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Father Stephen Somerville suspended

From the now defunct Catholic Insight Magazine

Toronto -- On July 15, 2004, Fr. Stephen Somerville was suspended from the priesthood by Toronto's Archbishop Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic. It is a sad, but not surprising, occasion for us at Catholic Insight.

Fr. Somerville was associated with Catholic Insight magazine from its start in November/December 1992 until the end of 2001. He was listed as Associate Editor in our first edition of January/February 1993. His special responsibility was to educate our readers about the nature and meaning of the liturgy and forms of worship, and to inform us about the latest developments.

In the spring of 2002, I asked him to withdraw his name from our masthead. He readily complied and agreed that he could no longer write for us in the same manner as before because his views on the liturgy within the Catholic Church had changed.

Father Somerville's contributions

Recently, Father Somerville (now aged 73) became known across North America as the chaplain who celebrated Mass for Mel Gibson and his crew while they were on a film-shoot in Italy in the fall of 2003. He was there for them in December 2002 and January 2003. The Passion of the Christ became the film sensation of 2004 and that fame rubbed off on him. What also filtered through was that Fr. Somerville celebrated the Latin Tridentine version of the Mass. Mel, it was suggested, was at odds with the Church about the current liturgical norms ("Mel Gibson's spiritual advisor," Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, September 21, 2003).

The Somerville family is well-known in Ontario because the father, Henry Somerville, was the editor of the Canadian Catholic Register weekly newspaper from the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties. Later on, both Stephen and his older brother Peter, now deceased, were associated with the well-known St. Michael's Choir School, next to Toronto's St. Michael's Cathedral. It educates boys who are musically gifted in the Church's great heritage of classical church music, hymns, and choral singing. Ordained in 1956, Stephen was a teacher of Latin and music, while his brother became director of the school. Stephen is also a composer and musician; over 20 of his hymns of arrangements made it into the first national Canadian hymnal, the Book of Worship, together with a number of psalm canticles. Several compositions of his are to be found in the four-volume North American Liturgy of the Hours, perhaps best known as "the (priests') breviary." It had been hoped, after the Second Vatican Council, that the laity might come to use it as well. In brief, Fr. Somerville's special qualifications as a Catholic priest, pastor, and scholar centred on the liturgy.


In 1964 Fr. Somerville became the Canadian representative member on the newly constituted ICEL, the International Commission of the English Language, set up to translate the Latin Missal (the Mass book on the altar) into English. At 33 he was its youngest member but "soon felt perplexity before the bold mistranslations confidently proposed and pressed by the ever-strengthening radical/progressive element in our group. I felt, but could not articulate, the wrongness of so many of our committee's renderings" (Apology, 2003).

One example of a wrong translation he provides is the answer to the priest's saying, "The Lord be with you," which in Latin is "Et cum spiritu tuo" ("and with your spirit"). But ICEL rewrote the answer to say, "and also with you." This, he points out, "besides having an overall trite sound, has added a redundant word (also). Worse, it has suppressed the word 'spirit' which reminds us that we human beings have a spiritual soul. Furthermore, it has stopped the echo of four (inspired) uses of 'with our spirit' in St. Paul's letters."

Changes like the above, he points out, are very important because the Liturgy is our law of praying (lex orandi) which, in turn, forms our law of believing (lex credendi). In 1973, he voluntarily resigned from ICEL when he felt himself becoming more and more critical of the ongoing translations. After that he served seven years in Ottawa as editor of the Living Christ missalettes and then became a parish priest in the Toronto archdiocese. He maintained his interests in liturgy and Gregorian chant, and tried to retain a little bit of Latin in his celebrations of the Sunday Mass, after its wholesale abandonment by the Canadian and American bishops.

Liturgical controversies

As the years went by, it became clear that much of what was ordained by the on-the-spot liturgical and architectural "experts," male or female, was neither authorized nor intended by the Vatican Council. Fr. Somerville was keenly aware of that.

He was also aware, however, that help was on the way, not least because he followed its progress in articles for Catholic Insight throughout the nineties. Rome now criticized ICEL translations, as did many people; opposition to local liturgical abuses was growing; the Vatican issued new instructions about the rues for translation (Liturgiam authenticam, May 7, 2001); some translations were disallowed; so-called authoritative, mandatory, architectural instructions were shown to be neither mandatory nor authoritative; a new missal in Latin was produced and set as the model for translations into the vernacular. Fr. Somerville wrote about all this for Catholic Insight. See the annual indexes in the December issues under "Liturgy," especially the years 1996 and following. His last contribution appeared in November 2001, written during the previous summer.

Most recently, in 2003 and 2004, ICEL itself was completely re-organized and given new statutes and new members. The Holy Father re-emphasized the meaning and nature of the Eucharist (2003); the Congregation for Divine Worship provided a specific list of abuses to be corrected (2004); and a new international English translation much more sensitive to the sacred character of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is in the making for 2005-6. But, alas, it seems to have come too late for Fr. Somerville, as, again alas, it has also for a number of Catholics. They decided to find solace elsewhere.

Today Fr. Somerville says that he would have written these articles in a very different way if he had to do it again. That, no doubt, is so, but we are proud of him that he wrote them when he did; that is, still as a Catholic in full communion with the Church and hopeful that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church would overcome these irritating, often deeply hurting, abuses. Forty years, surely, is not so long a time for the Church to prepare the necessary change-over in translating all its rituals in a multitude of languages, even though forty years may appear to be a lifetime to any one individual.

Fr. Somerville steps out

As usual, Fr. Somerville attended our editorial board meeting, held in Oakville, in early September 2001. He told us that he had just returned from Texas where he had substituted for five weeks for a Canadian priest, Fr. Louis Campbell, formerly of the Augustinians at Marylake north of Toronto, in order to allow him to go on vacation. He then passed around a couple of books which alarmed us immediately. They were written by sede vacantists, those who believe that the Chair of St. Peter is vacant and is presently occupied by impostors. There were photos of the ears of Pope Paul VI, sharply pointed, presumably just like the devil's, and of the present Pope as a young priest in Poland with a child on his shoulder and a young woman at his side, the kind of thing enemies of the Church such as Communists or Freemasons have often used in the past in attempts to discredit a local bishop or priest, suggesting he has a mistress on the side.

Upon inquiry in what parish he had substituted for five weeks, it turned out that it had lay directors who had themselves purchased a church building and set up their "church" without either knowledge or permission from the local bishop. In other words, it was a schismatic congregation not in communion with the Catholic Church (St. Jude's Shrine, Stafford, Texas). Here Fr. Somerville offered up daily Mass, heard confessions, distributed Communion and did all the things a parish priest does. Above all, he told us, he had fallen in love with the Latin liturgy and its 1962 Tridentine Missal all over again.

From then on, it was all downhill. No number of earnest conversations could convince him that, by celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice with a congregation not in union with the Catholic Church, he had placed himself in a sinful situation. The Masses, of course, were valid, but not licit.

Fr. Somerville's ICEL apology

Throughout 2002 and 2003 many of his friends continued to pray and hope that Fr. Somerville would draw back from walking on the edge of a precipice.

But in the fall of 2002 he circulated a three-page document, illustrated with photos, entitled Renouncing My Service on ICEL. It was printed by Angelus Press in Kansas, a press of Catholic "traditionalists" who support the schismatic Society of St. Plus X (SSPX), followers of Archbishop Lefevbre who refused to accept the Second Vatican Council's Decrees on Liturgy, Ecumenism, and Religious Freedom. The Archbishop was excommunicated in 1988 (see Letters to the Editor in this edition).

Around this time Fr. Somerville also resigned his position as Catholic chaplain to Philippino Charismatics of Toronto. The Toronto Chancery, mean while, requested that he halt the circulation of his ICEL apology.

Many people spoke with Fr. Somerville, but without success. He had read, or re-read, all the criticisms made against the 1970 Liturgy by the Lefebvrists, and others such as Michael Davies, in his three-volume history of the liturgy changes since 1960. He adopted the view that many Novus Ordo Masses (i.e. Masses in the vernacular or in Latin celebrated according to Pope Paul's 1970 missal), perhaps all of them, were either sacrilegous, or invalid, of both, because of changes made in the text. "Such a litany of defects," he writes in his ICEL apology, "suggests that many modern Masses are sacrilegous, and some could well be invalid. They certainly are less Catholic, and less apt to sustain Catholic Faith." In recent months traditionalists have circulated this apology in North America and in Europe (The Tablet, July 31, 2004), and it is also available on the SSPX website.

Readers will note that words such as "suggests," "could well be," "less Catholic," and "less apt," indicate a lack of precise theological definition on the part of the author. Either the Mass is valid or it is not; it cannot be both at once.

