A statement by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. on a schismatic church group in Long Branch
THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE
As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I become concerned when the unity of the Roman Catholic Church is disrupted by individuals or groups who present “alternatives” to that unity in the deceptive guise of legitimacy. Such is the case in Long Branch, New Jersey, regarding those associated with the establishment of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Inc. Although claiming legitimacy as an “alternative” or “independent” Catholic Church, this group and the individuals leading or promoting it are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. No Catholic Church is “independent.” This group and the individuals leading or promoting it are schismatics who refuse to acknowledge ‐‐‐ or, worse, reject ‐‐‐ the
unity of the Roman Catholic Church and its leadership and laws. My greatest fear is that they will take other well‐intentioned Catholics down with them, leading them away from the true practice of their faith under the pretense of legitimacy.
History has shown, time and again, that is a dangerous path to walk, for both the leaders and the followers, with dangerous spiritual consequences.
The Gospel for today (Wednesday, June 22) struck me as I prayed at Mass this morning for this schismatic group. St. Matthew writes:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them …
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire
(Matthew 7: 15‐20).
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians we read:
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. … And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the
body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer
be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love (Ephesians 1: 4‐16).
We read in St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy:
… instruct certain people not to teach false doctrines or to concern themselves with myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the plan of God that is to be received by faith. The aim of this instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, wanting to be teachers of the law, but without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance (1 Timothy 1: 3‐7).
These are passages from God’s Word, which seem to me, as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, appropriate to apply to the unfortunate situation of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Inc., in Long Branch, New Jersey.
The reason for this schism? Displeasure on the part of some with the merger of three Catholic Churches in the Long Branch community and the alleged feeling that “many” ‐‐‐ and no one is sure how “many” ‐‐‐ of the Portuguese and Spanish‐speaking Catholics there felt “displaced.” The fact of the matter is that there was a long and comprehensive study conducted and widespread consultation of the faithful prior to the decision to merge those parishes into one new parish, Christ the King. No bishop merges parishes arbitrarily and without serious reasons and no bishop does so without careful consideration and consultation of the faithful concerned. And no parishioner accepts such mergers easily.
There are many emotions and sentimental attachments involved. In the end, however, the bishop has to weigh all sides of such situations and make a final decision. And all of us are obliged, for the sake of the unity the scriptures talk about and the pastoral good of the community, to make the best of difficult situations for the sake of our Catholic faith and to move forward together. That has not been the case with Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Inc. Portuguese and Spanish‐speaking Catholics feeling displaced? The fact of the matter is that Christ the King parish has extended a warm welcome to all members of the merged parishes and Masses and ministry in Spanish and Portuguese are offered and available to parishioners in the newly merged parish. Something else is going on.
I recently read a statement issued by Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of the Archdiocese of Denver regarding a similar situation in his own region. In that statement, Archbishop Chaput wrote:
Christianity is both a comfort and challenge. When we accept what is comforting without accepting what challenges us, we stop striving for holiness. When we dispute what we do not understand, instead of prayerfully and earnestly seeking truth, we stop seeking Christ. And when we decide that we can privately discern the teaching of Christ without the guidance of the Church and her experience, we separate ourselves from the community of Christ's faithful people.
Full communion with the Church involves a communion of faith, governance, and the sacraments. We believe the teachings of Jesus Christ in communion. We worship and celebrate the sacraments in communion. And we are guided, in communion, by the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church, who are called by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the Church to teach the faith which Christ has given us. As the early Christian scholar, bishop and Saint Irenaeus taught, the bishop is the anchor and guarantor of the Church. Outside unity with the local bishop and the bishop of Rome, there is no "Catholic Church."
Many groups claim to be Catholic. Many attempt to borrow their credibility from the Church Jesus founded. But in simulating the form of Catholic life, and selectively editing the substance of Catholic belief, they are dishonest with themselves and—even more importantly—they are dishonest with others.
Those words resonate within my mind and heart and underscore the concern and fear I have, as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, for the pastoral good of the Roman Catholic faithful who have been drawn into Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Inc. Bishops and priests who have “split” with the Roman Catholic Church for whatever reason, are not serving the pastoral good of the Roman Catholic faithful or the unity that Christ prayed for, “that they may all be one (John 17: 21).” Neither are other community leaders there. They are leading God’s people down a wrong path.
On April 16, I wrote this letter to the leaders of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Inc.:
I have been informed by your representative in an April 13 letter,
- that you are “no longer particularly interested or concerned with the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church;”
- that you are “no longer members” of my “flock;”
- that you “no longer recognize” my “authority” as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton;
- that Our Lady of Guadalupe National Parish “wishes to seek its own path to salvation.”
I am deeply saddened by your actions which you, unfortunately and unfairly, blame on me. My only concern in all of this, as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, has been to preserve and protect the unity and communion of the Roman Catholic Church, fractured by your actions.
In this most holy of weeks, when Roman Catholics everywhere join together in prayer for Christian unity, you have chosen, by your actions outlined above, to place yourself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I pray that you will re‐consider the dangerous, schismatic path you have chosen and I invite you to return to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
I meant those words then and I mean them now. It is my fervent prayer that Christ the King and his Blessed Mother, Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, will draw the Catholic community that bears and invokes her name into renewed communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton