Foreword to Fr. Cekada’s Collected Writings
Fr. Vili Lehtoranta
Let another praise thee, and not thine own mouth:
a stranger, and not thine own lips.
- Proverbs 27:2
Condolences began to flow into St. Gertrude the Great Church as soon as Fr. Anthony Cekada died on September 11, 2020. It is, of course, easy to garner the praises and thanks of one’s friends, colleagues and supporters. But at his death we saw how Father Cekada had gained affection, appreciation and respect from Catholics all over the world. Though he, of course, was most of all held in high esteem by the sedevacantists, i.e. traditional Catholics who hold that the Chair of Peter is vacant due to the flagrant apostacy of its recent claimants, he was respected also by a wide variety of other traditionalists. Some of them strongly disagreed with Father on his sede vacante position, but still expressed their condolences to Bishop Dolan and to the priests and parishioners of St. Gertrude the Great. A large local “recognize-and-resist” community offered their respects, condolences and prayers. Priests of the Society of St. Pius V, who had had strong personal issues and disputes with Father for decades, had nine Masses offered already during his last illness. Mr. Michael J. Matt, the editor of a large traditional magazine, The Remnant, and long-time opponent of Fr. Cekada in the pope question, wrote a special post requesting prayers for the repose of Father’s soul, and added: “Although Fr. Cekada disagreed with The Remnant on some very important issues, we always found him to be a fair-minded truth seeker and someone with whom it was a pleasure to have principled debates.” Mr. Gregory DiPippo of the New Liturgical Movement website, which had greatly praised Father’s book Work of Human Hands, wrote: “Fr Cekada was a sede-vacantist and believed that the Mass of Paul VI is invalid, positions which we reject without reservation, but this does not change the value of his work for the study of the liturgy.”
After Father died, we decided to publish his selected writings in print form to preserve for future generations of traditionalists, and also to encourage them to the art of reading and study. Father Cekada’s greatest literary and academic achievement is his thorough research about Paul VI’s new “Mass,” Work of Human Hands, which was published in 2009. Besides this book, Father’s 40-year writing career saw the publication of numerous studies and articles about faith, liturgy, and current crises. The title of this collection, Don’t Get Me Started, was an expression Father often used when frustrated or amused at the stubbornness of his opponents or the absurdity of their arguments. This collection turned out to be a three-volume series of articles, a remarkable achievement from a priest as busy in his apostolic, liturgical and musical engagements as Father Cekada was.
The first volume, Road to Sedevacantism, is a selection of Father’s early writings, from his time in the SSPX to the end of 1990’s. The first writing, The Mass Examined, which was published as series in The Roman Catholic, the magazine of the SSPX’s North-East District of the United States, is of interest mainly for historical reasons. Of course Fr. Cekada’s magnum opus is his book Work of Human Hands, which he published 30 years after this short examination about the structure and music of the Tridentine Mass. The Mass Examined shows Father’s interest in the history of the Mass and why he was a good choice to train seminarians in sacred music and the history of the liturgy. It has no amusing anecdotes or puns, or piercing slashes of irony against his opponents, which would spice Father Cekada’s later writings.
The first attempt effort to refute contemporary errors in the Traditional movement was made in an early article entitled A Warning on the Old Catholics (1980). During the time of its publication the need for the article was great, for in the midst of the great confusion and sparse information about Traditional movement available, many well-meaning Catholics availed themselves of the services of men of dubious orders. Father Cekada based his study mostly on the book Bishops at Large by an English convert and third Order Franciscan Peter Anson (1889-1975). Anson had thoroughly investigated the lives of many charlatans and apostate priests who had been deceiving the faithful for decades by masquerading as Catholic prelates. The witty style and irony of Anson obviously affected Fr. Cekada’s later style, so much so that often reading Anson’s book one gets the feeling of reading Fr. Cekada, and throughout his life Father frequently mentioned how much he liked the book.
