Sacramental Priests and Bishops

The Society of Saint Pius (SSPX) in a document issued after the excommunications of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Meyer were remitted by the Conciliar Church: “3. Consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate would be a schismatic act if jurisdiction (e.g., a territory to govern) was given to the newly consecrated bishops. But Archbishop Lefebvre never did this, and made it clear that he was only consecrating sacramental bishops to perform such episcopal duties as administering confirmations and ordaining priests.”

The idea of a sacramental bishop is one quite new. Saint Paul wrote Timothy (I Timothy 3:1): “A faithful saying: if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” Now the SSPX is saying that they are not giving these four men the Office of Bishop, but only the order of bishop. Without the Office of Bishop of a diocese, a bishop cannot legitimately ordained priests or confer the sacrament of confirmation.

Church Law is quite clear that the only one who may authorize the ordination of a man to any order is his own Bishop, also called Ordinary in Canon Law. 1

Now this idea of sacramental bishops is also found outside the SSPX: “Some claim I (Daniel Dolan) left the Society of St. Pius V simply because I wanted to become a bishop at any price, but this is preposterous. The main reason I left was because of personal conflicts with Fr. Kelly. He exercised a strong cult-like leadership. He was a bit of a Francis Schuckardt type-very charismatic and manipulative. And not having a bishop in the Society made the situation especially taxing. But I certainly wasn’t looking to better myself by becoming a bishop. Bishop Pivarunas approached me first with the idea, and at first I had serious reservations about the Archbishop Thuc and Old Catholic background of the Mount St. Michael’s community. I don’t deny that there have been problems here, but we’re not living today under normal circumstances. We’re faced with a vacuum of authority; the papacy has been vacant for more than twenty years now, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Our people need to receive the sacraments, and for this they need priests, and it takes bishops to make priests. And this is precisely the role that Bishop Pivarunas and myself play. We don’t claim to possess any ordinary jurisdiction or the power of excommunication. We have moral authority, but we don’t boss people around. We’re sacramental bishops, and traditionalist communities simply can’t survive for very long without sacramental bishops.” (From The Smoke of Satan, pages 101-2)

Notice Dolan claims that we are not in normal circumstances. The implication is that such an emergency authorizes stepping outside of the laws of the Catholic Church. This is apparently also the attitude of the whole Traditionalist Movement, which operates outside of the laws of the Church, which they implicitly claim do not apply in the current emergency.

The priests of the Traditionalists are not pastors, but merely sacramental priests. Like the bishops, they have and claim no ordinary authority, but extraordinary authority. From the Saint Marys, Kansas website: “The priest exists to give the sacraments as they always have been given. The faithful have the right to ask for them as such.” 2 The priest exists to serve God and to be sent out by the Bishop of his diocese to preach the word of God as well as administer the Sacraments. This focus is basically wrong, because priests are more than mere ‘sacrament machines’, as the Traditionalists teach.

Canon 682 states, “The laity has the right to receive from the clergy the spiritual goods and especially the necessary means of salvation, according to the rules of ecclesiastical discipline.” We may demand our rights, but may only accept them according to the rule of the Church. As with all rights there are limits. If this was not insisted upon we could go anywhere for the Sacraments, not only now but 50 or 100 years ago.

1 Those in the Orders, such as Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, etc. are under the authority of their Abbot, who is their Ordinary by law.