Last September I wrote a few paragraphs about a break-away traditionalist group headed by Louis Vezelis, formerly a priest of the Franciscan order and now an illicitly consecrated bishop.
I said, "When you start your own denomination, there's a tendency to go off the deep end. That wouldn't be so bad, except you tend to take others with you and to pass along to them peculiar ideas."
I didn't want Bishop Vezelis to lure others into schism--or worse. Although he influences only thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, each of those influenced has a soul worth caring for, and I thought it worthwhile to expose a little of the nonsense Bishop Vezelis publishes.
He didn't much care for my solicitude. He responded in The Seraph, his monthly magazine, with a four-page "Open Letter to Mr. Karl Keating." I toyed with ignoring it, not wanting to give undue publicity to a splinter group, but sometimes to ignore is to acquiesce.
In what follows the italicized portions are by Bishop Vezelis. The intervening paragraphs in Roman letters are mine. There is not room enough for all his comments, but I have chosen the sharpest barbs, thinking it proper that his strongest points be reproduced.
I have before me a copy of your publication. Before dealing with your TV-type religious reporting, it would be proper to establish your credibility and credentials as a "Catholic." Just as decent, law-abiding citizens are outraged at Zionists painting swastikas on synagogues and then screaming like paranoid monkeys that "Neo Nazis did it!", we Catholics are just about fed up with amateur laymen who have a little money in their pocket and who go into the "theology business," like yourself, for example. This may sound unkind, but there are people who are so obtuse that hints are useless.
Before you continue, I'd like to point out that I'm not an "amateur layman." I'm a professional layman and work hard at it. Even obtuse people like to be rightly described.
While their books [books written by other traditionalists] bear the imprimatur and nihil obstat, your publication does not.
If you're referring to my book Catholicism and Fundamentalism, it bears the nihil obstat of Msgr. Joseph Pollard, S.T.D., censor librorum of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the imprimatur of Archbishop Roger Mahony, granted January 28, 1988. If you're referring to This Rock magazine, it needs no imprimatur. Section 4 of canon 827 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that "books and other writings which treat of questions of religion or morals cannot be exhibited, sold, or distributed in churches or oratories unless they were published with the permission of the competent ecclesiastical authority or they were subsequently approved by it." We have that permission from San Diego's Bishop Robert H. Brom and had it from his late predecessor, Bishop Leo T. Maher.
Your Catholicity is denied by your own self-definition. You prove to informed Catholics that you are not a Catholic, but a non-Catholic wrapping yourself in a provocative negligee of Catholic-sounding words. You wonder how this conclusion is drawn. Well, if one compares Catholic doctrine and law with your statements, there is no other possible conclusion. You state on page one of your publication a definition of what you claim to be: "an independent, lay-run apologetics and evangelization organization." But, Mr. Keating, that's exactly what Jimmy Swaggart and all the other TV and radio marvels are: They are independent, lay-run apologetics and evangalization organizations.
Yes, they are, but you overlook a small point: We're Catholics, and they aren't. We're in the same status as the old Catholic Evidence Guild, run by Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward. I don't recall hearing that you equated their work with that of Jimmy Swaggart.
Permit me to make an observation: You invoke the "blessings" not only of bishops, priests, but even "religious educators" upon your independent religious propagandizing. Yet, you ridicule the blessings upon food and other items which the Catholic Church strongly encourages for the very reasons you find it in your religion to condemn.
No, I don't ridicule blessing food--if I did, I wouldn't bother saying grace at each meal. Please make some attempt at accuracy: I opposed the statement you published saying that in the U.S. "fully 250 million are actually being kept in a state of diabolical possession by means of the food they eat and the beverages they drink."
Your magazine claimed eating unblessed food results in possession because diabolical agents, "usually witches and warlocks," put demonic influences into foods, and only by saying grace over our meals can we eliminate those influences. That isn't Catholic doctrine--that's foolishness.
I strongly suspect that you are at best a very ill-bred Catholic, if you are a Catholic at all. And even if you were not a Catholic, but a well-bred and well-mannered, cultured, and refined gentleman, you would not lack the ordinary signs of respect for your elders and for your superiors. Your rebellious and anarchical attitude is betrayed by your lack of civility, Mr. Keating. And, I do not mind telling you this because your mother obviously failed to do so.
Please leave my mother out of it, and please keep one thing straight: Although you're my elder, you aren't my superior in things religious.
I'm not in a religious order, so you have no sway over me in that sense, and, although your episcopal ordination seems to have been valid, you aren't a Roman Catholic bishop, having separated yourself from the Catholic Church, so you aren't superior to me so far as jurisdiction is concerned either. I'm obedient to my local ordinary and to the Pope, and that's all that's required of any Catholic.
Why do you find it unreasonable that Bishop Louis Vezelis, O.F.M. openly takes responsibility for whatever is printed in The Seraph? He does this because he is a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and acts according to the Canon Laws of the Roman Catholic Church.
