The Illumined Heart:
Kevin Allen: My guest today was a priest of the Trinitarian Order, founded in the 12th century, of the Roman Catholic Church, for ten years. He served in Georgia, Ohio, and ultimately, in Southern California, before leaving active ministry with permission from Rome to marry in 1978. We will be talking today about his reasons for leaving the Roman Catholic Church, and his journey from Catholicism to Orthodoxy.
Robert Jackline, it is my pleasure to have you. Welcome to The Illumined Heart.
Robert Jackline: Thank you for having me.
Kevin: You are very, very welcome. Bob, you were raised in a traditional pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic family?
Robert: Born and raised in the Catholic faith in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. My father was Roman Catholic. My mother was raised as a Greek Catholic, but when she married my father, she became Roman Catholic. I have two brothers and one sister, and I did have a little bit of an experience with Eastern liturgy with my grandparents. I would go once in a while with them, and enjoyed it, loved it, fell in love with it, but I was raised, primarily, and almost exclusively, Roman Catholic.
Kevin: Educated in Catholic parochial schools?
Robert: Yes, and also Catholic prep high school. Then after that was over, I spent two years in the service. After the service, I came out and I wanted to do something special with my life. I went into the seminary, and I spent two years in finishing up my philosophy degree, and then four years of theology.
Kevin: Were Eastern patristics anywhere in that education?
Robert: We used to have one semester of Eastern patristics taught by a member of the community who was born as an Eastern Rite Catholic, but never knew he was until he became a novice, and then when he became a novice he had to get permission to join the order. He taught it for a semester, and I was enthralled with it.
Robert: I really was. It brought back a lot of memories of my grandparents and it gave me a tremendous insight into the East. Of course, we are taking about Eastern Catholic.
Kevin: Right, which we call the Uniates.
Robert: The Uniates, exactly. But it gave me a very good, excellent background in that.
Kevin: You were ordained as a Trinitarian. Why did you pick the Trinitarian Order?
Robert: We were missionaries, and I felt that this was something that I wanted to do. My parents would have really liked to have had me become a Diocesean priest, because I would be around home, and I would see them very often. But I just felt I had to get into something where it was a missionary group of priests and brothers, and that is why I entered.
Kevin: You told me that there were a lot of changes that you experienced, both personally, and in your priesthood, that occurred post Vatican II. So, your primary formation was as a pre-Vatican II Catholic?
Kevin: But you knew what you were getting into as a post Vatican II priest. What were some of the changes that you can articulate that you felt were most damaging for you own spirituality, or for the church?
Robert: When I was first ordained in 1968, what we call the Novus Ordo Missae was not yet in play, so the mass that I said for the first year was kind of a hybrid mass, half English, half Latin. What started to really bother me as time went on was the fact that not only were the changes in the liturgy starting to bother people, they no longer felt comfortable in coming to mass as they used to, and it affected our community horrendously.
There were changes in the constitutions of the Order. I saw so many of my confreres who got extremely discouraged, and they left, many of them without the permission of Rome, and some married. I saw this tremendous destruction of my own community. That bothered me more than anything else, because for 18 years of my life, they were my home, they were my family, and I saw this family being torn apart.
Kevin: It is strange to me, and maybe you can expand a little bit on this, but why would the move from Latin to English be counterproductive?
Robert: If they had taken the Latin mass, the Tridentine Mass, as we know it, and they had translated that mass into English, I do not believe there would have been any problem, whatsoever. But with the Novus Ordo Missae they changed the mass dramatically. If a person had died in 1945 and had come back in 1972, and had gone to mass, they would never have recognized it from what they had experienced in 1945.
Kevin: Regardless of language?
Robert: Regardless of language. The Tridentine Mass, the traditional mass, as we used to call it, was completely gutted. You have to remember that the Novus Ordo Missae was formulated with the help of eight Protestant ministers. They were allowed to give their input into what this mass would become.
Robert: Yes. Anything that was strictly Catholic, anything that was of the old mass, was suppressed or done away with, completely.
Kevin: My word.
Robert: Interestingly enough, a friend of ours after I was married was a Lutheran lady who married a Catholic man. After their wedding was over and we were at the reception, she said to me, “You know, it was so beautiful. The ceremony that we just went through is almost like our Lutheran service.” That is how much the mass was gutted in a period of a few years.
