Is the SSPX in schism?

Is the SSPX in schism?

A commentor in another thread on this blog wrote:

The Holy See has never said that the SSPX is in schism. Therefore, to say that they are strikes me as somewhat rash. Why would one make such a judgment?

I wonder.

In considering this question, we might first take a look at the following.   Here are some excerpts from 1988 Motu Proprio of John Paul II entitled Ecclesia Dei adflicta. (me emphasis)

3. In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience — which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy — constitutes a schismatic act [3 – Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 751.]. In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tisser de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.

Okay.  The Roman Pontiff, whose opinion is the one that counts, thinks that it was a schismatic act and that they incurred excommunication.

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. ….

There’s the "s" word again. 

5. Faced with the situation that has arisen, I deem it my duty to inform all the Catholic faithful of some aspects which this sad event has highlighted. …

c) In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfill the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church’s law [8 – Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1364].

And there it is again!

Questions can be asked about what constitutes "adherence to schism".

It seems to me that the situation of their clerics is pretty clear.   If a cleric were to "stick with" ("adhere") the schismatic excommunicated bishops after the schismatic act, that seems like "adherence".  They would be sticking with them by receiving ordination from them, obeying commands from them, publically identifying themselves with them, receiving payment from them for their work, etc.

The case of lay people is far far more difficult.  Would attending an SSPX chapel be enough for "adherence"?  If so how many times?   Would public vocal declarations be enough?  Would it require a written statement sent to the parish of baptism for notation in the register?  Would giving money to them be enough?  If so, how much?  Would receiving Communion or other sacraments?  If so, how many times? 

So, where the case of clerics is far clearer, the case of lay people is not clear at all.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Brian says:

    I am not an SSPX apologist, but I do desire to see them fully reconciled with the Church. The present Pope, as Pope, has NOT referred to the SSPX as “schismatic.” Those speaking for him have only referred to the SSPX as being in an “irregular juridical status.” They have also plainly stated that the “SSPX problem” is an “internal problem” of the Church.

    The use of such conciliatory rhetoric is not only prudent, but a not-so-subtle statement that the time of Rome treating SSPX traditionalists as schismatics is over.

    If the Vatican is not using “schismatic rhetoric” towards the SSPX, neither should we. We should be following the Vatican’s lead in this regard. It might make reconciliation a bit easier, too.

    In fact, soon enough, their juridical status might be fully regularized by and with Rome, and all the SSPX critics will have to change their rhetoric anyways.

    Why not start now?

  2. ioannes says:

    What weight does Protocol 539-99 carry for lay people who attend the SSPX? I believe the letter was initially intended as a private exchange between the Ecclesia Dei commision and Mr. Rebbert, but was later made public.
    Pontifical Commision Ecclesia Dei – Protocol 539-99, September 28, 1999

    The conditions seem vague. It seems to be OK depending on the disposition of the person attending. Whether he attends out of devotion for the Mass, and remains faithful to the Pontiff.

    3. The situation of the faithful attending chapels of the Society of
    St. Pius X is more complicated. They may attend Mass there primarily
    because of an attraction to the earlier form of the Roman Rite in which
    case they incur no penalty. The difficulty is that the longer they
    frequent these chapels, the more likely it is that they will slowly imbibe
    the schismatic mentality which stands in judgement of the Church and
    refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff and communion with the members of
    the Church subject to him. If that becomes the case, then it would seem
    that they adhere to the schism and are consequently excommunicated.
    For these reasons this Pontifical Commission cannot encourage you
    to frequent the chapel of the Society of St. Pius X. On the other hand it
    would seem that you are among those who attend Mass in chapels
    of the Society of St. Pius X because of the
    reverence and devotion which they find there, because of their
    attraction to the traditional Latin Mass and not because
    they refuse submission to the Roman Pontiff or reject communion with the
    members of the Church subject to him. At the same time it must be admitted
    that – this is an irregular situation, even if the circumstances which have
    caused it have come about through no fault of your own, and it should be
    remedied as soon as circumstances permit.

  3. Brian says:

    “At the same time it must be admitted that – this is an irregular situation, even if the circumstances which have caused it have come about through no fault of your own, and it should be remedied as soon as circumstances permit.”

    It is only Rome that can remedy this situation, due to the disobedience of local bishops to the original indult. It cannot be remedied by any layperson.

