ASK FATHER: Validity of schismatic priests’ ordination

From a reader…


I was wondering if the ordinations of priests and bishops in schismatic and or sedevacantist groups valid? They would be such priests like “Fr.” Anthony Cekeda and “pope” Michael and groups like the Congregation of Mary, Immaculate Queen, etc. Also, are their Masses and sacraments valid, too?

An ordination of a man capable of being ordained (e.g., a man who is free of any impediment to Holy Orders) performed by a validly ordained bishop, who intends to ordain a sacrificing priest according to the mind of the Church, and who uses the correct form for the ordination, is assumed to be valid.

We should not look upon Apostolic Succession merely as some sort of a communicable disease. At some point, the right order of the Church required that the intention of the ordaining prelate be weighed in a balance with his proximity to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Many schismatics and sedevacantists trace their ordination lineage (or pedigree, if you will) back through some pretty strange folks.

Arnold Harris Mathew, for example, who claimed to be the Earl Landaff of Thomastown and Count Povoleri was a baptized Roman Catholic man who was ordained a priest in 1877, who apostasized in 1889, then became an Anglican, married, reconciled with the Catholic Church in 1892 (but continued to officiate at Anglican weddings without a license), left the Church again to be ordained as a bishop of the Old Catholic Church (which has putatively valid orders), left the Old Catholic Church and began ordaining several men to the priesthood and episcopate under his own authority, was formally excommunicated vitandus by St. Pius X in 1911, who described him as a “pseudo-bishop” in his decree, was formally excommunicated by the Anglican Church in 1913. In August 1911, he was received into the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch by a patriarchal legate, who did not have the authority to receive him. Towards his death in 1919, he petitioned Rome for reconciliation, but was informed that he would only be received “quasi laicus“, as a layman. He then tried to reconcile with the Anglican Church instead, but the Archbishop of Canterbury similarly refused to recognize him as a priest, let alone a bishop. He died in 1919 and was buried out of the local Anglican parish.

Specific to the ones you mention, Fr Anthony Cekeda is undeniably a validly ordained priest, though he is not in communion with the Catholic Church. He had been a member of the Society of St. Pius X, left that in 1983 to help form the Society of St. Pius V, then left that group in 1989 (but did not, as many were expecting, form the Society of St. Pius 2.5). He remains, technically, a vagus, that is, a priest without allegiance to any hierarchical superior but himself, though he is involved with Bishop Donald Sanborn, who traces his pedigree back to Archbishop Thuc, formerly of Hue, Vietnam.  Thuc ordained four men bishops during his retirement, though he did not have a papal mandate to do so.  (BTW… the Holy See often receives men ordained through bishops of the Thuc line “ut laicus

Regarding David Bawden, who calls himself “Pope Michael”, there is no available information regarding his ordination. Until proof is forthcoming, he should be presumed to be a layman. He is certainly not in communion with Rome.

The “bishop” of the CMRI traces his pedigree back to Arnold Harris Mathew, whose checkered life is outlined above.

Judging the validity of some of these schismatics’ ordinations is complicated business. It should best be left to the proper authorities (that is, the Holy Father or someone he delegates). In the meantime, the faithful should steer far away from those who’ve willfully separated themselves from Our Holy Mother, the Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    The Holy See (well, at any rate, the Press Office thereof) has lately been using the phase “not recognized” to describe certain ordinations that hitherto would have unquestionably been recognized as valid but illicit. What’s up with that? Sloppy talk from people who do not know terminology? Or an emerging sacramental/canonical category?


  2. VexillaRegis says:

    That Mr Arnold Harris Mathew had quite a checkered past! Gosh… One wonders what drives people to live like that – I mean, did he think he could fool God??

  3. pelerin says:

    Information on the chap calling himself ‘Pope Michael’ can be found on the internet and I have to confess my amusement when I learnt that he was elected to the so called ‘papacy’ by six people including his mum, dad and himself! Wonder who the other three were! [Could we get a bunch of people together to elect me as Monsignor? How about Panhypersebastus of Madison?]

  4. MattH says:

    My understanding is that “Pope” Michael doesn’t claim to have ever been ordained a priest or bishop, but there’s certainly a lot of people out there claiming to have valid Apostolic Succession through interesting and sometimes sketchy lines. Some of those lines will be even more muddled now since many of the “Old Catholic” groups have changed their rules on who can be ordained.

  5. TheDude05 says:

    I will say when Fr Cekeda and Fr Sanborn leave the sedevacantis stuff alone and talk just about the Faith I find it rather enjoyable and informing. When they talk about Mary and the Rosary it can be really beautiful, but usually leads into them trying to eviscerate the Pope and the Council and anybody else that’s told them they are wrong. That’s usually when I turn off and tune out.

    [Cekada… smart guy! I enjoyed his book about the liturgical “experts” did to the prayers of Holy Mass after the Council… Work Of Human Hands. (NB: Best. Title. Ehvur!)]

  6. Back pew sitter says:

    The suggestion that Fr Anthony Cekeda might have formed the Society of St Pius 2.5 made me laugh. Thanks for that!

  7. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Proofreading note: Fr. Cekada’s name was consistently misspelled in this post. Since I just read his latest book, it stuck out to me. Book was an interesting polemic, but it seems that Fr. Cekada jumped to unwarranted conclusions. I pray that he is reconciled with the Church.

