Avoid the “Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life”

Some odd tweets from a priest on Twitter lead me to look at the Congregatio de Institione Catholica Vitae, AKA “Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life.” It turns out that Bishop Virgil Bradley Tetherow is a key figure in this group. As I was one of the few people who had written about then Fr. Tetherow, I feel the obligation to warn people about this group.

Tetherow, Fr. Stephen Lefort, Bishop Joseph Macek, and Fr. Etienne Videon are the only members I am aware of. There is little information on Macek and Videon online. The first two have very questionable backstories. Let’s look at these two, their sedevacantism, other and why Catholics should not associate with the Congregatio de Institione Catholica Vitae.

(As a side note, the group’s Latin name [Congregatio De Institutione Catholica Vitae] translates “Congregation about the Catholic institution of life.” I use “about,” but “de” has a variety of meanings. I suspect they meant to say “Catholicae” which would change it to “the institution of Catholic life,” as that is much closer to the English name they are using.)

Tetherow Admitted to Possessing Child Pornography

I have written two prior pieces on Tetherow. My first piece quoted the local paper about the basics of the case:

Tetherow was ordained at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, Nebraska, on June 29, 2002.

He was incardinated in the Diocese of Scranton but never given an assignment, according to the grand jury report. […]

On Jan. 17, 2005, the Rev. Michael Kloton, the priest from St. Ann’s, went to Pocono Mountain Regional police to file a report.

According to police records, Kloton brought a 14-page list of computer data and a disc with images of “immoral material” that had been found on a church computer. […]

On Aug. 16, 2005, Tetherow pleaded guilty to criminal use of a communication facility, a felony, and was later sentenced to serve two years of probation. Prosecutors moved to dismiss the remaining charges, including 10 counts of possession of child pornography.

In a written form, Tetherow signed his name acknowledging that he understood all the elements of the crime to which he was pleading guilty.

Lessons to Draw From It

The way this was dealt with shows the limits of what a bishop can do about a misbehaving priest. I summarize this in my latter article:

In my prior post, I drew three conclusions from his case. First, the Dallas charter generally works as things seemed properly dealt with once child pornography was found. Second, the Church is limited in what it can do about priests who abused. The Church kicked him out of the clerical state and cooperated fully with authorities, but having Church jails or similar would be problematic (& I doubt any of us want that). As he pled down to a lesser charge, he was not registered as a sex offender so there isn’t much even the state can do once he served his time. Finally, I noted we need vigilance. We need vigilance to watch out for abusers and then to warn others about abusers once they are discovered.

Lefort Suspended Over Being Inappropriate in Confession

Fr. Stephen Lefort lists being a member of Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life on his Twitter account. However, Lefort was suspended from ministry in his home diocese in Louisiana over being inappropriate in the confession. The diocese noted:

A canonical process, authorized by the Vatican and conducted in accordance with the requirements of the motu proprio of Pope St. John Paul II entitled Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, has yielded a final determination that Father Stephen Lefort has been found guilty of disobedience and of improper behavior regarding questions asked to minors in confession resulting in his being perpetually forbidden ministry to minors and ministry in settings in which minors are or may be present, such as conventional parochial worship or school events or youth ministry services. Because of the serious nature of his improper behavior and his continuing refusal even to meet with the bishop, Stephen Lefort will remain unassigned and will possess no faculties for ministry in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. This information is shared in accord with the demands of transparency, out of an abundance of caution, and in the interest of proper pastoral care.

That this has been approved of and authorized by the Vatican indicates that Fr. Lefort has had ample opportunity to defend himself. The Vatican has safeguards to prevent a bishop from imposing such limits based on spurious accusations, so I have to presume these were substantial or repeated.

Sedevacantism Is Wrong (& Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life are Sedevacantists)

Mitre statute at Guildford Cathedral (CC BY-SA 2.0 Secret Pilgrim)

Masek, Tetherow and Lefort have publicly expressed sedevacantism: they believe there is no legitimate Pope. (As so little information is out there on Videon, I have to presume he is too.) This is a problem for Catholics, even those who prefer extraordinary form. It alone is ample reason to avoid their Masses.

