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Brazilian priest accused of schism faces canonical proceedings

A Brazilian priest is facing canonical proceedings after his archdiocese said he had made schismatic statements and ignored restrictions on the use of pre-conciliar liturgical rubrics.

Fr. Fábio Fernandes, a priest of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, Brazil. Screenshot from @SantaGenerosa YouTube channel.

The Archdiocese of São Paulo announced Nov. 29 that it would open a preliminary investigation into the priest’s alleged schismatic activity, and at the same time, remove Fr. Fábio Fernandes from Our Lady of Sorrows church in the Barra Funda district of the city of São Paulo, where he serves as pastor.

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A Nov. 23 decree signed by Cardinal Odilo Scherer, the Archbishop of São Paulo, said that Fernandes was forbidden from exercising public ministry.

The measures taken against Fernandes followed a series of tense exchanges between the archdiocesan authorities and the priest that began Nov. 1 with a canonical warning.

The warning letter, signed by Scherer and the archdiocese’s chancellor, asked Fernandes to declare in writing and in public his “willingness to accept communion with the Roman Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council in its entirety, the Magisterium of Pope Francis and due obedience and respect for your diocesan bishop,” as promised at his 2009 priestly ordination.

The letter accused the priest of “persistent disobedience,” making schismatic statements such as calling Pope Francis and Scherer “heretics,” and showing “clear disregard” for the tenets of the 2021 apostolic letter Traditionis custodes, which curtailed celebrations of the liturgy prior to the reform of 1970, also known as the Tridentine Mass and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

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Brazil, the country with the world’s largest Catholic population, has a significant traditionalist movement. 

The Institute of the Good Shepherd, a society of apostolic life of pontifical right established in 2006 that uses the 1962 Roman Missal, operates at five locations in Brazil, including São Paulo. 

The Diocese of Campos, in Rio de Janeiro state, is home to a unique structure, known as the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney, created by Pope John Paul II in 2002 for traditionalist clergy and lay people. The diocese was led from 1949 to 1981 by Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, an ally of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

The international organization Tradition, Family, Property was founded in Brazil in 1960 by the traditionalist activist Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who was born in São Paulo.

In a Nov. 6 response to Cardinal Scherer, Fr. Fernandes denied making any statement in which he described the pope and the cardinal as “heretics.” 

“What I have said is that those who are under the spirit of aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council are in a situation of heresy, which is obvious, and which compromises legitimacy and authority,” he said.

Regarding Traditionis custodes, he argued that “the liturgy ‘in force’ does not alter the theological nature of the Tridentine Mass defined by St. Pius V, who ordered that it not be altered and which, by its very dogmatic nature, is the norm of prayer of the Catholic Church in the West.”

Fernandes posted another statement Nov. 6, addressed to Catholics, in which he said that he wanted to “ask forgiveness for the mistake I made for many years, most of my almost 15 years of priesthood, of having celebrated the new Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI.”

He offered a detailed account of his calling to the priesthood, his formation, and his growing awareness of the Traditional Latin Mass. He ended the message with a quotation from Archbishop Lefebvre.

At the end of November, the archdiocese sent a new message to Fernandes, notifying him of canonical proceedings, and giving him five working days to “hand over” his parish. That directive would seem most likely to be a temporary restriction on his administration of the parish, given that parish pastors must be ordinarily removed by a particular process in canon law, and Fernandes has not yet been declared to be in schism.

The archdiocese said that Cardinal Scherer had appealed to Fernandes on Oct. 28, asking him not to celebrate the feast of Christ of the King the following day, but the priest had ignored the request and celebrated the feast on a day “contrary to the liturgical calendar in force.”

The feast fell Oct. 29 in the Extraordinary Form calendar, but Nov. 26 in the Ordinary Form calendar used by Brazilian dioceses.

The archdiocese said that the priest had also failed to retract the errors highlighted in the Nov. 1 letter, but instead reaffirmed them, posting “serious statements with schismatic content” on social media Nov. 6.

In a Nov. 27 message to fellow priests and lay Catholics, Fernandes said that he had celebrated the feast of Christ the King Oct. 29 “according to the wishes and needs of the faithful,” as well as in accordance with the traditional Catholic calendar, despite a prohibition communicated to him via a phone call and a WhatsApp message.

The priest said that in his homily, he had professed “the Catholic and apostolic faith, defending the Mass of ages and refuting the errors of the ‘conciliar church’ against the true faith and the Holy Sacrifice.”

It is not clear to what degree Fernandes intends to fight the charges of schism against him.

He suggested that the canonical process, which would take place in the São Paulo archdiocese’s ecclesiastical tribunal, had “the aim of expelling me from the ‘conciliar church’ as a schismatic, excommunicating me from the ‘conciliar church,’ and stripping me of the clerical state of the same ‘conciliar church.’”

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