Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Good Priest

One meets all types of people in the Autocephalous Catholic tradition. I've posted various dossiers about different people--those you want to stay away from completely and say that you've never met, those that make rapid changes to their jurisdiction/church/religious order, the miserable converts who really hate the movement but are here because, well, no one else will take them, the hypocrites, etc. There are, in fact, too many personality disorders to list them all.

But that, dear friends, is not the focus of today. Enough time is wasted on the chaos caused by the various Fathers Cray Cray (Cray for short). Today we focus on the good priest. As many Father Crays as I've known, I've also known some extraordinary priests.

This, to me, is the true beauty of this movement. I have met priests who could not or would not minister in larger jurisdictions. They either lacked the means to go to seminary, did not want to engage in full-time, stipendiary ministry, or had personal circumstances (sexuality, marriage, etc.) that prevented their entry into larger groups. Some came late to religion and did not have the ability to minister in a larger group because of the limitations of ordination requirements.

In spite of this, these priests have tried diligently. Daily they empty their pockets to pay for the items necessary for divine worship. To some our vocation is a chance to have shiny things and dress up. There are priests, however, who use their humble means to acquire the best that they can for God. They save and sacrifice so that they have the necessary items for ministry. 

These individuals are deeply prayerful and believe in the power of the Holy Mass. They celebrate (often alone) in their homes believing in the deeply transformative nature of the Eucharist. This action is not limited to a public act, but it is also deeply personal. And they dispense the sacraments when they are truly needed. 

I think of Father X, who as a hospital chaplain has celebrated weddings for terminally ill patients so they can enter eternity married to their love. Or Father Y, who celebrates for his consistent band of people. He is not always appreciated and he does it without expectation of remuneration or glory. But he believes in his calling to serve the people to whom God has led him. Or Father Z, who is ministering to the homeless by feeding them and being with them. This is in addition to his spiritual work. Our movement has also opened numerous centers for the addicted by people who sincerely care about those they are serving.

True, there are a lot of Father Crays. But there are also a lot of sincere, good people who are ministering where they are called. Often they are quiet, without fanfare. Or, as one Indie Bishop friend said, "I judge the realness and sincerity of a group by the extent of their internet presence. The more of the former the less of the latter." And, again, by means of comparison--our crazy world has just as many crazy people as any group. Our Father Crays tend to have less reach than their mainstream counterparts.

So as we embark upon our Thanksgiving holiday I rejoice in those saints and people who have come before me. Who have ministered at their own expense in less than ideal places and situations. Yet good still comes from their work. And all the rest shall fade away.

I know my own soul, how feeble and puny it is:
I know the magnitude of this ministry,
and the great difficulty of the work;
for more stormy billows vex the soul of the priest
than the gales which disturb the sea.
- John Chrysostom

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review: "God, Land & Freedom: The True Story of I.C.A.B."

Dr. Julie Byrne alerted me to the publication of "God, Land & Freedom" by Edward Jarvis. It was published by Apocryphile Press which, to the credit of Fr. John Mabry, PhD, is well known for its Independent Catholic Heritage Series. As soon as I learned of the book I rushed to buy it and delved in the day it arrived.

The author has done an excellent job researching the topic. Jarvis' detailing the history of Catholicism and religion in general in Brazil is helpful to the neophyte. It gives the impression that because of the tumultuous history of Brazil, a group like ICAB (The Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church) has factors which organically promote its success. He also cites numerous newspaper and first-hand accounts of the story of ICAB, as well as has a sizable bibliography. I remain impressed by Jarvis' ability to secure newspaper articles from over half a century ago in both Portuguese and Spanish. To his credit, Jarvis portrays the history and path of the church "warts and all." It may be uncomfortable for some members and advocates of the Church, but the book does not read overall as a condemnatory piece. In fact, Jarvis examines the theology of the ICAB movement from both a pro and a con perspective to provide reflection on the topic from a variety of viewpoints. His views of individual members may be less flattering, but the Church itself gets an open discussion.

Where the book does lack, for me, is its details. I would have liked to read more in-depth reporting of the numerical strength of ICAB. Also helpful would have been more discussion about the various branches of the Church. He centers this discussion around Patriarch Castillo Mendez. However, Castillo Mendez becomes so pivotal that much of the other history from this time is lost. There is also a lack of information about the status of the church after the death of Castillo Mendez in 2009, so the reader does not have a good grasp of the current situation.

