CMRI’s Scandalous Founder, and History
Editor’s Note: This article is written by a man who refers to certain people as clergymen. The editors of this website do not share his views that such men are valid clergymen. Nonetheless, he has a story to share.
The Truth About Bishop Francis Schuckardt
In the 29 years that I personally knew Bishop Schuckardt, I’ve heard and read many things about him, very little of which was true. Some fabricate allegations against him and some canonize him; both violate the truth. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. My intention in writing this article is to tell the whole and unvarnished truth about him. I will not indulge in exaggerated and false accusations against him nor in fanciful virtues that he didn’t possess; I will simply tell that which I know to be the truth.
Source of My Knowledge
I first heard of Bishop Schuckardt in 1976 and joined the Church in 1977. In 1978 I entered the CMRI and was assigned to the Priory (bishop’s house) in 1981. I have been with him from 1981 until his death in 2006. I not only knew him very well, but have also spent some years living among many of his accusers; I know them pretty well too.
My task of telling the whole truth about Bishop Schuckardt is not an easy one as I struggle for balance between certain moral considerations. Once such consideration is the sin of detraction, which does not permit one to harm the reputation of another without just cause, even if what is being said is true. Theologians teach that this sin is mortal in its kind, even though by contemporary standards, even among those who call themselves traditional Catholics, one would think that detraction is a virtue and not a vice at all. This consideration of committing detraction has guarded my tongue for many years as I struggled with the just cause exception.
But in more recent years circumstances have changed sufficiently to tip the scale in favor of speaking out. Some of these circumstances include the fact that he has been dead now for a number of years and while one may not disparage the dead, nevertheless, telling the truth about them will not cause them future harm. So the obligation of silence is less grave regarding the dead than the living. Further, some persons, especially since Bishop Schuckardt’s death, have taken to publicly “canonizing” him, and this untruth has added to new dimension to the equation.
And then not too long ago I ran across this by Pope Leo XIII:
“First, let the historian say nothing false; next, let him conceal nothing true.” (Letter to Cardinals Pitra, de Luca and Hergenrother, 1883)
“God has no need of our lies, as we are told in the Book of Job. The Church historian will be all the better equipped to bring out her divine origin, superior as this is to all conceptions of a merely terrestrial and natural order, the more loyal he is in naught extenuating of the trials which the faults of her children, and at times even of her ministers, have brought upon the Spouse of Christ during the course of centuries. Studied in this way, the history of the Church constitutes by itself a magnificent and conclusive demonstration of the truth and divinity of Christianity.” (Encyclical: Depuis Le Jour, Pope Leo XIII, 1899)
In addition to all of this is the consideration that before too long, those persons who can give personally testimony concerning Bishop Schuckardt will soon be dead, and then the truth about him will be forever lost to history. So all things considered and after much prayer, I’ve decided to speak out.
So following Pope Leo XIII’s counsel, I will say nothing false and I will conceal nothing true that is relevant. I am not going to delve into every nook and cranny of Bishop Schuckardt’s life or address every baseless accusation that has been made against him. I trust that in telling the truth that the “divine origin” of Christianity will not be diminished, but rather made more apparent, as the Holy Father stated.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Francis Schuckardt was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1937. He graduated from Seattle University in 1959 and entered Our Lady of the Ozarks Seminary in Carthage, Missouri, but was compelled to leave due to ill health. (It is interesting to note that this is the same Seminary where Bishop Thuc spent his last days and died.) In 1960 the Archdiocese of Seattle certified him as a Confraternity Class instructor. He devoted himself to his job as a Linguistics Research Analyst and high school teacher; giving his spare time to the Blue Army – an organization dedicated to the mission of fulfilling the message that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. At the age of 26 he was elected to the International Council of the Blue Army, a first for someone who had not been a national head of the organization, and spent much time lecturing around the world about Our Lady of Fatima.
In the late 1960’s, however, as the Blue Army embraced the changes of Vatican Council II, Francis Schuckardt quit the organization.
In 1967, Francis Schuckardt, along with some other former members of the Blue Army, started a lay organization called the Fatima Crusade in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The Fatima Crusade’s purpose was to spread and live the message of Our Lady of Fatima while maintaining Catholic tradition. Many of the “Fatima Crusaders,” as they later became known, wanted to dedicate themselves more completely to God and besought Francis to establish a religious congregation to meet their wishes.
So in August of 1967, on the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, Francis Schuckardt, with the approbation of Bishop Treinen of Boise, founded the Congregation of Mary, Immaculate Queen of the Universe (in Latin: Congregatio Mariae Reginae Immaculatae; hence, CMRI for short). This combination of the Fatima Crusade and the CMRI was simply termed the “Community” by its members.
At this time there were no priests in the Religious Congregation, but there were some traditional-minded priests who would provide the Community with the traditional Catholic Sacraments and offer for them the Tridentine Latin Rite Mass. The new Mass of Paul VI was not allowed.
The Community fully realized, however, the necessity of finding a bishop if they had any hope of preserving traditional Catholicism, but all of their seaching to locate a fully orthodox one had failed to produce any results.
Ordination and Consecration
Bishop Daniel Quilter Brown had been born and raised a Catholic, but became disenchanted with the reforms of Vatican II and chose to become an Old Roman Catholic bishop in order to perpetuate valid Episcopal Orders. He recognized that the Old Roman Catholics, although schismatic, had nevertheless not fallen into heresy like the modern post-Conciliar Vatican 2 Church and that they also still retained valid Holy Orders. In 1969, Brown received Episcopal consecration as an “Old Roman Catholic” bishop.
Despite the fact that Bishop Brown obtained his consecration in the Old Roman Catholic Church, he and his followers called themselves “Roman Catholics” and refused to use the title of “Old Roman Catholic.” Shortly after his consecration, he broke all ties and communications with the Old Roman Catholics and soon became acquainted with Brother Francis, whom he tried to persuade to accept ordination from him, because “in view of the fact that we cannot exist for long as Catholics without the sacraments, I would propose to ordain to the priesthood a qualified member of your group (from the information I have, this would probably be yourself)…” (Letter from Bishop Brown to Francis Schuckardt – Sept. 17, 1970). Later he offered to consecrate Brother Francis to the episcopacy in addition to ordaining him to the priesthood.
