When “Catholic” Isn’t Catholic

Who is Zabrina

Zabrina Decker did her undergraduate studies at Mundelein College in

Chicago, Illinois, in Religious Studies. She received her Master of

Religious Education degree at Loyola University, Chicago and her Canon Law

(J.C.L.) degree at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

She ministered as a Director of Christian Formation for six years before

moving to the Tribunal office at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee five years


In her present assignment as a canonist for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,

Ms. Decker judges cases relative to marriage from the Archdiocese of

Milwaukee and ministers as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the

Archdiocese of Chicago. Ms. Decker also serves as an adjunct faculty member

in Canon Law at Saint Francis Seminary.

Picture this scenario. You're unable to attend Sunday Mass over the weekend at your home parish, yet you spot a quaint chapel in Mukwonago called St. Pius V Chapel offering "Catholic Mass" at a convenient time.

If you attend the service conducted in Latin in the Tridentine rite by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, would you have fulfilled your Sunday Mass obligation?

According to Zabrina Decker, vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the answer is no.

St. Pius V Chapel is one of a handful of groups or places within the geographic boundaries of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that, according to a recent chancery newsletter, "use the title 'Catholic,' or describe services in a way that could lead to that identification," yet are not recognized as Catholic by the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

Chapel of St. Benedict

A marquee in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Angels, located in Wauwatosa, states that the church is part of the "Old Catholic Church of America." The parish priest is Fr. Alvaro Nova, who celebrates his services in Latin and in Spanish. (Catholic Herald photo by Sam Lucero)

They are not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, according to Decker, and as such they're not part of the Catholic Church.

"Attendance at any of these would not fulfill a Sunday obligation or a marriage at any of these places would not be considered valid," said Decker.

According to Canon 216, "Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority."

The churches currently on the chancery's "when is Catholic not Catholic list" include:

- St. Pius V Chapel and Academy, Mukwonago

- St. Hugh of Lincoln Church, 2401 S. 12th St., Milwaukee

- Our Lady of the Rosary Church, newly relocated to Waubeka in Ozaukee County from a storefront on Lisbon Avenue, Milwaukee

- St. Monica Mission, Sussex

- Cathedral of the Holy Angels, Wauwatosa

- Chapel of St. Benedict, Emmaus House Priory, 2254 N. 53rd St., Milwaukee

- Jesus Our Shepherd, Nenno

Outwardly they look Catholic

Many of the churches physically look like Catholic facilities. In fact, Jesus, Our Shepherd is housed in the former SS. Peter and Paul Church, Nenno, which the archdiocese sold after Sacred Heart and St. Anthony in Allenton merged with it in 1997 to form Resurrection Parish, Allenton.

While the archdiocese doesn't recognize these churches as Catholic, the congregations themselves consider themselves part of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Cathedral of the Holy Angels and Chapel of St. Benedict, Emmaus House Priory are affiliated with the Old Catholic Church of America.

According to Bishop Sherman R. Mosley, "legally we are Roman since we were never excommunicated. There never was a bull of excommunication from Rome saying we were." He added, to avoid confusion, the church uses the name Old Catholic Church of America, (OCCA).

In a telephone interview from his home diocese of Camden, N.J., Bishop Mosley said his church "follows everything in the church up to Vatican II. That does not mean we reject all things in Vatican II. We reject the fact that the Mass was not supposed to be changed; we hold on to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. We accept what the church teaches on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage. On moral areas we are in agreement," he explained. His church does not accept lay extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and also believes many area churches do not follow "proper rubrics of the holy sacrifice of the Mass."

"Masses" are offered in the Tridentine rite and the church has what Bishop Mosley described as a thriving Hispanic ministry, numbering more than 500. The parish priest at Holy Angels Cathedral, Fr. Alvaro Nova offers a "Mass" in Spanish at noon each Sunday.

Church is not in 'perfect union'

Bishop Mosley said there is great ignorance among Roman Catholics about Old Catholics and said his church possesses valid sacraments and valid orders, and strongly said the church should not be called "non-Catholic, because we are a Catholic church. You cannot list us as a non-Catholic church; you can only say that we are not in perfect union. That is the language of the Vatican."

According to Bishop Mosley, the OCCA accepts the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, but two areas where it strays from Roman Catholic Church teaching are in the areas of papal infallibility and celibacy for priests.