Kevin: You told me before that Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II, despite their reputations as conservatives, or traditionalists, as many think of them, were among the “young lions” who were instrumental in changing pre-Vatican II traditional Catholicism and pushing aside the traditionalists like Monsignor Lefebvre. Is that right?
Robert: That’s correct.
Kevin: Bring us up to date. What was that all about?
Robert: Benedict the XVI, at that time, Father Ratzinger, was a theologian. During the Second Vatican Council, he was known as a paretus. The paretus was nothing else but a theological valet of either a bishop, or a group of bishops. He was a theologian from what is called the Rhine group, the bishop of Germany and Austria. He was a progressive. He even admits this, that he was a progressive, that he was for the way the Council came out, the way the documents came out, and the theology of the church. All of those changes, Father Ratzinger was a part of.
John Paul II was a young bishop out of Poland who, himself, also, was a progressive. They were very much opening up the windows to the new, as John XXIII said, “We have to open up the windows and let the air in.” Archbishop Lefebvre was a traditionalist. They moved him aside, as well as many other of the fathers who thought the same way he did. And yes, I have to say very honestly that they were part of the progressive movement in the church at that time.
Kevin: Interesting. And one doesn’t necessarily think of them in that light.
Robert: No way, because it is like anything else. When something happens, you are enthused about, and as time goes on and you see the fruits of your labor, there are times when you start thinking about them again, and second-guessing yourself from the beginning. This is what happened to both of them.
Kevin: In fact, Pope Benedict has specifically said, as I have read, that Vatican II went too far, did he not?
Robert: Exactly. It is kind of hard now to close that door after the horse is gone.
Kevin: When the proverbial genie is out of the bottle.
Robert: Exactly. It is very, very difficult to do that. And the consequences…
Kevin: Just looking at the statistics, they have been enormous within the Roman Catholic Church, have they not?
Robert: Absolutely. The number of priests, religious, even laity, have decreased tremendously. Pre-Vatican II, they figured that at least 65% of the Catholic people went to mass on a regular basis. Today, it is between one-quarter and one-third.
Kevin: The most staggering number that I have read from a statistical book that I thought I would have in front of me to be able to use to quote from, but for some reason, it has disappeared, but 65-70% of professing Catholics today believe that the Eucharist is symbolic only.
Robert: That is correct.
Kevin: One of the fundamental, die-hard dogmas, if you will, of the early church, the real presence of Christ, whether you think in terms of trans- or con-substantiation, is no longer believed by Catholics.
Robert: That is correct.
Kevin: And the number of high schools have dwindled, and the number of universities have dwindled, and on, and on, and on.
Robert: Right, and it is interesting to note that they made a study, I would say, 4-5 years ago, on the number of Catholic women who have abortions, as compared to non-Catholics, and they found that the percentage between the Catholic women and non-Catholic women is very small. It is kind of a frightening situation. For a lot of these reasons, I began to understand that the church that I was born into, the church that I was raised in, was no longer the church. I had to look somewhere else to find, again, the spirituality and religiosity that I grew up with.
Kevin: Robert Jackline, ex-Roman Catholic priest, what was it that prompted you? Was it a specific crisis, event, or was it just an accumulation? What was it?
Robert: It was an accumulation, but there was an event, also, and that event was in 2000, and 2002, when all of the sexual scandals came out.
Kevin: Let me stop you. You had been a priest for, by this time, how long?
Robert: I am talking about way after I left the priesthood.
Kevin: Oh, this was after you left the priesthood. You were not aware of these when you were a priest, and in seminary?
Robert: No, I was not, which was good and bad. In 2002 when it exploded in Boston, if you remember, with Cardinal Law, I was absolutely devastated, I could not believe what I was hearing. I think what even made me more angry, was the fact that the bishops of this country, and of the world, but my knowledge is, of course, of this country, were moving these men around from parish to parish, school to school, and allowing them to continue, and did nothing about it. They hid it, and it completely devastated me. I just could not continue anymore.
