19 March 2015

SSPX and Unity

As a beneficiary of blessed Benedict XVI's ecumenical goodwill, an Ordinariate Catholic naturally prays that the SSPX communities, to whom Benedict also reached out, might also receive the same joys and the same benefits as we received. I hope that the SSPX will soon have a canonical status which will protect its distinctive charism as an authentic part of the Latin Church. I write this on the Feast of S Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, a day this year made that bit less joyful by Bishop Williamson's sad if characteristic decision to create a new schism and himself to become a non-Catholic by incurring excommunication latae sententiae and conferring that same excommunication, with his own two hands, upon his consecrand. But let us today consider the SSPX itself, which so wisely dissociated itself from this Wyccamical eccentric.

Nothing is gained by the present situation between the SSPX and the 'mainstream' Church. Absolutions are given and Marriages solemnised which are of doubtful (or if you prefer it, doubted) validity. Who gains from maintaining that situation? If some piece of canonical ingenuity, without necessarilly granting full faculties to SSPX clergy, were at least to eliminate this particular pastoral anomaly, who would be the loser? Would a shepherd who achieved this end not smell of his sheep? Would this not be Merciful? Is the SSPX not a Periphery as deserving to be reached as any other?

The SSPX can currently set up a Mission in an area where the local bishop may have well-founded reasons for prefering this not to happen. But because of the present situation, there is nothing he can do to prevent it. Paradoxically, the Society, because it is deemed to be canonically non-existent, actually has complete freedom of action! So how does the bishop gain from this situation? Similarly, I know a town, not within these Three Kingdoms, with a well-established SSPX presence where, after Summorum Pontificum, the local bishop started up an EF Mass at exactly the same time  as the SSPX Mass, thereby denying traditionally inclined laity the pastoral flexibility of two different Mass-times. The SSPX has no redress against such obvious, and childish, 'spoiling' tactics clearly designed to hamper, wound, and divide its pastoral mission.

Nobody apart from the Evil One gains from the present stand-off. If I'm wrong, tell me who does.

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus has a number of provisions to the effect that an Ordinary of an Ordinariate can do X or Y or Z "after consulting with the territorial bishop"; or "after hearing the views of the Episcopal Conference". This gives an Ordinary the right to do these things without consent, but gives him a powerful incentive to act collaboratively. Likewise, the bishop or the conference may be the more likely to act reasonably because they know that their failure to do so could lead to unilateral action by the Ordinary.

Isn't this exactly the sort of arrangement which would enable the SSPX and the 'mainstream' Church to grow in trust? To move gently, perhaps through some intermediate stages, to full integration? Wouldn't  this make it easier for the SSPX to move gradually and consensually without abrupt moments which might precipitate schism among those of its members who, because of past wounds, find trust the more difficult?

Who would lose?

In the present situation, the SSPX has no input into Episcopal Conferences, or the Synods in Rome ... so who, except 'liberals', gains from this muting of the witness of the SSPX? Certainly not the 'traditionalist cause' in the Church.

If it ceased to be irregular for a would-be seminarian to choose a SSPX seminary, might not 'mainstream' seminaries be incentivised to bring the Formation they offer more into line with what Canon Law and Veterum Sapientia require? Market forces! Might the more bullying of the staff in 'liberal' seminaries be less inclined to 'sack' a seminarian with traditional instincts if they knew he could knock on another door, and be welcomed?

Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican seminaries have traditionally done 'exchanges'. Who loses if SSPX seminaries join in? Which part of Unitatis redintegratio encourages the warmest sentiments between Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox but demands that Western Catholic groups which have slipped into a canonically anomalous state have got to be kept at arm's length and treated like naughty schoolboys who deserve only relentless discipline until they abase themselves sufficiently low?

In France and England, there are hundreds of little used churches and empty presbyteries. Who would lose if the SSPX had a free hand to hoover the cobwebs out of some of them?


Woody said...

Being a dummy myself, and lacking immediate access to the Navarra commentary on the Code of Canon Law, I found this link, which explains more clearly the current understanding of the status of the excommunicated person: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/catholicism-excommunication-and-other-penalties.html

All the best and keep up the good work, Father.

