About John Lilburne



Father John Huels

Its disappointing to read that Father John Huels has been accused of sexual abuse, taken medical leave of absence, and announced plans to seek laicization.

I have bought and read three books by him:

Disputed Questions in the Liturgy Today (LTP, 1988)

More Disputed Questions in the Liturgy (LTP, 1996)

The Pastoral Companion: A canon law handbook for Catholic ministry. (Franciscan Press, 1995).

What do the reports about him mean for the interpretation of liturgical laws? I think that there will be less sympathy for his approach of liberal interpretations of Church rubrics and laws.

For example he wrote about washing the feet of women. The Roman Missal instructs that on Holy Thursday men's feet are to be washed. It uses the Latin word viri meaning "men", rather than homines meaning "humans". The interpretation of this by Father John Huels included:

"... However, in North America, Europe and numerous other parts of the world, sensitivity to the equality and rights of women is a sign of the times, a fact of contemporary life. This fact cannot be neglected when the universal law is applied in such cultures. A literal application of a law that is perceived to be sexist is likely to be opposed or ignored, even if the law's observance is demanded by the bishop. Moreover, the equality of all the baptized is a principle enshrined in the fundamental, constitutional law of the church (canon 208). This principle is based on the divine law, to which merely ecclesiastical (human) law must defer. When a human law is perceived within a society as violating the principle of equality of the sexes, it is not a good law in that context; it no longer is in the service of the church there. It is then necessary to correct the law in that local church by an appropriate remedy, such as dispensation or the development of a contrary custom (canons 85, 24). ..."

(From "More Disputed Questions in the Liturgy" page 27)

I disagree with his call for a "correction" of the law. I see it as simply breaking it. The liturgical books are to be faithfully followed. Since the Roman Missal says to wash men's feet on Holy Thursday, that is what should happen.

Even if people think the instructions in the Roman Missal are inappropriate that does not justify ignoring them. That creates more problems.

Nevertheless I believe Father John Huels has written worthwhile books on important topics: the liturgy and Canon Law.

Posted by J.R. Lilburne 9 August 2002. I give what I have written on this page to the public domain.

Other sites:

Catholic News Service story on Fr. John Huels "Priest leaves university after abuse accusation by U.S. panel member"

CNS brief article on Fr. John Huels

CBC News Report