Bishop Schneider: If a Bishop or Pope Commands Me to Sin, “I Have to Refuse”

Bishop Schneider: Aspects of Second Vatican Council Might Be Corrected in the Future; Priests Must Also Come to Resist at Times

On 16 February 2017, Rorate Caeli published an interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider, conducted in Mexico by a very polite and grateful Mauricio Ponce for Rorate Caeli and its Spanish partner, Adelante la Fe. John-Henry Westen from LifeSiteNews has already presented the bishop’s important words concerning the question as to whether, and under which conditions, Catholics might publicly criticize a pope. There are other statements from Bishop Schneider which are of great moral weight within the context of our current doctrinal and moral crisis in the Church.

With respect to several topics, the prelate spoke about the nature and status of the Second Vatican Council and whether some of its elements still might come to be corrected in the future; about the duty and right of priests to resist their own bishops when the Faith is clearly in danger; and about the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and their duty to preserve their integrity and identity for the sake of the Church.

When asked about the Second Vatican Council, Schneider showed that “the Council was primarily – as repeatedly stated even by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI – a pastoral council; not a doctrinal or dogmatic council;” and he added “so it was the intention of the Church not to give with its documents a definitive teaching.” Schneider continues: “And so when there is no definitive teaching, there can be some development of these issues still, or even some corrections. And this is normal.” [my emphasis]

Bishop Schneider then gives us an example from the Church’s history concerning the Ecumenical Council of Florence which decided that the matter of the sacramental ordination of a priest was the actual handing of the Chalice to the candidate, according to St. Thomas’ teaching. However, says Schneider, there were in the Middle Ages other theologians who held that the matter of the act of priestly ordination was the laying on of the hands upon the future priest. Schneider explains:

But it was an Ecumenical Council. But, actually, after the Council, the Church permitted discussion, even against this position. They were theologians, and the popes never prohibited it. […] And so it was 400 years or more, until [Pope] Pius XII, in 1947, definitively established that the materia [matter] of the ordination is only – only! – the laying down of the hands.

It is after giving this historical example that Bishop Schneider goes on to say:

So, and therefore, even at the Second Vatican Council, there are texts and formulations which can be even changed – in a similar manner as the Council of Florence – because they are not definitive. And so we should create an atmosphere of discussions even on the issues of Vatican II. It is not against the authority of the Magisterium [to do so]. [my emphasis]

In Schneider’s eyes, we have had, in the last 50 or 60 years, “a very unhealthy, extreme attitude to accept or to interpret and look at Vatican II and its documents almost as infallible, ex cathedra. And this is not true.”

It is in this context that Bishop Schneider gives consent to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s criticism of some elements of the Council:

And, therefore, I think that the just critics [i.e., criticism] of Monsignor Lefebvre and of the Society of St. Pius X to [concerning] some – not to the entire Council, no! – but to some expressions is really a help, will be a help for the Church. And when the Society of St. Pius X will be completely integrated as a canonical institute of the Church they can really officially give to the Church a good contribution to a necessary theological discussion and deepening some aspects of the Council which only had a temporal [temporally limited] character – it was only fifty years ago.

These comments of Bishop Schneider are important in two respects. First, he supports the idea that there might be aspects of the Second Vatican Council that will be proportionately corrected in the future; secondly, he praises the Society of St. Pius X for its differentiated criticism of that Council and he hopes that they will contribute more in the future to the Church’s discussion about this larger matter.

It might be helpful to also see what Bishop Schneider in general has to say about the SSPX and the possible danger of Pope Francis – or any pope in the future – pressuring it to makes changes after it has received the status of a personal prelature. If that were to happen – as a “hypothetical possibility” –

it would be on them [the SSPX] to resist and to preserve their identity […] they have to say “this is unjust, it is against our intentions to accept the prelature and it will destroy our charism,” and so then they have to resist and then, in my opinion, they have to say with all respect to the Holy See: “You can take away from us the prelature. We do not need this prelature, the most important [thing] is to preserve our identity for the benefit of the Church – for the benefit of the Church, not of us [ourselves], but of the Church.” And so, in this hypothetical case, they have to renounce again the prelature and continue [to be] as they are; and so they will lose nothing. It is upon them to preserve their identity. [my emphasis]

Thus Bishop Schneider opens up the possibility of a just resistance against the attempt of the Vatican to suppress the SSPX’s work, and he thereby indirectly seems to justify their past resistance, by which they were able to build up their work and organization as it stands now, to include the formation of traditional priests.

That Bishop Schneider defends the idea of a morally justified disobedience toward Church authorities can be seen in his discussion of two important cases: the case of Communion in the hand itself, and the case of handing such a Communion to the “remarried” divorcees. In both of these situations, Bishop Schneider explicitly proposes that priests may resist the orders of their superiors, for the sake of preserving the Catholic Faith.

With reference to the question as to whether a priest may refuse to give out Holy Communion into the hands of the faithful, Bishops Schneider quotes John Paul II’s Instruction Redemptoris Sacramentum (2004). According to this document, a priest has a right not to give Communion into the hands when he sees “a danger of profanation” (or worse!), explains Schneider. As an example, the prelate mentions that fragments of the Holy Eucharist can be lost on the ground or that there is a danger that the Host might be stolen. A priest, in such a case, “can refuse it [to give Communion in the hand].” [my emphasis] Schneider proposes that the priest should also then proceed to give a good Catechesis to his parish, explaining his decision. And he believes that the majority of the faithful would follow that priest’s instruction.

With regard to the question of the “remarried” divorcees and whether they may, after their own decision of conscience, go to Holy Communion, Schneider says:

No, this is against the constant teaching of the Church. It is the principle of subjectivism, ultimately of Luther, of Protestantism. […] No, the conscience is not the [ultimate] judge; one has to hear the voice of God: this is the real conscience. […] There is the Commandment of God, it is clear, and the teaching of the Church not to commit adultery and to be in the state of Grace – even objectively, not only subjectively – and in this manner to receive Holy Communion because the Sacraments are not a private action of everyone. The Sacraments are public, the most public action of the Church.

Schneider mentions that there are “objective criteria” with regard to the Sacraments, based on Holy Scripture (St. Paul) and the constant Sacred Tradition. When asked about the recent threats to be suspended a divinis addressed to priests on the Island of Malta if they were to refuse to give Communion to the “remarried,” Schneider has some clear words to say:

When a bishop does this [pressuring priests to give Communion to the “remarried”], he commits a grave abuse of power; he is ordering to sin. And when a bishop – or even a pope – commands me to sin, I have to refuse these [commands] because I have to obey God. And therefore, in this case, the priest has to say: “You Excellency, dear Bishop, you order me to commit a sin, and I cannot [do] this, I have to obey God. And I cannot obey you in this case.” [my emphasis]

With concern, Bishop Schneider adds that he hopes this [pressuring of priests] “will not spread in the Church […] such drastic and abusive norms.” The German prelate from Kazakhstan, who himself as a child had to live under Communism in the Soviet Union, then gives all of us some important advice and strength: “He [such a pressured priest] has to resist even to the extent that he will lose his office. Better to lose all, but not to commit sin against the Commandment of God in this case.” [My emphasis]

Here it might be helpful to remember Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s words as written in his new book The Pope – Mission and Mandate:

Even the highest ecclesial authority could not intervene into the “substance of a Sacrament.” [A quote from the Council of Trent] The Church has preferred, and still prefers, severe disadvantages rather than to dissolve only one single valid sacramental marriage – as in the case of the disputes with Christian rulers (e.g., the split of the Catholic Church of England from Rome through Henry VIII of England) or with the prevailing public opinion. The Church has to obey here God more than man and may not sacrifice the Truth of the Gospel – which surpasses mere natural reason – to a mere human calculation. [my emphasis]

Moreover, the German cardinal also said, as I recently recorded:

Müller then gives an illustration and says that a pope could not change the “inherent criteria of admission to the Sacraments” and “give sacramental absolution and allow Holy Communion for a Catholic who is in the state of mortal sin without repentance or firm resolve to henceforth avoid that sin without thereby himself sinning with regard to the Truth of the Gospel and the Salvation of those faithful who are thus being led astray into error.” [my emphasis]

The criteria of resistance against a bishop – or even a pope – are the Truth of the Gospel and the Salvation of Souls. Here, Cardinal Müller and Bishop Schneider are defending the same truths. Which is to say that, when it comes down to it, we, at such times, have to obey God more than man. St. Joan of Arc comes here to mind as a saintly example of this.

To return to the role of the SSPX in our current Church crisis. Bishop Schneider explicitly says in this new interview that “in the time of crisis, we have to join [together] all the good forces.” That means that “the work of Archbishop Lefebvre will be able to do their contribution to the edification of the Church, to the preservation of Faith, and to the education of priests, especially.” As we reported on 12 December 2016, Bishop Schneider regards the suppression of the work of the SSPX by the Holy See in the past as an act of injustice. He then also proceeded to say, with regard to the possibility of the SSPX becoming a canonical prelature: “This would only be an act of rendering justice – quite belatedly – to the unjust suppression of the Society in 1975 on the part of the Holy See.” [my emphasis]

Furthermore, we would like to remind our readers of another important initiative earlier taken by Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), in August of 2016. He then said in an interview, with regard to some of the Vatican II documents which are not dogmatic, but pastoral – Nostra Aetate about interreligious dialogue; the decree Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenism; and the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae on religious liberty:

They are not about doctrines or definitive statements, but, rather, about instructions and orienting guides for pastoral practice. One can [thus legitimately] continue to discuss these pastoral aspects after the [proposed] canonical approval [of the SSPX], in order to lead us to further [and acceptable] clarifications.

It is to be hoped that statements such as these recorded again now in this article may give more spiritual and intellectual scope for the Catholic Church’s discussions on matters of Faith and Morals, which seem to be so much under siege at the moment, and which, at the same time, are demanding from us our own loyalty to Christ’s Own Words and Teaching, not only on marriage, but also on the nature of the Church and its relations to other religions which seem to have been conflated and confused in the recent past. Encouraged by Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s strong truth and charitable witness, let us be faithful, persevering witnesses of the Faith ourselves, and, if possible, everywhere.

Watch the full interview with Bishop Schneider here: 

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