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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pope Francis and the SSPX: Who's On First? Featured

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whos on first
Some points on yesterday’s bombshell letter from Pope Francis validating SSPX confessions:

o   First we were told the SSPX bishops were excommunicated and in schism, and their priests suspended and in schism.

o   Then were told the bishops were no longer excommunicated, but still in schism—or kind of in schism—while the priests were suspended and in schism, or kind of.

o   Then we were told that neither the bishops nor the priests were in schism, but only “lacking full communion,” with “no canonical mission in the Church.” The priests, however, are still suspended.


o   And now, with the September 1st decree, Francis “establishes” that the bishops and the priests are authorized to absolve the sins of all the faithful who approach them, anywhere in the world, which seems to be “a canonical mission in the Church.”

o   Yet the priests are still suspended. Or are they, seeing that they can validly hear confessions, grant absolution and thereby exercise a canonical mission?

o   But the bishops and priests can validly hear confessions for only for one year, beginning on December 8—not December 7, mind you.

o   Then, after the year is up, their temporary canonical mission would apparently end, and the suspended priests would be suspended again.

o   And the bishops and priests still lack “full communion,” although “in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion…”

o   Then again, maybe not. The SSPX will just have to wait to hear whether they have “recovered full communion”—probably in the press, where they heard about the September 1st decree.

In the immortal words of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre after Bugnini told him “we can always add something” to what seemed to be a strangely abbreviated new liturgy: “Is this for real?”

Now, to be serious. Francis has just regularized the Society of Saint Pius X by unilateral decree. That’s right: regularized. Why? Because he has granted its clergy universal power to administer the Sacrament of Confession with no grant of faculties from any local ordinary. Does anyone seriously think that on the day before the Year of Mercy ends, Francis or any Vatican official will direct the SSPX clergy to cease absolving sins at 12:01 am on the next day? That isn’t going to happen. It would be the very sort of Pharisaical legalism Francis is constantly condemning.   No, something else is going happen: at the very least, the arrangement for confessions will be made permanent. Any other outcome would be too absurd even for the continuously degenerating farce that is the governance of the Church since Vatican II.

Moreover, the decree implicitly regularizes attendance at SSPX Masses, for it can hardly be the case that it will be licit for the faithful to go to Confession at an SSPX chapel but illicit to stay for the Mass, or that one could do both licitly, but only for a year. Are we supposed to believe that the same priests who, according to this decree, can validly and licitly absolve sins during the Year of Mercy can only validly, but not licitly, celebrate Mass at the same time and in the same place? That kind of hairsplitting would make even the Pharisees laugh.

And what of the suspension a divinis that supposedly affects all of the SSPX priests? Are we to infer that Francis has lifted the suspension for one year, but only as to the Sacrament of Confession, not the administration of the other sacraments? And then the “full” suspension will kick in again at 12:01 am on December 8, 2016? When in the history of the Church has there even been a partial suspension of a priest’s suspension, but only for a year? Utter nonsense.

And here’s another thing: the marriages performed by SSPX clergy are likewise implicitly recognized as valid by this decree. Or would the hounds of the Society now suggest that Francis has authorized the absolution of hundreds of thousands of people living continuously out of wedlock? A stealthy implementation of “the Kasper proposal,” perhaps? I don’t think so. Francis simply doesn’t believe the marriages are invalid. Neither does the Vatican, which has never said they are but rather treats them as presumptively valid in annulment proceedings coming to the Vatican on appeal by the party opposing annulment. They just can’t tell us that.

Francis has disregarded all the canonical nits and nats because, in this case, his freewheeling approach to the Petrine office and his aversion to “small-minded rules” happens to have hit upon a good result, like someone wildly firing a shotgun who manages to hit a clay pigeon. For Francis, as we have seen, feelings and personal relationships are of paramount importance, and it appears that because he had good feelings and good relations with the SSPX as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he has decided to do something good for them now. In a lengthy piece on Francis in National Geographic, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi drew a contrast between Benedict and Francis in this regard:

It was incredible. Benedict was so clear. He would say, “We have spoken about these things, I agree with these points, I would argue against these other points, the objective of our next meeting will be this”—two minutes and I’m totally clear about what the contents were. With Francis—“This is a wise man; he has had these interesting experiences.”

…. Diplomacy for Francis is not so much about strategy but instead, “I have met this person, we now have a personal relation, let us now do good for the people and for the church.”

