In all of my traditional correspondence I have managed to come across a fine dissertation by Fr. Anthony Cekada regarding the problem of untrained clergy within the traditional movement. It raises an important issue that often gets ignored in traditional circles, but it is a problem brewing which can one day cause a significant disaster if not more widely known and watched for.
In today's situation of a grave shortage of workers for the Divine harvest, it often seems opportune for many to take shortcuts to the priestly status, or (at times) even the episcopal status. While I amply agree that there are some few small areas where a bit of slack could be reasonably cut, by and large the same standards must continue to apply, for otherwise we run the risk of the same manner of dissolution as has happened in the Novus Ordo, or even that which led to the Protestant revolt.
Recall that prior to the Council of Trent, the standards for priestly conduct and choice and training had become so fragmentary and token that much of the Church back then in the 1300's to 1500's had become a cesspool of nepotism, simony, corruption, debauchery, ill-trained and even untrained priests and bishops, and finally even the utterly crass "sale of indulgences" that had become (rightly) such a scandal. Parishes and even diocesan sees were routinely bought and sold and traded like so many shares on the stock market. Even some bad popes had come to be regarded as laughingstocks with clout. So lacking in standards had the "priestly formation" become by that time that even the likes of the utterly unqualified Martin Luther could nevertheless get himself ordained. No wonder that so many otherwise honorable people could question whether the institution so described could possibly be the authentic Christian Church, and in their doubt be attracted to the Protestant heretics who gave them such a seeming alternative.
One of the great things the Council of Trent did was to introduce a specific and carefully-designed regimen for prospective clergy that would carefully weed out the unfit and then fully train those who are truly qualified, and attempt to see to it that only the most learned and spiritually advanced are also advanced in rank and prominence, being given the most prominent parishes or being made bishops, while those less qualified (though still passing some required bare minimum) would have the opportunity to prove their worth in humbly accepting minor assignments in obscure and small parishes.
For centuries, this seminary system served amply as a source of restored honor in the Church, thus gradually regaining the respect of all honorable people everywhere. It took centuries for the "bad guys" to figure out how to pull down this rampart by infiltrating the seminaries. A few had penetrated back in the nineteenth century but they were all quickly detected and promptly and forcefully dealt with. It was only in the twentieth century that they began to truly succeed, which only goes to show that even such a careful and thorough system is still not absolutely fool-proof. Of course there has always been that small possibility of a cleric here and there going awry after having proved himself canonically fit to be ordained and then being ordained, but then somehow not continuing in that blessedness, but this would be only the very occasional and rare exception.
And what were those criteria for being found "canonically fit" to be ordained (as discussed in Fr. Cekada's above-cited dissertation - I summarize it here)? Two things were required,
1) that the candidate be found and continually watched and seen (verified) to be of good morals, hence the necessity of the seminary life where priests-in-training would live together and know and be known to each other and most of all to the teaching staff at the seminary, and all their faults known, tracked, and shown to be eradicated to the complete and utter satisfaction of all, and
2) that the candidate be sufficiently educated in all the Divine sciences, which required long courses (several to many years each) in Latin, Philosophy, Theology, Church History, Sacramental theology and practice, Canon Law, pastoral counseling, along with shorter courses in other lesser subjects as well, and he must pass rigorous exams in each of these subjects again and again.
Why such a high standard? Again, recall the near chaos that prevailed just prior to the Council of Trent which the institution of such strict policies did a great deal to curb. But there is more to this than this mere pragmatic consideration. Technically, the application of such standards is a disciplinary matter rather than one of Faith or Morals. The standard of priestly celibacy is an equivalent in its apostolic beginnings, and like priestly celibacy there are more than the mere pragmatic considerations to take into account. In the case of celibacy of course there is the need that a priest should be wholly dedicated to God, pure and unsullied in imitation of the Divine Master and His holy Mother, in addition to that merely pragmatic consideration that a pastor should not have to divide his attentions between his flock and his family. Likewise, the application of standards for priests also has its basis in explicit Biblical teaching. In John 10:1 our Lord assures us that "He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold but climbs up over the wall in some other way is a thief and a robber."