In the spring of 2004, Fr. Somerville forwarded a copy of a nicely printed book entitled Seventeen priests tell why they celebrate the Latin Mass to every priest in Toronto or perhaps also to priests throughout all of Ontario. The mailing address was that of an SSPX affiliate in Toronto. It was accompanied by a letter penned by Fr. Somerville in which he told the story of his 2001 "conversion" to the old Mass.

The book's title is deceptive because it deals with seventeen priests, including some Canadians, who celebrate Mass in Latin after first breaking their relationship with the Catholic Church. None of them are SSPX members.

The cover-letter proved that Fr. Somerville now rejects much of the Second Vatican Council, because, he says, it began "introducing modernist, liberal concepts into Catholic thought, at variance with traditions we had grown up with prior to 1960.... These ideas had been conveyed in enticing, vague, and ambiguous language, apt for simultaneous or traditional interpretation, so that a good majority of the Council Fathers would vote their approval, but in fact open a door for revolution."

The truth is that most of them were approved by overwhelming majorities, not just by a "good majority," and that while there are some ambiguities, these should not be attributed to plots of conspiracies.

The Church takes action

Fr. Somerville's determination to continue on the path of open defiance of Church authorities becomes even clearer when we consider that by this time he had already received a formal warning from Archbishop Ambrozic. In December 2003, he was sent a letter to cease and desist from serving "traditionalist" congregations associated with the Society of St. Pius X.

When, six months later, he received the formal note of suspension dated July 15, 2004, after his return from a brief speaking tour in the U.S., he immediately forwarded it to The Remnant in Wyoming for publication with the rest of his correspondence which he had sent earlier. The Remnant is a bi-weekly American national traditionalist newspaper that does not accept the 1970 Missal and Mass of Pope Paul VI. They promptly printed what he had sent and placed everything on their website. The article "Mel Gibson's chaplain suspended" includes the text of the correspondence and the note of suspension which we print below.

The gist of the correspondence below is straightforward: the Archbishop's warning is dated Christmas Eve, 2003. Father Somerville's reply of January 12, 2004, denies that the Society of St. Pius X is schismatic and therefore "no longer in full communion," a term he questions. (N.B.: It is used today to indicate other Christian bodies which have one of more beliefs in common with Catholicism but which are not legally or canonically part of the Catholic Church). Msgr. John Murphy, Vicar General of the Toronto archdiocese, responded (March 24) by sending Fr. Somerville a letter from the one authority within the Church who should know the status of the Society of St. Pius X: the secretary of the Vatican Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. (N.B.: this Commission was set up in 1988 when Pope John Paul II gave permission for the Tridentine Mass of 1962 again to be celebrated for faithful Catholics, after obtaining permission from the local bishop. He also gave permission to some two dozen or more Lefebvrist priests, who wanted to return to the Church, to form the Fraternity of St. Peter with the purpose of being able to celebrate again the Latin Tridentine Mass in the Catholic Church--as before 1962. This Fraternity has received many vocations since. In 2004, it ordained nine priests in North America alone.)

Fr. Somerville replied again on May 29, 2004. He continues to quibble, and now says he was acting "out of necessity," under Canon 1382; moreover, the followers of the excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre are still in communion with the Catholic Church, he argues, just not with "the present Vatican."

Final comment

I have taken much space to set this matter before you, our readers, in the belief that the details of this sad development are important to understand. Already I have one printed report which attacks Toronto's Cardinal for supposedly harsh and undue treatment. Faithful Catholics should be very clear about the issue: the Cardinal is right, Father Somerville is wrong.

The Pope is the sign of unity in the Church. The 4,400 Catholic bishops around the world in union with him form the hierarchy of the Church. We have to be in union with them. Rejection of the Pope's authority in matters of faith and morals means that one is cut off from the Church. One cannot be in communion with the Catholic Church, yet "just not with the present Vatican."

Today, many people, including Catholics, seem to think that one can change "churches" as one can change parishes of, worse, one's clothes. This is a mistaken and truly disastrous notion. It may apply to other Christian denominations but not to the Catholic Church. Saint Peter was given the power to bind and loose for all time ("whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19). The Christian faith is a revealed religion. It must stay unified. The Church should not be understood as a body put together as we do with governments or other organizations. Rather, it is uniquely instituted by Christ, our Lord, who guarantees that "the portals of hell will not overcome it" (Matthew 18:18).