Members of his church accept the pope's infallibility when he speaks on morals and doctrines, but "no where in scripture does it state that a pope or any bishop is in himself infallible." The OCCA also permits married men to be priests, but Bishop Mosley said it prefers that its priests be celibate. At present, he said only three or four priests and one bishop of the more than 100 priests are married.

As the head of ecumenical dialogue and promotion of Christian unity for the OCCA, Bishop Mosley said he plans to meet with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His hope is to "establish perfect dialogue and settle any differences we have as churches as we work toward having an understanding with maybe one day having perfect union."

In order for that to happen, however, Decker said organizations such as the OCCA must change.

While she is unaware of ecumenical outreach toward these groups, "we're willing to dialogue if they're willing to live as we expect Roman Catholics to live. We're open for anyone to be reunited with the church; that's what we're here for, but if they do not choose to fully engage in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, then there's not much we can do."

St. Hugh also pre-Vatican II group

Another congregation that clings to pre-Vatican II beliefs is St. Hugh of Lincoln Church on Milwaukee's south side.

"At St. Hugh of Lincoln, not only the Mass, but all of the seven sacraments are offered in the old rite (pre-Vatican II) by priests and bishops trained and ordained in the authentic, unchanged ordination rite. Also, unlike many in the 'modern church,' our priests and people teach and believe all the truths of the Holy Catholic Faith," explained Bob Mueller, a parishioner, in response to e-mailed questions from your Catholic Herald. He added, "we consider ourselves to be a Roman Catholic Church since we profess and practice the Catholic faith as it was practiced for centuries prior to Vatican II. We pray for the day when Rome will once again do the same."

Decker said it's the pre-Vatican II statement which is the stumbling point for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. "There's your kicker - it's prior to Vatican II. They are considered to be a traditionalist group and any group that does not submit itself fully to the beliefs of the Catholic Church of Rome is not part of the Catholic Church of Rome, and this group was very clear in saying they believe up to a point; they believe up to Vatican II. Well, you can't pick and choose your belief system. When talking about full communion with the church, that includes sacraments and it includes governance, so if they're not going to submit themselves to the governance of the church which has embraced and promoted Vatican II, then they're not part of the Catholic Church," she explained.

According to Mueller, about 60 people belong to St. Hugh and average Sunday "Mass" attendance is 40-45. The congregation includes young families to senior citizens, and he said some drive more than two hours each way to attend the service.

When newcomers arrive and ask about affiliation with the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Mueller said, "We very clearly explain that we are not, but that we are in a 'holding pattern,' preserving the unchanged Catholic faith for ourselves and our children until, in God's good time, all things are restored in Christ, and the modern church will return to the faith it abandoned after Vatican II."

For individuals wanting to worship in a pre-Vatican II rite, Fr. Robert Skeris, chaplain of the archdiocesan Tridentine community, offers Mass weekly at St. Mary, Help of Christians Parish, West Allis - with the permission of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. He said when Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland gave permission for the Tridentine Mass to be said in the archdiocese in 1991, it was an attempt to give those wanting the old rite a legitimate place to go. Fr. Skeris said places like St. Pius V and St. Hugh have the same Tridentine Mass he offers, but the only difference is "they don't have the bishop's permission."

Clergy have ties to church

Like many of these congregations, St. Hugh has ties to a priest ordained for the Roman Catholic Church. St. Hugh is named in honor of its founder, Fr. Hugh Wish, pastor at St. Lawrence Parish until 1978. In retirement, he continued the Tridentine Mass at St. Pius V in Mukwonago, a congregation formed by a group in 1978 who purchased the former St. James Church in Mukwonago from the archdiocese. Fr. Wish died a few years later.

Bishop Mosley also has ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Raised in Camden, he attended Catholic schools and was baptized and confirmed a Roman Catholic. He was a Dominican prior before leaving in 1977 because he was bothered by the "liberalism of the Roman church." As an African American, he said he also experienced prejudice within his order. He returned to school, became a psychologist and explored the Methodist and Baptist churches before becoming Baptist. But missing the sacraments, he said he returned to his Catholic roots. Eventually he found his home in the OCCA and was ordained in that community in 2000 and made a bishop in 2001.

Once a priest, always a priest?

