From a reader…
Due to some recent tweets from the guy who styles himself as “Pope Michael”, I’m seeing posts from people claiming that he is a validly, albeit illicitly, ordained Bishop. They are pointing to an ordination from the Old Catholics and saying that we need to treat him with the respect afforded any other validly ordained schismatic Bishop (i.e. the Orthodox, etc). Is this true? Do the Old Catholics have valid Orders, and do we have to give him episcopal respect instead of just dismissing him as just another crazy person?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
The distinction between a bishop and another crazy person might seem, at times, to be a perilously fine line, but we, as Catholics, especially rigid, hidebound manualists, are fond of making distinctions.
As Aquinas teaches us, seldom affirm, never deny, and always distinguish.
David Bawden, who styles himself Pope Michael, has pretended to be pope now for 30 years, having been elected in a conclave consisting of his parents and three others. At the time of his election, he was not in holy orders, having left the seminary of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X in 1978. In 2011, he was ordained to the priesthood (presumably after having been tonsured, ordained to the minor orders, and ordained as a deacon, though this is unclear) and then consecrated a bishop by Robert Biarnesen.
Biarnesen had been ordained a bishop a month earlier by Chief Alexander Swift Eagle Justice, whose full name and titles are: His Excellency Plenipotentiary RF the Most Reverend Patriarch Doctor Chief Alexander Swift Eagle Justice, D.D., Ph.D., Juris Doctor, Theologian, Academician Russian Federation, Resident Native American Archbishop and Chancellor of International Theological University.
His Excellency Plenipotentiary RF the Most Reverend Patriarch Doctor Chief Alexander Swift Eagle Justice, D.D., Ph.D., Juris Doctor, Theologian, Academician Russian Federation, Resident Native American Archbishop and Chancellor of International Theological University had been consecrated seven years prior by John Anglo Parnell, of the Mexican National Catholic Church, who in turn had been consecrated by Jurgen W. Bless of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church, who had been consecrated by Paul William Schultz Jr., who in turned had been consecrated by his father, Paul William Schultz, Sr. on two occasions as well as by five others bishops on five other occasions – just in case one of his consecrations didn’t work.
Tracing the episcopal pedigree of some of the folks is fascinating. Generally, they trace back to one or several persons: a traditionally-minded, validly ordained Catholic bishop who might have gotten a bit nutty in his old age; a charlatan who bribed and/or tricked some Indian bishop with valid orders to consecrate him; a bishop associated with the Old Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, or various and sundry schismatic churches.
The locations of most of these consecrations tend to be a small parlor in home decorated in mid-century garage sale baroque, or a rented Protestant church, in the presence of thundering crowds often numbering in the tens.
Determining the validity of the orders that flow from these diverse fonts is tricky and, frankly, not worth the effort that would be needed.
Apostolic Succession, as one Russian Orthodox priest said to me, should not be looked on as a contagious disease that one acquires merely by contact with a valid carrier.
The current practice of the Holy See, when one of these gentlemen seek to return to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is to welcome them “quasi laicus” – as if they were a layman, and to forbid them the exercise of any order they have putatively received while also barring them from any ordination or conditional ordination. They are accorded the respect due to any person made in the image and likeness of God and adopted into the Divine Family by their sacramental baptism.
Should David Bawden be accorded any more or less respect? Certainly not.