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a blog by Fr. Stuart MacDonald, JCL,

Cathedral Rectors

It has been a busy few weeks for me in the parish and it looks like things will only get busier as Forty Hours Devotions begin this evening in preparation for our Corpus Christi procession.  Then it will be on to closing school Masses and graduations with a few weddings thrown in before I begin packing my belongings to undertake a new assignment.  So, in the meantime, I will answer a few questions that have come my way and make a plug for a fine group of men with whom I spent a few days visiting: the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago.  I was with them for some tutoring in how to celebrate the Missa cantata in the extraordinary form.  The canons are a vibrant young community involved in many activities.  One of them is offering workshops which train priests and seminarians how to celebrate and serve the extraordinary form.  It is an invaluable service to the Church.  They do it well, without any fussiness, without any pretension, simply out of a love for the liturgy in both forms (both of which they offer with extraordinary splendour and beauty in their parish church.)  You can find more on their web site:

One reader asked me about the duties of a Cathedral rector.  This title is a bit of a misnomer.  Sometimes the priest who is given charge of the Cathedral is called a rector.  It seems to be an honourary title because he is the pastor of the Cathedral parish.  In fact, several distinctions need to be made.  The canons do not expressly deal with this subject as I will try to explain.

Canon law neither defines a cathedral nor deals directly with it.  Cathedrals are the places where the bishop takes possession of his diocese (c. 382), in which the diocesan bishop is to celebrate Mass often (c. 389), where ordinations are to be celebrated (c. 1011), and where the funeral and burial of bishops are to occur (cc. 1178, 1242).  As we can see, cathedrals are mentioned all over the code, but only in passing when dealing with other subjects.

The cathedral church, besides being the seat of the bishop, can also be a parish church.  It doesn’t have to be, but it often is.  If the cathedral is also a parish, then, properly speaking, a pastor is appointed to it.  If the cathedral church is not a parish, then, properly speaking, a rector is appointed to it.  Here the Code helps us out a bit (cc. 556-563).

Rectors according to c. 556, “are here understood to be priests to whom is entrusted the care of some church which is neither a parochial nor a capitular church, nor a church attached to the house of a religious community or a society of apostolic life which holds services in it.”  Now that’s a mouthful.  What does it mean?

Parish churches are clear enough.  I don’t believe there are any capitular churches in North America; they are more common in Europe where canons (people, not laws!) are appointed.  A chapter of canons is a college of priests who have the duty of celebrating the more solemn liturgical functions in a particular church (c. 503).  You see canons in the major basilicas of Rome, for example. They are often vested in mantelleta and biretta for mass or vespers.  Religious orders often have chapels (some the size of basilicas) where the faithful go to Mass.  For example, we could think of a church on the campus of a Catholic university campus, like Notre Dame.  It’s not a parish church, but people go there.  It would have a rector, not a pastor, in charge.  In other words, a rector is the priest in charge of a church which is not a parish, or a religious ‘chapel.’

A rector is limited in what he can do.  Because his church is located within the territory of a parish, he must not interfere in the work or authority of the pastor.  For example, he may not baptise; administer Viaticum, Confirmation in danger of death, or Anointing of the Sick; solemnise Marriage; conduct funerals; bless the baptismal font at Easter; or conduct processions outside the Church without the consent of the pastor.  His church, in other words, is not to be a rival church to the parish.  Perhaps the church is a shrine of some sort where the faithful gather.  The rector looks after it; however, and this is a good reminder, those faithful still belong to a parish.  The shrine and its liturgical functions ought not to substitute for participation in one’s proper parish.

Now, back to canon 556 and its definition of a rector.  Did you notice that little word, “here” (hic in the official text)?  Rectors are “here” understood to mean…  In other words, rector is understood to mean something different “there” in other places in the Code.  Unfortunately, there are no “other” places in the Code.  Some poor editing of the Code?  Perhaps.  Is there another definition of rector that somehow never made it in the Code, like a Cathedral Rector?  Maybe, but there doesn’t seem to be evidence for that.  So a rector is in charge of a church which is not a parish.

