The Hawaii Six case

This piece was first published on in June 2011.

The Hawaii Six: In Memoriam

Twenty years ago in January 1991, a canonical decree of excommunication was issued in Honolulu, Hawaii against six lay persons by the local bishop of that diocese. Their supposed crime was attending the SSPX’s Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in that city and utilizing one of the Society’s bishops for conferring the sacrament of confirmation. Two years later in 1993, this decree was overturned by none other Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, one of the first actions he would take in favor of Tradition.

This landmark canonical case—which earned the moniker of "The Hawaii Six"—was an important and crucial one for Catholic Tradition, as it proved beyond a doubt that the faithful who attend the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X, or receive the sacraments from its clergy (either bishops or priests) are neither schismatic nor excommunicated for doing so—thus proving the claims made by the SSPX for many years.

Eighteen years later since Cardinal Ratzinger’s decree in favor of the Hawaii Six, Tradition has yet to be completely exonerated and restored to its rightful position. However, as the Supreme Pontiff he has recently confirmed the full legal rights of the traditional Roman Mass as well as declaring null and void the “excommunications” of the Society’s four bishops consecrated in 1988. His Holiness has also allowed the SSPX to present its dubia about the errors of the Second Vatican Council through a theological commission.

Sadly for the living representation of Catholic Tradition, during this period several members of the Hawaii Six have passed away, particularly during the past eight months, the most recent being Mr. John O’Connor on June 8th. It was Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor who were amongst the first families in the Hawaiian Islands to host the priests of the Society, who stayed at their home and celebrated Mass in their garage. They were also responsible for hosting Bishop Richard Williamson to confirm the first confirmations for the SSPX in Hawaii, thus sparking the canonical case of the supposed excommunications by the Honolulu diocesan bishop.

In connection with this memoriam to the deceased members of The Hawaii Six (for who we request prayers for the repose of their souls), we present below the details and documents about their important case for the Catholic Tradition.

The Hawaii Six and the Ratzinger Decree

Article derived from the April 1994 issue of The Angelus magazine.

On January 18, 1991, Bishop Joseph Ferrario, the local Ordinary of Honolulu (now deceased), served the Hawaii Six a Formal Canonical Warning, threatening them with excommunication. [click here for all of the associated documents]

On May 1, 1991, they were formally declared to be excommunicated, mainly for this reason contained in the Canonical Warning of Bishop Ferrario: "Whereas you performed a schismatic act, not only by procuring the services" of Bishop Williamson to perform confirmations at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel, "but also by that very association with the aforementioned bishop (you) incurred ipso facto the grave censure of excommunication."

The "Excommunicated Six" immediately appealed the case to Rome. Finally, in a letter dated June 28, 1993, the United State's Apostolic Pro-Nunico, Archbishop Cacciavillan, declared on Cardinal Ratzinger's behalf:

From the examination of the case, conducted on the basis of the Law of the Church, it did not result that the facts referred to in the above-mentioned decree are formal schismatic acts in the strict sense, as they do not constitute the offense of schism; and therefore the Congregation holds that the Decree of May 1, 1991 lacks foundation and hence validity."

This is a declaration that the automatic (ipso facto) excommunication claimed by Bishop Ferrario for the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre is in fact totally non-existent.

Though a major milestone to proving that those who follow and support the SSPX are neither schismatic nor excommunicated, reference number 2 of Archbishop Cacciavillan's June 28, 1993 letter, marred the clarity of the decree and the innocence of the petitioners by implying that sufficient guilt remained for them to placed under interdict by Bishop Ferrario.

This was to say that while the Hawaii Six were not excommunicated and thereby members of the Catholic Church, they could have imposed upon them the "foreseen punishment of interdict...", an episcopal declaration that none of the Six could receive the sacraments of the Church. Because Archbishop Cacciavillan had opened the letter saying he was writing "upon the instruction of His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger," it appeared to all that the punishment of interdict was the recommendation of the cardinal himself. Well, it wasn't.

After nine months' insistence by the Hawaii Six, Cardinal Ratzinger's official, hand-signed decree of June 4, 1993 nullifying the excommunications was finally released by Archbishop Cacciavillan to the petitioners under his February 28, 1993 cover letter.

In this signed cover letter, Archbishop Cacciavillan admits that Cardinal Ratzinger said nothing about imposing interdict and, in fact, all of reference 2 is his idea alone and that Cardinal Ratzinger never said anything about "foreseen punishment of interdict or other penalties...".

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