[ by Charles Cameron — concerning a valid bishop acting in an illicit manner ]
Whatever language you speak in this era when a polyphony of tongues might indicate Babel (not so good), Pentecost (way better), glossolalia (no comment) or heteroglossia (yowza!), it’s apparently easy enough to label Ralph Napierski (left, black hat, shaking the hand of Cardinal Sergio Sebiastiana, to his right, red skullcap) a non-bishop:
English with Australian accent, Fake bishop Ralph Napierski tries to sneak into Vatican
or Norwegian, Falsk biskop snek seg inn i Vatikanet
Not so fast!
Massimo Introvigne, sociologist of religions, founder of the international Center for Studies on New Religions and Chairman of the Observatory of Religious Liberty set up by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, monitors religious movements small and large. He commented on a scholarly listserv today, and I quote him with permission:
Some of you may be curious about Bishop Ralph Napierski, who today managed to enter the Vatican with the cardinals preparing the Conclave, and even gave some interviews, before being identified as a non-Catholic «imposter» and thrown out.
Napierski is not a simple prankster dressed as a Bishop. He is one the so called “wandering Bishops” claiming a consecration as a Bishop which from the Catholic point of view is not “lawful” – since lawful consecrations of new Bishops should be approved by the Pope – but nonetheless is “valid” according to the (prevailing) Catholic doctrine, which maintains that a Bishop, even excommunicated, maintains the power to validly consecrate another Bishop, who in turn may consecrate further Bishops. “Validity” means that this “illicit” Bishop, although automatically excommunicated, will have the power to ordain priests who would be “real” priests, i.e. from the Catholic point of view will have the power of converting bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, provided they perform the correct ritual and believe in it.
The greatest manufacturer of wandering Bishops in the 20th century was the former Archbishop of Hué, Vietnam, Pierre-Martin Ngo-Dinh Thuc (1897-1984). Among others he consecrated as a Bishop Clemente Dominguez (1946-2005), later to proclaim himself Pope Gregory XVII for the Catholic Palmarian Church headquartered in Palmar de Troya, Spain. Dominguez consecrated in 1978 his German follower Alfred Seiwert-Fleige, who however in 1980 organized a schism among German members of the Catholic Palmarian Church. And our Napierski was originally consecrated by Seiwert-Fleige for his group.
As many other wandering Bishops, Napierski makes a living by selling titles in bogus Orders of Chivalry and degrees from his Jesus Christ University. He also appears often at LGBT events. He acquired some notoriety years ago by claiming that Dan Brown was right and Jesus did indeed marry Mary Magdalene.
The Episcopi Vagantes or Wandering Bishops are a fascinating lot, and given my interest in the byways of Church history I’ve been intrigued by them since I first read Peter Anson‘s Bishops at Large while at Oxford.
My good friend the painter Jan Valentin Saether is a priest in one such succession, that of the Ecclesia Gnostica under Bishop Stephan Hoeller.