The Case Against Moral Certitude of Holy Orders Stemming From Francis Schuckardt
Below is a letter which I wrote (with some minor editing) to the “bishop” who was consecrated together with me . He has not responded to a single fact or doctrine contained in this letter, but has rather chosen the precipitous path of continuing to function as a bishop, endangering both himself and those whom he ministers to.
Being that this letter was not originally intended for publication, it contains only a few citations and is missing the proofs of evidence such a document would normally have. Nevertheless, all the facts contained in this letter are accurate and true and for the most part easily verifiable by the reader. Those facts which are not easily verifiable by the reader I will gladly provide to anyone who requests them of me.
There are two lines of episcopal lineage relevant here since the pivotal “bishop” Hubert A. Rogers was consecrated twice in two different churches: first in the African Orthodox Church and then in the North American Old Roman Catholic Church.
African Orthodox Church – episcopal lineage:
Joseph Rene Vilatte
Hubert A. Rogers
North American Old Roman Catholic Church – episcopal lineage:
de Landas Berghes
Carmel Carfora (twice consecraated: first by Vilatte and then by de Landas)
Hubert A. Rogers
Before examining these episcopal lineages, it would be good to review some of the Church’s relevant criteria for accepting validly of Orders.
1. Moral Certitude –
The minimum requirement for accepting validity of Holy Orders is moral certitude. Moral certitude is
· [that] “which excludes all prudent fear of error, such that the opposite is reputed as altogether improbable.” (St. Alphonsus, Theologia Moralis – Probable Conscience - English translation).
· “[W]hen error is impossible according to what is customary among mankind, the opposite of what is held by the mind being so unlikely that it would be imprudent to be moved by it.” (Moral Theology, Kinds of Certitude, Callan & McHugh, vol. 1, p. 223, 1929)
2. Private Moral Certitude Fails –
This is obvious. The Church is a public institution and her clergy are public ministers, so public moral certitude is the necessary criterion.
3. Presumption of Validity –
The Sacraments administered in the Catholic Church enjoy the “presumption of validity.” This is easily understandable when one considers the facts regarding them, i.e., the proper training of her ministers, the Church’s constant and vigilant oversight over her Sacraments, and especially the Divine protection (which the Catholic Church alone enjoys).
But when dealing with non-Catholic churches, one or more of these safeguards is always absent, which is why one cannot presume validity of the Sacraments conferred by non-Catholic sects (There are over 43,000 different Christian sects worldwide. Presuming valid Sacraments in them all is of course preposterous). This is both self-evident and easily deducible by the practice of the Catholic Church herself when she makes those rare pronouncements regarding the validity of some Sacraments in certain non-Catholic sects. The Old Catholic Church is one of these rare exceptions in which Catholic authorities have stated that this non-Catholic sect had valid Holy Orders. The problem here is that not a single person in the two lineages given above was an Old Catholic (as will be shown), and consequently none of them enjoy this presumption of validity.
4. Sacramental Matter of Recipient –
For the valid reception of the Sacrament of Orders the recipient must be a
baptized male. Very simple, but very relevant here.
I. African Orthodox Church
This schismatic and heretical sect is so far removed from moral certitude that one is inclined not even to waste any time on them. But for the sake of completeness, here it is (in brief):
1. Antonio Alverez – a disgruntled Portuguese priest who left the Catholic Church when Pope Leo XIII revoked the right of investiture enjoyed by the Portuguese royalty. After abandoning Catholicism, Alverez went to the schismatical Jacobites and got himself consecrated.
2. Alverez consecrated Rene Vilatte, who was a baptized Catholic. As a young man Vilatte left the Catholic Church and first joined the Episcopalians and then later the Old Catholic Church, in which he was ordained a priest. Both of these churches later rejected him. Vilatte then went hunting for a bishop’s mitre and finally convinced Antonio Alverez to give him one. The validity of this consecration is much contested and widely publicized, which of itself destroys moral certitude, since the arguments against validity are far from frivolous.
Moreover, whatever the merits of the arguments for or against the validity of his consecration, what is certain is that he sought in vain for a pronouncement from the Catholic Church that his episcopal consecration was valid, even though he joined the Catholic Church before his death. Furthermore, when he died he was buried in the Catholic Church as a lay man, not as a bishop. Moral certitude is lacking with Vilatte’s episcopal Orders.
