Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Hammer Drops

by Dale Vree

Leon J. Podles, in his new book Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (2008, Crossland Press, www.CrosslandFoundation.org), hammers the point home that most Catholic bishops "hate confrontation." This goes a long way toward explaining their reluctance to discipline predatory priests. It also goes a long way toward explaining the sorry state of the Church today. Fortitude, one of the four cardinal virtues, is sorely lacking among the current leaders of the U.S. Church.

This cowardly attitude also explains why several U.S. bishops shrugged off the recent and numerous invalid attempts at priestly "ordination" of women by the rogue Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. As we wrote in our New Oxford Note "A New Catholic Community" (Oct. 2006), Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, California, "has no plans to reprimand or excommunicate or in any other way acknowledge" the woman in his diocese who claims to have been "ordained" a Catholic priest and who has been offering an invalid "mass" at San Jose State University. In our New Oxford Note "The Beat Goes On" (Oct. 2006), we noted that then-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh took no action against the "ordination" ceremony on the Pittsburgh rivers or its participants, and that Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston "has not sanctioned" and has "imposed no penalty" on his former archdiocesan director of Healthcare Ministry who was "ordained" a Catholic womanpriest in Canada. These bishops, it seems, were willing to wink at the unlawful simulations of the conferring of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and the public rejection of the de fide doctrine that female ordination is invalid, rather than risk confrontation and -- God forbid! -- bad press.

So when Roman Catholic Womenpriests made another attempt at "ordaining" female Catholic priests in St. Louis, Missouri, we perked up, with an inkling that Archbishop Raymond Burke wouldn't allow this travesty to take place in his archdiocese without repercussions.

As we reported in our New Oxford Note "Archbishop Burke Has Courage" (Jan. 2008), Archbishop Burke "reacted strongly" to the November 11, 2007, attempt by "bishop" Patricia Fresen of Germany to "ordain" Elsie Hainz McGrath and Rose Marie Dunn Hudson at a Jewish synagogue in St. Louis. He "sent letters by courier to Elsie and Rose warning them to 'renounce your intention to attempt to receive priestly ordination…. Should you refuse to comply…you will automatically in­cur…the censure of excommunication.' He warned them that they have placed 'in danger the eternal salvation of your soul and the souls of others,' and that their ceremony is a 'grave spiritual deception.'" He warned them that they risked the penalty of interdict (the withholding of the Sacraments) unless they publicly acknowledge their errors.

Archbishop Burke then ordered Elsie and Rose to defend themselves before a Church tribunal. But Elsie called the tribunal a "canonical kangaroo court," and Rose said of Archbishop Burke, "He loves to do this. But nobody's paying attention." Both women indicated that they would not appear at the tribunal.

According to Msgr. John Shamleffer, the chief canon lawyer of the St. Louis Archdiocese, Burke sent three letters to Elsie and Rose between November and March, asking them to meet with him "to give them the opportunity to recant, hoping that through pastoral means this could be resolved" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 14) -- to no avail.

Then, on March 12, Archbishop Burke dropped the hammer on Elsie and Rose, and on Patricia Fresen: He issued a "Declaration of Excommunication of Patricia Fresen, Rose Hudson and Elsie McGrath," which he ordered published in the St. Louis archdiocesan newspaper, St. Louis Review (it appeared on March 14). Archbishop Burke explicitly states in the Declaration that the three women have incurred a latae sententiae (i.e., automatic) censure of excommunication "by reason of the crime of schism." Schism is defined in the Catechism as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with members of the Church subject to him" (#2089). Archbishop Burke also imposed a ferendae sententiae censure of interdict on them "for having pertinaciously rejected a definitive truth of the Faith [i.e., that female ordinations are invalid] after having been admonished by the Ordinary." (A latae sententiae censure is automatically incurred with the committing of a canonical crime; a ferendae sententiae censure is "imposed" by the lawful Church authority, in this case the Ordinary, and adds greater solemnity to the sentence.)