Brother Francis sought the advice of some traditional Catholic priests, most notably Fr. Burton Fraser, S.J., about Bishop Brown’s proposal. He was advised that under the grave circumstances which presently engulfed the Church, that it was well within Catholic law and principles to accept consecration from Bishop Brown. Nevertheless, even though the Catholic Church acknowledges the validity of Old Catholics Orders, Brother Francis told Bishop Brown that he was unwilling to receive Holy Orders from him because of the schismatic origins of his consecration.
There upon Bishop Brown openly repented of having received consecration from the Old Roman Catholics, made a public “Abjuration of Error and Profession of Faith” to the Catholic Church, confessed his sins and received absolution from a traditional priest. Bishop Brown’s return to the Catholic Church cleared the sole obstacle that obstructed Brother Francis from receiving consecration from him.
On October 28, 1971, in the presence of some loyal Fatima Crusaders, Bishop Brown tonsured and bestowed the four Minor Orders on Francis Schuckardt. On October 29, 1971, Bishop Brown conferred the Major Orders of Subdeacon and Deacon upon him. On October 31, 1971, Bishop Brown ordained Francis Schuckardt to the priesthood, and on November 1, 1971, the Feast of All Saints, Bishop Brown consecrated Fr. Francis Schuckardt a bishop according to the traditional Roman Catholic Rite. The fact of his consecration and the source of his Episcopal Orders were not announced publicly until December 8, 1971. He celebrated his first public Mass for the Community at Mary, Immaculate Queen Church in northern Idaho on December 12, 1971. All but a tiny fraction of the Community accepted his consecration.
At first Bishops Brown and Schuckardt worked peaceably together. Shortly afterwards, Bishop Brown saw “splinter groups” forming and desired that Bishop Schuckardt lead the Church. (Holding a leadership position was a difficult one for Bishop Brown because among other things, he was married and held a full-time job.) In writing to Bishop Schuckardt, Bishop Brown deemed it “urgent that these people be united into one body with one leader who would be, logically, yourself.” (Letter of Bishop Brown to Bishop Schuckardt – March 4, 1972). Eventually, however, differences broke out between them and they separated and went their own ways. Bishop Brown eventually returned to the Old Catholic Church.
Traditional Catholic Church and the TLRCC
Bishop Schuckardt and the Fatima Crusade have always considered themselves to be Catholics and part of the “true” Catholic Church as it has existed since its inception.
Bishop Schuckardt and the CMRI taught that the church that came out of Vatican Council II was a new church, with a new set of beliefs, doctrines and liturgies; and was consequently no longer truly Catholic. This new church, however, still called itself Catholic, as did Bishop Schuckardt and the other members of the Community, and this caused confusion all around, especially in the purchase and sale of real estate. To avoid this confusion, Bishop Schuckardt starting conducting business under the name of the Tridentine Latin Rite Catholic Church (hereinafter – TLRCC).
During the autumn of 1972, Bishop Schuckardt received the Last Rites in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, due to a gangrenous intestine; he survived, but his already precarious health had been further compromised. Chronic illness would be his constant companion for the remainder of his life.
Between 1975 and 1979 he ordained Denis Chicoine and a handful of others to the priesthood. Some were sent out on missinos but most stayed to provide for the ever growing needs of the TRLCC.
The TRLCC grew at a rapid pace. By 1977, it was found necessary to purchase a large former Jesuit seminary in Spokane, Washington – Mount Saint Michaels. The 735 acre facility hosted a huge 200 plus room complex complete with a Church, gymnasium and swimming pool. It was used as a Church, seminary, boys’ school, retreat center, print shop and bookstore.
The TRLCC continued to grow, eventually sending priests to various parts of the world, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and the Holy Land. By 1984, Bishop Schuckardt had transformed the original little group of Brothers and Sisters who started in 1967 into a thriving and bustling Traditional Catholic community which numbered about 120 Sisters, 6 active priests, 61 Clerics and Brothers, K – 12th grade boys and girls school, the Knights of the Eucharist, the Knights of the Altar, the Knights of St. Karl the Great, the Altar and Rosary Society, Our Lady of Cana Cell (for couples interested in marriage), the Holy Name Ushers, several Third Orders, numerous Fatima Cells, St. Anne’s Home for the elderly and infirm, the Little Daughters of the Immaculate Conception Convent for the mentally impaired, the Singing Nuns, the Kevelaer School for the neurological impaired, the St. Joseph the Worker Guild, the Mater Dolorous Guild (to aid the dying), etc. In addition to Mt. St. Michaels, they also owned over 18 other properties.
Externally it looked like a thriving Catholic community, but internally there was much rot.
There have been many accusations made against Bishop Schuckardt about sexual misconduct. Some of these accusations are bogus, some are not. It is a sad fact that he used his episcopal status and influence as a tool to sexually abuse young men (some with vows of chastity). For the sake of clarity, when I say sexually abuse, I am excluding the sin of sodomy, as that term is understood in its strict sense, because I have never heard anyone accuse him of that.
He has been quoted in the Spokesman Review as denying any sexual misconduct, saying that the accusations “sicken me because there’s not a word of truth to it at all.” If this quote is accurate, then Bishop Schuckardt is not telling the truth here.