To answer the question put to me by a new “rector” of a Cathedral, “What are my duties?”, I would answer, that your duties are those of a pastor because that is, in fact, what you are (unless your Cathedral is NOT also a parish.)

How irregular: Catholic priests functioning as Anglican clergy

A reader sent me a link to an story about a diocese seeking the dismissal from the clerical state of three of its priests who abandoned the ministry and the Church and who are working as Episcopalian (Anglican, in Canada) clergy.  It’s not such an unusual occurence.  In my diocese we have a similar case.  The young priest left the Church, had his Orders ‘received’ by the Anglican bishop, and has set up shop as a pastor in one of the local Anglican communities.  Naturally, it causes scandal among the faithful.  So what is the status of such priests?

Well, first of all, they are irregular to exercise their Orders (c. 1044.1.2) because of any or all of heresy, apostasy or schism.  Furthermore, they are excommunicated for the same reasons (c. 1364.1).  In both cases, they are forbidden to perform any priestly ministry.  IN the latter case, they are forbidden from even receiving the sacraments.

Normally, in the penal law of the Church, to dismiss a cleric from the clerical state, a judicial process (a penal trial) is necessary (cf. c.1364.2 and 1334.2).  For all sorts of reasons, it is not always possible or feasible to hold a process.  We learned that the hard way in dealing with the clergy abuse cases; however, it is true in other cases as well.  Therefore, the Holy Father, granted some special procedures to be followed for the dismissal of clerics.  The American diocese has chosen to make use of those procedures so that the guilty priests can be dismissed from the clerical state. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t priests anymore, it just removes them from a special group of membership in  the Church — the clergy.  Further, it confirms the prohibition to use their sacred powers already in place by the irregularity and excommuncation.  If ever they repent, they can have the excommunication lifted, and even the irregularity dispensed (although there would be no reason to do that) and they would remain as lay members of the Church.

I would be willing to bet the former Catholic priests don’t give a hoot whether they are considered clergy in the Catholic Church or not.  It’s a sad situation.  But for the Catholic faithful it is probably good that they are dismissed from the clerical state.  Some Catholics don’t know any better and are heard to say, “Oh well, too bad about Fr. X but at least he’s a still a priest in the Episcopalian parish.”  Dismissal would help such people to understand that it’s not okay that Father has abandoned his ministry in the Church.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned

NB: this post has been modified slightly from its original version.

Something I read on the internet about confession kind of gave me the willies. I am quite sure that no harm was intended by the writer; however, it provides an opportune moment to remember the importance of remaining silent about particular confessions.  The point of what I was reading was to remind children to whisper in the confessional so that sins cannot be overheard.

As a priest, many people ask me what it is like to hear children’s confessions, especially first confessions.  They joke about being pelted with popcorn and how it must be so funny to hear children tell their little sins.  And yes, sometimes it brings a smile to my face.  But I am also aware that these little children are confessing their sins to God, sins about which they feel guilty.  I am aware of how delicate their consciences are more than I am amused at how they recount their sins.  Such things need to be handled delicately.  After all, the children have been taught about the seal of the confessional.  They are baring their souls to God.  Trust is important to them.

Now all of us know that the seal of the confessional is absolutely inviolable for the priest who hears the confession (c. 983).  The seal binds the confessor under threat of excommunication latae sententiae (c. 1388.1).  Not so for an interpreter present at the confession, or for someone who overhears a confession, or who comes to a knowledge of sins from a confession.  The latter are bound, under pain of sin and of penalty (c. 1388.2), to observe secrecy.  But the difference is really a technical one.  The direct divulging of the secrets of the confessional by others is punishable by a penalty not excluding excommunication because it’s a nefarious thing to do.  Even if unpunished by ecclesiastical authority for whatever reason, to divulge what someone has confessed in the sacrament remains matter for sin.  Obviously, the priest who hears, judges and absolves the penitnent has the greatest responsibility.  In practical terms, however, that secrecy also affects everyone else.

