What is the status of "independent" Traditionalist priests?

Apparently there is a number of these priests associated with the traditionalist Catholic movement who rejected the authority of their bishops in order to celebrate the OF Mass. Understanding the status of these priests is useful for those who prefer the OF Mass. How can this be fixed?

In Canon Law these priests are called “acephalous” which means headless and it is forbidden. The term I have most often heard for these priests is “independent priests”. This subject has come up already in another thread and raised a couple of questions for me. Brother JR objected to the term “independent” on the grounds that this term implies a legitimacy that they do not have. I see “independent” as a neutral term, so I don’t understand where this implication is coming from. Brother, can you explain how “independent” implies legitimate?

There was also a claim by ByzCath that this rejection of their bishops put these priests outside the Catholic Church. This does not make sense to me. If this were so, I would expect to see something about it in Canon Law. But perhaps I am missing something. Can someone explain this idea with reference to Canon Law?

(I already attempted to ask these questions on a thread closed by Thomas Casey. forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=666382 He has allowed me to try again but told me to be clearer this time. My thanks to those who responded on the earlier thread.)

I think you were referring to them wanting to perform the “EF” - Extraordinary Form, not the “OF” - Ordinary Form of the mass.

The term “Independent” could be taken to indicate that while these priests are not affiliated any longer with a bishop or religious superior, they indeed do have status and faculties to celebrate as a priest within the Catholic Church, which they do not have. What they are doing, if not approved by a bishop, or religious superior, is very illicit, though may be valid (in the case of consecration).

The confession would be illicit and invalid, as this Sacrament comes from the authority of the bishop.

From the Code of Canon Law

Can. 265 Every cleric must be incardinated either in a particular church or personal prelature, or in an institute of consecrated life or society endowed with this faculty, in such a way that unattached or transient clerics are not allowed at all.

For me, this pretty much sums up ByzCath’s point of seperating themselves from the Church. The canon states, that unless incardinated, a priest has no legitimate authority to do anything in the “name of the Chruch”.

How can one be “independent” and still claim to be part of a larger body?
It doesn’t make sense. :shrug:

At their ordination, those Priests placed their hands between the hands of their consecrating Bishop and solemnly vowed obedience to him and to his successors. Now, they have departed from that vow. What else do you need to know?

You have cited the advice given you by two men who have consecrated their very lives to the Lord. Listen to them.

This departure is near-identical to Martin Luther’s departure. I pray that they may be reunited with the Church one day.

Are sedevacantists priests included in this number?

I guess I’m having a hard time understanding if there are still such priests who are independent by virtue of the fact that they only want to celebrate the EF.

Also, if a priest has become “acephalous” is it possible for him to ask to be attached to a traditional society like the FSSP?

:doh2: I can’t believe I did that. Yes, I mean EF. Thanks for catching that.

I am a secular Franciscan and it doesn’t make me infallible. I figure they aren’t infallible either.

I am not questioning that these priests are illicit or claiming it is desirable to have acephalous priests. I am just trying to get a deeper understanding of the issue.

Authority is not the same as membership. I don’t have authority to do anything in the name of the Church but I am nevertheless a member. I just don’t see how one can conclude from this canon that these priests cease to be members of the Church. There are various canons that describe offenses for which the penalty is laetae sententiae excommunication. That is what I would expect to see if rejecting one’s bishop’s authority automatically caused one to stop belonging to the Church.

If by calling themselves independent, they mean they are independent of the Church, then they are excluding themselves from her. This probably is the case for some acephalous priests, but I’m not sure if it applies to all of them.

If what you mean by “excluding themselves from the Church” means consciously leave the Catholic Church, sure not all like them.

But, no priest with jurisdiction is independent, because their jurisdiction and ministry is because their incardination.
Thus, no priest without incardination has jurisdiction or ministry within the Church.
There is no middle ground.

The quoted canon does not talk about membership, it talks about incardination.

Can. 265 Every cleric must be incardinated either in a particular church or personal prelature, or in an institute of consecrated life or society endowed with this faculty, in such a way that unattached or transient clerics are not allowed at all.

This canon does not say that a priest non-incardinated cease being Catholic.
But it does talk that that Catholic priest (a priest which is a fully member of Catholic Church) does not have faculty without incardination.

Secular clergy take no vows. They promise obedience.

They would have to be released from their legitimate authority first.

This could be a complex thing if they are disobeident religious.

As a side note. I know people like to call me by my user name here but I have a request.

I joined this forum years before me entry into religious life.

I do include my name in my signature.

Seeing that I am coming up on the occasion of my taking solemn vows I would like to request that you use my name.

I do not wish to create a new user here and lose all of my history.

The priest that gave me the sacraments of initiation (I’m 20 now) was one of these priests. Sadly he passed away, but even recently they did exist.

Noot sure wwhat you are incluuding in “sacramennts of initiation” but Confirmation reqquirres facuties from the bishop or must be done by a valid bishop.

You could ask Colin Donovan, or a canon lawyer. It would appear that the fix is for these disobedient Priests to undo what they have done.

Right you are. I have witnessed this, so I should have known better. :o

Let me try it this way. In our culture to be independent is regarded as a good thing or at best a neutral situation. When we say that a person is independent, it’s usually a compliment. When we say that a politician is an independent, it’s neutral. When we say that a country or a group is independent, we mean that it has sovereignty over itself.

