Bishop Bonsu on Contraception

Bishop Bonsu on Contraception

Question by Fr. John Bonaventure Quaidoo:

Does a (Catholic) gynecologist who prescribes contraceptives or who practises IVFs as part of his or her work commit a sin? What about mixed HIV-status couples who use condoms in order to prevent HIV transmission? Do they sin in doing that?

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

Most Rev Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Konongo-Mampong

I: Contraception

Contraception refers to the various means used during sexual intercourse between a man and a woman to prevent the sexual act from resulting in the conception of a new life. Specifically, contraception refers to all the means used to stop the male seed from fertilizing a female egg.

Contraception can take various forms. Apart from a person abstaining from heterosexual intercourse, there are physical (condoms), chemical (pills), and surgical (vasectomy, hysterectomy, tubal ligation) means to prevent conception. Since in using physical, chemical, and surgical means there is the need for some kind of human intervention into the natural, biological processes of the human body, such means have been described as artificial means of contraception or birth control. Those means of contraception or birth control which do not require any kind of manufactured device or other technological means of human intervention to be effective are referred to as natural means of birth control.

The purpose of human heterosexual intercourse is undoubtedly to propagate the human race. It is intended to produce a child. Until the twentieth century, it was the teaching of the Church that the primary purpose of human sexual activity in the context of marriage was procreation. Thus, contraception was seen to be morally wrong. It was held that apart from the procreative purpose, sexual intercourse also had a unitive meaning and value. The unitive meaning here means that it refers to a specific type of physical union, the sexual union of a man and a woman in natural intercourse, in the type of act that is inherently ordered towards procreation.

By 1965 almost all Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, agreed on at least two things regarding human sexual activity. One was that the unitive meaning and value of heterosexual intercourse was enough moral justification for a married couple to engage in such activity. The other was that married couples had both the right and the duty to limit the number of children that they could care for responsibly, given their real-life circumstances. Responsible parenthood thus became an important consideration in discussing this topic.

Almost alone among the Churches, however, the Roman Catholic Church, at least in its official teaching, continued to insist that artificial means of contraception were contrary to reason and the moral law. It was the view of the Church that only natural means of family planning were morally acceptable and even in this case there had to be serious reasons. This was in spite of the fact that the techniques of natural family planning had improved to an effectiveness rate of 95 percent or more for those able to follow these methods faithfully.

The main reason for the Church’s continued opposition to artificial contraception was the claim that the procreative and unitive meanings of human sexual activity were inseparably connected to one another and willed by God to be inseparable. The claim was based on an understanding of marital love, drawn from a view of the Divine Love, according to which the chief characteristic of such love was total, unconditional, self-donation; on this view, the gift of self in sexual intercourse was understood to be both a sign and a concrete realization.

The argument advanced by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life, July 1968), and reemphasized and developed by Pope John Paul II in various addresses, is both subtle and complex. Both popes accepted the need for responsible parenthood. Both popes continually warned against the terrible personal and social consequences of a contraceptive mentality and the widespread use of artificial contraceptive techniques. They maintained that only the practice of natural family planning respected the mutual love, freedom, and human dignity of the couple.

Some people have questioned why every single act of sexual intercourse must remain open to the possibility of procreation in a relationship that has already accepted and is living the marital vocation of parenthood. Even though the natural family planning method seems to have many physical and personal advantages over artificial means of birth control, it is not easy for couples to learn it or disseminate it. It has also not been proven to be workable without a high degree of motivation on the part of both husband and wife. Consequently, the techniques of the method, unfortunately, are not widely known nor commonly taught.

This briefly is the Church’s teaching on contraception. As things stand now, a Catholic gynecologist who prescribes contraceptives as part of his or her work with the intention of preventing conception is going against the teaching of the church.

II: In Vitro Fertilization

We now look at In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination, which is a technique used to impregnate women who are physically capable of conceiving and bearing a child but who cannot do so through sexual intercourse, usually because their husband is sterile or impotent. Fresh semen is obtained from the husband (if he is impotent) or from some other male donor (if the husband is sterile) and is introduced by a syringe into the woman’s vagina or cervix during the middle of her menstrual cycle. The semen may also have been previously frozen and stored in a sperm bank.

