MINNEAPOLIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - A priest of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter has been excommunicated, and his parish permanently closed, months after he criticized certain actions of various popes both during and after the Second Vatican Council.
On April 1, Bp. Steven J. Lopes announced he had issued a decree of excommunication against Fr. Vaughn Treco, pastor of St. Bede the Venerable in suburban Minneapolis, citing "rejection of the magisterial authority of an Ecumenical Council and a series of popes."
The charge stems from a homily Fr. Treco delivered on Nov. 25, 2018, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Titled "The Father's Grapes and the Children's Teeth," the address was based on Ezekiel 18:2, which declares: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the teeth of the children are set on edge."
In his homily, Fr. Treco identified multiple roots of the current Church crisis — faulting missteps and failures of popes during and after Vatican II — and outlined an appropriate Catholic response.
On June 28, when asked about allegations that he denied Vatican II and supported a sedevacantist position, Fr. Treco told Church Militant: "Thank you for asking this question of me directly. In answer, I can say without any dissimulation that I have never denied the validity of the Second Vatican Council, and I do not now believe, nor have I ever believed that the Apostolic See is vacant."
At the outset of November's homily, Fr. Treco explained to his congregation: "I wish to set before you a deeper understanding of the crisis that now engulfs Holy Mother Church and to propose a way forward in the months and years that lay before us."
He contrasted "the spirit of Catholicism" with "what some have called the 'spirit' of the Second Vatican Council," noting that the former is "set in opposition to the world," while describing the latter as "an embrace of the world."
"The Catholic Church exists to bring all men and every nation under the Kingship of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe," he said, adding: "But friends: In the face of our Lord's clear teaching regarding the mission of the Church, the Conciliar Popes, the Successors of Peter have — in a way — repeated Peter's three-fold denial of Jesus Christ."
Three Papal Blunders
Father Treco proposed that the conciliar popes had fallen short of their responsibilities in three ways.
First, he said that at the heights of the Cold War, Pope Paul VI looked to man, rather than God, to forge a path away from conflict. Father Treco suggested to parishioners that "in Paul VI, Peter said the United Nations, not the Catholic Church, has the mission of bringing peace to the world."
Father Treco quoted Paul VI's Oct. 4, 1965 address to the United Nations General Assembly in which the pontiff proclaimed that "this organization represents the obligatory path of modern civilization and world peace," contrasting it with Pope Pius XI's 1922 encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio: On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ, which declared that "the only remedy" for human conflict "is the peace of Christ since the peace of Christ is the peace of God," and that "these ideals and doctrines of Christ ... were confided by Him to His Church and to her alone for safekeeping."
Second, Fr. Treco faulted Paul VI for lax administration, saying that "through Pope Paul VI, Peter denied his responsibility to rule and govern the Church: an authority that Jesus Christ Himself had entrusted to Peter."
He noted that during his pontificate, Paul VI "refused to discipline wayward Catholic bishops, theologians and seminary professors" and instead "promoted and advanced clerics who openly denied the perennial and immutable truths of the Faith."
Elaborating on this point, Fr. Treco added:
Men who denied the divinity of Christ; men who denied the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ; men who denied the unique saving power of Jesus Christ, and the daily re-presentation of this sacrifice, made once for all on the Cross of Calvary, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; men who denied the divine origin of the Church; men who denied the apostolic succession of the episcopacy, and men who denied the necessity of the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Third, Fr. Treco lamented that the conciliar popes had shown a measure of deference to other faiths, saying that "through Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, Peter denied the Church's obligation to offer worship to no other God, but the Blessed Trinity."
Among other examples, he recounted how "each visited and took part in services of worship at the synagogue in Rome, giving credence to the false notion that it is possible for a people to have access to God the Father even though they have rejected His Only Begotten Son."
Father Treco pointed to the fruit — the "sour grapes" — wrought by the Second Vatican Council, noting that in its wake "the religious orders of the Catholic Church collapsed, with more than 80,000 women religious forsaking their vows, along with more than 32,000 priests abandoning their office."
He also observed that after Vatican II, "heresies that had been previously condemned have been allowed to run rampant in the Church; and these heresies have been promoted by professors of Catholic theology and philosophy, theologians, priests, bishops and cardinals."
He noted further that the crisis has crescendoed under Pope Francis:
And now we are told from the Vatican itself that people living in adulterous second marriages can receive Holy Communion in certain cases, which is exactly the opposite of what even Pope John Paul II taught, when he insisted that it was "intrinsically impossible" to give Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried because — as the Catechism that he had published states — they are living "public and permanent adultery."
