Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, congratulations on your election as Pope!

Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC has written an open letter to every Bishop, priest, and deacon on earth, calling for them to resign from their ministry, if they have committed any grave exterior sexual sins. “If you are sexually active, please resign your position now!”

What gives him the right or authority to speak to all clergy in this way, even as a recommendation? He would have to be the Roman Pontiff to speak this way to the entire set of ordained persons. He has no right within the Church to tell his fellow priests to resign. He has appointed himself as an advisor to the entire set of clergy in the world. He is speaking with pretended authority, like so many others today.

A priest who sins, other than by child abuse, can repent, confess, and continue his ministry. The Council of Trent — and the current Code of Canon Law based on the Council’s teaching — envision this process for priests in its infallible declaration that priests without access to Confession, who have committed an actual mortal sin, may make an act of perfect contrition, say Mass and receive Communion, and confess later.

“The holy Synod has decreed that this is to be perpetually observed by all Christians, even by those priests on whom it may be incumbent by [their] office to celebrate, provided that access to a Confessor is not lacking to them. But if, in urgent necessity, a priest should celebrate without previous Confession, let him confess as soon as possible.” [Council of Trent, Decree on the Eucharist, Chap. 7]

Can. 916 “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.”

But Fr. Matthew says, in effect: “No, Council of Trent! You are wrong, Canon law! If the actual mortal sin was a sexual sin, he may not repent, say Mass, confess later, and continue being a priest! He must resign! Don’t seek the mercy of Christ when you commit sexual sins! Run away instead! The Church rejects you!” So says the great Council and self-appointed law-giver of a priest with a blog.

Now for some reason, Fr. Matthew excludes interior sins of lust, for he says “sexually active”, which applies only to exterior sins. And why doesn’t Fr. Matthew include other grave sins in this call? Priests who murder or rob can remain in office? What about priests who no longer believe that Jesus is the Son of God? What about priests or Bishops who teach heresy? Why is it only the sins below the belt? Oh, and one more type of sin: “If you have ever covered up for a sexually active clergy or religious, also please resign your position!”

Pope Francis apparently disagrees with Fr. Matthew’s call, since the holy Pontiff stated that often sexual sins are less serious than some other types of sins: hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another. I wonder how many penitents go into the Confessional and confess all their sexual sins, and none of their sins of malice, envy, pride, etc., and therefore go away unforgiven.

Clergy who commit sexual sins other than child abuse have recourse to grace for repentance and mercy in the Confessional. They may remain in office. They may continue to serve. For the Church has NEVER had such a harsh unforgiving judgment as suggested by Fr. Matthew. The Church does NOT require, nor even recommend that they resign. So who is Fr. Matthew to usurp the role of the Supreme Pontiff and tell them to resign?

To tell every ordained person in the world to resign if they sinned sexually, what a Satanic suggestion! Who would be happy if that suggestion was actually followed? Satan, not Jesus. How many clergy would resign in such a case? Very many. We’re talking about any kind of grave sexual sin, not abuse of kids, so the numbers would be a percentage perhaps in the double digits. What faithful disciple of Christ actually thinks this suggestion is the will of God?! It is the error of the Donatists: be perfect or resign the ministry.

Then there are other commentators who say that all priests with same-sex attraction should reign. And then some conservatives wish all liberal priests would all resign. What is the sense to this type of call? It is not rooted in Church teaching, nor in the Gospel of love. It is not even a Pharisaical overly-legalistic interpretation of Canon law. It is Catholics caught up in the influence of modern culture, not even realizing that they are acting based on that culture, not on grace or doctrine.

{15:7} I say to you, that there will be so much more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting, than over the ninety-nine just, who do not need to repent.

An individual priest should not be writing an open letter to the roughly half a million bishops, priests, and deacons in the world, telling them that they should resign under the rules that he sets for them. A priest who commits a sexual sin has recourse to Confession. There has never been a rule in the Church that a single or a few sexual sins (here I’m not speaking about child abuse) should cause a priest to set aside his calling. And in more severe cases, a priest has recourse to his Bishop, and a Bishop has recourse to the Holy See. Fr. Matthew sets aside the good order in the Church, makes a mockery of Christ’s mercy in the Confessional, and speaks as if he were an advisor to every ordained person. So Fr. Matthew would have to be Pope Matthew to speak this way to Bishops and to the entire set of priests in the world.

Before modern mass communication in general, and the internet in particular, to make this type of recommendation to all Bishops and priests and deacons, a priest would have to write letters to each on and send them out. Why doesn’t Fr. Matthew write letters to on paper, at least to every Bishop, telling them to resign if they meet certain conditions that Father has set for his superiors in the Church? If he did, he’d be suspended from his ministry so fast his head would spin. The arrogance of this open letter, and many others like it, is just astounding.

Bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and lay leaders: if you have sinned, mortally or only venially, DO WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS! Repent and go to Confession. Pray, practice self-denial, and do works of mercy. Do not run away from Christ because of your sins. As Jesus said to Saint Faustina: “Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.”

Oh, and Fr. Matthew, please resign from your position as Roman Pontiff.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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