CMRI Part 3: Clergy Respond and Final Thoughts

It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.” — St. Gregory the Great

While I did not necessarily expect multiple CMRI clergy to respond to my articles, I am glad for it as those responses have underlined the original points of my articles, which were at first considered “conspiracy theories” by some but cannot be considered so any more, the premises having been confirmed by the CMRI itself.

The first article that I am referring to can be found here, and the second article can be found here.

While I will go on to separately address the clerics that have responded to the allegations I shared in the first months of this year, I would like to recapitulate my allegations and the CMRI responses. 

The allegations in my original article are summarized below:

  • Some CMRI clergy do indeed tell their faithful that they can, in good conscience, attend una cum Masses.  As noted in my previous articles, attendance at una cum Masses is riddled with practical problems and the fact that it is condoned in any way by a congregation of traditional Catholic priests is lamentable and scandalous.  Indeed, telling the faithful that you are “undecided” on the matter or that you leave it to their “prudential discernment” has shown itself to be, in the practical order, a green light to attend such Masses.  
  • That CMRI adjudicate marriage cases that they have no right to in Church law.  The CMRI have made up a term, “moral judgments,” to categorize their judgments on marriage cases.  The CMRI have tried to say that these “moral judgments” happened in the past, not really in the present but we have learned that in multiple CMRI parishes, people with Novus Ordo annulments have been “given permission” by CMRI clergy via these “moral judgments” to contract Catholic marriages (hence making those “moral judgments” effectively annulments) and that in some cases, children from previous marriages even show up at the chapel, confusing and scandalizing faithful.  Whether this is to be denied is irrelevant, as these examples exist and continue to exist.

Bishop Mark Pivarunas Responds

His Excellency’s response is now hyperlinked prominently on the CMRI website.  While I am pleased he considers the allegations worth responding to, I was disappointed in his response on a number of fronts.

Contrary to His Excellency's belief that I am a layman “relatively new to the Traditional Catholic movement,” when Bishop Pivarunas introduced me to his father in 2013 in the social hall of the CMRI church in Omaha, I had already been attending the Traditional Latin Mass for over 15 years.  I started at the age of 17, brought my whole family over from our conservative Novus Ordo background, and began a journey of asking questions that would eventually lead to non-una-cum sedevacantism.  I was not born into the Traditional Catholic faith, but I have been observing it for more than half my life now.  Fourteen of those years were in active collaboration with Fr. Anthony Cekada, producing books, articles, and videos.  But the inaccuracy here is minor; if accurate, it may have had some small use as a rhetorical device to call my legitimacy into question.

In an attempt to justify the CMRI’s position on the attendance at una cum Masses, His Excellency names a number of disagreements in Church history, ignoring that I had anticipated this in my very first article, in which I articulated what I consider a legitimate recent and germane disagreement in the observance of the Pius XII Holy Week.  My articles were never about a legitimate disagreement, which anyone with even the slightest conversance in Church history could pull numerous examples from, but of a bare-minimum baseline that serious Catholics can and should expect from their clergy.  My first article spelled out that baseline: 

  • not telling people they can go to una cum Masses and 
  • not adjudicating marriage cases.

His Excellency also linked to an August 2002 article in which he “condemns” attendance at una cum Masses, then goes on to cite numerous examples of why it’s okay “if you feel the need.”  

What has been the effect on the CMRI laity who have heard this confusing and contradictory position over the last 20 years?  One reaction to the attitudes of that laity can be seen in one of the conditions that Fr. Cekada attached to the annual Young Adult Gathering, recently rebooted (to great success) after its heyday in the 1980s:

By registering for this activity, you affirm that: 

  1. You will not participate in Masses that are offered “in union with” Francis or where his name is inserted into the Canon of the Mass.

Father knew that sedevacantists from other chapels would come to the YAG (because condition #1 is that you must be a sedevacantist) and so he wanted to establish a baseline for successful marriages, which includes sane and coherent principles on the una cum question.  

Such a condition would not have been necessary had the gathering only been limited to SGG/MHT/RCI/IMBC chapels, none of which have clergy that offer any ambiguity whatsoever when it comes to attendance at una cum Masses.  Such a principle had to be enunciated because of the CMRI’s at-best ambiguous position, which has led to a praxis of attendance at una cum Masses and a shoulder-shrugging attitude among their laity.