After having in the next article encouraged the small remnant of Traditional Catholics by comparing their situation to those of Japanese Catholics of old, Father Cekada prepared his first thoroughly investigated and footnoted academic study Light on the OSJ (1981). Like the Old Catholics, also “The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem,” which was operating in Reading, Pennsylvania, had tried to gain support of Traditionalists by claiming to be both independent and Church-approved, where one could attend “legal” Tridentine Masses. In this study one sees the first glimpses of the witty style of Father Cekada, and his approach, to meet one’s opponents with undisputable facts based on faith and Canon Law, while pointing out the absurd or ridiculous in their position. This witty style Father would employ regularly as time went on.
Father’s last study as a member of the SSPX was published shortly before his departure from this organization. In Two Bishops in Every Garage (1983), published under the pseudonym “Peregrinus”, he took his first look to the adventurous life of Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Dinh Thuc and the colorful characters deriving their episcopal orders from this Vietnamese prelate. Little did he realize at this point how huge an effect the consecrations made by Archbishop Thuc would have upon his entire priestly and academic career. Soon after the study Father Cekada and several other priests left the Society, the reasons being enumerated in the Letter of “The Nine” to Archbishop Lefebvre (1983).
The expelled priests formed their own group of clergy called “The Society of St. Pius V.” Though the SSPV maintained a respectable number of missions, Father Cekada left the group in 1989 for the reasons he would later point out in his writings. That year he moved to Sharonville, Ohio, to become the assistant pastor of Father Daniel L. Dolan’s St. Gertrude the Great Roman Catholic Church. In this function he remained until his death. He was as well in charge of the St. Hugh of Lincoln mission in his hometown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and that of St. Clare’s in Columbus, Ohio.
Because of the disputes among those Traditionalists who refused to recognize John Paul II as Pope – they had by now gained the moniker “sedevacantists” – Father Cekada now spent more time refuting the illogical position of Fr. Kelly and the SSPV than those of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the SSPX. At first the reasons for differences were mainly in regard to the methods by which Father Kelly was leading his group, which methods Father Cekada held as cultish and exclusive. Soon the arguments centered around a group of Traditionalists, “The Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen,” known as the CMRI, the controversial character of its founder Francis Schuckardt, and its questionable connection with Old Catholics. Although the CMRI had disavowed all such connection, Fr. Kelly labelled the whole group schismatic, and obliged all his followers to do so as well.
In his article A Question of Authority: Beware Him Who Says: “Follow Me or Die!” (1990), Fr. Cekada fiercely condemned the cult-like “leader” principle of the SSPV, and he would continue to do so until the very end of his writing career. A Question of Authority is also of interest for historical reasons, for it shows that at this time the pope question was being still hotly debated. In several articles, written to refute Fr. Kelly’s branding of the CMRI as “Old Catholic,” Fr. Cekada showed how no one has a right to label any traditional Catholic or group as “Old Catholic” or “schismatic” by his own authority. Applying the principle of Canon Law, Father Cekada sought to prove that the CMRI is not schismatic or Old Catholic.
Father had been introduced to members of the CMRI in his St. Clare mission in Columbus, and cooperation with the group brought with it an opportunity to provide Confirmations and priestly ordinations for the Traditional Catholics who operated independently from the SSPX. The Mexican traditional Bishop Moisés Carmona consecrated Mark Pivarunas for the CMRI community in 1991. The priests of the Society of St. Pius V had searched for a Bishop who would do confirmations and ordinations for them ever since their expulsion from the SSPX. The need led Father Cekada to study the validity of orders derived from Archbishop Ngô Dinh Thuc; the results of this research was published in one of his most famous articles The Validity of the Thuc Consecrations (1992).
There remain some common misunderstandings concerning Father Cekada’s so-called “change of mind” regarding the orders derived from Archbishop Thuc that need to be corrected. This is why both his original 1983 article and the larger academic study from 1992 are included in this collection. Father Cekada did not change his mind concerning the validity of the ordinations and consecrations done by Archbishop Thuc. Two Bishops had mentioned the validity issue only in passing, referring to the need of more thorough research, which the later study did. Father Cekada originally condemned the ordinations and consecrations of Archbishop Thuc because of the scandals connected to some of those consecrated and because of the lack of prudence and judgment on the part of the Archbishop. But based on sacramental theology, Father Cekada concluded that, no matter the circumstances of the consecrations, there was no doubt about their validity.
