I received a piece from a frequent reader/poster here at WDTPRS, Brian Mershon (pronounced MershON). He asked me to look at it and, if useful post it.
My emphases and comments.
PCED Confirms Officially: Society of St. Pius X within the Church, Not in Formal Schism; Catholics Commit No Sin nor Incur Any Canonical Penalty for Mass Attendance
By Brian Mershon
Msgr. Camille Perl, Vice President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) has recently responded with a letter dated May 23, 2008, to questions I invoked regarding the official canonical status of the Society of St. Pius X and those Catholics who attend their chapels to fulfill their Sunday obligation.
This article is certain to generate much commentary both from die-hard SSPXers who can’t bear to believe their marriages and confessions might be invalid to “more Catholic than the Pope” conservatives who will continue to misconstrue the clear teaching of the PCED, Cardinal Castrillón and the Catholic Church regarding laity who attend SSPX chapels to fulfill their Sunday obligation. [I love the smell of napalm in the morning… and I don’t mean the napalm patristibloggers enjoy!]
Indeed, the repeated public statements of Cardinal Castrillón that the SSPX is not in formal schism certainly rises above the level of a cleric’s private opinion on matters outside of his competence. His statements can be viewed by all Catholics as reflective of the current position of the Catholic Church on these matters. [That is so.] While some canonists, in good faith, might disagree, Cardinal Castrillón and the PCED’s responses to private correspondence certainly rise above the level of authority of a mere canonist’s opinion. [Probably. Card. Castrillon is not just anyone. He is President of the Commission which enjoys competence and authority from the Supreme Pontiff is act in all these matters. He has made certain statements about the statues of the SSPX – repeatedly. If what he were saying was not appreciated by the Holy Father, he would have been asked not to keep saying it.]
The responses to the letter below can be acted upon with a moral certitude. [An important point is "moral certitude". When in the Church we must deal with objective acts that everyone can see, we still cannot perfectly judge what we cannot see clearly. Therefore, ecclesiastical authority must come to "moral certainty" when issuing a censure, for example. This is the language Archbp. Burke used recently in his decrees about censures. Also, when divorced lay people receive back from a tribunal a decree about the nullity of their marriages, they may then have "moral certainly" that they are free to marry. When the Congregation for Causes of Saints issues a decree about the "heroic virtue" of a person, it does so after coming to a "moral certainty" about the person’s state of soul based on the evidence that was gathered and evaluated. It is hard to judge perfectly things which cannot be seen or entirely grasped. ]
Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos
President, Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED)
Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio
00120 VATICAN CITY
Monday of Holy Week
Anno Domini 2008
I [Mershon] have compiled as reference numerous public interviews, both print and television, where you were quoted as stating that the case of the Society of St. Pius X “is not a formal schism” and other words to that effect.
Q: Is this your mere private opinion, or the official teaching of the Catholic Church in your official capacity as head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei?
PCED: “Statements made by Cardinal Castrillón need to be understood in a technical, canonical sense. Stating that the Society of St. Pius X “is not in formal schism” is to say that there has been no official declaration on the part of the Holy See that the Society of St. Pius X is in schism. Up to now, the Church has sought to show the maximum charity, courtesy and consideration to all those involved with the hope that such a declaration will not eventually be necessary.” [This means that it might in fact be the case that the SSPX is in schism, but at this point the matter hasn’t been officially decided by the Holy See, or if it has, they have decided not to say. No official declaration means that, right now, people can act in moral certainty that the SSPX is not in a state of schism, disagree or not.]
Would you please clarify the following for me in this private correspondence so that I can ensure that my family and I are following the current teaching of the Church on this specific matter? [The writer wants moral certainty. He doesn’t want to make a mistake that could affect his spiritual life and that of his family.]
Q: Does the Catholic Church currently hold that the priests and bishops of the Society of St. Pius X are in formal schism with the Catholic Church?
PCED: “The bishops of the Society of St. Pius X are excommunicated according to the prescription of canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law which states that “A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.” Archbishop Lefebvre was duly reminded of this before his conferral of Episcopal ordination on 30 June 1988 and the Holy Father confirmed that this penalty had been incurred in his Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei, #3 [cf. AAS 80 (1988) 1495-1498; English translation in L’Osservatore Romano English edition of 11 July 1988, p. 1].
“The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, but suspended, that is prohibited from exercising their priestly functions because they are not properly incardinated in a diocese of religious institute in full communion with the Holy See (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 265) and also because those ordained after the schismatic Episcopal ordinations were ordained by an excommunicated bishop. [There’s that word again. Puzzling.]