The process of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) with Embryo Transfer (ET) bypasses the fallopian tubes and effects fertilization through technology. In this process, the ovum is removed from the ovary immediately before ovulation and is placed in a culture medium contained in a special dish along with sperm from the husband or another man. It is then transferred to the uterus. After a number of days it may implant, and if so, it matures over the next nine months.

The Position of the Catholic Church on Artificial Insemination

The Church’s teaching on artificial insemination can be summarized in three principles:

Human procreation must take place in marriage.

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, a child should be the fruit of conjugal love expressed in sexual intercourse that takes place within marriage. According to God’s plan, three elements are required here: there must be love between a man and a woman; the couple must be married; and their love must be expressed through sexual intercourse.

Generation of new person should occur only through an act of intercourse performed between husband and wife.

According to the Church, using the gametes of a third person in order to have sperm or ovum available is a violation of the commitment of the spouses to each other and is also a grave lack with respect to that essential property of marriage which is its unity. The sexual act is an act that is inseparably corporal and spiritual. It is in their bodies and through their bodies that the spouses consummate their marriage and are able to become father and mother. The fertilization of the new human person must not occur as the direct result of a technical process which replaces the marital act.
Using the sperm or ovum of a third party is not acceptable.

According to the Church, techniques that entail the separation of husband and wife by the involvement of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus) are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterogenous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other.

Techniques involving only the married couple (homogenous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists. The introduction of a third person is a violation of the rights of the child; it deprives him of this filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personal identity.

It is clear from the foregoing that a Catholic doctor who practises in vitro fertilization also goes against the teaching of the Church.

The Suffering Caused by Infertility in Marriage
It is natural for married people to want to have children. This desire can be even stronger if the couple is affected by sterility which appears incurable. Nevertheless, marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se ordered to procreation. A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift, the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents.

Whatever its cause, sterility is certainly a difficult trial. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fertility. Sterile couples must not forget that even when procreation is not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its value. Physical sterility, in fact, can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2379).

III: Use of the Condom to prevent the Spread of HIV/AIDS

Finally, we come to the last part of the question that has to do with whether or not mixed HIV-status couples who use condoms in order to prevent HIV transmission commit a sin. Let us take a case where a man and a woman are properly married. If the man, for example, should come down with HIV/AIDS, can the condom be used in this case to prevent the woman from contracting the disease? The use of the condom in this case is not for contraception but to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Recommending the use of condoms as a necessary HIV/AIDS prevention is extremely important. Some Roman Catholics are sometimes unsure whether or not condom use could ever be considered morally right. But we should be aware that Catholic moral theologians have been nearly unanimous in arguing not only that the Catholic tradition is not per se opposed to their use for disease prevention, but that Roman Catholic principles actually help to convey the moral legitimacy of their use. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has said the use of condoms is acceptable “in certain cases” and this will be one of them. His comment on this matter is found in a book-length interview with a German journalist, Peter Seewald, and published in the book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times. According to Pope Benedict, in such a situation, using a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection “can be a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants”. We can say that if the intention is to prevent transmission of the virus, rather than prevent contraception, that is of a different moral order and such couples do not go against the teaching of the Church in using the condom in this case.

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).

Bishop Bonsu’s Corner : ‘Can a Catholic priest be a running mate or presidential candidate of a political party?’

Bishop Bonsu’s Corner : ‘Can a Catholic priest be a running mate or presidential candidate of a political party?’

Question by Ambrose Kusi:

Can a Catholic priest be a running mate or presidential candidate of a political party?

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

In dealing with this question, it will be necessary for us to look at the bigger question of what the attitude of the Church as an institution should be towards politics, especially partisan politics. The issue of whether a Catholic priest can become a running mate or a presidential candidate should be looked at against the backdrop of this bigger question.