3. Vilatte consecrated George McGuire. McGuire and a group of other Negros left the Protestant Episcopalian Church and started the African Orthodox Church. Besides Vilatte’s doubtful episcopacy, McGuire had another problem inasmuch as he was baptized as a Protestant. So even accepting arguendo, that Vilatte was a valid bishop, McGuire’s doubtful baptism alone would introduce sufficient doubt to destroy moral certitude regarding his Orders.
4. McGuire consecrated William Robertson, There’s not much information about Robertson other than the fact that he was consecrated by McGuire and succeeded him in the African Orthodox Church. There is no evidence that Robertson was ever a Catholic or even validly baptized outside the Catholic Church. Moral certitude is lacking here too.
5. Robertson consecrated Hubert A. Rogers. Rogers was raised as a Methodist (while Methodist baptisms are presumed to be valid in marriage cases, that presumption does not carry over to Holy Orders)[i]. He was ordained in the African Orthodox Church by George McGuire in 1928, and consecrated by William Robertson in 1937.
So by the time we get to Daniel Brown, we have doubtful Orders (starting with Vilatte), further accompanied by three sets of doubtful baptisms (McGuire, Robertson and Rogers). This lineage totally fails.
II. North American Old Roman Catholic Church
One would be mistaken to presume that the relevant characters of this lineage (Mathew, de Landas, Carfora and Rogers) were similar to Catholic clergymen excepting one or two points of disputed doctrine, as some of their advocates would have us believe. On the contrary, these men were all loose cannons whose religious views changed whenever and wherever opportunities knocked – religious mercenaries, if you will. I would encourage the reading of the book Bishops at Large by Peter Anson (a Catholic author) in order to get a good feel for just how unstable these characters were.
1. Arnold Mathew –
Mathew was ordained in the Catholic Church and consecrated by Old Catholic bishop Geradus Gul after abandoning Catholicism. Mathew is presumed to have had valid Holy Orders. What faith he professed though is anybody’s guess as he went “to the Church of England, then to the Church of Rome, then to the Church of England again, then to the Old Catholics, then to the Eastern Church, then to the independent organization (under his headship), then to the Church of Rome again, and now to the Church of England again” (Anglican Archbishop Davidson, Anson, ibid., 206). During all of this he managed to get married, have three kids, and then get legally separated. In one of his attempts at rejoining the Anglican Church “he was quite prepared to be re-ordained again conditionally if this would make things easier.” (Anson, ibid., 209).
Mathew himself didn’t even seem to know what he was religiously – “After his complete breach with the Old Catholics of Holland in 1910, he describes himself as ‘Catholic Bishop,’ or, again as ‘Bishop in England and Ireland of the English Catholic Church,’ called a few weeks later ‘The Western Orthodox Catholic Church in Great Britain and Ireland.’ Shortly afterwards the title used is ‘Archbishop of London.’ In March 1911, the title is ‘Archbishop and Metropolitan of the English Catholic Church.’ This became ‘The Catholic Church in England, Latin Uniate Branch,’ and two months later, ‘The Catholic Church in England, Latin and Orthodox United,’ under the leader described as ‘Archbishop of England,’ and subsequently as ‘Sa Grandeur Mgr. A. H. Mathieu, Archeveque de Londres, Comte de Landave, Metropolitain de la Grande-Bretagne et d’Irlande, Eveque provisiore de l’Eglise Catholique-Francaise.’ ” (Anson, 200)
If all of this wasn’t confusing enough “Mathew’s episcopal seal, some documents and other papers also disappeared mysteriously. Thus any document with his seal would not in itself be a proof of consecration or ordination.” (Anson, 215).
In all of this confusion, one thing is clear, however, and very germane: except for a short stint of 2 ½ years, he was not part of the Old Catholic Church. His consecration of de Landas happened 3 years after his departure from the Old Catholic Church, so the presumption of valid episcopal Orders enjoyed by the Old Catholics terminates here. The burden of proof has just shifted.
2. de Landas Berghes –
de Landas was consecrated by Arnold Mathew and one might think that he consequently had valid Orders, because few challenge the validity of Mathew’s Orders. But as is so often the case with non-Catholic clergy, things get foggy very quickly.