Letter to Father Somerville from Cardinal Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto (December 24, 2003)

Dear Father Somerville,

It is high time that I wrote to you in light of my recently acquired knowledge of your extra-curricular activities. It has come to my attention that you are celebrating Mass for congregations affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X.

As you well know, this group is not in full communion with Rome and any further ministry exercised by you on their behalf would force me, as your Bishop, to take remedial action.

With this letter be informed that I order you to terminate your association with the Society of St. Pius X, or face the prospect of suspension and/or further canonical action.

If you have any question about this, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Wishing you a peaceful and blessed Christmas,

In Christ, 

Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic 
Archbishop of Toronto

Father Somerville's response to Cardinal Ambrozic (January 12, 2004)

Your Eminence,

I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of Christmas Eve, which expressed displeasure at my having said Masses for Catholics "affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X," and which threatened me with canonical suspension for this.

I am puzzled that such a serious penalty should be invoked for assisting the three hardworking priests of that Society in Toronto, who must serve nine churches in Ontario and New Brunswick, seven of which are in dioceses other than yours. I am also puzzled by your phrase "not in full communion with Rome," to describe the SSPX. Does this mean partial communion? Can there be such a thing? Although there is a divergence in thinking between the Vatican, as presently and confusedly manifested, and the clear position of the SSPX, I consider that the SSPX is simply in communion with Pope John Paul, and, after considerable reading on the subject, I rejoice to understand that they are not excommunicated, not even their four bishops. The Vatican authority has affirmed that Catholics attending SSPX Masses truly fulfill their Sunday obligation, and are justified in making a suitable contribution in the collection.

I know that many persons seem to share the slanderous notion that the SSPX is in schism, but this is clearly contradicted by various authorities. If there is any division, it has been brought about by the Vatican itself in the last four papacies. And if Pius XII or the Fathers of Trent were to return, they would recognize the Catholic Church much more clearly in (the) SSPX than in the post-Vatican II Church. Here I refer to doctrine and piety, as well as to liturgical rites.

In the light of the foregoing considerations, I think you should commend me for publicly sustaining the Catholic Faith and Liturgy, and I respectfully request that you drop your threat of suspension. If I have not yet been able to persuade you of the Catholic worth and validity of SSPX, I do earnestly ask you to indicate to me in writing the precise nature of my alleged crime or wrongdoing and where it is spelled out in Canon Law, and where the penalty of suspension is provided.

Your letter of 24 December 2003 seems clearly to be a consequence of my visit with your Chancellor John Murphy on 28 November 2003, whereat I candidly indicated the places where I was celebrating the traditional Mass. On that occasion, I offered a gift to Msgr. Murphy, Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre (Vol. I) by Michael Davies, the distinguished and prolific English commentator on the liturgical changes of the last forty years. Mr. Davies perceives better than I can say, and with searching detail, the powerful contribution of the late Archbishop Lefebvre to the survival of Catholic Faith and worship, and some of his canonical sufferings at the hands of high persons in the Vatican. I hope you will find time to read at least some of this work.

Respectfully yours in Jesus and Mary, 
(Rev) Stephen E Somerville

The Archdiocese responds (March 23, 2004)

Dear Father Somerville,

Thank you for your letter of January 12, 2004, in response to Cardinal Ambrozic's letter of December 24, 2003. Clearly the concerns outlined in Cardinal Ambrozic's letter appear not to be concerns to you. Please read the enclosed letter signed by Rev. Msgr. Camille Perl, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei." You will note that the Society of St. Plus X is deemed by the competent ecclesial authority as not being in full communion with the Holy See. Therefore you are not within your canonical right to collaborate with the Society of St. Plus X by offering your priestly services.

Please make yourself available to see the Cardinal at your earliest convenience.

With every good wish, I remain Fraternally yours in Our Lord,

Rev. Msgr. John K. Murphy, V.G. 
Chancellor of Spiritual Affairs

Msgr. Perl's letter (February 6, 2004)

Dear Monsignor Murphy,

I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 27 January 2004. First, for your general information, I am including the responses to the most frequently asked questions about the canonical status of the schismatic Society of St. Plus X. Following those, I will make a more specific response regarding the situation which you have presented.

1. The bishops of the Society of St. Plus X are excommunicated according to the prescription of canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law which states that "A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See." Archbishop Lefebvre was duly reminded of this before his conferral of episcopal ordination on 30 June 1988 and the Holy Father confirmed that this penalty had been incurred in his Apostotic Letter Ecclesia Dei, #3 [cf. AAS 80 (1988) 1495-1498; English translation in L'Osservatore Romano English edition of 11 July 1998, p. 1].