Another misunderstanding, which is more serious in nature, and which often surrounds Father Cekada’s study concerns the identification of the so-called “Thuc bishops.” In his article The Validity of the Thuc Consecrations Father looked into the validity of the two specific episcopal consecrations, not every single one Archbishop Thuc had performed. Those two consecrations were both done in Toulon, France in the year of 1981, and they were those of Father Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers, O.P. in May, and of Fr. Moisés Carmona and Fr. Adolfo Zamora in October. All other consecrations Archbishop Thuc had made were left out of the study, and in his later years Father Cekada repeatedly warned about regarding all the “Thuc bishops” as Catholic. This is because sacraments are not magic words; sacrament of Holy Orders demands not only a Catholic bishop and Catholic rite, but also a recipient who is a Catholic and capable of receiving the Sacrament. Unless these requirements are met, the episcopal or priestly orders must be regarded as doubtful. Only the two aforementioned consecrations were included in Father Cekada’s study and only the six American bishops mentioned in the article, namely Bishops George Musey, Robert McKenna, Louis Vezelis, J. Vida Elmer, John Hesson, and Mark Pivarunas, who all traced their episcopal orders to these two consecrations, were regarded as true Catholic bishops by Father Cekada.
Cooperation with the CMRI eventually led to the episcopal consecration of Father Dolan by Bishop Mark Pivarunas in November of 1993. This consecration, where Father Cekada served as the Master of Ceremonies, was a great blessing to the small pocketful of Traditional Catholics not only in the United States, but abroad as well, and especially in Mexico and France. Meanwhile, Father found him-self in the midst of another controversy when he published his study Russia and the Leonine Prayers (1992); there he showed that in his opinion, there was no longer an obligation to recite the three Hail Marys, Salve Regina, and prayer to St. Michael after every low Mass, mandated by the Pope to end the persecution of Catholics in Russia. The leading opponent against Father Cekada’s position was, once again, Father Clarence Kelly, who by this time had been consecrated bishop in circumstances Father Cekada would have much to say later in his article Bishop Mendez, SSPV and Hypocrisy (1995).
Bishop Dolan’s consecration granted the opportunity for the establishment of a seminary, led by the former SSPX seminary rector Father Donald Sanborn. Father Sanborn shared completely Father Cekada’s views about the validity of orders derived from Archbishop Thuc. Upon Bishop Dolan’s agreement to ordain seminarians trained by Father Sanborn, Most Holy Trinity Seminary was established in 1995. Father Cekada was one of the original seminary professors, teaching liturgy and Canon Law for 25 years until his stroke in January 2020.
Father Cekada, with his great knowledge of Canon Law and liturgy, now became one of the most well-known authorities on sedevacantism, not only in America but throughout the world. In 1992 TAN Books and Publishers published The Ottaviani Intervention, translated and prefaced by Father. This classic study of a group of Roman theologians, headed by Father Guérard des Lauriers and presented in 1969 to Paul VI, is and remains one of the most famous critiques and exposés of the New Order of the Mass, commonly referred to as the “Novus Ordo” service. In 1995 Father Cekada published a concise and easily-read explanation of sedevacantism for laypeople called Traditionalists, Infallibility and the Pope. For many Traditional Catholics wanting to maintain their faith and still obey the Pope, this writing offered clear-cut answers. Father Cekada showed how the principle of sedevacantism is based and rooted in theology, Canon Law and papal teachings, and offered all the most important quotations to support his claim. For people living in the time of John Paul II it served as the first clear presentation of the principles of sedevacantism.
At this same time Father Cekada also explained the principle of epikeia, namely that divine law obliges priests to distribute sacraments even if they, lacking due authority, cannot receive jurisdiction to do so. This he did with his articles Canon Law and Common Sense and Home Alone? (both 1993). The latter title, based on a popular Christmas movie of that time, coined the term “home-aloner” to describe a person who, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of any priest or bishop in these times, chooses to remain without the Mass or Sacraments.