Regarding this issue, His Excellency simply quotes extensively from his own 2002 letter, adding only the following sentence as an update, 20 years later.

To be clear, I do not require people to attend una cum Masses nor do I forbid attendance at such Masses. It is left to the prudent discretion of the laity.

Is this the language of the Roman Catholic Church?  Or that of Amoris Laetitia, which exhorts us to avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations”?  Indeed, “Who am I to judge?” would make a fine rhetorical flourish to Bishop Pivarunas’ statement.  

Such scandalous statements underline another major problem of the CMRI: the laity rule.  One way the laity rule is in their lay boards, an unstable, protestant, revolutionary concept in which the sheep tell the shepherd what to do.  Those lay boards (CMRI and otherwise) rule in running priests out of parishes because those priests dared to speak out strongly on modesty or in some unbelievable cases, in which those brave priests questioned the moral and legal actions of some of those running those lay boards.  

A lay board may be tolerated for a certain amount of time due to the history of a given mission, but then a transition in a reasonable time must be made to a Catholic way of running a parish, a way in which the word “lay board” only exists as an anachronism, something that existed in the old days when Masses were done in garages and “sedevacantism” wasn’t even a word most people knew.

As to the second part of the letter, Bishop Pivarunas quotes a tweet from a third party that he said I “conveniently ignored.”  The tweet having not come from an account of His Excellency’s I waited for a more comprehensive statement from the Bishop himself, which has been released and is the response that I am commenting on.  His Excellency wrote:

When Bp McKenna assisted CMRI in such moral decisions, he never claimed to possess ordinary jurisdiction as does a diocesan bishop which would be an annulment in the true sense of the word. Nevertheless, Bp McKenna, following the theological position of Bp Gerard de Laurier (sic), held that the traditional bishops despite their lack of ordinary jurisdiction, carry on the “missio” of the Catholic Church. The “missio” is the mission of the Catholic Church for the salvation of souls.

Based on that position, Bp McKenna assisted the CMRI in those marriage decisions. This problem with the lack of ordinary jurisdiction is not limited to marriage cases and brings up issues in many other areas such as absolution from excommunications reserved to the Holy See, dispensation from religious vows and impediments to priestly ordination, etc.”

Unfortunately, His Excellency conflates the power to sanctify and the power to rule of the Church here.

Put more simply, the only mission traditional Catholic clergy can claim is that which is permitted by epikeia and deals with transient supplied jurisdiction, dealing with the Mass and the sacraments.

Marriage annulments do not belong to the power of sanctifying but to the power of ruling the Church.  Traditional Catholic clergy cannot usurp the Church’s power to rule in any way.

Matrimony by its very stature relates to a legal status.  Once a marriage is formed by a legal fact, it can only be broken by a legal action.  This would be the case even if a situation were privately known by members of the Roman Rota that a particular marriage was invalid.

It may be helpful to also disclose that a case in which there is documentary proof (e.g. a marriage certificate showing that someone is currently still married to someone else) does not come before a diocesan tribunal, as this documentary evidence reveals that no marriage can be contracted.  Any priest can simply “recognize” that evidence.  That sort of situation is rarely brought before our traditional clergy.  

What is brought far more often are the complex cases, for example, when someone alleges that the other party “never wanted to have children.” Such cases have to be adjudicated, and the CMRI have no authority to judge these cases and any judgments they make in those cases, which they call “moral judgments,” have zero legal or moral authority.

Another strange statement of Bishop Pivarunas follows:

The crux of the matter is that well known traditional bishops and priests have held the same position as CMRI on these matters and that there is no reason for a mere lay person and blogger, Mr. Heiner, to exhort the Catholic faithful to avoid “the largest sedevacantist traditional Catholic organization in the world.”

Apart from the fact that His Excellency conveniently omits the purposeful adverb “ostensibly” I used in my original quote, I ask, which “well known traditional bishops and priests,” Your Excellency?  I have met many in my time on multiple continents and none of the ones I associate with hold the “same position” as the CMRI on almost anything other than celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass and agreeing that Jorge Bergoglio is not the pope.  Any who once held “the same” positions have since publicly moved on.  Indeed, the congregation most similar to the CMRI is the Society of St. Pius X, which have bishops and priests that also provide “moral judgments” via their own formal marriage tribunals, and offer Masses which CMRI faithful attend.

