It doesn’t look like it…

Was Bishop René Gracida Consecrated in the Traditional Rite of Ordination?

In recent days there has been plenty of online chatter regarding Bp. René Henry Gracida (b. 1923), retired ordinary of Corpus Christi, Texas. Gracida is one of only two Novus Ordo bishops, so far, to publicly reject Jorge Bergoglio‘s claim to the Papacy (the other being Jan Paweł Lenga).

In 2017, Gracida said Francis might be a false pope; in 2018, he said the Chair of St. Peter was vacant and so a new conclave would have to be held; by 2022, he had come to believe that Benedict XVI was the true Pope instead; and at this point he presumably believes again that the papal chair is vacant, since Benedict died on Dec. 31, 2022. Last year, Gracida was one of only four Novus Ordo bishops to publicly accuse Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) of heresy.

Gracida is well advanced in years. On June 9 of this year, he will turn 100. Nevertheless, he still maintains his own blog, entitled Abyssus Abyssum Invocat — meaning “Deep calls to Deep” — which is also his episcopal motto.

So, why is Bp. Gracida a topic at present?

Enter Michael Voris

On Feb. 10, conservative Novus Ordo loudmouth Michael Voris hosted an episode of his Vortex program in which he speaks about Bp. Gracida and his connection with scandalous actor and producer Mel Gibson, who happens to be a sedevacantist.

The following are excerpts taken from the Vortex transcript of Feb. 10, 2023:

There are different “camps” of sedevacantists, and while there are some divisions among them, there is broad agreement that Vatican II was bad and that there has not been a valid pope since the death of Pius XII in 1958. And yeah, you heard that right — not a valid pope in 65 years and counting.

And it’s that “and counting” part that is becoming a problem for some sedes. It will come as no surprise that at least some sedevacantists do not accept bishops ordained in the Latin church under the completely revised rites after Vatican II. This inevitably leads to a sede priest personnel crisis — they need to replenish their ranks — and fast. This is where Mel Gibson starts to get involved.

Someone needs to inform Mr. Voris that the “and counting” part has nothing to do with valid ordinations. There is no “sede priest personnel crisis” either, and if there were one, it wouldn’t be from a lack of bishops to ordain. Voris simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But that’s not our topic now.

The Vortex host continues:

A few years ago, a [then] 97-year-old, retired bishop in Texas caught the attention of sedevacantists — Gibson included — after the bishop declared (with many nonsedevacantists) that Francis was not the validly elected pope. In 2020, Gibson met with this bishop, who claims that he was consecrated in the pre-Vatican II rite of ordination. Therefore, if he ordained a priest, that priest would fit the bill of not being a Vatican II priest, and thus be “validly” ordained.

In January 2021, the then-97-year-old, retired prelate was at Mel’s ranch. There, the bishop provided an affidavit to Gibson, sworn to on Jan. 21, 2021, before a California notary public. Church Militant has the name and commission number of the notary. And so that those concerned understand we do have that information in our possession, we will reveal that the notary’s commission number begins with 2217. The affidavit maintains that he had indeed been consecrated a bishop in the Old Rite, in 1972.

(hyperlinks and italics are Voris’)

The key issue we will examine in this post is not whatever Mel Gibson may be up to (we don’t know and don’t care), nor what Bp. Gracida’s involvement may be in the supplying of ceremonies for certain “canceled” Novus Ordo priests.

Instead, we will focus on, and test, Gracida’s claim that he was ordained a bishop in the traditional, pre-Vatican II rite that was in use before ‘Pope’ Paul VI (r. 1963-1978) messed with it. Gracida has been claiming as much for the last two years on his blog, but what’s new is Voris’ revelation that there is a notarized sworn affidavit testifying to it.

Gracida’s Mysterious Blog Post

For the last two years, Gracida has been claiming in public that his episcopal consecration took place in the traditional, pre-Vatican II rite of ordination. A post with that title is prominently made accessible from the blog’s menu bar: “I WAS ORDAINED A BISHOP USING A PRE-VATICAN II RITE OF ORDINATION”.