My prior pieces mentioned Tetherow’s schism. He was already forbidden from saying Mass. Sedevacantism just adds to the scandal he is creating.

Lefort’s bishop issued a formal decree of excommunication for schism and heresy after he declared sedevacantism, although Lefort would already be excommunicated automatically (latae sententiae). It concludes noting Lefort “is now entirely irregular for the exercise of holy orders pursuant to the Code of Canon Law.  As a result therefore, the Christian faithful are informed that Father Lefort is forbidden to celebrate or receive the sacraments, hold any office, or exercise any ministry or functions within the Catholic Church.”

Most Sedevacantism claims are unreliable. But Lefort has made claims below even elementary research. He tweeted (archived version): “I just realized that Denzinger’s ‘The Sources of Catholic Dogma’ follows the decrees and dogmas of all the True Popes and Ecumenical Councils… and it stops at the death of Pius XII.” Not realizing he just had an old edition printed back then. The first result for “Denzinger” on Amazon gives you a newer edition (about 10 years old – which I own and regularly use) that goes partway through Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

Limited Other Info on These Four

There is a little more online about these four.

Many trad sites list Bishop Macek, but at most I can find where he has been (West Virginia and Florida), and that he was ordained in the Catholic church, questioned the validity of Catholic rites so was conditionally re-ordained using the old rite in 1988 or 1998, then consecrated bishop in 1999 and conditionally reconsecrated in 2001. The conditional re-ordination and both consecrations were by bishops in schism with Rome, and done without authorization. By 1 of the 2 consecrating him, Macek is a Thuc-line bishop. Many sedevacantist Catholic bishops can be traced back to Ngô Đình Thục, a Vietnamese archbishop at the time of Vatican II.

Lefort says he was conditionally re-ordained a priest by Macek. Macek also attended Tetherow’s chapel back when it started.

All I can find of Videon is that he authored pieces on the organization’s website. (I cannot find anything else.)

I cannot find how Tetherow became a bishop or how valid it is, but given the circumstances, I would assume Macek consecrated him.

Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life or Congregatio de Institione Catholica Vitae

Fr. Lefort’s Twitter alerted me to the Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life. I noticed the connection as the address of the institute is the same as Tetherow’s “Mass site.” The website for this organization does not list members or have any indication of its size. One page on their website also shows that show they have not even set it up correctly.

When a top member of this organization admitted to possessing child pornography, and the second most visible member has issues was removed from ministry for being inappropriate in confession, and the group and its members made multiple unsubstantiated (and ultimately false) claims, it would not be good for Catholics to associate with it. Please do not attend Mass of the Priests for the Restoration of Catholic Life (Congregatio De Institutione Catholica Vitae) or otherwise associate with them. My prior article listed a few extraordinary form Masses near their location in Pennsylvania that would be preferred if you like that form of the Mass.

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8 comments

    1. He was laicized. I think the Church actually did a pretty good job responding when illegal images of kids were found & that was my first piece on him. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/throughcatholiclenses/2019/01/the-limits-of-what-a-church-can-do-with-a-misbehaving-priest/

      Unfortunately, once a priest we can’t un-ordain him. So, he started saying Mass in a small chapel in direct disobedience to his laicization. Then found some bishop also disobeying the CHurch to elevate him to the episcopacy.

  1. Father, you said: “having Church jails or similar would be problematic (& I doubt any of us want that)”. Actually, it is quite distressing to see a near utter lack of consequences for clergy who violate their vows, let alone secular laws. It would be a relief to know that a priest who had done real harm was not simply given a pat on the head and a new post in a far away diocese (or in the Vatican!). I think the impunity causes a great deal of loss of morale among lay people. Why should I bother to try harder or do better if even my leaders are not required to bother keeping the commandments or showing a modicum of respect for their holy mission?

    1. They are removed from the clerical state so can’t just go to some other diocese.

      If they violate any civil law, they should also be punished to the extent the law allows. But unfortunately, not every act that will get you kicked out active ministry is a crime and some crimes don’t necessarily have the evidence for a beyond reasonable doubt conviction so prosecutors might not pursue it, or in Tetherows’ case offer a plea deal (I have to know more detail than is public to determine if a plea deal is prudent).

