Are ‘Traditional Priests’ Clerics?
© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.)
The habit of referring to Traditionalists ordained at seminaries not authorized by the necessary ecclesiastical authorities as “clerics” has caused much confusion over the years, theologically speaking. The Church is wont to use precise terms in Her laws and theological treatises to avoid all confusion where doctrine and Canon Law are concerned. For this reason it is necessary to define terms in order to clarify the true position of those Traditionalists describing themselves as clerics.
What is a cleric?
“Those assigned to the divine ministry at least by the first tonsure are called clerics…” (Can. 108§1; All Canons cited are from “A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law” by Revs. Callistus Smith and Stanislaus Woywod unless otherwise noted.) “Every cleric must belong either to some diocese or to some religious organization, and no recognition may be extended to vagrant clerics,” (those not officially attached to any specific diocese). “By reception of first tonsure a cleric is ascribed to…the diocese for the service of which he was promoted,” (Can. 111; also the Council of Trent, Sess. 23, Ch. 16). “Only clerics can obtain the power of either orders or ecclesiastical jurisdiction…” (Can. 118).
What is tonsure?
Tonsure is “A sacred rite by which…a baptized and confirmed Christian is received into the clerical order by the shearing of his hair and the investment with the surplice,” (Catholic Encyclopedia on this topic). “Tonsure…may be defined as a rite whereby a Christian (Catholic) is constituted in the clerical state and made fit to receive minor orders…Tonsure is not considered an order at all…Laymen as such cannot be ordained as long as they have not received first tonsure,” (“A Commentary on Canon Law,” by Rev. Charles Augustine; Can. 108, 118). “First tonsure is classed with orders… Ordination…almost certainly is not a sacrament but a sacramental in the minor orders…Tonsure or some valid order is, by ecclesiastical law, a prerequisite for the validity of any office,” (Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, Revs. T. Lincoln-Bouscaren and Adam Ellis, (Can. I09, 118). “First tonsure and orders shall be conferred on those only who have the intention of advancing to the priesthood and who one may reasonably expect will be worthy priests,” (Can. 973). “The tonsure or cutting of the hair which proceeds the conferring of minor orders is not an order. It is an ecclesiastical ceremony which places a man in the clerical state. It confers no power whatever,” (“Sacramental Theology,” Bk. I, Rev. Clarence McAuliffe).
“Tonsure is not an Order. It confers no power in the liturgical order: it simply distinguishes him who receives it from the laity, and admits him into the ranks of the clergy,” (“Holy Orders and Ordination,” Rev. J. Tixeront, 1928). “That first tonsure is not a sacrament and in fact not even an order is the most common opinion of theologians, both on the grounds that the Pontifical and the Code (Can. 949, 950) clearly distinguishes it from Orders, and because, according to the Council of Trent ‘who have been distinguished by clerical tonsure to ascend through the minor [orders] to the major:’ and on the ground that men have no power in virtue of tonsure but are simply assigned to divine services and to the diocese…” (“The Sacraments,” Vol. II, by Jean Marie Herve).
Here it must be noted that tonsure is officially ranked with the ceremonies of Holy Orders, since without tonsure there can be no further advancement to the minor orders: “In the laws of the Code, the words ‘ordain,’ ‘order,’ ‘ordination’ and ‘sacred ordination’ imply, besides the episcopal consecration, the orders in Can. 949 (the three major and the four minor orders) and also the first tonsure, unless the nature of the case or the context show that some particular order or orders are referred to,” (Can. 950).Pope Innocent III insists that only “By the tonsure given according to the form of the Church [is] the clerical status conferred,” (Woywod-Smith). Who must confer it? Pope Innocent III again tells us in his profession of faith proposed to the Waldenses that the consecration of the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can be performed only by a “priest, regularly ordained by a visible and perceptible bishop.” (The Waldenses were wont to allow those not ordained to handle holy things and administer the Sacraments.) This visibility and perceptibility must exist to establish proof that any Sacrament, or ceremony associated with it, actually took place; it is based on what Christ said and did Himself.
Who can receive tonsure?
“None shall be admitted to first tonsure who have not received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and who have not been taught the rudiments of faith…Those in minor orders must be true subjects of those giving tonsure; ordination must be given only to true subjects,” (Council of Trent, Sess. 23, Ch. 4, 11). “No special age for its reception is prescribed, but the recipient must have learnt the rudiments of faith and be able to read and write,” (Catholic Encyclopedia, tonsure).