So what does all that have to do with a parent writing about a child’s first confession?  Well, for most of us nothing.  And I quickly add that it is not clear that an actual sin confessed was being described; however, it was highly suggestive in this regard  But for that child, who might hear the parent re-telling the incident, or encouraging friends to read what s/he wrote on the internet, it might be a terribly embarassing, confusing, if not scandalous, thing.  Of course those involved didn’t intend that. They were trying to make a very valid point that we can’t forget to teach people to whisper.  But to publish the content of the overheard sin, or to re-tell it to others, is to break a sacred trust enshrined in our canon law.

We need to be careful.  The confession of anyone, young or old, deserves reverence.

Pastoral Moves and Stability of Office

It’s that time of year again, at least in my diocese, when pastoral assignments are about to be announced.  Thankfully, the rumour mill has been relatively quiet in my circle of communication.  Recently, a priest (from another diocese!, in case my bishop is reading) contacted me asking what rights a pastor has when it comes to being transferred.  It got me thinking that a lot of education needs to take place among clergy in this regard.  With new situations that the Church faces these days — merging/closing parishes, priest shortages, an aging presbyterum, etc. — the law on the transfer of pastors needs to better known.

Canon 522 states, “A pastor must possess stability and therefore is to be appointed for an indefinite period of time. The diocesan bishop can appoint him only for a specific period if the conference of bishops has permitted this by a decree.”  Many conferences of bishops do permit pastors to be appointed to set periods: in both Canada and the United States, pastors may be appointed for renewable six year terms.  It is important to understand that a pastor may be appointed for a set time, but that is not the norm.  Certainly, unless the decree apointing the pastor specifically mentions the fixed-term appointment, then the appointment is indefiinite.  (We need to understand also that there were significant changes to the law on the appointment of pastors in the 1983 Code from the 1917 Code, which I am not going to get into here.)  The point is, however, that the Code envisions that a pastor is not to be changed at will or often — certainly, when term appointments are allowed, such as six years, an idefinite appointment would seem to require that a bishop have the intention of leaving a pastor in office for longer than six years.  There is a certain wisdom to the stability of a pastor.  Canon 524 suggests that a pastor is given an appointment to a particular parish, not simply because he is a priest and can celebrate the sacraments for the people but because he, with his particular qualities, is suited to the needs of the people of that specific parish: “A diocesan bishop is to entrust a vacant parish to the one whom he considers suited to fulfill its parochial care, after weighing all the circumstances and without any favoritism. To make a judgment about suitability, he is to hear the vicar forane and conduct appropriate investigations, having heard certain presbyters and lay members of the Christian faithful, if it is warranted.”

In the last decade, if not longer, there seems to be a mentality that has settled into the mindset of clergy and laity alike, that pastors are supposed to be moved every six years or so.  We hear it said, “Oh, Fr. X is due for a move, he’s been there for seven years now.  Wonder who we’re going to get.”  Even priests seems to get antsy after six years in a parish.  Time for a change, they say.  My own opinion is that shuffling pastors around too often creates upset.  It takes several years for a priest to get to know his parishioners well, to discern their spiritual needs.  It takes several years to get pastoral plans up and running well.  It takes years, especially these days, for the faithful to trust their priests.  It seems to me that as soon as that good working relationship and trust begin to take hold, the pastor is often uprooted and sent to start the process all over again.  The faithful are left to say, “Well, what changes is the new pastor going to make.”  In family life we don’t see it as a virtue to pick up and move the family home every several years.  Stability of home life is cherished.  For priests themselves, there is the human fact that moving around so much is unsettling.  Have you ever wondered why priests, who, while not bound by a promise of poverty, nonetheless cart so many personal possessions, including furniture, from one parish to another? It’s because they are trying to create a home, with familiar surroundings.  (I don’t deny, either, that some of that is simply a wordliness that has crept into clerical circles.)

