the Rev. T.C.G. Glover,
Oratorian Canonist, who worked for the Vatican for many years.
are heard saying that Mons. Lefebvre and Mons. de Castro Mayer,
together with the four bishops they consecrated on 30th June 1988,
have been excommunicated for schism. The same voices also say that
all the priests of the Society of St Pius X, and all the laity who
support them or attend their Masses, are automatically excommunicated
for schism. Generally, they ignore the fact that there are plenty
of traditional priests running Mass Centres who are not members
of the Society of St Pius. X, and include these as schismatics and
so excommunicated. The facts do not support them.
is no dispute that the episcopal Consecrations took place without
a Pontifical Mandate, it is, without the Pope’s permission and indeed
against his express wishes. Canon 1382 states that a bishop who
consecrates another without a Pontifical Mandate incurs excommunication
'latae sententiae', and the priest who allows himself
to be consecrated a bishop incurs it likewise. Excommunication is
of two types: 'latae sententiae' and 'ferendae sententiae'.
The first type is often called automatic, as the delinquent incurs
it simply by committing the offence specified in the law, whereas
the second type requires the intervention of a judge or superior
to impose the penalty
1st July 1988, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops
(the old Consistorial Congregation) issued a decree declaring that
all six bishops were excommunicated. As the penalty is 'latae
sententiae', this is not a condemnatory sentence imposing a
penalty, but a declaratory sentence saying that the penalty has
been incurred by the violation of the penal in question. To many,
this will seem the end of the matter: the six bishops broke a law
of whose existence all were aware, and which carries with it automatic
excommunication. This is not so.
no penalty is ever incurred without Brave moral imputability (Canon
1323.7). This means, in the moral theologian's terminology, subjective
mortal sin. The Archbishop has made it clear many times that his
primary purpose in consecrating successors is to ensure a future
supply of additional priests to provide the laity with Mass and
the Sacraments. He acted only after years of thought, and many months
of protracted negotiations with the Holy See and a similar intention
and careful consideration can be discerned in the other five bishops.
Even if the final decision is judged a mistake, it cannot amount
to subjective mortal sin.
Canon 1323.4 states that even where an offence carrying a penalty
has been committed, the penalty is not incurred if the act was performed
out of necessity unless it be something intrinsically evil or damaging
to souls. Again, it is clear that it was the necessity of providing
for a future supply of traditional priests which caused the Archbishop
and his Co-consecrator to act: as they did, after all hope for a
'reconciliation' with Rome had proved groundless.
is a very old 'rule of law' (Regulaluris 15) which gives the benefit
of any doubt in cases of penal law: Odia restringi, et favores
convenit ampliari. In other words, if there is a doubt whether
a penalty has been incurred in a particular case, it means that
it has not been incurred. It is not, therefore, necessary to prove
that the Consecrations were morally innocent and done under necessity;
it is enough to show sufficient serious arguments to establish that
there is a doubt, so the six bishops are not excommunicated under
the decree of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops goes further by
declaring the six bishops to be schismatics and so also automatically
excommunicated under Canon 1364.1. It further warns the faithful
that if they support “the schism of Mons. Lefebvre, they too will
be ipso facto excommunicated”. This charge involves a large and
unjustified mental leap. It is made by the Pope in his Apostolic
letter 'Ecclesia Dei' of 2nd July 1988. Speaking of the Consecrations,
itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in
a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the
Church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic
succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience
- which implied in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy -
constitutes a schismatic act.
does nothing of the sort. Schism, defined in Canon 751, means refusal
of subjection to the Supreme Pontiff of refusal of communion with
other members of the Church. A mere act of disobedience to a superior
does not imply denial that the superior holds office or has authority.
child who says, 'I won't!' to his mother does not deny that she
is his mother; the soldier ordered to polish his buttons by his
officer, who instead smokes a cigarette, is not denying the validity
of the Queen's Commission. Again, for the charge of 'Schism' to
stick, it must be certain beyond all reasonable doubt. In a word,
the six bishops have not incurred excommunication for schism so
those who adhere to them cannot be excommunicated either. There
is indeed more muddled thinking here.
phrases 'followers of Mons. Lefebvre', 'Lefebvrist Mass Centres',
'Lefebvre priests' are frequently used. They imply that Mons: Lefebvre
is the head of the Society of St Pius X. He is not. Fr Schmidberger
has been Superior-General for five years, and has District Superiors
if the six bishops had been excommunicated for illegal consecrations
and schism, it would not in itself affect the others. If a retired
Benedictine bishop were to be excommunicated, it would not mean
that Benedictines throughout the world, and those who hear Mass
in Benedictine churches, were excommunicated. Excommunication is
a penalty for those who commit certain crimes will full moral guilt,
not a contagious disease!
point may seem academic: to support a schismatic against the Pope
and 'adhere' to him is to join in his schism; but we have shown
that the charge of schism will not stick. Even if it did, it would
not automatically involve the laity who attend Mass Centres in excommunication.
Canon 844.2 allows the faithful to seek the Sacraments of Communion,
Penance and Extreme Unction even from non-Catholic ministers (provided
their Orders are valid), if it is physically or morally impossible
to go to a Catholic minister. This Canon has caused great scandal
amongst traditional Catholics but it is, of course, accepted by
the Pope! Even the old Code allowed access to an excommunicated
priest in certain cases of necessity. And there is no doubt that
it is often physically impossible to receive traditional Sacraments,
except from a priest who supports the actions of Mons. Lefebvre.
This does lead to another point. Traditional Catholics have become
used to defending their actions, justifying their attendance at
Masses not authority by the local bishop, and so on. This article
is written in a similar strain, showing on the basis of Canon Law
that the six bishops are not excommunicated either for illegal Consecrations
or Schism, and in consequence, that other traditional priests and
lay people are not excommunicated either. But it is a mistake to
leave the question on this defensive note.
is for the Pope and bishops to justify their actions. They have
abandoned the traditional rites of Mass and the Sacraments, they
have allowed heresy to be taught, and abuse to abound throughout
the Church. Traditional Catholics have merely remained faithful
to what the Church has always taught and done, and this fidelity
to tradition is the sole cause of all their problems with authority.
We now have the ludicrous episode of the Holy See condemning the
six bishops in the Church who are clearly Catholics! There may be
plenty of others, but their Catholicism is no longer manifest, and
their attitude over the past 20 years puts it in doubt.
is now for the Pope and those who claim to be 'faithful' to him
to explain their actions, and to show that they are still Catholics.
The six bishops involved in the events of 30th June have made their
in "The Northern Catholic", November, 1988)