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Episcopal Consecration During Interregnums

By Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Our Lady of Ransom
September 24, 1996

Dearly beloved in Christ,

It has now been five years since His Excellency, the late Bishop Moises Carmona, bestowed episcopal consecration on me as a means to help preserve our precious Catholic Faith in these times of heresy and apostasy.

As welcome as the consecrations of traditional Catholic bishops have been amongst the majority of the faithful, there have also been some who would question the lawfulness of these consecrations on the grounds that the strict letter of the law prohibits a bishop from consecrating another bishop without a papal mandate.

It is most important that our Catholic faithful understand the theological principles involved in these matters in order to respond to those who would reject the Mass and the Sacraments offered by these bishops and the priests ordained by them.

In this pastoral letter, we will briefly review this subject and examine the following pertinent considerations:

1) the historical precedent of the consecration of bishops without papal mandate during the long inter-regnum (time between the death of one Pope and the election of another) between the reigns of Pope Clement IV and Pope Gregory X;

2) the definition of law, the nature of law, and the intrinsic cessation of law;

3) the subordination of lesser laws to the demands of higher laws.

Before we undertake each of these considerations, it is first necessary to establish that there is presently, and has been since the Second Vatican Council, a most serious crisis in the Catholic Church. Where once the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass had been offered in Catholic churches throughout the world, now in its place stands the New Mass (the Novus Ordo Missae) which does not represent a propitiatory (atonement for sin) sacrifice but a Protestant memorial of the Last Supper. In this New Mass, the very words of Christ in the sacramental form of the Holy Eucharist have been substantially altered, which, according to the Decree of Pope St. Pius V, De Defectibus, “invalidates the consecration.” Since the advent of the Second Vatican Council, the false doctrines of ecumenism and religious indifferentism (which have been condemned by many popes and councils, especially by Pope Pius IX) have been promulgated by the ordinary, universal teaching authority of the modern hierarchy under Paul VI and John Paul II where official recognition is given not only to non-Catholic sects (Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy), but also non- Christian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamism, Judaism), to mention a few. Now, the modern hierarchy accepts these other religions, encourages their members to pray to their gods, and attempts to promote the “good” in these religions.

How can one reconcile the infallible teachings of the Magisterium (teaching authority of the pope and bishops) of the Catholic Church prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) with the errors which have emanated from this same Council and which have continued to be promulgated by the modern hierarchy for the past thirty years?

The proper conclusion, the only conclusion that we can come to is that the modern hierarchy of the post-Conciliar Church of Vatican II cannot and does not represent the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. For Christ promised to be with His Apostles and their successors “all days even to the consummation of the world.” To His Apostles and their successors, Our Lord promised the assistance of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, Who would “abide with them forever.”

From the teachings of the First Vatican Council (1870), we know that the Catholic Church is infallible not only in her solemn decrees (the Pope teaching ex cathedra; the decrees of ecumenical councils) but also in her ordinary, universal teachings:

“Moreover, by divine and Catholic faith, everything must be believed that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, and that is proposed by the Church as a divinely revealed object of faith either in a solemn decree or in her ordinary, universal teaching.”

To think otherwise would be to imply that Christ has failed His Church and the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, Who abides with the Apostles and their successors, has abandoned the Church to fall into such manifest errors.

Under these unprecedented circumstances, we must consider the position of true Catholic bishops. Faced with the Great Apostasy predicted by St. Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, what were they to do? Were they to do nothing?

The opponents of the consecration of bishops in our times would answer in the affirmative. Thus, at the death of those traditional Catholic bishops who remained faithful to the true Faith, there would be no bishops left to succeed them. And without bishops, there would eventually be no priests, no Mass, and no sacraments.

Yet, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ promised His Apostles and their successors that He would “be with them all days even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20). In this regard the First Vatican Council taught:

“Therefore, just as He (Christ) sent the Apostles, whom He had chosen for Himself out of the world, as He Himself was sent by the Father (John 20:21), so also He wished shepherds and teachers to be in His Church until the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20)

In order to preserve the Catholic Faith, the holy priesthood and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, these bishops took appropriate measures to ensure the promise of Christ “that there be shepherds and teachers in His Church until the consummation of the world.”

These measures were taken without any intention to deny the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, the supreme authority of the pope. For these bishops and the priests whom they consecrated have whole-heartedly professed the Catholic Faith, which includes the doctrine concerning the primacy of jurisdiction and the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. Under the circumstances, the papal office, which will endure until the end of time, was vacant. Thus, there was an impossibility of obtaining a papal mandate to authorize the episcopal consecrations.

This leads us to consider the precedent found in ecclesiastical history for the consecration of bishops during the time of interregnum (the vacancy of the Apostolic See).

The following is an excerpt from Il Nuovo Osservatore Cattolico by Dr. Stephano Filiberto, who has a doctorate in Ecclesiastical History:

“On November 29, 1268, Pope Clement IV died, and there began one of the longest periods of interregnum or vacancy of the papal office in the history of the Catholic Church. The cardinals at that time were to assemble in conclave in the city of Viterbo, but through the intrigues of Carlo d’Anglio, King of Naples, discord was sown among the members of the Sacred College and the prospect of any election grew more and more remote.

“After almost three years, the mayor of Viterbo enclosed the cardinals in a palace, allowing them only strict living rations, until a decision would be made which would give to the Church its visible Head. At last, on September 1, 1271, Pope Gregory X was elected to the Chair of Peter.

