CMRI Part 2: Corrections and Answers to Objections

Part 2 of a three part series: Part 1, Part 3

Some people read the article published last month about the CMRI without knowing anything about who I am and what I write about.  They didn’t know that I’m not one to rumor-monger, or to seek sensational headlines.  We are, in a way, very “boring” in what we offer: radio episodes on the Catechism, Sacred Scripture, the Liturgical Year, Our Lady, just to name a few.  We have long steered clear of controversial issues, though we recorded an episode on vaccines in January 2020, before it was a topic of real contention, in which a priest explained that vaccines themselves were neutral, and explained the principle of remote participation in an evil as spelled out by the principles of moral theology.  That is as close to a current “controversial” topic we have offered in recent years.  

In the past we did a series of Trad Controversies episodes with Fr. Cekada in which his history and experiences with various controversies were explored.  Some of those episodes dealt with the SSPV and at least a couple of our paid subscribers canceled their subscriptions with us, calling the episodes “hit pieces.”

What was curious to me at the time, and is still curious, is the inability of someone to look at allegations and ask, “Is it true?”  Instead what we saw was partisanship: “These are my people, they can do no wrong, how dare you.”  But no one is above examination, not the SSPV, not the CMRI, not the RCI, not the IMBC, not SGG clergy, not anyone, not just now, but even in “normal” circumstances in the Church.  

What I witnessed as responses to the article in social media and in private email correspondence was often pure emotion:

Who died and made Henier (sic) Pope?

Where’s the proof?

My priest has never said this.”

These accusations may have flowed from the tendency in our society to read a headline instead of an article, and in that aspect, I probably failed.

When I framed the article as “Why the CMRI Are Not an Option for Serious Catholics” I gave people an understandable reason to react emotionally and led with a conclusion that I had not yet proved.  As such I have since changed the article title to read “What Serious Catholics Should Know About the CMRI.”  This frames the article in the format I had originally intended, which was to open a discussion and move forward with a change in CMRI policy, if that were possible.  I made a mistake on this front and I apologize for that.

I have been to CMRI Masses on three continents and have heard from numerous people that their CMRI clergy tell them that it is okay to go to una cum Masses.  I do not believe that there is a vast conspiracy of laypeople lying about the CMRI.  The testimony I have heard from these people also correlates with my personal experience with Bp. Pivarunas, which directly contradicts this one portion but not the main conclusion of the official document, now on a CMRI website, that says they “condemn” attendance at una cum Masses, though in the same document you can still find, "On the other hand if for any reason whatsoever they feel the need to communicate, they can assist and communicate at such Masses because no other Masses are available to them." (emphasis in the original) 

I heard no “condemnation” whatsoever from Bp Pivarunas when I asked him about these matters and for this I am accused by some CMRI loyalists of fabrication (I am lying) or proof-texting (I took the bishop out of context).  I can only maintain my personal experience in response to the first objection and laugh at the second in the context of the cited document: I was directly searching for answers on whether to attend una cum Masses at the time and was struggling with the morality of it.  The bishop had a tailor-made opportunity to intervene to tell me not to, and he chose to instead encourage me in my mistaken behavior.

I stand by my personal testimony regarding Bishop Pivarunas and I further allege the testimonies of others who have attended with CMRI and have personally witnessed lax attitudes from their clergy regarding attendance at una cum Masses. 

As to the issue of the morality of attendance at una cum Masses, the two decades-old argument of “it’s not a mortal sin” was trotted out, which has been addressed by clergy from both sides.  It’s not the job of a layperson to speak about what is a mortal sin or not or to argue with their clergy (we are sheep, not shepherds), and we certainly never addressed such a thing in our original article.  But in the interest of moving the conversation forward, let’s step back from the “is it a mortal sin” argument and ask “is it in any way prudent”?  The answer is a very clear no.

By analogy, I can speak about conversations I have had with SSPX clergy about the new rite of episcopal consecration, which has implications for valid priestly ordination.  After going round and round for 15 minutes, I decided to cut to the quick, “Father, would you go to confession with one of these priests (ordained by bishops consecrated in the New Rite)?”  A very quick, “No,” came out, almost involuntarily.  So, after arguing for the validity of these priests, the priest confessed that effectively, he didn’t personally believe in their validity.  

