27 February 2014


In the relationship between the Holy See and the SSPX, there is one enormous fundamental problem, which is so obvious that few people mention it. As a member of an Ordinariate, Benedict XVI's other and successful ecumenical endeavour, I have a natural interest in this question and pray for its resolution. That is the locus standi from which I ask the following question.

SSPX and the Vatican ... is this a matter of Ecumenism or of Church Discipline? Is the SSPX a group of beloved Separated Brethren with whom we Catholics should, in accordance with the mandate of Vatican II, strain every sinew to secure unity ... because, with their immensely rich spirituality, they have so much to offer the Catholic Church; or is it merely a portion of the Latin Church in an irregular canonical situation which needs to be thoroughly bashed around the head, like the Franciscans of the Immaculate, until it abjectly grovels?

Both the Holy See and the SSPX in effect conspire to ensure that the second model applies; Rome, because of her natural inclination to exercise control over the Latin Church; the SSPX, because it believes itself to be, not only part of the Latin Church, but even its only truly healthy and doctrinally sound part.

But what if Rome, at least, were to try the first model? Suppose they were to treat the 'problems' which the SSPX has with Vatican II in the same way that Rome treats the 'problems' of the 'Nestorians' or 'Monophysites'? With them, Rome is happy to the point of euphoria about securing Christological agreements, without demanding explicit acceptance of Ephesus or Chalcedon. Or take the Anglicans, who, without accepting the actual words of Trent, were told by dicasteries including the CDF that the last document ('Clarifications') in the Eucharistic section of the ARCIC process meant that 'no further work' was necessary on that matter? Or, to put it differently: If the only obstacle between Rome and the Russian and Greek Churches were Dignitatis humanae, would Rome really insist that no further progress would be possible without explicit submission by the Orthodox both to that Conciliar document and to 'the entire post-Conciliar Magisterium'?

(Come to think of it, given the affection  Greek and Russian hierarchs have for the concept of the Orthodox State, Byzantium redivivum, that last little fantasy of mine is a not-so-totally-inconceivable scenario. Have you read about the latest proposed change to the Russian constitution? Might it be amusing to get the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity to ask the venerable communities of the Holy Mountain to produce a doctrinal commentary on Dignitatis humanae which could then be the basis for dialogue between the Vatican and the SSPX?)

The Curial bureaucrats, then, are trying both to have their cake and to eat it. When it suits them, they will treat SSPX as disobedient subjects rather than as Separated Brethren. But when the exigencies of the polemics require it, as they did towards the end of last year, they talk about the SSPX as being in schism, or even being in some imprecise sense excommunicate. But they would do well to think carefully about the implications of such assessments for the status of the dialogue. Because if members of SSPX are excommunicate schismatics, then they qualify for the treatment which Unitatis redintegratio prescribed for Separated Brethren*.

Or, to put the same point (again) differently: Is it really Vatican policy to wait a millennium or half a millennium for Time to solidify and make ever more bitter the break between Rome and the SSPX, and, once the breach is sufficiently long-term, acrimonious, and definitive, then finally, but only then, to move on to all the sentimental and cuddly rituals of the Open-Arms Dear-Sister-Churches part of the ecumenical process? I know there is an old saw about Rome thinking in terms of centuries ... but can that really be the plan?

Is there a plan?

To be concluded.
*There is also a pastoral and canonical aspect to this. Anti-SSPX writers commonly assert that SSPX marriages are invalid. But if SSPX is outside the Church, then they are as valid as Methodist or Lutheran marriages. And absolutions are as valid as Vatican praxis deems Orthodox absolutions to be. Wouldn't it, anyway, be an admirable pastoral gesture in Unity Week for Rome to concede jurisdiction in these matters to SSPX priests and issue a sanatio of all previous SSPX marriages?  It would have same bigness, the same generosity, as the remission of the excommunications by Benedict XVI.


Woody said...

Dear Father,

As I recall it, the late great professor Frederick Wilhelmsen anticipated your thinking in a fashion. In the mid 1990s, he wrote very interesting articles for the Angelus, the SSPX magazine. He himself was an attendee at the local Dallas indult Mass, later the FSSP Mass offered there. When asked by a friend why he wrote for The Angelus (I forget whether there was the usual "those schismatics" added by his interlocutor), he replied to the effect that usually ecumenism is thought as trending leftward, but he was doing ecumenism to the Right. I have this on the authority of his daughter, Prof. Alexandra Wilhelmsen, to whom Imam most grateful.

Woody said...

A further thought, to add to what will no doubt be a large set of comments, as always is the case with mention of the Society. Part of the problem may stem from the Society's own stated position,that they are fully part of the Church, but in an irregular situation. If memory serves, a letter from Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy in the mid 1990's specifically said that relations with them were not a matter of ecumenism but a matter of internal Church relations, evidently thereby accepting their continued membership. Nevertheless, I completely agree with your thoughts here. Also, one might ask,,could not the papers from the last discussions now be published for all of us to read and perhaps to be edified?

olovemj said...