The question of whether the Church should be involved in politics or not raises its head constantly in many countries. Within the Church itself there are Catholics who would like to draw a sharp distinction between the secular and the spiritual dimensions of the human person’s life and would like to deny the Church any involvement with the secular or the temporal, which includes the political. Quite frequently a similar sentiment is expressed by politicians and governments irritated by criticisms of their policies uttered by clerics. It is in the light of views such as these that an attempt will be made to discuss the question of whether the Church today should be involved in politics. We will look at this from three perspectives:

  1. What should be the attitude of the Church as an institution to national politics?
  2. What should be the attitude of the lay members of the Church to politics?
  3. What should be the attitude of clerics to politics?
    1. The Institutional Church and Politics

Like Christ, the Church must be concerned with the salvation of the human person in his or her totality, the human person as body and soul. The salvation of the human person at the spiritual level will be difficult when his or her material concerns are in jeopardy. The human person will not have the peace of mind to concentrate on spiritual matters when he or she is denied basic human, civic and political rights. So if the Church hopes to help in saving the human person, it must be concerned with whatever affects the total person. If its members and other citizens of the nation are denied certain basic human rights, the Church must raise a voice of protest. Through its official representatives – the bishops – the Church must make prophetic denunciations of injustices and champion the cause of the oppressed. If the oppression comes from the government, the Church must courageously rebuke the government and put pressure on it to change things. If doing this is doing politics, the Church has no alternative. It is its duty to criticize bad governmental policies and offer alternative proposals.

But the Church’s duty does not consist solely in criticizing the government. It should also praise the government when it initiates good policies. It must collaborate with the government to improve the material living conditions of the nation’s citizens. It is also the duty of the Church to encourage its members to take their civic and political duties seriously. But the Church as an institution must not and cannot identify itself with any political party or government. It must be above partisan politics. The Church must act as the conscience of the society, offering constructive advice whenever possible, and criticizing whenever necessary. If it identifies itself with any political party or government, it will either lose or compromise that objectivity expected of it; its vision will be obscured. Paradoxically, while the Church must be seriously involved with the government in the attempt to improve the material living conditions of the people, it must keep a certain distance politically between itself and the government.

2. Church Members and Politics 

The individual members of the Church are citizens of two worlds, as it were – the Church and the nation. They should, therefore, “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and unto God what belongs to God”. These words of Christ justify the involvement of the members of the Church in the politics of their nation. As citizens of the nation, Catholic lay faithful have every right to be involved in the political life of the country. They should be actively involved in politics. They should join political parties, take part in voting, seek key positions in government, district assemblies, etc. They should strive to become district/municipal chief executives, members of parliament, president, etc. If they refuse to vote, or show indifference to political issues, other people will vote and take decisions which will affect them, for good or ill. In this connection, it will be good for us to reflect on what Vatican II says in Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World):

Those who are suited or can become suited should prepare themselves for the difficult, but at the same time, the very noble art of politics, and should seek to practise this art without regard for their own interests or for material advantages. With integrity and wisdom, they must take action against any form of injustice and tyranny, against arbitrary domination by an individual or a political party and any intolerance (no.75).

On the Christian’s political responsibility, we may also want to reflect on what is said in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa:

On the political front, the arduous process of building national unity encounters particular problems in the Continent where most of the States are relatively young political entities. To reconcile profound differences, overcome longstanding ethnic animosities and become integrated into international life demands a high degree of competence in the art of governing. That is why the Synod prayed fervently to the Lord that there would arise in Africa holy politicians — both men and women — and that there would be saintly Heads of State, who profoundly love their own people and wish to serve rather than be served (par. 111).
3. Clerics and Politics

The cleric is also a citizen of the nation and must be concerned about all political issues. These issues will affect his life whether he likes it or not, and so he cannot turn a deaf ear to them. He must discuss political matters and vote when there are elections. If he happens to have any expertise on political matters, he can serve his nation by offering suggestions through writing to the government. If the government seeks his advice on political matters, he must give this for the good of the nation. Thus, a cleric can be an adviser to the government; he can be a member of an advisory body which the government can consult. However, membership of such a body must not be to the detriment of his priestly or pastoral duties. He is first and foremost a priest, a pastor, and not a professional politician. Here we may recall that some Catholic bishops were members of the Council of State under the regime of President Hilla Limann (1979-1981). This Council was advisory and not politically governing; neither was it legislative nor executive in character. This distinction is vital.