The post has been updated since its original publication, however, and ironically the essential portion has been removed, namely, this:

In 1969 The Concillium [sic] of the Second Vatican Council published a new edition of the Pontificale Romanum. Since I was both the Chairman of the Archdiocesan Liturgy Commission and Rector of the Archdiocesan Cathedral where ordinations took place, I asked Archbishop Carroll [of Miami, Florida] if I should order a copy of the new Pontifical[e] Romanum for use in the Cathedral. The Archbishop replied that since there was some controversy about Monsignor Anibale Bugnini, editor of the new Pontificale Romanum, in whom he did not have much confidence we would continue to use the old Pontificale Romanum already in use in Saint Mary Cathedral for ordinations until a consensus developed in the Church that the new Pontificale was free from error. Consequently, when I was appointed in December of 1971 Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Coleman Carroll by Pope Paul VI, I was still Rector of Saint Mary Cathedral. I therefore know for a certainty that I was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Miami on January 25, 1972 with an earlier edition of the Pontificale Romanum that was still in use in the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Miami and not the 1969 Edition of the Bugnini Pontificale.

Alas, this crucial portion of the post was removed sometime between July 31 and Oct. 16, 2021 (as can be verified from the public records of the Web Archive). The post itself, however, is still up, and now the remaining content no longer reflects the post’s title: See for yourself.

So, what is going on? Has Bp. Gracida given up on his claim that he was consecrated in the traditional rite? If so, why not remove the post altogether and/or change the title? Why not issue a simple retraction?

The Difference it makes

Some readers may now sincerely be asking: What difference does it make? The answer is that it makes every difference in the world, because there is overwhelming evidence that the new ordination rite promulgated by ‘Pope’ Paul VI in 1968 is not only doubtful but definitely invalid. This means that the rite, if followed according to the book, does not actually produce a bishop. This is explained at length here:

Obviously, this is a matter of the gravest concern, not only for Gracida personally but for all the people he confirmed, ordained, etc., since all of these acts would have been invalid if he is not truly a bishop.

While it may very well be that Abp. Coleman Carroll (1905-1977) of Miami kept the older Pontifical in use for a few extra years, the question is not what Pontifical was generally used at the Miami cathedral but what liturgical book was used very specifically at the episcopal consecration of Fr. Rene H. Gracida on Jan. 25, 1972.

So, we did some digging to find out.

Investigating the Evidence

The best source of public evidence to consult on this is probably the archdiocesan newspaper, then called The Voice, reporting on the consecration. Its Jan. 28, 1972 edition included an extensive special commemorative section covering Fr. Gracida’s ordination as bishop (see image above). It can be accessed in PDF format here:

It turns out that for this momentous occasion, the principal consecrator and celebrant was not Archbishop Carroll, who was not in the best of health, but ‘Cardinal’ John Dearden (1907-1988) of Detroit. Abp. Carroll was one of the two co-consecrators, however, the other being Bp. Paul Tanner (1905-1994) of Saint Augustine.

The following snippet from The Voice explains:

The Archbishop of Miami, who is recovering from a severe attack of bronchial flu, told priests, religious and laity present that Cardinal Dearden “realized that I might not be up to this long day and offered, in the interests of the Church, to be here today.”

(Marjorie L. Fillyaw, “Bp. Gracida ordained in Cathedral; large assemblage sees colorful rites”, The Voice, Jan. 28, 1972)

As the principal consecrator, it would have fallen to Abp. Dearden to use the proper edition of the Roman Pontifical. And which was the proper one? Under the supposition that Paul VI was a true Pope, the proper one was of course the edition incorporating the latest “papal” liturgical revisions, i.e., one published in 1968/69. But that is precisely the Pontifical Gracida claims was not used.

The use of the new Pontifical was not optional, however; it was mandatory. On Aug. 15, 1968, the Sacred Congregation of Rites had decreed “that until 6 April 1969, that is, Easter Sunday, either these new rites of ordination or those presently in the Roman Pontifical may be used; after that date only the new rites are to be used” (Decree Per Constitutionem Apostolicam; in Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979, n. 325; underlining added).

