We have seen in “Material Heresy and Schism” that once a Catholic has defected from the faith, the only way to regain membership in the true Church is to first adjure one’s heresy in the presence of the proper authorities, then obtain absolution from a priest possessing jurisdiction to hear confessions. The adjuration must be made before a valid and licit bishop and as has been noted elsewhere, such bishops cannot be located. Without absolution, canonists and theologians commonly teach, there can be no return to the Church. This constitutes the very condition Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton describes as the deciding factor in whether such individuals are within the Church as members of her Mystical Body by desire only — it must be impossible for them to be saved in any other way.
Just as in baptism by blood and desire, membership in the Church by this same desire for those outside Her pale, owing to extraordinary circumstances, is assured by the Church providing the one who desires such membership a) possesses supernatural faith and animated charity; b) desires to actually belong to the visible Church of Christ; c) adheres strictly, to the best of his ability to all that the Vicars of Christ through Pope Pius XII have taught d) obeys all the laws of the Church and e) does all the Church additionally requires in such circumstances. So let’s say that a few brave souls decided to leave the various Traditional folds and join with others who had agreed to gather and profess their Faith. Will this have any positive effect on their status as material heretics/schismatics?
The practice of the Church in the case of religious who have defected from their orders suggests that it would. In this case, Rev. Woywod states under Can, 672§1, (see also Can. 2295) that the religious who has given signs of complete amendment for three years is to be readmitted to his order. But the reason for dismissal must have been grave, as stated in Can. 647§2. In the case of material heresy or schism, infamy also is incurred as a censure. After three years this censure could be ignored, but the offender would still need to seek absolution for material heresy and/or schism when it is available, and until then cannot posit any ecclesiastical acts. A time of prayer and penance, also study, must always follow any divergence from the doctrines of the Church and serves as a hiatus or sabbatical of sorts. It is a time to devote oneself to a thorough spiritual housecleaning and reorientation. Repentant heretics are always urged to study those doctrines they denied in presenting or believing their heresy. In this case Divine Faith and the necessity of true apostolicity to establish valid and licit apostolic succession is the doctrine that has most frequently been denied.
Errors to be renounced by those return to or entering the Church:
(1) departure from and the severing of all ties with Traditionalists and other non-Catholic sects, (Can. 1325, also Can. 2248: “Absolution cannot be denied whenever the offender ceases to be obstinate, as declared in Can. 2242”);
(2) public disavowal of heresy or schism publicly stated or publicly seen to be endorsed and the willingness to be absolved from censure by a valid and licit priest or bishop, able to so absolve, should the opportunity ever arise, (Can. 2248);
(3) Profession of Faith before two Catholic witnesses, if available, with emphasis on the particular errors held, (required by the Church under the necessity of adjuration and routinely required for acceptance into the Church from heresy and schism, as many papal documents demonstrate. This is also mentioned as necessary by Revs. Woywod-Smith under Can. 2314);
(4) fraternal correction of Traditionalist faithful, clerics and other leaders, wherever prudent or possible (Canons 1935, 2223, 2259);
(5) performance of some self-assigned penance, such as recital of specified prayers, fasting, pilgrimages and other works of piety, almsgiving, or a retreat or spiritual exercises (as suggested under Canons 2312 and 2248, but these are not obligatory);
(6) complete avoidance of any groups or individuals which espouse or support such heresy or schism for at least three years (to complete the probation), and of course forever afterwards, (Can. 672 §1);
(7) strict and irrevocable adherence not only to all infallible papal and conciliar decrees, but also those decrees demanding only a firm assent; and obedience to Canon Law. Only by this strict adherence today, in the absence of a true pope, can Catholics visibly demonstrate that they believe in the primacy and obey its teachings, (Canons 1324, 2317).
(8) In addition, Catholic laity should do all in their power to end the crisis in the Church by whatever means are necessary, including speaking out publicly on this matter and, where allowed by Church teaching, in assuming the duties of the hierarchy. They also should actively continue to study the faith and edify others by good example.
God, who is all-merciful, will not fail to absolve Himself those who are truly sorry for their sins and amend their lives. This He has done wherever and whenever necessary throughout history before Christ founded His Church and even afterwards, when the hierarchy was unavailable. Whenever it is impossible to fulfill a precept for lack of true priests and bishops Catholics are excused form obeying the law which requires them to formally make their adjuration. But we are not excused from doing that which we can do by following what the law prescribes above. Please see the form for adjuration listed under the section on the articles page, If You Are New to This Site…