Lepanto Institute:Open Letter to Bp. Knestout Asks for Clarity on Catholic Teaching


Open Letter to Bp. Knestout Asks for Clarity on Catholic Teaching

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of Catholic Virginians all across the Commonwealth to express our confusion over your recent actions and words pertaining to the event which was scheduled to take place at St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg on 01 February 2020.

I am writing to you in the spirit of Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law, which affords the Faithful the right “to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful.”  But more to the point, I am writing with the sincere hope that you can help us to understand, through the teaching ministry of your office, how what was scheduled to take place would have been permitted under Canon Law, and how it would NOT have constituted a sacrilege.

In trying to understand, I will break down our concerns into four basic topics, and I hope that you will address each one for the education and edification of the faithful of the Diocese of Richmond and beyond.

  • Ordination, Consecration, Installation, and Bishop
    In both of your letters dated 15 January 2020 and 17 January 2020, you referred to the event scheduled to take place at St Bede Catholic Church on 01 February 2020 as an “ordination,” an “installation,” and even a “consecration” of a women who you referred to as “Bishop-Elect.” Your use of this language is deeply confusing to Catholics because the ordination, consecration, and installation of a Bishop is a reference to the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.  However, Pope Leo XIII declared in his Papal Bull Apostolicae Curae “We pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void.”  By this declaration alone, even if what was scheduled to be attempted was done on a man rather than a women, it still would not have been an ordination or consecration.  However, since the so-called “ordination/consecration” was indeed scheduled to be done upon a woman, and since we know from Sacred Tradition and affirmed by Pope St. John Paul II that the ordination of women is impossible, it can never be an ordination or a consecration.

As such, your use of the words “ordination,” “consecration” and “bishop-elect” are confusing and Catholics are forced to conclude only one of two possibilities.  Possibility 1 is that you used such language because you believed this to be a true ordination/consecration of a bishop.  Possibility 2 is that you do not believe this to be a true ordination/consecration of a bishop, but used the preferred language as a form of polite deference.  Possibility 1 is unthinkable, which leaves possibility 2, and if that is the case, then we ask Your Excellency to refrain from such language because it is an untruth.  Your use of such language is confusing to the Catholic Faithful and is a scandal to the Episcopalians, who are thereby led to believe that you consider such a consecration/ordination to be valid and good.

  • Directory for the Application of Principle and Norms on Ecumenism
    In your 15 January letter, defending your decision to permit the use of St. Bede for the event in question, you said, “I appreciate that you are concerned that the sacred space of the Catholic Church be safeguarded, which it is.” In support of this, you cited paragraph 137 of the Directory for the Application of Principle and Norms on Ecumenism.  This paragraph states:

if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services.

We have 2 questions here. 1) Considering how easily the event was moved to a new location, how does that fit with the requirements of the Directory that the community “not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies?” 2) How is this a legitimate application of the Directory considering the superseding norms of Canon 1210?  Canon 1210 says the following:

Only those things which serve the exercise or promotion of worship, piety, or religion are permitted in a sacred place; anything not consonant with the holiness of the place is forbidden. In an individual case, however, the ordinary can permit other uses which are not contrary to the holiness of the place.

The definition of “holiness” is vitally important here.  St. Thomas Aquinas defines “Sanctity” (which is the same as holiness) as follows:

The word “sanctity” seems to have two significations. On one way it denotes purity; and this signification fits in with the Greek, for hagios means “unsoiled.” On another way it denotes firmness, wherefore in olden times the term “sancta” was applied to such things as were upheld by law and were not to be violatedHence a thing is said to be sacred [sancitum] when it is ratified by law. Again, in Latin, this word “sanctus” may be connected with purity, if it be resolved into “sanguine tinctus, since, in olden times, those who wished to be purified were sprinkled with the victim’s blood,” according to Isidore (Etym. x). In either case the signification requires sanctity to be ascribed to those things that are applied to the Divine worship; so that not only men, but also the temple, vessels and such like things are said to be sanctified through being applied to the worship of God.