In his final assessment, Fr. Treco declared:
The current epidemic of fornication, adultery and the acceptance of homosexuality as a moral good among the faithful and of the clergy ... and the current scourge of homosexual predation among the priests and bishops of the Catholic Church are the foreseeable and inevitable fruit of the conciliar popes' decision to respect, honor and approve the aspirations of modern man so-called; and to declare, pursue and defend the exaltation of man in the temples of God.
He also called on his parishioners to remember Our Lady of Akita, who in an Oct. 13, 1973, Church-approved apparition, warned Sr. Agnes Sasagawa:
The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres ... church and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.
Father Treco rallied his parishioners to respond to the crisis in the Church by actively seeking "to restore the Kingship of Jesus Christ in our personal lives, in society and in the nations of the world."
He urged them to "make knowing Christ the King and His holy doctrine the chief priority" by abandoning "convenience Catholicism"; by attending reverent Masses; by reading "only those theological and spiritual books that are faithful to the ancient faith"; and by teaching "the true faith, and only the true faith to our children."
"In this regard," he added, "a helpful rule of thumb would be to return to those theological and spiritual resources that were approved by the Holy See prior to the revolution of the 1960s."
Father Treco's homily was well-received by his parishioners, and word of it soon reached The Remnant, a Twin Cities-based traditionalist publication sympathetic to the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). The newspaper contacted Fr. Treco and asked if he would agree to publish his homily online. He consented, and on Dec. 5, an audio recording of the address was published on The Remnant's YouTube channel, and a transcript posted to its website. Within days, the homily had registered more than 20,000 views.
Accusations of Schism
The first signs of trouble came on Dec. 11, when Fr. Treco was contacted by Ordinariate Vicar General Fr. Timothy Perkins. Father Perkins denounced the homily as tantamount to heresy and ordered Treco to fly to Texas for a meeting with Bp. Steven J. Lopes, head of the Personal Ordinariate.
The following day, Fr. Treco met with Bp. Lopes, Vicar General Perkins and Fr. Richard Kramer, director of vocations at the Ordinariate's Houston chancery.
As Treco later recalled, Fr. Perkins spoke first, accusing the priest of misinterpreting Ezekiel 18:2:
Father Perkins correctly noted that the purpose of this Old Testament text was to dispel the then commonly held belief that children will be held guilty for the sins of their fathers. However, Fr. Perkins seemed to have completely missed the poetic manner in which I was employing the text in my homily. Rather than making clear the case that the children of the Church will be held guilty by God for the sins committed by the Fathers of the Church, I was making the more subtle observation that the failure of the Fathers of the Church to be diligent in their duty to guard the Faith was having a deleterious effect upon the children of Holy Mother Church.
Father Kramer addressed Fr. Treco next, quoting a layman's comment made in response to his homily: "Finally, a priest who gets it."
"Do you get it?" Fr. Kramer asked.
Father Treco recounted: "To this question, which seemed calculated to entrap me, I said simply, 'I am not sure that I know what the writer meant by 'it.'"
"I was asked if I believed that the Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis were legitimate popes," he said. "Quite honestly, I was taken completely off-guard by the question. It seemed to be quite unrelated to anything that had been said in the meeting thus far, and I was surprised because the question was completely unrelated to the substance of my homily."
"Even so," he added, "I affirmed without hesitation that I believed that Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis were each validly elected successors of St. Peter."
For his part, Bp. Lopes expressed surprise that Fr. Treco had not come to the meeting with a letter of resignation.
Over the next four months' correspondence with the bishop, Treco's plight rapidly worsened. On Dec. 18, he sent Bp. Lopes a personal profession of faith, in which he reaffirmed the teachings of the Apostles' Creed and denounced the so-called "Higher Criticism" — the interpretation of Sacred Scripture through the lens of false philosophy:
I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm.
In addition, as Pope Pius X had done more than a century before, Fr. Treco condemned the heresy of modernism:
I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say ... that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued to hold through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the Apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.
Finally, Fr. Treco confirmed that he was in no way sedevacantist: "I affirm, also, that I believe that the Second Vatican Council was validly convened by Pope John XXIII, and validly continued by Pope Paul VI, and that this council's teaching ought to be received in the manner intended by Pope Paul VI and the Council Fathers."
He added: "I further affirm that I believe that Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis each to have been validly elected successors of Blessed Peter the Apostle and first Roman Pontiff."