Entering into the 2000’s, Fr. Cekada was often in the eye of the storm, not only in arguments with the SSPX and the SSPV, but with other sedevacantists as well. The second volume begins with two very thoroughly researched articles, the first Did Paul VI Illegally Promulgate the New Mass?, and the second The Validity of Ordination Conferred with One Hand, which appeared in 2000. Every wing of the Traditionalist movement got its share of Father’s thorough analysis at this time, including the Feeneyites, home-aloners, Lienartists (those who believed Archbishop Lefebvre’s orders were invalid), untrained and ignorant clergymen (usually referred to as “cucarachas”), and the recognize-and-resisters, another term coined by Fr. Cekada in his article Resisting the Pope, Sedevacantism and Frankenchurch (2005), describing those Traditionalists who say that Vatican II papal claimants are valid popes, but see it as their duty to resist them when they fall into error.
In 2005 Fr. Cekada published a short piece in The Remnant entitled The Terri Schiavo Case and Extraordinary Means, which became his first article to draw almost universally negative feedback from Traditional Catholics. Terri Schiavo was a young woman from Florida who in 1990 collapsed in her St. Petersburg apartment, diagnosed cause being cardiac arrest. She was then proclaimed to be in persistent vegetative state, and was kept alive by a feeding tube. Schiavo’s husband Michael won a $2 million dollars malpractice suit against his wife’s doctor and filed a petition to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. This attempt was vigorously opposed by her parents. The case became famous for the right-to-die movement as well as for the anti-euthanasia cause. Schiavo’s parents opposed the removal of the feeding tube claiming, among other things, that their daughter was a devout Roman Catholic who would not have wan-ted to have her life taken away. Michael Schiavo, whom the parents suspected wanted her to die to collect the trust money which was put to her treatment (and who had started relationship with another woman), disputed the claim and said she wouldn’t have wanted to be kept alive artificially.
The parents began a big publicity campaign to promote the cause to keep their daughter alive, one of the lobbyists being the pro-life activist Randall Terry. When the feeding tube was removed in 2003, Florida Governor Jeb Bush ordered it to be reinstated, based on a hastily passed law which was later declared unconstitutional. After years of delay, the feeding tube was removed for the last time in March 2005 in a midst of the big political upheaval, and sheriffs protecting the court order to stop feeding tube to be reinstated once again. Terri Schiavo died in her hospice on March 31, 2005, two days before John Paul II.
Father Cekada presented in this article and in the Follow-Up Letter on the Schiavo Case to The Remnant what are the general principles regarding the use of the extraordinary means in the preservation of life. What he criticized very strongly is the current atmosphere, where tragic events like the Schiavo case are not solved within the family circle, and according to solid principles of the Catholic Faith, but in the courtrooms by lawyers and judges, or what is worse, among political pressure-groups and television talk show hosts. If a Traditional Catholic lets the TV and the media to determine what is right and what is wrong, he or she basically reduces religion to personal feelings and passions as the Protestants do. But it is through His infallible Catholic Church that God has shown His Will, and not through the TV or computer screen, a truth Fr. Cekada inculcated in his writings.
It would of course be bad enough if Traditional Catholics would let their lives and opinions to be led by the media concerning politics and singular moral issues, like the Schiavo case. But when feelings, passions or conveniences dictate their religious practices as well, the issue is even more serious. Those Traditionalist Catholics, who accepted the sede vacante position of Bishop Dolan, Fr. Cekada, and Bishop Sanborn (who was consecrated by Bp. Robert F. McKenna in 2002) often had the problem of where to attend Mass, since the sedevacantist Mass centers were few and dispersed. So they would often simply attend Masses and receive sacraments from the priests who celebrated only the Traditional Mass but who recognized John Paul II as Pope, usually those priests belonging to the SSPX or the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). This was a practice at one time allowed or at least tolerated by the sedevacantist priests. But just as the issue of the Thuc consecrations, Father Cekada wanted to determine if this practice, which was really based more on convenience than any theological principle, was actually in unison with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The several studies he wrote in 2006-2007 in dealing with the issue proved that this was not the case. In the article Absolutely Null and Utterly Void Father Cekada looked into the issue of Paul VI’s “reform” of the rite of episcopal consecration, and came to the conclusion that this new rite substantially changed the traditional rite of Holy Orders in regards to the episcopacy as defined by Pope Pius XII. The new rite is therefore invalid. Since most – or nearly all – priests of the FSSP are ordained by bishops consecrated in the new Paul VI rite, these men are not priests because they have not received the character of Holy Orders. Therefore all the sacraments (excluding baptism) they confer are invalid. For this reason a Traditionalist Catholic cannot attend their Masses, which really are not Masses at all. This study drew heavy criticism from the part of the SSPX, which at this point was again in negotiations to join the Novus Ordo Church, now led by Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), who would in 2007 make these invalid “motu” Masses available to large numbers of Catholics. Fr. Cekada answered the criticisms with his follow-up articles and also addressed Benedict XVI’s reinstatement of the old Missal in his writing The Motu Mass Trap.