2. The priests of the Society of St. Plus X are validly ordained, but suspended; that is, prohibited from exercising their priestly functions because they are not properly incardinated in a diocese or religious institute in full communion with the Holy See (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 265) and also because those ordained after the schismatic episcopal ordinations were ordained by an excommunicated bishop. They are also most probably excommunicated since it is quite likely that these priests, after more than fifteen years in a society whose head is now an excommunicated bishop, adhere to the schismatic act.

3. Concretely this means that the Masses offered by the priests of the Society of St. Plus X are valid, but illicit; i.e., contrary to Canon Law. The Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony, however, require that the priest enjoys the faculties of the diocese of has proper delegation. Since that is not the case with these priests, these sacraments are invalid. It remains true, however, that, if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that the priests of the Society of St. Plus X do not have the proper faculty to absolve, the Church supplies these faculties so that the sacrament is valid (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 144).

4. While it is true that participation in the Mass at the chapels of the Society of St. Plus X does not of itself constitute "formal adherence to the schism" (cf. Ecclesia Dei 5, c), such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a schismatic mentality which separates itself from the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff and the entire Catholic Church. While we hope and pray for a reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei cannot recommend that members of the faithful frequent their chapels for the reasons which we have outlined above. We deeply regret this situation and pray that a reconciliation of the Society of St. Pius X with the Church may come about, but until such time, the explanations which we have given remain in force.

Following upon the above-stated principles, it is clear that the Society of St. Plus X is not in full communion with the Holy See. The priest to whom you refer [Father Stephen Somerville, MJM] then is not "within his canonical right" to collaborate with the Society of St. Plus X by offering his priestly services. We would suggest that this information should be communicated directly to the priest. Quite evidently, he has accepted the interpretation given him by the priest members of the society and it will probably require some time and patience to dislodge these ideas. If he is given the required canonical admonitions and refuses to abide by them, it may be necessary to suspend him a divinis according to the provisions of the Code of Canon Law. We sincerely hope that that will not be the case.

With cordial best wishes I remain Sincerely yours in Christ, 
Rev. Msgr. Camille Perl Secretary

Father Somerville replies again (May 29, 2004)

Dear Monsignor Murphy,

Belatedly, with regret, I reply to your letter of 23 March 2004 regarding the threat of suspension against me for collaborating with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). In addition to ongoing business and various travel commitments, I have striven to do considerable further reading on our problem. Thank you for your letter, and special thanks to you and to the Archbishop for having secured the two-page letter (6 Feb 2004) on our topic from Msgr. Camille Perl, Secretary of Ecclesia Dei in the Vatican.

I do have some difficulty with the explanation of Msgr. Perl. In his paragraph 2, he speaks of the Episcopal ordinations of the four SSPX bishops as "schismatic ordinations," and of these as a "schismatic act." But nowhere does he explain or justify this negative view. On the contrary, I have read of several canonical authorities declaring--precisely in our context Cardinal Lara, Neri Capponi, Prof. Geringer, jcd (Munich), Fr. Gerald E. Murray, jcd (New York), and more) that the ordination of a bishop without papal authorization does not constitute a schismatic act. Indeed, my readings relate that large numbers of bishops in the past have in fact been ordained without clearance by the Pope and received Vatican recognition at a later time. The desire of Archbishop Lefebvre and his community to remain firmly and fervently attached to "traditional Rome" and the Holy See is patent and manifest in his writings and utterances and actions. Courrier de Rome, of September 1988, concluded after a detailed study (Is Tradition Excommunicated? A collection of Independent Studies, chapter 1, p. 36, of pp. 1-39; Angelus Press, Kansas City, MO 1993) as follows:

"There does not exist a 'schism' of Archbishop Lefebvre; it has been decreed with superficiality, bad faith, and a suspect eagerness." (The whole article and book is well worth reading and a powerful vindication of the SSPX.)