Three men who were ordained Roman Catholic priests serve as the pastoral team at Jesus Our Shepherd Church in Nenno. According to the congregation's Web site, the pastor is Jesus Christ. Associate pastors are Frank Baiocchi, Jim Ryan and Bob Scanlan.

"We are not ex-priests," wrote Baiocchi, who was ordained in 1960 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, in response to e-mailed questions from your Catholic Herald. "Catholic theology states that once we are ordained, we are ordained forever. Canon law demands that we respond to the sacramental and eucharistic needs of the people upon their request. That is what we are doing. Our "Eucharist" is valid and warmly celebratory. Our sacramental ministry is vivid and valid, too, much to the chagrin and frequent denial of some."

Decker denies Baiocchi's claim of validity.

"The public practice of priesthood is what we focus on," she explained. "The public practice of that ministry is what we can regulate, so according to canon law a priest is not allowed to marry and if he chooses to violate that, the consequence is that his bishop or archbishop can restrict his public ministry because he is not adhering to the canons of the church."

While Decker said she did not know the circumstances surrounding the three men at Jesus Our Shepherd, she said "by their actions, they have chosen to separate themselves and now they are trying to justify that." She added that they cannot validly celebrate the Eucharist in the eyes of the church.

Jesus Our Shepherd members rent the former SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Nenno, for use for liturgical services. The building called The Gardens is owned by a couple who operate a wedding chapel and store in the former church buildings.

"I am a frequent officiant at the weddings taking place at The Gardens," wrote Baiocchi, adding Anna, his wife of 34 years, helps out at most of the weddings at which he presides. They also conduct pre-marital counseling at their Hartford home.

According to Baiocchi, Jesus Our Shepherd community began in May 2001 "as a Eucharist-centered faith community" at the request of Catholic people living in the Nenno area left churchless by the closing and sale of SS. Peter and Paul.

"We call ourselves an inclusive Catholic Church. We consider ourselves to be an inclusive branch of the Roman Catholic Church. We welcome people whose spiritual needs are not being met by other churches or congregations," he said, adding most of the 60 to 90 people who attend regular Sunday services are people - not just Catholics - who have been hurt by religion.

He said the church offers a full range of ministries, including baptisms, weddings, first Communions, confirmations, anointings, memorial services and burial of the dead.

Decker, also a judge in the archdiocesan tribunal, noted, however, that the Milwaukee Archdiocese does not recognize these sacraments as valid. Problems arise, she said, when, for example, a couple married at one of these churches divorces and seeks an annulment through the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

To the archdiocese, there was no valid marriage, therefore the process the tribunal would follow would not be annulment, but rather lack of form.

"(Marrying in non-Catholic churches) can create problems down the road," said Decker. "If you have very well-meaning people who want to get married in the church, and they don't know the difference, that's the real dark side to this. These people call themselves priests and are not really priests of the Roman Catholic Church, so you have well-meaning people who will marry in one of these churches believing they are validly married, and they are not."

Baiocchi believes there is no confusion.

"The people know we are married priests, validly ordained by the Roman Catholic Church. We are priests supported in this ministry by our wives. We remain faithful to our calling to ordained ministry, but we left behind the unfair and invalid obligation of mandatory celibacy," he wrote.

Archdiocese 'protects the faithful'

About two or three times a year, Decker said, the archdiocese publishes a list of churches that call themselves Catholic but are not recognized by the archdiocese.

"We really need to protect the faithful on this and so we want to get the word out there and we publish it as often as we can because they're not real," she said. "The church realizes canonically the faithful have a right to pursue what they believe their ministry is to be.

"To put organization around that and to protect the common good, the church also sets forth the canon that you can't just call yourself Catholic because you feel like it," said Decker.

"It really is to protect the people because when people hear 'Catholic,' they believe it is part of the Roman Catholic Church and then whatever that person says is part of what the church believes, and that is not always the case. Really, it is a way for the archdiocese and the Roman Catholic Church to protect the faithful and to look out for their concerns."

She added that while the archdiocese has no relationship to these organizations, she said there are also no negative feelings.

"We know what we are about as the Roman Catholic Church and we know where we differ. It is our responsibility to get that information out to our people so that they are not being deceived. But again, we do all that from the stance of being open and welcoming. If these groups wish to reunite themselves with the Roman Church, it is their choice."

Share:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someonePrint this page