That is another reason why I looked at Orthodoxy, and who says it is not in Orthodoxy, too? But this was an epidemic, and it was a complete failure of the bishops in this country to lead morally. In my estimation, the Catholic Church in this country, and the Catholic bishops in this country, lost all moral authority.
Kevin: How did they take it, officially, when you resigned? You weren’t the first that left, obviously. As you said, many were leaving, but how was it taken by the hierarchs?
Robert: I had a meeting with our superior general and I told them at that time that I was going to take a leave of absence. When I had knocked him back on his heels, I remember his quotation to me as if it were yesterday. He said, “But Bob, we had such great plans for you.” I told him, “I just have to have time to think. I have to have time away from my ministry. I have to have time away from the community. I have to think.”
He wasn’t happy about it. But then he thought it would only be for a year, that’s all I had, so he was okay with the fact that I would take a year out, and then come back. Nine months into that year, I called him and told him that I was not coming back, that I wanted to get a dispensation to become a layman again. That didn’t go over very well at all.
One of the reasons why was that, as he told me then, I had been appointed at the age of 34 to be an Assistant Provincial for the West Coast, the youngest in our whole province. I think that is what he meant when he said, “We had such great plans for you.” When I told him that I was going to leave, that I was not coming back, he was extremely angry, so I did leave, with him, anyhow, on not very good terms, but I kept very good relationships with many, many of my priests.
Kevin: After you left the priesthood, you met your wife and married, but you married in the Catholic Church, as a Catholic in good-standing.
Robert: Yes, we did.
Kevin: And you remained a committed Catholic after that point? Tell us about that.
Robert: Yes. As a matter of fact, at one of the parishes we were in, in San Diego, Peg and I were in charge of the catechetical program, and we had 1500 kids in this program. I ran the program, and Peg set up and ran the audiovisual department for the whole program. Yes, we were extremely, extremely, extremely involved in the parish that we belonged to.
But something happened, if I may go on. Something happened. There was a priest who was a very close friend ours who used to teach at the International University in San Diego, He would come over and say mass at our parish because we were short a priest. He was a very close friend of ours. We began to see that he was starting to make up his own Anaphora, with his own words, totally different than anything in any of the liturgical books.
This went on for a while, and Peg and I looked at each other one day and said, “We can’t do this anymore.” After mass was over, we met him outside and gave him a big hug, and we told him, “We’re sorry, we just can’t come back. We just cannot come back, because of what you are doing.” That was the end of going to the Novus Ordo Missae.
So what were we to do then? We had two children, and we had raised them in the faith. What are we going to do? I happened to see, in the newspaper, an organization called the The Society of St. Pius X. I had known them to be with Archbishop Lefebvre, but didn’t know much about them, and didn’t know much about him, though I did know he was a maverick and made fun of, etc.
We called the college in Kansas and got an address in Carlsbad where they had mass, and we went, and it was like coming home. We were very involved in the traditional movement, all the way from 1980 until the year 2001.
Kevin: Clarify for me, if you would, Bob Jackline, ex-Roman Catholic priest, what the traditionalist movement was. Was it a Vicariate, of sorts, of the Roman Catholic Church? Was it outside of the Roman Catholic Church? Position it for us.
Robert: The Church saw it as outside the Roman Catholic Church. It is a very interesting history. Archbishop Lefebvre was the bishop of Dakar. He was also the Apostolic Visitator for the Catholic Church in all of North Africa, a member of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. He began to see how the faith was being lost by the people in Northern Africa with all the changes that came about, and he said, “I can no longer do this.”
Besides that, he decided, “You know what I’m going to to? I’m going to retire. I’m going to move into a little apartment someplace where I can say my mass in private, and I can live out my days in peace.” There were a few seminarians who came to him and said, “We heard about you, and how you feel about the traditional mass. We would like to know and learn the traditional mass and become priests who will say the traditional mass.”
Kevin: Let me just ask you a question. At that time, the traditional mass, the Tridentine Mass in Latin, was not allowed by the Catholic Church? Or was it?
Robert: It was supposedly suppressed—abrogated is the word. The only mass that was allowed to be said was the Novus Ordo Missae. He gathered these few young men around him in Rome, he was teaching them himself, and more started to come, so he had to look around to see where he might be able to send them to get a good, Catholic, solid, theological education. He couldn’t find any place.
