent human being.

Thus Kerry, in my opinion, is a heretic not because he procured an abortion (to my knowledge, he hasn't) but because he disagrees on the Church's teaching that abortion concerns the public morality and thus for him one ought to be free to carry out partial birth infanticide.

Leaked Document on Kerry's heresy

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Note to future readers: this post had been my initial reaction to the meltdown with Marc Balestrieri's canonical action against John Kerry. Having been fraternally corrected by my colleague Dr. Ed Peters, a canonist whom I admire for his orthodoxy and balanced perspective, I have since retracted and modified my initial reaction. -PJV

More info on the heresy case

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Prof. Ed Peters gives his analysis of recent developments, including a statement from Fr. Cole about his letter to Marc Balestrieri on advocacy of legal abortion as heresy.

Coming to Bookstores this week!


Surprised by Canon Law!
150 Questions Catholics Ask about Canon Law
by Pete Vere & Michael Trueman
Forward by Patrick Madrid

For centuries, canon law has been for most Catholics a mysterious and esoteric aspect of Catholicism, [] Not anymore. - Patrick Madrid, Envoy Magazine

Vere and Trueman have made canon law accessible to the average Catholic for the first time. - Karl Keating, Catholic Answers

From time to time, all Catholics have them: nagging questions about church life, often prompted by some personal encounter or challenging situation:

Is a layperson allowed to preach a homily?

Is a pastor required to report to someone regarding parish finances, or is he on his own?

It seems like the parish council is running your parish. Does it have the authority to do so?

Must a child be baptized in a church, or may the baptism take place at home?

Surprised by Canon Law tackles these and many other questions, all of which have been formally addressed by the Roman Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law. The Code-the internal legal system that governs the church's day-to-day workings-deals with far-flung concerns of interest to the person-in-the-pew. This practical guide to the Code provides answers to a range of questions, from "Can the pope resign?" to the more sensitive query "Do you have the right to tell your bishop what the diocese needs?"

In straightforward language the authors discuss the nuts-and-bolts of church life, making canon law accessible to the everyday Catholic.

This volume is readable, interesting, pastoral and completely faithful to Church teaching and discipline. Fr. Peter Stravinskas, The Catholic Response

I recommend it as a valuable starting point for anyone interested in becoming familiar with canon law. + Adam Cardinal Maida, Archbishop of Detroit

To order your copy today, please visit or call 1-800-488-0488.

Surprised by Canon Law!

Okay folks! Answers to all those canon law questions you keep asking me are now available in book format. Just call Saint Anthony Messenger Press at 1-800-488-0488 and for $9.95 plus shipping and handling, you can get yourself a copy of Surprised by Canon Law.

A parish in suburban Weymouth is scheduled to close Sept. 1, but the parish council is suing Abp. O'Malley to fight the closing.

I hope nobody really expects this case to accomplish anything. The parish council may not even have standing to sue, since it is a purely advisory body. I doubt that it has the power to represent the parish in civil disputes. If my understanding is right, parishes are incorporated separately from the Archdiocese, but each one has a corporate board controlled by officials of the Archdiocese.

And even if the plaintiffs were to win, the Archdiocese would just go through the closure again, dotting the i's and crossing the t's according to whatever legal form is necessary.

Marc B. interview transcript


A transcript of canon lawyer Marc Balestrieri's appearance on Fox's Hannity and Colmes is available on-line. In the July 9 program, Alan Colmes and fill-in host Monica Crowley interviewed Mr. Balestrieri about his heresy complaint against J. Forbes Kerry.

A number of you asked me how you can go about helping Marc Balestrieri in his canonical effort to combat the alleged pro-choice heresy espoused by Catholic politicians such as John Kerry. In fact, Al Matt asked me to answer this very question for his readers when I asked him last Wednesday whether I could cover this story in my regular monthly column for the Wanderer.

With this in mind, here's a sneak peak at the rough draft of the column I hope to submit. It is written in three parts. The first part is basically a summary of what I've already blogged on this subject, while the second part offers a basic explanation of why I maintain the pro-choice position to be heretical according to the clear teaching of the Catholic Church. Finally, the third part outlines three basic actions every Catholic can do to support Marc in his canonical petition.


Of Canons and Culture…
Lay Canon Lawyer Sues John Kerry for Heresy

Pete Vere, JCL

On June 14th, some heavy news hit both the canon law world and the American political scene. Marc Balestrieri filed a formal canonical petition before the Archdiocese of Boston in which he denounced John Forbes Kerry for the ecclesiastical crime of heresy. By July 1st, Marc had posted his eighteen-page petition available to where those with Internet access may view it.

