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July 15, 2004

With the Courage of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More:

Father Zigrang Suspended by Bishop Joseph Fiorenza

by Thomas A. Droleskey

Catholics exhibit fidelity to the Tradition of Holy Mother Church in many ways. Each of us has a distinctive, unrepeatable immortal soul that has personal characteristics of its own not shared by anyone else. Not even identical twins are the same in every respect. This plurality of souls in the Mystical Bride of Christ is reflected in the many different communities of men and women religious that have developed over the Church’s history. Each community has its own charism and mission. Ideally, each community of men and women religious should be totally faithful to everything contained in the Deposit of Faith and expressed and protected in the authentic Tradition of the Church. The means of expressing this fidelity, however, will vary from community to community.

What is true of communities of men and women religious is true also of us all, including our priests. Some priests have the patience of Saint Francis de Sales or Saint John Bosco, meek and mild, able to handle the rough seas that beset Holy Mother Church and/or themselves personally with perfect equanimity. Other priests have had the bluntness of St. John Mary Vianney and St. Padre Pio, mincing no words in their sermons about the necessity of rooting out sin and the possibility of going to Hell for all eternity. Both St. John Mary Vianney and St. Padre Pio were devoted to their role as an alter Christus in the confessional, using that hospital of Divine Mercy to administer the infinite merits of Our Lord’s Most Precious Blood to bring sacramental absolution to those to whom they had preached in blunt terms.

In addition to fidelity, though, there are different ways of expressing courage in the midst of persecutions and sufferings. Some Catholics stood up quite directly to the unjust and illicit dictates of the English Parliament, which had been passed at the urging of King Henry VIII, at the time of the Protestant Revolt in England. Others kept their silence for as long as was possible, as was the case with Saint Thomas More, who discharged his mind publicly only after he had been found guilty on the basis of perjured testimony of denying the supremacy of the king as the head of the Church in England. Some priests in the Elizabethan period, such as St. Edmund Campion, almost dared officials to arrest them as they went to different locales to offer Holy Mass or as they took groups to the Tower of London. Other priests went quietly from house to house to offer the Traditional Mass underground as both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in England used every sort of pressure imaginable to convince holdout “Romans” to go over to Protestantism and worship in the precusor liturgy of our own Novus Ordo Missae. Still other newly ordained priests came over from France, knowing that they might be able to offer only one Mass in England before they were arrested and executed.

The same thing occurred in France 255 years after the arrest and execution of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More. Some priests simply stood up to the agents of the French Revolution. Others, such as Blessed Father William Chaminade, donned disguises as they went from place to place, much as Blessed Padre Miguel Augustin Pro did in Mexico prior to his execution at the hands of the Masonic revolutionaries in Mexico on November 23, 1927. Ignatius Cardinal Kung, then the Bishop of Shanghai, China, was hauled before a dog-track stadium in his see city in 1956 before thousands of spectators. The Red Chinese authorities expected him to denounce the pope and thus to save himself from arrest. The brave bishop exclaimed the same thing as Blessed Padre Miguel Augustin Pro, “Long live Christ the King,” and was hauled off to spend over thirty years in prison before being released. Oh, yes, there are so many ways for priests to demonstrate their fidelity and courage in the midst of persecutions and sufferings.

Well, many bishops and priests who are faithful to the fullness of the Church’s authentic Tradition have been subjected to a unspeakable form of persecution in the past thirty-five to forty years: treachery from within the highest quarters of the Church herself. Men who have held fast to that which was believed always, everywhere and by everyone prior for over 1,900 years found themselves termed as “disobedient,” “schismatic,” “heretical,” and “disloyal” for their resisting novelties that bore no resemblance to Catholicism and a great deal of resemblance to the very things that were fomented by Martin Luther and John Calvin and Thomas Cranmer, things for which Catholics half a millennium ago shed their blood rather than accept. Many priests who have tried to remain faithful to Tradition within the framework of a diocesan or archdiocesan structure have been sent to psychiatric hospitals or penalized by being removed from their pastorates or by being denied pastorates altogether. Others, though, have faced more severe penalties.

Angelus Press, which is run by the Society of Saint Pius X, put out a book earlier this year, Priest, Where is Thy Mass? Mass, Where is Thy Priest?, which discussed the stories of seventeen priests who had decided to offer only the Traditional Latin Mass and to never again offer the Novus Ordo Missae. One of those priests is my good friend, Father Stephen Zigrang, who offered the Traditional Latin Mass in his [now] former parish of Saint Andrew Church in Channelview, Texas, on June 28-29, 2003, telling his parishioners that he would never again offer the new Mass.