That being said, the reality of today’s Church has changed, even from 1983.  Even though the Code says that pastors have stability of office, the Code also recognises that the good of the Church trumps any singular situation.  Canon 1748 says, “If the good of souls or the necessity or advantage of the Church demands that a pastor be transferred from a parish which he is governing usefully to another parish or another office, the bishop is to propose the transfer to him in writing and persuade him to consent to it out of love of God and souls.” (emphasis mine)  Ultimately, a priest is called to serve the Church and its benefit. A bishop has great discretion, which we assume he won’t abuse, to move a pastor who is doing a good job, let alone, one who is not.  Financial concerns of the diocese, fallout from abuse scandal, priest shortages, among so many other things, all play a role in clergy assignments.

Times have changed.  We used to think we might not have to drive across town to attend Mass because there was a parish a few streets over.  Unfortunately that is not reality now.  Sometimes a priest must look after more than one church, you know, when parishes merge but both church buildings remain in use.  Even more, sometimes a priest must be pastor of more than one parish!  Maybe you thought that wasn’t possible, but it is!  Canon 526 states, “A pastor is to have the parochial care of only one parish; nevertheless, because of a lack of priests or other circumstances, the care of several neighboring parishes can be entrusted to the same pastor.” (emphasis mine)

I certainly don’t envy bishops their job when it comes to pastoral appointments.  I’m certainly glad that my bishop has taken the position that if a priest is happy in his assignment and it is going well, then we don’t need to move him.  That makes sense.  But we also need to be aware that the circumstances in which the Church finds herself demand flexibility and generosity on the part of priests and laity alike.

Denying Communion: not an easy matter

EWTN news has an item about a pastor in Italy who refused Holy Communion to a handicapped child.  As usual, the press didn’t quite get it right the first time, highlighting the fact that this was discrimination against the handicapped.  The bishop of the diocese in question issued a statement supporting the priest, having included many pertinent details: the family was from outside the parish, they had spoken to the priest several times, they were not attending Mass regularly, the boy had spit out an unconsecrated host when practising how to receive Communion, etc.

What really seems to be at stake in this case, is not that the child is handicapped, but that the family is non-practising.  It is a problem that is very common in this part of Canada, and, I assume, in North America: how to engage people who have been baptised Catholic, sacramentalized, as it were, but who are not practising their faith in any tangible way.  Here in Ontario, we have a publicly funded Catholic education system.  People send their children to Catholic schools, and, if truth be told, have their children baptised so that they can enrol in the Catholic system, but never come to Mass, live in irregular marriage situations, have no explicit intention of living the faith, but want, nonetheless, their children to receive the sacraments.  As a pastor, it is a question I face almost every day.  Do I just admit the baptised children to First Communion and Confirmation, knowing that they are, for all intents and purposes, uncatechised and won’t learn how to practise the faith?  Do I assume that their presence in a Catholic school system (which has its own problems with being ‘Catholic’) provides the realistic hope (spes fundata) of them being raised in the Catholic faith (c. 868) allowing me to baptise them?  It is not a matter of wanting to deny the sacraments, or of wanting only perfect Catholics to receive the sacraments; it is a matter of evangelisation, of engagement.