None of these would apply to these priests.

  1. What they have done is immoral and illegal.

  2. No priest has sovereignty over himself. He has a bishop or a superior to whom he responds. He is part of a diocese or a community of some kind.

Most Sede priests function under a sede bishop or are part of a sede community.

I guess I’m having a hard time understanding if there are still such priests who are independent by virtue of the fact that they only want to celebrate the EF.

There could be in the sense that because they separated themselves from their diocese or their community illegally, the diocese or the community does not have an obligation to reintegrate them just because they want to come back now that they can celebrate the EF. The issue is not their reason for breaking the law, but the fact that they broke the law. Canon Law does not look at why you broke the law, but at the fact that you did break the law. They would be in the same boat as has been the SSPX. They asked to come back. The excommunication of the four bishops was lifted, but the suspensions were not. They had to meet certain requirements for that to happen.

Bishops and superiors have the authority to do the same thing. Basically, you have to rehabilitate before you are fully reintegrated. Such a priest would not be sent away. The Church does not want wandering priests or to lose souls. But they have to submit to discipline. You can’t just wander off and then come back when everything meets your satisfaction. We wouldn’t allow our spouses or our children to do such a thing.

Also, if a priest has become “acephalous” is it possible for him to ask to be attached to a traditional society like the FSSP?

It is, but it’s very difficult. First of all, let’s begin with the fact that the FSSP is a society of apostolic life with pontifical right. It is not a dumping ground for renegade priests. It’s a legitimate community of secular priests. Therefore, they have admission criteria and an admission policy like any community, secular or consecrated.

Secondly, a deacon, priest, bishop, sister, nun or brother cannot move from his community to another because the other community grants him admission. One must ask to be released from one’s community or from one’s diocese, whichever applies.

One must apply to and be admitted by a receiving community or diocese.

In some cases, the Vatican must approve the transfer.


Can. 684 §1. A member in perpetual vows cannot transfer from one religious institute to another except by a grant of the supreme moderator of each institute and with the consent of their respective councils.

If you’re a religious, you can’t transfer to another religious community just because your superior and the council say so.

§2. After completing a probation which is to last at least three years, the member can be admitted to perpetual profession in the new institute. If the member refuses to make this profession or is not admitted to make it by competent superiors, however, the member is to return to the original institute unless an indult of secularization has been obtained.

If the two superiors agree to the transfer, you must still go through a probation period.

§5. For a transfer to be made to a secular institute or a society of apostolic life or from them to a religious institute, permission of the Holy See is required, whose mandates must be observed.

If you’re a religious going to the FSSP, the Holy See must give the permission. The reason being is that you’re going from the consecrated life to the secular life. This means that your vows must be dispensed and only the Holy See can dispense vows.**

The complication comes from the fact that even though you walked, you’re still part of your diocese or your community unless you have been dismissed from the clerical state and from religious life (if applicable).

If you have been away for a very long time, there is a possibility that you may have been dismissed. This means that you may never return to active ministry of any kind, not even as an altar boy. It’s like a dishonorable discharge.



Thanks, that makes sense to me. You want a term that has negative connotations to match the nature of the act.

Br. David, I suggest that you include a short comment about this in your signature. I am sure most people would do it, if they knew this was what you wanted.

This is a nuanced question because every priest’s story is different. Some priests may be justified, and some may not. I attend a chapel of a priest who says he was abandoned by the Institute of Christ the King. He was ordined by Cardinal Stickler and has always said the traditional Mass. When ICK started to put all its eggs in one basket, so to speak, with Rome (1962 missal, Ecclesia Dei, etc.), my priest was left hanging out to dry. He literally was not given his next assignment. No phone calls answered. Nothing. So he went to live with his parents while he tried to figure out what to do next. Eventually he started to say Mass with Father Schell, a Jesuit who left his parish in 1977 when they started communion in the hand. This group of people developed into a thriving community in Orange County, which some of you may know of. Since that time three other priests have come, who left their positions in the their respective previous posts. As far as I understand, they did not have permission. The main crux of the argument is that the Bishops for the most part are still anti-traditional. They put up with it, but barely. Think of how many parishes are traditional Latin Mass only? In Orange COunty here we have terrible priests allowed to keep their posts, while our priests are maligned for wanting to do what the Church has always done. My priest said flat out that the Bishop would shut him down the second he indicated he wanted to be under him. He’d destroy our parish for lack of better words. In would come the New Mass and all the novelties. Suffice it to say, the priests have a case. Most Catholics who look at the wide scope of the situation in the US would agree.

Note the fruits, though. We have traditional Mass every day (the nearest “official” location that does this is 70 miles away). Confessions available everyday with people actually going. We have a vibrant parish life growing by leaps and bounds – St Philomena Archonfraternity, SSPX Third Order, Women’s Society, K-12 School, orthodox preaching and serious priests, etc…

On a side note, a Catholic Bishop (in good standing) from India honored of priest with the title of Mosignor, and said a Mass in his rite at our Church.

We love the Pope, but many bishops are against the traditions of the Church. Whose fault is it if they reject the traditions, when it is their mission to uphold them? Instead of faulting these priests, we should be putting the feet to the fire of the bishops who have failed so many of their flock.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.