The whole purpose of these standards, aside from the obvious pragmatic value, is that those who are to act as "undershepherds" under the authority of the Great Shepherd must all enter into that sacred role "through the door" of the Good Shepherd and not climb over the wall. We also have another Scriptural precedent wherein a magician by the name of Simon endeavored to purchase the right to be a part of the Church, in the hierarchical sense, and for that he received a frightful curse: "May your gold and silver perish with you because you dared to think that this gift could be purchased with money!" (Acts chapter 8) From that reference comes the word "simony" which pertains to the buying and selling of the Holy powers conveyed by the Sacrament of Holy Orders (and by extension, the buying and selling of any holy thing).
Again, we had someone trying to climb over the wall, thinking that with money he could bypass the standards required. Anything that easy is not important and is easily abandoned once the going gets rough. It all comes to the difference between a true shepherd and a hireling. Hirelings can be bought and sold, and will themselves as cheaply buy or sell out their faith. Hirelings flee when the wolf comes (John 10:12). But true shepherds require much in the way of careful training, pruning, weeding, and personal sacrifice in order to become such.
So how does this apply to the present situation? The accusation is often made that this or that traditional priest is such an unqualified priest. Adding to the confusion to all that is some few instances in which the accusation has been correct. The established traditional directories (such as Fr. Morrison's) carefully avoid listing any such priests and bishops, but at times a traditional Catholic may encounter such an unlisted cleric (?) in one's own locality. One family had such a "priest" staying with them for a few months before he disappeared suddenly along with some of their belongings as though he were a common house burglar. While continual suspicion and paranoia is unwarranted, caution is prudential and necessary.
As for the priests from the respectable priestly orders such as any of the several SSPX seminaries, or Immaculate Heart, Mater Dei, Most Holy Trinity, and the like, it is necessary to make it clear that these seminaries are all absolutely legitimate. The seminarians attending these all learn the entire course required (taking typically at least about 6 years to complete, being already college graduates when they enter), and living in their communal seminary life are obviously closely watched and their faults found and tracked and verified to have been eradicated before any Holy Orders are conferred.
But the fair question emerges: The Novus Ordo still goes through the motions of all of this training and watching as well. How is it that their priests can so often prove so utterly unqualified? In the Pre-Vatican II days, all a seminarian needed to do was ignore and refuse to read all that unofficial literature passed informally from seminarian to seminarian - all that stuff by Maurice Blondel, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac, Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, Eduard Schillebeeckx, George Tyrell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the like. Officially, seminary professors would only use books that had been long approved for seminary use as their official texts, and the seminarian who restricted his reading to these and other unquestionably approved books fared well. But already the seeds of disaster were being sown wherever and however possible. Even some traitorous seminary professors would sneak in the use of the books of these types for the brief few months or years before the Holy Office could examine them and conclude them to be heretical or at least suspect of heresy. And there always seemed to be some new book from one or another of these heretics that had not as yet been condemned.
As the new John XXIII and Vatican II "spirit" began to throw all caution to the winds, the index was quietly done away with, the condemned and suspect-of-heresy writers listed above and their ilk were suddenly given pride of place, and new textbooks became the standard fare in which the whole concept of objective truth and clear logic as St. Thomas Aquinas had taught was replaced with the existentialism and phenomenalism and "evolution of doctrine" taught by these types, until such sciences as sacramental theology were abandoned whole hog. Other courses, such as Church History, were corrupted with fabricated information about some fictitious "primitivistic" ancient church fashioned, in fact, after the design of what these bad guys wanted to do to the Church, and still others such as pastoral counseling became gangrenous excuses for avoiding all manner of moral standards. Latin went from being a mandatory several-year course to a single-semester elective, if still offered at all.
Such is the scope and scale of ignorance in modernist "seminaries" ("cemeteries"?) that the following true story could (and did) occur: When it had been found a few years ago that some thousand or so children in a Novus Ordo "diocese" in Canada had slipped through the cracks and neglected to be baptized, what did they do? Did they baptize them? No. Rather, the official statement, put out by the diocesan chancery office (that is to say, a statement approved and vetted by the "bishop" himself to be released for publication), merely stated that baptism was unnecessary for these children since "the Church Supplies." A layman might be capable of such gross sacramental ignorance, but for someone supposedly having been trained and formed and "found worthy" at a seminary, serving for some years as a presider, and then even appointed (no doubt partially on account of his "great learning") to be a "bishop," this is beyond inexcusable! "The Church Supplies" ("Ecclesia Supplet" for those who know enough of what they are talking about to use the proper Latin) refers to faculties and jurisdiction for sacraments being given under dubious circumstances (priest out of his own natural diocese, priest in irregular or unclear legal status, and the like), NEVER to a lack of a need to perform a sacrament in the first place.