    Hopefully that irony is not lost on them; if the status of the SSPX is regularized, this becomes moot.

  4. ioannes says:

    Absolutely. Many will have to change their tune towards the SSPX. Even if they have to bang their heads against the Eiffel tower.

  5. Or, ioannes, the streetsigns in Chicago near CTA headquarters.

  6. Christopher says:

    Cardinal Castrillon: “They are in the Church with less than perfect communion.”

    Cardinal Kaspar: “The situation of the SSPX is an internal matter of the Roman Catholic Church.”

    I don’t recall the exact words, but Cardinal Medina said that they aren’t in Schism.

    If they don’t speak for the Magisterium, who does?

    Not directly related, but I love this exchange of some years ago, as reported by Bishop Fellay:

    Cardinal Ratzinger: “We need you to help put out the fire.”
    Bishop Fellay: “Then stop pouring fuel on the flames.”

  7. RBrown says:

    If they don’t speak for the Magisterium, who does?

    The Magisterium is the teaching arm of the Church–doctrine. The status of the SSPX is not a matter of doctrine, and so it has nothing to do with the Magisterium.

  8. Correct, RBrown, it’s a matter of praxis and it will be largely regularized, I believe. I say largely because there may be a few people here and there on both sides of the coin which won’t come along maybe, but that’s to be expected.

    It will become a little blip of history within the church, I believe. A rehabilitation of sorts.

  9. Proklos says:

    I remember someone recounting to me the death in a bar room brawl of a catholic who had not attended church or visited the sacraments for a number of years. The man was fatally shot. In the lingering moments of his life, however, he tried to recall the words of the act of contrition since no priest was available. Unfortunately, after several attempts he could not complete the act and died. I was told this with the clear implication that the man suffered eternal damnation. I have always found that impossible to believe, given the prominent place given intentions of the heart in Divine reckoning.

    I also find it impossible to believe that people who JP II declared “schismatics” will necessarily be deprived of heaven, especially if they only intended to cling to what the church has always taught. How many orthodox believers died during the days of the Arian controversy as formal schismatics? It could not have been that clear what the correct position was as the eventual need for two ecumenical councils proved. Many certainly had no way of knowing the position of old Rome in the matter.

    Besides, in the eyes of many JP II put on some of the best pantomimes of a heretic performed by any pope in recent memory. It is not surprising that some Catholics took gestures that were perhaps no more than histrionic as expressing the sincere actions of a man who no longer believed in what the Church has always taught. E.g.,witness his public veneration of the Muslim Koran. After all, a heretical pope is not beyond the imagination. I think people who perhaps misjudged the gravity of the situation in the Church of JP II and took drastic steps to correct it should be given every benefit of a doubt.

  10. I don’t know that he was a heretic. I think he was theatrical–okay, too theatrical. Do you remember his kissing the dirt? I never did get that, myself.

    The koran-kissing episode, I think, is going to go down in history in a big way, perhaps in a bigger way than he would have regarded it. And maybe that’s telling too. Don’t know. The disregard for the liturgy, that he showed consistently, is also interesting.

    I loved him. Still do. Most Catholics do. God ordained that he be pope and he did many things that were commendable & even holy, but these couple of things were odd, yes. Most of the odd things were just idiosyncratic….But these couple–kissing the Koran and accepting the decline of the liturgy–I don’t know.

  11. Christopher says:

    RBrown: Thanks for the clarification. You’re right, this is a matter of discipline, I guess.
    But my point is that they fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, and
    Cardinal Castrillon heads the commission. If he says that they are not in schism, then that
    is the official curial position.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    I think the kissing of the Koran was a diplomatic/theatrical act and in no way deserves all the attention that it gets. His late Holiness was in no way a “closet Muslim.” Read his comments on Isalm in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” to see his views.

    From what I have heard, whenever the late John Paul would inquire about the liturgical renewal of visiting bishops, they would always tell him that things were going great, and of course, he believed them. I think if he had reigned longer he would have tackled that issue next. After all, his last encyclical was about the Eucharist, and he ordered the Year of the Eucharist and the Synod, which will result in the upcoming Apostilic Exhortation.

  13. Proklos: “I also find it impossible to believe that people who JP II declared “schismatics” will necessarily be deprived of heaven,”

    That is not what excommunication means.