“Concretely, this means that the Masses offered by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are valid, but illicit, i.e., contrary to Canon Law. The Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony, however, require that the priest enjoys the faculties of the diocese or has proper delegation. Since that is not the case with these priests, these sacraments are invalid. [Invalid. Marriages and confessions.] It remains true, however, [pay attention] that, if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that the priests of the Society of St. Pius X do not have proper faculty to absolve, the Church supplies these faculties so that the sacrament is valid (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 144) [What we get into here involves a person’s culpability for ignorance. If a guy genuinely doesn’t know that the SSPX priests don’t have the faculties from the Church so that marriages and confessions can be valid, then the person himself is simply ignorant and, well, God takes care of him through the Church. If he has never had the news or information about this at all, or if he has had it inadequately explained so that he doesn’t get it, it doesn’t stick, then he is not at fault for his ignorance – unless … unless he either a) figured out there was something really important to this he didn’t understand and, either because he was lazy or afraid of learning the truth he therefore purposely avoided more information or b) is in a position of authority or responsibility which by its very nature require him to be adequately well-informed about all those things he must deal with. In the case of a person who could learn, but doesn’t for whatever reason, we are talking about ignorance that could be overcome. That person is in a state of vincible ignorance. That ignorance can then either be innocent or culpable, depending on his own degree of guilt or responsibility for his own ignorance. Then there are those who, for whatever reason, perhaps they are very stupid or perhaps they have some genuine psychological block, just can’t figure out or learn they truth, this is invincible ignorance, which can’t be overcome. They have far less culpability, or none, for their state.]
“While it is true that participation in the Mass at chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute “formal adherence to the schism” (cf. Ecclesia Dei 5, c), such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a schismatic mentality which separates itself from the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff and the entire Catholic Church. [It can happen over time, though this would differ with every person.] While we hope and pray for a reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” cannot recommend that members of the faithful frequent their chapels for the reasons which we have outlined above. [Because, to one degree or another, you are weakening your bond wit the local bishop and the Roman Pontiff.] We deeply regret this situation and pray that soon a reconciliation of the Society of St. Pius X with the Church may come about, but until such time the explanations which we have given remain in force.”
Q: Does the Catholic Church currently hold that the situation of the Society of St. Pius X is not one for ecumenical dialogue [Good question.] because the Society of St. Pius X is an internal matter within the Catholic Church?
PCED: “Up to now the Catholic Church has acted as if the situation of the Society of St. Pius X is an internal matter within the Catholic Church and not a matter of ecumenical dialogue.”
Q: Do lay Catholics who frequent Society of St. Pius X chapels, either more less frequently, incur any sin or canonical delict by doing so, [Well… you don’t "incur" sin or delict, you "commit" them. You incur a censure.] if done solely out of devotion to the Church’s Latin liturgical tradition and not to separate one’s self from communion with one’s diocesan Ordinary or local pastor? [Again we are into matters of conscience.]
PCED: “Catholics who frequent the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X do not incur any sin or canonical delict by doing so. [They are quoting his language back to him.] However, we further refer you to what we have already stated in #4 above.”
A: What level of authority do your answers to this private correspondence hold?
PCED: “As we already stated to you in our letter of 4 July 2007: “This Pontifical Commission does its best to transmit responses which are in full accord with the magisterium and the present canonical practices of the Catholic Church. One should accept them with docility and can act upon them with moral certainty.” [There is the issue of moral certainty.] We would further add that no dicastery of the Holy See will give other responses than those which we have given here.” [This is important because the PCED has competence in these matters and no other Vatican office should step on their toes. For example, should the CDW get a question about the old Mass, they should pass it to the PCED. If the Cong. for Clergy get these questions, they should be forwarded to the PCED.]
Please know that you and your staff and the Holy Father are in my family’s constant prayers as we prepare to celebrate the Holy Week and the season of Easter.
Pax Christi in Regno Christi,
Brian C. Mershon
Commentary on the PCED Responses [This is by Mershon.]
1. The current language being used by the Catholic Church avoids saying that the Society of St. Pius X is in formal schism. [They are not saying officially that the SSPX is NOT in schism. They are avoiding saying officially anything either way.]
2. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the four bishops he ordained in the Society of St. Pius X directly against the express will of the Holy Father incurred excommunication, as outlined by the Code of Canon Law and confirmed by the Congregation for Bishops and Pope John Paul II in his motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta. [Remember, that no censure is incurred without the person having sinned. When enough outward evidence points to the sinful nature of the act, the censure is also officially declared, as happened with the confirmation by the Congregation. This is why some latae sententiae excommunications are later publicly confirmed. They go by the evidence, come to a moral certainty about the person’s having incurred the censure automatically (which means they examined the evidence even of the possibility of the sinful nature of the objective act, and then made a decision, declaring the situation for the good of souls.]
3. The Society of St. Pius X priests are suspended from priestly ministry. Therefore, objectively speaking, they are committing sins of grave matter by continuing their active ministry without a specific mandate of the Church. [Of course they may subjectively not be sinning, they may either so convinced of their rectitude or, perhaps, dense, that they are not actually guilty of the objective sins they may be commiting.] Of course, the Society’s official claim, wrongly or rightly, is that the salvation of souls and the current state of emergency in the Church forces them to continue to offer their ministries without ecclesiastical approval. There has been no indication by the Catholic Church that the priests, as a whole, are excommunicated or in formal schism. [Remember: it is pretty hard, I would say impossible, to continue a claim of a state of emergency when more than one Pope, over quite a long time, says there isn’t not one that justified their actions.]
4. Therefore, all the sacraments offered by Society of St. Pius X priests, with the exception of Penance and Matrimony, [And that is important.] are valid, but illicit, meaning “illegal.” Penance and Matrimony both require faculties from the local bishop, [or other legitimate authority such as a religious superior, etc., but generally also the local bishop if a priest is stable in a place for a long time and working publicly.] which the Society of St. Pius X priests do not have; therefore, they are invalid. Cases of supplied jurisdiction apply to those who are, for example, in danger of death. [That is to say that the Church’s law itself gives the faculty to any priest, even one who has been "laicized" to absolve in danger of death, even if there is present also a priest in good standing. This is because the highest good of all the law is the salvation of souls. Thus, law foresees these possibilities.] Those who read and understand the PCED’s response can no longer claim ignorance regarding the Church’s official teaching on these two sacraments’ invalidity. [The writer is trying to overcome the ignorance, vinicible and perhaps also culpable ignorance of those who frequent SSPX priests for absolution or who go to them to be married. This is like saying: at this point you have no excuse. You have been told. You can’t claim ignorance anymore. From now on, if you go to an SSPX priest for absolution, it is probably not going to forgive your sins.]
5. Catholic laymen may attend Mass at a Society of St. Pius X chapel without committing any sin nor incurring any canonical penalty. However, the PCED guidance is that it “cannot recommend” attendance at the Society of St. Pius X chapels due to the danger of imbibing a “schismatic mentality.” [And we have seen that mentality among some lay people who frequent their chapels and give them support.] In other words, someone might find some Society priests fomenting division from full communion with the Church, their local Ordinary and/or the Holy Father in their sermons. The PCED’s recommendation is not to attend their chapels habitually, but they acknowledge there is no sin committed nor canonical penalty incurred resulting from attending Mass at SSPX chapels solely out of the desire to worship according to the 1962 missal and in order to fulfill their Sunday obligation.
6. The Society of St. Pius X is in an irregular canonical situation and an “internal matter” and therefore is not a case of ecumenical dialogue. [They are, in sense, Catholics on the slippery slope.]
7. Again, the correspondence from the PCED can be accepted and acted upon with “docility and moral certitude” by Catholics. The specific questions I asked were broad enough in nature to constitute an official response for Catholics to use as guidance. [But they are not more than that. They are not definitive or official. They have weight and people can act on them with confidence.]
Catholic priests, bishops or laymen who contradict these specific responses seem to be out of step with the Church’s current official position.
My additional notes: While people can to some extent or reason agree with or disagree with the specific recommendations of the PCED or statements of Card. Castrillon, I would add this caution.
First, not everyone’s opinion is of equal weight. Joe Bagofdonuts’ opinon is not going to be, probably, as good as mine, who have training and experience in these things at a level Joe doesn’t have. My opinion is probably not going to be as good as that of a canonist, etc. Our opinions are not as weighty as that of the President of the Commission which enjoys competence from the Lawgiver, the Vicar of Christ. When the Cardinal speaks, his opinion has weight. Joe really doesn’t have strong position to criticize the Cardinal in these matters, so perhaps he ought to pipe down and listen.
Second, some of the things, above, are based on Canon Law and on moral principles. Those are not the sort of things we can disagree with because they are the general principles applied to the particular cases in question.
This was interesting. I hope this was useful for you!