Such is a typical sample of the abysmal state of the "education" provided at Novus Ordo seminaries. The clear, deductive, logical thinking of Aquinas has given way to the confused babblings of incoherent nincompoops whose writings had only the one single charm of being "fashionable" to communist dilettantes and beatniks. It wasn't "what you got out of it," rather, it was "what you were seen reading" by your fellow dilettantes. Now of course this drivel has become "required reading" and the typical Novus Ordo seminarian suffers mightily reading through it all and having to pretend to make some sense of it. And we well know the blind eye that has consistently been turned towards the rampant homosexuality practiced within those same seminaries. A rank amateur, refusing all training and formation but getting a "priestly ordination" from some shady Old Catholic bishop for $25.00 could do no worse. But important to note, he would do no better, either.
And this is the main point made by Fr. Cekada in the above-cited article. It is every bit as much a fright to trust one's soul to such an ignorant and untrained boogerhead Old-Catholic-ordained "priest" as it would be to go to a typical Novus Ordo presider coming out of today's "seminaries." Spiritual direction is a crucial science, indeed the most sensitive and critical. One MUST turn only to those who are truly qualified. Fortunately the Church continues in the traditional Catholic movement, and many truly qualified priests see to the spiritual needs of souls all around the world. These are the priests and bishops I write of in my book, The Resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church, and it is they who truly constitute the hierarchical future of the Church. Their training and formation stands up to the fullness of the original standards intended by the Council of Trent and all that it was ever meant to stand for.
"But," some might counter, "what about some of those horrible mistakes made by Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc? Where were his standards?" True, he was the one who had made the Palmar de Troya fiasco possible, and then again after that did make a few more truly unworthy and scandalous bishops before arriving at the point of consecrating Guérard des Lauriers. His problem was that he did not know whom to trust. As early as the the 1970's he saw what was happening to the Sacrament of Orders and what that meant for the future of the Church. Anxious to see to a future Apostolic Succession he found only two responses to his search. All the most qualified and worthy prospects had no interest since they didn't see how serious the situation truly was. Many of them simply took refuge in believing that the Church is indefectible and so would soon return to normalcy, and as such no such drastic action was necessary. The other response he got was an eager willingness to participate in this, but for years only those wholly unqualified ever volunteered for this project. And neither did he have (as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre had) the resources and support it required to found a seminary in which he could train and form the priests himself, and prove their qualifications before ordaining them. Who could he trust?
When a priest showed up at his door saying that our Lady had appeared to some visionaries in Spain saying that he was to provide for the future of the Church, he had to believe that Heaven had answered his ardent prayer. So he went. In time he came to regret it utterly as it gradually became clear that the Spanish visionaries "chosen" by our Lady were clearly unqualified, canonically speaking, and merely using him, taking advantage of his desperate desire to continue the Church.
Later on, others began to work with him, and despite their best efforts to screen out the unworthy, several such losers, each worse than the other, managed to deceive him and his few lay associates with a tremendous appearance of piety, education, wisdom, and even fake diplomas attesting to great learning. So he repented, even seeking some sort of absolution (he had no one to turn to for that except the Novus Ordo institution), but it was the poor choices of the individuals selected which he repented, not his work to continue the Church by making bishops.
For a season he stopped. But when the replacement of Paul VI with the John Paul's changed nothing, only then did it begin to sink in to any truly qualified clerics that the problems were not going to evaporate with the replacement of the Vatican leadership. So, when Dominican Fr. Guérard des Lauriers, of unassailable academic and moral qualifications, mentioned his interest in Archbishop Thuc's project to continue the Church, Thuc reactivated his activity and consecrated not only Fr. Des Lauriers, but also the two Mexican clerics. And again, many others approached him, and all but one were refused.
This goes to show that Archbishop Thuc was the one doing the choosing of his successors and that he could not be bought. As Sacred Scripture states, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 20: 16). The Church has always understood the "many" called to be those called to the priesthood, and the "few" chosen to be those selected from the priesthood to be made bishops. Thuc chose his successors. What successors as honestly accepted the lawful appointments he made for them can therefore be truly spoken of as truly "sent," as all true and authorized clergy are. Those who dishonestly exploited him on the other hand, are nothing, and have become nothing. Think of all those bishops, chosen by the Church down through all the years, but who would prove so unworthy that St. Basil the Great could state of them that their skulls would be lining the floor of hell. In regards to Thuc, what mistakes he made were honest ones. Had all men he chose been true to the qualifications that they provided satisfactory evidence to testify to, there would have been no scandals, no mistakes.