He went to Switzerland, and through a friend of his, he was able to buy—they bought it for him, as a matter of fact—an old monastery that was no longer in use. He bought that place and used it as his first seminary.
Kevin: How old of a man would he have been at that time?
Robert: He was probably in his late 60s, maybe 70. He died at the age of 81 in 1991. When Rome heard about this, at first they were extremely happy. They even sent visitators to the seminary to see if anything abhorrent was happening there, anything outside the faith, and they couldn’t find anything. They came back with a good report, what a wonderful job he was doing.
But the bishops, especially in France, were not too happy with him, because he was drawing seminarians away from their seminaries into his seminaries. They didn’t like that, and they didn’t like the idea of this traditionalist movement, when they had just given themselves heart and soul to the Conciliar Church. They put a lot of pressure on Rome to condemn him, and Rome did. They told him that must close the seminary immediately, that he was not allowed to accept any more seminarians, was not allowed to ordain any priests. When he refused to do that, they suspended him, hoping that by suspending him the movement would die.
Kevin: Every Roman Catholic bishop is canonically allowed to ordain priests? He doesn’t have to go above himself to get that approval?
Robert: No, but the thing was that the archbishop did not have any diocese. He wasn’t a Diocesean bishop. Remember that. He was considered a maverick, in his day. He was doing things extra-diocese. His seminary, if you want to use the term, was a world-wide seminary, not confined to one city or one district.
He was suspended, and they thought this would be enough to destroy the movement, but it didn’t. It strengthened it. More and more seminarians came. He was ordaining 20-25 priests a year at that seminary, when many other seminarians in Europe were ordaining only two or three. That made it even worse.
It all came to a head on June 29, 1988. He had been begging Rome to consecrate a traditional bishop, in other words, a bishop who could go around the world and visit traditional parishes and confirm kids and ordain priests when necessary. Rome kept saying, “Okay, we’ll do that in the future. Yes, we’ll do that in the future.”
Kevin: They suspended him, but he continued to operate?
Kevin: So he was on the line between being a schismatic and not.
Robert: They called him “disobedient,” but in 1988 he was promised a bishop. At first they said, “We’ll consecrate this bishop in March.” Then, “In April.” Then, “Well, we’ll do it in May.” Then, “Maybe we’ll have to wait until August.” He said, “Look, I am very old. I am not going to be around much longer. I am afraid that I am going to die and there will be no traditional bishop to carry on my work, and it will die with me.”
He and a bishop from Brazil co-consecrated four auxiliary bishops, but they have no jurisdiction. In other words, they can’t, for instance, go to Paris, and say, “That’s my city.” All they can do is travel around in a missionary sense to confer traditional sacraments. It was at that time that Rome excommunicated him, excommunicated the four bishops, excommunicated all the priests, and the people even thought that they, too, were excommunicated.
Kevin: My word.
Robert: Rome thought, “Now it’s going to die.” However, it grew.
Kevin: Question: We hear about Mel Gibson, the director of the movie, The Passion of the Christ. Is that the movement that he and his father are in, or are they in yet another movement?
Robert: They are in another movement. They are in the Sede Vacante movement. The Sede Vacante movement says that since Vatican II there has been no legitimate pope, that all the popes are heretics. John the XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II—they are all heretics, therefore there is no pope. They are part of that movement.
The Society of St. Pius X has never been part of that. They have always recognized the Holy Father, the Pope, as the head of the Church—always.
Kevin: Where did you consider yourself and your family at this point? Were you Conciliar Catholics, or were you traditionalist Catholics?
Robert: We were traditional Catholic.
Kevin: You didn’t know if you were excommunicated or not at this point?
Robert: That was a question—were the laity excommunicated? The answer to that was, no. Even the Vatican theologians said, no, they are not excommunicated. Are the sacraments valid that we received? They said yes. Does the mass that we go to on Sunday fulfill our Sunday obligation? Yes.
Kevin: I want to take a little side cruise here, but we will come back to this question. Talk to me a little bit about how the sacraments are considered valid given by a bishop or a priest who has been formally excommunicated by the Validator, by the Catholic Church?
Robert: Sacraments are considered to be valid if the priest or bishop has been validly ordained, or consecrated.
