Jennifer M. Hasselberger’s who was the bishop’s delegate for canonical affairs of the Diocese of Fargo, N.D., will join the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as chancellor for canonical affairs on Aug. 18. There was some comments about this and a supposed connection between her and Rent-a-Priest. A reader sent me the following info.
The topic of my JCL thesis (licentiate in canon law) was movements of validly ordained Roman Catholic priests who had left ministry with the Catholic Church and were attempting to offer sacramental ministry outside of the structures of the church. I wrote the thesis at a time when penal law was an increasingly important process, and the argument was that formal canonical action needed to be taken against these men, many of whom simply walked away from active ministry without ever having been formally suspended, etc.
In the process of researching this topic, I sought information from the organization ‘Rent A Priest’. They later requested (I think from my university) a copy of my thesis and have used selective quotations as a justification for their cause.
However, my thesis was not in any way an endorsement of married or suspended clergy exercising ministry. The statement that is generating so much interest is one that is simply a canonical truth- once validly ordained, a priest never loses the grace of ordination. Therefore, in emergency situations, even a laicized priest retains the right to administer the sacraments.
In my thesis I was very critical of organizations like the Rent A Priests, who take that principle of law (which is meant to protect the right of the faithful to have access to the sacraments, especially in danger of death situations), and use it in an attempt to justify their ministry. I argued that their stated position that a priest-shortage, or the possibility of a closed parish, makes their return to ministry (outside of the Catholic Church) legitimate (a closed parish equaling an emergency situation), is a willful misinterpretation of the letter and spirit of the law. I went on to say that only some of the sacraments that they offer are valid, as others (like marriage) are only valid when they are offered by someone with the faculties and permission of the local ordinary.
The Rent A Priests have had that quotation on their website for years, and I have never attempted to have it removed largely because the wisdom of many dioceses has been that we only look bad when trying to take them on. It has never been a problem for me, and I am certain that there would be no issue if the people who are so upset would read the thesis rather then the Rent a Priest website. They should consider their source!
When it comes to Rent-a-Priest it is the rule of thumb that they are willing to lie and take things out of context to justify their work.