Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Decision in Phoenix

Here's an interesting story: in 2004, an Anglican priest "concelebrated" a Catholic nuptial liturgy in the diocese of Phoenix. Fr John Cunningham, the Catholic priest who celebrated it was suspended and the case referred to the CDF, which bounced it back to Phoenix, where an investigation was had.

The result: the diocesan priest's good standing was reinstated. However, his request for early retirement was granted....
In April 2004 Bishop Olmsted received a report that Fr. Cunningham allowed an Anglican priest to concelebrate a nuptial Mass at St. Anne’s Church in Gilbert. It is possible for a non-Catholic minister to participate in a wedding. However a non-Catholic clergyman is not allowed to concelebrate the Eucharist at a wedding or Mass on any occasion.

After an initial investigation, the bishop suspended Fr. Cunningham pending referral of the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. Bishop Angelo Amato’s response from the Congregation instructed Bishop Olmsted to initiate a process that would decide whether or not Fr. Cunningham allowed this to happen and, if so, what penalties should be imposed on him.

Bishop Olmsted appointed two priests to conduct this process: the Rev. Msgr. Brian Ferme, JCD, Dean of the School of Canon Law, The Catholic University of America, and Rev. Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, JCD, Professor of Canon Law at Catholic University and Associate General Secretary of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. They were appointed to determine whether Fr. Cunningham violated Church law, namely Canon 908.

Canon 908 reads, “It is forbidden for Catholic priests to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of churches… which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.”

Msgrs. Ferme and Jenkins concluded “The Anglican minister concelebrated not only formally, but also materially. This is most evident and indisputable….” They also wrote “There is absolutely no doubt that Fr. Cunningham knew the Rev. (Robert) Haux was an Anglican minister….”

From a video of this wedding Mass that they viewed, Msgrs. Ferme and Jenkins cite fifteen specific violations as evidence that Fr. Cunningham allowed the Anglican minister to concelebrate the Mass. For example, the Anglican minister was wearing a chasuble, extended his hands over the gifts of bread and wine immediately before the consecration (at the Epiclesis), extended one hand at the consecration of the bread and spoke the words of consecration, lifted one of the chalices at the consecration of the wine and at the same time spoke the words of consecration, joined in saying the eucharistic prayer, spoke alone part of the eucharistic prayer, and received communion at the altar as if a celebrant.
All's well that ends well. We hope.