“Christ was crucified on earth and the Church is crucified in time, and the Church is crucified by all of us, by her members most particularly because She is a Church of sinners.” —Flannery O’Connor.
There is quite a lot of talk these days about heresy and scandal in the hierarchy of the Church, of bishops having disdain for tradition and aversion to hearing immemorial truth in any form. There once were whispers and now are shouts about some ethereal “spirit of Vatican II” and the myriad points of destruction it has left in its wake. All easy enough to dismiss as hysteria or the crying of odd “ultra-traditionalists” pining away for archaic liturgical minutiae which no modern person would miss.
However, if this is all simply backroom traddie chatter, then the very real case of Fr. Vaughn Treco is difficult to understand. I had the opportunity to get the full story of what transpired for Fr. Treco over his infamous homily, in his own words. He lays out the events that led him to composing it and, before that, what formed him in the Faith in such a way that he was able to recognize the dangers which made the homily necessary. What follows are parts of this story, and they are compelling, indeed. (The full text of my interview with Fr. Treco is linked at the bottom of this article.)
A homily such as Fr. Treco’s is foreign to the ear of many a modern Catholic (though this shouldn’t be the case), so I asked him what the impetus was for composing such a thing.
“When the McCarrick affair broke,” said Father, “and I saw my parishioners beginning to wonder about whether or not this crisis that the Church was in was ever going to end, and I saw their sense of spiritual being fading, that caused a great concern to me as a pastor. And so I was confronted with the reality that I would have to address this. When I listened to the reports about the fall of the once great cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., what amazed me was how the narrative, at least in the public media, seemed to presuppose more or less sociological reasons for this crisis. None of these answers seemed satisfactory to me, because although it was weighing heavily upon everyone, it seemed that few people wanted to ask questions about the deeper sources of the crisis.”
Seeing no spiritually satisfying answers being readily offered, Fr. Treco felt a pastoral responsibility. He continued: “So I guess more than anything else, in any immediate sense, it was a concern for the spiritual well-being of my parishioners in the midst of this crisis. That’s the genesis of my homily.”
Considering the weight of what he would attempt to address, Father knew he could not afford to mince words, nor could he speak frivolously.
“Up until the day on which I gave the homily, I probably listened to it in excess of five hundred times. And that’s not an exaggeration. I had many opportunities to think and reflect on and reconsider language, specific words. By the time the homily was done, there was no word that I had not carefully thought about.”
I was curious whether Father Treco had any hesitation about initially delivering this homily, or later having it published by The Remnant.
“In the most profound sense, I would say no, not really. My initial response to them [The Remnant] was, ‘A homily is a public act, a proclamation, and so if I were going to give it to my parishioners, if I felt comfortable giving it to them, why would I hesitate to give it to others?’ So Michael Matt at The Remnant said if I wanted to, they could publish the homily anonymously and in that way protect me from any fallout that would come, because he suspected [it] might. And I said, ‘You know, while that might be the safe road, that would also be the coward’s road.'”
And so Father’s homily was published to The Remnant’s YouTube channel, where, as of the writing of this article, it has been viewed (as of this writing) over 58,000 times. From there, the story continues — with Fr. Treco being removed from his position at St. Bede’s by Bishop Steven J. Lopes. I asked Father about the manner and circumstances in which he was made aware of his removal and what possible reasons were given for this step.
“I think it was January the 15th, 2019, I received an email from Bishop Lopes to which was attached the letter in which he informed me that he had withdrawn my faculties to preach and to hear confessions and concerning the change in the administration of the mission parish of St. Bede’s the Venerable.
“There are several assertions that Bishop Lopes made in either the letter or the decree. The first is that I asserted that the Council itself [the Second Vatican Council] was a departure from Catholic Tradition and that [it] was devoid of magisterial weight. The simple answer is, I never made either of those statements. The second is that I asserted that Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI set aside the mandate given to them by Our Lord Jesus Christ so that the popes therefore do not exercise legitimate authority in the Church. The third assertion that [Bishop Lopes] makes is that I urged the faithful by extension to treat as suspect the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium of the Church after 1963, or that I incited animosity toward the Apostolic See.
“The fourth assertion was that … publishing my homily on a website known for ‘extreme views’ and the fact that my homily retrieved so much attention in digital and social media made it superfluous for any penal investigation to prove its veracity. That’s quite an assertion. Again, it is unmerited. First of all, ‘The Remnant’ is not known for extreme views, unless you consider Catholic orthodoxy extreme.
“The fifth assertion made is that I said that the Council taught errors and departed from the true Catholic Faith and that I refused to reaffirm the Profession of Faith made prior to my ordination. Those two facts are just plainly false.
