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September 26, 2006




"...The Church does not recognize nor intend to recognize in the future such ordinations and any ordinations deriving from them, and considers the canonical status of the four presumed bishops to be unchanged from before the Sept. 24 ordination. ..."

So, Milingo follows proper form. Does this mean that he lacked intention. Everything seemed to indicate that they were valid yet illicit.

What's going on here? Is Rome commenting on the incapability of married men to receive the full Sacrament of orders? Are they commenting on the validity of Old Catholic orders?

The Lefebvrists are recognized as legitimate , and yet the these aren't?


I'm not a canon lawyer, but it seems to me that surely these men have not been validly ordained, since they would fail to meet the criteria set out in Canon law by virtue of their 'marriages'? Or, is it the case that, since the Church does not recognise these 'marriages' as valid in themselves, the individuals remain unmarried and, hence (all else being equal), they remain capable of receiving valid (even though, illicit) consecration as bishops? The attempt at episcopal consecration would, in itself, incur latae sententiae excommunication. I would find a comment by a canon lawyer helpful here.

thomas tucker

And a theologian.


I'm no canonist or theologian, but I know there is a school of thought that holds that the acceptance of women's ordination by an ecclesiastical body by itself casts grave doubt on the validity of ALL orders in that ecclesiastical body (i.e., including the ordination of men).

In other words, the willingness of Old Catholics and others to ordain women indicates that their understanding of the nature of priesthood is very different from that of the Catholic Church (and, of course, the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches as well). Thus, Old Catholic orders, which were originally considered valid but not licit, may now in fact be invalid as well.

Tim Ferguson

newby canonist here - and there are a couple fine points to be made.

First, penal law needs to be interpreted very strictly. All four men Milingo ordained claim to have been already ordained bishops previously by schismatic bishops. Those previous consecrations were illicit, but putatively valid. If the were validly bishops at the beginning of this weekend, then Milingo did not actually impart any episcopal character upon them, hence Milingo himself would not be subject to the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication of canon 1382. He'd still be a very naughty bishop and subject to a whole raft of ecclesiastical penalties, including possible excommunication, but those penalties would have to be imposed. Hopefully, the Holy See will follow through and do so.

The fact that these men are married would make their episcopal ordinations illicit, but not invalid.

The finely crafted statement of the Vatican, that their "canonical" status remains unchanged after this adventure, does not specifically state that it does not recognize the validity of their episcopacy on a sacramental level.

more later - job interruption here...

Fr. Andrew G. Bloomfield

I'm neither a canon lawyer nor a theologian, but between canons 1040 and 1041, we have quite a good deal of information as to why these "ordinations" to the episcopate are not only illicit, they are, in fact, invalid.

I'm late for a meeting. I'll hash out some more ideas when I return. Hopefully a *real* canon lawyer will check in soon.


Stepping back a bit, there is also what might be called the common sense argument against the validity of the Mlingo orders.

To say that orders are valid but illicit is to say that they are a real Church: that even though they are in a state of "imperfect communion" with the wider Catholic Church, nevertheless they are bearers of the apostolic Tradition, and Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the sacraments they celebrate.

Well, that's all fine if we're talking about the St. Pius X Society or the Eastern Churches not in communion with Rome. But Mlingo openly consorts with the preposterous Sun Myung Moon, whom he appears to regard as some sort of a prophet or spiritual guide. Stallings cavorts with Louis Farakhan and the Nation of Islam. In general, what these guys believe (across the board, not just about celibacy) is so fundamentally alien to the historic Christian Tradition that it would be ridiculous to view their orders as "valid," unless one takes the most extreme sort of mechanistic and legalistic approach to validity.

And that sort of radically mechanistic approach to the sacraments is, IMHO, a temptation the Catholic Church needs to avoid at all costs, since in the long run it is a serious danger to the Faith.

Patrick Rothwell

I think the real issue as to the validity of "Old Catholic" consecrations is the extreme lack of carelessness with which Old Catholic bishops consecrate other bishops. None of these bishops have genuine churches - they are classic episcopi vagantes. While one can't be sure that any of these guys are validly consecrated, the validity of their ordinations is beside the point - since they have no real Church, there is no reason for the Church to ever recognize their episcopal status even if their Orders are valid. There is simply no important reason for the Catholic Church to play the (fun) parlor game of whose Orders are valid and whose are not. That's my take on this mess.

F C Bauerschmidt

I'm not a canonist, but a mere theologian. For what it's worth, I see Tim and Patrick getting at more or less the same point: by speaking only of the canonical status of the four, the Church skirts the whole messy business of validity. I suppose if one wants to play that game -- and the "Old Catholics" in America (who are a different kettle of fish from those in Europe, where they have real church communities, and not simply groups of friends and relatives who meet in the cathedral in the garage) love to play it -- then one might have to concede the validity of the ordinations. But validly ordained bishops do not a church make.