Because the “holiness” of a thing or place refers to its pure firmness in the law, those things which are impure or are not ratified by law are not considered to be “holy.”  Furthermore, those things which are in violation of the law would, by definition, be those things which are “not consistent with the holiness of the place.”  As such, an act which simulates a sacrament with a solemnity as though it were a sacrament would be a direct violation of the holiness of the sacred space of a Catholic Church.  And because of this, it cannot be said that the invalid and illicit simulation of the sacrament of Holy Orders inside a Catholic Church does not violate its sacred space.  By the very nature of the simulated sacrament, the holiness of the Catholic Church is indeed violated.

  • What if this had been done by Catholics?
    Your 15 January letter said, “the offer of hospitality to a Christian neighbor in need is an act of charity and well within the teachings of ecumenism and the norms provided by the Church for ecumenical activities.” What is particularly confusing about this, and I do hope you will address it, is an act which would have incurred an automatic excommunication for the Catholic Faithful and elicited (rightly) a condemnation from Your Excellency is not only permissible in a Catholic Church, but in the name of ecumenism, is an act of “hospitality” and “charity” if done by protestants.

I do hope you can see how this is confusing to Catholics and will explain to us how this apparent contradiction can possibly be rectified.  Please consider the following scenario: Suppose a group of dissident Catholics used the sacred space of St. Bede Catholic Church for the illicit and invalid ordination and consecration of female priests and bishops.  And suppose you showed up to announce their excommunication and to condemn the act.  The very moment you finished pronouncing the condemnation and excommunication, in the name of ecumenism, you could then declare that these “separated brethren” may now legitimately use the sacred space of the Church, provided they remove the Holy Eucharist in repose in the Tabernacle.

In short, we do not understand how a violation of the Law of the Church can simultaneously be condemnable while its permitted commission by protestants in a Catholic Church, is an act of charitable hospitality.  Please help us to understand how this can possibly be.

  • Where do we draw the line?
    The action which was being permitted to take place in a Catholic Church was an attempted ordination/consecration of a female “bishop,” which is a simulation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Suppose, instead of the simulation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a protestant sect had requested the use of St. Bede for their simulation of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony as they perform a same-sex “marriage.”  Would Your Excellency permit the act to take place?

It’s an important question because it gets right to the very heart of our concern.  I do believe that you would NOT permit the same-sex “marriage” to take place, but I must point out that the same objections you would give for not permitting the same-sex “marriage” must be applied for the simulated ordination/consecration of a female “bishop.”  Both actions would have been done by a protestant group.  Both actions would have illicitly and invalidly simulated a Catholic Sacrament.  Both acts fully contradict the very definitions of Holy Orders and Marriage, respectively.  And yet, under the auspices of “ecumenism,” the permission of such acts could have been granted “for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies” because they “do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary.”

So, where do we draw the line?  Why could you possibly permit one and not the other?  If you are concerned about scandalizing the faithful, then you must consider such scandal in both instances.  If you are concerned about the violation of Catholic teaching in the “marriage,” then you must equally be concerned about the violation of Catholic teaching in the “ordination.”  If one act would violate the Sacred Space of the Church, then you must understand that the other would do so as well.

In truth, there is no theological or moral difference in terms of scandal, sacrilege, and violation of Catholic teaching between the two acts.  As such, it must be concluded that both acts are equally condemnable and impermissible in a Catholic Church.

Your Excellency, our sincere hope is that you will take our concerns to heart, prayerfully and seriously considering each point.  As the spiritual head of the Richmond Diocese, we look to you for truth and understanding as we strive to live our Faith to the fullest.  It is for this reason we offer our prayers, fasts, and other sacrifices on your behalf as we look forward to your teaching on this most grave matter.

Please know that we pray for you daily.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Michael Hichborn
President, Lepanto Institute

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