Overall, it is abundantly clear that the author is well versed in Catholic theology and history. He discusses theological concepts that indicate he has extensive knowledge of the subject. This allows him to in-depth discuss things like apostolic succession, liturgical aspects, etc. He highlights enough examples from multiple perspectives of Catholicism (from the SSPX to Rahner) that the work does not come off as biased towards traditionalism or liberalism.

The author's bias on "micro-churches" does come through in the text. It is apparent to me that the author is a Roman Catholic and, not only writes from that perspective, but sometimes presents the topic as if it's a case study for Roman Catholics. His use of words like "official Catholic Church" or [sic] after Catholic in the names of Independent Catholic bodies indicates a questionable objectivity.  Whereas Dr. Byrne's book indicates an openness to the topic, Jarvis has made up his mind. He also provides opinions on the ICAB's validity, liturgical changes, and other areas that indicate he is clearly writing from the viewpoint of Roman Catholicism. I'm unsure if a biography would have been helpful to alert the reader to his personal history and education. 

Overall, however, Jarvis is to be commended for documenting a church that has been ignored for too long. Given its numerical strength (generally speaking) and world-wide impact, a book on this topic was well overdue. While I believe the objectivity of some of it can be called into question, Jarvis does provide excellent references which will be useful for many years to come (both positive and negative). 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Brief Mass for Meditation

From Jesus, King of Love by Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC.

Now, I am going to let you in on a secret – the secret of my spiritual life. When I travel on the train, I say, ten, twenty ‘Masses of St. John’ – Masses in honor of the Blessed Trinity. There is no prayer like that. I have but three devotions: My Mass, my breviary, my rosary. The breviary is beautiful, but you cannot compare it with the Mass. There is no prayer like the Mass. As I travel, I offer my Mass on the altar of the holy Will of God, offering it in union with the thousands of priests saying Mass continuously, perpetually. I am tired, I cannot prepare conferences – I offer Mass instead. I said four or five Masses this morning. I do it the whole day. It unites my heart, my will with priests at the altar. When I awake during the night, the first thing I do is unite myself with the Mass being celebrated at that moment. I say the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion prayers. I call this the "Mass of St John." I hope to die saying Mass – between two consecrations.

Now you might ask, "What do you mean by the 'Mass of St John?'" I call this practice
"The Mass of St. John" only to give it a title. It is really Jesus' Mass. What was the Mass offered by Jesus? The Mass offered by Jesus at the Last Supper was the most simple of Masses, the shortest of Masses, lasting but a few minutes. St. John's Mass, as He offered it for Our Lady, was the same--short, simple, consisting however of the same three elements, the same three prayers: Offertory, Consecration, and Communion.... That is Mass. All the rest is frame. If at the altar I said only those prayers, my Mass would be a valid Mass. I can't do that because it is forbidden. But it would be a genuine Mass.

Learn these prayers by heart and then during the day you can live the wonderful grace of your Mass. You have a few moments free –say a Mass of St. John. You wake up at night – say a Mass. You come into church for a visit or to make your adoration - begin with a Mass... At the end of the day offer a perfect act of thanksgiving, Holy Mass.

... I remember preaching in a big community in California. The Mother Superior said to me one day, “Father, I want to thank you. Yesterday after your conference about Holy Mass I went to the infirmary to see a poor sister who suffers terribly and who cannot sleep at all, especially during the night. She was smiling. Mother, I have learned the secret of how to pass the night – the Mass of St. John. Thank Father for me for having told us about it.”

Fr. Mateo's Mass of St. John:

Offering of the Host
Accept, O Holy father, Almighty and Eternal God, this spotless host, which I, Your unworthy servant, offer to You, my living and true God, to atone for my numberless sins, offences, and negligences; on behalf of all here present and likewise for all faithful Christians living and dead, that it may profit me and them as a means of salvation to life everlasting. Amen.

Offering of the Chalice

We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, entreating Thy mercy that our offering may ascend with a sweet fragrance in the sight of Thy divine Majesty, for our own salvation, and for that of the whole world. Amen.

The Consecration
“For this is my Body.”
“For this is the chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal testament, the mystery of faith; which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.”

Domine, Non Sum Dignus

Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

The Communion Prayers

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.
The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Imperial Episcopacy in the Catholic Periphery

I have been reflecting for several days on this article at First Things (The End of the Imperial Episcopate). In particular, it has been helpful to reflect on how this impacts us outside the Roman Catholic Church but still in the Catholic tradition. I will try to limit my commentary to our own needs.

