I have received several emails asking about the juridical effect of the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops in January 2009.
Some are saying that the decree means that there never were excommunications in the first place, some are wondering what the decree meant with the “no longer has juridical effect”.
Let’s take a look at the decree.
But first, remember that back in 1988 the Congregation declared, imposed the excommunication. The SSPX incurred the excommunication by the fact of what they did. In Ecclesia Dei adflicta John Paul II said they incurred the excommunication. But the Congregation for Bishops removed doubt about that by issuing a decree.
Years and year later…. with my emphases.
THE EXCOMMUNICATION “LATAE SENTENTIAE”
OF THE BISHOPS OF THE SOCIETY OF ST PIUS X
In a letter of 15 December 2008 addressed to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, Mons. Bernard Fellay writing also in the name of the other three Bishops consecrated on 30 June 1988 requested once again the removal of the excommunication latae sententiae formally declared by a Decree of the Prefect of this Congregation for Bishops on 1 July 1988. In his letter, Mons. Fellay stated, among other things, that “we continue firmly resolute in our desire to remain Catholics and to put all our strength at the service of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. We accept her teachings in a filial spirit. We firmly believe in the primacy of Peter and in his prerogatives, and for this reason the current situation causes us much suffering”.
His Holiness Benedict XVI in his paternal concern for the spiritual distress which the parties concerned have voiced as a result of the excommunication, and trusting in their commitment, expressed in the aforementioned letter, to spare no effort in exploring as yet unresolved questions through requisite discussions with the authorities of the Holy See in order to reach a prompt, full and satisfactory solution to the original problem has decided to reconsider the canonical situation of Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, resulting from their episcopal consecration.
This act signifies a desire to strengthen reciprocal relations of trust, and to deepen and stabilize the relationship of the Society of St Pius X with this Apostolic See. This gift of peace, coming at the end of the Christmas celebrations, is also meant to be a sign which promotes the Universal Church’s unity in charity, and removes the scandal of division.
It is hoped that this step will be followed by the prompt attainment of full communion with the Church on the part of the whole Society of St Pius X, which will thus bear witness to its genuine fidelity and genuine recognition of the Magisterium and authority of the Pope by the proof of visible unity.
On the basis of the powers expressly granted to me by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, by virtue of the present Decree I remit the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae incurred by Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, and declared by this Congregation on 1 July 1988. At the same time I declare that, as of today’s date, the Decree issued at that time no longer has juridical effect.
Rome, from the Congregation for Bishops, 21 January 2009
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
So, the SSPX bishops were excommunicated. Now they are not. The decree of 2009 nullified the decree of 1988 in respect at least to the four SSPX bishops named. The 2009 decree doesn’t mention the other bishops who, in 1988, incurred the excommunication. I don’t know how the decree can be interpreted to mean more. Some are saying that by saying that the older decree no longer has juridical effect, that means that even Archbp. Lefevbre is not to have been considered ever excommunicated. I think that says too much. Two Popes and the Congregation thought they were. I’ll go with their opinion.
In any event, the four SSPX bishops are now able to go to confession again. The other two bishops excommunicated in 1988 no longer have that opportunity. We entrust their souls to the mercy of God while thanking God that the four still living still have some time to work things out.