The Vatican

On Viganó's schism, "the Church always hopes for conversion".

Carlo María Viganó, quien fue nuncio en Estados Unidos, ha sido declarado culpable de un delito de cisma después de haber manifestado en repetidas ocasiones inaceptablemente críticas contra el Papa y contra la comunión eclesial. Davide Cito, Profesor de Derecho Penal Canónico de la Pontificia Universidad de la Santa Cruz, explica los aspectos canónicos de esta cuestión.

Maria José Atienza-July 9, 2024-Reading time: 5 minutes
schism viganó

Last July 4, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Mons. Carlo Maria Viganò of the crime of schism and confirmed the latae sententiae excommunication he had incurred for the "public declarations, from which it follows his refusal to recognize and submit to the Supreme Pontiff, of communion with the members of the Church submitted to him and of the legitimacy and magisterial authority of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council".

Carlo Maria Vigano, a native of Varese, was ordained a priest in 1968. He soon joined the diplomatic corps of the Holy See. He held various positions within the Roman Curia, the last of which was as apostolic nuncio to the United States from 2011 to 2016. After resigning his post for reasons of age, he became a constant critic of Pope Francis. Criticisms that have been raising their tone in recent years to the point of denying the legitimacy of the Pope, asking for his resignation or not accepting the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

What has happened for the former representative of the Holy See in the United States to sign his separation from the See of Peter? We spoke with Davide Cito, Professor of Canonical Criminal Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, who highlights the canonical juridical foundations that support this decision of the Holy See, but reminds us that the door of the Church is always open.

A few days ago we learned of the declaration of guilt of schism by Carlo M. Viganó, former nuncio to the United States. Why is the Church declaring him guilty? 

-As it appears in the press release issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith On July 4, a canonical penal process was carried out by the same Dicastery, which is the competent body to judge crimes against the faith committed by Bishops.

In the case of Monsignor Carlo Maria Viganò, he was "accused of the reserved crime of schism (canons 751 and 1364 CIC)" and art. 2 of the Norms on the crimes reserved to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

He has been found guilty because the facts that make up the crime of schism have been proven, summarized in the words of the communiqué: "His public declarations are well known, resulting in his refusal to recognize and submit to the Supreme Pontiff, of communion with the members of the Church subject to him and of the legitimacy and magisterial authority of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council". 

At the same time, his guilt has been proven in the sense that he has committed these criminal acts, especially serious because they touch the very identity of the Church, being crimes against the faith, with freedom and will, aware of the consequences of his actions. For this reason, Msgr. Viganò "was declared guilty of the reserved crime of schism. The Dicastery declared excommunication. latae sententiae ex can. 1364 § 1 CIC". 

Do the reasons Viganó gives for his position have any canonical support?

-Considering the statements repeatedly made by Msgr. Viganò, who, on the other hand, has refused to appear before the judge, showing once again his contempt for the legitimate authority of the Church, do not seem to have any canonical support.

 To deny, among other things, the legitimacy and magisterial authority of an ecumenical council, such as the Second Vatican Council, is inadmissible on the part of a Catholic faithful. 

At the same time, as happens in the crime of heresy, in which the heretic thinks that he, and not the Church, has the true faith, in the crime of schism, the schismatic affirms that he represents and defends the true Church against the same Church considered false and illegitimate.

The schisms in the East, the West or the one that gave rise to the Anglican Church are well known. Are we talking about the same type of schisms? 

-I really don't think so. The schisms of East and West to which you refer have a complex origin with doctrinal, disciplinary and also political problems, which were later reflected in the conflict over the ecclesiastical authorities that had to preside over the Eastern Churches and then over the Anglican community. 

Moreover, the historical complexity of these schisms goes hand in hand with the ecumenical journey that the Catholic Church is undertaking with these Churches and Christian communities to travel the path of unity among Christians.

In this case, instead, there are no Churches or communities involved, but an individual Archbishop who, for personal reasons, although always with apparently very noble justifications, and without presiding over some kind of ecclesial community, (which he has never had), goes about simply rejecting the legitimate authority of the Church in all the fields in which the Church acts, trying to appear as a "victim" of the authority he does not recognize, and at the same time "defender" of a true Church that is really only in his mind.

Why do some give rise to other Churches and others do not? Are all Christian sects schismatic?

-To give rise to Churches in the strict sense it is not enough to try to "create" them, but it is necessary the presence of a true episcopate, in which apostolic succession is given, and it is also necessary to believe in the sacrament of Holy Orders. 

On the other hand, schism is a deviation from the Catholic Church, in the sense that a Christian community or sect is not schismatic for that reason. To be schismatic, one must first be a Catholic. In fact, as a canonical crime it affects only Catholics and not other baptized persons.

What is the canonical difference between schism and heresy? Do both entail excommunication?

-Although both offenses are included in the title ".Of offenses against the faith and unity of the Church." and therefore go against the good of the faith, and for this reason are so serious, and carry the penalty of excommunication that manifests in some way the loss of full communion with the Church, are differentiated by the object of the criminal act. 

In the case of heresy, the object of the crime is to deny a truth of faith, for example, the divinity of Jesus Christ or the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. 

In schism, on the other hand, is the refusal to submit to the Supreme Pontiff or to maintain communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Since the Roman Pontiff "as successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful" (Lumen Gentium, 23), schism directly attacks the fundamental structure of the Church in its hierarchical constitution.

At the same time, since it is the Church and her Magisterium that teach the truths of faith and guard the faithful in the faith, by denying the authority of the Pope and communion with him, one places oneself outside the communion of the Church.

For legal and practical purposes, in what situation is Viganó now? What steps would he have to take to have this excommunication lifted?

-Since the penalty of excommunication has been declared, i.e., it has public effects, reference must be made to can. 1331 §2 of the Code of Canon Law which establishes the effects of the penalty of excommunication when it has been declared. For example, he is forbidden to celebrate Mass and if he attempts to do so, he must be rejected or the liturgical ceremony must cease. 

All acts of regimental power imposed by him are invalid; he may not receive ecclesiastical pensions and may not validly receive any type of commission or function in the Church. At the same time, if he acts contrary to the prohibitions established by the canon, other canonical penalties can be added, not excluding expulsion from the clerical state. 

Evidently, the Church always hopes for the conversion of the faithful who have committed crimes, which is why excommunication is such a medicinal penalty, in order for the subject who has committed a crime to repent. Repenting of his actions and manifesting his unity and obedience to the Successor of Peter is the path to the cessation of the penalty of excommunication and thus to return to full communion with the Church.

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