Woody said...

It just seems to me that as easy as it sounds to do what you suggest, the hierarchy do not want such a Traditionalist group of priests within the walls of the Church. Such orders do not help with the progression of modernism. And the SSPX are right up front of how they feel towards the recent past and current situation in the Church. No, they must be kept out because they do not go forward.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thank you so much for this, Father. I do not attend an SSPX parish, but have great sympathy for them. I have no doubt they love the Church as much or more than many priests. When one considers how many dissenting priests, even those who openly shake their fists at Rome, remain in good standing, it is incomprehensible to see the draconian treatment of the SSPX. I pray that your kind and sensible voice is heard. God bless you!

Gadfly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gadfly said...

I suppose your question was rhetorical, but an answer to "who loses" is warranted it is those who have invested in the Blessed John XXIII's policy of "Ostpolitik" and don't want to admit they made a bad investment. - Roratae Coeli have summed up the folly of such an attitude in a recent post: http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/the-ralliement-of-leo-xiii-pastoral.html?m=1

John Patrick said...

This makes perfect sense. Unfortunately I don't see this happening. The leaders in the Church do not seem to be able to act rationally when it comes to issues like this, even when it would be in their interests to be pragmatic and go against their ideology. For example insisting on altar girls even though they know vocations primarily come through service at the altar while bemoaning the lack of vocations.

Anonymous said...

Rome did not offer Bishop Fellay the Status of an Ordinariate for the FSSPX, but only a personal prelature - and certainly is knowing well, why: personal prelatures according to Can. 297 need consent (not just consulting) of the local diocesan bishops for exercising any "pastoral or missionary activity". And for what reason should a modernist local bishop change his mind and allow the FSSPX to start or to continue activities which he simply does not want in his diocese?

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Woody ... hello! ... but there is no question of excommunications resting on the SSPX or its lay associates. Not since Benedict XVI decided to remove that complication.

Athelstane said...


It wasn't the nature of the canonical structure offered that brought the negotiations to a standstill. It was the preamble.

Dave Heath said...

Thank you for your excellent and balanced commentary, Father. Hopefully, the tectonic plates that currently keep the SSPX and Rome askew will become joined once again - to the mutual enrichment of not only the SSPX and Rome, but of Catholicism as well.

Childermass said...

In my archdiocese (whose archbishop is part of Francis's inner circle), the FSSP and ICKSP are banned for being too "divisive" but the local Franciscan friars (to mention only one example) openly participate in the annual 'Gay Pride' celebration.

Our dear muddle-headed bishops don't realise that the best way to neutralise the hated SSPX is to create an environment in their dioceses where they aren't necessary. In the meantime, they will continue to grow.

B flat said...

Dear Father, you are both great hearted, and eirenic in your suggestions. As always, also very reasonable and persuasive in your observations and suggestions. You ask: "Who would lose?"

In semitic fashion, I respond to your rhetorical question:
Would not the SSPX as a religious society be subject, in some measure, to the same dicastery which oversees the reformation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate?
What would preserve them from the bracing, if fatal, experience of an Apostolic Commissioner, with all attendant measures deemed necessary to bring them into line with the spirit blowing through the Church?

Anita Moore said...

Here is a naive question: is there anything preventing a local bishop from just simply granting faculties to the SSPX priests within his territory?

Unknown said...

It has taken over 50 years to unravel the Catholic church, and bring her to her current crisis. The crisis is not ended as of yet. If the main body of the church decided to amend its difficulties, to stave off becoming worldly like, it make take a least another 50 years, or in short a devastating War to make amends. Simply put, if the main body can't fix itself, why bother the effort to changes those who have never changed?

Adrian said...

Presumably the way back into communion with the Holy See is exactly the same for these schismatics as it has been for any others throughout the history of the Church.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Even their bishops are no lomger excommunicate: how can those who go to their chapels be schismatics? Are you sure you've got this right? I mean, 'right' in terms of Canon Law?

But assuming you have, OK, fair enough ... and could you remind us what "the way back" was for the Melkites, the Ukrainians?

