Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Tridentine Rite Conference and Its Schismatic Cousins (Part 2)

by Thomas W. Case


In this second of two articles about the background of the leaders of the 1992 Tridentine Rite Conference, Thomas Case explains the schismatic nature of several groups associated with the Conference and also examines some related heresies, including Jansenism.

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Publisher & Date

Fidelity Press, March 1993

Part 2

Thomas W. Case is an expert on cults and a frequent contributor to Fidelity.

Does Fr. Wickens subscribe to the Siri Theory? For him it is an open question. But he wants to include under the big tent of the TRC those who believe in the Siri papacy, and who search among the back alleys of schismatic Catholicism for that pure and unspotted Church of the Ages.

What they will get is disturbed spirits claiming the Siri mantle (perhaps Father X will reveal it). The red caps will come out of the closets. On to the Conclave!

Fr. Wickens collection agency extends to a pan-Christian sect called the Sovereign Order of St John, Knights of Malta. (There is a papally approved Knights of Malta in the Church, but this is not it.) The Shickshinny group, as the fictitious OSJ is also known, traces a fictitious connection to the medieval Hospitalers, or Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. This quasi-military, 12th century order, originally established to provide medical aid and to provide protection for pilgrims to the newly won Holy Land, went through several permutations and name changes before becoming the Knights of Malta in the 16th century.

There is no space to go into the controversial history of the Knights. What happened in the birth of the Shickshinny OSJ was some imaginative men searching history to find the usual loophole to gain the pretense of Catholicism while remaining independent from the Church. The loophole was that the medieval Knights had been given extraordinary papal privileges freeing them from episcopal control. Grasping this old-time privilege to itself through its own imaginative lineage (by way of an Eastern Orthodox Czar of Russia) the modern OSJ includes in its membership a potpourri of diverse Christian groups. Besides traditional Catholics, these include Eastern Orthodox, High Church Anglicans, Old Catholics, and (according to a 1967 Shickshinny report), Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and other Protestants. Another declaration of the OSJ proclaims that the Catholic Church and the Old Roman Catholic Church are equally legitimate bodies of the Catholic faith.

The OSJ is ruled by vainglorious laymen trying to relive the glory of the past -- aristocratic connections are usually required for lay officers. The group collects discredited priests from various Catholic, quasi-Catholic, and other Christian lineages to act as chaplains. Thus it is in the curious religious position of having priests under the jurisdiction of laymen. Leonard Messineo, Grand Master of one of the five or six OSJ factions all of which claim to be the one true OSJ -- was a speaker at the 1991 Tridentine Rite Conference convention in New Jersey. Father Wickens acts as a chaplain for the Messineo-led sect of the OSJ.

According to a priest who knows Messineo, the latter claims to be a seer graced with the power to open seminaries and ordain priests. Is Messineo a mystical lay bishop? Is he another one of those fairy-tale prophets who keep popping up in schismland?

Fr. Wickens himself was a parish priest in New Jersey, but disassociated himself from his diocese when sex education was introduced in diocesan schools under Bishop Gerety. He started saying the Tridentine Mass on his own for many years he has been associated with the Feeneyites, and he and Fr LeBlanc, and probably most other members of the TRC governing board lean towards the Feeneyites in belief at the 1991 TRC convention in New Jersey, Fr Wickens back-peddled just a little claiming that baptism by blood or desire (which the Feeneyites deny) is not defined doctrine, and that the overwhelming majority of the Fathers and theologians are against it.

Back in the 1940s, Fr Leonard Feeney, a Jesuit writer and theologian, became upset at what he considered excessively ecumenical statements by the then Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Cushing. Fr Feeney, taking the well-worn phrase "No Salvation Outside the Church" to its logical conclusion, insisted that there was no such thing as baptism by blood or desire. Baptism by blood or desire is the Catholic doctrine that the unbaptized infants or non-Catholics are not ipso facto excluded from salvation.