For a Catholic bishop to so misuse his position in this manner has to be one of the worst offenses a bishop can commit; but rather than personally expounding upon it, I will leave that task to a Doctor of the Church and his public condemnation of bishops who:
“commit these absolutely damnable acts with their spiritual sons. Who can expect the flock to prosper when its shepherd has sunk so deep into the bowels of the devil. Or who will make a mistress of a cleric, or a woman of a man? Or who, by his lust, will consign a son whom he spiritually begotten for God to slavery under the iron law of Satanic tyranny…” (Book of Gomorrah, St. Peter Damian, d. 1072)
Some criticize the young men abused by Bishop Schuckardt for allowing themselves to be misused, saying that they were not boys and that they knew right from wrong. Some go further and even accuse them of willful homosexual misconduct. Those who entertain such thoughts or make such statements are committing rash judgments and show little understanding for what these young men had to go through. I will try to illustrate the dilemma these young men faced by using the example of one young Brother whose case I am very familiar with. While this may be only a single case, nevertheless, it bears close resemblance to the other victims as well.
Bishop Schuckardt received regular intramuscular injections of pain medication due to certain chronic illnesses. They were simply referred to as “shots.” These injections wreaked havoc on his muscles and knots would form unless the muscles were massaged on a regular basis. These injections were typically given in the arms and hips.
One day one of the founding Religious of the CMRI, a Brother with a reputation for holiness, gave this young Brother with a bottle of massage oil and instructed him to let himself into the Bishop Schuckardt’s room and to massage the muscle that had received the injection. This soon turned into a regular duty for this Brother and he was frequently asked to do this, often in front of everyone who lived at the Priory. No one seemed to think anything of it.
Then one day things went wrong. This young Brother was deeply troubled and asked to speak to his spiritual director, who was a cleric in Major Orders and who also happened to reside at the Priory. His spiritual director explained to him that this whole thing had been looked into by one the TRLCC’s priests by the name of Fr. Kubesh. Fr. Kubesh was an elderly priest who had a reputation for being wise and was the only priest in the TRLCC who had received proper Seminary training before Vatican Council II. His spiritual director proceeded to tell the young Brother that Fr. Kubesh taught that in applying the moral principle of “double effect” to this case, that there was no harm in continuing to assist, and that whatever happened, so long as it was not directly willed, was not wrong – in fact, to continue to assist would be an act of charity.
Now the reader needs to understand the backdrop behind all of this in order to better comprehend it. Bishop Schuckardt was widely spoken about within the TRLCC as a holy man. It was inconceivable to the Community that He who so frequently lashed out from the pulpit against sin, would privately seduce someone into sin.
Moreover, the young Brothers received no training in moral theology and depended upon those clerics who were assigned as their spiritual directors to properly guide them. Good Religious follow their spiritual directors, not their private instincts.
Also living at the Priory was the number two in command, Fr. Denis Chicoine, as well as one or two other priests and a handful of senior clerics. The perception was that all of these priests and clerics knew what was going on. When one of the Brothers was asked to massage a shot, this was always done in the open and no one seemed to give it a second thought. None of these priests or clerics ever cautioned this young Brother against assisting Bishop Schuckardt. In fact, when things started to go awry, this young Brother twice sought counsel from one of the priests and was twice blown off by him. His impression was that everyone knew about it, but that no one was willing to talk about it.
Consider also that Religious are instructed that the vow of obedience, the greatest of the three vows, requires a Religious to submit to his Superior in all things that are lawful. The virtue or perfection of obedience goes even further and requires not merely external submission, but also the internal submission of the Religious’ mind and will. The masters of the spiritual life often refer to this as “blind obedience” or “unquestioning obedience.” The good Religious has no will except God’s will, as manifested to him by his lawful Superiors and spiritual guides.
Now this young Brother’s gut was telling him that this was all wrong, but his bishop (at least implicitly) as well as his spiritual director and Religious Superior were telling him that it was okay. His spiritual director even cited an elderly priest to support that position. So what we wind up with here is a case of bona fide doubt. His instincts were telling him one thing, but his spiritual guides and Religious Superior were telling him something else. What do Religious do in cases of doubt?
“A subject, although not bound to fulfill an obedience commanded by a superior in that which is illicit, is indeed bound in those things in which there is a doubt as to whether they are licit or not; because in doubts, the superior possessing the power to command is to be favored, which power cannot be diminished by doubt.” (Moral Theology, Bk. 1, Treatise 1, Ch. 2 – Doubtful Conscience, St. Alphonsus)
What if the doubtful deed is objectively sinful, as is the case here? According to the masters of the spiritual life, in such an event the sin would fall upon the one commanding or giving spiritual direction, not upon the Religious who obeys. So in cases of doubt, a good Religious obeys, and only when the doubt has been overcome may a Religious act contrarily to his Superior or spiritual director.
At some point in time this doubt was overcome by this Brother, and to my knowledge overcome also by the others similarly situated, and things came to an end. Was he and were the others culpable for reaching their conclusions tardily? Perhaps, but that’s for God to decide, not us. We have no business condemning them.
As an aside, except for a single observation which gave me pause to wonder, every indicator suggested that for the past 20 plus years Bishop Schuckardt had put this evil vice behind him.
To my knowledge and contrary to the many public accusations, Bishop Schuckardt never proclaimed that he was the pope. Did he privately believe that he was the pope? Yes, he did.
During a 1978 pilgrimage to Rome, Bishop Schuckardt claimed that he had a vision in which Our Lady of the Snows crowned him pope. He once told me that he could not deny what took place in Rome, but that he was aware of the contradictions regarding it. Besides the fact that a few of the Priory Brothers would address him with papal titles, it really was a non-issue at the Priory and the topic of it rarely if ever came up, at least not in my presence.
Personally, I never believed that he was the pope and nor did I ever treat him as such. Yet, despite this fact he consecrated me a bishop, which should demonstrate to one and all how much of a non-issue it really was to him. It seems that only his enemies have made a big deal about it.
That Bishop Schuckardt was chronically ill is a fact that cannot be disputed. One of the drugs prescribed for him was intramuscular injections of Demerol (merperidine), and as long as I’ve known Bishop Schuckardt, every pain specialist that I am aware of prescribed Demerol for him. Some criticize the Bishop for this, but they are neither pain specialists nor do they suffer from the chronic ailments that he suffered from. They are not qualified to render a judgment here.