As I reported extensively at this time last year, Father Zigrang was placed on a sixty day leave-of-absence by the Bishop of Galveston-Houston, the Most Reverend Joseph Fiorenza, and told to seek psychological counseling, preferably from Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. Father Zigrang took his two month leave of absence, making a retreat at Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Winona, Minnesota, in early August of last year, returning to the Houston area to take up residence in the Society’s Queen of Angels Chapel in Dickinson, Texas. Bishop Fiorenza met with Father Zigrang in early September, seeming at the time to let him stay for a year with the Society while the diocese continued to pay his health insurance premiums. Within days of that early September meeting, however, Fiorenza was threatening to suspend Father Zigrang by the beginning of October if he did not vacate Queen of Angels and return to a diocesan assignment.

October of 2003 came and went. Father Zigrang heard no word from Bishop Fiorenza or the chancery office until he received the following letter, dated Jun 10, 2004:

Dear Father Zigrang:

Once more I appeal to you to cease your association with the Society of St. Pius X and return to your responsibilities as a priest of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston

Your continued association with a schismatic group which has severed communion with the Holy Father is confusing and a scandal to many of Christ’s faithful. You are well aware that without appropriate jurisdiction the marriages witnessed and confessions heard by the priests of the St. Society of St. Paul X are invalid and people are being lead to believe otherwise. You are also aware that the Holy See has asked the faithful not to attend Masses celebrated in the Chapels of the Society of St. Pius X.

I plead with you to return by July 1, 2004, to the presbyterate of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and receive a priestly assignment from me. This letter serves as a penal precept (c. 1319) and is a final canonical warning (c. 1347.1). If I do not hear from you by June 30, 2004, I will impose a just penalty for disobeying a legitimate precept (c. 1371.2). The just penalty may include suspension (c. 133.1), nn 1-2: prohibition of all acts of the power of orders and governance.

I offer this final warning after consultation with the Holy See and will proceed to impose a penalty if you persist in disobedience to a legitimate precept. It is my fervent hope and constant prayer that you not remain out of union with the Holy Father.

Fraternally in Christ,

Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston

Reverend R. Troy Gately, Vice Chancellor

Overlooking Bishop Fiorenza’s John Kerry-like gaffe in terming the Society of Saint Pius X the “St. Society of St. Paul X,” the letter reproduced above makes the erroneous assertion that the Society of Saint Pius X is in schism and that they are not in communion with the Holy Father. A series of articles in The Remnant has dealt with this very issue at great length. Fiorenza’s contentions that the marriages witnessed and the confessions heard by the Society of Saint Pius X are invalid also flies in the face of the fact that the Holy See “regularized” the Society of Saint John Mary Vianney in Campos, Brazil, without demanding the convalidation of the marriages their priests had witnessed and without asking that their confessions be re-heard. The glaring inconsistency of the canonical rhetoric of Vatican functionaries and their actual practices continues to be lost on Bishop Fiorenza. Cardinal Hoyos told the new president of Una Voce International, Ralf Siebenbürger, one thing about the Campos situation earlier this year and The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture something a little different a few months later. [Readers can judge the matter for themselves by examining footnotes one and two at the end of this article.]

Father Zigrang did not respond to Bishop Fiorenza’s June 10 letter. He received another letter, dated July 2, 2004, the contents of which are so explosive as to contain implications for the state of the Church far beyond the case of Father Zigrang and far beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston:

Dear Father Zigrang:

With great sadness I inform you that, effective immediately, you are suspended from the celebration of all sacraments, the exercise of governance and all rights attached to the office of pastor (Canon 1333.1, nn 1-2-3).

This action is taken after appropriate canonical warnings (canon 1347) and failure to obey my specific directive that you cease the affiliation with the schismatic Society of St. Pius X and accept an assignment to serve as a priest of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston (Canon 1371.2).

I want to repeat what I have said to you in person and in the written canonical warnings, that I prayerfully urge you to not break communion with the Holy Father and cease to be associated with the schism which rejects the liciety of the Novus Ordo Mass, often affirmed by Pope John Paul II. This schism also calls into question the teachings of the Second Vatican Council regarding ecumenism and the enduring validity of the Old Testament covenant God established with the people of Israel.

