Q. What is the status of those clergymen who wander about without the permission of a bishop under the pretext that they are `saving souls,' and those clergymen and laymen who collect alms through the mails for their `personal apostolates'?
H.G., Los Angeles, CA
A. To answer the first question, as always, we refer to the discipline of the Church as represented in custom and law. Vagrant clergy and monks had been a plague upon the Church from the earliest times. It is also very possible that individuals posing as clergymen and monks were not unknown even in the earliest centuries of the Church. There were false prophets (false teachers) in the time of Moses and the Patriarchs and there were false prophets in the time of Jesus Christ. The official Church, through the Apostles and their successors were constantly warning the faithful against usurpers and unscrupulous clergymen. Nothing has changed even in our own times and so it will be even to the end of time.
In the 4th century, we can observe that the problem had reached such proportions that St. Patrick called a synod of bishops - all three of them (including St. Patrick) - address this question.
Among other disciplinary decisions were the following:
There should be no vagrant cleric in the community.
If a priest has built a church, he shall not offer the holy sacrifice in it before he has his bishop come to consecrate it; for so it is proper.
If a newcomer joins a community, he shall not baptize, or offer the holy sacrifice, or consecrate, or build a church, until he receives permission from the bishop. One who looks to laymen for permission shall be a stranger.
Any cleric who is a newcomer in a bishop's community is not allowed to baptize, or to offer the holy sacrifice, or to perform any functions; if he does not abide by this, he is excommunicated.
If a cleric is excommunicated, he shall say prayer alone, not in the same house with his brethren; nor is he allowed to offer the holy sacrifice or to consecrate until he has corrected himself; if he does otherwise, he shall be doubly punished.
A cleric who comes from the Britons without letters, even though he lives in a community, is not allowed to minister.
Similarly, if one of our deacons goes away to another parish without consulting his abbot, and without letters, he should not even be given food; and he shall be punished with penance by the priest whom he has disobeyed. And a monk who goes wandering without consulting his abbot is to be punished.
Regarding Bishops, the Synod held by St. Patrick states the following:
Any bishop who goes from his own parish to another must not presume to ordain unless he has received permission from him who holds jurisdiction in the place; on the Lord's Day he shall offer the holy sacrifice only by arrangement, and be content to comply in this matter.
At least on two occasions, St. Patrick denounced bishops who ordained other bishops, priests, deacons and other clerics without consulting him. These, repenting, went to Armagh (St. Patrick's See) and did the penance of monks. These were Bishops Caeticus and Sacellus.
The second occasion was when two other Bishops, Cechianus and Conall, ordained unworthy bishops in Mag Ái. Here, too, Patrick chided them: "Why did you ordain bishops without our advice?"
These ancient rules of ecclesiastical discipline have never been changed in the Roman Catholic Church and are observed by everyone deserving of the name `Catholic'.
Intruder bishops have existed in the past and legitimate Popes have inveighed against them with little avail. The only real solution to such chaotic situations is to appeal to the spirit of loyalty and obedience of the faithful to the legitimate authorities in the Church.
One may be certain that anyone claiming to `save souls' outside the order established by the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ and His Apostolic Church is not guided by that same Holy Spirit. Pope Pius XII made this very clear in his dogmatic Encyclical letter, Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, wherein he states very clearly who are members of the Roman Catholic Church:
"Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed."
We have already seen above how, in the time of St. Patrick (4th century) wandering priests and monks were considered as `strangers' and excommunicated for their disobedience to legitimate authority.
Lest anyone be deceived or deluded in this matter, under whatever pious pretext, all reasonable doubt ought to be dismissed in light of the further declaration of Pope Pius XII:
"As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith. And therefore if a man refuse to hear the Church let him be considered - so the Lord commands - as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit."
What can be clearer than that? Obviously, those of stubborn will are unable to comprehend these plain words of the Roman Pontiff because they are not living the life of its Divine Spirit.
Those whom you refer to, namely, clergymen wandering about without a true Bishop - some have even managed to obtain episcopal consecration! - are by the words and practice of the Roman Catholic Church to be considered as `heathens and publicans,' or, as St. Patrick put it: as `strangers'. For, it is true, such are strangers to the faith and right order within the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.
