Heresy trial

HeresyAmy Welborn over at her “open book” blog jumped on this story about what is being considered one a rare Roman Catholic heresy trial in the United States. Here’s the gist of the Reidy Heresy Trial:

The priest on trial refuses to attend the hearing, which he calls “medieval and totally un-Christian.”

“It’s like the Inquisition has returned,” said the Rev. Ned Reidy, of Bermuda Dunes, who also is charged with schism.

The church defines heresy as the denial of a church truth and schism as the refusal to submit to the authority of the pope or church leaders.

If the diocesan tribunal concludes that Reidy committed heresy and schism, he will be formally excommunicated from the church — although the Vatican believes no one can ever fully lose his priesthood. Heresy is the same charge that Galileo faced for defying church teaching.

Most might be confused as to why Reidy is having a heresy trial, especially since he has formally separeted himself from the Catholic Church. But there’s a reason and it’s a bit confusing.

The pundits over at the Christian Communication Network speculate that it could be “the first time ever in American history that such a judicial process is conducted on the part of Roman Catholic officials in an American Diocese.”

If such were the case, the significance automatically becomes much bigger, if only for the “never happened before” reason, but that is not the case as the article states that the very same diocese held a heresy trial involving a Rev. Anthony Garduno in 1993 and the Vatican last excommunicated a priest for heresy in 1997.

Here, the experts speak:

Lawrence Cunningham, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and an expert on church history, said he is unaware of Catholic heresy trials in the United States outside the San Bernardino diocese. Several other Roman Catholic scholars said they, too, are unaware of other U.S. trials.

Monsignor Thomas Green, a professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said such trials in modern times are rare worldwide.

“By and large, once you get past the Council of Trent and the 1600s and 1700s, you don’t hear much about it,” he said.

David Olson at Inland Southern California’s The Press-Enterprise delves deep into the Reidy story and while the heresy trial angle is a catchy headline that makes it seem like a big deal, it actually seems more like a formality, as for the fact that Reidy was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church when he joined the Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

This actually seems to be more of a public relations/marketing battle:

“He is still using the term ‘Catholic’ in quotes, in advertising and on the Internet,” he said. “Because of the confusion in not differentiating between his church and the Roman Catholic Church, the diocese felt we must proceed with this official action in order to make that distinction.”

Reidy said he severed his ties to the Roman Catholic Church when he resigned from his order. The homepage of Reidy’s current parish, Pathfinder Community of the Risen Christ, states: “We are a Non-Roman-Catholic Community.”

Overall, I thought the article covered the subject quite thoroughly, even though the “this-is-the-first-inquisition-since-Galileo” theme was played up just a bit. Olson clearly did a great deal of research and spoke to many experts on the subject.

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  • paddyo’

    Nice catch: a fascinating story. But I think a big question begging to be asked and answered — certainly worth a follow-up story in the Press Enterprise — is:
    How come the only known heresy trials to be held in the U.S. were both undertaken in the San Bernardino Diocese?
    I don’t know that jurisdiction’s particulars, but have these guys been a particularly embarrassing or annoying burr under this bishop’s saddle?
    The story, I think, said there are 18 such non-Catholic “Catholic” communities around the country, right? Were the other dioceses being lax — or just more common-sensical?
    Again, fascinating.

  • Will

    Thank you for not saying “This begs the question”.

  • Avram

    So if a priest can never fully lose his priesthood, what happens when a priest is excommunicated? He’s still a priest, but not a Catholic one?

    Or is this something like a Jew who converts, but is still considered Jewish by other Jews, and therefore is just shirking his obligations? In the case of the excommunicated priest, I’m guessing this means that if he violates his oath of celibacy, the Vatican will still believe that God holds it against him as a sin, even if his new church allows him to marry.

  • Brad

    So, unless I missed something, is he just being tried for heresy because he decided not to be Catholic anymore but didn’t quite lose the “Catholic” label?

    I remember sometime ago, there was talk of reintroducing heresy trials into the Anglican Church. Has anyone heard anything on that in the last several months?


  • Christina Raybourn

    A priest can never fully lose his priesthood because Holy Orders are a Sacrament- spiritually permenant. To say he had his priesthood removed would be like saying he had his baptism removed….kind of silly. His bishop can release him from his vows of celibacy, poverty, obedience, etc., because these are issuses of discipline, not dogma. The Eastern Rites (Byzantine, Chaldean, etc.)of the Catholic Church allow priests to marry.
    As for the heresy trials both being in San Bernardino, I would suspect that it would have something to do with what is taught in the local seminaries (or whatever seminary that diocese draws from) rather than it being a widespread but ignored feature of the US Church.

  • Lucas Sayre

    Christina, et al., I’d have to check my catechism, but I suspect that we are misinterpreting the sacremental permanence at play here. While the Church cannot “undo” Baptism, the baptized individual may nevertheless reject the Holy Spirit from their life, if my understanding is correct. The rejection of God is the cornerstone of mortal sin.

    Similarly, I’d imagine, that a person could reject the priesthood and God’s calling. I would also think that preaching heresy would constitute such a rejection. Please correct me, if I’m mistaken.