  14. I don’t get this. Why would a Roman Catholic attend a SSPX ANYTHING? They ARE in schism period. Why even risk an association with them?

    Really, what’s the difference between SSPX and the Old Catholics?
    Old Catholics also see themselves as true Catholics and a reform
    movement within the RC
    church just like the SSPX’s do. Not to mention Archbishop Milingo’s group.

  15. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    I believe Prokos remarks about JPII are completely irresponsible and not worthy of a Ctholic blog.When a pope reiggns as long as JP did he is bound to make mistakes.JPII in his last book admits he should have been sterner when ruling the church.But I remember the dark days of Paul VI.The trips of JP in all their theatrical pomp restored the papacy to international prominence ,even though that prominence brought withit hate filled attacks upon his person.He also went among the people speakinf the truth their own bishops were hiding.I remember his condemnation of contraceprtion when visiting Chicago.He brought an end to easy laicizations and the american annulment norms.There is so much more.And he gave us Cardinal Ratzinger.One commentator said JP indicated his preference of Cardinal Ratzinger when he gave him the right to wear the pallium a right reserved to residential archbishops.I believe Ratzinger spoke what the pope thought but could not say about the liturgy.I think JP beleved his role was to unify and he feared at the time to criticize directly the liturgy would be to divide.So he had Ratzinger do it,ashappens when a President who must be president of all the people has the vice-president say things that the president really thinks.I think of Nixon being above the fray and Agnew attacking the media a college revolutionaries. By the way,JP kissed the ground as a sign of respect and honor of that country.He was not the first person to do so .I remember seeing pictures of Cardinal Montini (later Pope Paul VI) kissing the ground when he arrived in Milan (“Our gift to Milan”-Pope Pius XII)to become head of that See.

  16. Geoffrey says:

    Amen, Fr. McAfee!

  17. Okay…. everyone just take a breath… breathe for a while… Say a prayer.

  18. Dennis says:

    The SSPX are allowed use of the Basilica of St Pius X
    at Lourdes. Would that happen if they were schismatic?

  19. Dennis: The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, during his recent visit to Rome, was allowed to use the Basilica of S. Sabina on the Aventine Hill.

  20. A few years back the Wanderer printed an article where a layman had inquired of the appropriate dicastery whether he could fulfill mass obligation in a SSPX chapel. The answer came back affirmative, but with the warning that a person ought not make a regular practice of this because the SSPX’s bad attitude would rub off on him. The article did not address whether one could also receive communion in the SSPX chapel. I regret that I cannot find my notes on this item so cannot cite chapter and verse. Perhaps some other reader recalls the Wanderer item.

  21. Joseph: Yes, that is correct. You can fulfill your obligation by attending a Mass in a SSPX chapel, since the Code say we fulfill it by attending Mass in a “Catholic rite”. However, regularly receiving Communion except in the grave circumstances where one is prevented from receiving in a regular church or chapel cannot be recommended.

    Of course, it might be possible to argue that Masses are everywhere so awful that we are morally, if not physically, impeded from participating at them and the only viable alternative, lest we be deprived of Communion for an unreasonable period of time, might be an SSPX chapel. That is a slick argument and, indeed, it might even be true in some cases. However, God cannot be fooled.

  22. Oh, on the contrary, I think the kissing of the Koran does deserve the attention it’s gotten. I don’t think we should brush it under the rug. What PJP2 was thinking when he did it, no one knows. Nevertheless, it did happen. And as a matter of record, there have been many people who have died for refusing to do such things. I don’t think that’s trivial.

  23. Joshua says:

    Father, a Catholic rite would have to be in union with the Church to count as Catholic. Going to an Orthodox Church isn’t licit, but going to a Greek Catholic is. Unless we have completely abandoned Church teaching on cooperation in non Catholic worship one must say that formal participation in such liturgies that are schismatic are illicit and can never fulfill the obligation. Someone quoted a letter above from the PCED. There was a follow up after it was made public

    “The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, but they are suspended from exercising their priestly functions. To the extent that they adhere to the schism of the late Archbishop Lefebvre, they are also excommunicated.”

    There is at least implicit there that they might not de facto be excommunicated. Seems purposely vague though (can one be excommunicated to a degree?)