So the pastor in Italy asked the family in question to come to Mass for a few weeks before Holy Communion and they aren’t willing to do that?  The handicapped, of course, have different considerations.  Perhaps they don’t have the use of reason and are in a state of grace.  The Code, however, does not deny the sacraments easily. For Confirmation the only prerequisite is baptism, unless the person has the use of reason, in which case s/he must be suitably instructed (suitable for the person in question, obviously), properly disposed and be able to renew baptismal promises (c. 889)  Moreover, the faithful are bound to be confirmed (c. 890). For Holy Communion, it is necessary, for children, to have sufficient knowledge of what the mystery of Christ means and to be able to receive with faith and devotion.  Only in danger of death is the bar lowered, so to speak, requiring only that the child can distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary food.  I’m not sure a child who is not in danger of death and who has spat out an unconsecrated host, is able to understand the mystery of Christ or to receive with devotion.  In this case, it probably was certainly justified to refuse the handicapped child Communion.  That is not a judgment on him nor a deprivation.  It is a recognition that he is unable to receive properly and remains in a state of grace with or without the Eucharist.  If he weren’t handicapped?  Hmmm.  What to do? Stricte dictu he has a right to receive Communion, all things being equal.  Canon 914 provides some guidance.  The parish priest, with the parents, has the duty to ensure that children are properly prepared, as it is his duty to ensure that those who are insufficiently disposed are not admitted to Holy Communion. Thus asking the parents to come to Mass with the child for a few weeks before Holy Communion does not seem out of line: it would demonstrate the proper disposition of the child.

But what if the child wants to come to Mass and the parents won’t take her?  These are the difficult and heavy burdens of pastors who wade through all these considerations.  Some of the pastoral practices of the last forty or fifty years just don’t work any longer. We have to address the issues with new vigour, with new insight. Obviously they are phenomena that the Code hasn’t envisaged: nominal Catholics insisting on being admitted to the sacraments.  This news item from Italy gives us a chance to reflect.

Administrative Leave: it’s more than penal law

Fr. Anonymous has sent a reply to a few blogs regarding my criticism of his analysis of the Communion controversy involving Fr. Guarnizo.

First, and foremost, let me state once again, that one of the main reasons I entered the conversation regarding the Communion controversy was to defend Fr. Guarnizo from what I view as the injustice done to him when he was placed on administrative leave.  It is fine for people to disagree wtih my opinion that Fr. Guarnizo erred in denying Ms. Johnson Communion, but it is not fine for them to think that thereby I am trying to persecute a priest.  They need to re-read my posts carefully and separate the issues (ah, yes, separating the issues so that  conversation can take place that will advance the clarity of the arguments and not just resort to digging in our heals to prove a point at all costs, often times at the cost of charity and civility — you wouldn’t believe what some people write in com-boxes! (and never see the light of day because I moderate mine.))

What Fr. Anonymous and I disagree on, and to which major point he’s still not responding, even in his latest volley, is what ‘administrative leave’ is, or isn’t.  What Fr. Anonymous doesn’t seem to acknowledge is: a) that administrative leave is operative in things other than penal law, and b) that I am against the use of the s0-called ‘administrative leave,’ in anything other than a penal process.

Fr. Anonymous, using John Beal’s 1993 article as his authority, argues that ‘administrative leave’ can only be used in a penal process. I disagree.   I have several observations.

1. ‘administrative leave,’ as we all know, does not exist, as such, in canon law: it is a term used to describe the exercise of administrative power by which an Ordinary restricts the ministry of a cleric.

2. it first came about in penal cases with reference to c. 1722 and became popular/necessary when dealing with priests accused of sexual abuse of minors

3. John Beal wrote his article at the time when ‘administrative leave’ was becoming popular

4. John Beal’s discussion is about penal law, not about ‘administrative law’ per se.  He is arguing a controverted point in penal law about at which point, in the penal process, when the penal process is being used, c.. 1722 could be enacted.  He is not arguing that ‘administrative leave can only be enacted in a penal case.’  He is arguing about a very specific set of circumstances and saying that ‘in these circumstances, administrative leave can only be enacted at this point, and not at that point,’ without referring to if and when administrative leave can be enacted in other (i.e. non-penal) circumstances.  Fr. Anonymous either does not understand this crucial distinction, or he is simply refusing to acknowledge it.