Even more division was caused by Father’s research on the so-called Una Cum issue. In his article The Grain of Incense: Sedevacantists and Una Cum Masses Father points out that a Traditional Catholic, who believes there is no Pope cannot attend Masses celebrated “together with” (una cum) the current pretender of the Chair of St. Peter. It is taking part in the worship of a different religion than Catholicism, which a Catholic cannot do. Benedict XVI was then, as is Jorge Bergoglio now, the head of a false religion and not the Roman Catholic Church.
The una cum issue was one of the controversies where the external unity among the Traditionalists had to give way to the Catholic faith. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Traditional Catholics in America usually went to any Mass celebrated in the old rite wherever they could find it, whether SSPX, SSPV, or independent. Usually it was the Mass that mattered, be-cause there were so few of them available. If the priest inserted Paul VI’s or John Paul II’s name in the Canon was usually not an issue. The faithful were often indifferent whether these men were Popes or not, and those faithful who thought they were not, did not want to make it a dividing issue. Usually only the priests who were considered off-the-hinges made a big deal of it. One elderly lady told me she once attended a mission whose coordinator had called in a priest who was, as the saying goes, “a little bit of a character.” Since the priest had not met her before, he went to her before Mass and demanded bluntly: “Say that John Paul II is not the Pope, or I will not give you Communion.” She didn’t think herself educated enough to make such a statement, especially on the spot, so she attended the Mass but did not try to receive Communion. There had been, as Father Cekada’s writings against Bishop Kelly’s communion policies showed, several divisive issues among the sedevacantist clergy. Until about the year 2000, the only larger group which had specifically declared John Paul II as false Pope, and demanded their faithful to adhere to this, was Bishop Louis Vezelis’ Franciscan Fathers. The rest of the sedevacantist clergy usually left it for each faithful’s own opinion, and demanded in their sacramental policies merely that they attend Traditional Latin Mass exclusively. In The Grain of Incense Father Cekada laid down the principles, based on Church Law, why a Traditional Catholic cannot attend just any Traditional Mass available, the main reason being the disparity of cult, i.e. one cannot offer or attend Mass said in union with a heretic, who is the head of a different religion.
In his writing The Nine vs. Lefebvre Father Cekada returned in detail with the nine priests’ departure from the SSPX in 1983. This article was meant to correct some misunderstandings regarding that departure, one of the main ones being that “The Nine,” as they still usually are referred to, were expelled because of sedevacantism. In fact there were several very serious problems which caused the break. As the article shows, the most serious one was that, in order to prepare the eventual joining of the SSPX with John Paul II’s false church, Archbishop Lefebvre had decided to accept that false church’s phony marriage annulments, which are nothing more than a permission to abandon one’s lawful spouse and to live in adultery. The Nine vs. Lefebvre also describes the colorful court-battles with the ever pleasant puns and ironical remarks of Fr. Cekada – though the events described certainly were not humorous at the time.
The third volume of this collection is a selection of writings Father Cekada published since 2007 in his blogsite Quidlibet, which is Latin for “whatever”, another expression Father was fond of using. From this time onward, Father did not publish articles at the pace he was used to. One reason was that he became more and more involved in preparing music for Sunday and Holy Day Masses, being also the parish organist until Andrew Richesson took over in 2018. Because Father was, thanks to his articles being published on the Internet, considered the main authority in explaining the differences between Traditional Catholicism and Novus Ordo religion, he received questions from priests and lay-people throughout the world, to all of which he duly responded.