Archbishop Burke also writes that "the faculty to exercise the right of defense" was "delivered to each of the three women…requiring them to appear before" him at the tribunal. "All three accused," however, "failed to appear."

Archbishop Burke writes that "after having weighed all of the proofs and arguments," and "with God alone before my eyes, I, by this my definitive sentence, consigned to writing, declare and pronounce" that Elsie and Rose are "guilty of the canonical crimes" mentioned above, and that Patricia is further guilty of the crime of "simulation of the administration of a Sacrament." Archbishop Burke therefore also imposed on Patricia a feren­dae sententiae censure of excommunication for her additional canonical crime.

Archbishop Burke explains in his Declaration that Patricia, being the "leader of a schism" -- i.e., as a founder of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement -- who "has publicly stated that her sect is outside the hierarchy of the One True Church willed by the Savior Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ," and Elsie and Rose, by attempting to receive "priestly ordination" from Patricia, have all "thereby demonstrated their consummate disobedience, and their withdrawal from full communion with the Roman Pontiff, the local Archbishop, and the faithful loyally subject to them."

The full force of the Declaration is that "all three of the guilty parties have lost membership in, good standing in, and full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which bond each and every baptized Catholic is obliged to maintain." Elsie, Rose, and Patricia are henceforth forbidden from entering the grounds of "any property of any parish or other institution of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, until they have formally and publicly withdrawn from their contumacy." Further, "all three of the guilty are forbidden to…receive any Sacraments," and "no ordinary or extraordinary minister may lawfully administer Holy Communion to any of the guilty parties." The three "may not receive absolution from their sins as long as they have not repented, publicly retracted their rejection of a truth of the Faith, made amends for their commission of the delict of schism, and had the censure of excommunication lifted from them." They are also "barred from burial in blessed ground, and are deprived of a funeral in the Church."

Heavy stuff.

Archbishop Burke does express his "most sincere hope" that the "application of the due canonical penalties" of excommunication and interdict "will lead the parties to seek the cure of their most grievous sins and canonical crimes." This is why excommunication is often referred to as a "medicinal" penalty. It calls the excommunicated party to a full realization of his errors and to seek the "cure" of repentance and conversion, for the health of his eternal soul.

In a brief statement accompanying the publication of the Declaration in the St. Louis Review, Archbishop Burke says that it is "my responsibility to safeguard the unity of the Catholic Church and protect the souls of the faithful." He also notes that the "situation is sad for the whole Church," and is "a cause of great concern for me as an archbishop." He asks that we join him in praying that the three "will be reconciled with the Church and that the great harm which has been caused to the Church, with the help of God's grace, will be healed."

But in a statement released on March 13, Elsie and Rose say that they "and all Roman Catholic Wom­en­priests, reject the penalties of excommunication, interdict, and any other punitive actions from church officials. We are loyal daughters of the church, and we stand in prophetic tradition of holy (canonical) disobedience to an unjust man-made law that discriminates against women." We can only pray that Elsie, Rose, and Patricia avail themselves of the medicine of repentance and conversion.

The excommunication of the "St. Louis 3" is the first official censure against Roman Catholic Women­priests since the 2002 excommunication of the "Danube 7" by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Bridget Mary Meehan, spokesman for Roman Catholic Womenpriests, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that there are 53 "ordained" women in North America alone. Why have Archbishop Burke and Cardinal Ratzinger been the only ones to act? It's that old "fear of confrontation."

Archbishop Burke has done what his brother bishops have hesitated to do. He has dropped the hammer on the heads of heretics. Archbishop Burke does indeed have courage, and he has set a sterling example of leadership in defense of the Faith.

[Dale Vree is Editor of the New Oxford Review. The present article, "The Hammer Drops" was originally published as a "New Oxford Note" editorial in the New Oxford Review (June 2008), pp. 25-27, and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]

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