The SSPX and its Canonical Status

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Many times the Society of Saint Pius X has been complimented by Vatican officials like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Monsignor Athanasius Schneider, Bishop Robert Morlino and His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke.  However this does not necessarily  constitute for a consensus regarding the normalization of the SSPX.

For those not familiar with the SSPX, it was a priestly society founded by Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre and with the permission of Blessed Paul VI in 1970.  Things were rough however.  Monsignor Lefebvre disagreed with a few things the Second Vatican Council stated and was dissatisfied with some of the reforms to the Latin rite in addition to the theological and moral issues facing the Church of the time.  His concerns were sincere even if a bit exaggerated, especially on blaming the Council for these theological and moral problems, in addition to liturgical abuses which I will later explain.  Over the years things got worse and Lefebvre decided to consecrate four bishops without permission of Saint John Paul II even after he was warned not to, and canon law forbids the consecration of bishops without papal consent [1].  After the consecrations of Father Bernard Fellay, Father Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Father Richard Williamson and Father Alfonoso de Galarreta in Écône, Switzerland (June 30, 1988), Lefebvre and these bishops obtained a latae setentiae excommunication based on an act of schism as per canon law [2].

A few years ago, the excommunications were lifted by Benedict XVI.  However he maintained that this did not mean that the SSPX has been normalized.  He stated that “the doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry” [3].  This was said a few months after he wrote his letter about the lifting of the excommunications in which he already stated that as of now they “do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church” [4].  Unless the Vatican releases a document undoing this statement, one cannot presume that attending SSPX Masses fulfills your Sunday obligation except in certain dire situations as mentioned in canon law [5].

This is why even Bishop Morlino stated that “the SSPX’s marriages and absolutions are invalid because their priests lack the necessary faculties”.  He reportedly said to “have nothing to do with them” [6].  We must pray for the reconciliation of traditionalists not in good standing with the Holy See and that they may be reconciled with it.  I pray this whenever I pray the Holy Rosary.  Those involved with the SSPX are more Catholic than most of those not involved with the SSPX and their zeal and devotion should be admired as the bishop included.  It is sad to see such pious souls not having canonical status in the Church and for this reason we pray for them.  I believe that admitting the pros and cons on both sides is essential in patching up the wounds for reconciliation between the Vatican and the SSPX but I feel that the insults from both sides are only keeping this from occurring faster.  This is what ecumenism exists for; to repair divisions among Christians without arguing.

[1] Canon 1013

[2] Canons 751, 1364 §1

[3] Benedict XVI, Ecclesiae unitatem, n. 4

[4] http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica.html

[5] Canons 844 §2, 986 §

[6] http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/bishopscolumns/5803-society-of-st-pius-x.html

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