“During this long period of vacancy of the Apostolic See, vacancies also occurred in many dioceses throughout the world. In order that the priests and faithful might not be left without shepherds, bishops were elected and consecrated to fill the vacant sees. There were accomplished during this time twenty-one known elections and consecrations in various countries. The most important aspect of this historical precedent is that all of these consecrations of bishops were ratified by Pope Gregory X, who consequently affirmed the lawfulness of such consecrations.”

Here are a few examples of the bishops thus consecrated at the time of vacancy of the Apostolic See:

1) In Avranches, France, Radulfus de Thieville, consecrated November, 1269;
2) In Aleria, Corsica, Nicolaus Forteguerra, consecrated 1270;
3) In Antivari, Epiro (Northwestern Greece), Caspar Adam, O.P., consecrated 1270;
4) In Auxerre, France, Erardus de Lesinnes, consecrated January, 1271;
5) In Cagli, Italy, Jacobus, consecrated September 8, 1270;
6) In Le Mans, France, Geoffridus d’Asse, consecrated 1270;
7) In Cefalu, Sicily, Petrus Taurs, consecrated 1269;
8) In Cervia, Italy, Theodoricus Borgognoni, O.P., consecrated 1270.

At this point, those who oppose the consecration of traditional Catholic bishops in our times might argue that the historical precedent cited was 700 years ago and that Pope Pius XII, in view of the illicit consecrations of bishops in the schismatic National Church of China, decreed that any consecration of a bishop performed without papal mandate carried with it the penalty of ipso facto excommunication for the consecrator and the consecrated.

In order to answer this objection, it is necessary to understand the nature of law. It is precisely from the lack of clear knowledge of the principles of law that many traditional Catholics fall into error. St. Thomas Aquinas defines law as an ordinance of right reason made for the common good promulgated by one who has authority in that society. Let us note “made for the common good.” In the time of Pope Pius XII, no bishop could lawfully consecrate another bishop without papal mandate, and this was for the common good of the Church. However, a law may, through the course of time and by a radical change in circumstances, cease to be for the common good and as such, cease to be binding. A law may cease in two ways: extrinsic cessation (the legislator abrogates the law) and intrinsic cessation (the law ceases to be a law, as it has ceased to be for the common good).

As Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Professor of Canon Law at the Pontifical Institute of Canon and Civil Law in Rome, taught in his commentary:

“A law ceases intrinsically when its purpose ceases; the law ceases of itself... the law ceases extrinsically when it is revoked by the Superior.

“Relative to the first way: The end (either of its purpose or its cause) of the law ceases adequately when all its purposes cease. The purpose of the law ceases contrariwise when an injurious law becomes either unjust or impossible of observance.”

Thus, in our present times, the strict observance of Pope Pius XII’s decree on the prohibition of the consecration of bishops without papal mandate would become injurious to the salvation of souls. Without bishops, there would eventually be no priests, no Mass and no sacraments.

Was this the intention of the legislator, Pope Pius XII? Would he have wished his decree to be so strictly interpreted as to eventually bring about the end of apostolic succession? Obviously not.

Regarding another aspect of law, Archbishop Cicognani has explained — once again, in his Canon Law Commentary — the nature of epikeia:

“A human lawgiver is never able to foresee all the individual cases to which his law will be applied. Consequently, a law, though just in general, may, taken literally, lead in some unforeseen circumstances to results which agree neither with the intent of the lawgiver nor with natural justice, but rather contravene them. In such cases, the law must be expounded, not according to its wording, but according to the intent of the lawgiver.”

The following authors provide us with additional definitions for this aspect of law — epikeia: Bouscaren and Ellis: Canon Law, 1953:

Bouscaren and Ellis: Canon Law, 1953:
“An interpretation exempting one from the law, contrary to the clear words of the law, and in accordance with the mind of the legislator.”

Prummer: Moral Theology, 1955:
“A favorable and just interpretation not of the law itself but of the mind of the legislator, who is presumed to be unwilling to bind his subjects in extraordinary cases where the observance of his law would cause injury or impose too severe a burden.”

Besson: Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909:
“A favorable interpretation of the purpose of the legislator, which supposes that he did not intend to include a particular case within the scope of his law.”

Jone and Adelman: Moral Theology, 1951:
“The reasonable taking for granted that the lawgiver would not wish to oblige in some particularly difficult case even though the case is obviously covered by the wording of the law.”

A last consideration in this matter of Pope Pius XII’s decree is found in the very word law (in Latin, jus). It is derived from the Latin words justitia (justice) and justum (just), for all laws are meant to be good, equitable and just. This is the very characteristic of law. And of all laws, the ultimate law is the salvation of souls, “salus animarum, suprema lex.”

Pope Pius XII stated in his address to the clerical students of Rome on June 24, 1939:

“Canon law likewise is directed to the salvation of souls; and the purpose of all its regulations and laws is that men may live and die in the holiness given them by the grace of God.”

In order to spiritually survive today, we need the graces of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments. But in order to have them, we need priests, and in order to have priests, we must have bishops.

Let us thank Almighty God, Who, in His Providence, has foreseen the spiritual needs of His flock and has provided teachers and shepherds to carry on the mission of the Church “to teach all nations all things whatsoever He has commanded.”

In Christo Jesu et Maria Immaculata,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

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