Probably many orthodox Catholics insist that there can be no salvation outside the Church. The problem comes in defining the Church in this connection too literally. The Church includes the Church Triumphant, the heavenly Church which all good men will recognize after death. The innocent child and the "invincibly ignorant" good man will enter that Church Triumphant in God's good time. (A clear statement of this doctrine can be found in Radio Replies, 111, #487 )

A too literal interpretation of the salvation doctrine takes us back to the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld's statement that "God obviously did not want all men saved," and to that Calvinism condemned by the Council of Trent it leads modern traditionalists into the same heresy that caused the Schism of Utrecht in the early eighteenth century. If visible membership in the Catholic Church is a precondition for salvation, then untold millions of good men, women, and children of other faiths are excluded from heaven through no moral fault of their own. The next logical step is to say then that God has preselected those He will gratuitously save and those He will let fall into damnation. And that's the doctrine of John Calvin.

Today's Feeneyites grasp the usual loophole to claim they remain Catholics in good standing. In 1950 Fr. Feeney was dismissed from the Jesuits for disobedience, and in 1953 Cardinal Cushing excommunicated him. The Cardinal then sent to Rome for a papal condemnation of Fr. Feeney. The condemnation was delivered in due time by Pope Pius XII, but no formal papal excommunication came with it. This omission is used today by Feeneyites such as TRC convention speaker Br. Francis, MICM, to claim their legitimate Catholic status. In fact Feeney's doctrine had been formally condemned as heretical by Pius XII.

The Feeneyite heresy is easy to fall into for Catholics distressed by modernist priests, nuns, and lay ministers preaching an ecumenism that seems to make all religions equal.

It is important to see the precise mind of the Church on the question. Pope Pius IX addresses the matter in his Letter on Indifferentism (August 10, 1863):

"The Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well-known. Those who obstinately and knowingly reject the authority and definitions of the Church, and persist willfully in remaining separated from the unity of the Church and from the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter to whom the charge of the vineyard was committed by Christ, those cannot be saved. [But he goes on to say] We know that those who are invincibly ignorant of our holy religion, and who are prepared to obey God. earnestly observing the natural moral law engraven in the hearts of all men by God, can be saved by living an honest and just life with the help of divine light and grace. For God, who clearly discerns the minds and souls, thoughts an habits of all men, will not, in his goodness and mercy, permit anyone to be punished eternally who is not guilty of voluntary sin."

It is ironic that many of the people the pope has in mind in the first paragraph of this quote reject the doctrine outlined in the second paragraph. Perhaps it is poetic justice that people who condemn other people to hell unjustly are in the gravest danger of hell themselves.

Since schismatics consign themselves to hell if they are knowingly in schism, they feverishly dredge up every arcane bit of canon law or canonist opinion from any and all eras to make the claim that they are not indeed really in schism. I would feel a bit more sympathy for these worried souls if they would not condemn me and the 900,000,000 other "Conciliar Catholics" to everlasting perdition.

Feeneyite Br. Francis was on the program of the September TRC convention. (The "MICM" after Br. Francis' name stands for the Latin translation of "Slaves of the Immaculate Conception of Mary" -- the condemned order founded by Fr. Feeney.) Br. Francis is married and has children. As Br. Francis' order is not under Catholic Jurisdiction, there are apparently no vows of celibacy to contend with. Also speaking at the convention were Feeneyite-leaning priests Fr. Quinn and Fr. Wickens.   (Ed. note - for clarification, a vistior to this site took exception to this paragraph.  Her comment is as follows: "Br. Francis has a wife.  Well, he was married before he took his religious vows, and he even had children.  However, since becoming a religious, he no longer lives as a married man.")

These might be called the Jansenist contingent. In fact the whole weight of the TRC moves towards a replay of the original Schism of Utrecht, a holier-than-thou-Calvinist Christianity under the shadow of God as the Grim Reaper.