Balestrieri’s canonical petition came as a surprise to many – including conservative canonists like myself. While other Catholic faithful have filed similar canonical actions in the past, what makes Balestrieri’s petition unique is that he happens to be a respected lay canonist. Yet like many lay canonists who fall within generation-x, Balestrieri is fed up with the scandal caused by pro-abort Catholic politicians. So he decided to attempt canonical recourse against the well-known senator from Massachusetts.

I know Marc personally. I will gladly vouch for his credentials as a canon lawyer. He told me in our last conversation that he spent six months researching both the procedure and the merit of this canonical action before undertaking it. It shows. When it comes to the facts and to the law, Balestrieri’s research, presentation, and handling of the situation is solid. I only wish that I had possessed enough courage to initiate a similar action against Paul Martin in Canada before he became Prime Minister.

In terms of Balestrieri’s future, however, this is the most risky venture undertaken by a canon lawyer since the eighties when Fr. Tom Doyle predicted a future sexual abuse crisis among the clergy. reports that Marc is a lay judge with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles tribunal. One can only imagine Cardinal Mahony’s reaction to this petition. So Marc is likely putting both his reputation and his livelihood on the line with his canonical denunciation of Democrat presidential nominee. You’ve got guts Marc, and I pray our readers at the Wanderer will support you in this endeavor.

Yet this canonical action raises an important question, namely, what precisely is John Kerry’s heresy? Despite the misunderstanding of some sympathetic to Balestrieri’s action, Kerry’s heresy does not concern his reception of Holy Communion. This is separate – albeit not unrelated – issue. Rather, Kerry’s heresy concerns his affirmation that abortion is a matter of private morality with no public responsibility on the part of Catholic politicians.

For example, the presidential hopeful recently appeared on Larry King Live. When questioned about bishops threatening to deny him Holy Communion because of his voting record on abortion, Kerry responded: "Well, there are some bishops who have spoken out, but that's not the position of the Church, and as you know, we have a separation in America of Church and state. My obligation as a Catholic is to examine my conscience, under the freedom of conscience under Vatican II, Pope John XXIII, and Pope Paul […] I mean, being for choice does not mean you are for abortion..." As an aside, perhaps it is no coincidence that Kerry failed to mention Pope John Paul II in his litany of Church authorities whom he claims support his position. One need only read Evangelium vitae to know where our current Holy Father stands with regards to this issue.

Alternatively, one can contrast Kerry’s doctrine with that taught by the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church aptly summarizes Church teaching in article 2270 as follows: "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent to life," (emphasis mine). With regards to the political responsibility of every Catholic toward the child in the womb, article 2273 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation…"

In denying these clear teachings of the Catholic Church while claiming to be a devout Catholic, John Forbes Kerry inflicts scandal upon Christ’s faithful. As fellow Catholic blogger Lane Core, Jr. explains in somewhat more contemporary language: "John Forbes Kerry is a darn heretic. He has caused and continues to cause great harm to the Catholic Church and to individual Catholics by stirring up doubt among Catholics and others about the Church's teaching and the Church's authority to teach, and by other scandals — even to the point of leading innumerable others, including Catholics, into believing The Right to Murder Unborn Children heresy — not by what he professes to believe but by what actions he takes and does not take, which is all that really matters."

Obviously, Balistrieri’s canonical action is something every orthodox Catholic should support. So how can we go about doing so as simple Catholic laity? First, keep Marc in your daily prayers. This battle is as much spiritual as it is canonical. Perhaps you can offer up an extra Rosary for him or spend an hour before Our Lord in Eucharistic adoration.

Secondly, Marc requires some financial support. Perhaps it is only coincidence that the same day Marc’s petition was made public, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles posted a new job opening for a canon lawyer. Time will tell. In the meantime, Marc requires basic living amenities such as food, water and shelter like the rest of us. When I last spoke to Marc, however, he had not eaten in several days, having poured his meager life savings as one of the Church’s lay employees into this canonical action. You can donate to Marc’s effort electronically at or you can send a check via postal mail to the following address:

1223 Wilshire Boulevard, PMB 346
Santa Monica, CA 90403-5400

Thirdly, like over 1500 other Catholics, you can join Marc as a petitioner to his canonical action against John Kerry and the latter’s alleged pro-choice heresy. In my opinion as a canonist, this is in keeping with the canonical right of every Catholic outlined in the third paragraph of canon 212 as follows: "Christ’s faithful […] have the right, indeed at times the duty […] to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church." The destruction wreaked on millions of women and children each year by abortion, as well as the scandal to the faith caused by pro-choice Catholic politicians such as John Kerry, obviously concerns the common good of the Church. Therefore, to exercise your canonical right to express yourself on this matter, please visit and learn how you can join Marc Balestrieri as a co-petitioner to this canonical action.