Let me repeat: You aren't a Catholic bishop. If you had not already separated yourself from the Church prior to your ordination as bishop, you did so when you were so ordained. Canon 1382 states: "A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop and the person who receives such a consecration from a bishop without a pontifical mandate incur an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See."
This canon repeats in substance a canon from the 1917 Code, which was in effect when you were ordained in 1982. The 1983 canon is the one under which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was excommunicated, along with those men he ordained bishops, and, in its 1917 version, it was the canon under which certain Chinese bishops and their ordinands were excommunicated in the 1950s when, without papal approval, they set up the Chinese Patriotic Church.
Blessings are nice, Mr. Keating, but who is your ecclesiastical superior? Is any one of the bishops who gave you his blessing your ecclesiastical superior, the one to whom you submit your "theological writings" to make certain they are not contrary to sound doctrine, good morals, and do not offend against Christian decency?
Since I am a layman, my ecclesiastical superior is my diocesan bishop. Who's yours? More particularly, who was yours from the time of your expulsion from the Franciscans in 1978 until your ordination as bishop in 1982? Let me answer for you: No one.
The seraph defends the authentic doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and the moral values upon which this country was founded.
Our complaint against your magazine and your movement is that you are spreading religious error and anti-Semitic claptrap by printing articles claiming, among other things, that people become possessed by demons if they eat unblessed food and that koshering is actually a way to introduce demons into foodstuffs. If this country was founded on those values, we ought to emigrate.
Your unconscionable superficiality is again evident when you state that I was illicitly consecrated and "now heads his own religious order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, Inc." Had you the slightest respect for other people and the truth, you would have taken some pains to apprise yourself of the facts. . . . You may easily verify that I have been a member of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) since 1949. . . . Consequently, to say that I "head my own order" is a crass injustice and smacks of malicious libel.
You want facts? You get facts.
You were, indeed, at one time a Franciscan, but you haven't been one for thirteen years. On March 9, 1982, Fr. Louis Brennan, writing from Rome on behalf of the Franciscan Minister General, stated: "Fr. Louis Vezelis was a member of our Franciscan Order, in particular, a member of our Lithuanian Vicariate which has its center in Kennebunkport, Maine.
"By letter of April 19, 1978, the then-Superior of the Lithuanian Vicariate informed us that Fr. Vezelis had been declared automatically dismissed from the Order, by decree of April 18, 1978, on grounds of removing himself from Franciscan jurisdiction. He is, then, no longer a member of our Franciscan Order, nor are we in a position to answer for him."
Then-Archbishop Paul Augustin Mayer, Secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, wrote on May 25, 1982 that you were "expelled from the Franciscan Order on April 18, 1978. He does not recognize the jurisdiction of the local ordinary, but presents himself as a genuine Franciscan Father. Obviously, the organization operated by Fr. Vezelis is not recognized by the Holy See or the American hierarchy, and therefore there is no basis for calling it a 'Franciscan foundation whose bishop is the Pope in Rome.'"
Now to your ordination as a bishop. Your ordination was never approved by the Pope or by any Vatican department. The men ordaining you--Moises Carmona, Adolfo Zamora, and George J. Musey--were themselves illegitimately (but, so far as I know, validly) ordained as bishops in what is variously known as the Thuc or Ngo succession, which was begun by the late Archbishop of Hanoi (the brother of the assassinated president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem).
Archbishop Ngo, without papal approval, began ordaining bishops, who ended up going off in all different directions. His ordinations in the 1970s led to the formation of the schismatic hierarchy of Palmar de Troya, the leaders of which made extravagant claims regarding their own authority. One of them even declared himself to be the real pope.
I do not think that it is in any way necessary for me to give names of those highly placed individuals whose blessings have been given on our efforts.
I understand. No one wishes to print a short list. Please go on.
What you are really saying, Mr. Keating, is that you resent the fact that there are some Religious who continue to observe a Religious Rule which has been approved by the Roman Catholic Church and which they promised to God to observe.
How can you observe the Rule if you were kicked out of the Franciscans precisely for not observing it?
What you are really saying, Mr. Keating, is that you resent fidelity to the highest ideals of mankind on the supernatural level. You appear to be one of those Catholics who secretly rejoice when a married man (or woman) abandons the solemn matrimonial promise and consorts with another.
What I resent is someone holding himself out to be a Franciscan in good standing, when he has no standing as a Franciscan at all. I'm just looking for truth in advertising.
Since you attack and ridicule fundamental consequences of doctrine just because they do not fit your Pavlovian-conditioned talmudic theological thesis . . .
Wait a minute! What's a "talmudic theological thesis"?
Any Catholic worthy of the name is in conscience forbidden to read your publication because it purports to deal with religious matters pertaining to the Catholic Church of which you are not an authorized and competent representative.