The result of Francis’s emotional and personalist approach to being Pope has, as we have seen, been one scandal after another: off-the-cuff bombshells undermining doctrine and discipline, impetuous breaks with liturgical tradition and ancient protocols, endless public displays of humility, begging Protestant ministers to bless him, telephonic permission to receive Holy Communion to a pleading woman living in adultery, hugs at the Vatican for a transsexual, and so on. In this case, however, a man governed by feeling just feels the SSPX clergy are good Catholics—which happens to be the objective truth—and so he is simply treating them as what they are without regard to the smothering formalism hitherto applied only to them. But only for a year? And then back to the dungeon? Really? That simply cannot be the way this is going to play out.

Is Francis somehow trying to trick the Society, laying a honey trap to tempt them into infidelity to their defense of Tradition?   Some think so, noting that Francis has displayed great political cunning along with his emotionalism. And indeed he exhibits the classic style of an Argentine politician. But my answer to that objection is: So what? Many thought the erection of the Fraternity of Saint Peter was a trap designed to lure away SSPX adherents and destroy the Society, after which the trapdoor would be shut and all the captured traditionalists would be marched, chain gang-style, to the Novus Ordo Correctional Center.

That might have been the human plan, but it never happened that way. The Holy Ghost converted the trap into one of the foundation stones of what is now largely a youth movement for liturgical restoration wherein large families observant of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals represent the brightest hope for the Church’s future. At the same time, the Society continued to grow alongside the Fraternity, providing another foundation stone for the restoration. Thus the Holy Ghost employed the enemies of Tradition to help keep it alive: “He that diggeth a pit, shall fall into it: and he that rolleth a stone, it shall return to him (Proverbs 26:27).”

This is not to say that we should simply pray and let God do everything, as the neo-Catholic ideologues will now cynically declare in righteous tones: “See, if you had just trusted in the Church, you would have known that the Holy Ghost would prompt the Pope to do the right thing.” Ideologues that they are, they can be expected to hail as a wonderful sign from heaven any and call concessions to the same society of traditionalist priests they were cursing and hurling into outer darkness the day before. But we know better: God works through human instruments. The enemies of Tradition have done their part, however inadvertently, and we have done ours, and must continue to do it.

As for those who are still squawking “Schism!” in the face of this development: Oh shut up, will you? Go away. Find somebody else to revile. You are pathetic. Popes do not grant schismatics universal power to absolve the sins of the Catholic faithful. And if the SSPX really were schismatic, Francis would have no jurisdiction over them, Rome would view all their sacraments as valid and licit anyway, as it does those of the Orthodox churches, and the September 1st decree would therefore be utterly nugatory. If the decree has any meaning, the SSPX cannot possibly be in schism. Case closed. Stop talking, all you schism theorists. No one is listening any more. Buh-bye!

Now, the September 1st decree acknowledges the “good faith and sacramental practice” of the SSPX lay faithful, but states that their practice of the Faith is “combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint.” But the only reason their situation is “uneasy”—not schismatic, for heaven’s sake—is that the Vatican has steadfastly refused to remove that uneasiness by clarifying the Society’s canonical status once and for all.

It’s long past time to deliver the SSPX from a canonical limbo created just for them. As I wrote here back in April, after Francis’s old friend and successor as Bishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, erected the SSPX as a society of diocesan right (meaning part of the Catholic Church):

the “lack of full communion” attributed to the Society of Saint Pius X, even though its clergy and laity are obviously Catholics under no sentence of excommunication, is nothing but an ad hoc contrivance designed to perpetuate the unjust persecution of this group of the faithful by creating a rather silly special category of “double secret probation” in the Church applicable only to them. I have also argued that the mere issuance of a technical decree regularizing the Society’s canonical status is all that is necessary to eliminate the illusory “lack of full communion.”

Well, Pope Francis has just issued such a technical decree. Merely by saying so, he has regularized the Sacrament of Confession in the SSPX, and he could just as easily have regularized the Society in toto. As Bishop Schneider said after his Vatican-authorized visitations of the SSPX seminaries, in remarks that a certain Internet anchorman, broadcasting from a certain warehouse in Detroit, tried desperately to explain away:

To my knowledge there are no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition, meanwhile they should be accepted as they are. This was indeed Archbishop Lefebvre’s petition to the Holy See: “Accept us as we are”.

Let us hope and pray Francis accepts them as they are by explicitly granting canonical recognition. All the way. No more ridiculous hairsplitting and thumping on the canon law books. After all, Francis seems inclined to accept everybody else as they are. In the designs of providence, that may be all that is needed to bring an end at last to the maddening drip, drip, drip of the canonical Chinese water torture to which the Society of Saint Pius X—alone in the entire history of the Catholic Church—has been subjected.

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Last modified on Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Christopher A. Ferrara

Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer.  Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.