Ed Peters

Folks, whatever the final answer is here, I think you all are reading too much into the phrase "canonical status". This is, after all, an unsigned press release, not a decree. "Canonical status" here might simply refer to the most fundamental canonical status there is in the Church, that of being ordained or lay (1983 CIC 207.1). If so, then the VIS statement means that these ordinations are not seen as VALID. And that would be fascinating. Remember, B16, as Cdl. Ratzinger, pulled the plug on Mormon baptism, and they sure looked valid for a long time. Maybe Rome has had it with the explosion of illicit ordinations out there, and is taking at harder look at validity issues. Finally. In any case, it seems that what Milingo actually did on Sept. 24 was either an ordination, an attempted or pseudo-ordination, or is otherwise being viewed as an equivalent act subject to censure under 1983 CIC 1382. Recall that, in the post-conciliar reform of canon law, criminal law or sanctions was cut to the barest of bones. Since then, many canonists have noted that the canonical descriptions of many crimes seem too narrow to encompass within their strict terms (per 1983 CIC 18) the variations with which actual offenders commit their deeds. While the facts on Milingo are being sorted out, keep alert to the possiblity that, as the living organism which it is, canon law is expanding, in its terms or interpretations, before our eyes to help the Church confront better the multiform duplicities of human behavoir.

Tim Ferguson

Exactly FC - and Fr. Bloomfield, you may not be a canonist or theologian in the technical, professional sense, but in the classical sense, you have a fine theological and canonical mind.

That type of distinction is similar to what is going on in this situation. Milingo's band of married men might be valid bishops in the sense that their ontological character has been changed and they have the theological wherewithall to confect valid sacraments, yet canonically, a bishop is not an entity unto himself - he has a canonical mission and an operative function within the Body of Christ. These men do not. Hence, canonically, they are considered exactly the same as they were prior to their putative consecration - Catholics in impaired communion with the rest of the Church.


Thanks for the responses. I agree with the comments made. My inital point was simply in relation to validity and I couldn't see how these 'ordinations' could have been vaild from any point of view, given the status of the men involved, the intentions they hold towards the Church and the considerations of CIC 378, 1013, 1040, 1041.

The other issues which Ed reminds us of are, of course, matters on which we need to wait and see what further (if anything) emerges from Rome.


I did notice that the modifier of:

"...she considers the canonical status of the four supposed-bishops as being that they held prior to this ordination. .."

leaves open the possibility that they were ALREADY considered 'ordained' and thus are incapable of receiving the Sacrament.

I reviewed the videotape last night and noted that these were not sub conditione ordinations.

Ed Peters

What video tape? Is it on-line?


An important distinction must be made between the ontological status resulting from the indelible sacramental character conferred by valid reception of Holy Orders and one's juridical status in the Church, which is determined by positive ecclesiastical law. The latter status is based on the former reality (i.e., on the divinely instituted ontological difference between the ordained and non-ordained; cf. can. 207, §1). But the rights and duties that comprise the difference between the clerical and lay states are determined by positive ecclesiastical law. Although normally anyone who has validly received Holy Orders is a cleric, while someone who has never received Holy Orders is a lay person, Church law does envision the possibility of a validly ordained man having the juridical status of a lay person: e.g., priests or deacons who have lossed the clerical state (so-called "laicization") either by their own request or by penal sanction. In fact, what is now called "loss of the clerical state" (can. 270) or "dismissal from the clerical state" (can. 1336, §1, 5º) was called "reduction to the lay state" in the 1917 Code (can. 211, §1). Thus, it is possible for someone to be ontologically an ordained minister but juridically a layman. The Press Office statement prescinds from the question of sacramental validity and ontological condition, and merely says that in any case their juridical status remains unchanged.


As a longtime student of the episcopi vagantes phenomenon, I'm going to do something unusual (for me) and simply cut to the chase.

From the description, it seems Emmanuel Milingo's 4 little bishops were already holding illicit orders from somewhere in the ecclesiastical Wild West. So, to me, Rome's declaration that there was no change in their canonical status means that they are still holding illicit orders and still not in communion with the Holy See.

No need to split theological hairs re: the true Old Catholics (in communion with the See of Utrecht). Their orders have long since been considered valid but illicit.

(Boy, how I wish I could answer more questions with such brevity!)

Tim Ferguson

Exactly Parochus, thanks for making the distinction much more eloquently than I could have.

The Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches (CCEO) was promulgated in 1990, and contains no provisions for latae sententiae (i.e. automatic) excommunication - excommunication can only be rendered as a result of a canonical trial. The number of offenses liable to latae sententiae excommunication was decreased in the 1983 Latin Code.

Frankly, I see a great wisdom in the Eastern canonical practice of eliminating latae sententiae excommunications. We have juridical procedures in the Church - let's utilize them, even publicly for public cases such as this, and have excommunications imposed by the legitimate authority, rather than simply declared.

In this case, it's unclear who is declaring Milingo excommunicated. Is it the Vatican press office? Do they have the authority to do so? Is it the Holy Father himself? In a situation of such great gravity as this, I think the process and the declaration need to be made eminently clear to the faithful.