Presuming that the one ordaining is using proper matter and form and that he possesses the intention to do what the Church does in creating priests, what must the candidate for ordination possess for validity of Orders? McAuliffe tells us that it is “certain” only three things are necessary: The individual must be a male, validly baptized, with the habitual intention to receive the Sacrament. Here it must be asked: Does this intention include the belief that the Traditional teaching on Holy Orders, that epikeia and ecclesia supplet provide the necessary relaxation of the law and the necessary power to function as a cleric and validly absolve? If so this indicates two things: a) the candidate has not been properly trained and is ignorant of the truths of faith and b) He does not possess an intention in accord with the mind and teaching of the Church. Bouscaren-Ellis write under Can. 968: “The candidate cannot be ordained licitly unless he has the necessary qualities required by the sacred Canons and is free from all irregularity and other impediments…One who possesses these qualities, has a right intention and is admitted to Orders by his Bishop may be said to have a vocation to the priesthood,” (itals. by Bouscaren-Ellis).
Also, Can. 974 lists due knowledge as one of the requisites for licit ordination, and certainly over the past 45 years, few have possessed a comprehensive knowledge of the Catholic faith not contaminated by modern errors. This necessarily throws doubt on intention and the worthiness of the candidate. “First tonsure and orders shall be conferred on those only who have the intention of advancing to the priesthood and who one may reasonably expect will be worthy priests.” But there can be no expectation that these men will be “worthy” priests, for they will never be able to licitly exercise their orders. And suspended priests are of necessity judged as unworthy to confect the Sacraments; otherwise their orders would not be suspended. In his “Manual of Dogmatic Theology,” Rev. Jean-Marie Herve writes: “In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the public good demands that the unworthy applicant even if he be secret, be repelled even though his offense cannot be juridically proved,” (Can. 2259). “In this case the reception of the Sacrament is considered inferior in worth to the worthy exercise of the sacred functions and the public good of the Church. According to Pesch: ‘He who trenches on a public good thereby loses his right to a private good if the public good cannot effectively be defended without injury to the latter.’” Laboring under suspensions and excommunications, Traditionalists are judged by the Church Herself to be a positive danger to the faithful.
Who is the proper minister of tonsure?
“Everyone shall be ordained by his own proper bishop or with legitimate dimissorial letters from him. The proper bishop shall himself ordain his own subjects, unless prevented from doing so by some good reason,” (Can. 955). “Insofar as the ordination of seculars is concerned, that bishop alone is the proper minister who is the Ordinary of the diocese in which the candidate for promotion to orders has his domicile and place of origin, or his domicile only,” (Can. 956). “Only the bishop of domicile is authorized to raise a man to the clerical state…” (Rev. Woywod commentary on Can. 956).
A “proper bishop” is the head of some particular diocese. A bishop is consecrated by permission of the Holy See specifically for some diocese. It is the Pope and the bishops, along with Vicars Apostolic and others, who in virtue of their legitimately granted offices have the right to erect seminaries and oversee their operation (within the boundaries of the specific diocese or territory). “It belongs exclusively to the supreme ecclesiastical authority to erect ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses [etc…] as also to change their boundaries…” (Can. 215). Ecclesiastical offices, according to Can. 145, must be:
• permanently established, as are all dioceses in the various countries of the world
• established by law, divine or ecclesiastical
• conferred according to law, that is Canons 147-183
• and must carry with it some participation in ecclesiastical power, either of order or of jurisdiction.
Most importantly of all:
“An ecclesiastical office cannot be validly obtained without canonical provision. Canonical provision means the grant of an ecclesiastical office by competent ecclesiastical authority, made according to the sacred canons,” (Can. 147).
Let us draw out the consequences of what has been stated above.
1. Clerics are created by first tonsure if they receive this rite as legitimate subjects of their proper ordinary or his delegate. They thus are made fit for ordination and the reception of an office following ordination. This proceeds from the canons.
2. Only clerics can obtain the power of either order or ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
3. First tonsure, however, is not a true order nor is it a Sacrament. This is the common opinion of theologians. At best it is a sacramental. Therefore it is not something that could be said to issue as an act of Orders from one with the power of Orders, but not jurisdiction.
