Since the news is out, it is but honest to note that Abp Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion, as he himself said he would accept some years back (I recall his statement that if so, he would enjoy spending his retirement doing some fishing), has had reiterated to him by the Holy See that he, as a former Catholic priest, cannot be received into any Ordinariate for "groups of Anglicans" as a clergyman, but only as a layman. This was of course known from the publication of the Complementary Norms accompanying Anglicanorum cœtibus, but at the least wishful thinking on the part of unprejudiced observers and at the most some suggestion of special consideration for his case had given rise to the idea that he would be received back as a priest in good standing, even as head of an Ordinariate – which cannot happen now.
Of course, this whole issue is a great stumbling block and source of ongoing pain and confusion on a number of levels: on the one hand, given his marriages, the regularization of his marital situation according to Canon Law would only further complicate the restoration of his faculties as a priest; and given his leaving the Church, albeit because of his sufferings now well-known, Catholics, whether priests or laymen, may well have found any exception made for him somewhat hard to understand, to be frank; yet, given his awful subjection to sexual abuse as a seminarian and young priest, the investigation of which is still continuing, this news of a block to his return to active ministry as a Catholic priest must seem very cruel; further, given his strong advocacy for the reunion of the T.A.C. with Rome, it must seem very hard that, if not like Moses he may still enter the Promised Land, he can only do so not as leader but as a layman; worst, it appears that the Australian bishops have prematurely made this news public, which if true is an injustice on the face of it, though I read the news had leaked from another source (let him bear his fault) and so official release of the details was but a formality in any case.
It is a most unpleasant business all round. Whatever his faults, Hepworth has given great impetus to the great and good work of the reunion of Anglicans with the Holy See, and for that he deserves thanks and sympathy in his troubles. Please pray for him. Pray too that all this does not dissuade souls from taking the path of Unity.
The Hepworth case has now been taken up by the traditional Catholic print media within the USA. This article appeared - before the recent announcement about Hepworth's lay status - in THE REMNANT (Minnesota) on 5 November, though the date in question is not clear from the appended link:
I note, of course, that there is never any suggestion of convicted sodomites within the existing Australian Catholic clergy being compelled to embrace lay status.
To remark on the allusion at the end of the above comment: while one assumes that any priest convicted of unnatural crimes is suspended from exercising any ministry, it could actually be counterproductive to degrade them to the lay state, since that would remove them from any residual control pertaining to their being a member of a religious order or diocese. That is the reason, so far as I understand it, why convicted sex abuser priests are not defrocked automatically, as one would naively imagine would be done.
Well, this explanation by Joshua could well be accurate, but one result of not laicising such priestly offenders is a consequence with which we are all sickeningly familiar: the recidivist who offends again and again and again.
I don't know of a single instance where an offending padre says to himself "Ooh, what I did to that lad was a really foolish idea, so I'll stay on the straight and narrow for the rest of my life, and I'll get to keep my priestly pension." What has happened on horribly numerous occasions is that the offender is offered (at the taxpayers' expense of course) "psychotherapy" - always fraudulent - or simply a transfer, often an interstate transfer.
This buck-passing has repeatedly occurred over not just years, but decades. (For whatever reason, some dioceses seem to have been far likelier than others to attract perverts. Maitland-Newcastle is a case in point, whereas Queensland dioceses - however heretical - appear to have been comparatively pervert-free.)
It would be considerably harder to get away with such turpitude, and the public reputation of Catholicism would be much improved, if laicisation were carried out swiftly and unambiguously. The disadvantages of employing it are as nothing compared with the frightful disadvantages of not employing it.
Of course, I am assuming above that the pervert priest in question has been caught and convicted by the secular courts.
While Canon Law, old and new, prescribes strict punishments for such Judases, too often Canon Law was winked at, and they went unpunished.
It appears that that sort of negligence or ignorance, to say nothing of connivance, occurred in the recent past, but - as is well-known - the intervention of the long arm of the law, and the shaming of the hierarchy for their sloth and worse, seems to have effected a change for the better.
In any case, this post was not about pervert priests, but a well-known victim of such who, unfortunately for him, is also one who fled the Church, contracted two successive marriages, and yet still later, to his great credit, has helped guide continuing Anglicans back to full communion with the Holy See. To reiterate, whatever his faults, he was grievously sinned against all those years ago, and has accomplished much for souls, so compassion for his present predicament is but just.
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