Throughout Msgr. Perl's letter, I count possibly a dozen allusions, almost mechanically made, to the schism and excommunication and non-full comunion of SSPX persons. But these allusions are not substantiated, except for the mention of excommunication in canon 1382 of the 1983 Code. Yet here Msgr. Perl fails to mention what he surely knows, that canon 1324 exempts from all penalties one who breaks a law out of necessity, even if the person disobeying is mistaken. Now it is surely clear in the deplorable state of the Church today that a profound and widespread necessity for holy Catholic sacraments and faithful Catholic teaching is pressing upon us. I hope that the Chancery staff in particular can see this spiritual necessity. If you cannot see it, I do not point an accusing finger, because I myself, priest of 48 years and beneficiary of various serious appointments and studies, could not see this clearly until about three years ago (2001), when I went to serve a traditional, independent Catholic community of about 175 persons in the USA for five weeks (they were my summer holiday) and I read the many stimulating, eye-opening, thorough theological books and articles which my new Catholic friends made available to me. It was no mete nostalgia trip. It was a discovery and summons leading back to the Catholic Church of my youth, of my early priestly years, and of ancient Tradition.

May Jesus lead the bishops and priests of the Toronto Archdiocese to make this rediscovery, as urgently as possible; the salvation of multitudes depends on it. May the thought of an awesome Judgment Day add compelling motivation to this most pressing task. I urge you to follow me and SSPX and all Traditional Catholics in this increasingly joy-filled and reverential and inspiring clarification of Catholic Truth. Will it lead to painful regret over many facts, going back to 1962 Rome and the Second Vatican Council? Will it suggest that Archbishop Lefebvre is the new Saint Athanasius of the Catholic twentieth century, with Modernism as the new and all-deceiving Arian heresy? Will it show that even popes can be deceived and deceiving without formally teaching error ex cathedra? Will it remind us that Jesus flatly predicted that many false Christs and false prophets will arise and deceive many, if possible even the elect (John, 24)? Let us not be afraid of incidental consequences. But let us return ardently and generously to the Faith of our Fathers.

Is the SSPX "not in full communion" with the Holy See? This wording is inappropriate. Rather, the SSPX is not in full agreement with the present Vatican. A highest-level commission of cardinals and theologians must undertake a thorough and public study of these disagreements. They are vital to the Faith and critical for salvation. The Roman Chancery thus likewise has an urgent, disturbing, and inescapable task. May the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto, with his remaining time of service, contribute effectively to the Catholic Counter-Reformation in both justifications.

Have I persuaded you to lay down the unfounded threat of canonical action against me? Shall I still be forced into heresy by so-called obedience, or into so-called schism by fidelity? If I cannot move you to the right, with tears for my own past blindness, will you now shackle me in the wrong for clinging to Catholicism? Would I have to continue liturgical service to believers with presumed and alleged illegitimacy, as Archbishop Lefebvre had to continue his Catholic Seminary at Econe after its so-called suppression by Vatican edict? Will the visible Church authorities begin at long last to assert that the Post Vatican II Fabrication, the Neo-Church Emperor, has no clothes? Would you allow me to start a fully traditional, constituted Catholic community in Toronto (not in competition with the existing work of SSPX) so that I (and others with me) could make attractively real what I'm writing about?

I apologize for the lengthiness of this appeal. You will perceive, Monsignor, that the "you" is often plural. I hope you perceived that the concerns of the Archbishop (for communion, in the truth) are also mine. Yes, I will seek a meeting with him, and presume to copy this letter to him. Perhaps, you will copy it to Msgr. Perl. For all of us, I beg the Holy Spirit's guiding and illuminating.

Sincerely in Jesus and Mary,
Fr. Stephen Somerville

The Cardinal suspends Father Somerville (July 15, 2004)

Dear Father Somerville:

1. For the last several months, I have tried unsuccessfully to reason with you about your grave and persistent disobedience in continuing your association with and in celebrating the Eucharist for adherents to the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. Given your earlier and more recent communications with myself and with Monsignor John Murphy, Chancellor of Spiritual Affairs, it appears all our efforts to deal pastorally with your obstinacy in this matter have been in vain. In particular, your recent mailing to the priests of the Archdiocese of a form letter (over your signature) and a book entitled, Priest, Where is Thy Mass? Mass, Where is Thy Priest?, can easily be interpreted as an apologia for your position and a further indication of your entrenchment therein. Moreover, such action contravenes both the letter and the spirit of my admonition to you dated December 24, 2003.

2. Father Somerville, on the day of your ordination nearly a half century ago, you placed your hands in those of the ordaining Archbishop and promised obedience to him and his successors, as laid down in Canon 127 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law ("All clerics, especially priests, are bound by a special obligation to show reverence and obedience each to his own Ordinary"), and reiterated in Canon 273 of the 1983 Code ("Clerics have a special obligation to show reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and to their own Ordinary"). It is regrettable that, of late, you apparently have lost your earlier zeal for the virtue just described.