A. After being consecrated by Mathew, de Landas came to the U.S. and ministered in the Protestant Episcopal Church. A few years later he claimed for himself the title of Archbishop of the Old Roman Catholic Church of America, which church later morphed into the North American Old Roman Catholic Church (both were new inventions and received no recognition by the Old Catholics). He later applied to become a minister in the Protestant Episcopal Church once again, but when they denied his request, he joined the Catholic Church (and according to A History of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church by Jonathan Trela, was in the process of abandoning Catholicism when death overtook him). Of importance here is the fact that at no time was he recognized as a member of the Old Catholic Church, and thus his Orders do not enjoy the presumption of validity that Old Catholic Orders enjoy.
B. de Landas had an identity problem. Wikipedia identifies the following different names he went by:
i. Rt. Rev. Bishop Prince de Landas Berghes et de Rache
ii. Rodolphe Francois Ghislain de Lorraine de Landas Berghes St. Winock
iii. Bishop de Landas Berghes
iv. Rodolphe Francois Ghislain de Lorraine de Landas Berghes St. Winock
v. Rodolphus Franciscus Edouarus St. Patricius Alphonsus Ghislain de Gramont Hamilton de Lorraine, Archiepiscopus Ecclesia Veteris Romanae Catholicae Americae, Princeps de Landas-Berghes St Winock et de Rache
vi. Count de Landes Berghes e de Roche
vii. Most Reverend Prince and Duke de Landas Berghes St. Winock et de Rache, Rodolph Francois St. Patrice Alphonsus Ghislain de Gramont-Hamilton de Lorraine
viii. Dr. Berghes
Will the real de Landas please stand up! Outside of “de Landas Berges” he didn’t seem to know exactly who he was.
Further challenging his real identity are several sources which cite de Landas as stating that he served in the English army, yet in a New York Supreme Court law suit, defendant (writer Cunliffe-Owen) filed with the court a statement that the army lists “do not contain a name similar to his.” (New York Tribune, 2/9/1916). Cunliffe-Owen also published an article about de Landas in which he stated that the royal house, from which de Landas claimed he hailed from, went extinct prior to de Landas. There was no royal house.
So who exactly was this guy? It’s rather difficult trying to establish that a particular person had valid Orders when you can’t even establish that particular person’s identity.
C. But more importantly, moral certitude is not only lacking as to his identity, but also as to the validity of his Orders. In 1919 de Landas “made submission to the Roman See. He did this with the understanding that his episcopal character would be recognized and that he would be allowed to function as a bishop. A condition of recognition was that he retire to a monastery and join an Order... No official indication from Rome concerning his status was forthcoming. Liking not the role of a lowly novice, nor non-recognition as a ranking prelate by Rome, de Landas resolved to join the NAORCC [North American Old Roman Catholic Church], shepherded now by Carmel Henry Carfora. In mid November, 1920, Bishop Carfora arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in order to escort de Landas back to Chicago. When the prince-bishop failed to keep his prearranged rendezvous, Carfora contacted the Augustinian community. He was informed that on November 17th, ... de Landas... had died. In accordance with Canon Law, de Landas was buried in the habit of the order of St. Augustine with Roman Rites in the community cemetery at Villanova.” (A History of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, ibid., 1979, p. 16-17)
The Wikipedia article on de Landas says that he was “buried in the monastery's cemetery with full episcopal honors by the Roman Catholic Church.” This is incorrect. It is noteworthy that there are no references cited for this gratuitous statement. Furthermore, the picture below of de Landas’ tombstone argues otherwise. This is not how the Catholic Church inters bishops.
D. But most importantly, while some sources say that de Landas was raised as a Catholic, at least one source cites de Landas himself stating that he was raised in the Low Anglican Church. (À propos du mouvement pour l'union des Églises en Angleterre, en Amérique et en Orien, G. Rieutortm, Échos d'Orient, 1920, Vol. 19, Issue 119, pp. 331-360). This is important because Anglican baptisms are doubtfully valid and consequently any Holy Orders received by de Landas must of necessity also be considered as doubtfully valid. Moral certitude is lacking with de Landas.