In many ways, we are practically limited from an "imperial episcopate." We do not typically have large chancelleries and numerous staff. Some people might (in their own minds or on their websites) but it rarely reflects reality. Our outfits are usually much more humble. To me, this is one of the beautiful aspects of our movement. We are devoid of the bureaucracy that plagues other parts of the Church Catholic. 

Another part where we differ is that LITERALLY ANYONE can become a bishop. LITERALLY ANYONE. There, I said it. This is not unique to our movement--we see the exact same thing in traditionalist Catholic circles, among the Old Calendarists, etc. All one has to do is have a sympathetic bishop to consecrate them. Often, this can limit the clericalism of individuals because they realize that their episcopal nature is much closer to the Early Church model of presbyter-bishops and deacons (for good or for worse). When it becomes problematic is when people "don't get the memo" and try to set themselves up as imperial poobahs (His All Holiness the Patriarch of Mesopotamia and All the East--which to my knowledge is not a clerical title... yet) without realizing that their exalted episcopal status is... unremarkable.

These are things that are decried both inside and outside of the movement. "There are too many bishops. Anyone can become a bishop. There is no structure. We don't have a headquarters. We have no incentive to keep priests like health insurance or churches." These are just some of the comments we hear. Many of these things are true, but I try to look at the more positive aspects. We are without bureaucracy so we can meet people where they really are and where they are most in need. And that should be our calling--as both priests and bishops. 

I agree with the author of the above piece that externals can be problematic. However, I don't think that they should necessarily be eliminated. Choir cassocks and piping and all of those things give important events solemnity. I think they should and can be used, but--and this is a big but--sparingly. We look insane if we put on all our finery for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time or the 12th Sunday after Pentecost. An ordination, yes. Not every Sunday. In fact, as I've mentioned before, I much prefer to be called father and titles like Excellency and Your Grace make me rather uncomfortable. I think finery can be retained but in small doses and in the appropriate setting. Especially when the inevitable question comes--"how many ministries do you have?" If the remark is not suitably large enough for the petitioner, the one answering can look like a real kook.

In reality we are doing a lot of the things mentioned in the article. Dioceses are able to be smaller and people are able to know the bishop. There are very few auxiliary bishops and bishops get to know the priests they support. Bishops must be called to humility and gentleness. As mentioned, I don't think that episcopal finery is a problem in and of itself. I have, in fact, met progressive priests who were dictators in their own command for control. Who required everything to be a certain way--their way--to the exclusion of all others. And I have met the same quality in traditional priests. It is rarely the garment that makes the individual oppressive--it's the mindset.

So let us rejoice in those things we are doing well. Smaller, base communities of faithful who are receiving the sacraments. People who need access to the grace given by the holy sacraments receive them from our hands. Part of this may include a bit of finery (in appropriate doses) but it can't distract people from our mission. And it can't be so over used that we look truly crazy. Or crazier, in some cases.

"For a golden-hearted bishop, wooden crozier ; for a wooden-headed bishop, golden crozier." - French Proverb

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Sexual Abuse in the Church

We have all watched with horror the sex abuse happening in the Roman Catholic Church. The reality is, however, that none of us are immune to the risks of wayward clerics. The crucial part is how we deal with the issue. Autocephalous Catholics must have policies in place to deal with clergy who have had some type of sexual, physical, or other aggression towards others--especially children. It remains an issue at the forefront of our ministries, because we do get people from other traditions who have not matched the requirements of other entities. This can be for a whole host of reasons, but it does give us heightened cause to protect our ministries and the People of God.

The reality is that the Church is a hospital for sinners, and it will always attract people with problems. We cannot control who comes to us. All we can do is further protect children and vulnerable people so that they are not abused. This means putting policies in place that ensure people who have been accused or have the proclivity to abuse are not placed in ministerial positions. It also means (and this is going to be unpopular) ministering to abusers (while establishing boundaries) so that they are not cut off from the Christian community entirely. If we minister to all people we have to prepare ourselves to minister to people whose sins and condition we find morally repugnant. This is true of all clergy and all conditions.

There is a lot of conjecture currently about why priests abuse. Numerous psychological treatises have indicated that it is linked to a power dynamic in some cases. This seems natural because we instinctively look up to the clergy. They are presented as "worthy" figures whose voice has merit and gravitas. In the Roman Catholic cases, there is also the issue of improper formation. Human sexuality has not been viewed as something that is a natural part of an individual, but is often viewed as bad. When clergy are told that their vocation is the highest form of sacrifice at tender ages in minor seminary, a complex can be easily developed. These are not inclusive of why people abuse, they are just some of the factors. 