3. It is my understanding that you have not "formally" affiliated yourself with the Society of St. Pius X already mentioned. Such formal affiliation to that Society, whose founder's ipso facto excommunication was declared by the Apostolic See on July 1, 1988, would, as you are probably aware, according to Canon 1364, likewise result in your own immediate de jure excommunication from the Church.

4. On the other hand, your ongoing association with and celebration of the Tridentine Mass for members of the Society of St. Pius X give external recognition to their illegitimate claims and their lack of submission to our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, to bishops appointed by him, and to the teachings of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Your actions are also a potential source of scandal to clergy and laity of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

5. In light of all the foregoing, with due observance of Canon 1342, 1, and Canons 1717-1720:

* Given your flagrant disregard for my previous warnings to cease and desist from your disobedient behaviour (fc. Canons 1330; 1347.1);

* Given the existence of the condition for grave imputability of your actions (cf. Canon 1321);

* Given the absence of extenuating circumstances (cf. Canons 1322-1324);

* I hereby decree, in your regard, the imposition of the censure of suspension .as laid down in Canon 1333, 1, 1-3. That is, as of this 15th day of July 2004, you no longer enjoy the faculties of the Archdiocese. To wit, you are prohibited all public and private acts of the power of Order and of the power of governance. Namely, you are forbidden to celebrate, either publicly or privately, any of the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (this latter, outside the danger of death of a penitent [cf. Canon 1335]). You are likewise forbidden the faculty to preach or to celebrate publicly the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Word. Thus, this censure of suspension is global (cf. Canon 1334, 1).

6. This censure does not prevent you from receiving the sacraments in the churches of the Archdiocese provided you are otherwise well-disposed. It does prevent you from offering the sacraments to members of the faithful of our Archdiocese and elsewhere, even to those legitimately asking, the sole exception being the absolution of a penitent in danger of death (cf. Canons 976 &1335).

7. In keeping with Canon 1355, 1, 1, the remission of this censure is to be in the external forum and is reserved to myself or my delegate. No remission will be possible without a clear indication you have withdrawn from your obstinate disobedience already cited, wish to be fully reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church, and return to the path of reverence and full obedience to the Roman Pontiff and your Archbishop Ordinary.

8. This censure of suspension is personal; that is, in keeping with Canon 1351, it binds you not only within the territory of the Archdiocese of Toronto, but everywhere in the world.

9. Notification of this suspension is being sent to the bishops of Ontario and the auxiliary bishops and priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

10. In keeping with Canon 1737, 1-2, recourse from this suspension can be taken to the Congregation for Clergy in Rome within a peremptory time limit of 15 canonical days.

Father Somerville, I regret having had to take the drastic measure of removing your faculties by way of the penalty of suspension. It is the mind of the Church, as it is mine, that the imposition or declaration of penalties is a last resort when neither "by fraternal correction or reproof, nor by any methods of pastoral care, can the scandal be sufficiently repaired, justice restored, and the offender reformed" (Canon 1341).

With the assurance of my prayers, I remain yours in Christ, 
Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic 
Archbishop of Toronto

Note from Fr. Somerville to the "Remnant:"

Further to my fax of 15 July 2004, correspondence regarding threat of my suspension. I write to you in haste and urgency since I have just this hour opened the attached letter from my Ordinary, Cardinal Ambrozic. As you will read, he has taken decisive action against me, and if you are planning to publish the prior correspondence, this item also should be made known to the readers, and I am hereby informing you of it immediately, as I had promised to do. The letter invites some response (including a possible canonical "recourse" within 15 days) and/or appropriate meeting of minds, and I have begun work on this. Of this course of action I will also inform you promptly. With thanks for your attention help and patience.

In Jesus and Mary, 
Father Stephen Somerville

Fr. Somerville responded to the suspension with another letter of the same kind as the previous ones. But, of course, he had already disobeyed the Archbishop's instructions by sending the correspondence to the traditionalist press for publication.

Consequently he received the following letter dated August 18 (again published from the Cardinal by The Remnant).

Dear Father Somerville,

I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of August 12 in which you respond to my letter of suspension of July 15. I notice that, in the meantime, the letter of suspension and prior correspondence have been published on www.RemnantNewspaper.com.