One of the accusations made against him is that he was a drug addict and was seen to be “high” on occasion during Church functions. I cannot speak for times when I did not see him, so I cannot directly dispute those particular allegations of him being “high” on occasion, but in the 29 years that I have known him, I have never seen him “high” at any time. There were times when his pain was so intense that it would have been a relief to see him “high,” but it didn’t happen.
As far as addiction goes, I don’t believe that he was addicted and proof against that charge occurred in 1987 when he was arrested (more on this later) and sent to the penitentiary labeled as an “addict” because that is what the police had been told about him by the Fr. Chicoine faction. The jailers locked him up in a padded cell under 24 hour surveillance and after 3 days released him into the common prison area. The court records attached to his arrest state that no signs of drug withdrawal were observed while he was in prison.
Furthermore, Demerol is a low-risk addiction drug:
“Though very unlikely, this medication can also be habit-forming and may result in abnormal drug-seeking behavior (addiction). To lessen the risk of becoming addicted, do not increase your dose, take it more frequently, or use it for a longer time than prescribed.” (WebMD – Merperidine Injection, my bold)
Addressing the cult accusation is somewhat difficult because labeling someone as belonging to a “cult” is quite a broad accusation. In Catholicism the term cult has no derogatory inferences whatsoever. In modern usage, however, it has taken on this additional meaning:
“A small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.” (Marriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
That the Community under Bishop Schuckardt was “extreme” by contemporary standards is undeniable. That it was “dangerous” I deny, except for those relatively few individuals who were sexually victimized by Bishop Schuckardt or subject to excessive corporal punishments by Fr. Chicoine and other CMRI leaders.
It is worth noting that the principle protagonist of the cult charge against Bishop Schuckardt is convicted jewel thief Rick Ross. Mr. Ross makes his living by kidnapping people from “cults,” and his business base increases in direct proportion to how many groups he can convince the public are indeed dangerous cults. Economics 101. A Federal jury looked into Ross and slammed him and his Cult Awareness Network for a whopping 4.8 million dollars in damages; 2.5 million against Ross personally in punitive damages. I’ll give the Federal Jury the last word on Ross:
“Ross acted so recklessly in a way that is so outrageous in character and so extreme as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.” (Religious Freedom Watch – False Experts)
Bishop Schuckardt had recognized early on that the errors of Vatican Council II and the resultant loss of faith that followed did not happen in a vacuum. He believed this event was a punishment sent from God, as predicted in many prophecies, due in part to Catholics constantly compromising with the various forces of evil. He felt it incumbent upon himself to practice and teach Catholicism “in its fullness,” without compromising any of the teachings of the Church, watering down the truths of the Faith, or relaxing her disciplines. To him this meant more than simply turning back the clock to pre-Vatican II days; it meant implementing the teachings of the Church as they existed before Vatican Council II as well as implementing Catholic discipline and morals as they existed in more Catholic times. He feared that turning the clock back just prior to Vatican II would once again result in something like Vatican II all over again. Just as physicians are obliged to restore patients to good health rather than to conditions where the patient is likely to relapse once again, so too he felt that as a bishop he had a similar obligation regarding the Church.
This was considered to be radical by most people, who grew up in a Church where total Catholicism was never demanded of them. Many quietly rebelled and complained to Fr. Chicoine and his associates about this no-compromise implementation of Catholicism. They wanted to attend a Latin Mass on Sunday and to be like “worldlings” the rest of the week. The Bishop, however, would not back down.
(It is important to note here that the Fatima Crusade and the CMRI were not originally founded as a traditional Catholic Church. It wasn’t until several years after the founding of the Community that Brother Francis Schuckardt even started to speak out that Paul VI was not a true pope and that Vatican Council II gave birth to a new church which was not Catholic. He privately doubted for some years, but was unwilling to speak out for some time. But it was due to the fact that the Community held to Catholic tradition and that a leader of the Community, Francis Schuckardt, got consecrated a bishop that a traditional Catholic Church found a home in the Community. The Community came first, the Church followed.
As the Church grew, the original spirit of penance and reparation that constituted one of the foundation stones of the Community and was such an integral part of the message of Fatima, started to suffer and diminish. This was disturbing to Bishop Schuckardt, who firmly believed that the solution to the evils in the world and in the Church could not be found outside the message that the Blessed Virgin addressed to mankind at Fatima and further believed that to abondon that message would bring nothing but failure. In fact, he felt that to abandon Fatima and start compromising the very purpose for which the Community was established was tantamount to betraying the promises he made to the Blessed Virgin to dedicate his life in spreading her message. He simply would not do it and did not do it. And there were consequences.)
Adding fuel to the discontent was the fact that Bishop Schuckardt got increasing sicker as he aged and Episcopal ceremonies consequently became more frequently delayed or even cancelled altogether. Church members got tired of waiting for him and started to grumble. His personal illness along with his great distrust and dissatisfaction in the candidates for the priesthood had brought ordinations essentially to a standstill, much to the discontent of the want-to-be priests. The local media also started to attack Bishop Schuckardt and the Community about this time. (His sexual misconduct, to my knowledge, was not generally known to the Community at large until after the revolt.) Many of the clergy and laity alike were becoming more and more dissatisfied and started to plot his overthrow.
After secretly canceling all public Sunday Masses except for one, Fr. Chicoine took to the podium during that only Mass on May 27, 1984 and began his revolution. He garnered the support of the vast majority of Religious and laity alike. The speed at which this event unfolded was remarkable.
When I went to sleep on the evening of May 26, 1984, Bishop Schuckardt was in charge of the Church and was the Superior General of the CMRI. When I woke up the next morning I’m told that all of that has just changed; Fr. Chicoine is now in charge of both. Moreover, that this change was not due to the resignation of Bishop Schuckardt, but due to the self-proclamation of Fr. Chicoine and the rebel clergy.