On the executive board of the TRC is Fr. Leonard Giardina, who runs the Christ the King Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. The "OSB" after his name should mean he is a Benedictine, but Fr. Giardina is fully independent from the Order of St. Benedict. His sympathies are sede vacantist. A brochure from the monastery says that "the Monks of Christ the King Monastery are Priests and Religious Brothers of the Traditional Roman Catholic Church," which Church does not exist on this earth, but only in the mind of Fr. Giardina. The title "Traditional Roman Catholic Church" is deceptive in two aspects. First, it makes naive Catholics think that Fr. Giardina's church is a really existing church, and second, that it is a legitimate part of the Catholic Church.

Not one of these priests has faculties, none is incardinated in a diocese. None can legally confect the sacraments. Now this is important for a Catholic to know. Even when a priest without faculties can claim valid orders, and can validly confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist (although if he is with-out faculties he acts thus in sin), he cannot validly hear confessions, nor can he validly witness a marriage. For these two sacraments jurisdiction is required, and jurisdiction is lost when a priest has no faculties. In terms of these two sacraments, we have gone past the point of "illicit" and reached the point of unreality. A marriage performed by a priest without faculties is not a marriage, and a priest without faculties cannot absolve sins. Only in the most extreme social situation, as at the point of death when no legitimate priest is available, will the Church revoke the Jurisdictional restriction.

Those Catholics who attended the TRC Conference, and those invited speakers who actually did show up, associated themselves with a variety of independents, schismatics, and heretics with strange theories who will nevertheless try to establish a united front in favor of tradition, which invariably means access to the Tridentine Mass, which has become the prime recruiting device aimed at Catholics scandalized by the chaos which followed in the wake of Vatican II. Fr. Wickens' New Jersey Catholic News periodically provides a directory of chapels where the Traditional Mass is said.

Included are OSJ chapels, sede vacantists, Feeneyite houses, Pius V and Pius X churches and a slew of schismatic independents. Nowhere are Catholic Indult Masses listed, indicating that there are obviously some limits to the TRC's big tent theory. The great divide is between those inside the Church and those outside the Church. The line is drawn deeper and firmer by the TRC's attitude towards the Indult Mass. In Fr. Wickens' New Jersey Catholic News, the Indult Mass is seen not as a welcome event but as a seductive enticement that will drag True Catholics back into the Church of the Modernists. (Anything the Church does wrong is blasted; anything the Church does right is a clever trick.) This kind of reasoning a viewpoint the TRC shares with Bishop Williamson of the Society of Pius X diabolizes the Church of Rome and makes it impossible for there ever to be a reconciliation. The end of that road is ruin.

To all those Catholics so disturbed by abuses of faith and liturgy in the modern Church that they have joined one or another schismatic, traditional "Catholic" communions, read the following morality tale of the Utrecht Schism and take warning.

The designation of "schismatic" is already a scandal for many. The members of the Society of St. Pius X (Lefebvrites) consider themselves faithful Catholics; they are not in schism: it is the "Conciliar Church" that is in schism. They rail against the Society of St. Pius V (Kellyites), who are in schism from the Society of St. Pius X. Meanwhile the Society of St. Pius V considers itself the True Church; its members rail against those groups originating in the Thuc lineage of schismatic Catholics. In turn the Thuc lineage bishops, priests, and faithful excoriate the groups validated by the Old Catholic lineage. But in terms of excommunicate status, each group is equal to any other. All are outside the Church of Rome.

Equally outside the Church? I hear the outrage as I write. In the course of writing this article, I interviewed a lady who is a member of our local Pius X church. When I pointed to the 1988 document Ecclesia Dei, excommunicating Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his organization, she informed me in no uncertain terms that you cannot be excommunicated for upholding the Faith. She gave me some slickly colorful pamphlets decrying obedience to a false authority.