And, incidentally, if they are schismatics, can you deny that all our 'partners in ecumenical dialogue' are also schismatics? Can you think of a good reason, in Canon Law, why SSPX should be called Schismatics while Calvinists and the Salvation Army don't have their noses rubbed in the S-word?

Unknown said...

"..why SSPX should be called Schismatics while Calvinists and the Salvation Army don't have their noses rubbed in the S-word?"
Because God has sent the world a strong delusion, or if you prefer Douay-Rheims, the operation of error. 2 Thess: 11-12. The more I study, the more appalled I am by heresy under our noses for decades that people don't notice because they do not love truth, do not seek truth, and want to believe lies even when you demonstrate the lie.

Adrian said...

With all due respect, the Melkites and the Salvation Army are a red herring. The SSPX are people who have of their own volition and fully aware of what they were doing separated themselves from the Holy See by the deliberate action of performing illict ordinations or associating themselves with those who have done so. Cardinal Müller as Prefect of the CDF and President of Ecclesia Dei stated categorically that the leaders of SSPX are in schism (22nd December 2013), but indicated that the 'door was open' for their return if they accepted the doctrinal preamble that was presented to the society in 2012. I believe that this is still the case.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

People should be wary of dilemmas which can have very sharp horns. If SSPX are Separated Brethren, they should be treated as Vatican II suggested SB should be treated. If they are not Separated Brethren, they are not ... separated. Or is their some crafty category of people who are neither Separated nor Unseparated?

Fr John Hunwicke said...


Wine in the Water said...

I don't think there is really any doubt from canon law. Confirmations performed by clergy without faculties and weddings witnessed by clergy without faculties are invalid. Confessions heard by clergy without faculties, except in case of danger of death, are valid but illicit.

SSPX clergy are validly ordained, but they have no faculties (their bishops are also validly ordained, but hold no jurisdiction, so they cannot grant faculties), so the conclusion seems pretty clear.

But to answer your question, there is one group that benefits from the current situation: the SSPX. Disenchanted Catholics are a solid demographic. In the current situation, they can continue to put themselves forward as "Catholic without the heterodoxy of your average parish," while still appealing to the sections of the farther fringe. If they come into full union with Rome, they lose the fringe but are unlikely to gain any more of the disaffected.

Ambiguity is their friend, and their behavior during the doctrinal discussions reveals their commitment to it.

Anonymous said...


You are incorrect that Cardinal Mueller "definitely stated" that the SSPX is in schism.

He said there was a "de facto schism" - this in fact is a meaningless term, which has no standing in canon law. It is typical of the vague and meaningless terms certain prelates use to attempt to undermine the SSPX.

Another example of this is the term "full communion" - another meaningless term. One is either in communion or one is not. There is no partial communion.

I prefer to go with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos - then head of the Ecclesia Dei commission - when he said 5 times in a single interview that the SSPX is not schismatic.

it could not be any clearer, after all the SSPX was his remit.

Additionally, the Ecclesia Dei commission - over 10 years ago now -clarified that one can fulfill ones obligation to hear mass at SSPX Churches.

And why did Benedict XVI rescind the SSPX Bishops excommunications, if they are schismatic?

Are we really meant to take this cheap gossip of schism seriously?

If you want to talk of schism, talk of the orthodox churches, the American LCWR or even the bishops conference of germany. All organisations who promote heresy and deny authority, and yet continue to enjoy good standing (or good relations) in the Church.

It can be seen that the Church authorities (sadly) have no credibility whatsoever in this regard.

The only "issue" with the SSPX is that the organisation has no canonical status and this is what ongoing talks are trying to resolve.

I attend an SSPX Church on Sundays. I realised that having a canonical recognition doesnt count for much these days. The majority of dissenting, fundamentally protestant sections of the Catholic Church all have bona fide canonical standings - so what does it really count for? Nothing.

Having credibility, substance and the Catholic faith - as the SSPX do - are all more important than having the approval of modernist prelates.

That Catholics sit back in silence and watch the destruction of Christs Church by errant shepherds and only burst into life when it comes to criticising faithful Catholics (like the SSPX) is one of the major and unmistakable signs of the crises and confusion which completely envelopes the Church in the modern era.