In the same manner Archbishop Lefebvre had trained and formed his clergy, and knew them well and could vouch for their canonical qualification, and as such ordained them carefully, making nevertheless a few mistakes, such as Fr. Krohn who would go on to attempt an assassination, but no one blames Lefebvre. From those he knew well and who had proven themselves over time as ordained priests, he chose his four bishops. Again, the choice was his, and this makes them as much "sent" as any other lawful bishop since the Apostles drew lots and selected Matthias (Acts 1:26). Bishop Mendez also made his deliberate and considered choice. He had long knew Fr. Jenkins' family and Fr. Jenkins himself, and yet chose Fr. Kelly. Again, these are not the actions of some doddering old fool who knows not what he is doing, but the deliberate and considered acts of a man anxious to do his part in continuing the Apostolic Succession.
But when some people turn to historically schismatic lines (and even lines whose validity is therefore in doubt - did all in their succession truly understand and "intend to do what the Church does" - there is room to doubt it), one has to wonder why not turn to these far more legitimate sources of priestly training. Though Thuc himself could establish no seminary, his successors, drawing from their seminary training while still with the pre-Vatican II era Church and also from some training in Archbishop Lefebvre's seminaries, have since gone on to found several seminaries. And there are also Archbishop Lefebvre's seminaries and also a seminary by the successor of Bishop Mendez. For that matter there also exist the Indult seminaries for the Fraternal Society of Saint Peter and Institute of Christ the King, and one might reasonably expect that at least some real standards might still apply there in order for them to compete with the other Catholic seminaries and seminarians.
I strongly suspect that many who have gone to Old Catholics (or "Old Roman Catholics") or the Duarte line are again trying to leap over the wall rather than enter through the gate of a proper priestly formation, training, qualification, moral inspection, and the like. Again I say "many" since it is possible that some few may indeed prove themselves worthy and their reasons understandable. Perhaps they sought ordination before any of the traditional seminaries had formed, or at least having not learned of any of their existence. Perhaps some were turned away by Novus Ordo "seminaries" on the grounds that they were "inflexible" in their adherence to the Eternal Magisterium, perhaps after even years of training and formation.
Classically, anyone born a Catholic but then having recourse to be ordained by a schismatic bishop, could never exercise their sacerdotal powers, even if received back into the Church. But this is one area where a small amount of slack would indeed be morally permissible. Their training could be sufficient, their moral character truly virtuous, and their reasons for turning to schismatics done out of legitimate motives. It seems to me at least theoretically possible that some few such clerics, if individually verified and cleared by the more unassailable clerics, could be validly received and accepted by the traditional Catholic community, as was Bishop Yurchyk from the historically schismatic East Orthodox episcopal lines.
If I were any of the unassailable clergy qualified to make this assessment, I would be willing and open to considering any applicant who can explain himself. And if I were such a schismatically ordained cleric myself I would seek such an unassailable cleric to be so judged and qualified. And as a layman, I would avoid any cleric ordained by any historically schismatic line who is unwilling to consider being assessed in such a manner. But this is mere pragmatic advice, in the interest of avoiding the chaos that preceded the Council of Trent that could otherwise become the Church's next crisis.
Funny thing here is that lawful legitimacy is not the issue here at all. Lumen Gentium cast jurisdiction to the winds, declaring all clerics as being qualified and having sufficient faculties, no matter their invalidity, their heresy, their schismatic condition, or even their adherence to a different religion. By this token, all who profess the Catholic Faith and whose Holy Orders the validity of which can be confirmed would have to be considered lawful clerics, however untrained or unworthy. But not all are advisable. Stick to those who are named in the directories of traditional orders and/or the Latin Mass directory published by Veritas Press, currently being maintained on the Traditio site.
The wisest advice is to be vigilant and guard the walls, follow only those who have lawfully, spiritually and morally prepared to enter through the legitimate portal of authentic sacramental Holy Orders.
That is where you find Christ at the door for the standards do indeed still apply and always will.