This brings us to the rather problematic question of whether a cleric can and should hold an executive or legislative or judicial position in government. We should recall that in August 1989 the Chairman of the PNDC, Flight Lt. J.J. Rawlings, in his address at the Fifth Triennial General Assembly of the Association of Episcopal Conference of Anglophone West Africa (AECAWA) in Kumasi, lamented the fact that some Catholic priests had not been allowed to stand as candidates in the District Assemblies elections. Should a priest hold such an executive position in government? Here we are not dealing with a cleric acting in an advisory capacity to the government on a part-time basis. The issue here is whether a cleric should hold such an executive position in government, whether at the district, regional or national level.

Admittedly, there have been instances of priests holding executive and legislative positions in Ghana and elsewhere. About forty years ago, a Catholic priest, the late Rev. Dr. Vincent Damuah of the Sekondi-Takoradi Diocese, accepted membership of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) in contravention of the law of his Church and ignoring the directive from his bishop to resign from the PNDC. Until his tenure came to an end, he was a full executive member of the PNDC. We must also draw attention to the United States of America where some priests held legislative positions in government. The most notable was Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit priest from Massachusetts who served in the House of Representatives for ten years. In May 1980 he withdrew his candidacy for another term in obedience to an order from the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, which was given at the express wish of his Holiness Pope John Paul II. A few days later, the apostolic delegate to the United States, Archbishop Jean Jadot, exercising his own authority, barred Norbertine Fr. Robert J. Cornell, who had lost his seat in Congress 1978, from seeking to regain it.

Pope John Paul II in his address to an international gathering of religious-order priests in Mexico City in January 1979 said, “You are priests and members of religious orders. You are not social directors, political leaders or functionaries of temporal power”. In his address to the priests in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) during the Drinan crisis, Pope John Paul II said,

“Leave political responsibilities to those who are charged with them. You have another part, a magnificent part, you are ‘leaders’ by another right and in another manner, participating in the priesthood of Christ, as his ministers. Your sphere of interventions, and it is vast, is that of faith and morals, where it is expected that you preach at the same time by a courageous word and by the example of your life.

We should note that the new Code of Canon Law (1983) contains such a prohibition on all clerics. Canon 285, section 3 reads, “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power”. The Church has interpreted the phrase “a participation in the exercise of civil power” to refer to those political positions which involve legislative, executive, and judicial power. This in turn means that becoming a member of Parliament (or of Congress), a cabinet official, or a judge are all off-limits to Catholic clergy. A priest seeking to be a running mate or a presidential candidate will not be permitted by this canon since it will entail a participation in executive power.

But whether a cleric should hold an executive or legislative or judicial position in government or not is not something that can be settled simply by appealing to Church law or papal pronouncements. There must be good reasons justifying such laws and pronouncements. I would like to put forward a few such reasons.

Firstly, there is the lesson from Church history. The Catholic Church has over two thousand years of history behind it. Some of it has been good, some of it has been bad. There were times when popes and bishops wielded political power, most of the time disastrously. In the case of some of the popes and bishops, we could rightly say with Lord Acton, the English Catholic historian, politician and writer, that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There were times when some popes were more powerful than emperors and used this power in a way that left much to be desired. In more recent times, the cases involving priests holding executive and legislative positions leave much to be desired. We have already referred to Fr. Robert F. Drinan. His voting record became a matter of great scandal when he repeatedly voted in favour of abortion, while claiming at the same time to be “personally opposed”— a fact which did not escape the attention of the new Pope, John Paul II. He had been elected Pope while Fr. Drinan was still a member of Congress. To this day, the Drinan case and other cases from other countries constitute a good example of the potential harm that can be done when Catholic clergy become unduly involved in contemporary civil politics. The controversial voting-record of Congressman Drinan, and the understandable scandal it was causing, might very well have been the motivating factor behind John Paul II’s decision to revamp canon law on this issue. The Church has learned from its mistakes and so has enjoined its clerics to desist from active political involvement in the sense of holding executive, legislative or judicial positions in government.