As time goes on, I hear a million subtle arguments proving that it is the present Church of Rome that has lost the true faith, and the Lefebvrites (for example), alone of all the faithful keep the True Church alive. I hear that the Novus Ordo Mass is a hodgepodge of Protestantism, or that the new code of Canon Law is un-Catholic, or that the Second Vatican Council documents are a muddle of heresy, or that the Chair of Peter is empty, or that the Chair of Peter is occupied by the Anti-Christ, or any combination and permutation of the above. All of these opinions are presented to justify separation from the visible Church of Christ. But let us see what happens to the Catholic faithful when, for whatever reasons, they become disconnected from the See of Peter.

The Utrecht Schism of 1724 was born from the ultra-rigorous theology of Jansenism. Jansenism is today considered an archetypal heresy of the Catholic Church, but in its own day it was a belief held by many of the faithful, basing itself chiefly on notions of efficacious grace derived from the theology of St. Augustine. The arguments are subtle, but in essence Jansenism can be reduced to these propositions: 1) By the sin of Adam all men are condemned, and no human acts are any help to salvation; 2) God chooses, before anyone's coming into existence, whom He shall save and whom He shall allow to fall into eternal damnation; 3) In effect God predisposes the few to a good life and to heaven by providing them with His irresistible grace, while predisposing the many to an evil life and to eternal damnation by withholding that grace. (The Council of Trent had roundly condemned this doctrine of "double predestination.")

As proof for God's pre-selection of people for heaven or hell, Jansenist theologian Antoine Arnauld had argued that "God obviously did not I want all men saved, because otherwise he would not have made membership in his Church a precondition for salvation. The existence of millions of non-Christians was proof of his intentions." We have met up with this gloomy logic among present- day traditionalists, unaware, perhaps, that it has been condemned implicitly by their favorite Council of Trent.

Jansenist tendencies were rife in northern France and the Netherlands in the late 1600s. The Diocese of Utrecht in Holland became a center of Jansenism and a haven for refugee Jansenists from France. Pieter Codde, the Vicar Apostolic of Utrecht (1686-1704), enticed towards the Jansenist view by these refugees, was summoned to Rome in 1699 to answer charges that he taught Jansenism and harbored influential French Jansenists like Quesnel and Gerberon. A Vatican Commission eventually required the Dutch clergy to sign a formulary of Pope Alexander VII, abjuring Jansenist doctrines. Codde (among many others) refused, was suspended in 1702, and dismissed as Vicar Apostolic. In alliance with a majority of Utrecht's secular and regular clergy, Codde refused to accept the new Vatican-appointed Vicar Apostolic of Utrecht, Theodorus de Cock.

From Rome came a bull of excommunication. Rebellious clergy of the area appointed their own bishop. But to retain the apostolic succession, and so arguably to remain true Catholics, the rebels needed their new bishop consecrated by another bishop with valid, if illicit, orders. They found their man in one Dominique Varlet, a renegade French missionary bishop suspended for holding Jansenist views. Varlet consecrated Cornelius Steenoven in 1724, thus establishing a schismatic communion popularly called the Little Church of Utrecht, which still exists.

During the 18th century, attempts were made to reunite with Rome. At the Council of Utrecht in 1763, the Little Church rejected its more extreme Jansenist views and edged closer to the Tridentine faith of Rome. But doctrinal differences reappeared with the papal definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and deepened with the dogma of Papal Infallibility at Vatican I in 1870. By then the Utrecht schismatics were a remnant.

A new stream of schismatics appeared after the Vatican Council, soon to take on the title of Old Catholics. But to retain the apostolic succession, and so arguably to remain true Catholics, they needed a bishop of their own from a valid, if illicit, Catholic lineage. They found their man in one Heykemp of Deventer in Holland, a bishop of the Little Church. In 1873 he consecrated Joseph Reinkens, thus establishing an Old Catholic\Utrecht schismatic communion which still exists.