To illustrate that the content of my article is supported, even anonymously, by traditional Catholic clerics, here is a message I received from a traditional priest after the first article was released:

Thank you for writing this article.  You will be criticized but, as you say, people have the right to know the truth about the CMRI.  Also, it is upsetting for those of us who are trying to do serious work when people think that the CMRI, the RCI, IMBC, etc. are all the same.  We are NOT the same.”

The CMRI hold unique and lamentable positions: lax permissiveness regarding the una cum Mass and self-proclaimed authority adjudicating marriage cases.  That was the point of my original article and His Excellency’s recent missive confirms those allegations.

Further, His Excellency concludes his response by referring to me as a “mere lay person.”  But earlier in the same response, he delegates the moral decision of attending una cum Masses to the “prudent discretion of the laity.”  Am I a “mere lay person” or am I someone who has the ability and mandate to decide for myself, instead of consulting clergy for definitive direction, on major moral decisions?  The confusing, contradictory, and un-Catholic “have it both ways” spirit reveals itself once again.

***

It should be noted that His Excellency’s characterization of the material/formal thesis is not a serious one (“Francis I is a material pope, i.e., he was Catholic enough to be validly elected but not Catholic enough to receive the authority of the papacy”) but since we at True Restoration have no position on how Our Lord will eventually restore the Church, given that we work with both Totalist and Thesis clergy, we simply note that the error of Bishop Pivarunas’ characterization will become apparent to anyone who watches Kevin Davis’ recent interview of Bishop Sanborn or Bishop Sanborn’s own recent explanation of it.

No one knows what to make of Bishop Pivarunas’ final paragraph, in which I am accused of violating canon law.  When asked by a parishioner, a CMRI priest responded that it was, “His Excellency’s attempt at humor.” The final paragraph is below:

“I would like to conclude this response to Mr. Heiner with the reminder that he is in violation of canon law. The Church has the right to forbid the publication of books by the faithful unless she has officially examined them in advance. The provision of Canons 1384-1405 inclusive, regarding books, are to be applied also to daily publications, periodicals, and other writings of whatever kind (Canon 1384). Mr. Heiner needs to publicly state which diocesan bishop and diocesan censor have approved of his writings or he must admit he is in violation of canon law. Were he to have heeded these canons of the code, he would not have made the serious mistakes contained in his blog!”

Anytime you have to explain a joke, it loses its humor and plenty of people have been confused by this final paragraph.  

Bishop Pivarunas, if serious in his final paragraph, stands under the same charge as I do.  Which diocesan bishop and/or censor approved his writings?  Will the Reign of Mary be shut down anytime soon? 

But in any case, this is not serious.  It’s either a poor joke or poor argumentation.

Fr. Gabriel Lavery, CMRI Responds

I recently spoke with a layman who is active on Twitter and knows Fr. Gabriel Lavery and who, when he first saw Father’s Twitter responses to my article, wondered if it was not a troll impersonating Fr. Gabriel.  For those not on Twitter, here are some of the Tweets laid down by this Twitter account:

Heaven is closed to Heiner unless he issues a retraction on this grave matter before death.

I told you multiple times now that what you said of me in the article is utterly false. The fact that you will not remove it shows what an evil man you are. You certainly do not understand Catholic morals. (emphases mine)

Before I write what I am about to write, I want to make it clear that my intention is to solely provide objective commentary regarding Fr. Gabriel Lavery’s responses. 

I ask, “Would any casual reader of these comments suspect for one moment that they were uttered by a priest of Jesus Christ, speaking of a man he had never met and refused to speak with?” Basic moral theology dictates that one should not judge another’s intentions or the state of another’s soul, let alone publicly pronounce someone as in the state of mortal sin (implied in the words, “Heaven is closed to Heiner”). 

I would be concerned to seek spiritual advice from a priest who engages in such public activity, as I would question the accuracy of the advice I would receive. I merely mention this as another concern to add to the numerous concerns I have mentioned regarding the CMRI, however, I acknowledge that this is only the behavior of one priest associated with the CMRI. 

As I did in my previous articles, I do not judge any individuals’ intentions or consciences, however, I am providing information and commentary that validates the concerns I have put forward and indicates that there are valid concerns regarding the moral advice that may be provided by CMRI clergy.