Your return to full union with the Church and to the acceptance of an assignment to priestly ministry in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston will be joyfully received as an answer to prayer. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide you to renew the promise of obedience you made on the day of your ordination.

Fraternally in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston

Reverend Monsignor Frank H. Rossi
cc: His Eminence, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Commissio Ecclesia Dei

Bishop Fiorenza’s July 2, 2004, letter is riddled with errors.

First, The Society of Saint Pius X does not reject the liciety of the Novus Ordo Missae. Its founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, criticized the nature of the Novus Ordo and pointed out its inherent harm. That is far different from saying that the Novus Ordo is always and in all instances invalid. Is Bishop Fiorenza claiming that any criticism of the Novus Ordo and efforts to demonstrate how it is a radical departure from Tradition are schismatic acts? Is Father Romano Thommasi, for example, to be taken to task for writing scholarly articles, based on the very minutes of the Consilium, about how Archbishop Annibale Bugnini lied about the true origin of the some constituent elements of the Novus Ordo? [See footnote three below for an elaboration on this point in response to a reader's objection.]

Second, the Society is not, as noted above, in schism, at least not as that phrase was defined by the First Vatican Council. The Society recognizes that the See of Peter is occupied at present by Pope John Paul II. Its priests pray for the Holy Father and for the local bishop in the Canon of the Mass. The Society can be said to be disobedient to the Holy Father’s unjust edicts and commands. The Society of Saint Pius X is not in schism.

Third, Bishop Fiorenza seems to be stating that ecumenism is a de fide dogma of the Catholic Church from which no Catholic may legitimately dissent. If this is his contention, it is he who is grave error. Ecumenism is a pastoral novelty that was specifically condemned by every Pope prior to 1958. Pope Pius XI did so with particular eloquence in Mortalium Animos in 1928. Novelties that are not consonant with the authentic Tradition of the Church bind no one under penalty of sin, no less binds a priest under penalty of canonical suspension. A rejection of ecumenism constitutes in no way a schismatic act.

Fourth, Bishop Fiorenza’s assertion that the “Old Testament covenant God established with the people of Israel” is enduringly valid is itself heretical. No human being can be saved by a belief in the Mosaic Covenant, which was superceded in its entirety when the curtain was torn in two in the Temple on Good Friday at the moment Our Lord had breathed His last on the Holy Cross. It is a fundamental act of fidelity to the truths of the Holy Faith to resist and to denounce the heretical contention, made in person by Bishop Fiorenza to Father Zigrang last year, that Jews are saved by the Mosaic Covenant. Were the Apostles, including the first pope, Saint Peter, wrong to try to convert the Jews? Was Our Lord joking when He said that a person had no life in him if he did not eat of His Body and drink of His Blood?

Fifth, Bishop Fiorenza has failed repeatedly to take into account Father Zigrang’s aboslute rights under Quo Primum to offer the Immemorial Mass of Tradition without any episcopal approval:

Furthermore, by these presents [this law], in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used. Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever order or by whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us.

We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is to be forced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force–notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See, as well as any general or special constitutions or edicts of provincial or synodal councils, and notwithstanding the practice and custom of the aforesaid churches, established by long and immemoial prescription–except, however, if of more than two hundred years’ standing. Therefore, no one whosoever is permitted to alter this letter or heedlessly to venture to go contrary to this notice of Our permission., statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Should anyone, however, presume to commit such an act, he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

It is apparently the case that Bishop Fiorenza received a “green light,” if you will, to act against Father Zigrang from Dario Cardinal Castrillion Hoyos, who is both the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and the President of Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, to whom a copy of the July 2, 2004, suspension letter was sent. Father Zigrang surmises that Bishop Fiorenza brought up the issue of his case during the bishops’ ad limina apostolorum visit in Rome recently. Father believes that Cardinal Hoyos wants to send a signal to priests who might be tempted to follow his lead that Rome will let bishops crack down on them without mercy and without so much as an acknowledgment that Quo Primum actually means what it says. Whether or not the specific “schismatic” acts Father Zigrang is alleged to have committed by being associated with the Society of Saint Pius X at Queen of Angels Church in Dickinson, Texas, were outlined to Cardinal Hoyos by Bishop Fiorenza remains to be seen.