The Old Catholics swamped the membership of the Utrecht schismatics, and after this time -- the last decades of the 19th century -- the whole movement was Old Catholic in essentials. The Little Church of Utrecht had provided an arguably valid episcopal succession, but its by now ancient Jansenist rigorism was lost in the shuffle. The movement soon broke into a number of competing and diverse sects, most of them moving into closer relations with the Protestants after 1870. The Union of Utrecht in 1889 attempted to bring the various Old Catholic sects into line, but its Declaration of the same year promulgated a creed shot through with Protestant doctrines. The Council of Trent, previously held as central and as the last true ecumenical council by most Old Catholics (in lieu of accepting the heretical Vatican Council I) was rejected, since its chief canons and anathemas were directed at Calvinist and Lutheran heresies. The door was now open to rapprochement with Protestant denominations.

According to the Declaration of Utrecht, the Bishop of Rome was accorded a primacy of honor, but not of Jurisdiction (an Eastern Orthodox formula). Typical Catholic doctrines such as the treasury of merits, indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary, were rejected. Also rejected were practices like the veneration of saints, the rosary, wearing the scapular, pilgrimages, processions, and clerical celibacy. The Real Presence was accepted, but transubstantiation was denied. Only the first eight ecumenical councils were declared valid.

From this list of deletions, it is easy to see how Anglicans could be accommodated, and in fact the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 proclaimed that there was nothing in the 1889 Declaration of Utrecht incompatible with the doctrines of the Church of England. Intercommunion between High Church Anglicans and Old Catholics became customary.

The Old Catholic lineage sired stranger offspring. A mystical sect called Mariavites sprang up in Poland in the early years of this century. The origin were visions and locutions vouchsafed to a Third Order Franciscan nun, Sister Maria Felicia Kozlowska. Due to its questionable mystical practices, the sect was excommunicated in 1906, whereupon it organized itself into the Mariavite Union. But to retain the apostolic succession, and so remain (arguably) Catholics, the Mariavites needed their own bishop. A delegation of Marianites therefore attended the Old Catholic Congress in Vienna in 1909 and before long an Old Catholic bishop had consecrated the Mariavite co-founder, Jan Kowalski, thus establishing a Mariavite/Old Catholic/Utrecht schismatic lineage that still exists today.

A few years later the Mariavites were thrown out of the Old Catholic communion when it became known that their "mystic marriages" involved cohabitation of priests and nuns, whose children would be "conceived without original sin." These children were declared to be the firstborn of a new and sinless humanity. Archbishop Zaboroski of the Mariavite Church attended the first TRC "Priests' Meeting" in 1985.)

The Anglican connection spawned weirder stuff. Theosophy was born in the fertile imagination of Madame Blavatsky and became an existing organization in 1875. It is a nebulous muddle of Eastern mysticism and Western magic, complete with Tibetan "Ascended Masters" claiming to hold the keys to a synthesis of all religions. Jesus Christ and the Buddha are pals in the heavens, part of the Great White Brotherhood helping mankind to achieve nirvana. A member of the Theosophical Society, Mr. Charles Leadbeater (a renegade Anglican clergyman), decided to form his own sect of Theosophy with a more traditional religious cloak.

The Old Catholics had consecrated a Mr. Willoughby (an Anglican minister) as "Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholics" in England. He in turn consecrated Mr. Wedgewood. Mr. Leadbeater, desiring an entrance into the apostolic succession, needed a bishop with valid, if illicit, orders. He found his man in Bishop Wedgewood, who consecrated Leadbeater as the "Regionary Bishop of Australia." Bishop Leadbeater then founded his own religion, a blend of Theosophy, Spiritism and astral and etheric imaginings which are a primary source for the present day New Age Movement. But Mr. Leadbeater, having, as he supposed, the apostolic succession, called his religion the Liberal Catholic Church. In this country you will find Liberal Catholics, Old Catholics, and Old Roman Catholics all connected by episcopal succession to the Schism of Utrecht. The Old Catholics are small in number and by-and-large adhere openly to the doctrines of the Utrecht Convention of 1889 (married priests, no infallible pope, no Assumption of Mary, etc.). The Liberal Catholics ride every New Age spiritual fashion from channeling to esoteric astrology to a belief in reincarnation.