Matt said...

Father Hunwicke,

(Presuming that the following was all valid, as the Vatican and neo-Catholics maintain): The 1988 decree of excommunication explicitly declared excommunicate the six Bishops in question, but it also stated that "all those who formally adhere to the schism" are excommunicated. If that does not include SSPX members (i.e. clerics, they have no lay members) then pray tell who exactly does it include? And Benedict XVI did not lift any of those excommunications.

Bflat: As much as the SSPX enjoy self-styling as a religious society, they are no such thing. They are a pious union of secular priests, which is ecclesiastically about as far as you can get from a religious order.

Anita Moore: Nothing. It is not unheard of already.

Wine in the Water said...


“He said there was a "de facto schism" - this in fact is a meaningless term, which has no standing in canon law.”

It may be an imprecise term, but it certainly isn’t meaningless. It aligns quite well with the difference between material and formal schism. Canon Law clearly defines schism - in a way that is hard not to apply to the SSPX - while also laying out how the penalty for schism is different depending on the material/formal distinction well established in Catholic theology. The SSPX has been very careful to not enter into formal schism, but by even Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos description, they have entered into material schism.

There is a saying, “the nature of schism is schism.” One of the defining characteristics of every group that has gone into schism is that invariably schism has become their nature. You can see it very much among Protestantism, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Orthodoxy. Once they break away from Rome, they just continue to break away. And you can see it in the SSPX. From the breakaway of the SSPV, to the high incidence of departure of SSPX clergy either for Rome or for more formally schismatic groups. Many SSPX chapels have experienced a significant internal schism at some point.

“Another example of this is the term "full communion" - another meaningless term. One is either in communion or one is not. There is no partial communion. “

Not according to Catholic theology. The concept of full and partial or imperfect communion is clearly laid out in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio.

“Additionally, the Ecclesia Dei commission - over 10 years ago now -clarified that one can fulfill ones obligation to hear mass at SSPX Churches.”

That has no impact on whether or not they are in schism. Remember that the determination is based on the reality that masses said by SSPX clergy are valid, even if not licit, and therefore by nature meet the obligation to hear mass.

“And why did Benedict XVI rescind the SSPX Bishops excommunications, if they are schismatic?“

As an act of charity with the hope of reconciliation. The formal excommunications weren’t the only thing preventing union, and Pope Benedict made that clear when he lifted the excommunications. I also think personally think it was a strategic move. The SSPX used to spend a lot of time talking about how the excommunications were irregular and invalid. By removing them, Benedict effectively removed one of the main excuses for continued separation.

“If you want to talk of schism, talk of the orthodox churches, the American LCWR or even the bishops conference of germany. All organisations who promote heresy and deny authority, and yet continue to enjoy good standing (or good relations) in the Church.”

I actually agree with you quite strongly in a way here. I think that the Church’s position regarding the SSPX is quite valid, but I do wish that she would take similar action against other kinds of schismatics and even outright heretics.

But there is a difference between the SSPX and the other organizations that you mention that is very important. While they tend to embrace heresy or at least heterodoxy, very few of them accuse the Church herself of heresy. It is quite common within the SSPX to accuse the Popes since Pius XII or modernism (a heresy). Also, very few of those attack the sacramental life of the Church. It is quite common within the SSPX to regard normative masses said in most parishes as invalid. By attacking the orthodoxy and sacramental validity of the Church - and thus her very nature, lifeblood and existence - some members of the SSPX have taken their dissent to a level quite unlike “liberal” dissenters. This is an important difference.

Wine in the Water said...

Matthew Rose,

“but it also stated that "all those who formally adhere to the schism" are excommunicated. If that does not include SSPX members (i.e. clerics, they have no lay members) then pray tell who exactly does it include?”

The key here is “formally.” Formal vs material is a very important distinction in schism and heresy. Only those member of the Society whose schism was formal were excommunicated. So, this would have required some kind of formal or at least public act of positive schism. Perhaps some member of the Society had done that, but considering how careful the Society has been about never entering formal schism, I imagine that they are few if any.

But this isn’t surprising, canon law automatically excommunicates anyone who formally enters schism.