    On a different note, Daniel, I think you are being somewhat cynical by calling the Church’s move here a “public relations/marketing battle.” The word “Catholic” is not just a distinguishing label, but a theological statement. “catholic” means ‘one.’ To leave the Church and then label yourself that is to perpetuate a theological falsity, hence the heresy charge. The Church has more at stake than its public image when it chooses to defend that term and its usage.

  • Dan Berger

    Actually, Lucas, “catholic” means “universal” or “wide-ranging” or even “indiscriminate.” Not quite like “ecumenical”.

    Example: “The rabies virus has very catholic tastes; it will infect any mammal.”

    In Christian circles, it means a church that claims to hold to “what has been believed everywhere, at all times, by all Christians.” Or something like that.

    In that sense, the Orthodox and Anglican communions are also “catholic.”

  • Steve Nicoloso


    a Non-Roman-Catholic Community

    Does that mean non-Roman but Catholic, non-Roman Catholic but a community, or none of the above?

    There is a procedure, exceedingly rare, called “laicization” (sp?) by which an ordained minister may be stripped, but I’m not sure if that means the gift (by laying on of apostolic hands) is actually removed.

    As to bringing back the inquisition, I wasn’t aware that it ever left, but had rather merely undergone a name change: Congregration for the Doctrine of the Faith. Which is all to ask would anybody (even Rev. Ned) really deny any church a right to examine and, for those deemed disorderly, possibly expel its members?

  • Lucas Sayre

    Dan, “universal” and “one” are synonymous in this context. However, “wide-ranging” and certainly “indiscriminate” are never meanings that the Church has ever attached to the term “catholic.”

    In fact, the Church’s inclusion of believers has always been contingent on adherence to dogma. In this sense, it is exclusive and discriminate.

    Hence, I am not looking at how other churches feel it appropriate to use the term, I am looking at how the Roman Catholic Church considers the term. For it is the latter that explains why they might pursue a heresy trial in this circumstance, not the former.

  • Dan Berger

    Quite right, Lucas. I got carried away… and anyhow, there’s no way that Reidy’s congregation is “catholic” in my sense either.

  • John

    A priest cannot lose his priesthood. Catholic dogma holds that the sacrament of Holy Orders leaves a permanent imprint upon the soul of the person receiving it. Priests who cannot competently exercize their faculties in the ministerial priesthood can (in cooperation with Church hierarchy) go through the laicization process so that they can remain members in good standing of the Church without being burdened by the responsibilities of the priesthood. The Church does allow these persons to be married, but as a dispensation, not as any recognition that their priesthood has ended.

    A priest who is grossly incompetent, immoral, or (gasp) heretical can be stripped of his faculties without being laicized. However, even then, he has not lost the permanent, sacramental imprint of Holy Orders placed upon his soul by the Holy Spirit through the bishop who ordained him.

    One presumes that a priest who has goofed up badly enough to be involuntarily stripped of his faculties has also experienced excommunication ex-officio. That is, even if no bishop has formally pronounced him to be separated from the Church, he has somehow done it to himself through his own actions.

    Heresy trials and formal excommunications are normally done only if a bishop has decided that some person’s persona-non-grata status within the Church must be made absolutely clear to the rest of the community.

    Though excommunicated, a priest remains a priest.

    Remmber all the priests and bishops which Dante gleefuly portrayed in various states of torment in his Inferno.

    “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek”

  • stolzi

    Someone wrote

    “His bishop can release him from his vows of celibacy, poverty, obedience, etc., because these are issuses of discipline, not dogma. The Eastern Rites (Byzantine, Chaldean, etc.)of the Catholic Church allow priests to marry.”

    I would be pretty sure that Eastern Rite Roman Catholics, like the Eastern Orthodox, do not allow priests to marry after ordination. That is, married men may be ordained, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, to the diaconate or the priesthood.

    Roman Catholic priests who are not members of special Orders do not vow poverty, in any case, though they do vow celibacy.

  • Krystina

    “I would be pretty sure that Eastern Rite Roman Catholics, like the Eastern Orthodox, do not allow priests to marry after ordination.”

    This is true — Eastern Catholics allow married men to be ordained priests, but we do not allow ordained priests to marry.

    And fwiw, “Eastern Rite Roman Catholic” is incorrect. There are 22 or so rites within the Catholic Church, of which Roman is the largest one. Members of the other rites are referred to as _____ Catholic. Thus, I’m a Ukrainian Catholic (which is one of the ‘branches’ within the Byzantine rite).

  • Maureen

    Re: comments on baptism above

    According to the Roman Catholic understanding, Baptism also leaves a permanent imprint upon the soul. Actually, all the sacraments do. It’s just that some sacraments are renewed whenever necessary — Confession, Communion, Matrimony (only once per marriage!), and Anointing of the Sick — and some are done just once — Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.

    You can reject being a Christian or you can choose to sin like it never happened, but you can’t undo being baptized.

    (This is also why the Catholic Church almost never re-baptizes anyone, unless there is serious doubt as to whether the baptizing church understands baptism or the Trinity in a Christian way. Even then, the priest usually does a conditional baptism like ‘If you are not already baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’)