In the 2010’s Father also dedicated more and more of his time to social media. He recognized the fact that most people, especially young people, do not have patience anymore to read long articles and writings, but they do spend a great deal of time watching videos and reading comments on social media. However, this short and concise style also fitted Father’s character, and the six years he spent on Twitter resulted in numerous chuckles for sedes and non-sedes alike. One of his last personal tweets from January 2020 was a comment to the news which said “Pope participates in #circus act during general audience”; and Father’s response ran: “... and before and after it, too!”, followed by two clown smileys. On a video which presented organ improvisation during Bishop Dolan’s Sunday Mass, one person left a comment saying: “And again a ‘Sung Mass’ done by a bishop. Dear Sedevacantists, you should know better”. To which Father Cekada, in his usual style, responded:
Don’t be a sniffy smarty-pants. In mission countries, bishops were given indults to celebrate non-pontifical High Masses, and auxiliaries who were also pastors by custom could celebrate the parish High Mass more sacerdotali. What – better to have NO parish High Mass when only a bishop is available for it? That’s the problem with you lay liturgy hobbyists – zero pastoral sense, zero sense of the true spirit of the liturgy, and zero common sense when it comes to the application of rubrics. Better switch to model airplanes. ;)
The Quidlibet blog posts touched upon an array of themes popular or controversial in the Traditionalist world, most of which Father had already covered in his previous publications, but which he now wanted to present in an easily sharable form. But there are a few notable pieces which are worth pointing out. First, Bergoglio’s Got Nothing to Lose... from 2014, which says that the sedevacantist argument must now change. Previously it was that John Paul II had lost the papacy because of heresy. Now it must be that Jorge Bergoglio, who became Benedict XVI’s successor in 2013, never gained the papacy at all. This is because all heretics and apostates are by divine law incapable of being elected to the papacy. There is also the post 9/11 for the Magisterium (2013), where Father put it bluntly concerning Bergoglio: “For my part, I now state that I no longer consider Jorge Bergoglio merely a heretic. He is an apostate because he adheres to a system that rejects the possibility of religious truth and the objective moral law.” That article also contains the powerful warning about putting any trust in a reform of the Vatican II Church:
There are tens of thousands more Bergoglios out there, so in the long run there is really only one cure for the disease. Get rid of what really caused the infection in the first place: Vatican II. And if you hesitate to take advice from a sedevacantist, remember, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” Well, the time is now 10:28 AM – and the date is 9/11...
Very grave words of warning referencing that infamous day and also little eerie concerning the date and hour Father Cekada died.
In his last active year Father continued still to recount the reasons for the divisions among the Traditionalists. He described his departure from the SSPV in the post Spiritual Cooties: The SSPV Sacramental Penalties after 30 Years. But he also expressed his wish that the new generation of Traditional priests and laypeople would not carry on the mistakes of the past: “There is no shame in a priest or a professedly Catholic organization undertaking a change of course if it is dictated for serious reasons, whether based on the needs of the Church or even (and especially) the principles of Catholic theology or canon law. - - So I, and many others, clerical and lay, hope that a future generation of clergy will have the common sense and the courage to act on what the rest of us have often painfully learned over the years.” In the article The Errors of Athanasius Schneider Father Cekada one more time blasted the thoroughly absurd idea that one could hold Bergoglio as Pope and Vatican II as a true church – all the while resisting or ignoring their heresies. He did this in such a hilarious and at the same time razor-sharp style that it is truly a refreshing reminder of Father Cekada’s best writing years, and his one last master-piece.
The death of Fr. Cekada of course left a huge void in research and apologetics of the holy Catholic faith in our times of apostasy. But the sources, both of revelation in the teaching of the Church, and of grace in her Sacraments, remain with us until the end of time. But even though it might be possible to a Catholic researcher to match his knowledge, anyone who knew him can testify, that there will never be anyone who can match his wit and charm. His life and career reflect very well what Eckebert of Schönau wrote of St. Hilary: docuit verbis et scriptis et exemplis – he taught with his words, writings and example.
Fr. Vili Lehtoranta
West Chester, Ohio
April 11, 2021