    The same document says that it fulfils your obligation, is no sin if done out of devotion to the ’62 Missal and even says that one can give a modest amount to them in their collection. Now I am not a big supporter of them, but Ecclesia Dei only really says that the bishops committed a schismatic act. And even that if funny. Illicit ordination cannot be, de facto, schismatic (it used to carry a suspension only, Pius XII made it an excommunication). So the pope must have been judging it based on further considerations. Part of what formal adherence consists in, seems to me, to depend on the other factors besides just the issue of ordaining without a mandate. Which Rome has only said this “If your primary reason for attending were to manifest your desire to separate yourself from communion with the Roman Pontiff and those in communion with him, it would be a sin” (from same letter, I wonder could it be the secondary reason?! )

    The letter:

  24. Proklos says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf:

    I did not say that excommunication meant that those excommunicated were deprived of heaven although many believe that this is the case. You are right. God cannot be fooled. If a rite is sacreligious as some so-called masses are, how does it being arguably licit be make it right to participate in it? More than one Catholic has had to face this problem. it is not a slick argument. When I was in college I witnessed masses that certainly were not valid, although the chaplain was ostensibly in communion with the pope. How did I know they weren’t valid. The local bishop told me they were not valid and advised me not to attend them. But nothing was said publicly, neither by me nor by the bishop. I started to attend the Opus Dei mass. That had its own dangers about which my confessor at the time duly warned me. But then their masses were licit and valid.

    Fr. Franklyn Mcafee:

    The problem with JP II was the impression of uncertainty about what was right or wrong he gave in so many instances. How is the will to choose when confronted with the situations he often created? Is the Koran part of the revelatory deposit or is it not? If not, why did he kiss the Koran? This is the way we venerate the gospel. What could his gesture have meant? Should I do the same when a Muslim on my job produces a Koran from his briefcase? Kissing the ground is reasonaby neutral and might be construed as a gesture of humility as when one touches the ground before kissing the hand of persons of rank in the churches of the East.

    To be fair there were some things JP II was clear on. But what about the continued liberalization of rules for giving communion to heretics that occured under his reign until there is practically nothing stopping a heretic who only confesses to the real presence from receiving communion at any time and any place. Has Denziger’s been re-published in menu format? If JP II did not open the cafeteria he did not close it either.

    Then JP II was given to saying one thing and then changing his mind. Eg. female acolytes. The theological implications of allowing this unwarranted innovation are immense. It should not have come about the way it did. People in positions of moral authority have not much wiggle room. How long has Queen Elizabeth II reigned? Over fifty years. And how many mistakes has she made? I challenge you to name one. If you cannot, then admit that it is possible for a church head to reign for a long time and not make the kind of mistakes JP II made.

    Finally I do not think it unworthy of a Catholic blog for Catholics to speak the truth in it nor is it irresponsible for them to do so, especially when what they say is verifiable by anyone who cares to conduct a Google search on www.

  25. Joshua: Nice try. The letter you refer to doesn’t state they can be excommunicated to “to a degree”, it says that if they adhere to the schism to a certain degree, then as a consequence they are excommunicated. Furthermore, the Lawgiver of the Church is the Roman Pontiff, not Joshua or Fr. Z. The Pontiff at this time thinks that consecrating bishops without Pontifical mandate and participating in those consecrations carries the penalty of excomminication. It matters not at all what the law used to be, when it is at this moment clear. In trying to split hairs you are losing the point and getting it wrong.

  26. Jordan Potter says:

    “How long has Queen Elizabeth II reigned? Over fifty years. And how many mistakes has she made? I challenge you to name one.”

    Just one?? I can’t do that, she’s made too many to name. Here are a few:

    Accepting Tony Blair as her Prime Minister.
    Accepting John Howard as her Prime Minister.
    Agreeing to the emasculation (“reform”) of the House of Peers.
    Naming only Life Peers for most of her reign instead of Hereditary Peers.
    Acting as the head of the Church of England.
    Agreeing to the establishment of a Scottish parliament that lacks proper representation from the Scottish Peers.

    That’s just off the top of my head. So much for the infallible and impeccable Queen of Great Britain.

    Just because you agree with everything a ruler does, that doesn’t mean everything the ruler does is right. Just because you disagree with something a ruler did, that doesn’t mean what the ruler did is wrong.

