June 29, 2006

Apologies for Anglican concelebration in Phoenix

In 2004 Fr. John Cunningham, a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Phoenix, was videotaped "concelebrating" a Mass with an Anglican priest.

This presented a couple of problems.  First, it's against canon law -- specifically Canon 908, which forbids such interreligious concelebration.

Second, the Anglican priest was not a real priestAnglican orders are invalid, as Pope Leo XIII declared more than a century ago.  It's considered a "dogmatic fact" (a concept which is distinct from a "dogma", by the way) and all Catholics are required to give "firm and definitive assent" to this declaration.

Because the situation was so serious, Fr. Cunningham was removed as pastor, suspended from exercising the priesthood, sent away on retreat, and ordered to retract.  To his credit, Fr. Cunningham took his medicine, and recently wrote this letter of apology:

June 20, 2006

Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix
400 E. Monroe Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Dear Bishop Olmsted,

More than two years ago, while I was pastor at St. Mary Magdalene in Gilbert, an engaged couple and parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene asked me to conduct a nuptial Mass and preside over the exchange of their wedding vows. They also asked if an Anglican priest, who was a long-time friend of the bride, could participate in the nuptial Mass and the wedding celebration. Since St. Mary Magdalene did not have a church, the wedding was to be conducted at St. Anne' in Gilbert.

On April 24, 2004, their wedding occurred and the Anglican priest participated in portions of the nuptial Mass. I allowed the Anglican priest to participate in such a way that his conduct was judged by canonical assessors as a concelebration of the Eucharist and a violation of Canon 908, which prohibits such activities by a priest or minister not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I was administratively suspended as a priest by you on April 28, 2004. I apologize unconditionally for conduct on my part which was a violation of Canon 908.

I apologize to Fr. Doug Lorig, pastor of St. Anne' Catholic Church for using his church to celebrate the nuptial Mass. I also apologize to Jean Estes-Gonzales and Amy Jacobs, employees of St. Anne', for litigation I filed against them for defamation and which has been dismissed.

Thirty years of work and service to the people that I put in as a priest for the Diocese of Phoenix were the high points of my life. I ask you to reinstate me as a priest in good standing and for early retirement from the Diocese of Phoenix.

Sincerely yours,

John Cunningham

And at that, Bishop Olmsted declared his sanctions were fulfilled and the case closed.  (Hat tip to Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia for this interesting story.)