“The sixth assertion is that my refusal to retract the ‘erroneous propositions’ of my homily indicates that I continue to hold schismatic positions contrary to the Catholic Faith. This is contained in the decree that was received after I pleaded with [Bishop Lopes] to provide me with the specific statements that were contrary to Catholic Faith. This assertion is again without merit.
“The final assertion that Bishop Lopes makes is that he officially warned me that the censure of suspension would be imposed if I did not publicly recant my erroneous doctrinal positions and return to communion with the Roman Catholic Church by the 28th of January, 2019.”
Being that the “erroneous doctrinal positions” which Father Treco was said to have made were never defined for him, it was impossible for him to recant them. And so, while these events were taking place, veiled from the public, the distressing rumor that Fr. Treco had been excommunicated was circulating. As much as I was fearful of the answer I might receive, I asked Father if this was indeed the case.
“The answer to this question is a simple ‘yes.’ On the 30th of March, 2019, Bishop Stephen J. Lopes, bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, issued a decree of excommunication against me for the delict of schism. It appears that whoever runs the emails or sends out the emails to the Ordinariate priests inadvertently failed to delete my name from the list of priests who were to receive the notification of my excommunication. So I actually was notified by way of an email that was sent out at 3:30 A.M. on the first Monday of April — four days before I received the actual letter and decree of excommunication.”
So that the gravity of this is made clear, it is necessary to state what the effects of excommunication are: “Res sacrae, ritus, communio, crypta, potestas, praedia sacra, forum, civilia jura vetantur” (loss of the sacraments, public services and prayers of the Church, ecclesiastical burial, jurisdiction, benefices, canonical rights, and social intercourse).
Excommunication is the most dreadful temporal punishment a properly formed Catholic can imagine — more harrowing than being imprisoned or tortured or exiled from your homeland, because those things affect only the body, but excommunication has implications for the very life of the soul.
As one might expect, now having confirmation that this injustice had taken place, I wanted to know what recourse was left for Father.
“I have had the good fortune of wonderful canonical and superlative brother priestly council throughout this process. My canonical counsel has pursued all available recourse, and he has done it adroitly, promptly, and we have simply not heard anything from Bishop Lopes throughout this period. But the time frame in which a petition for hierarchical recourse gets a response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could be anywhere from a year to many years. And so, in a sense, what we have to do now is simply wait. But we are continuing our pursuit, and we will continue this pursuit and exhaust every means available to us to secure justice for me under natural and ecclesiastical law.
“And so now we pray. When people ask me what my need is, I always say my chief need is prayer. It remains important, but it was particularly important during that time when I was not permitted access to the sacraments. [A]ny Catholic who understands the vital role the sacraments play in the sustaining of the State of Grace, life in the soul, [knows that] it was a terrible burden. And so it was good to have so many people praying for me and also letting me know that they were praying for me. There’s been a tremendous outpouring of spiritual affection and commitment to prayer on my behalf. And I believe that the persistence and the growth of holiness that suffering can become the occasion of was aided significantly by the prayers of the faithful on my behalf, and I am profoundly grateful for them.”
Thinking about the content of Fr. Treco’s homily and how venomous the reaction to it was, I began to wonder how receptive the American Church is to the preaching of unfiltered tradition. I asked Father if he feels there are any pulpits in America today where an Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Ronald Knox, Cardinal Newman, or Saint John Vianney would be welcomed to preach.
“Certainly, I believe that there are pulpits. Are there many? I do not know how many. Who knows? Do I wish those would increase? Yes. And it is my prayer that many more priests will do it. I mean, our very salvation depends on it. ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel,’ the Apostle says [1 Cor. 9:16]. If it’s woe to St. Paul, oh, my gracious, how much more woe is it to us if we would not do it?
“So yes, I believe that there are pulpits in the Catholic Church in America where the homilies of Archbishop Fulton Sheen or Monsignor Ronald Knox or Cardinal John Henry Newman or Saint John Vianney would be quite welcome. In fact, I would say the people of God are starving for that type of clear and forthright exposition of the Catholic religion. And I think priests would be surprised if they did it. Some would be run out of town, for sure, and not just by the laypeople who attend Mass, but by their bishop. But so be it. So be it.
“It is certainly the case that much of the Catholic Church in America from the head down has become hostile to the faithful, unfiltered proclamation of the Catholic Tradition. That is clear. But no matter how dark the time is, we are not given an excuse to do anything less than to proclaim the Gospel, proclaim the unfiltered Catholic Faith, to those under our charge or to any who would hear us. If we do not teach it, we will be held accountable and some of us, many of us, will lose our souls forever.”
I asked Father whether this antipathy for the unfiltered truth, which is spreading from the hierarchy, could somehow be a misguided reflection of presumed pastoral need, or if it is simply a way to undermine traditional faith.