The only manner in which you can persuade me to revoke the suspension is by fulfilling the following conditions and this without any kind of qualification:

1. You write all the priests who have been sent your letter endorsing the publication Priest Where is Thy Mass? Mass Where is Thy Priest? And recant your endorsation;

2. You sever all ties with the Society of St. Plus X;

3. You make a declaration of fidelity to Pope John Paul II and your Archbishop;

4. You affirm the authenticity of the teaching of Vatican II;

5. You affirm the validity of the Eucharist celebrated according to all the Canons approved by the Church.

The conditions 2. to 5. are to be fulfilled in writing and sent to my address by August 31. Condition 1. is to be fulfilled in writing to all the addresses by the same date. We wish to see the text of your message before it is sent. I am sorry it has come to this; we have known each other for a long time. But my fidelity to the Catholic truth gives me no choice but to suspend you. To all your pettifogging arguments I answer with St. Augustine's chief reply to the self-righteously pure Donatist sect, Securus iudicat orbis terrarum.

Wishing you all the best, I remain, 
Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic 
Archbishop of Toronto

Featured in the Star

On August 28, The Toronto Star published a "Saturday special" in its front section, featuring Fr. Somerville ("The Passion of the Priest"), while elsewhere in the paper Sheila Dabu used him to do a feature on Mel Gibson and other "traditionalists" in the Church, "That old time religion." The Star's Saturday edition is bought by well over half a million people.

In the first feature, Fr. Somerville repeated his disagreement with the Second Vatican Council, again denied that the SSPX is schismatic, reiterated that his suspension was "unlawful and without foundation," and noted that "both Mel and I have made the fundamental decision to repossess traditional Catholicism" (when such things as rampant abortion and divorce in the Church were unknown).

Father Alphonse de Valk, c.s.b., is a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil and editor of this magazine.


Anonymous said...

Well I don't understand the argument here about Somerville position on Vat 2 & the Latin mass? Firstly the Latin mass is the only Catholic mass according to papal decree 'Quo Primum'. Second, Jesus said to judge a tree by its fruit....what is the fruit of Vatican 2? ... lower mass attendeance, confusion of liturgy & catholic traditions, weak priestly leadership, Catholic lukewarmness, empty convents & empty seminaries. So why do people still defend Vatican 2? It is nothing but a wrecking ball that has decimated the Catholic Church.

Catherine said...

I don't understand how somebody can consider Fr. Somerville's attitude, as well as that of the SSPX, as anything other than Catholic. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). They simply apply the principles of equity and higher law, contrary to the positivistic arguments of modern canonists trained in an erroneous, Enlightenment-style jurisprudence which is foreign to the mind of the Church, expressed through 1,900 years of canonical tradition. Even a pagan philosopher like Aristotle would be able to see the 1988 consecrations as licit.

And the arguments coming from Rome about the canonical situation of the SSPX are weak, particularly with regard to the 1975 "suppression".

If suppression were valid, then the SSPX would have ceased to exist juridically. However, in the various dialogues regarding “regularization”, Rome has always acknowledged the existence of this entity known as the “Society of St. Pius X”; if not, the dialogues would simply be occurring between Vatican officials and a group of independent priests that do not belong to a specific, existing organization.

If this were the case, then it would have made no sense for Pope Francis to specify the SSPX as an institute when he granted all the members jurisdiction for hearing confessions, for example. If the suppression were valid, and the SSPX no longer existed as a juridical entity from that point onward, what institute was Pope Francis referring to when he declared he was granting jurisdiction to SSPX priests?

And how can Pope Francis grant the faculty to hear confessions to SSPX priests, if these priests are not in communion with the Church?

And quite clearly, the Pope recognizes the argument of "supplied jurisdiction" coming from the SSPX. He wasn't lifting suspensions in 2016, the penalty which would usually be incurred if a priest heard confessions without the faculty (1983 CIC c. 1378). Nor was he granting radical sanations en masse for those who'd had their marriages witnessed by SSPX priests, although a ceremony in an SSPX chapel would not meet the requirements for canonical form. These constitute an implicit recognition of the validity of these sacraments, even prior to 2016, meaning that the SSPX did act validly under Ecclesia supplet.

Why doesn't Rome stop all this contradiction and confusion (and quite frankly, pettiness) and simply declare outright that the SSPX has always been in good standing? It has always been canonically regular, and an implicit recognition has already taken place. What stops the explicit recognition? Fear of criticism?

As a canonist, I find this a very unedifying situation.