Naturally, the grounds on which Bishop Fiorenza suspended Father Zigrang are beyond the sublime. As my dear wife Sharon noted, “Doesn’t Bishop Fiorenza have a better canon lawyer on his staff than the one who advised him on the grounds of suspending Father Zigrang.” Indeed. However, Father Zigrang pointed out to me in an e-mail dated July 15, 2004, that the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was "suspended" in 1973 for "disobedience to the Pope [Paul VI] and the [Second Vatican] Council." Thus,  Bishop Fiorenza might just be following the unjust precedent set by the Vatican itself, simply refining the supposedly "binding" nature of Vatican II novelties in his July 2, 2004, letter to Father Zigrang.

The very fact that Fiorenza could make these incredible claims and believes that he has a good chance of prevailing in Rome speaks volumes about the state of the Church in her human elements at present. Will Rome let the bishops govern unjustly and make erroneous assertions about “schism” as well as heretical claims (that a priest must accept that Jews are saved by the Mosaic Covenant and that ecumenism is a matter of de fide doctrine) with its full assent and approval? Will Rome countenance the same sort of misuse of power by local bishops upon traditional priests in the Twenty-first Century that was visited upon “Romans” by the civil state and the Anglican “church” in England from 1534 to 1729? The answers to these questions are probably self-evident. Putting them down in black and white, though, might help priests who are looking to Rome for some canonical protection for the Traditional Latin Mass to come to realize that they wait in vain for help from the Holy See, where the Vicar of Christ occupies himself at present with the writing of a book about existentialism!

There will be further updates on this matter as events warrant. Father Zigrang is weighing his options as to how to respond to the allegations contained in Bishop Fiorenza’s letter of suspension, understanding that the answers provided by the Holy See will have implications of obviously tremendous gravity. Given the intellectual dishonesty that exists in Rome at present, Father Zigrang’s case may only be decided on the technical grounds of “obedience” to his bishop, ignoring all of the other issues, including the rights of all priests under Quo Primum offer the Traditional Latin Mass without approval and their rights to never be forced to offer Holy Mass according to any other form.

To force Rome to act on what it might otherwise avoid, perhaps it might be wise for someone to bring a canonical denunciation of Bishop Fiorenza for his contentions about ecumenism and the “enduring validity” of the Mosaic Covenant, spelling out in chapter and verse how these things have been condemned in the history of the Church. Then again, Fiorenza could “defend” himself by simply pointing to the Pope himself, which is precisely why this matter has such grave implications. This matter is certain to be explored in great detail in the weeks and months ahead by competent canonists and by theologians who understand the authentic Tradition of the Catholic Church.

Father Zigrang noted the following in an e-mail to me dated July 14, 2004:

I examined canon 1371.2 (the canon that the Bishop says warrants my suspension), checking a good commentary, the disobedience of an Ordinary's legitimate precept may warrant a just penalty but not weighty enough to warrant a censure (e.g. suspension). I think this point may have been missed by the Bishop's hired canon lawyer, when the Bishop was weighing his options about what to do with one of his wayward priests. As I said to you before, the Bishop has a history of not suspending priests, even those who commit crimes beyond mere disobedience. Although lately I've been told he recently suspended a priest who attempted marriage with one of his parishioners. This was done about the time my suspension was in the works.

Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, pray for Father Zigrang.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for all priests in Father Zigrang’s situation so that they will be aided by their seeking refuge in you in their time of persecution and trial.


Footnote One [From Ralf Siebenbürger's report on his meeting with Cardinal Hoyos]:

The Cardinal repeated that they dropped any idea to give us a proper jurisdiction. He mentioned that such a proper jurisdiction had only been granted to the Fraternity of St John Vianney at Campos, as the founder of that Fraternity, Bishop de Castro Mayer, had gone much farther than Archbishop Lefebvre. The Cardinal underlined that Archbishop Lefebvre had never founded a proper structure of his fraternity that could be considered as a concrete act of schism. In contrary, Bishop de Castro Mayer had founded a counter-diocese which had been a clear schism. In order to solve this schism, the proper jurisdiction had been granted to the Fraternity and to ist faithful at Campos. The Cardinal rejected the opinion to regard the Ancient Rite to be a rite for its own like f. e. the Byzantinian or the Armenian Rite. "There is only one Roman Rite", underlined the Cardinal verbally, "and this Roman Rite has different forms." So, according to him, the Ancient Rite is not a rite in its own right, but the Ancient Rite and the Novus Ordo are two forms of one and the same rite. In the same time, the Cardinal said that The Holy See is still looking for a solution for the easier application of the indult without granting us a proper jurisdiction, keeping in mind the above-mentioned opinion.