Secondly, because of his unique role as pastor of the flock of God, the cleric should strive to be the source of unity in his congregation and not the source of disunity. A clear and official identification with one political party or ruling government will have the effect of driving a wedge between the cleric and his flock, alienating those of his flock who do not share his political stance. Indeed, temporal leadership can easily become divisive whereas a priest must be a sign and symbol of unity. As the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests says, “Like Jesus (cf Jn 6:15 ff.), the priest ‘ought to refrain from actively engaging himself in politics, as it often happens, in order to be a central point of spiritual fraternity’. All the faithful, therefore, must always be able to approach the priest without feeling inhibited for any reason” (no. 33).

Thirdly, holding an executive, legislative or judicial position in government will affect the cleric’s pastoral work. The work of the priest is a full-time one; so also is the work of the politician. The priest who holds an executive position will do justice neither to his priestly work nor to his work as a politician. He must choose one of them.

Fourthly and finally, by not holding an executive position and thereby not identifying himself with any political party, the priest or bishop can be objective and approach political issues in an unbiased way.

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).

Bishop Bonsu writes on the Apostolic Administrator’s Role in the Church

Bishop Bonsu writes on the Apostolic Administrator’s Role in the Church

Question by Joshua Elikplim:

My Lord Bishop, on 18 August 2020, the Holy See, through its Apostolic Nunciature in Ghana, made a press statement that “The Holy Father, Pope Francis has appointed Very Rev Fr John Baptist Attakruh as Apostolic Administrator for the Sekondi-Takoradi Diocese with all the Rights and Faculties of a Local Ordinary in a decree dated 31st July 2010”. I would be most grateful if you could explain what the duties of such an Apostolic Administrator are in a diocese like Sekondi-Takoradi. Could you also explain what is meant by “with all the Rights and Faculties of a Local Ordinary”?

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

Let us begin by defining the term “episcopal see” which we will encounter a few times in this answer. In the usual meaning of the phrase, it refers to the area over which one is a bishop. Phrases concerning actions taking place within or outside an episcopal see indicate that the term has a geographical reference, making it synonymous with “diocese”. The word see (in episcopal see) is derived from Latin sedes, which in its original or proper sense refers to the seat or chair that, in the case of a bishop, is the earliest symbol of the bishop’s authority.

An episcopal see (diocese) becomes vacant whenever the diocesan bishop dies, retires, resigns, or is transferred from or deprived of his see by the Roman Pontiff. When this happens, a new diocesan bishop is chosen by the Pope as per Canon 377 §1: “The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints bishops or confirms those legitimately elected”. As a general rule, choosing a bishop’s successor almost invariably takes some time, which means that dioceses are frequently left temporarily without a bishop.

If the diocese has an auxiliary bishop, he assumes governance of the diocese. If there are several auxiliary bishops, the most senior of them in terms of appointment assumes this responsibility (Canon 419). If there is no auxiliary bishop, it is required by canon law that the College of Consultors in the diocese meets to elect an “administrator”. Every diocese is required to have a College of Consultors which is composed of between six and twelve diocesan priests chosen by the bishop for a five-year term.  The College is to meet “within eight days of receiving the notice of the vacancy of the episcopal see” in order to elect an administrator (Canon 421).  This administrator – known as the “diocesan administrator” – then takes charge of the diocese until the Pope names a new bishop.

However, it can happen that instead of waiting for the College of Consultors to elect an administrator, the Pope can name one himself.  In this case, the person chosen is known as an “apostolic administrator”, although his function is the same as that of a diocesan administrator elected by the College of Consultors. The Pope can choose a bishop from a nearby diocese as the apostolic administrator, which means the bishop now has two full-time jobs: in addition to his regular duties as bishop of his own diocese, he now has the added (temporary) responsibility of administering the diocese next door. The Pope can even choose a Bishop Emeritus for this responsibility. The Pope can also name a priest to be in charge of the diocese. Such a priest chosen by the Pope for this responsibility is also called an “apostolic administrator”, as in the case of Very Rev. Fr. John Baptiste Attakruh of the Sekondi-Takoradi Diocese.