The Council of Trent also dealt with `wandering' clergy and even forbade the ordination of priests unless such priests were subject to the Bishop who ordained them. No Bishop was permitted to ordain anyone who would not be subject either to him or to another Bishop for whom the man was to be ordained. In the latter case, the Bishop requesting that a man be ordained had to provide what are called `dimissorial letters' to the ordaining Bishop.
As in the human body, even the little toe does not move without the command of the head, so, too, in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, even the most humble actions are not considered as being inspired by the one Divine Spirit unless they come from the head, that is, the visible authority in the Church - a legitimate Pope and that legitimate Bishop in union with the Pope. Anything else would be subject to suspicion: Suspicion that the alleged `good work' is the work of the Evil Spirit appearing to a deceived soul as an `angel of light' when, in fact, it is a `spirit of darkness'.
Those who solicit money from the faithful without permission of their Bishop even for a most worthy cause are excommunicated: "If a man has collected money for captives in his community on his own, and without permission, he deserves to be excommunicated." This would apply for any laymen or clergymen.
Even where permission is granted, the permission is limited, as we see in the canons of St. Patrick's Synod:
"If a man has obtained permission, and money has been collected, he should not ask for more than is needed." (Canon 4).
"If anything is left over, he should lay it on the bishop's altar, to be given to some needy person." (Canon 5).
Thus, those who send letters to unsuspecting faithful, requesting alms for their `apostolate,' but who are neither Catholic nor engaged in a true apostolate, are guilty of fraud. It is not an `apostolate' when an individual embarks on a business of producing and selling either religious and devotional objects or even the publishing of Catholic books without the permission of the Bishop and the necessary episcopal supervision.
The reason for this law of the Church lies in the essential episcopal duty of a Bishop to watch over the purity of the faith. It is no excuse to bring up the argument that some Bishops have been negligent in this important duty in the past. A violation of the law does not make the law either unreasonable or defunct. Violation of the law merely makes its necessity more evident, as can be seen from the confusion and chaos that result from ignoring the wise laws of the Church.
For example: There are "bishops" roaming the globe `ordaining' and `consecrating' who themselves, in some cases, are not valid bishops. These `ordain' indiscriminately and produce `wandering' clergymen who do nothing more than perpetuate the evils so fiercely fought by the Church.
There are such false bishops who, claiming not to have any authority, create spiritual monsters like themselves. Yet, although they profess that no one has any authority, they exercise a despotic authority over those who have the misfortune or gullibility to submit to such authoritative `non-authorities'. Case in point: In a certain place, it was reported to the `bishop-without-authority' that a certain woman was wearing apparel not deemed modest by this sect. The `bishop-without-authority' ordered the woman to come to him and explain herself and to be corrected by this `bishop' who claims he has no authority to correct anyone.
If this is not an example of the most abject and ludicrous parody of Catholicism, G.K. Chesterton would have to find a better one.
Supporting wandering, bishop-less clergymen, supporting self-styled `monks' or laymen with personal businesses deceitfully styled as `apostolates' is to participate in the destruction of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it is an injustice to those legitimate Orders or Congregations in the Church whose members have taken the vow of poverty and whose entire lives are dedicated to the unselfish service of the Church and the salvation of souls.
Contributions made to false Religious or false clergymen or falsifying laymen only serves to promote the kingdom of Antichrist rather than the kingdom of God. Such contributions aid and abet that demonic crime against God and His order: the sin of pride which refuses obedience to God and His representatives. When Jesus gave His power to the Apostles, He also stated: "He who hears you, hears Me." We should all be greatly concerned that our limited resources, both material and spiritual, are not wasted on the support of unscrupulous wolves that come to us in `sheep's clothing'.
As we celebrate St. Patrick's day this month of March, let us think seriously upon the wise regulations that he and his bishops made fifteen hundred years ago. Let us keep in mind that the human spirit is still prone to follow the way of Satan rather than the royal road of the Cross. And, the Cross will always invite us to obedience to the heavenly Father. Those who refuse this essential virtue of true religion unmask themselves as children of perdition. Is it worth following such as these?
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