The reader would be mistaken if he or she thought that some kind of legal process had been pursued by the Fr. Chiocine faction. In fact, they gave Bishop Schuckardt no opportunity to defend himself. There was no complaint or set of questions presented to him for explanation, there were no charges presented to him for answers, nor was he or any of his supporters allowed to speak in his defense. Anything and everything that could have introduced an opposing view to what they were doing was carefully excluded. What were they afraid of?
For 30 years I’ve listened to the sanitized version of this revolt propagated by the new CMRI*, a version which in fact has little semblance to truth. It is tempting to go through the various events piece by piece, name by name, and show just how unCatholic and Ungodly the revolt was; but as it is unnecessary to do this in order to show which side was right and which side was wrong, I will refrain from doing so and will try instead to keep to matters that are more germane to Catholic theology.
*A clarification of terms: When Bishop Schuckardt left Spokane, 4 Religious Sisters, 1 Priest, and 10 Religious Clerics and Brothers of the CMRI remained loyal to him. These Religious continued to live as they always had: obeying the same Superior General, living by the same Rule and wearing the same habit. The Religious who joined the revolt changed their Superior General, changed their Rule, and changed their habit. So we wound up with two distinct organizations both calling themselves the CMRI, which is confusing. I believe that the group that didn’t change is the real CMRI, not those who joined the revolt and changed. (I have no personal stake here as I have no association with either group.) So hereinafter I will refer to those who have not changed as the “loyal CMRI” and those who have changed as the “new CMRI.”
The Revolt – The First Two Weeks
Within the first two weeks, the following relevant events took place:
1. Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI left Spokane.
2. Bishop Schuckardt’s personal van, containing his personal possessions, was stolen by the new CMRI and never returned.
3. The new CMRI filed a lawsuit against Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI.
4. The entire Community and local news media were informed by the new CMRI of Bishop Schuckardt’s sexual misconduct, “drug addiction,” etc.
I will now address these four events individually.
1. Bishop Schuckardt Departs Spokane
The allegation made by the new CMRI that Bishop Schuckardt abandoned his flock is simply untrue. The Bishop left under great pressure from me and some others because of concerns for his personal safety, and these concerns were based on sound reasons.
Some of the senior new CMRI clergy had purchased, among other things, numerous automatic weapons from the Aryan Nations Brotherhood in Northern Idaho. I know this because my house Superior gave me one “to protect the bishop.” This Aryan Nations connection was also corroborated when Sheriff Deputy Cloud testified under oath in California (Court Case 87-2823) that the members of the Aryan Nations had been guests at Mount Saint Michael’s during this time period.
Further adding to my fears was the conduct of the new CMRI Brothers who at the very outset of the revolt posted themselves at the Priory pretty much 24/7 and pursued a harassment campaign against the Bishop and loyal CMRI. Among other things: they tried to dissuade anyone who came to Priory from talking to the loyal CMRI Religious; they regularly harassed and attempted to intimidate the loyal CMRI by yelling and shouting things at them, often with the aid of loud speakers; they frequently tailed the loyal CMRI or loyal laity whenever they left the Priory; they were frequently sneaking around in the woods behind the Priory, especially at night; etc. I will not name names, but I knew some of these Brothers well and both their mental and emotional stability was a real concern to me (just how they ever got into the CMRI was always a mystery to me). The harassment got so bad that the police had to be called for on a number of occasions and cited the new CMRI on at least one of those occasions.
These facts and others made me and other loyal CMRI Religious nervous about the Bishop’s safety. If he shared these fears with us or not, he never said; but he did accede to our persistent requests that he leave.
Never did he or any of the loyal CMRI ever consider that we were abandoning the Community, rather it was always looked upon as being “chased out.” The new CMRI did their utmost to keep us from communicating with the Community and had even gone so far as to post guards at Mt. St. Michaels to keep us out. (Whether these guards were being supplied machine guns by the new CMRI clergy is not known to me, but in the tenseness of the moment, one did indeed wonder and fear.)
It is an interesting aside that the few who braved the gauntlet of the new CMRI Brothers who posted themselves at the Priory and consequently were able to speak with the loyal CMRI Religious, with one exception, all remained faithful to the Bishop.
2. Bishop Schuckardt’s Personal Property Stolen
One of the incidents in the above-mentioned harassment campaign at the Priory took place when the new CMRI Brothers stole the Bishop’s van. Bishop Schuckardt had his own van that he frequently used for domestic missions. It was parked at the Priory and pretty much load up with Bishop Schuckardt’s belongings when a mob of new CMRI Brothers stormed the Priory, commandeered the van, busted down the driveway gate and raced off with the van to Mt. St. Michaels. One of the loyal CMRI Brothers attempted to shoot out a tire to prevent them from stealing it, but was physically tackled by a new CMRI Brother, causing the gun to discharge into the air. The police had to come once again… The neighbors, for the umpteenth time, were also scandalized once again.
Among the many things stolen were Bishop Schuckardt’s Mass vestments. When his father died six months after the revolt started, Bishop Schuckardt’s mother asked the Bishop to offer the funeral Mass. As he had no black Mass vestments, he asked the new CMRI if he could “borrow” his vestments in order to offer the funeral Mass for his father, but they refused his request. They have never returned any of Bishop Schuckardt’s personal property to him.
3. First Lawsuit
Within one week after Fr. Chicoine started the revolt, he and the new CMRI filed a lawsuit (Case 84-2-01445-2) against Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI, attempting to establish Fr. Chicoine as owner of Church properties and seeking the return of the property Bishop Schuckardt took with him when he and the loyal CMRI left Spokane. They obtained a default judgment of $250,000, but said judgment was later overturned for failure to notify Bishop Schuckardt and most of the loyal CMRI of the pending suit.
In filing this suit, the new CMRI violated a very ancient law referred to as the Privilege of the Forum. This Privilege is currently embodied in Canon Law (Canons 120; 614; 2341) and the violation of it incurs an automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church. The reason why the Church imposes such a severe penalty for violating the Privilege is because when a Catholic summons a bishop, cleric or Religious before a secular court, they are openly acknowledging that the secular courts have authority over the Church concerning religious disputes, which is a condemned heresy.
