It is extraordinary for a bishop to make a statement like this about one of his priests.
From The Sacramento Bee:
A Sacramento priest has been exiled from the Roman Catholic Church by the Diocese of Sacramento for continuing to hold Mass and teach publicly during his suspension. His gatherings were marked by his refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the current pope.
Father Jeremy Leatherby incurred an automatic excommunication for “offering Mass and teaching publicly to a number of the faithful” and questioning the legitimacy of 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,” Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said in a letter on Friday.
Soto called and wrote to Leatherby repeatedly, but the priest did not reply, according to Soto’s letter. Leatherby was substituting the name of Pope Francis during liturgy of the Eucharist for the name of predecessor, Benedict XVI, who resigned as pontiff to retire in 2013.
Leatherby faced allegations of violation of priestly promises in 2016, leaving his priesthood in an indecisive state. Soto assured the Catholic community that his excommunication was unrelated to the ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct involving women.
Despite his suspension, Leatherby continued to hold public Mass. He faced criticism for continuing to gather and offer the Eucharist for private gatherings on Sundays, despite the orders to cease church due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over 350 people were attending Leatherby’s gatherings, which he deemed necessary, as church closures “violated the law of the Church.”
…“Many who have joined me hold, like I do, that Benedict remains the one true Pope,” Leatherby wrote in a letter following his excommunication. For Leatherby, however, the papacy is too important for him to overlook, he said.
“No longer being in union with the church over which Bergoglio (Pope Francis) reigns,” referring to Francis by his birth name in a letter obtained by The Sacramento Bee. “I am seeking a dispensation from the clerical state in that church. I no longer want to be affiliated with it through canonical ties,” Leatherby wrote.
The full text of the bishop’s letter, from the diocesan website:
Dear Friends in Christ,
Fr. Jeremy Leatherby has placed himself and others in a state of schism with the Roman Catholic Church. By his words and actions, Fr. Leatherby has incurred a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication. This means that by his own volition he has separated himself from communion with the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, and other members of the Catholic Church.
Fr. 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.
Prior to these lamentable events, there has been an on-going canonical process concerning other alleged behaviors by Fr. Jeremy Leatherby in violation of priestly promises. This process admittedly has been long, is still continuing, and is in the hands of other ecclesiastical authorities. The events by which he has excommunicated himself are unrelated to these previous allegations and the ensuing investigation. These are two separate issues.
Both clergy and faithful are instructed to refrain from any further attempt by Fr. Leatherby to offer the Mass or other sacraments. Join me in praying for his reconciliation and return to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
May the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary help Fr. Leatherby to repent of the harm he has inflicted on the Church. With maternal solicitude, may she gather us together into the one communion of the Church, holy and purified by the blood of the Lamb, her Son, Jesus.
+ Jaime Soto
Bishop of Sacramento
UPDATE: Rocco has obtained a copy of Leatherby’s letter in response to the formal excommunication. It is addressed “To Bishop Soto, the Priests and Faithful of the Diocese of Sacramento and Beyond.”
Among other things, he writes: “Almost four and a half years ago…I was placed on leave on account of allegations from an adult woman. I hereby attest that I have admitted from the beginning that I violated boundaries in ways with that woman…” He concludes: “No longer being in union with the church over which Bergoglio reigns, I am seeking a dispensation from the clerical state in that church. I no longer want to be affiliated with it through canonical ties…”