  27. Dennis says:

    Jordan Potter: HM also gave her blessing to the “marriage”
    of Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles despite the fact
    that she remains married to the Catholic Andrew Parker

  28. Joshua says:

    “Joshua: Nice try. The letter you refer to doesn’t state they can be excommunicated to “to a degree”, it says that if they adhere to the schism to a certain degree, then as a consequence they are excommunicated. Furthermore, the Lawgiver of the Church is the Roman Pontiff, not Joshua or Fr. Z. The Pontiff at this time thinks that consecrating bishops without Pontifical mandate and participating in those consecrations carries the penalty of excommunication. It matters not at all what the law used to be, when it is at this moment clear. In trying to split hairs you are losing the point and getting it wrong.”

    Father with all due respect you are not being fair here and are in fact being overly defensive to the degree of distorting my meaning. Perhaps I wasn’t being clear. All I was establishing was that illicit ordination, which does now carry excommunication with it, isn’t intrinsically schismatic. I was not saying that it wasn’t schismatic here, in fact I agree that the pope is the judge here. I just thought it was to be inferred that there is more to it than just the illicit ordination…namely doing it under the circumstances that is was done. That being the case, coupled with the statement from the PCED, is seems that the Church, though it judges the bishops excommunicate, has refrained from judging all the priests as such. In other words, they have not went as far as you did in making that judgment and indeed implied that a certain degree of adherence would not be excommunication, without drawing the line clearly. If I misread the document I am sorry, when I use “?” I truly mean a question. The English means “to the extent that they do such, they also are such” Hence my reading of it seemed natural. They probably meant what you said, fine.

    And my main point was the fact that Rome has said that one could go and fulfil their obligation and even give money, though discouraging these same things. If they were all, de jure, excommunicated then Rome could not say such things. We need to go to a Catholic Rite, nonne? If they were schismatic, then they are not Catholic and one could never fulfil their Mass obligation there. If it were not for this fact that Rome permits attendance there, I would go as far as you did and hold them all schismatic, but Rome has not so neither should we. The bishops are schismatic, the priests at least suspended, if not all schismatic. Therefore they need our prayers. As you said, the lawgiver is the Roman Pontiff. If he has not made this judgment that they were severed from the Body of Christ (at least visibly) neither should we.

  29. Brian Mershon says:

    Dear All: A very reputable canonist just replied to this very question. I will remove his name as it was private correspondence. I think it is instructive and not exactly in accord with what Fr. Zuhlsdorf says here, particularly with regard to the reception of Holy Communion. I also have a leatter fro m the Ecclesia Dei Commission where I asked this specific question, and they refused to answer it: “Is it a sin to resceeive Holy Communion at an SSPX chapel?” They answered a couple of other questions, but NOT that one. If it was sinful, certainly a Vatican dicastery would have let me know so, right?

    Also, the EDC recently said in private correspondence that the SSPX are NOT excommunicates. I can provide the very letter if you would like me to.

    “If the Priest was ordained by the SSPX, then he his Masses are presumptively valid, but illicit, as he is at least under either presumptive interdict or excommunication.

    As the SSPX does not qualify as a separated ecclesial community under the Ecumenical Directory, the terms of can. 1335 CIC 1983 apply to the fact pattern proposed.

    According to the terms of can. 1335 of the Code, you would not sin per se in receiving the Blessed Sacrament at an SSPX Mass, as for any just reason one is permitted to ask for a Sacrament from a Priest under censure, which the SSPX presumptively are according to Canon Law. For the duration of the Sacrament’s administration, the censure is temporarily lifted between minister and subject of the Sacrament.

    This does not mean that he has jurisdiction for Penance or Matrimony, just that the censure is temporarily lifted by the faithful requesting any other Sacrament for any just reason, which reason is to be interpreted broadly.

    To answer your question, if Msgr. Perl wrote that a faithful could “attend” and “participate in” an SSPX Mass without sinning under certain conditions, he implied that the faithful could communicate under those same conditions, because the rationale is one and the same under can. 1335 CIC 1983, viz. a faithful “asking” for “a Sacrament” or a “Sacramental” for “any just reason.” The term “any” as opposed to “a” is a broadly expansive indication for interpretation.”

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