Condemned: “The civil government, even when in the hands of an infidel sovereign, has a right to an indirect negative power over religious affairs.” Syllabus of Errors, Error 41, Pope Pius XI.
Violating the Privilege of the Forum is further considered to be the sin of Sacrilege. (Canon Law, Bouscaren and Ellis, 102)
4. Detraction and Defamation
Detraction is the revealing of another’s faults without just cause. It is a mortal sin in its kind and requires restitution as a condition of absolution.
Fr. Chicoine and the new CMRI broadcast Bishop Schuckardt’s sins, actual and fabricated, to anyone and everyone who was foolish enough to lend them a sinful ear. They gave numerous interviews to various local media and actively defamed Bishop Schuckardt (and to a lesser extent some of the loyal CMRI) on numerous occasions over a considerable period of time. No one in the Community was spared their invectives, not even the grade school girls. (One Mt. St. Michaels churchgoer told me that after the new CMRI talked to her grade school class about the Bishop’s sexual transgressions that she had to go home and ask her mother what some of the words meant. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones.” Words of Jesus Christ)
What Bishop Schuckardt had done was horrible, but what is more horrible is the defamation committed by the new CMRI:
“ ‘O fool!’ exclaims St. Alphonsus, ‘Thou dost declaim against the sin of another, and meanwhile, by evil speaking, dost commit a far greater sin than that thou blamest of thy neighbor.’ ” (The Catechism Explained, Spirago and Clark, 1921, p. 403)
The sin of detraction is akin to the sin of theft but generally more grievous, for it robs a person of his reputation which is of greater value than a person’s material goods. In sins of theft, restitution is a necessary condition for sacramental absolution. A person who does not restore what he has stolen cannot be absolved in the confessional. So too with sins of detraction, they also require restitution before sacramental absolution can be given. For sins of public detraction, which is what we are dealing with here, public restitution is required, for restitution must properly restore that which was stolen. Those who defamed Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI publicly stole their reputations from them and are therefore bound to publicly restore their reputations to them (as much as is humanly possible – for complete restoration is impossible).
Sadly, in the 30 years since these sins have been committed, I am unaware of any restitution having been made. So long as this condition prevails, the confessions of those who defamed Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI are invalid – their sin remains. If they be priests, their Sacraments are sacrilegious as well.
My Choice of Sides
Choosing which side to join was not a difficult decision for me, even at the outset. It is a basic tenet of moral theology that the “condition of the one controlling is better.” As a member of the Church, I owed submission to Bishop Schuckardt as my bishop, and as a vowed Religious, I owed him obedience as my Superior General. He certainly held the condition of “controlling” and until such time as someone demonstrated to me how he lost his positions of authority, I was bound to continue to submit to him, which I did.
But this moral principle wasn’t just applicable to me, it was equally applicable to all the Community and even more so for all of the members of the CMRI. Those leading the revolt were mostly priests and clerics, all of whom publicly acknowledged Bishop Schuckardt as their bishop and all of whom made public vows of obedience to him as their Superior General. Furthermore, those that were priests took a public oath at the time of their ordinations of “reverence and obedience” to Bishop Schuckardt as their bishop. These acts constituted a hierarchical relationship that has implications in the eyes of God.
“Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation.” (Rom. 13:1, 2)
I listened to Fr. Chicoine’s first three public talks attacking Bishop Schuckardt within days after these talks were given, and I had a private meeting with him before I left Spokane, and he failed to prove how Bishop Schuckardt lost his authority. He accused him of all kinds of things, but he never presented a valid theological principle (there is none) whereby Bishop Schuckardt lost his authority or how he, Fr. Chicoine, acquired that “lost authority.” The best that Fr. Chicoine could do was to accuse Bishop Schuckardt of immorality and incompetence, and try to make a case that these caused Bishop Schuckardt to lose his position in the Church, but these arguments fail.
Authority in the Church can only be lost by removal from a higher authority; by separation from the Church due to apostasy, heresy or schism; or by some Canonical impediment. It cannot be lost by revolt or popular demand.
Now Fr. Chicoine and the new CMRI have never alleged that Bishop Schuckardt had an ecclesiastical superior, or that he ever committed apostasy, heresy or schism; so these are non-issues. That leaves only immorality and incompetence to deal with.
It is a sad reality that there is much historical precedent regarding immoral prelates, including popes, but never have these prelates lost their authority on that account. There is no Church law, or Catholic doctrine, or moral principle which states that the personal sins committed by a prelate result in his loss of ecclesiastical authority. Church history substantiates this as well. So when new CMRI claim that Bishop Schuckardt lost his authority due to immoral behavior, the reader should know that they are simply making it up in a desperate attempt to find a justification for their revolution, for which none exists.
“Moreover, from these precepts of the Pontiffs the following must be thoroughly understood; that the origin of public power should be sought from God Himself, not from the multitude; that free license for sedition is at odds with reason…” (Immoratle Dei, Nov. 1, 1885, Leo XIII)
I knew that Bishop Schuckardt was not incompetent and dismissed this charge against him as another sin of calumny on the part of the new CMRI as soon as I first heard it.
“A fact is not presumed, unless proven” teaches St. Alphonsus. This is simple common sense. If someone takes to the pulpit, for example, and announces that a Pope was incompetent, can Catholics on that account dismiss his papal authority and ignore all laws enacted by him? That, of course, would be absurd. Incompetence in any Church leader has to be proved, and interested parties who stand to gain considerably by their accusations are not proof. If Bishop Schuckardt was indeed incompetent, as they charged, then they have to prove that. But they have never presented any proof – none whatsoever.
The reason that they haven’t presented any evidence is because none exists. In fact, their very conduct bears witness to the fact that they knew that he was indeed competent, because:
- If Bishop Schuckardt was incompetent, then that would call into doubt the validity of the Holy Orders he conferred, as well as call into question all subsequent acts of these doubtfully ordained, such as their confessions, their marriages… But those who make the incompetence charge have vigorously argued that their Orders are valid, as were also the Sacraments they administered under Bishop Schuckardt.