What I do not believe has any bearing on abuse is human sexuality. Controversial clerics in the Roman tradition, and in the Orthodox one, have attributed abuse to homosexuality. This serves a dual purpose. 1) it allows the externalization of blame--if only "those people" could be rooted out of the priesthood. 2) it gives people with an axe to grind against society another reason to wax philosophical about the decline of society and our moral status. Empirical studies have indicated that the vast majority of abusers are heterosexual. Simply preventing homosexuals from the priesthood is not going to solve the issue, because it is not an exclusively homosexual issue (although there were homosexual priests who abused just like there were heterosexual ones).

I also don't think that the various culture warriors are going to solve the problem. There are shouts from the right that the abuse is the result of Vatican II. However, the abuse happened by priests who were trained prior to Vatican II. Abuse has happened throughout the history of the whole Christian Church--not just in one epoch. Similarly, there are shouts to ordain women because it will be the salve that settles all problems. Including this is not a discussion of women's ordination--it's an acknowledgement that no one issue can solve the problem.

Abuse will continue to happen. Prohibiting something does not stop it. If that was true there would no longer be prostitution, abortions, etc. Even after training courses and safeguarding courses, abuse still occurs. The thing that we can do is learn from our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. We are not looking to mimic them (as covered in the last post) but we are going to learn from their experiences. And we can put policies in place the prevent people who have the proclivity to abuse or who have abused into positions of ministry.

There is nothing to stop Fr X, who has been accused of abuse, from starting his own "Independent Catholic" chapel and going at it on his own. Any more than there is a priest who committed gross theft from doing the same. But we, as communities and jurisdictions, can do due diligence about researching people's backgrounds as well as implementing protections as much as possible.

Pray for the Church. All branches and parts of it. The bad decisions of bishops and leadership, even in one part of the Body of Christ, impact all of it. You can be rightfully angry at the people guiding the Church, but don't let it cut you off from the Most Holy Eucharist. Clergy are people and, as such, are sinners. But just as hopefully having one bad doctor does not dissuade you from medical care, do not let it be so for your spiritual care either. 

"When Napoleon told Cardinal Ercole Consalvi he had the power the destroy the church, the Cardinal responded: ‘If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?’”

Sunday, August 19, 2018


A great benefit of the Autocephalous Catholic movement is that it can be a home for former Roman Catholics. There are various people who have felt called to ministry but could not exercise it in the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly, there are laity who have been unable to practice their faith because they felt excluded because of their marital status, etc. The movement as a whole offers such variety that literally everyone can find someone or someplace that makes them feel they belong.

There is a downside, however, to attracting the (sometimes disgruntled) former adherents of another tradition. Inevitably, as is our human nature, they can want to re-mold it as "home." Suggestions are always helpful, and we can always improve. But when they are presented in a way that "I come from a 'real' church" or "I was trained properly because of my formation, seminary, etc." it can dampen the creative spirit of the Autocephalous Catholic movement. I have seen it happen before--former Roman Catholic priests (or priests from other traditions) believe they are the most important asset to a jurisdiction because their background or their experience. In reality, we are all just bumbling along on this trajectory called faith. Some may be more experienced or more educated, but it doesn't diminish the insight of the neophytes who are seeking to understand.

Because we are so local in our tradition, there is a real risk of forming communities which center around the personality of the priest. This can be especially risky when the priest brings most of their flock from a former parish. The connection can be to the priest rather than to the faith or the mission. This is, of course, not applicable to every priest who joins the movement. But it is something to monitor, lest the ministry or community suffer from being "a flash in the pan rather than a light to the world" in the words of Fr. Bjorn Marcussen.

Similarly, it is also problematic when people from other traditions bring along the anger and hurt they feel after isolation from their own tradition. I have sat through more than enough homilies about the "wrong that xx church caused me" or "how xx church needs to change" from clergy who were active in another jurisdiction. The reality is that once you've separated from it, you can chart your own course. This doesn't diminish one's experiences, but it does limit us from focusing on our former religious affiliation and centering our future around it. You have the freedom to follow your own spiritual destiny as you feel so called.