Dear Father

As a person who attends SSPX Masses in preference to the Extraordinary Masses offered by the Concilar churches in the UK. I would like to state from the outset that I do not get involved with SSPX politics. I go to Mass and I leave shortly afterwardsand do not get engrossed with the issues of the day. Why do I attend SSPX masses - simply because I want to attend the TRUE Mass not a man made concoction that puts man first and God second. Why do i want to go to a "Mass" which was written by and to please non-Catholic's and every indication to the Mass being a Sacrifice was removed? I go to SSPX Masses as want to hear orthodox and true teachings of the Church in a sermon, not the garbled rubbish that is preached today. When was the last time a conciliar priest referred to a person being a Catholic? No, he can't say that it has to be "Christian". When was the last time he mentioned the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? No, he cant say that either, he has to say "The Eucharist". Why should I go to an Old Rite Mass in a parish and be forced to take Holy Communion from a Novous mass?

That said, Are SSPX Masses valid - Yes, Do you fulfil your Sunday Obligation attending them, Yes. Are marraiges valid, Yes and are Confessions valid, again yes. God forbid that i have to go to "reconciliation" at my local church! Have I been to non-SSPX priests to Confession - yes - and with the exception of one order of priests - 99% of those who i went to confession to, were, to put it mildly, absioolutely useless.

Pope Benedict was not the ogre he had been labelled when a cardinal. He was the only Pope who had the conviction to state publicly that all Popes knew from Paul VI to today, that the Tridentine Mass had never been forbidden. His solution of having the 2 rites running concurrently was not a new idea. He proposed a similar solution to Archbishop Lefebvre back in 1988 when Pope John Paul tried unsucessfully to make a pact with SSPX. Pope Benedict introduced dignity back into the Mass (albeit the EF)but the current Pontiff wiped all this out within 2 weeks of being elected. We are now back to 1970's liturgy - that is Francis' aim. We have a Pope who now doesnt even genuflect before the elevation and i know may priests who struggloe to genuflect and do so. And what has happenned, any form of tradional practices have been wiped out. Any Prelate with traditional leanings removed (eg Cardinal Burke) any order saying Old mass - stopped (Franciscans of Mary Immaculate) and lo and behold the great 1970's liturgical Archbishop of Westminster now elevated to cardinal and to the College of Bishops in order to maintain any new prelate for this contry is firmly rooted in 1970's tradition and wont rock the boat in the "Magic Circle". Wont be long now before the Apostolic Nuncio in Great Britain is replaced, no doubt by a happy clappy 1970's supporter - Hellalujah!

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. The factor of time ought not be neglected.

The other material schismatics you noted were born and bred in their Christian Communities and in no way can be thought culpable for their not being in full communion with the local Bishop and Pope.

The same can not be claimed for the SSPX.

Now, our Holy Father Benedict XVI reached out to them to the point were some considered it a fault and others considered it a sham intended to further splinter the SSPX; recall the SSPX splintered into the SSPV with, perhaps, the SSP2.5 to follow.

The fact is that what Mons Lefebvre agreed to in the 1988 protocol (he was for it before he was against it) was realised by the FSSP and such an arrangement is still available to the SSPX if it can grow in humility and shrink in haughtiness.

But the SSPX desires to publicly oppose the Magisterium while at the same time claiming it represents Tradition.

And that is a no-go for any Magisterium worthy of the name.

Sadly, the SSPX Schism has annealed to the point where there is a better chance the next Pope elected will be a Japanese woman named, Midori, before there will be end to the schism.

The SSPX would be willing to go to Rome to accept the surrender of the Magisterium but it will not go to Rome to submit to a Magisterium it thinks heretical and itself in schism.

Of course, the praxis of the SSPX is a unmistakable confession that there is absolute truth in the axiom - schism is proximate to heresy - owing to the reality that the praxis of the sspx is completely contrary to the dogmas of Vatican One.

As a faithful member of the Confraternity of the FSSP it prolly seems that my ideas about the SSPX are a natural consequence of my being a Confraternity member whereas the fact is I am a member of the Confraternity because of the praxis and beliefs of the SSPX.

O, and, yes, I do pray for a resolution of the schism.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear olovemj

Here is some very wise counsel from Pope Benedict XV;

22. The success of every society of men, for whatever purpose it is formed, is bound up with the harmony of the members in the interests of the common cause. Hence We must devote Our earnest endeavours to appease dissension and strife, of whatever character, amongst Catholics, and to prevent new dissensions arising, so that there may be unity of ideas and of action amongst all. The enemies of God and of the Church are perfectly well aware that any internal quarrel amongst Catholics is a real victory for them. Hence it is their usual practice when they see Catholics strongly united, to endeavour by cleverly sowing the seeds of discord, to break up that union. And would that the result had not frequently justified their hopes, to the great detriment of the interests of religion! Hence, therefore, whenever legitimate authority has once given a clear command, let no one transgress that command, because it does not happen to commend itself to him; but let each one subject his own opinion to the authority of him who is his superior, and obey him as a matter of conscience. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.

23. As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline-in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See- there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Hey, IANS, what religion are you?

Christian Catholic.

I am a Christian who follows Jesus in the Catholic Church He established.