According to Canon 425 §1, “To be validly chosen diocesan administrator one must be a priest of at least thirty-five years of age who has not been elected, nominated or presented for the same vacant see”. He must also be outstanding in doctrine and prudence. A priest chosen as the diocesan or apostolic administrator is obliged to make a profession of faith in the presence of the College of Consultors (Canon 833, §4). This is comparable to the bishop’s obligation to make a similar profession of faith, though there is no reference to an oath of loyalty to the Holy See in the case of a priest administrator (Canon 380). If the person chosen to be the administrator of the diocese is the diocesan financial officer, the diocesan finance council is to choose another finance officer pro tempore until a new bishop is appointed (Canon 423 §2) In other words, one cannot be the diocesan administrator and be the diocesan finance officer at the same time, just as a bishop cannot also be the financial administrator at the same time. A concern for financial accountability seems to underlie the prohibition of the administrator’s simultaneously functioning as diocesan finance officer. The role of the apostolic administrator ends when the new bishop is installed (Canon 430 §1).

A number of changes are in effect during the time when the diocesan see is vacant (sede vacante): (1) Offices that exercise general or specific authority granted directly by the diocesan bishop cease since their authority derives from the diocesan bishop, such as the Vicars General and Vicars Forane (Deans). (2) There are some offices that remain during the vacant see: chancellor, judicial vicar (i.e., an officer of the diocese who has ordinary power to judge cases in the diocesan ecclesiastical court) and financial officer. These offices are necessary for the ordinary operation of the diocese and so remain in place and assist the diocesan administrator or the apostolic administrator in his work. (3) While the judicial vicar’s authority is granted by the diocesan bishop, it does not cease during the vacant see so the process of justice within the diocese can continue without interruption.

Now that we can see who has authority over a diocese when there is no bishop, let us examine what it is that he is able to do.  Canon 427 §1 states that a diocesan administrator has the power of a diocesan bishop, excluding those matters which are excepted by their very nature or by the law itself.  What is said in the Pope’s appointment letter with regard to Very Rev. Fr. John Baptiste Attakruh should be understood in the light of this canon. The letter says that he has been appointed apostolic administrator “with all the Rights and Faculties of a Local Ordinary”. In general, the fact that the administrator fulfils the most significant leadership position in the diocese means that he normally enjoys a legal status comparable to the diocesan bishop (Canon 427 §1). Thus, the administrator is subject to the same obligations and possesses the same powers as a diocesan bishop. However, there are certain limitations on the power of the administrator that hinge upon his status. Canon law itself denies the administrator the power to perform certain actions that are permitted to the diocesan bishop. The administrator has the authority to make the necessary decisions for the daily operations of the diocese. However, major decisions and initiatives are deferred to the new bishop unless an urgent situation requires action. The administrator is charged with deciding what issues need to be addressed during this interim period and what issues need to wait for the attention of the new bishop.

The administrator cannot make major personnel-changes in the Marriage Tribunal, for example, removing the Judicial Vicar and/or adjutant Judicial Vicars from office (c. 1420 §5), since this is exclusively the purview of the diocesan bishop himself.  Nor can an administrator remove the diocesan Chancellor from office, unless the College of Consultors has granted their consent (c. 485).  There are certain functions that the administrator may perform only after the diocesan see has been impeded or has stood vacant for more than one year (c. 525 §2). For example, the administrator may grant incardination or excardination to priests and deacons only if the diocese has been vacant for a year. The administrator can name priests as administrators of parishes but cannot name them pastors (parish priests) unless the diocese has been without a diocesan bishop for at least one year. The office of pastor is understood to be a stable office. Since the administrator is not to make any innovations, the conferral of a stable office should not happen except in the situation noted here. If a parish becomes vacant before that year time frame has occurred, the administrator may appoint a priest as the parochial administrator since this is not a stable office. Similarly, he may appoint priests as parochial vicars because that is not a stable office. Finally, Church law prohibits the administrator from taking actions which may prejudice the rights of the diocese or its bishop. This would include suppression of parishes and relegation of churches to profane use.

