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)
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.
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.