When the great Fr Zuhlsdorf descended from on high and walked on earth as a man among lowly men - I mean, visited Oxford last year - he made a point that I have also read several times on his blog. It related to that selfsame SSPX whose bishops have just had their excommunications revoked. Are they schismatics? Father Zed is, he told me, of Prussian ancestry, and perhaps it was a Prussian instinct for tidiness and order that suggested the answer to that question. He replied with another question: the quack quack question. What is it that looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck? SSPX behave and talk like schismatics, so ...
But here is the problem. Vatican praxis has consistently refused to consider adherents of SSPX as having set themselves outside the Church Militant. True, its bishops automatically incurred excommunication by the mere fact of accepting episcopal consecration sine mandato Apostolico. True, its priests have been suspended a divinis from the moment of their ordination. They lack jurisdiction for those sacraments that, for validity, require it, such as Penance and Matrimony. But - and this, frankly, surprised me as much as it did the admirable Fr Zed - PCED, in allowing that the Sunday Precept may be fulfilled by attendance at a SSPX Mass, has refused to condemn those who do so out of affection for the Old Rite, reserving its censure for any who do so out of a schismatic temperament; that is, out of a desire to reject the communio and teaching of the Sovereign Pontiff; out of a desire 'to adhere to schism'.
It is easy enough to see pragmatic reasons for the Vatican's disinclination to wave the S-word around. It would harden attitudes rather than encouraging reconciliation. And pastoral solicitude dislikes the idea of of a supra-logical rigidity which places souls for whom Christ died in a state of exclusion from his Church and of mortal sin. So - to put it crudely - the situation has been fudged. But was there ever such a fudge? Not often, surely; not often has a group that adheres to excommunicated bishops and leads its ecclesial life in explicit contravention of the jurisdiction of of the Visible Church been treated as anything other than a schismatic sect - whether its orders were valid or not. Fr Zed is dead right about the peculiarity of this.
I am not by profession a dogmatic theologian, but another element in all this that strikes me as novel is the weight and emphasis that is placed on the individual dispositions of the individual Christian; whether they incur canonical penalties for attending a SSPX Mass depends on their interior disposition in each case. Normally, if someone adheres to, let us say, the Copts, or the Anglicans, or the Methodists, or the Orthodox, the mere fact of such actual adherence is taken to mean that they are not in full canonical communion with the Holy See. I, as an Anglican, am treated as an Anglican if I behave like an Anglican. But the methodology used with regard to SSPX would suggest that if I attend Anglican worship simply because I like the ethos of the Anglican tradition, I do not exclude myself from Catholic Unity. I would only do this if my reason for attending Anglican worship were a desire to demonstrate my rejection of the teaching and authority of the Successor of S Peter. Which, in the case of (at least) very many Anglicans, is not so. It certainly isn't in the case of myself and my congregation. In my own case, when I was sixteen I joined an Anglican society which requires explicit and formal and witnessed subscription to the decrees of all the ecumenical councils up to and including Vatican I (with its definition of papal primacy and infallibility). With regard to *****, a Venetian lady in my congregation, she finds our baroque liturgy at S Thomas's much more congenial than what she could find elsewhere. With regard to ... but I can hardly go through my entire congregation. Suffice it to say that, at every Mass, the Holy Father is named, together with antistite nostro N where N is a bishop whose views on the urgency of being in peace and full communion with the Apostolic See coincide with my own.
I feel that precedents have been set by the treatment of SSPX (yes, I do realise that, among differences between the position of papalist Anglicans and that of the SSPX is the tricky little problem of Orders, but I don't think that goes to the heart of the matter). There is an irony here, of course. SSPX condemns the 'ecumenism' of the 'Conciliar Church'. But it has itself been a beneficiary of that 'ecumenism'. Would Pius XII have left unexcommunicated a body like SSPX which adhered (formally and sacramentally in the case of its clergy) to excommunicated bishops?