25 May 2022, The Tablet

Traditionalist monk suspended following clandestine ordination 

In church law Dom Alcuin’s ordination is 'valid but illicit'.

Traditionalist monk suspended following clandestine ordination 

Dom Alcuin made a pilgrimage to Rome a “senior prelate offered to confer ordinations”.
File pic of deacon assisting at a private Mass at a chapel in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, CNS/Paul Haring,2011

A prominent traditionalist Catholic, who was refused ordination by numerous bishops, has been suspended after he was ordained in a clandestine ceremony by an unnamed “senior prelate”.

Dom Alcuin Reid is a liturgical scholar, the prior of a monastic community in the south of France and a vocal critic of Pope Francis’ decision to restrict celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass.

With a specialism in Catholic worship as it was celebrated before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Dom Alcuin has called for a re-assessment of the liturgical changes which happened after Vatican II in what is known as the “reform of the reform”. His work has gained him an international following and his 2004 book, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, included a foreword from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a year before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

But Dom Alcuin is now facing an uncertain future after he was ordained a priest without his bishop’s permission while one other member of his community was ordained to the diaconate. The illicit ordinations have echoes of the actions taken by the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X group which splintered off from the mainstream Church after their leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, ordained bishops without the authorisation of the Holy See. 

A statement on his monastery’s website explains that after Dom Alcuin made a pilgrimage to Rome a “senior prelate offered to confer ordinations” which then took place in April “in a discrete location not in France”. The ceremony was also celebrated according to the Old Rite liturgy, in spite of the Holy See ruling in December that ordinations in the Tridentine form were no longer permitted. In church law Dom Alcuin’s ordination is "valid but illicit” given the “senior prelate” who carried them out is in “unimpeded communion with the Holy See”. 

Nevertheless, the ordinations will be seen as harmful to Church unity and back up the Pope’s argument that restrictions on the pre-Vatican II liturgy are necessary because some traditionalists are part of a movement that exposes the Church to “the peril of division”. Preserving unity was the driving force behind Francis’ ruling on the Old Rite, Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition). 

Dom Alcuin’s “Monastère Saint-Benoit” is based in Brignoles, about an hour’s drive from Saint-Tropez and located in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon which covers parts of southeastern France and the Mediterranean coast. It is an international, English-speaking community.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon told The Tablet that the bishop, Mgr Dominique Rey, had in “no way given his permission for this ordination, nor had he sent a ‘dimissorial’ letter to the unknown bishop (a letter which is necessary according to canonical rules).” As a result, Bishop Rey immediately suspended Dom Alcuin preventing him from celebrating the sacraments. A dimissorial letter is sent by a bishop or religious superior testifying that an individual is suitable to be ordained by another bishop.  

According to the Church’s law, anyone ordained without the necessary permission is automatically suspended from the priesthood while the bishop who carried out the ordination is forbidden from performing ordinations for a year. One Church source said it was possible that the Holy See would be able to issue even tougher sanctions on the anonymous prelate who ordained Dom Alcuin.

In their statement, the monastery argued that the Pope’s restrictions on the Old Rite had put them “in an impossible position” and that they needed a priest to ensure they could continue to have access to the liturgy. Their small community, technically known as a “public association of the faithful”, is focused on “ the solemn celebration of the Sacred Liturgy according to the older, classical forms of the Roman and Monastic Rites and is supported through our manual and intellectual work”.

Although he had moved to the diocese in 2009, Bishop Rey had repeatedly refused to ordain Dom Alcuin and other monks on the grounds of “prudence”, something which had left the community “frustrated”. But the Fréjus-Toulon spokesman explained that “on examination of his dossier, the necessary elements were not present for Alcuin Reid's ordination” and that the “development and stability” of the monastic community are “not good”.  

Dom Alcuin was ordained as a transitional deacon in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1989 but was never ordained a priest. He had his faculties as a deacon removed in 1991 and took a leave of absence from the archdiocese. At that time he was known as Scott Reid. Successive Archbishops of Melbourne, including Frank Little, Denis Hart and Cardinal George Pell, had asked that he remove himself from the clerical state.

The French diocese said that Bishop Rey had welcomed Dom Alcuin as a deacon “in order to provide him with pastoral care and guidance and as part of his project for a Benedictine-style foundation” and stressed that he “is not subject to any prosecution, sanction or punishment, civil, criminal or canonical”. He is a monk in simple vows and has not made a solemn profession which is a lifetime commitment to the monastic life. 

After leaving Australia, Scott Reid spent time as a monk at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough in Hampshire in the UK, where he took the monastic name Alcuin. He received a doctorate for a thesis on liturgical reform from Kings College London in 2002 and also worked as a schoolteacher in England. In 2007 he was employed as a teacher of religious education at the London Oratory School, in Fulham, South West London. 

Dom Alcuin is one of the principal organisers of the “Sacra Liturgia” liturgical conferences which in 2016 caused a stir when Cardinal Robert Sarah called on all priests to start celebrating the Mass ad orientem, or facing away from the congregation. The cardinal, then the Holy See’s liturgy prefect, was publicly corrected by the Vatican who said there would be no changes in this area. The next Sacra Liturgia conference is due to take place in San Francisco from 28 June to 1 July with the local archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, expected to take part in the event and celebrate an Old Rite Mass to conclude the conference. Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Pell are both due to speak at the event and Dom Alcuin is scheduled to give a paper titled: “The New Liturgical Movement: Where are We? Where are We Going?”

A key question remains over the identity of the “senior prelate” who ordained Dom Alcuin. However, if he wishes to celebrate the sacraments at some point Dom Alcuin will have to show proof of his ordination including who carried out the ceremony. A refusal makes it impossible to prove the ordination ever took place. One church source said this could leave him open to the charge of simulating the celebration of the sacraments, a grave offence in Canon Law and which could lead to his forced removal from the clerical state.

The Tablet contacted Dom Alcuin and the Monastère Saint-Benoit for comment along with the Archdiocese of Melbourne. 

*This article was corrected to make clear that while Dom Alcuin Reid was ordained to the priesthood one other member of the monastic community was ordained to the diaconate. The article originally stated that two members of the community were ordained to diaconal ministries. 

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