Kevin: In terms of the mechanical laying on of hands?
Robert: Exactly. All of the four bishops, and all of the priests are validly ordained or consecrated. They are not juridically consecrated or ordained. They are not licitly ordained or consecrated. But every mass that is said is a valid mass, every consecration is a valid consecration.
Kevin: This is a difficult, sticky issue for the Catholic Church, in terms of the way it sees apostolic succession, then, because you can’t really excommunicate a bishop if he was validly ordained in the first place, even if he leaves the Church?
Robert: A bishop who is excommunicated does not have his priestly and apostolic powers taken away from him. Once he is consecrated, he is ordained and consecrated for life.
Kevin: And therefore the sacraments are valid.
Robert: That’s right. Let me give you an example from my own life. I have been dispensed from my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In the terms of the Church I am a layman. However, in case of emergency, let’s say a war, or hurricane, or some disaster, I could celebrate mass if there were no other priest available. I could give absolution, if there was nobody else available. I still have a priesthood within me, because the Catholic Church believes that you are a priest forever, once you are ordained. You are a priest forever, and even though I, Bob Jackline, am no longer active in a ministry, in times of great necessity, I can revert back to being a priest, so to speak.
Kevin: I am going to diverge, but we will back track here in a minute, but I am enjoying this, and I know you know a lot about this. Is that why, in your opinion, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, when pressed, has stated that the sacraments of the Eastern Church are, in fact, valid?
Robert: You mean the Orthodox Church?
Kevin: I mean the Orthodox Church.
Kevin: Because, their same sort of mechanistic way of looking at it has to apply to the Eastern Church.
Robert: It also applies to the Old Catholics, because it is about apostolic succession.
Kevin: Briefly, and we are really off-topic now, but we will get back, and this is important. Why and how do they not see the sacraments of the Anglican Church as valid?
Robert: Because the Ordinal of the Anglican Church for the ordination of priests and consecration of bishops was changed so that it no longer reflected the true sacrificial nature, the way the Church saw the sacrificial nature of the ordination, so their orders, so to speak, are not valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
Kevin: So therefore, the actual laying on of hands, the ordination, the passing of this mystical apostolic authority, was breached?
Robert: That’s right.
Kevin: And therefore, everything that came thereafter was no longer valid.
Robert: Exactly. In other words, when the last “Catholic” bishop died in England who was consecrated before the break, that was it. That was the end, because every other bishop who was consecrated from that time on was consecrated according to that Ordinal.
Kevin: Thank you, I appreciate that, because we did an interview that will have been aired by this point, with Father John Behr on apostolic succession, and his specialty, admittedly, is not on Anglicanism and Catholicism. The way that the Eastern Church understands apostolicity and apostolic succession is different from purely a mechanical laying on of hands. We have a whole different take on it. So thank you for that.
Let’s get back. You were in the traditionalist movement, and what happened then?
Robert: I got extremely ill in the year 2001. I couldn’t go any place, but for some reason, I was attracted to go over to an Orthodox Church I could see from the freeway when I was driving. I went there a few times and I was enthralled. It was like being a kid again, and back in my grandparents’ church, celebrating the liturgy with them, although it was in English and in my grandparents’ time it was in Slavonic.
It was as if God had just drawn me into that church, so I continued to go. I finally made up my mind in June of 2003 that I was to be Chrismated, and I was.
Kevin: I want to focus a little bit on this. Here you are a born and raised cradle Roman Catholic, educated in parochial schools.
Kevin: Trinitrian Order.
Kevin: Catholic priest.
Kevin: Conciliar Catholic.
Kevin: Traditionalist Catholic.
Kevin: Now you wind up in a local Eastern Orthodox parish. There must have been issues that you struggled with.
Robert: My decision, my thoughts, were very simple. As you know, in the Catholic Church, the Pope is the unifying factor. I began to see, very clearly, that that unifying factor was no longer happening in the Church. All of the countries in the world have what they call Conferences of Catholic Bishops. It seemed to be that the unifying factor of the Pope had been denigrated by these Councils of Bishops, who have made their own rules and regulations, sometimes in opposition to what the Vatican has said, or commanded.