This same account recently tweeted:

After writing this respectful letter to an opponent and studying the arguments sent him St. Alphonsus abandoned a position he previously thought well-founded and thereafter wrote many times against his former opinion. Would that such willingness to understand opponents prevailed.

I took the vehemence of Fr. Gabriel’s denials seriously and obtained his phone number via a mutual priest friend of his.  I called him seven times across four days, at different times of day, leaving voicemails three separate times, and asserting that the mutual priest friend who gave me his number could vouch for my character, which Fr Gabriel had assassinated all over social media.  I also gave him a US number that he could reach me at, since I was calling from my French phone.

Fr. Gabriel refused to respond.

I also contacted the person who had spoken with Father at Fr. Cekada’s funeral, who had a conversation with Father Gabriel in the sight of other clergy and laypeople.  This person affirmed what I had alleged in my article and even offered to speak to Father Gabriel directly.  I said to Father in my voicemails that I would be happy to connect him and the witness so that he could see that perhaps he (Fr. Gabriel) misremembered what he did or did not say, but in any case, I told the truth as I knew it and as I still know it.

Fr. Gabriel refused to respond.

I will leave it to others to draw their own conclusions about Father Gabriel’s social media behavior.  I do not retract what was said and indeed, as I said on social media over and over, Father’s own set of responses indirectly confirmed the allegations (apart from what he told my witness, he says he told faithful he was “undecided,” which in the practical order leaves the door open to faithful to go to una cum Masses, and he said that marriage cases are handled by the CMRI, but that it was not as “sensational” as I made it out to be).

Perhaps, most importantly, Father Gabriel failed to give any compelling motive as to why, after writing publicly under my own name since 2006, I would, in 2022, knowingly lie about a priest I’ve never met in my life.  I know dozens of members of the clergy who would personally vouch for my character and would be shocked to hear that I was ever accused of such a thing.

Fr. Dominic Radecki, CMRI Responds

Fr. Dominic Radecki gave a sermon the week after the first article appeared, from the same pulpit in which I personally heard him say a number of years ago that during Lent someone might “watch less television” or “play fewer video games.”  Father represented the CMRI position as the balanced one, implying that anything else was too “rigorous,” which is a term that CMRI clergy and faithful have at times applied to priests and faithful who take an uncompromising stance on the una cum issue.  

He began his sermon by relating an anecdote about the late great Patrick Henry Omlor (a notable vocal and vehement opponent of attendance at una cum Masses) in which Omlor told Father about a “lay theologian” who failed to correctly answer the simple question, “What is a sacrament?” that Omlor posed, missing the irony underlined by Bishop Pivarunas’ comments above, in which the bishop makes “lay theologians” of everyone by delegating the decision of attendance at una cum Masses to our “prudential discretion.”

Father Dominic also misrepresented my position.  In the sermon at the 6:18 mark he said that I said it was a mortal sin to attend una cum Masses and that people who do should be denied communion, prompting Bishop Daniel Dolan to respond in a bulletin to phone calls triggered from this gross (and sloppy) misrepresentationIn neither of my preceding articles on the CMRI did I ever say such a thing, but the question might still be begged, with all this insistence on “not a mortal sin,” is it a venial one, then? Or, more importantly, is attendance at an una cum Mass objectively pleasing to God or is it objectively displeasing to God?

Additionally, poor Fr. Martin Stepanich, OFM is once again dragged out of his grave to support attendance at una cum Masses, when all he really said was that he didn’t have the authority to forbid anyone to attend una cum Masses.

The quote by Fr. Martin in Bishop Pivarunas’s response is below:

“If we try to use the words of pope and pre-Vatican II theologians, as already quoted above, and make them say that attendance at una cum Benedicto Masses is always absolutely forbidden under any and all circumstances, it is we who are really doing that kind of forbidding, not the popes and the pre-Vatican II theologians. Just try to find anything in the popes and pre-Vatican II theologians that totally and absolutely forbids any and all attendance at una cum Benedicto (sic) Masses by traditional sedevacantist Catholics. It just isn’t there.” (emphasis Bp. Pivarunas’s)

It should be noted that just because something is “not forbidden,” a point endlessly emphasized by Father Stepanich in his original article, does not mean it should “be encouraged.”  The CMRI like to emphasize Father Martin’s worthy theological qualifications, but his qualifications hold no truck with me when it comes to praxis for those of us still alive in this terrible period.  Plenty of clergy more learned than Fr. Martin went along with the changes of the Council.  Dangling qualifications is no proof and certainly no argument.  