There is no question, then, that as far as authorization goes, the new Pontifical had to be used in 1972, which contained Paul VI’s invalid 1968 rite of the ordination of a bishop. But was it actually used? Just because it had to be used doesn’t mean it was used.

Let us see what we can glean from the photographic evidence contained in the Jan. 28, 1972 edition of The Voice.

Photos that tell a Different Story

We begin with three pictures (all screenshots taken from The Voice) to give us a general idea of how everything looked:

This wide shot shows how many clerics were part of the ceremony. If the traditional rite was used, all of them would have noticed.

This is clearly not a Traditional Latin Mass: a free-standing altar without a tabernacle, with everything set up for facing the people.

Whatever book they might be using there, it is not the thick and heavy Pontificale Romanum from before Vatican II

These three images by themselves prove nothing. It is the following two photos that give us a better idea of what rite was used:

Be sure to read the caption under the photo. The report in The Voice is quoting words from the ceremony spoken by the consecrating bishop. As it turns out, the wording is identical to what is found in the new rite in its first English translation.

This can be verified, for example, by looking at reports of other episcopal consecrations that took place shortly after the introduction of the mandatory new liturgical books:

The above snippet is taken from an ordination report of the Pittsburgh Catholic of July 6, 1970, page 1:

As far as the wording of the traditional rite is concerned, it is substantially the same, but in the Pontificale Romanum it is found only in Latin, of course.

Next, we come to the part of the ceremony in which the book of the Gospels is placed on, or over, the new bishop being consecrated. This moment is a dead giveaway as to which rite is being used, because in the old rite, the book is placed on the neck and shoulders of the bishop-elect, whereas in the new rite, it is held over his head.

Which was done for Bp. Gracida? See for yourself:

To further corroborate that we are not making things up, consider the rubrics for how to hold the book of the Gospels in the new rite versus the old rite:

The above rubrics are for the new rite, taken from The Roman Pontifical (International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 1978), p. 227.

Contrast this with the rubrics found in the traditional rite of episcopal consecration (here in English translation from a booklet for use by the laity):

The above snippet is taken from Rev. Joseph Henry McMahon, ed., The Order followed in the Consecration of a Bishop, according to the Roman Pontifical (New York, NY: The Cathedral Library Association, 1922).

What conclusion can a reasonable person come to other than that Bp. Gracida was ordained in the new rite?

A Summary of the Evidence

Let’s recapitulate our findings:

  • none of the photos published in The Voice indicate the use of the traditional rite
  • several of the photos published in The Voice indicate the use of the new rite
  • in the reports covering the ceremony, no mention at all is made of the traditional rite being used, something we can expect would have received at least some attention, considering the fuss made about the “liturgical reform” and Vatican II in those days
  • no mention at all is made of any part of the liturgy being in Latin, which the traditional rite would have used exclusively
  • the use of Paul VI’s new rite of ordination was mandatory at the time
  • as the principal consecrator, the decision on which liturgical book to use would have fallen to ‘Cardinal’ Dearden, not Abp. Carroll

The only evidence that Bp. Gracida was not consecrated according to the new rite is his own sworn and notarized testimony. So far, however, his testimony has not been corroborated independently, and the public evidence that is available appears very much to contradict it.

To be clear: We are not accusing Bp. Gracida of lying, that is, of deliberately stating what he knows to be false on such an important matter, and in an affidavit to boot. It is quite possible that at nearly 100 years of age, he is simply not properly remembering what took place 50 years ago.

The reason for this little investigation, for this blog post, has not been to question Bp. Gracida’s truthfulness but to establish independently, using publicly available information, whether his rather startling claim concerning his ordination as a bishop corresponds to reality. Given what we have found, we tentatively conclude that it does not, pending additional evidence one way or another.

We therefore ask Bp. Gracida to explain the discrepancy between his sworn testimony, on the one hand, and the evidence presented in this blog post, on the other.

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