3. Carmel Carfora –
Carfora was a Catholic priest who left the Catholic Church after having a dispute with his bishop. He was first consecrated by Vilatte, but later got himself conditionally re-consecrated by de Landas (which suggests that he too had doubts about the validity of Vilatte’s Holy Orders, even back then). So what we wind up with here is two sources of doubtful Orders; doubtful Orders by Vilatte and doubtful Orders by de Landas. Two sources of doubtful Orders do not get us to moral certitude.
Further complicating matters are the consecrations performed by Carfora. In this Carfora makes Bishop Thuc look reserved, Carfora having consecrated about 30 people (Trela lists 25 by names and dates) compared to Thuc’s comparatively modest 15 consecrations. But was Carfora more careful about whom he consecrated than was the careless Bishop Thuc? The answer is no. “Carfora appears to have consecrated a multitude of strange people, so many, so strange, that a few years ago I refused to have anything more to do with any of them.” (Old Catholic Archbishop – Bernard Williams. Anson, ibid., p. 432) And this: “Among Carfora’s multitude of bishops and priests were Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, West Indian negroes, mulattoes, ex-Roman Catholic priests, lapsed Episcopalian pastors, several Mexicans, and other men whose past history did not always bear close examination.” (Anson, ibid, p. 432) Hardly the stuff moral certitude is made out of.
4. Hubert A. Rogers –
Of all of the weak links in the episcopal chain we are examining, the West Indian Negro Hubert Rogers has to be the weakest link of them all.
A. He was raised as a Methodist and as already noted above, his baptism is consequently doubtful. That alone destroys moral certitude in his regard.
B. When Rogers quit the African Orthodox Church and joined the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, Carfora conditionally re-consecrated him. But what the doubtfully valid Carfora failed to do was to conditionally re-baptize and to conditionally re-ordain Rogers, whose baptism was doubtful and whose Orders were almost certainly invalid, both of which are invalidating impediments to a valid episcopacy.
C. Like his predecessors, Rogers seemed to care little about the quality of those whom he supposedly consecrated; his first consecration being none other than his firstborn son.
D. He concluded his life as a minister in the Methodist Church.
5. Daniel Brown –
Information about Brown is very scanty. A newspaper obituary headline reads: “Cartoonist Dan Brown dies...” (Sandusky Register, 10/1/81). Trela states that Brown was the editor of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church publication “The Augustinian” in 1969, which wars against what I had been told in Community, namely that Brown joined the NAORCC only to preserve episcopal Hold Orders for the traditional Catholic Church.
But the fact that there is essentially no information about Brown challenges moral certitude. How is one to prove validity of Orders in the absence of evidence? The fact that he was satisfactory examined by some of our Community members in the past is not sufficient. We don’t accept validity of Orders from others based solely on an internal investigation conducted by them without some external proof; neither should others accept it from us. As noted above, the Church is a public institution served by public ministers. Proof of the validity of Holy Orders needs to pass the test of public (not private) scrutiny.
6. Francis Schuckardt –
The form of the Sacrament of Orders requires certain words to be spoken for the validity of the Sacrament. The Church understands by “words” the use of one’s God-given components to accomplish this, i.e., audible and intelligible words originating in the lower part of the body and terminating from the mouth. The problem here is that due to throat cancer Francis Schuckardt’s voice box had been surgically removed and a plastic valve inserted in the void, thereby altering the normal process of speaking. I know of the arguments in favor of validity of the ordinations and consecrations he performed at this juncture, and I think that they are strong arguments; nevertheless, there is no theological support or historical precedent whatsoever for this. It’s a novelty, and novelties militate against moral certitude.
If the case against moral certitude that confronts us simply rested upon a single issue, such as a single doubtful baptism, careful research might be able to overcome that. But here we have layer upon layer of doubt: multiple doubtful Orders and multiple doubtful Baptisms, further complicated by lack of historical evidence and a consecration novelty. I don’t know how one can possibly overcome all of these challenges to moral certitude. If you think that you can do it, I’m all ears.
[i] “The Supreme Sacred Congregation establishes a presumption in favor of the validity of these baptisms "in diiudicandis causis matrimonialibus ". The presumption applies therefore only to decisions in matrimonial cases. In accordance with the axiom, "Legislator, quod voluit expressit, quod noluit tacuit ", the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office did not intend to establish this presumption as a solution for all doubts concerning the validity of these baptisms.” (The Jurist, Catholic University of America, Vol. 11, p. 193, 1951)