Hopefully this current imbroglio will fade out like Stallings' previous attempts at founding a paralell church, but, as someone has pointed out, if Milingo is able to tap the substantial pool of Moonie money and build up some sort of ubiquitous presence around the country, the wicket could get stickier and stickier unless something clear and unambiguous is done now.


I agree with most of the posts above, but I would add only one comment: the Church might have a great suspicious over Milingo's ability to confer the sacred Orders. In fact, it would be probably that his own state of mind turns invalid the sacrament, lacking the real intention because of a demented reason


They do need to figure it out and to spell it out. When is illicit invalid and when is illicit still valid. It does matter because bishops can ordain priests who perform the sacraments and bishops can ordain more bishops who can ordain more priests. And lay people are dependent on valid sacraments. I want both licity and validity, but on my deathbed and those of my loved ones, I'll go for validity over licity if I must choose or should be in any state of mind to make an informed choice. And let God sort it out if His hierarchy couldn't sort it out first. Maybe a few valid although illicit kooks can't gather a lasting congregation around themselves right now but who knows what lies down the road, especially if the priest shortage continues. I can imagine a validly and licitly ordained bishop validly and illicity ordain married men and married bishops just because he has decided that in spite of Rome, his people need sufficient priests to perform valid sacraments. Just a scenario and not one that I'm advocating but not out of the question either given enough time. The illicit/validity question needs to be clearly settled by Rome while de jure and de facto are still in contact.


Pardon my ignorance, but isn't the nomination of a bishop supposed to come from the Pope, at least officially? Every time I have heard of priests being chosen to be ordained Bishops it was always following a decree from Rome. If that is the case, then this ordination would be invalid, and probably so would any previous one they may have received. Illumination enyone?


I just had to find the identity of Milingo's bishops. It turns out all previously held illicit orders and were already out of communion with Rome. So where does Bishop Milingo find the authority (not to mention chutzpah) to call these men Roman Catholic bishops?

Incidentally, one of the men in question is George Stallings of Imani Temple, who was married in the same Moonie mass wedding as Bishop Milingo. Why am I not surprised?

Tim Ferguson


In the normal course of things (for most dioceses) the election of a bishop is done by the Pope. However, that election (election is the technical term, though selection might be clearer) is not what makes the bishop valid, it's the ordination by another bishop. Hence, if a valid bishop ordains another man a bishop, all things being equal, that man is a bishop.

Now, canon law comes in and states that such an ordination, happening without pontifical approval, is major-league illicit. But it doesn't state that it's invalid.

I agree wholeheartedly with Caroline, that what's needed now is a clear, unambiguous statement - preferably following a canonical trial - from some legitimate authority (e.g. the Pope, the Rota, the Signatura,the Congregation for Bishops) as to the canonical status of these gentlemen. In this case, a statement from the Press Office is not sufficiently authoritative, as it's a matter that touches intimately on the salvation of souls.


I disagree as the need for any immediate further word from Rome as to the status of these nutballs.

Because nutballs is exactly what they are, I really can't imagine their orders and sacraments are anything but invalid. These aren't otherwise-aithful Christians who have separated themselves from the jurisdiction of Rome; they are UNfaithful former Christians whose beliefs on a whole range of issues render it unlikely in the extreme that they could possibly be sacrificing Christian priests.

That said, they are a minuscule group without any real fixed body of believers. Why should the Holy See get into the weeds and try sorting out their orders? Is there really any likelihood at all that faithful Catholics might feel the need to turn to these people for the sacraments? I don't think so.


Is there really any likelihood at all that faithful Catholics might feel the need to turn to these people for the sacraments? I don't think so.

Faithful/orthodox Catholics, probably not...but after spending some time on the message boards of a wedding website a couple of years ago when I was preparing for my wedding, you'd be shocked at the number of people out there who would be thrilled to have these men celebrate their weddings. No irritating questions about cohabitation, no promises to raise children as Catholics, no regular Mass attendance required...believe me, that's exactly what some people are looking for. And while Catholics who are well-catechized and knowledgeable will avoid bozos like this, those who are less well-informed might fall into the error of believing that these fellows are in communion with the Church and can perform licit and valid sacraments. I really feel strongly that the Church needs to look out for the best interests of its most vulnerable sheep -- and making the status of these men and the laicized priests of Rent-a-Priest clear and public knowledge.

Ed Peters

Tim F: re the anomalous "latae sententiae" process, I agree completely, and have said so for years. See basically 1983 CIC 1425.1.2.b. Best, edp.

Ed the Roman


I'm pretty sure that licit is always valid.


You're wasting time discussing these wingnuts. Commit them for observation, let the men in the white coats cope with them, they can weave baskets and potholders in the day room when they're let out of their cells.

Archbishop Peter Brennan

According to you, Jesus would not call them nutcases but he would call them gooks and then mow them down with his Ouzzi. What Gospel do you guys read?

The Vatican gave a carefully manuevered statement that said nothing about validity.

Many bishops have been ordained without mandates and I can list them for you.

I would be glad to post Archbishop Milingo's response to the Vatican if you wish.

+Peter Brennan
Roman Catholic Archbishop

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