So too, human nature is weak, so when we laypeople hear “not a mortal sin” we often (wrongfully) assume that “it’s okay” and the testimonies I have heard from some CMRI faithful indicate that that’s exactly what has happened.  It doesn’t matter if those who read my article indignantly replied that “I’ve never heard that before.”  Are they really going to take responsibility for the words of every CMRI priest in the world?  Are they really willing to call everyone who has said that they have heard attendance at una cum Masses is permitted by some CMRI clergy liars?  Are they really willing to disbelieve someone who is willing to state publicly what he has been personally told by Bp Pivarunas, when he is likely to receive criticism for it (which is precisely what happened)?

So, instead of offering a lot of quotes from clergy about how something is “not a mortal sin,” why do the CMRI clergy not instead do what I think all of them are capable of doing: Issue a statement in which they say they would never personally actively participate in an una cum Mass and list the reasons why.  This would remove all doubt about CMRI policy and close the door on attendance at una cum Masses “because Father said it wasn’t a mortal sin.”  The moral calculus for such a decision would seriously change if the frame were, “Father told me why he would never attend an una cum Mass.”

Such a statement from the CMRI, ostensibly the largest sedevacantist traditional Catholic organization worldwide, would be a game changer, would be welcomed, and would be championed on this blog.

As to the second issue, Fr. Carlos Borja issued an “answer” by Twitter (not really an appropriate venue to answer such serious charges, because of length constraints) elliptically confirming that the CMRI do indeed get involved in marriage issues, calling them “moral decisions” and implying that this was something done in the distant past as opposed to something being done in the present.  Unfortunately, this contradicts statements by Fr. Gabriel Lavery and Fr. Francisco Radecki, who when asked point-blank on these issues on the occasion of Fr. Cekada’s funeral in late 2020 replied in the affirmative, that the CMRI do indeed deal with annulments hic et nunc, not in some hazy traditionalist past.  Furthermore Fr. Gabriel Lavery affirmed that he tells his faithful that if he is not available to offer Mass to them that they can, indeed, go to una cum Masses, like those offered by the SSPX.  I don’t believe that Fr. Radecki or Fr. Gabriel will deny having made these statements, so it now falls onto the CMRI apologists to square their strident accusations against me with the realities of these remarks.

As an aside, Fr Borja further implied by referring to Bishop McKenna’s participation in these “moral decisions” (read: “annulments”) that Bishop Sanborn, consecrated by Bishop McKenna, approved of such actions.  This is not the case, and Bishop Sanborn has explicitly confirmed to me that he has never participated in such “moral decisions.”  

Canon 1960 states that “Matrimonial cases between baptized persons by proper and exclusive right pertain to an ecclesiastical judge” (emphasis mine) and Canon 1572 says that a tribunal must be constituted by the bishop of the diocese.  As said in the original article epikeia does not allow for these cases to be adjudicated by anyone other than the authorities listed, much less the CMRI, and calling the process “moral decisions” instead of what they are, effectively “annulments,” is again, problematic, to say the least. 

Fr. Cekada and Bp. Sanborn have both told me separately that in the overwhelming majority of cases that they have seen in their decades of priestly experience that they often have to tell the couple who has come to them that at least one of them has probably contracted a valid marriage and as such the only way forward will be for the couple to live together as brother and sister.  99% go away sad, for they had many marriages.

***

If I didn’t spell out my original intent in the article, I apologize for not being clear.  I will not make the mistake again.

I wrote the article to bring light to two very problematic issues that are not conspiracy theories but are real problems.  If they are corrected by the CMRI we will endeavor to be the first to announce (and applaud) those changes. 

Finally, I have corrected the final paragraph of our original article to read as such, which better communicates the original intent of the article:

“Based on what I know, I believe the best option is to not associate with the CMRI and I have instead sought better alternatives. Though I would wish the same for others, and recommend that where possible, I understand that such alternatives aren't an option for many. Until the CMRI changes its positions on these important issues, we believe that Catholics should be wary of seeking moral or theological advice from their clergy who are going along with these things; and laity attending their chapels should be asking their priests to do what they can to ensure these problems are rectified as soon as possible due to their seriousness and gravity.  No one should misinterpret our having raised these serious concerns of also involving a lack of our acknowledgment/awareness of all the good work that clergy in this organization have done and continue to do."

The correction of the title of the article, the naming of the priests and the occasion of their remarks which have direct bearing on the allegations I made in the previous article, as well as this new final paragraph, should remove all conjecture that we are interested in lying and purposeless bomb-throwing, and instead indicate that we are greatly perturbed and would like to see a serious change in direction at the CMRI, a change that we as laypeople are entirely within our competence to ask of our clergy in these challenging and confusing times.

CMRI Part 3: Clergy Respond and Final Thoughts

French | Italian | Spanish

Image: Triumph of St Hermengild - Francisco Herrera the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Moret-sur-Loing, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.