It is important to say that those of us who have been in this movement either from the beginning or for years do not have ways in which we can learn and grow. I was baptized in an independent Latin Mass parish and have been part of the periphery of Catholicism all my life. This has its own challenges and problems, as we can become blind to the problems that exist in our tradition. However, it does seem that those groups which adopt their own structures and traditions seem to be the ones that last the longest. Because there is a unifying ethos which brings them together, rather than a perspective of being "on the outside looking in" to another church.

My final thought is that it is impossible to not bring our own traditions and backgrounds into our spiritual journey. Every group has had its struggles when converts come in and bring their traditions to the table. The most apparent in my mind is the influx of former Evangelical Protestants into Eastern Orthodoxy. No transition is seamless, and we can learn from each other's experiences. But converts cannot presume that their way is the best way or that because they came from a more mainstream background that they are more experienced.

"I was the Lutheran with the greatest knowledge of the Orthodox Church, and now I am the Orthodox with the greatest knowledge of Luther. "  - An insightful quote from Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan after his conversion to Orthodoxy.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


The challenge of belief is that we often forget that the Church is the hospital for sinners. As such, we should expect that people of varying backgrounds come to the Church for salve. We acknowledge that none of us are perfect and that we offend God all too often. Besides loving God and our neighbor we try to heed the words of the monk in "Ostrov" when another monk says "Father, how should I live?" "Just try not to sin too much" is the reply. We know that we will commit sin but we proceed forward knowing nothing we do can merit forgiveness but for the grace we have received from Our Blessed Lord.

The Autocephalous Catholic movement has its share of saints and knaves. However, we acknowledge that we have more than our fair share of people with checkered backgrounds. Who come to the movement because they need a place to minister. Because they appreciate the freedom, or their lifestyle prohibits them from ministry elsewhere, or they have been impacted by the larger Church, or, or, or... In reality, this is the same reason why other people pick any number of religious institutions. Because it appeals to them.

As noted, some people will have checkered backgrounds. The Church, as a hospital for sinners, welcomes these people. Sometimes, however, their past actions must preclude them from active ministry. I do not believe that a person who has committed sexual acts with children can ever be admitted to ministry. I am sympathetic to a person who has reformed themselves. However, there are any number of people who are prevented from ordination to the priesthood. Because of physical or mental limitations, etc. Yet many find the grace to live out a Christian life. This can be achieved by the infamous, who have caused grave harm to others in their past.

But with hypocrisy, we are not even necessarily talking about the notorious, those who have committed heinous acts. In our movement, because we often have looser disciplinary requirements, we often have people ministering who don't look like clergy in the wider Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church. They could be benign (married bishops) or they could be those who have been pastorally admitted (the divorced and remarried or those with infamous pasts or whatever).

The problem is when clergy of our movement adopt a "holier than thou" attitude. For instance, with the benign, there is a cognitive dissonance I have seen among some married bishops. They think that but for this one issue they are exactly in sync with a larger church of their choosing (again usually Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy) and should be treated as "rightfully Orthodox" or whatever. The larger church would consider their being married as a grave matter, yet they do not. And that's fine. The problem is when they begin to condemn others because of their disciplinary foibles. I don't believe one can slide into bedlam because of a disciplinary change, but I also think that the one who has received some mercy must also be merciful.

The same is true of those who have pastoral admissions to ministry. If you have received the benefit of Holy Orders in spite of your past or even current picadillos, which includes all of us, for God's sake don't proclaim yourself to be the arbiter of all moral goodness. Just shut up and humbly minister and thank God every day for the opportunity. At the end of the day, none of us are ever worthy (or will ever be worthy) to minister to the people of God. So, we get about doing that without condemning other people, without judging them, and without causing a scene.

In doing this, we imitate Our Blessed Lord who handled the repentant respectfully and tenderly. He did not allow the crowd to stone the woman caught in adultery. So why do some clergy think they now must pick up the stone? The same is true of politicians. We all know that in the history of the world politicians have never been examples of holiness. Yet some now think it is their duty to impose their own morality on other people. Often times, the ones with the most condemnatory moral statements have the most checkered pasts themselves. Sadly, we've almost come to expect it. When someone screams the loudest about a sin it's because they are themselves embarrassed at their experience with it.

So, we go forth and sin no more. That's tongue in cheek, because we know we will inevitably sin. We were given free will and human beings can't seem to keep themselves out of trouble. But we can turn to Our Lord and Our Lady of Mercy and beg forgiveness. Saint Paul likens our spiritual life to a race. Sometimes we win, sometimes we fall behind. But the last thing we can do is kick our fellow runners while they're down. It's just mean.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."