Apart from such limitations, the administrator enjoys powers and has obligations equivalent to those of a diocesan bishop in all respects. For example, with regard to selling of ecclesiastical property, the administrator (like the bishop) needs to obtain the consent of both the College of Consultors and the diocesan finance council when the value of the property to be alienated falls within the minimum and maximum amounts set by the episcopal conference.

In general, the administrator, whether elected by the College of Consultors or appointed by the Holy Father, maintains the necessary day to day functioning of a diocese but does not make any structural changes that would truly be innovations in the particular diocese. There are other limitations on the role of the administrator, and they all serve to underscore a general statement found in canon 428 §1: while the episcopal see is vacant, no innovations are to be made. This is only common sense.  No one but the diocesan bishop himself should be engaged in any sort of major overhaul within a diocese – and so when the diocese has no bishop, its administration should ideally be functioning in a routine, ordinary way, on a sort of “auto-pilot”.  When the new bishop arrives, he and only he can decide to radically reorganize his chancery staff and reassign chancery officials, rearrange parish boundaries and create new ones (c. 515 §2), establish new diocesan Catholic schools (cf. c. 802), and make other significant changes in the diocese.

On the liturgical front, we should take note of two things. (1) If the administrator is not a bishop, certain distinctly episcopal prerogatives, especially in the sacramental arena, are outside his sphere of competence. Thus, he cannot ordain deacons and priests, and cannot celebrate the Chrism Mass during which the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick are blessed, and the Oil of Chrism is consecrated by a bishop. The Oil of Chrism can only be consecrated by a bishop.

(2) If the administrator is a priest, the phrase “for N. our Bishop” is completely omitted from the Eucharistic Prayer at all Masses in the diocese until a new bishop is ordained or installed in the Diocese. If, however, the administrator is a bishop, his first name is mentioned, for example, “Joseph, our Bishop”. It should not be “Joseph, our apostolic administrator”. The title “apostolic administrator” is not a liturgical title, nor does it have any bearing on his ability to be a source of communion, which comes rather from his ordination as bishop.

Let me conclude by adding that if a priest or a bishop is chosen to be the administrator, it does not necessarily mean that he will automatically become the next bishop of the diocese. Indeed, Rome could confirm him later as the new bishop or Rome may choose somebody else.

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).

Can a Catholic faithful receive Communion from a Catholic Priest who has lost the clerical state and now an Anglican Priest?

Question by Joseph Aduedem (Sandema, UE/R):

My Lord Bishop, I would like you to clarify an issue for me.  It has to do with a Catholic priest who has lost the clerical state and is now with the Anglican Church.  Can a Catholic faithful receive Communion from such a former Catholic priest, bearing in mind that he lost only the juridical character and not the sacramental character?  This question arose because a friend of mine attended a funeral Mass in an Anglican Church and the Mass was presided over by a former Catholic priest who is now with the Anglican Church and though my friend did not receive Communion, he wants to know whether his decision was right.

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

Most Rev. Joseph Osei Bonsu ( Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Konongo Mampong)

In answering this question, we need to deal with two issues: (1) Is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist celebrated by the ex-Catholic priest (now an Anglican priest) valid? To put it differently, do the consecrated elements of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? (2) Is it lawful or licit for a Catholic to receive Holy Communion in an Anglican Church, even if the Holy Communion is consecrated by a former Catholic priest, now an Anglican priest?

(1) Let us begin by noting that the Catholic Church teaches that ordination – like the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation – “confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1582). In like manner, Can. 845 §1 says, “Since the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and orders imprint a character, they cannot be repeated”.  In this connection, Canon 290 states bluntly that once a man validly receives sacred ordination, the sacrament never becomes invalid.  This is because once a priest, always a priest.  It logically follows that once a man is validly ordained a priest, he will always be a priest, and (as per canon 1338.2) no one can take that away from him!  In other words, a cleric can never become a layman again. 

At the same time, however, it is possible for a priest to be released from the duties and responsibilities that are connected to the clerical state (CCC 1583).  Why would a priest lose the clerical state? In the Catholic Church, a bishop, priest, or deacon may be dismissed from the clerical state as a penalty for certain grave offences, or by a papal decree granted for grave reasons. Dismissal from the clerical state can be imposed upon the cleric as the most serious penalty for a cleric who has committed an ecclesiastical crime, but that does not take place very often.  Ordinarily, clerics suffer the loss of the clerical state because a priest voluntarily requests it. But regardless of who initiates it, the end-results are canonically the same.