4. Moreover the nature of this rite clearly indicates that it arises from the Ordinary’s office as a ceremony issuing from the bishop’s jurisdictional faculties, not specifically the power of Orders. For tonsure merely recognizes the bishop’s “true subject” as assigned to his particular diocese and to divine services. If a bishop does not possess this jurisdictional power, he cannot confer tonsure.
5. This superior/subject relationship derives primarily from the office held by the bishop, an office and territory assigned by competent ecclesiastical authority.
6. Unless a man certainly becomes a cleric, he cannot receive an “assignment” or office following ordination. And he cannot become a cleric if the bishop ordaining does not possess an assigned territory, is not approved by the Pope, and is not in obedience to him.
7. An ordained priest who has no bishop authorized by competent authority is, according to Canon Law and the Council of Trent, a vagrant who cannot exercise his priestly powers. “Incardination means the affiliation of a secular cleric to his diocese. From very early times the custom became recognized that clerics be not ordained except for definite service in a certain territory. Unattached clerics [those ordained by competent authority in communion with the Holy See] were denominated acephali, or headless, and were forbidden to exercise the sacred ministry.” Traditionalists are ordained, yet they cannot even be classed entirely with vaganti because vaganti were ordained by legitimate bishops; hence they were truly clerics.
8. Traditionalist seminarians are acephali since they never receive first tonsure from a bishop who has been assigned a diocese by true ecclesiastical authority (the Pope). Furthermore, they are technically laymen since the canons themselves show, and both Rev. Augustine and Rev. Tixeront agree, that tonsure alone separates laymen from clerics.
9. Traditionalists receive tonsure as an empty ceremony only, since it cannot confer what the Church intends it to confer: it cannot and does not symbolize that they have been called to the priesthood by valid and licit bishops in communion with the Holy See. Bishops lacking jurisdiction cannot convey that which they themselves lack. Candidates for the priesthood cannot and do not become “automatically” incardinated in a diocese or territory, which must be duly assigned by legitimate authority in communion with the Holy See. This we learn from Rev. Herve: “…In virtue of ordination itself, no one receives any diocese or parish to govern. Neither is it delegated, because neither the consecrating Bishop nor the Pope has this intention, but they confer jurisdiction in another manner…” (“Manual of Dogmatic Theology, The Sacraments,” Vol. II).
10. Hence those Traditionalists ordained priests could never receive an office until their orders are remedied by the Holy See. Only legitimate authority subordinate to the Supreme Pontiff or the Pontiff himself can grant ecclesiastical offices, determine the validity of Orders, absolve from certain excommunications and lift suspensions reserved to the Supreme Pontiff.
This brings us back to Can. 108. Here Bouscaren-Ellis explain that “…Order is the power to sanctify the faithful by sacred rites; [and] jurisdiction is the power to govern the faithful for the attainment of the supernatural end for which the Church is established. Often…the powers will be found united. An intimate relationship exists between these two powers:
1. Both are of divine institution, for a supernatural end;
2. The general end of both is the same — eternal salvation;
3. Jurisdiction presupposes order (Can. 118) and moderates its exercise,” (“Canon Law: A Text and Commentary”).
While the indelible mark of orders remains forever, jurisdiction is subject to change. Jurisdiction however has as its ultimate source the Supreme Pontiff; no bishop can legitimately consecrate other bishops without the express permission of the Pope. This Pope Pius XII stated clearly in “Mystici Corporis Christi” and “Ad apostolorum principis.” Calling his bishops “divinely appointed successors of the apostles,” who feed their flocks in Christ’s name; Pope Pius XII reminds them that despite their divine commission they “are subordinate to the lawful authority of the Roman Pontiff, although enjoying the ordinary power of jurisdiction which they receive directly from that same pontiff,” (“Mystici Corporis Christi”). And in his “Ad apostolorum principis,” Pope Pius XII left no room for doubt concerning the naming or confirming of bishops:
“For it has been clearly and expressly laid down in the canons that it pertains to the one Apostolic See to judge whether a person is fit for the dignity and burden of the episcopacy, and that complete freedom in the nomination of bishops is the right of the Roman Pontiff. But if, as happens at times, some persons or groups are permitted to participate in the selection of an Episcopal candidate, this is lawful only if the Apostolic See has allowed it in express terms and in each particular case for clearly defined persons or groups, the conditions and circumstances being very plainly determined. Granted this exception, it follows that bishops who have been neither named nor confirmed by the Apostolic See, but who, on the contrary, have been selected and consecrated in defiance of its express orders, enjoy no powers of teaching or of jurisdiction, since jurisdiction passes down only through the Roman Pontiff.”