- If Bishop Schuckardt was incompetent, then why did the new CMRI initiate so many lawsuits against him? And when they squared off against him in open court, why didn’t they raise the incompetency issue at that time? Why didn’t they object to his sworn testimony when he took the witness stand against them? If he was incompetent, then his testimony would have easily been dismissed and then maybe they would have actually won a case!
- If Bishop Schuckardt was incompetent, then he was not culpable for his actions, for an incompetent person is not morally responsible for his conduct. Theology 101. But the new CMRI have broadcast in every direction of the compass how evil Bishop Schuckardt was because of his actions. They can’t have it both ways. If his actions were evil, then by definition, he had to be competent.
The fact of the matter is that Bishop Schuckardt was competent, everyone knew it, and the new CMRI knew it. They are simply lying.
So again, picking sides for me was not hard to do. When the revolt broke out, there was not a Catholic option regarding which side to choose. According to Catholic law and morals, there was clearly a right side and a wrong side. There may have been sinners on both sides, but nevertheless there was morally a right side and a morally wrong side, a Catholic side and the Martin Luther revolutionary-style side. The new CMRI were violating Catholic law and Catholic morals, and Catholics in good conscience could not support them. I certainly couldn’t.
I said it back in 1984 and I continue to say it today, some 30 years later, Fr. Chicoine and the new CMRI had a just cause. Not only could Fr. Chicoine have done something, I maintain that he was morally bound to do something. But he could not do what he did. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Instead of publicly announcing to the world the sins the Bishop committed in his bedroom, he should have privately talked to him. If that proved to be ineffectual, then he should have privately approached the young men involved and told them that Fr. Kubesh was wrong. He should have explained to them how the principle of double-effect was being wrongly applied and that they needed to bring their “assistance” to an end. But he didn’t do that. Instead of talking to these young men, he chose to talk to the girls grade school. In fact, it seems that the only people he didn’t talk to were the only ones he should have talked to!
Would he have taken some heat had he counseled these young men to stop? I am pretty certain that he would have; in all probability there would have been some major fallout for him. But that’s the life of a priest. If Fr. Chicoine was unwilling to make hard choices at a personal cost to himself, then he should have never presented himself for ordination in the first place. The same goes for the other priests who were aware of what was taking place, but said and did nothing to protect the victims.
And their silence, which spanned a period of many years (I have reason to believe for well over a decade), really shows their duplicity in this revolt. Both by their silence and by their positive counsel, they were enablers to Bishop Schuckardt’s abusive conduct. Not only did they not warn his victims against it, but as I’ve already shown, some of them even actively encouraged it as “an act of charity.” And then for them to take to the pulpit and decry it as something shocking and abhorrent is really hypocritical. Where were they in 1983? In 1982? In 1981 …?
(It should probably be noted that I had no personal issues with Fr. Chicoine. In fact I was his daily jogging partner [his request] for a couple of years and during those runs I got to know him very well; we talked a lot and became fairly close.)
The Years of Court Battles
On May 9, 1987, a California SWAT team executed a search warrant on the houses where Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI were living. The new CMRI had misled Californian authorities into believing Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI had in their possession stolen property and that further they would find automatic weapons if they searched these homes, which was why a SWAT team was called up. No illegal weapons were found and the courts later determined that the stolen property was not stolen at all. (The SWAT team should have conducted their search in Spokane!)
Following the SWAT team raid, Bishop Schuckardt and 13 loyal CMRI were arrested for possession of stolen property, i.e., the property they had taken with them when they left Spokane. In addition Bishop Schuckardt was accused of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, i.e. prescription drugs for which the original prescriptions could not be found (Case 87-2823) and if I remember correctly, perhaps some medical marijuana. Bishop Schuckardt accepted a plea bargain of attending a one-day drug diversion class in exchange for all charges against him being dismissed. All charges against the other 13 were dismissed without prejudice (Case 87-12190) and all the property seized by the sheriff’s office was returned to them; the judge ruling that it was not a criminal case. Following their dismissals, the 13 then successfully obtained a rarely gotten Declaration of Factual Innocence and had their criminal arrests erased from their records (Case 87-12258).
The new CMRI had over 95% of the TLRCC assests and one would have thought that they would have been satisified with that, especially since none of it was rightfully theirs, but that wasn’t the case. Immediately after the arrests of Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI, the new CMRI filed two civil suits (Cases 13096 and 13097) in California to obtain all the property the Sheriff’s Office had seized as “stolen property,” but neither was successful. They further filed civil actions against the loyal CMRI in Utah (Case 87-4047), Arizona (Case CV87-13584) and Canada (Case C872893) against assets the loyal CMRI had in these locations, but they lost all of these cases as well.
Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI then filed a Federal Civil Rights Suit against the Sheriff’s Department, the County and a local newspaper for violation of their civil rights in the U.S. District Federal Court. At a settlement conference presided over by Chief Justice Karlton, a significant but undisclosed sum of money was paid to Bishop Schuckardt and the loyal CMRI to keep the case from going to trial.
The loyal CMRI also challenged the first civil suit filed by the new CMRI in Washington in 1984, successfully had the default judgment set aside and proceeded to trial, but early within the trial a settlement was reached which slightly favored the loyal CMRI.
The Lies Sworn To
I was present at every hearing between the loyal CMRI and the new CMRI, including the three separate trials in California, Utah and Washington. In those trials the new CMRI clergy and one of their laymen took the witness stand, swore to tell the whole truth, and lied. They didn’t equivocate, they didn’t simply dodge and duck questions or give vague answers, they lied. They swore to tell the truth and they lied. To characterize it in any other way would, in fact, be a lie. They lied. Period. End of story.
And here’s why:
When a church seeks court intervention in the U.S., the courts have a very limited role to play due to the 1st Amendment of the Constitution – the separation of church and state clause. One of the things that the court must do is to determine whether the church in question is hierarchical or congregational in structure. If it is hierarchical, then the court will defer the matter to the church’s hierarchy for resolution. If it is congregational, then they will get more involved.