5. Since 1993, canonists have begun using administrative leave in other, non-penal, circumstances such as occur when a priest wishes to take a ‘leave of absence’ from the ministry — another non-canonical term.  Administrative leave has become the way that superiors let clergy leave the ministry without getting into penal law, or because they have reached a gentleman’s agreement.  For example, a priest abandons the ministry because he has become involved with a woman.  Canon law would say that he is to be suspended, in order to bring about his repentance so that he could return to ministry.  Instead of declaring a suspension according to the norms of penal law, Ordinaries will often let the priest go off into the sunset on ‘administrative leave.’  Adminsitrative leave is also used in the case of ‘problem clergy,’ the ones who haven’t really committed a crime but who are a nusiance to the chancery (in their opinion).

6. Adminsitrative leave has also developed from using c. 1722 as its basis to using c. 223.  This latter use is debated, and has been criticised by Cardinal DePaolis (I’m sorry I don’t have the book with me to make the citation — although the book is a series of essays in Italian on incardination; however, the important point is not the criticism but that administrative leave is being used with something other than c. 1722 as it’s starting point.)

7. My contention is that penal law is not operative in this case because no delict/crime has been committed.  The introduction of ‘administrative leave’ does not mean we are automatically dealing with penal law.  Developments in caonicial praxis since the early 1990’s prove that.  Therefore, with all due respect to John Beal’s excellent article, it is not needed in this case.

8. No one has claimed to be using penal law, certainly not the Archdiocese.

9. Therefore, to argue against the unjust use of ‘administrative leave’ (if it ever is just). one needs to argue from some other perspective than penal law.  I have done that by stating that the only other form of ‘administrative leave’ (that is, the only other way a priest may be removed completely from ministry other than by a penalty, or the  correct penal application of c. 1722 pending a penal process (whether judicial or administrative,)) is the institute of irregularities. But there are no irregularities present in the circumstances of this case either.  Therefore, completely removing a priest from ministry in this case, unless there are facts which we don’t know, is a violation of Fr. Guarnizo’s canonical rights.

So Fr. Anonymous and I both agree that what has happened to Fr. Guarnizo is not right.  The real question we are discussing is why that is true.  I think it is incorrect to argue from penal law.  I do not believe that penal law is the only base from which to argue.  Fr. Anonymous’ amassing of citations does not respond to my argument: I still maintain they are irrelevant.  In effect, Fr. Anonymous is arguing that an injustice has occured because c. 1722 has not been invoked properly (as if to say that if it were invoked properly, then administrative leave would be okay.)

With charity, Fr. Anonymous, you still need to be careful about references.  What is the source for your quotation from Bishop (then Father) Daneels, the Secretary (then Promoter of Justice) of the Signatura?  He seems to be talking about adminstrative penal processes.  Therefore, Beal’s argument is a propos because he is discussing penal law. Citing him as an authority, however, does not advance your argument.  Can you see that we are not dealing with penal law in this instance?  or can you demonstrate  why we must argue penal law?  (Beal’s article is not an answer to that question, I hope you can see.)

What would you say if you spoke to the Ordinary and he replied, “but Fr. Anonymous I did not use penal law in placing Fr. Guarnizo on administrative leave?”  Would you have a response?  Mine would be to say that, if penal law was not the basis of the action, then the only other avenue available to the Ordinary would have been to declare an irregularity, but an irregularity is clearly not at play here.  I would then ask the Ordinary to inform me on what basis he enacted ‘administrative leave.  I argue that there is no other basis by which to remove a priest completely from ministry.

Father, it’s not enough to insist that the Ordinary must argue penal law.  You have to show why.  And in showing why, you have to do more than demonstrate that some very excellent canonists agree that administrative leave can be enacted in penal law — that doesn’t answer the question.  We all agree administrative leave can be enacted in penal cases.  You have to be able to argue from the Ordinary’s basis (even if it is erroneous.)

Development of the Law?

