On Fr. Treco, I stand with Bishop Lopes

When it comes to the Fr. Vaughan Treco affair, I stand with Bishop Steven Lopes.  I am tired of seeing the bishop cast in a negative light and Treco made into a hero-martyr of “the faith.”

When we came into the Catholic Church we had to give up being our own Pope, that is, deciding for ourselves the Catholic faith is.   And secondly, we had to give up the idea that we could vote on doctrine like a bunch of congregationalists or Anglicans, who in their various synods have brought us such novelties as women priests and bishops and so on.

So I watch the train wreck of Fr. Vaughan Treco’s priesthood with a combination of dismay and sadness.  It seems the words of Martin Luther reverberate down the ages:  “Here I stand, I can do no other.”   And we know how that turned out. 

Whatever you or I may personally think about his now famous homily [ you can find links to the audio and a transcript at the link] and the subsequent  state of affairs that followed, I think it is a huge mistake on Treco’s part and that of his so-called friends to mount a big social media campaign as if we all have a vote for or against him or for or against Bishop Lopes.  Nor should we have any illusion the sheer numbers of followers he has will convince authorities in Rome to reinstate him.  It’s a big strike against Treco that he allowed  the contents of the bishop’s emails to him with his selective interpretation of events in the timeline his supporters have developed to be published online.  Those who published it say Treco did not supply them with the emails—but he would still have the ability, I would think, to ask they be taken down.

Recently, someone has published an interview with Treco on OnePeterFive.com that puts a hagiographic light on the rebel priest and paints Bishop Lopes as just another bad, progressive bishop.  He is not.  He’s not only a good bishop, but also he’s a competent theologian who knows a lot more about  the Catholic faith  than the armchair critics on the internet.  He’s also a joyful follower of Christ and I’m proud to have him as the head of my particular church, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Treco insists  he was only preaching the truth in his homily; and he has a wide swath of traditionalist Catholic social media on his side.  Where many see courage and outspoken truth-telling, I see stubbornness and division, even rebellion.

The truth or “the faith” is not something out there on a piece of paper, a set of propositions in a document or exemplified at one point of time before the Second Vatican Council, or at the Council of Trent or in the early Church as found in the New Testament.   The fact Treco designed his own statement of faith, including the anti-Modernist oath, (as much as I like the anti-Modernist oath) in response to the Bishop’s initial concerns would raise red flags in even a traditionalist religious order in good standing with the Catholic Church.

We have a living Magisterium and we must interpret everything in a hermeneutic of continuity with Tradition.   The Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, who is alive and active today.   Being in communion with your bishop who is in communion with the Pope is a key element in what it means to be Catholic, especially as a priest—-our  personal opinions regarding individuals in the hierarchy notwithstanding.  The interpretation in light of Tradition goes both ways—so later developments of Trinitarian theology shed light on Scripture and vice versa.

Part of being Catholic for a priest, a religious and a bishop is obedience and docility to one’ superiors.   Some go so far as to see this as tantamount to obeying God’s will.  I remember back in the run-up to joining the Catholic Church, I had a conversation with Our Lady:  “Is obeying the Catholic Church the same thing as obeying Christ? Because if it is, I just don’t see it.  You know I want to obey Christ.  If obeying the Catholic Church is the same thing, then I need a supernatural sign to help me.”    She gave me three supernatural signs.

I’m not saying this docility means one must jump of a cliff at a superior’s command—or disobey clear moral law or preach something clearly contrary to Catholic teaching, nothing so silly as that.  Sometimes obedience requires a certain amount of suffering, though.  The Holy Spirit speaks through hierarchy even through cracked and damaged vessels, and one must be very very careful not to assume one is getting a direct signal from God by stepping outside the hierarchy for a one on one relationship.  Been there; done that as a Protestant in the days it was just me and Jesus– or me and Jesus and the Holy Spirit (after being touched by the charismatic renewal.)

Sometimes the bishop a priest must obey is a “Saul” and a source of suffering, but one thing is clear, the Catholic Church has a horror of schism.   We are also taught the Catholic Church, instituted by Christ, has both wheat and tares among its members, and likely some of those tares will be found at all levels, among the laity, among religious, among priest and bishops, maybe even a pope from time to time as history proves.

Some seem to assume Treco has been excommunicated for heresy, that is for the contents of the homily. That’s not true. It is my understanding he has been sanctioned for the delict of schism.  If I recall correctly, it has to do with section 1373 of Canon Law which can be found here.

That said, Treco keeps saying over and over again he never said what he is accused of saying, or he never meant what he is accused of saying.   But, my clear reading of the text of his homily is that he did say what he was accused of saying, though not in the exact words, and that he refused to retract and make amends.  His responses strike me as stubborn, and crazy-making.