“I have come to an increasingly firm conviction that the state of the lay faithful is a reflection not of where they wish to be, but of where they have been led. So any antipathy that I encountered in them in response to hearing the unfiltered tradition, I’ve always assumed that that was because of prior formation. I would say things and people would be shocked, and then they would say, ‘Well, how could you say that?,’ and I’d say, ‘It’s the Catholic Faith.’
“Given the current state of the lay faithful in the Catholic Church and the apparent cowardice of many Catholic priests — even good ones — to proclaim with clarity and conciseness that doctrine of Christ, I think that is why we are where we are. The demise of faith, the loss of faith, the cowardly quasi-embrace of the Faith, is a product of the failure of priests to do what the Apostle says: ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of God’ [Rom. 10:17]. How can they believe without a preacher? We should not be surprised that so many no longer believe. Because so few priests preach the unfiltered Catholic Tradition.”
In light of what has transpired for Fr. Treco, and in hearing from those familiar with his story, they and I were desirous of a message of hope. And so I asked Father what he might say to the faithful who feel the Barque of Peter has been violently tossed about by the storm, and who fear they may be washed overboard.
“Dear Brother, it is beyond doubt that the Barque of Peter has been violently tossed about by the storm. The only way you miss this is if you’re not in the Barque. But if you’re in the Barque, you could not help but notice the tossing and the turning of the Barque. And the threatening waves that splash against and over and into it. This is not just a sentiment or feeling of people. This is the objective fact.
“In the Gospel, Jesus says to the apostles something that’s profound and simple, and it seems as though, as St. Mark narrates it, it’s almost a side comment: ‘Let us go to the other side.’ And the apostles and Jesus get into the boat, and Jesus rapidly takes a pillow and goes to sleep. And a violent storm erupts. And Jesus stays sleeping. He’s not sleeping because he’s indifferent. He’s sleeping because even the side comments of God are a promise that cannot fail. And He had said, ‘Let us go to the other side.’
“Those who gaze upon waves and are dependent upon Dramamine to keep their stomach settled in the storm rather than calling upon the mercy of God have made the mistake of taking their eyes off the promise. We’re going to get to the other side. That’s a certitude of faith. There’s no reason to lose hope. The God-Man has said it. Yes, we are going to be seasick. Yes, we are going to feel dizzy. Yes, we are going to be shaken by the storms that buffet against us. We will feel the splash of the waves against our face. We will feel the heat of lightning bolts that come very near the Barque, and we will feel the tossing and turning.
“But this boat will not sink. Even if the hands that are supposed to be steadying the boat begin to take up axes and saws against the very wood of the Barque. We are going to get to the other side. And Jesus may appear to us to be asleep. But He could afford to sleep, because He’s already made us the promise. And He expects us to believe Him. The disciples thought that they needed some specific act of God to get them across the sea. But Jesus was disappointed by their lack of faith. Lack of faith in what? Lack of faith in the word that He had said: ‘Let us go to the other side.’ We’re going to get there.
“And what can we do? What can we do personally? Pray. Pray like we’ve never prayed before. Read the Scriptures. Know them back and front. Study the Catholic Faith. Know it in its details. And as you learn it, believe it. This is our duty. It’s also the way of our salvation. Those who are ignorant to their faith will quickly lose it. But those who diligently seek true knowledge of the true Faith and entrust themselves to that faith, to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, perennially taught by the Catholic faith, will increase in their level of calm, and they’ll feel less anxiety by the fact that the Lord seems to be asleep. Because they will be reminded that He said, ‘Let us go to the other side.’
“I’ve been asked if I am troubled by my situation. At some level, I would say ‘yes,’ but for the most part, no. And the reason is simple. None of this is a surprise to Jesus. The Lord knew when I spent those ten weeks or more preparing for my homily, He knew what would happen. None of this took Him by surprise. It may have taken me by surprise, but it did not take Him by surprise. He knew the response it would provoke. And He also knew that He would provide the grace to remain calm. Because He’s promised to those who would be faithful to Him; we’ll get to the other side. So do not lose heart. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom of God. Let Him give it to you. And as if the promise of the God-Man is not enough, Our Lady has said, ‘My Immaculate Heart will triumph.’ So we have it from Our Savior. And we have the promise from Our Lady. What more do we need?”
Editor’s note: The full interview with Fr. Treco can be accessed here.
Christopher Laurence is a freelance writer and revert to the Catholic Faith. Originally from Long Island, he now happily resides in Texas and is engaged to a lovely Texas girl. A recovering connoisseur of all things secular and pop culture, he has since eschewed them for the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Gregorian chant, which he considers quite an upgrade. He can be found on Twitter at @Gropher_Tump.