Fr. David Hewko’s Teaching regarding Public Heresy and Church Membership Opposes the Codes of Canon Law

Fr. David Hewko wrote the following in the September 2022 Issue (#20) of his Sorrowful Heart of Mary SSPX-MC newsletter:

“It must be added that, while speaking of the authorities of the Church as ‘heretical’ or ‘schismatic’, it does not mean in the canonical sense or that they have necessarily broken from the Church. For this, it would be necessary that their heresy or schism be declared notorious by canon law, which seems almost impossible, since the authorities of the Church must do this.”

Let us break this down.

The “this” in the “for this” refers to an authority of the Church being heretical in the canonical sense or having broken from the Church.  In order for “this” to happen, the heresy of that authority of the Church must be declared notorious by canon law by a higher authority of the Church.  In other words, a public manifest formal heretic must be declared to be such by the competent authority of the Church.  Until such time that happens, we must not consider that authority as being a public manifest formal heretic.  Therefore, he maintains his membership in the Church.  In a conference given by Fr. Hewko in Alberta, Canada on January 8, 2023, he follows this same line of thinking (see this link at the 1 hr., 11 minutes, and 30 seconds mark).

Now this teaching of Fr. Hewko opposes the 1917 Code of Canon Law in Canon 188.4º, which states:

“Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric: Publicly defects from the Catholic faith.”

Fr. Hewko’s teaching also opposes the 1983 Code of Canon Law in Canon 194 §1.2º, which states basically the same thing as the 1917 Code:

“The following are removed from an ecclesiastical office by the law itself: a person who has publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from the communion of the Church.”

Both Canons do NOT require a declaration from a competent Church authority for the loss of office to take place.  Why?  Because both Canons recognize the doctrine that public defection from the Catholic faith (of which being a public heretic is one kind) is an act which per se (i.e., by its very nature) separates one from the Church.  No longer being a member of the Church due to his public defection, he loses his office.  These Canons are the Church’s legislative formulation of that doctrine.  Note that the 1917 Code states (and is implied in the 1983 Code) that the office becomes vacant by the FACT of public defection from the Catholic faith.  It does not state that the office becomes vacant because of a DECLARATION of the Church; it actually asserts the opposite, that is, “without any declaration”.  A fact is perceived by the senses and apprehended by the intellect.  Therefore, a judgment (private, without juridical force) of public defection, when there is sufficient evidence, can be made by a simple layman.

Now if (and this is a big “if”) Fr. Hewko means by his position that the public sin of manifest formal heresy does NOT per se separate the heretic from the Church and that, rather, it is the Church’s declaration and ONLY the Church’s declaration that separates the heretic from the Church, then not only does Fr. Hewko’s teaching oppose the Codes of Canon Law, it also opposes the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium in a doctrine that must be believed with Divine and Catholic Faith, and therefore his teaching implicitly contains heresy.  Pope Pius XII clearly taught the following:

“For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy.”
(Mystici Corporis, 23) [Emphases mine]

Therefore, the public sin of manifest formal heresy DOES per se separate the heretic from the Church (see this page for posts related to this proposition).  As a matter of fact, positive ecclesiastical laws (like Canon Law) are not required for one to cease being a Catholic because it is of the very nature of the “sin” of heresy that separates one from the Church.  The “crime” of heresy, which seems to be what Fr. Hewko is writing about, belongs to positive ecclesiastical law.  Therefore, we don’t need to bring up at all the “crime” of heresy and the corresponding canonical process in order to judge that one has fallen into heresy and thereby separated himself from the Church.  Without the “crime” of heresy, Fr. Hewko’s teaching becomes moot unless he really meant to express it in relation to the “sin” of heresy.  And note that the two Canons mentioned above are NOT in the penal section of the corresponding Codes.  Therefore, they are not Canons dealing with canonical crimes such as the “crime” of heresy.  Rather, they deal with the “sin” of heresy (i.e., in respect to being one kind of public defection from the Catholic faith).

Now I know that Fr. Hewko does not intend to oppose the Codes of Canon Law, especially the 1917 Code, and he definitely does not intend to teach heresy, even implicitly.  However, what he has done is worse than just speaking in sermons because he actually wrote his teaching down on paper.  Therefore, I advise anyone and everyone who is close to Fr. Hewko to point out his erroneous teaching in the hope that he will retract what he wrote (and what he said) and correct himself.

2 thoughts on “Fr. David Hewko’s Teaching regarding Public Heresy and Church Membership Opposes the Codes of Canon Law”

  1. Isn’t this position of Father Hewko the same as the one that Siscoe and Salza were putting forth that Father Kramer refuted?

    I am troubled by Father Hewko’s apparent obstinacy in not even considering that his position could be wrong. I was also troubled about the many years he spent with Father [not a bishop] Pfieffer and the strange and troubling goings on at that seminary.

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