  8. mysticmonk says:

    The bishop of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI) is Bp. Mark Pivarunas. He does NOT trace his orders to Arnold Harris Mathew. Pivarunas was consecrated a bishop in 1991 by Bp. Moises Carmona, who himself had been consecrated a bishop by (Arch)bishop Pierre-Martin Ngo-Dinh-Thuc of Vietnam in 1981. [Of the Thuc line… not great.]

  9. yatzer says:

    The suggestion of the Society of St. Pius 2.5 gave me the best laugh I’ve had for a while. Thanks!

  10. GregH says:

    Was Archbishop Thuc ever reconciled with the Church? Did anyone know ever really know where he stood in regards the Council and the current Popes?

  11. Joe in Canada says:

    David Bawden (Pope Michael) was ‘ordained’ by ‘bishop’ Robert Biarnesen who was ordained priest and bishop “in the Duarte Costa line”.

    This is not as bad as Pope Pius XIII, who was Fr Lucian Pulvermacher until he was elected Pope. As Pope, he claimed the authority to appoint Mr Gordon Bateman to the cardinalcy, and then ordain him to the priesthood and episcopacy. As Bishop, then, Gordon Cardinal Bateman consecrated Pope Pius XIII to the episcopacy. (Gordon Bateman, who according to one site was married before becoming Cardinal, subsequently left the True Church and is a sedevacantist again)

    It would be to laugh, but I remind myself to pray for these people, just as I pray for Bruce Jenner, and all those who are not founded firmly on the Rock.

  12. Panhypersebastus of Madison

    Sounds good. Do you get to wear something elaborate and shiny on your head? I would hold out for a position where you get to wear interesting headgear. It’s not worth it otherwise.

  13. robtbrown says:

    Dr. Edward Peters says:

    The Holy See (well, at any rate, the Press Office thereof) has lately been using the phase “not recognized” to describe certain ordinations that hitherto would have unquestionably been recognized as valid but illicit.

    Referring to presbyteral or episcopal ordinations?

  14. j says:

    Society of Pius 2.5?? That’s very “Spirit of Vatican 2” of you. In Latin, the real language of the Church, the next one is the Society of Pius I; where Gnosticism never became Heresy!

  15. atmoe says:

    What about the validity of the sacraments these men celebrate after leaving the Church? I have had trouble refuting the argument that “ordination leaves an unremoveable mark on the soul and therefore their sacraments continue to be valid”.

  16. Joe in Canada says:

    “Pope Michael” does indeed claim ordination and consecration, by “Bishop” Robert Biarnesen, who, apparently, was himself ordained priest and consecrated bishop through the “Duarte-Costa” line of succession.

    Not as bad as the late Lucian Pulvermacher OFM Cap who was “elected Pope” as “Pope Pius XIII”. He made one of his followers, a married lay man named Gordon Bateman, a Cardinal in his church. Then (after Bateman’s divorce) he ordained him priest and consecrated him bishop, on the grounds that as Pope he had all the authority of the Church. Then Bateman consecrated him in turn as bishop. Bateman eventually left this church and became a sedevacantist.

    It is to laugh, but more to pray. These people remind me of Bruce Jenner, living in a fantasy world, reinforced by friends and family. They need much prayer.

  17. Latinmass1983 says:

    “In the meantime, the faithful should steer far away from those who’ve willfully separated themselves from Our Holy Mother, the Church”

    This is why I avoid the Orthodox and Protestant as well … their leaders separated themselves from Holy Mother Church … and throughout history they had preferred to be under the Emperors (and even the Sultans! or other leaders of State, or on their very own) than under the Pope!

    But then again, maybe the ecumenical trends of today should include the sedevacantists too! Maybe the missionaries of mercy will have power and authority to bring these fellows back into the fold (well, after the SSPX)!

    Wouldn’t that be the greatest jewel of this pontificate!

  18. jaykay says:

    Philippa Martyr:

    “Panhypersebastus of Madison

    Sounds good. Do you get to wear something elaborate and shiny on your head? ”

    You do indeed, Phillipa, and it’s made of tinfoil…

  19. wolfeken says:

    atmoe asked: “What about the validity of the sacraments these men celebrate after leaving the Church? ”

    I don’t think sedevacantists would say they have left the Church. I don’t agree with their argument, even considering the last two years, but it is hard to declare someone who believes the chair of Peter is vacant has formally left the Church by that very belief.

    As far as valid versus invalid Masses and absolutions are concerned, if the ordination was valid, then it does not go away with defrocking/suspension/whatever. Even under the current/1983 Code of Canon Law: “Can. 290 Once validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid. ”

    Which means Father John McLaughlin, S.J., could offer a valid (yet completely illicit) Mass on the set of the McLaughlin Group, and both validly and licitly offer absolution to someone in danger of death (even if another priest is present).

    Once a priest, always a priest. Validity and licitness need to be seen as two completely different subjects.

  20. Joe in Canada says:

    sorry about the double post. I must have forgot the first one when I posted the second one. On the one hand, uh oh when the memory starts to go like that. On the other hand, you have less to worry about if I hear your confession!

  21. Matt Robare says:

    I think the real question is: “Can schismatic/sedevacantist priests wear blue vestments on Marian feast days?”

    [No, that is not the real question.]

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