What could be a truer or more beautiful answer to that question?

Jacobi said...

The SSPX are not in schism and their orders are valid. They practise the Mass of John XXIII, a valid and indeed mandatory form, as per Quo Primum, and so are liturgically Catholic.

The problem is that the SSPX misunderstand aspects of the Vatican II documents - not difficult to do - and the post-Vatican II Church, or at least many in it, for their own indiscernible reasons, misunderstand the SSPX.

Both are wrong. Vatican II in no way changed the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and since the SSPX doctrinal position is pre-Vatican II, then they are in complete doctrinal orthodoxy. There is no reason for “canonical separation” whatever that is, and no problem other than touchy feelings on both sides. Therefore, heads need to be banged together.

The real scandal is that “within” today’s Church where heterodoxy is rife, open, and defiant, there are many bishops, clergy, not to mention hordes of laity, who are openly heretical, and so incidentally, schismatic and therefore implicitly excommunicate, and nothing is done about it.

Sadly Father, there is no plan, other than perhaps on the part of some, to keep the poor old SSPX out of the Church?

Anonymous said...

The accusation of ambiguity works in both directions. SSPX are masters of the mixed signal. Sometimes they behave like dissenting Catholics. Sometimes they behave like schismatics. So, I'm not sure why you expect Rome to do.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dec 23, 2013

The leaders of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) are in schism, and remain suspended from the sacraments, says the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Archbishop Gerhard Müller said that although Pope Benedict XVI lifted the canonical excommunication of SSPX prelates, they remain suspended from the sacraments because “by their schism they have broken away from communion with the Church.”

Archbishop Müller said that while talks with the SSPX have reach an impasse, the Vatican will not close the door to reconciliation. However, he said, a restoration of full communion would require the SSPX to accept the authority of the Church and of the Pope.

Anonymous said...

Dear olovemj,

You said : ''Why should I go to an Old Rite Mass in a parish and be forced to take Holy Communion from a Novous mass?''

This leaves me rather perplexed. If you go to a traditional Latin mass (diocesan or Ecclesia Dei), why would the Body and Blood of Christ be novus ordo, especially since it is celebrated in the same way as the SSPX (i.e. 1962 missal)?

Romanitas Press said...


This extract from a recent commentary concerning Archbishop Mueller's comments about the SSPX might resolve the matter for you:

Thus, in a letter dated May 3, 1994, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, replied to a foreign correspondent:

As far as your question is concerned, I would like to point out immediately that the Dicastery for ecumenism is not concerned with the Society of St. Pius X. The situation of the members of that Society is an internal affair of the Catholic Church. The Society of St. Pius X is not another Church or Ecclesial Community in the sense that this Dicastery uses those terms. Certainly, the Mass and the sacraments administered by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are valid.

The full piece is here: http://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/commentary-mueller-statement-3099.

gopal said...

You don't have a clear understanding of "Magisterium".

olovemj said...

Dear notionromaines

Apologies for not making myself clear. When the old rite is celebrated in a normal parish church it is very rare for a priest to consecrate Hosts for the faithful . At Holy Communion the celebrant will get a ciborium out of the tabernacle which has been consecrated at a previous Novus Ordo mass. If you want to receive Holy Communion at such old Masses then you are forced to receive Holy Communion where Hosts have been consecrated at a Novus Mass.

Unknown said...

This is in reply to "olovemj said...

Dear notionromaines

Apologies for not making myself clear. When the old rite is celebrated in a normal parish church it is very rare for a priest to consecrate Hosts for the faithful . At Holy Communion the celebrant will get a ciborium out of the tabernacle which has been consecrated at a previous Novus Ordo mass. If you want to receive Holy Communion at such old Masses then you are forced to receive Holy Communion where Hosts have been consecrated at a Novus Mass." I had wanted to post this as only a reply, but when I signed in, it would let me reply! -- So, what I wanted to say was, "WOW! -- I had never thought of that. -- Thanks. :)

StWinefride said...

Dear notionromaines you say: "At Holy Communion the celebrant will get a ciborium out of the tabernacle which has been consecrated at a previous Novus Ordo mass."

This has always bothered me and moreover, Sacrosanctum Concilium No.55 says this:

55. That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest's communion, receive the Lord's body from the same sacrifice, is strongly commended.

Athelstane said...

If you want to receive Holy Communion at such old Masses then you are forced to receive Holy Communion where Hosts have been consecrated at a Novus Mass.

Is the concern that these might not have been consecrated properly (due to abuses), or that it's impossible for an N.O. consecration to confect the Eucharist?

One caveat: It should be noted that this issue would not come up in a personal parish exclusively devoted to the traditional sacraments, such as those given to the FSSP and Institute of Christ the King. There are about 30 of those in the U.S. now.

Romanitas Press said...

Thanks for addressing this issue, but an important clarification is needed: the SSPX neither declares or regards itself as "...[the Church's] only truly healthy and doctrinally sound part".

Catholic Mission said...

Cardinal Muller. Archbishop Di Noia and Father Angelo Geiger F.I want the SSPX to accept the common heresy