In spite of Fr. Treco's pledges of fidelity, Bp. Lopes dismissed his personal profession of faith, accusing the priest of fomenting schism within the Church. As Fr. Treco and his backers point out, the bishop has refused to specify how and where in his homily Fr. Treco incited schism, noting that instead, Lopes has lobbed accusations only in general terms.
On Jan. 17, Bp. Lopes withdrew Fr. Treco's priestly faculties. Three days later, he removed Fr. Treco from his position as pastor of St. Bede the Venerable. On Jan. 21, he chastised Fr. Treco, accusing him of intransigence:
At no point in our dialogues of the last weeks have you offered any word of regret or remorse for your schismatic act and promotion of schism among the faithful. ... To underscore, your published denial of magisterial authority of the Second Vatican Council and your assertion that the Council itself and a series of Popes are in error constitutes a public act of schism.
Father Treco responded the next day, telling Bp. Lopes:
Please, be assured that I will recant anything that I have said which is contrary to Catholic Faith; however I am not aware that I have articulated anything against the Catholic Faith. As a matter of accuracy, and so that I may be able to respond to what you believe I have articulated against the Catholic Faith, I ask that you please identify what I said that is contrary to our Catholic Faith? I will recant anything that was wrong to state as I remain faithful to the Church and Magisterium.
But again, the bishop refused to explain how Fr. Treco's remarks were schismatic, repeating his accusations only in general terms.
On Jan. 29, Bp. Lopes suspended Fr. Treco for "having committed the delict of schism."
On April 1, Bp. Lopes notified priests of the Ordinariate that Fr. Treco had been formally excommunicated for his criticism of the conciliar popes:
Considering that maintaining the teachings of the Second Vatican Council represent a "departure from Catholic tradition," and declaring that the Popes since that Council have "set aside the mandate given to [them] by Our Lord Jesus Christ" is incompatible with the exercise of the sacred ministry, and that this action causing grave public scandal ... the penalty of excommunication imposed [latae sententiae] upon Rev. Treco for having committed the delict of schism ... is hereby declared with all of the effects and consequences found in canon 1331.
Father Treco's parishioners were dismayed by the decision, again questioning Bp. Lopes' assertion that the priest had incited schism. In the lead-up to Lopes' decision, supporter Mary MacArthur composed a letter to the bishop, asking him to clarify which Catholic teachings Fr. Treco had denied in his homily. Between Jan. 20 and March 29, she circulated the letter among her fellow St. Bede parishioners, more than half of whom signed it. The letter read:
Your Excellency the Most Reverend Steven Lopes,
Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter,
In your letter announcing the removal of our former pastor, Fr. Vaughn Treco, it was stated that he denied Church teaching in his Feast of Christ the King homily, which was critical of the Second Vatican Council and certain subsequent statements and actions by popes. The letter did not, however, state what Catholic teaching it is judged that Fr. Treco denied.
Since the letter was publicly read, we request public clarification, citing the specific sentences where the homily in question denied Catholic dogma, explaining exactly what defined doctrine they contradict. If we were taught error, we, the faithful of the Church of St. Bede the Venerable, have the right to know what it was and what the correct teaching is.
Yours in Christ,
Parishioners of St. Bede the Venerable
The congregation's letter went unanswered. But on May 6, 2019, it was announced that St. Bede the Venerable would be shut down. The final Mass was celebrated on May 19.
"I do not believe that the Christ the King homily was in any way heretical or schismatic," MacArthur later wrote. "Father Treco compared the papal actions he was criticizing to St. Peter's denial of Christ. Doing so was in no way denying these popes' papal authority, any more than it was denying St. Peter's papal authority!"
"If Bp. Lopes sincerely believes that Fr. Treco's homily was contrary to the Catholic Faith, why refuse to give an explanation of how exactly?" she asked. "Why refuse to give guidance to the flock that he claims was led astray by an erring pastor?"
Father Treco is fighting his excommunication. Recently, a timeline of events outlining the basic facts of the case was released to the public. The report contains detailed documentation of correspondence between Fr. Treco and Bp. Lopes. Supporters stress that they did not receive the document from Fr. Treco, but from a separate source within the Ordinariate.
Father Treco's excommunication has deprived him of the means to support his family. In response, backers have set up a GoFundMe page as well as a PayPal account in an attempt to raise funds to sustain them until Fr. Treco can secure secular employment.
Additionally, they've launched a website detailing the circumstances of his case. Above all, they're asking for prayers for Fr. Treco that justice will prevail.
Church Militant reached out to Bp. Lopes for comment on Monday, but no response was received by press time.