Footnote Two [From The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture]:

Q: Eminence, the establishment of the Apostolic Administration Saint John Mary Vianney of Campos in Brazil, seems to be a successful attempt to bring together those diverse sensitivities within the Church?

A: Certainly! First of all we have to see the action of Divine Providence: who would ever have imagined, two years before the Great Jubilee, that from an irregular situation like that of Campos, would have come a sign of hope for the whole traditionalist world and yet another concrete proof, among so many others, that different degrees of awareness can coexist within the one Church of Christ.

Indeed, that situation was somewhat complicated: after the resignation of Bishop Castro Mayer as Bishop of the Diocese of Campos, gradually the "Saint John Mary Vianney Association" began to coalesce with the involvement of priests, forms of religious life and a community of the faithful, becoming like a parallel structure to the diocese. Obviously it was a grave situation. Furthermore, taking into account that the Episcopal ordination of Mons. Rangel, who presided over this group, had occurred through the intervention of the excommunicated Bishops of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, in such a way that he had also incurred an automatic excommunication ("latae sententiae"). Thank God the group of Campos has come out of a situation which could have brought about a state of formal schism.

So, where there had been a bishop, priests and a group of independent faithful, the same Mons. Rangel and his priests, by an act of humility and repentance, responding to the invitation of the Holy Father, now felt an obligation in conscience to reenter into full communion with the Church, recognizing that the conditions of what they had considered as a so called "state of necessity" no longer existed. Thus a completely new situation was brought into being. It is worthwhile to remember the words of Our Lord, "Thus, I make all things new".

I would like to underline that this has been possible "due to an act of humility and of repentance" of the Priestly Association of "St. John Marie Vianney", that recognized that it could not carry on the battle in favor of tradition without an affective and effective link with the Vicar of Christ and the Apostolic See.

History, indeed, much more than any other teacher, shows us that no one has borne fruit in the Church without the blessing of the Holy Father.

We need to walk with Peter to avoid losing the right path. Bishop Licinio Rangel, with all the Campos community, after the reconciliation, effected an historical agreement with the Apostolic See, and now is under the light of the Sun, while before, that community, I could say, was under the shadow of an irregular situation, that made both them, and us, suffer.

Now we no longer have "them" on one side, and "us" on the other: we have full unity. Indeed, the climate of collaboration established between the Apostolic Administration, Saint John Marie Vianney ,and the local diocese, not only in Campos, but also among the other Dioceses of Brazil, is truly positive. There are bishops that request the Apostolic Administrator to send his priests to assist in their dioceses those faithful who are pertain to the ancient Tradition. In one Diocese, moreover, these priests have been asked to hear confessions in the local Cathedral.

The current Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Fernando Rifan, is an tireless builder of bridges. He demonstrates, with his personal witness, that this collaboration with the local episcopates is really possible, without sacrificing at all that identity that the Holy Father has recognized as legitimate for those Catholics attached to the previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin Tradition. The fact that the Holy Father granted to this Apostolic Administration the Rite of St. Pius V as its ordinary Rite, shows once more that His Holiness and the Apostolic See have responded with generosity to the legitimate request of the priests and the faithful of Campos.

Comment: If these two passages do not reflect the inconsistency of the postconciliar era, I don't know what does. Readers will just have to judge the matter for themselves.

Footnote Three:

A reader has objected that Bishop Fiorenza was referring to the Society's rejection of the licit nature of the Novus Ordo Missae, not its validity. A close examination of the my discussion of this matter in the text above will reveal that I addressed the criticism of the Novus Ordo in se as a liturgical abuse par excellence as well as the issue of validity. Even if one were to reject the licit nature of the Novus Ordo and to put into question the authority of the Roman Pontiff to supplant the Mass of Tradition, one would not be guilty of a schismatic act. The absurd claims made by Bishop Fiorenza in his letter about ecumenism and the "enduring validity of the Old Testament covenant God established with the people of Israel" make both the construction of the word liciety difficult to discern. In whatever sense he uses the term, however, this is clear: any criticism of the Novus Ordo and its promulgation is far from a schismatic act.



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