Practically speaking, what this means is that such a priest will no longer function outwardly as a priest.  It means that he must not administer the sacraments, is not permitted to preach, and may not bless anyone or anything. There is only one exception to this rule: in accord with canon 976, a priest who has lost the clerical state is able – and in fact is obliged – to hear the confession of a person in danger of death who requests it. This is because the spiritual well-being of a dying person takes precedence over the obligation of this priest who has lost the clerical state to refrain from priestly ministry.  But apart from this uncommon situation, a priest who has returned to the lay state is not permitted to celebrate the sacraments.  Once he has lost the clerical state, he is supposed to be living his life as any other member of the laity.  He will no longer be called “Father” or wear clerical clothing, and will no longer be supported financially by the Church.  To the world he would appear to be a layman, working at an ordinary job and living the normal life of the laity.  Canon law refers to this change as the “loss of the clerical state” (cf. cc. 290-293).  Common parlance calls it “laicization”. 

What has been said above is true of any Catholic priest who has lawfully returned to the lay state by following the proper procedures. But what happens if a priest without requesting dismissal from the clerical state decides to celebrate Mass?  If a priest simply walks away from the Church, his bishop or religious superior is obliged to suspend him – in which case he is certainly under orders not to celebrate the sacraments. But what happens if such a priest does celebrate Mass?  If he does, he is clearly defying the ecclesiastical superiors who have forbidden him to exercise his ministry.  But does he validly consecrate the elements of bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ? The answer is yes. A priest – even one who has lost the clerical state – always retains the power to celebrate the Eucharist validly, even if he has been ordered by his superior not to do so.  This is also the case with the Catholic priest who leaves and becomes and an Anglican priest.

Here we come across the issues of validity and liceity.  On the assumption that the priest was validly ordained, the Eucharist that he celebrates is valid if he consecrates wheat bread and grape wine, and pronounces the words of institution which include: “This is my body,” and “This is the cup of my blood”, or or whatever the equivalent is in any other language.  Provided that he says the proper words of consecration, with the right intention, over the correct matter (i.e., unleavened bread and wine, cc. 924 and 926), the consecration really does take place.

(2) Does the validity of the Holy Communion consecrated by this priest necessarily imply that a Catholic can receive such Communion in the Anglican Church? While the Communion has been validly consecrated, it is illicit for a Catholic to receive it.  This is because the priest who has lost the clerical state is not supposed to celebrate the Eucharist at all, and Catholics are not allowed to receive Communion from an Anglican Church.  Something can be valid without being licit! Liceity refers to the “legal” provisions which should be followed.  Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Neither can we receive their Communion in their churches.  Can. 844 §1 states:

Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, §2.

Can. 844 §2 states:

Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

This canon thus sets the following strict conditions:

a. necessity or genuine spiritual advantage
b. when the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided
c. it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister
d. a church which has valid sacraments

This last condition is the key one, since it eliminates ALL the Reformation churches (Anglican, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc.), none of whom, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, have valid sacred orders, and therefore, a valid Eucharist. The possibility of a Catholic receiving from the minister of another church, when the first three conditions are fulfilled, is limited to the Orthodox Churches, other Oriental Churches, Polish National and others whose sacraments are recognized by the Holy See. 

In conclusion, even if it is maintained that the Anglican priest in this case was a validly ordained Catholic priest so that the Holy Communion is valid from a Catholic perspective, the celebration is illicit since he has lost the clerical state as far as the Catholic Church is concerned.  Moreover, a Catholic cannot receive Holy Communion from him because the first three conditions (a, b, c) cannot be said to be fulfilled, especially (b) and (c) at the funeral Mass in the Anglican Church.  With regard to (d) which speaks of a church with valid sacraments, we note that the Anglican Church is not listed among those churches from which a Catholic can receive Holy Communion when the first three conditions are fulfilled. 

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).