Whenever I post something about the SSPX, and I mention that the priests and bishops of that Fraternity are suspended, I get loads of email protesting that they aren’t.
They are. Sorry.
That said, I sincerely hope and pray that they will be reconciled with Pope Benedict and the Church of Rome sooner than later. Please, O Lord, sooner rather than later!
Just because the excommunications of the SSPX bishops were lifted, that doesn’t mean that those bishops are not still suspended. They are. The lifting of the excommunications means that they are now free to go to confession. That is about it… so far.
However, I made a comment in one post that sounded as if I didn’t think that the SSPX bishops were “Catholic” bishops. Lots of email, some of it nasty, most of it tedious, very little well-considered, came to the inbox.
But it did get me thinking.
The SSPX bishops are out their doing there own thing, and in that sense they are independent. However, they are still Catholic bishops. I apologize if, through a slip or poorly written phrase, I inferred that they were not Catholic.
They were consecrated – most say “ordained” today – with the Catholic rite for bishops, by a validly consecrated Catholic bishop. They incurred an excommunication when they were consecrated, but they were validly consecrated as Catholic bishops. They are Catholic bishops who ar not in union with the See of Peter in a manifest way, however. They are oddities in that they do not have sees, dioceses, even titular, much less residential. In that sense they are independent. But they are Catholic.
But wait! There’s more!
I have thought about this for a bit since the objecting email has come my way. I have also been thinking about lot about what has happened with the whole concept of “bishop” since the Second Vatican Council. This is sparked in part by discussions surrounding an Instruction on Summorum Pontificum.
You see, I think Summorum Pontificum was a great gift for all priests, even those who want nothing to do with the older form of Mass or traditional worship (or doctrine, for that matter. Summorum Pontificum was quite simply the first thing a Pope did in a long time in a concrete way to build up the person of the priest in the Latin Church! Thus, I have been thinking about priests and bishops these days. Even liberal priests who are way out there, should defend Summorum Pontificum with tooth and bone and vigor.
I also consulted a couple good canonists about the status of the SSPX bishops. I didn’t want to put a foot wrong.
What I came away with is this.
Again, the SSPX bishops are Catholic bishops. Sorry if I suggested otherwise.
However, before the Second Vatican Council, there was a canonical and theological school of thought that saw bishops more or less as priests with additional jurisdiction. The seven-stepped Holy Orders included four minor orders and three major orders. Episcopal consecration was not canonically considered a sacrament in itself.
Since Vatican II and Christus Dominus, there has been a huge shift in the theology of the sacrament of Holy Orders. The episcopate is now firmly considered a sacramental stage, not just the addition of jurisdiction. It is even referred to mostly as “ordination” rather than “consecration”. The episcopacy seems to stand its own, apart from priesthood, even though bishops and priests are both liturgically sacerdotes (they consecrate the Eucharist, they forgive sins, etc.). If I am not mistaken, once upon a time bishops had to get faculties from the Holy See every five years in order to function as bishops. No longer. That reflects a huge theological change underlying the canonical change.
“But Father! But Father!”, you might be saying. “What has any of that to do with the SSPX bishops? Why can’t you just get to the point?!”
The SSPX bishops are, perhaps you can argue, more post-Vatican II bishops than they are pre-Vatican II bishops. They are acting in a way that would have been unthinkable before the Council.
The SSPX bishops are working not as priests with jurisdiction given though a canonical mandate from the Holy Father. They are acting as bishops in their own right, standing apart, doing bishop things without a mission entrusted to them. They are, moreover, anomalous in the sense that they don’t at the moment have dioceses, even titular.
This is very radical indeed. The Church hasn’t seen this before. Bishops – free standing – without dioceses – but who are still Catholic bishops? It’s all very avant-garde. The implications are hard to take in.
A bishop without a diocese is like a bride without a groom. It doesn’t make theological or canonical sense, in any traditional way of thinking about bishops and how they fit into Christ’s plan for the Church. This requires a radical new theological vision. A new ecclesiological perspective. Something more progressive than what the Council Fathers foresaw.
Are the SSPX in fact a fruit of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council about bishops - not in the sense of being against the Council, but actually being more radical than the Council?
Are they changing our theology about bishops? Pushing ecclesiology onto a whole new playing field? Taking notions about bishops farther than the Council Fathers even wanted to go?
The SSPX bishops may in a way be rather like Fr. Kung.
Fr. Kung thought the Council was not nearly radical enough in changing the out-dated structures and hierarchy and the Church’s ossified theology.