Since Traditionalists are not clerics, then, what are the consequences of this?
• They are forbidden to exercise their orders, since they were never called to do so in the first place and actually never became clerics. They cannot be appointed to an office, since no legitimate superior exists to appoint them. They are ministers of non-Catholic sects, but having not been ordained and/or consecrated in the Catholic Church, they are neither priests nor members of the Catholic Church.
• While they are owed the usual respect accorded to those termed as neighbors, they are not owed the respect due only to clerics detailed in Can. 119; nor do the faithful sin if they fail to show such respect.
• These men do not enjoy the immunities and privileges of Canons120-123, many of which are not observed, however, in this country.
• Likewise, if not certainly ordained, they are not bound by the obligations and censures enumerated in Canons 124-142, although other censures apply.
• For all intents and purposes, as Rev. Augustine noted above, these men are considered as laymen only, and thus are excluded from any other censures specific to clerics that are contained in the Code. They remain, however, bound by those canons which likewise bind the laity; and it would seem that since their (faulty) training exceeds the normal level of knowledge found among the laity, they would not be able to claim ignorance in most things.
Traditional priests are priests in name only. Until they rectify their orders by submission to a true Roman Pontiff they cannot function. This very stance is the same position held by the Arians and Albigenses, the Reformers, the Gallicanists, the Jansenists and the Modernists. Below are listed just a few of these offenses committed primarily against the faithful:
• Inability to validly absolve sins; no obligation to observe the seal of the confessional
• Fruitlessness of the Sacraments they administer and the Masses they offer
• Cooperation in sin with whomsoever they come into contact in a spiritual manner
• Scandal and bad example in defying Divine commands and ignoring Canon Law
• Involvement of the faithful in cooperation in heresy and schism
Furthermore, if they ignore these laws and insist that a “command” vocation directly from God is sufficient to allow them to enter study for the priesthood under the auspices of Traditionalists or Conclavists, they commit heresy. The following error of John Hus, was condemned as heretical:
“Anyone who approaches the priesthood receives the duty of a preacher by command, and that command he must execute, without the impediment of a pretended excommunication,” (DZ 644).
This condemnation applies to all those who believe that a vocation is a command directly from God needing no approval by the valid and licit bishop of one’s diocese or the pope. The idea of a “command” vocation that would be considered as a compelling reason to admit a candidate to a (duly approved and erected) seminary was later disputed among theologians and a commission of cardinals appointed by Pope St. Pius X was ordered to study the question, owing to “the importance do the doctrinal issues raised.” The cardinals decided as follows:
1. “No one ever has any right to ordination antecedently to the free choice of the bishop;
2. “On the part of the candidate, the requisite which has to be examined and which is called priestly vocation by no means consists, at least necessarily and as a general rule, in a certain interior attraction of the subject, or in invitations of the Holy Ghost, to enter the ecclesiastical state;
3. “On the contrary, in order that the candidate may rightly be called by the bishop, nothing more is required of him than a right intention and fitness; this fitness consists in qualities of nature and grace, proved by such uprightness of life and sufficiency of knowledge as will give solid grounds for hope that he will be able to discharge properly the functions of the priesthood and fulfill its obligations in a holy manner. His holiness Pope Pius X, in an audience of 26 June, fully approved the decision of their Eminences,” (“The Catholic Priesthood,” edited by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Pierre Veuillot, Official of the Secretariate of State of His Holiness, September, 1957).
In his infallible encyclical “Humani Generis,” Pope Pius XII taught: “But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time open to dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.” This is obviously an infallible statement of the ordinary magisterium. The Vatican Council states that both the extraordinary and the ordinary magisterium of the Church are infallible. Pope Gelasius also taught that an error, once condemned may NEVER be taught or even discussed again, (DZ 161).
It is as Pope St. Innocent I said: unauthorized bishops can give only damnation “through the perverted imposition of hands,” (Ibid., Rev. Jean-Marie Herve).