SSPX Bishop and Superior Bernard Fellay recently made comments in a video interview which caught my attention.
At about 15:20 listen for him to say:
“Last year, I received a letter from Rome, telling me you can freely ordain your priests without the permission of the local ordinary. So if I can freely ordain that means the ordination is recognized by the Church not just as valid but in order. If I can freely do it it’s clear that this is just already recognized and accepted. So this is one more step in this acceptance that we are, let me call it, ‘normal Catholics.'”
He goes on to say that he does not see any desire on the part of Rome to interfere or “take over”.
While I am encouraged by Bp. Fellay’s words, I also am compelled to track back to public statements from the effective head of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei“, Archbishop Guido Pozzo (technically the head is the Prefect of the CDF, but Archbp. Pozzo runs the show). Last January, La Stampa recounted what Archbp. Pozzo said:
La Santa Sede – spiega il segretario di Ecclesia Dei – permette e tollera le ordinazioni sacerdotali della Fraternità San Pio X, pur continuando a ritenerle valide ma non lecite, previa comunicazione dei nomi degli ordinandi al vescovo del luogo.
The Holy See – the Secretary of Ecclesia Dei explained – permits and tolerates the priestly ordinations of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, even while continuing to consider them valid but not licit, subject to communication of the names of the ordinands to the bishop of the place.
In the absence of any subsequent statements about this matter from the Holy See, this last bit from January is the Holy See’s present position.
When the SSPX ordains, the Holy See (still) considers the ordinations to be valid but illicit. That’s not quite “recognized and accepted”. [On this point, there is an interesting argument made in one of the comments which has me pondering. Check it out.]
Bishops must have permission or faculties to ordain, either by the fact that (in a nutshell) they are the diocesan bishop or equivalent or because they receive permission from another bishop through what are called “dimissorial letters”. Under normal circumstances, were a bishop to ordain without proper permissions to ordain (either because of their office or because legitimate authority granted) then that bishop could be subject to canonical penalties.*
Right now, in regard to the SSPX, it seems that the Holy See is saying, “If you ordain, you are doing so illicitly. However, we won’t punish you for it. Please let the local bishop know what you did so that there can be an official record of it.” That also says that the SSPX’s records are not the official records.
Hence, what B. Fellay said perhaps edges just a few inches farther than what the Holy See laid down.
In any event, I am pleased that there is positive movement and there are positive words on both sides. Pray for a swift and happy resolution.
The moderation queue is ON.
*In 1976, the founder of the SSXP, Archbp. Lefebvre (R.I.P.) ordained priests without the approval of the local bishop and in defiance of letters from Rome forbidding him to ordain. Though that was under the previous Code of Canon Law, the situation under the 1983 Code is pretty much the same: bishops need permission from a legitimate authority to ordain. As a result, Archbp. Lefebvre was suspended a collatione ordinum, “from conferring holy orders”. The situation degenerated and later Lefebvre was suspended a divinis, from licitly conferring any sacrament.
As an aside, to show how serious the issue of dimissorial letters is, when I was ordained a priest, my diocesan bishop had to communicate permission to the Pope’s Vicar for Rome (because I was ordained within the Diocese of Rome – St. Peter’s is within the Diocese of Rome) that I be both validly and licitly ordained. In the document I received before ordination, this is mentioned:
… per praesentes tibi facultatem largimur ut ad Sacrum Presbyteratus ordinem …ab E.mo ac Rev.mo D.no Cardinali Urbis Vicario, sive per se sive per alium (i.e., The Pope), praemissis de iure praemittendis, valide et licite promoveri possis et valeas.
As another aside, when I worked in the PCED I wrote a lot of dimissorial letters for ordinations. As a matter of fact, I recently met a priest ordained for a traditional group whose name I remembered from back in the day. Fun!