A California priest has placed his flock in “a state of schism” with the Roman Catholic Church, says Bishop Jaime Soto, and the only option that remains is excommunication.
The bishop, who presides over the Diocese of Sacramento, announced as much in an open letter late last week, in which he explained that suspended cleric Father Jeremy Leatherby (above) has brought automatic excommunication upon himself by using his priesthood to lead his fellow Catholics astray.
Considering that excommunication is tantamount to consigning someone to Hell after death, surely it takes something serious to reach this state, right? Surely this can’t be a minor matter!
I’ll let Bishop Soto field that question in his own words, taken from his letter to the faithful:
Father Leatherby has violated my instructions by offering Mass and teaching publicly to a number of the faithful. He has instructed them against the legitimacy of His Holiness, Pope Francis. He has substituted the Holy Father’s name with the name of his predecessor, and omitted my name during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer while offering Mass. After obstinately not responding to a number of my inquiries by telephone and correspondence, he has now confirmed his schismatic stance. Because of the grave scandal of these actions I have no recourse but to announce publicly the consequence of his decisions: he has brought upon himself an automatic latae sententiae excommunication.
Ah, yes, grave scandal. No doubt among the most serious scandals the Catholic Church has–no, I can’t even say it with a straight face.
Never mind the obscene wealth the Church hoards in a world where some people go hungry. Never mind the legions of sexually abused children. This is what a grave scandal looks like. This is what merits excommunication: falling out of line with the church hierarchy. Omitting the bishop’s name from the litany of prayers.
Nonetheless, the priest refuses to back down from his claim that Pope Francis is not the true Successor of Peter:
Bishop Soto’s sentence of excommunication against me is consistent with my relationship with Jorge Bergolio (Pope Francis), with whom I cannot morally, spiritually, or intellectually, in good conscience, align myself… I continue to regard Benedict as retaining the Office of Peter, as mysterious as that might be. Therefore, I do not regard Bergoglio as the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
While he quotes some canon-law mumbo-jumbo about Benedict’s resignation, he clearly differs from Francis on theological grounds, citing Communion for divorcees and “religious syncretism” as just two of many reasons why supporting the current pontiff offends his conscience. He even links Francis to prophecies about a Satanic “counter-church” or “anti-church” (that last one from former pontiff John Paul II).
By his logic, then, he’s not really in schism with the Church, since he’s standing with the true pope (Benedict) and not the impostor in Vatican City (Francis).
Leatherby’s original suspension from the priesthood began in 2016, following “credible allegations of ministerial boundary violations with an adult woman,” a situation that laywer Bruce Ebert characterized as consensual but manipulative. Leatherby admits vaguely to having “violated boundaries in ways” in their relationship. But Bishop Soto took pains to emphasize that the excommunication had nothing to do with the “ongoing canonical process” concerning that affair.
Engage in a manipulative sexual relationship with a married woman? Leatherby is suspended until the Diocese can get everything sorted.
Disrespect the bishop and the papacy? Leatherby burns in hell forever.
And if you thought this case had a lot of layers already, just wait until you hear from Leatherby’s granddad.
The late David Leatherby, Sr., who established his Catholic bona fides on Church Militant by tallying up his extensive brood, explained to reporter Anita Carey that Father Jeremy was “a very holy priest” who got caught up in a vendetta against the Leatherby family after David Leatherby, Jr. — a Sacramento deacon — blew the whistle on two priests who’d been caught in flagrante by the parish housekeeper.
Junior brought his concerns to a diocesan administrator, and within days he was removed from ministry, and Father Jeremy had been accused of inappropriate conduct with his parishioner.
Coincidence? Grandpa Leatherby certainly thinks not.
In a 2018 interview with Katy Grimes at local conservative outlet Flash Report — a source Church Militant relies upon heavily in reporting on this case — Leatherby the Elder expanded on what he sees as Soto’s misconduct:
Bishop Soto will not respond to Father Jeremy’s canonical lawyer, and won’t allow a hearing. Yet the bad priests [who were caught in bed together] are still in their parishes.
… This speaks to the treatment priests have gotten in this dioceses when they speak up about this issue. Bishop Soto is covering up and protecting bad priests, abusing the good priests, and this causes unhappy parishioners. If you’re not on the ‘in’ of the sex ring, they will allow you to be destroyed. If you don’t agree with the political agenda, they push you out.
At the time, he predicted that Bishop Soto wanted Father Leatherby defrocked, which is technically different from outright excommunication.
So was Jeremy Leatherby declared unfit for membership in the Church because of his stance on the state of the papacy? Or was that just a pretext to conceal the real reason behind his travails — his family’s insistence on exposing a gay priest scandal that would prove embarrassing for the diocese?
Either way, all parties agree that he was not suspended for abusing the cachet of his office to engage in a manipulative affair with a married woman, contrary to the vows of the priesthood.
It only makes sense if the moral compass for this decision prioritized harm to the Church’s image above harm to actual human beings.
(Screenshot via YouTube)