  2. dernist, the author is irresponsible. You “Fr.” Matthew don’t have the exact information.
    One wonders why he did not contact each of the Bishops and Priests he accuses? Why don’t he investigate more about the Congregation? The answer is simple, because it is a harmful, main note of the novus ordo. For information, the good information of many; Bp. Tetherow was consecrated by Bp. Macek, and not only the priests mentioned here are the only members of the Congregation. Fr. Palacio serves as a priest in Colombia, Fr. Leatherby serves in California and other priests in different states of our country.

    So let the readers of this clown realize the rubbish he writes.

    1. Thank you for confirming what I had assumed about Tetherow’s consecration.

      I could not find anything on Fr. Palacio. Do you have a full name and / or links to his information?

      One of the first things on Fr. Letherby was he was excommunicated for schism: this is a serious offense so no Catholic should go to a Mass of his as celebrating publicly is grave matter (likely mortal sin) for him.

      The second thing I found was: “The Catholic Herald has learned that the Sacramento priest excommunicated for schism earlier this month is accused of grave crimes, including sexual abuse of at least one adult woman, spiritual and psychological abuse, abuse of the Sacrament of Confession and other Sacraments, and multiple violations of the Seal of Confession… The accuser – who has requested anonymity as a victim of sexual abuse and because she and her family have faced threats and intimidation from supporters of Fr. Leatherby – alleges that Fr. Leatherby initially invited her into a “spiritual friendship” with him, modeled on the friendship of Sts. Francis and Claire of Assisi, and then used that relationship to manipulate her, threaten her marriage, and upend her life. She alleges Leatherby frequently used her as an instrument of his own gratification in sexual and other ways over a period of roughly six years, from 2008 to 2014.” Anyone interested can keep reading: https://www.catholicanada.com/2020/08/jeremy-leatherby-details-emerge-of-charges-against-excommunicated-priest/

      And then in an article noting his removal from the clerical state, “‘The woman who brought the initial accusation and her family have suffered more than has been revealed. Along with her testimony, other accounts of the silent suffering of women have been laid upon my heart,” Soto wrote. / The bishop added that while the canonical trial did not come to a resolution before Leatherby requested laicization, he believed the priest had indeed acted inappropriately.” https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/46447/priest-who-denied-pope-francis-laicized-bishop-urges-reparation-for-clergy-sexual-abuse

      Both of those are solidly not modernist sources. Sedevacantism is sufficient grounds to recommend against this group but multiple members with serious substantiated or admitted (in Tetherow’s case) sexual crimes where people were admitted or promoted with those crimes being fully known creates another obstacle.

      My piece was not intended to argue every detail of their life but provide sufficient information to warn Catholics against becoming part.

      1. I understand that Fr. Pablo Palacio is a young priest from South America, a former member of the SSPX, trained in his seminary in Argentina, he took the sedevacantist position and left the SSPX, received the Holy Orders of sedevacantist Bishops and was ordained a priest by Bp Tetherow on June 11 last year.
        I do not know if he has social media or links, I only know that he serves as a priest of the Congregation in Medellin, Columbia.

  3. Since it tangentially relates to the subject of Father Schneider’s piece I will start by saying that I think that the liturgical changes that were instituted during the middle decades of the 20th century have been a disaster. The underlying sense of the divine presence in the Mass and in the Divine Office, that little contact with eternity that was brought to the senses of those who attended by using an ancient language that was spoken in the world when Christ walked the earth and by the use of prayers whose words were so old that the hills don’t even remember who composed them, is now completely gone with the outward presentation of Catholic liturgical life having completely surrendered itself to the ephemeral and confused tastes of our contemporary world.

    That said we need to follow where the Church directs us to go in this regard even if (and especially if) we don’t like it. So many of these Latin Mass groups have proven themselves to be stricken by the same problems that they condemn in the wider Church: chronic disobedience, equally chronic twisting of various Catholic teachings to suit their own agenda, and lets just charitably say problems with certain sexual sins. We just need to stay with Christ wherever He is. No matter how messed up things are externally in the Church we have to say with her. We can’t go running off to some group who promises us a better experience at Mass if we just sacrifice our unity with the Church. because there is nothing there but a wasteland.

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