A letter by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento posted on the Diocese of Sacramento website states, “Fr. Jeremy Leatherby has placed himself and others in a state of schism with the Roman Catholic Church. By his words and actions, Fr. Leatherby has incurred a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication. This means that by his own volition he has separated himself from communion with the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, and other members of the Catholic Church.”
Father Jeremy Leatherby has been suspended for several years after a report of sexual impropriety with a parishioner. This is an on-going canonical process that has carried on for years without resolution. Many faithful have expressed unconditional support for Father Leatherby, and criticisms of Bishop Soto have been plenty. The greatest criticism has been that no updates on Father Leatherby’s status have been provided even to the priests of Sacramento.
Having worked at a Chancery now for six years, I have learned that many times canonical processes take time and require discretion in order to respect the privacy of victims. If illegal activity has taken place, it is reported to competent authorities, but if the issue did not involve illegal activity, the Church is very careful to respect people’s privacy. I suspect Father Leatherby’s case falls into this category – information is limited because of privacy issues or continued investigations.
Father Leatherby, who is without faculties, is now celebrating public liturgies with hundreds of people participating, but he does not pray for the local bishop, nor does he pray for Pope Francis. Bishop Soto addresses this issue in his letter stating, “Fr. Leatherby has violated my instructions by offering Mass and teaching publicly to a number of the faithful. He has instructed them against the legitimacy of His Holiness, Pope Francis. He has substituted the Holy Father’s name with the name of his predecessor, and omitted my name during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer while offering Mass. After obstinately not responding to a number of my inquiries by telephone and correspondence, he has now confirmed his schismatic stance. Because of the grave scandal of these actions I have no recourse but to announce publicly the consequence of his decisions: He has brought upon himself an automatic latae sententiae excommunication.”
It is lamentable that the sour relationship between a priest and his bishop has led to this: schism. I can understand why Father Leatherby is frustrated with the prolonged process, and why the faithful have grown tired of waiting. However, the Church asks for respect and obedience. To trust that the light of truth always emerges. Ceasing to recognize the legitimacy of the Pope is not the way to go… but unfortunately it feeds to the current trend among certain circles in the Catholic Church that reject Pope Francis, or at least is suspicious of everything he says and does.
It is important to remember that excommunication is always applied as an attempt for reconciliation. This penalty is imposed not just as a punishment, but one that will lead to a change of behavior and rehabilitation.
I remember Father Leatherby from seminary, he was two or three years above me. He was a good, prayerful man. I pray for him, and the circumstances that he is currently facing. I pray that all truth come to light, so that proper decisions may be made, and that reconciliation among the People of God may be achieved.
NOTE: After publishing this post, I realized that its title is not precise. As Bishop Soto notes, Father Leatherby, by his actions, has excommunicated himself. In his letter, Bishop Soto has simply stated what had already happened.