True, I am not an "authorized" representative, if you mean one appointed by the Church to represent it publicly--but no layman is ever appointed in that sense. But as a baptized Catholic I have not only the right but the duty to explain and defend my faith, even against a bishop manque.
The teaching authority of the Catholic Church is vested in an ordained hierarchy.
Let's be precise: in a licitly ordained hierarchy in communion with the Pope. You fail on two counts.
The penalty in the Roman Catholic Church for anyone undermining the authority of a bishop is as follows: "An excommunication latae sententiae specially reserved to the Holy See is incurred by those who plot against lawful ecclesiastical authorities, or seek in any way to subvert their power, or who cooperate in any way, directly or indirectly, in these crimes" (S.C. Conc., 29 June 1950; AAS, 42-601).
What you're saying is that anyone who writes against you and the way you've bamboolzed otherwise good Catholics into following you is engaged in a "plot against lawful ecclesiastical authorities." Again you miss the point: You aren't a lawful authority. You aren't even a Roman Catholic.
Finally, you betray your true master when you accuse us of that tired, trite buzzword "anti-Semitism." Surely, Mr. Keating, your malicious vocabulary is not that limited, nor are you that ignorant! But then perhaps I assume too much.
I grant my vocabulary, including the malicious parts, is extensive enough, but I was choosing my terms carefully: You are an anti-Semite and a bigot--but, please, demonstrate that for our readers.
We have the greatest compassion for the billions [sic] of Arabs who are exploited and maligned by gun-toting non-Semites. After all, we are Semites ourselves! Unlike yourself, Mr. Keating, I am very proud of my Semitic and Catholic heritage and feel no need to either suffer a false guilt-complex nor [sic] adopt some other ethnic label. Please do some homework, Mr. Keating, and then accuse us of being "anti-Japhetic," if you find it necessary therapy for your psychological insecurity, but, please! please! don't insult our intelligence by calling us "anti-Semitic"! If you did any serious study, you would find that most European peoples are descendents of Sem, the first son of Noe, whereas those who pretend to be "Semites" are descendents of Japheth. This is a conclusion of a Professor in Tel Aviv whose book was published in Hebrew. Incidently [sic], in case you don't know where Tel Aviv is, it's in occupied Palestine.
It doesn't matter what you term them. You call them "Japhites," they call themselves Jews, and you're agin 'em. In an editorial you wrote for the January 1989 issue of The Seraph, you claimed "Jesus was not a Jew. Jesus was a Judean--a descendant from the tribe of Juda--and to confuse the two is not only inaccurate, it is downright false."
You have written that the Institute for Historical Review, "despite threats and intimidation by Zionist hoodlums of the Jewish Defense League, proved beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that no gassing of anyone took place in Auschwitz [your emphasis]. There were no gas chambers in Auschwitz."
In the February 1990 issue of The Seraph you said, "We are not permitted to question the reality of the alleged 'holocaust' where an ever-decreasing [your emphasis] number of so-called 'Jews' perished under adverse circumstances. I, for one, would be interested in knowing the truth about this matter."
Frankly, I doubt it. You aren't any more interested in learning the truth about the concentration camps than you are in disseminating the truth about your own status with respect to the Church. You're more interested in talking about "the ingestion (eating and drinking) of foods to which an evil spirit has been attached" by "koshering merchants." . . . "Manifestly, to promote `koshering' is a direct offense against God."
In the September 1990 issue of your magazine you say, "It would take us too far afield to go into an exposition and explanation of the common errors so long propagated by ignorant clergymen or clever deceivers on this matter of Christ's 'Jewishness' or the Church's 'Jewish roots.' No more scandalous perpetrator of these falsehoods can be sought than John Paul II in his infamous statement to the Chief Rabbi of Rome."
I notice you don't called him Pope John Paul II. Just as well, since you apparently don't consider him to be a real pope. I conclude that from another editorial you wrote, titled "A Catholic's Obligation to Support the Church." You conclude by establishing what might be termed the doctrine extra Vezelis nulla salus:
"Therefore, as a service and warning to those Catholics who are unaware of the spiritual seriousness of this matter, we wish to point out that the only [my emphasis] legitimate representatives of the Roman Catholic Church whom Catholics should support with their contributions are the two remaining bishops: Bishop Martinez and Bishop Vezelis. Anyone else is supported at the spiritual peril of the donors.
"Furthermore, the only orthodox representatives of Religious communities in the United States canonically established are the Franciscans under Bishop Louis Vezelis, O.F.M. All other pretended Religious communities are the work of unauthorized individuals. All Roman Catholics sincerely desiring to please God and further the work of the Church ought to give their support to the Franciscans whose apostolic efforts reflect the true traditions of the Church. Otherwise, those who think they are building up the Church will find they are actually tearing it down more effectively than her worst enemies!"
To use a term popularized by "Japhites," that's chutzpah!