The Old Roman Catholics derive from a one-time Anglican, Arnold Harris Mathew, who was consecrated into the Old Catholic line in England in 1910. His followers settled in the Chicago area, and, presumably in order to distinguish themselves from the existing Old Catholics in the United States, added the title "Roman" to their name. Today there are at least 300 Old Roman Catholic bishops in the country, mostly with minuscule flocks, without dioceses, but with loudly proclaimed and competing jurisdiction over any and all traditionalists. Most Old Roman Catholics reject the Utrecht Convention doctrines, and are apt to pretend to a conservative, pre-Vatican II Catholicism. But the theology they hold is as variable as the bishops who rule their particular sect. Some parishes put on a good show but allow a wide latitude of belief. In this respect they are much like the High Anglican Church: incense, bells, reverent music, lots of Latin, but not much in the way of a Creed (except on paper). Many are annulment mills and havens for morally sick Catholics.

If anyone claims that the Old Roman Catholic line is somehow legitimate, it should be known that Pope Pius X specifically declared Mathew, who tried "to arrogate unto himself the title of Anglo-Catholic Archbishop of London" and "all others who lent aid, counsel or consent to this nefarious crime, by the authority of Almighty God, We hereby excommunicate, anathematize, and solemnly declare to be separated from the communion of the Church and to be held for schismatics."

Thus ends the morality tale (we shall meet up with the Old Catholic lineage again later on). Recall that neither the Church of Utrecht, nor the Old Catholics, nor the offspring of the Old Catholics, ever accepted their status as schismatics. Archbishop Heykemp, at the Utrecht Convention of 1889, said,

We recognize the Roman Catholic Church as the only Church of Jesus Christ. and the Pope of Rome as the center of Catholic Unity. We remain, by the grace of God, in the Roman Catholic Church and abhor schism as one of the greatest crimes in the Church.

This is a preamble to the Declaration of Utrecht, which went on to reject a whole slew of Catholic dogmas, doctrines, devotions and disciplines.

As "Catholics," however these sectarians needed a valid episcopal succession. Therefore it was necessary for them to gain leaders consecrated by Catholic bishops who were themselves in schism, but able to pass on such a valid succession. In this legitimizing process, they naturally promoted the notion of "sacramental validity" while downplaying the notion of "licit," as if the state of unlawfulness and excommunication from the Vicar of Christ, were of no account, so long as "validity" was preserved. This is exactly the modus operandi of traditionalist movements today.

It should be made clear that the claim to apostolicity by excommunicated lineages is spurious. Here we can do no better than quote Rumble and Carty's Radio Replies on the issue: The word "Apostolic" in general signifies the identity of a present Church with the Church of the Apostles. This identity can be either adequate or inadequate. Adequate apostolicity is present when a Church of today has not only the same doctrine and worship, and the same episcopal constitution, but also the same uninterrupted and lawfully transmitted jurisdiction or authority. Without this later requirement, any vestiges of apostolicity are inadequate, and useless as a mark or identification By the mere fact of being in schism, apostolic authority is forfeited.

The authors are here (Vol. II, 1266) responding to the claim of apostolicity for the Greek Orthodox Church, but the same argument applies to the Old Catholics or any other group that claims to retain the apostolic succession while in a state of schism from Rome. To put it simply: no one can lawfully claim to be a Catholic who is not in communion with the See of Peter.

That is a crucial point overlooked by every schismatic straining the bounds of logic to claim he is not realty in schism. The other thing to take a hard look at is to see what happened to group of sectarians who split off from the authority of the visible Church tn order to retain, as they claimed, the true Catholic faith. Without that Magisterium and without that central authority, they soon dissolved into competing, back-biting, bitter sects. Rigorous faith and strict morals dissolved quickly into any old faith at all, and in some cases, bawdy-house morals. New schismatic movements attached themselves willy-nilly to existing schismatic movements. Finally, real flakes and mountebanks could claim an apostolic succession.

See The Tridentine Rite Conference and Its Schismatic Cousins - Part 1

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