I said to myself, “I don’t believe that the Pope is anymore a unifying factor for the Church.” And I also believed that the lack, if you want to call it that, of a unifying person, also attracted me to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church is one in faith, not necessarily one in jurisdiction.
Kevin: That’s a whole other can of worms you are talking about there, so we won’t go there, but yes, there are plusses and minuses in some ways to both.
Kevin: Were there any other issues, Bob, in terms of piety, spirituality? Do you see Mariology and Marian piety any different between Rome and the East?
Robert: The veneration of Mary in the Orthodox Church, believe it or not, is more integral in the liturgy than in any Catholic mass.
Kevin: Now, or even pre-Vatican II?
Robert: Even pre-Vatican II.
Robert: Yes. The number of times that we remember the most Holy Virgin, Mother of God, in the liturgy, is not there in the Catholic mass. That is one thing. The second thing is, the spirituality in the Orthodox Church is not juridical. It is not legalistic in many ways. Within the Catholic Church, it is. In the Orthodox Church, the emphasis is more on the union of God and man.
To make an example, to go to the confession in the Roman Catholic Church, you go in and you announce, “I have come to confession,” and you announce your sins, not only what you have done, but how many times. That is very important. You don’t just go in and say, “Father, I have found myself lying more than I have in the past.” You have to say, “I’ve lied 12 times.”
To go to confession in the Orthodox Church is a healing process, in my estimation. You don’t have this type of legality, or juridical thought. It is a more open type of spirituality.
Kevin: This is a tough issue, in the sense that it is so general, but it seems that there is a more practical mysticism that still is allowed to exist within the East.
Robert: There is.
Kevin: Not everything has to get drilled down into systematic theology, and…
Robert: …and Thomism, and bits and pieces. I like that very much also about our Orthodox faith, that there is a mystical side. You see it in our parish all the time, the way people react to the icons, the way they react to prayer, the way they react to the Eucharist. It is a much more mystical, homey type of a spirituality, and that is beautiful to see.
Kevin: And we still have the ancient traditions of devotion and prayer, and the prayer rule, and the Jesus Prayer, which is not the same as the Rosary, it is not understood the same way. We still have those, those are still intact, I am sure that they are in traditionalist Catholic circles, but you wonder sometimes when you talk to modern Catholics, according to the statistics that you see in these books, whether they understand what being a real Catholic means anymore.
Robert: I don’t know if they do anymore. In fact, interestingly enough, the present Pope has said that the catechesis has been horrible in the last 40 years. There are people who are in their 40s and 50s now who don’t have a spiritual basis. There is no foundation.
Kevin: A perfect example—65-70% don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in their own Eucharist.
Robert: So what are they passing down to their own children?
Kevin: And of course, one of the key points of what the Orthodox understand as apostolicity and apostolic succession, is the traditioning, the handing down, of all the faith, as it was once received.
Kevin: So you can’t be Orthodox and choose not to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Robert: Exactly. And although the Catholic Church says, “Hey, look, there really isn’t any difference between the Church before the Second Vatican Council and the Church after it, that is not true. It is totally different. The spirituality is different, the liturgy is different, the churches are different. If you go to many of the new churches today, there is no sense of the holy. Walk into our parish, and there is a sense of the holy as soon as you walk in. You can’t get around it. And there is a sense of the holy with everybody there.
Kevin: And we think of the liturgy as the work of the people.
Kevin: The participation of the people in combination…
Robert: Which is something that the Catholic Church has been trying to do all these years since the Second Vatican Council—participation, participation, participation. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made, really, a tremendous effect. Some parishes are very good, but for the most part, they are not.
Kevin: I want to conclude by making a disclaimer for both of us here. The purpose of this conversation has not been, although it may sound as if it was, to bash the Roman Catholic Church.
Kevin: That is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to make a distinction about why you left the Roman Catholic Church and came East.
Robert: That is true, and something else, too, Kevin—my family is all Catholic. My wife, my children—they are Catholic. That might be another interview sometime, but they are Catholic, and so I have great love for the Catholic Church. It was my church for over 60 years. But I have sadness for it now.
Kevin: Robert Jackline, former Roman Catholic priest, and now Eastern Orthodox Christian, we will end on that note. Thank you very, very much for sharing your story with us today.
Robert: You are welcome.