Father Dominic also misses the point completely by speaking about “excommunications,” a subject I’ve never raised.  Of course the Church permits you, in grave necessity, for example, being in the state of mortal sin, to seek sacraments from excommunicated clergy.  But simply fulfilling your Sunday obligation is a real stretch of the term “grave necessity.”  

Further, the canon in question doesn’t say anything about active participation at Mass.  Communion for the faithful is a rite that is inserted into the Mass, not anything listed in the rubrics or required for liceity.  It’s one thing to “get a sacrament” in “grave necessity” from an excommunicated cleric.  Here the Church is clearly envisioning a baptism or a marriage, rather than regular and ongoing attendance at Mass.

Another lamentable tack is “why did none of the clergy in the 1960s or 1970s bring this up,” another prominent part of Fr. Dominic’s “argument.”  That is not an argument.

As I already mentioned in previous articles, clergy have publicly changed their mind on issues.  To imbue the clergy of the 1960s and 1970s with some sort of sacred aura is to make the same error as the SSPX in their “what would the Archbishop do” heuristic. The clergy of the 1960s or 1970s are not infallible. But this technique of the CMRI, as seen above in Bp Pivarunas’ name-dropping of Bp. McKenna to justify the CMRI’s “moral judgments,” is now an expected (and tired) part of their “argumentation.”

Finally, Fr. Dominic cites canon 2261 as justification for attendance at una cum Masses, as if attendance at a simple Sunday Mass qualifies as a “just cause.”  I once again refer to Pius VI’s language regarding the French Constitutional Clergy, all of whom said valid Masses: the Holy Father did not tell people that it “wasn’t a mortal sin” to go to a valid Mass in confusing times. Indeed, Pope Pius VI said that hosts consecrated by juring priests (those who took an oath to the Constitutional French church) were to be left to decompose, not distributed to the faithful, as no Christian should associate with these hosts brought down in opposition to God and His Church.

To expand on this point further, here is a quote the instruction Laudabilem majorum, dated 26 September 1791, addressed to the French Bishops from the same Holy Father:

His Holiness has declared that it is not permitted to receive the baptism of the intruded clergy except in cases of extreme necessity and if no one else can be found to give baptism; the sacrament should be conferred by legitimate clergy or by others armed with their permission.

For, since the intruded pastor is certainly schismatical, and his schism is obvious, it follows that the action of a Catholic who addresses himself to the intruded cleric for the administration of baptism, is, from every point of view, vicious, evil, and forbidden; in effect, this would be to communicate with schismatics in divine matters and in the very wickedness of the schism, which is by its very nature an evil, and hence forbidden by the natural law as well as by the divine…what else is the Catholic doing who receives baptism from the intruded priest, except to commit the crime of schism with him, since one, in administering baptism, and the other, in receiving it, consummates a premeditated offense, which neither one could have committed without the concurrence of the other.  So when a Catholic cooperates in the schism by his conduct, it is impossible for him not to assent by that very fact to the sin of schism, and not to recognize and treat the intruder as a legitimate priest.”

***

I intend for this to be the final article I will post regarding this issue as I believe that the articles have resulted in the publication of enough information, from both the CMRI and me, regarding important issues for people to be adequately informed. Their decisions, based on the available information, are between them and God. 

I would like to note that there is no material or social gain to be had for writing what I wrote. The True Restoration ownership group anticipated the response we would get from the general public and even a very few of our own members that would impact True Restoration financially. 

However, we exist to spread the truth, not to make profit. The money we receive from members forms the means to spread the truth, and we are willing to bear the material consequences for staying focused on the mission that has animated this website since 2006: the restoration of all things in Christ. Allowing lay people to be misled about the CMRI (and allowing CMRI clergy to provide misleading characterizations of us and our positions), without providing important information, when True Restoration has the knowledge, reputation, and outreach to spread the truth, does not contribute to the restoration. 

We thank the hundreds of paying members who continue to support us. We are grateful for your support.  We ask for your continued prayers as we attempt to serve the Church in these challenging times.

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Stephen Heiner

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