I have never met either James Haley or Marcel Guarnizo, but their ecclesiastical status is troubling vis a vis the perceived sanctity about which their defenders are loud and long. There are degrees of censure. “Administrative Leave”—the status of Father Guarnizo is probably the lightest form of censure under which he could be put. It is not, I believe, even a canonical category. As I explained in an earlier blog (April 25) it seems that it is just removing him from the public eye while circumstances totally unrelated to his refusal of communion to Barbara Johnson are investigated to make sure that in his involvement with Aid to the Church in Russia and the Educational Initiative for Central and Easter Europe he has done nothing illegal or that would otherwise “embarrass” the Church. His administrative leave only affects his ministerial status in the Archdiocese of Washington. He is totally free to return to his home diocese, the Archdiocese of Moscow, and serve there at the will of that Archbishop. In fact, he probably is free to assume ministry in any other diocese, even in the United States—or the world—with permission of the local bishop.
The next most serious step would be for a priest to be deprived of his faculties and this would bar him entirely from priestly ministry but leave his clerical status intact. Such censure would apply only the diocese where the faculties were withdrawn. This is sometimes used against religious order priests to force them from a diocese where the Bishop finds them troublesome for their preaching social justice themes or their failure to adhere strictly to liturgical norms, but it could be used against secular clergy as well. Another bishop, another diocese, is free to admit the priest and restore his faculties for the new diocese. Suspension a divinis which bars him from public ministry would be the next most serious step and in this case the accused is not able to resume ministry even in another diocese unless and until the suspension is lifted by the priest’s canonical superior who had placed him under suspension.
For a priest to be defrocked is the most serious punishment and it is rarely used. It is invoked only when the priest’s behavior would continue to bring extraordinary disgrace on the Church. The priest is not only prohibited from exercising ministry but is returned “to the lay state”—that is to say he is no longer acknowledged as a priest. Persistent and public immorality would be one reason this censure would be invoked, but it might also be used to distance the Church from a priest with serious psychological problems for which he either refused or is unable to be treated. A priest with a sexual addiction that cannot be brought under control might be defrocked. A man who uses the priesthood or the Church in a serious financial scam might be defrocked. In both those—and most other cases—the individual usually would first be given the opportunity to resign his priestly ministry voluntarily but the refusal to do so would result in his being defrocked.
I don’t know why James Haley was defrocked but the fact that he was not only defrocked but then, according to his defenders, excommunicated is an indication of some very serious misdeed which he will not acknowledge. It may be that psychologically he cannot accept responsibility for whatever misconduct has brought down this punishment but in any event it is a tragic story not because he didn’t deserve the punishment but because he cannot bring himself to take responsibility for his actions and be restored to the unity of the Church. If this were a case, as in the case of Mary MacKillop, of an individual bishop, it could be a personal vendetta but if the excommunication comes from the Holy See—as “defrocking” would have to (the local bishop not having that authority)—the charges must have grave weight.
Reading various blogs and entries on the internet, both Father Guranizo and James Haley have impressed many people with their being “holy priests.” How is it that people are so easily impressed? A colleague of mine was a parishioner at Saint Lawrence Church in Arlington where James Haley had once served as parochial vicar. I remember this story because my friend and his wife left Saint Lawrence, their long time parish, and joined Saint Matthew Cathedral parish across the river in Washington, precisely because of James Haley. Then-Father Haley would speak at Mass of the “visions” he had while gazing into the chalice of the newly consecrated Precious Blood. They found this very disturbing without being able to explain precisely why. Other parishioners, however, ooohhhed and aaahhhed at Haley’s profound “mystical gifts.”
Many are taken in by great piety and devotion because they confuse piety with true holiness and this is one of the structural faults in contemporary Catholicism. A newly ordained Methodist pastor with whom I was speaking recently told me that when she was in seminary she and other Protestant students cross-registered with a Catholic seminary for courses in spirituality because the Methodist faculty didn’t offer any courses while the Catholic theology school had an entire department of spirituality. Yet, she was surprised that most of the students in the spirituality courses were Protestants or lay people. Candidates for the Catholic priesthood were too busy with their canon law and liturgics classes to have the room in their schedules to study the mystics. This corresponds with my own experience where I find the secular clergy in particular to be grossly ignorant of the mystical tradition in Catholicism. I think these accounts for much of the poor preaching today when Catholics are either subjected to pious drivel or drowned in doctrinal complexities, neither of which belongs in the pulpit. Modern people have great spiritual hungers and the Catholic Church is blessed with a rich tradition of spiritual teachers such as Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Bernard of Clairvaux, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Thomas a Kempis, as well as a host of lesser known writers—Brother Laurence, Dom Augustine Baker, Marie of the Incarnation, Hadewicjh of Antwerp, Jan Ruysbroeck. The work of many of these writers is available in the Classics of Western Spirituality series by Paulist Press. In addition to these great writers of the past, current Catholic spiritual writers such as Thomas Keating, Ronald Rohlheiser, Ruth Burrows, Joan Chittester, Richard Rohr, are writing books that are helping tens of thousands of people—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—on their spiritual journeys. And of course the work of the twentieth century Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (d. 1968) continues to inspire countless people. And yet, do we hear about the spiritual journey in our parishes? All too rarely. One of my students last year mentioned that her pastor had cancelled a talk by the Trappist monk William Menninger because as her pastor told her “contemplative prayer is for monks and nuns, not people like you.” What a pity. Richard Rohr writes:
Much of the Western world has given up on the church and is going other places for wisdom. Unfortunately, in these other places they are sometimes “willingly filling their belly with the husks the pigs are eating” (Luke 15:16) But we in the church must ask ourselves if we have not been the parent who sent them away because there was nothing trustworthy or life-giving at home.
I think he has a point.