Excommunication seems like an extremely harsh penalty.  I can understand why people are upset at this outcome.  I’m no canon lawyer, but I doubt any bishop could wave a magic wand and impose a penalty like that unless it was automatically associated with the delict or crime in question.  And, if you look at the canon law interdict for 1373,  lo and behold, it is excommunication.

I am sure Treco was warned he was heading down this path;  it looks like he brought excommunication on himself.

I hope there is a remedy for him and the excommunication can be lifted. I would not wish that on anyone.   But I doubt Treco will ever have faculties as a Catholic priest again.  Those traditionalist Catholics egging him on are helping to destroy his priesthood and that’s a very sad state of affairs.



















4 thoughts on “On Fr. Treco, I stand with Bishop Lopes

  1. Pingback: Exactly what we signed up for . . . | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

  2. This case is tragic, at best. We need to pray for the man, as his salvation is in jeopardy.

    That said, the case of Fr. Leonard Feeney that arose here in the Archdiocese of Boston back in the 1960’s is instructive as to what is possible. I think that the Wikipedia article about him is fairly accurate. The door is open to Fr. Treco’s reconciliation and return to ministry, if he repents.



  3. Thank you for this, Deborah.

    A few thoughts and observations.

    What makes a situation like this so pernicious are at least two factors. The first is that there really are ordinaries and religious superiors who abuse their authority. How easy it is, then, to assume—assume—this has to be the case with l’Affaire Treco. A number of commenters on this matter have made statements along the lines of Fr. Treco being disciplined or punished while Fr. X or Fr. Y in other dioceses are not. The facts as we know them indicate Fr. X or Fr. Y should indeed be disciplined. But the logic by which one arrives at the conclusion that Bishop Lopes is “one of the bad bishops” because he addressed Fr. Treco’s conduct while the conduct of Fr. X is not addressed by his respective bishop does not hold up. We do not have all of the facts either in l’Affaire Treco or concerning Frs. X and Y in other jurisdictions. Moreover, Frs. X and Y are in other jurisdictions! How can Bishop Lopes be accused of any kind of dereliction of duty for what happens or does not happen in another bishop’s jurisdiction? And so on.

    The other factor is that Fr. Treco and his supporters are spot-on in certain respects and are acting, it seems, in good faith. But if one delves into the history of heretical and schismatic movements, one finds plenty of “show me where what I said is wrong” kinds of statements. For example (and if my memory is correct), Corneilius Jansen and his followers took this stance. The early Jansenists were also impressive in their integrity and moral probity. But such movements tend to hold on to orthodox positions within a narrow range of all that the Church teaches. When one ventures beyond that narrow ambit, things get fuzzy. Were the Jansenists right in preaching the reality of original sin? Yes. Was their version of Christian anthropology correct, however? The Church says no.

    Also a problem in this entire matter is that a few things have been largely absent in the reportage.

    1. As Shane Schaetzel reminds us, we don’t know the chancery’s side of the matter. We do not even know why Bishop Lopes has not issued a statement. Therefore, speculating as to why he does not do so is just that: speculation. (As I have suggested, one reason for the silence might be to protect Fr. Treco and his family from even more difficulties than they are already in. But again, I am speculating.)
    2. Related to the first point is the fact that the “now famous homily” was not the only concern. Though I do not know all of the back-story, I know more of it than has been reported. (I am inclined to regard what Fr. Treco spoke from the pulpit as a sermon rather than a homily. That its content and tone went beyond what is generally meet and right so to do at that point in the liturgy could be part—if a minor part—of the problem.) I neither claim that the Treco supporters are intentionally leaving this information out of their narrative nor do I have conclusive evidence by which to charge them with intentionally presenting a skewed version of the matter. After all, the fora in which they present their case (blogs, a GoFundMe page, etc.) do not favor going into details and nuances. So, it is up to us who are following this matter to read everything critically in the best sense of the word.
    3. The above-referenced reality of superiors who abuse their authority is so often due to the fact that canon law, ecclesiastical procedures, and, of course, the Gospel are all ignored. L’Affaire Treco is, as I understand, being handled according to canon law procedures. Therefore, asking people who follow this matter to choose one side or the other is premature.
    4. Finally, to the extent that theological—and, specifically, ecclesiological—issues have been raised in l’Affaire Treco, I am often troubled by statements that seem more either/or than both/and. This observation returns to the point made above about the narrowness of theological perspective that generally characterizes well-intentioned souls who nonetheless end up creating division. For example, the reductionist view that treats all papal statements as holding the same authority and weight reveals an ecclesiology that is too brittle to accommodate the messy reality of the Church’s history. We all know that both/and thinking can, and sometimes does, provide an excuse for a kind of latitudinarianism. Sed abusus non tollit usum. (But abuse does not cancel use.) And either/or thinking is often the quickest way to deny the entirety of the Catholic faith.

    Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.


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