Now the Catholic Church is clearly hierarchical, so consequently was the Church under Bishop Schuckardt. The new CMRI couldn’t get around that fact.
So their strategy (read their lie) was to convince the courts that Fr. Chicoine was the actual head of the hierarchy. To do this they tried to convince the courts of two things: firstly, that Fr. Chicoine, in doing business in the name of his corporation sole (Tridentine Latin Rite Catholic Church of St. Joseph) was the highest ranking member of the Church’s hierarchy in all material matters and that Bishop Schuckardt’s role in the Church was simply that of a “spiritual advisor” and secondly, that Fr. Chicoine’s corporation sole was also sole proprietor of all Church properties, thereby leaving the courts no choice but to defer all matters regarding the distribution of the Church’s material assets to Fr. Chicoine for resolution. A little confusing, but many lies are.
Any and every honest person who was in the Community prior to the revolt will affirm the untruthfulness of this position and attest that Bishop Schuckardt was absolute ruler in the Church in all things. Any authority that Fr. Chicoine possessed was exercised only subordinately to Bishop Schuckardt and at his good pleasure.
Now the new CMRI could produce no documents supporting their claim, so they had to rely on witness testimony to try to establish it. So the new CMRI took to the witness stand and give personal testimony to it. Under oath, one after the other, they testified that Bishop Schuckardt’s role in the Church was merely that of a spiritual advisor and that Fr. Chicoine was the real head of the Church and the rightful owner of all Church properties. No judge bought their story and they lost every case that went to judgment. The only judgment still pending is God’s judgment, and they are going to lose that one as well.
All of these court cases really shine a light on their “holy crusade” of fighting sin. History is replete with stories of how greed and power corrupted many a man, and in my judgment, this revolt was just one more sad repeat of that historical fact. Whether I am right or wrong on that score, what is certain is that fighting sin had little to nothing to with the revolt. One does not fight sin by committing sin.
You cannot live with someone for 25 years and not know just about everything about him. During the 25 years that I lived with Bishop Schuckardt I cannot deny that he possessed authentic virtue. One would be hard pressed to find a kinder, more thoughtful and concerned person than he. His capacity to forgive (once his temper cooled!) was truly phenomenal and there was a genuine humility about him as well. His love of Catholicism and of Our Lady was second to none, as was his understanding of the mystery of the Cross. Fatima and its message left a permanent mark on him as a young man and the thought of making sacrifices and acts of reparation was about as natural to him as was breathing. It was always present; it was a part of him.
If someone were to propose to me a hypothetical: that a man of Bishop Schuckardt’s virtues could have done the horrible things that he did, I would say that it would be impossible for those two extremes to exist in any given person at the same time. And that’s the conundrum – they did appear to exist in Bishop Schuckardt at the same time. I cannot explain it so I won’t even try, but they are a fact – a true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome if you will.
Good Work/Bad Work
Bishop Schuckardt did a lot of good and we must give him credit where credit is due. That he was instrumental in the salvation of many cannot be denied. Neither can it be denied that when most of today’s traditional Catholics were calling Paul VI “Holy Father,” Bishop Schuckardt was busy exposing the errors of the Vatican II church and providing the true Mass and Sacraments to thousands who would have otherwise been without them. He never wavered one iota from his doctrinal position even to his dying breath. When Marcel Lefebvre was exchanging bear hugs with “St.” John Paul 2 and Bishop Thuc was concelebrating the New Mass with the Vatican II bishop of Toulouse, France, Bishop Francis remained constant and on target. His was the first voice in this country to raise the alarm about the grave danger of the new church and he never stopped sounding that alarm as long as life remained in him. We owe him much.
But neither can it be denied that he did much harm to the Church. His scandalous behavior not only shocked traditional Catholics, but dirtied the name of Catholicism wherever his misdeeds have been told, even to this day. The trust the sheep placed in their shepherd was betrayed in some cases and God alone knows the amount and extent of damage that resulted.
Moreover, Fr. Chicoine and the other clergy should never have been put into the position they found themselves in, i.e., of having to deal with Bishop Schuckardt’s scandalous behavior. But God permitted it, and there it was, but no bishop should ever put his priests into such a predicament.
I must also credit Fr. Chicoine as a hard-working missionary priest for many years. He too did a lot of good for the salvation of many. When Bishop Schuckardt lay sick in bed, it was Fr. Chicoine who traversed the country, bringing many back to the Church and the true Sacraments.
One of Fr. Chicoine’s favorite sayings was “there is a Catholic way of doing everything.” He was right; there is a Catholic way of doing everything. But why he and the new CMRI clergy failed to deal with Bishop Schuckardt in a Catholic way is a mystery, but the fact that they did fail to deal with Bishop Schuckardt in a Catholic way is a fact. However great Bishop Schuckardt’s misdeeds were, theirs are worse, and that’s a theological fact, not a personal opinion. If Bishop Schuckardt scandalized many by his misdeeds, they scandalized innumerable more by broadcasting them to the world.
May God have mercy on them all.
Bishop Schuckardt is dead, and so is Fr. Chicoine. They have both been judged by God and whatever the outcome of their judgments, it was just and perfect, as are all of God’s judgments. Everyone should be completely satisfied with that.
To Bishop Schuckardt’s victims: many of you have abandoned the faith and joined the world. While what happened to you was terrible, nevertheless it is not a justification for you to offend God or to damn your souls. You will not get a free pass on the Day of Judgment because you were abused by a Catholic bishop. Surely you must know that.
To the new CMRI: Your organization was founded upon ecclesiastical crimes and consequently cannot possibly be part of the Catholic Church: “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold but climbeth up another way, the same is a thief and a robber.” You too, like Bishop Schuckardt and Fr. Chicoine, will die, and you have not yet even begun to make restitution for your crimes. While you have time, put things in order. You still have an opportunity to change evil into good – don’t let that opportunity pass you by.