LOL! Lane Core, Jr. has attempted to translate Marc Balestrieri's petition against John Kerry for heresy into the language of the laity. Here's a sample:

"John Forbes Kerry is a damn heretic. By word and deed, he espouses the heresy that The Blog from the Core will call The Right to Murder Unborn Children. The Church has dogmatically defined that the deliberate taking of innocent human life is intrinsically evil, and that procured abortion is included in this definition. John Forbes Kerry is a damn heretic. Though he says that he personally believes what the Church teaches about abortion, he nonetheless espouses heresy by what he does: he pro-actively, even vigorously, does whatever he can to assure that an intrinsically evil act is legal and will remain legal, and to advance its status in society to the point that it will be understood as an everyday human right and acknowledged by mainline churches as such."

You can read the entire translation at Lane's blog.

The lay canonist charging John Kerry with heresy was interviewed on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" show tonight. The show will be repeated later on for us night-owls.

Pro-Abort Catholic Politicians and Heresy Trials

Well, Im back. Thanks to everyone for your prayers, and thanks to St. Anthony, we finally made it across the border with our car. That being said, it appears I missed some excitement while off-line these past couple weeks. A number of you kindly sent me links to stories involving Marc Balestrieris canonical petition against John Kerry concerning the scandal being caused to Christs faithful from the latters support for abortion. Marc is a lay canonist in his early thirties and a pretty solid guy. So his action in support of innocent children in the womb took both myself and other lay canonists from our generation by surprise.

I cannot begin to explain the likely consequences of Marcs actions. Dont get me wrong; up until this point Marc enjoyed a solid reputation as a canon lawyer. He spent six months researching this petition, and his research, presentation, and handling of the facts and of the law is solid. Yet in terms of his future, this is the most risky venture undertaken by a canon lawyer since the eighties when Fr. Tom Doyle predicted the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Basically, Marc is putting his reputation and his livelihood on the line here.

We spoke earlier today by phone, and he is already come under heavy fire from the Democrat machine, some heavy players within the Catholic hierarchy, not a few respected canonists, and even some neo-conservative Republicans. Up until now, hes also fought much of this battle alone, against powerful enemies on several fronts, and out of his own pockets. Keep in mind that Church employees dont make a whole lot of money to begin with, and Marc has living expenses like the rest of us. As long as this canonical action is drawing public attention, despite the Churchs shortage of canon lawyers, most dioceses wont touch him.

Yet Marc assured me when we spoke that the costs were worth it. He also told me that he would rather seek Kerry repent than be excommunicated, and this remains the end for which Marc hopes. Barring this happy outcome, however, Marc is ready and willing to sacrifice his future over this canonical action. Although I cringe whenever I think of whats in store for Marc, I know he is doing the right thing.

I cannot deny that I have often toyed with the idea of initiating a similar canonical action. Nevertheless, I always backed down. Theres a number of excuses I could offer having a wife and two children to support being the main one, not wanting to draw too much attention as a Canadian living in the United States being another but in the end, these were merely excuses.

The real reason I backed down was cowardice. I simply was not ready to absorb the personal and financial costs involved. Yet Marcs actions have forced me to confront the costs of my own cowardice. Each year there are close to three million victims of abortion in America. Half of these victims, the children in the womb, forfeit their lives to altar of the sexual revolution. The other half, that being the mothers, find themselves emotionally and psychologically damaged for the rest of their lives. This has got to stop, and the Church must take firm action against the Catholic politicians who support this grave evil.

Marc, I know you follow these blogs. And I appreciate your kind compliments towards me and other lay canonists who fought some of the earlier battles. But we spent most of the day speaking among ourselves and we all agree that youve set the new standard of courage with your canonical action as none of us have had the courage thus far to lay it all on the line like you have. Youve got some heavy persecution ahead and none of the boys envy you. May God bless you in this effort and may He give us the courage to stand by you and you defend His most innocent of creation.

And people ask me why the Church grants so many annulments?

As some of you know, I work full-time for a diocesan tribunal. Like most lay canonists, I also work part-time for several (about a half-dozen) Catholic tribunals on the side. A package arrived from one of these today that contained about a dozen cases. Of course I cannot name the tribunal or share any detailed information, but here's a quick breakdown based upon the length of the marriage in question:

Over 15 yrs: 1
10 to 15 yrs: 2
7 to 9 yrs: 1
4 to 6 yrs: 2
1 to 3 yrs: 4
Under a year: 2

Exactly half these cases concern marriages between two individuals who were
not Catholic at the time of marriage. Four of the cases concern mixed marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. Only two concerned a marriage between two Catholics.

Boston parish closures


Well, the list is out and my parish in Boston is on it. Holy Trinity Church has been ordered to close, with one year delay. Now, that's interesting, since it seems to indicate a willingness to take our needs into account.

Here's the full list....

Time to instruct the ignorant


Professor Edward Peters, in his usual lucid manner, dispels a cardinal's misunderstandings about whether it is proper to admit or bar pro-abortion politicians from Holy Communion.

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

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unless you state otherwise.


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