I’m a little late getting to the news of the declaration by the CDF regarding the excommunication of four Greek-Catholic Ukrainian priests.  I’m not quite sure what the actual circumstances are: at one point the declaration speaks of them as self-proclaimed bishops and later speaks about not recognising the validity of their episcopal ordinations.  So I am not sure if they were, in fact, ordained as bishops, or did they ordain each other, did they just declare themselves bishops, etc.  It all, of course, makes a world of canonical difference. Reading the decree what stuck out for me was the line in which the Congregation formally declares, that it does not recognise the validity of their episcopal ordinations, or of any and all ordinations that have derived, or will derive therefrom.`

That line immediately brought to mind a declaration by the Secretary of State regarding the dismissal from the clerical state of Emmanuel Milingo, former bishop, who ran into all sorts of trouble with the Unification Church (the Moonies). That declaration said that:

Essa non riconosce e non intende riconoscere nel futuro tali ordinazioni e tutte le ordinazioni da esse derivate e pertanto lo stato canonico dei presunti vescovi resta quello in cui si trovavano prima dell’ordinazione conferita dal su menzionato Signor Milingo. (It, i.e. the Church, does not recognise and does not intend to recognise in the future these ordinations, i.e. the episcopal ordinations performed by then-bishop Milingo which led to his excommunication, and all ordinations derived from it and therefore the canonical status of the presumed bishops remains that in which they found themselves before the ordination conferred by the abovementioned Mr. Milingo. — my tranlsation)

Did you catch the difference?  The Milingo declaration states that it does not recognise the ordinations, without explicitly mentioning their validity or not.  The recent CDF declaration states that it does not recognise the validity of the ordinations. That is different still from the episcopal ordinations performed by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (nota bene: I will not allow comments on this last issue, so don’t even bother trying: we are all praying fervently that the situation of the Society of St. Pius X will be resolved soon, bringing it into full unity with the Church.)  The validity of those ordinations was never called into question.  (Remember to keep in mind the distinction between validity and liceity: something can be valid but illegal.)

Now, presumably, the episcopal ordinations performed by Milingo were valid, but the Church, who is the supreme earthly judge of the sacraments, chooses not to recognise them.  That does not mean that it declares them to be illegal.  That would be a statement of the obvious — those ordinations, done without Papal mandate, were illegal. So what could it mean to ‘recognise’ an ordination?  It certainly seems to be a new distinction.

A clue, I think, is found in the next part of the decree, namely, that those men, illegally ordained by Milingo, remain as priests — the state in which they were in before the ‘ordination’.  I don’t believe that the Church is saying that the men are invalidly ordained, but I could be wrong.  I think the Church is saying that even though these men might be sacramentally/ontologically bishops, the Church does not recognise, and never will recognise, their status as bishops.  Which is to say that, should these men be reconciled with the Church, they will reconciled as priests, not as bishops.  That is different, of course, from the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X whose excommunications were lifted a few years back.  The Church recognises the validity of their ordinations, and recognises their status as bishops (even if they remain irregular.)

That idea of recognition seems to be a new canonical nuance.  Canonists always speak about validity and liceity but never, until now, about ‘recognisability’.

So what do we make of the latest excommunication?  It states that it does not ‘recognise the validity of their episcopal ordinations’ [dichiara di non riconoscere la validità delle loro ordinazioni episcopali ].

Hmmm, a new twist or simply the imperfection of language?  Is it declaring the invalidity of ordination, which could have been done by stating: “we declare these ordinations to be invalid”?  Or is stating that it does not ‘recognise’ the validity (of something which is ontologically valid).  So is this a case of “Milingo”? or of “Society of St. Pius X” in reverse?  Is it saying that it does not give any legal status to an otherwise valid ordination? or is it saying that, because of some sort of defect, the ordinations are invalid.  Without the concrete details of how these men became ‘bishops’, I can’t tell.

Because validity of the sacraments is so important, a declaration of invalidity is a very strong statement.  I suspect that this is what the decree is establishing.  These ‘ordinations’ are invalid. period. Has anyone found a press report with more details about how these men ‘became’ so-called bishops?

Apart from these canonical distinctions, the important thing is that the unity of the Church has been wounded.  We need to pray for their reconciliation.


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