People often use the word "schism" to describe the irregular situation of the bishops and priests of the SSPX. They have reason to. In his 1988 Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, Pope John Paul II used the word "schism".
Today, the Holy See is backing away from applying "schism", saying that the 1988 consecration of bishops was a "schismatic act", but not stating clearly just what happened as a result.
Okay fair enough.
So what do you have to do to get yourself officially identified as a schismatic?
Schism is defined in the 1983 Code of Canon Law: "schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." (1983 CIC 751)
Here is an interesting story from CNA with my emphases and comments:
Schismatic St. Louis parish loses appeal to Vatican
St. Louis, May 29, 2008 / 01:03 am (CNA).- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has confirmed Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke’s decree excommunicating the board of directors of a schismatic parish. Archbishop Burke had excommunicated the leaders of the breakaway ethnically Polish parish for hiring a suspended priest to celebrate the Sacraments and sacramentals.
The priest could be defrocked for remaining in schism, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has warned.
St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish had operated under a structure in which the pastor is subject to the authority of the parish governing board, in violation of canon law. [Effectively, what we call "trustee-ism"] Archbishop Burke sought to bring the parish into line with canon law, but the parish resisted his efforts. In August the archbishop removed priests assigned to St. Stanislaus and moved Polish language masses to a nearby parish. In January 2005 parishioners voted 299-5 to retain full control of the parish. [So, they formally acted against the bishop.]
In December 2005 Archbishop Burke issued a decree of excommunication condemning the church’s board of directors and the priest they had hired to celebrate their sacraments at the church.
According to Archbishop Burke’s May 30 column in the St. Louis Review, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has taken two actions. First, it has rejected the recourse (appeal) presented by the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation, including the recourse of suspended priest Reverend Marek B. Bozek.
“In other words, it has found the recourse to be without foundation,” Archbishop Burke said.
The Congregation communicated its decision in a May 15 letter signed by its head, Cardinal William Levada. The archbishop said the Congregation has confirmed his December 15, 2005 decrees declaring the board of directors had incurred the penalty of excommunication because of “persistence in schism.” [There it is: schism.]
Archbishop Burke said the Congregation gave two reasons for its decision. First, the board of directors did not observe the time limits set for recourses and neglected to fulfill the formal requirements for a recourse. [So, this was a flaw in procedure which a canonist should have paid attention to.] Second, it said the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation have committed schism and continue to persist in it. [This is the more substantive reason.]
The Congregation said in its letter that the board of directors had turned the former St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish into “an independent entity capable of appointing its own clergy apart from the hierarchy of the Church,” gradually removing it from the “jurisdiction of the local ordinary.” [Does this not sound also like the SSPX?]
Archbishop Burke regretted that the controversy surrounding the board of directors had been presented by the media as a personal conflict between the board members and the archbishop.
“As their pastor, I have been obliged to call them to reconciliation and repentance for the good of the salvation of their souls and the good of the whole Church. In doing so, I have acted in accord with what the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church require. My actions have nothing to do with any personal conflict but, rather, with the integrity of the Catholic faith and its practice, which I have the solemn responsibility to safeguard and promote,” he said.
The archbishop said that members of the church’s board of directors could appeal the Congregation’s decision to its Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops, or they could reconcile with the Church and “withdraw from the state of schism.” The Congregation’s letter said “reconciliation with the Church necessarily includes repentance for the grave harm which their schismatic actions have caused to individual souls and to the whole Church.”
Archbishop Burke pledged to offer the board of directors “special pastoral care and kindness” if they accept the Congregation’s decision. He expressed his commitment to reconciliation and said he will continue to act on that commitment.
In a separate letter, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed the case of Father Marek Bozek, saying he could be defrocked if he does not renounce his schismatic acts and continues to celebrate the sacraments illicitly. Unless the priest reconciles with the Church, the Congregation said it will “present his case to the Holy Father for his dismissal ex officio from the clerical state.” [If the Congregation goes that far, it will probably happen.]
Father Bozek is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. He had left his priestly assignment to join St. Stanislaus against the expressed will of his ordinary, Bishop John Leibrecht.
Archbishop Burke said the situation was “profoundly sad” and had caused “great spiritual harm” to the archdiocese. He finished his column by asking for prayers from the faithful.
This is pretty interesting stuff.
So, in order to get yourself officially labelled a schismatic, you have to refuse to submit to the authority of the Pope, which is in part laid down in canon law, and refuse the authority of the local bishop in those things which he has the right to govern.
So, the sad situation of the many good and well-intentioned priests of the SSPX come to mind again. The bishops involved violated a clear canon when they consecrated bishops and received consecration. That wasn’t only the Code. The Pope himself pled with them not to do it.
So, on 1 July 1988, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which has competence in matters concerning bishops, Card. Gantin (who recently passed away) issued a formal decree of excommunication stating that Archbp. Lefebvre, Bp. Castro Mayer, and the four priests they consecrated in violating of law and the Pope’s expressed will, had performed a schismatic act. They excommunicated themselves, latae sententiae, in accordance the Code of Canon Law which applies an automatic excommunication for episcopal consecration without Pontifical mandate and for schism.
Cardinal Gantin wrote: "The priests and faithful are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre, otherwise they shall incur ipso facto the very grave penalty of excommunication". This would be because they would be adhering to schism.
On 2 July Pope John Paul II issued his Motu Proprio Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei adflicta in which he confirmed both the excommunications and the state of schism. He said the consecrations were schismatic not just because they were without the necessary mandate, but also because they were disobedient. He had specifically called for them not to do what they did (par. 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.
In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops last 17 June, Archbishop Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.
John Paul II warned against formally adhering to schism: "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".
So, back in 1988 it seems that the Lawgiver and interpreter of the law, the Pope, thought there was a schism and warned about adhereing to schism which is rooted in rejecting the primacy of the Holy and refusing unity.
You reject the primacy of the Holy See when you violate the law the Pope gives to the Church and when you violate formal unity with the Church. This is manifested also when you refuse submission to the local bishop when he is applying the Church’s laws.
I have always found it really hard to figure out how lay people adhere to schism. If…if… the 1988 consecration constituted an act of schism, and Card. Gantin and John Paul II thought it did at the time, then it seems to me fairly clear that priests who would receive ordination, a salary and take assignments from the SSPX would be adhereing to schism. Lay people? Harder to say. Given money to the SSPX chapels? If so, how much? Acting on the board of their chapels? Its a problem.
But now we read that the Holy See says lay people can be excommunicated for schism by a local bishop if they act in a body in a formal way against the authority not just of the Holy See but also of the local bishop. Interesting.
Frankly, I think that if the SSPX claims they are not in schism, and if the Holy See isn’t ready to speak clearly about this one way or another, then the SSPX deserves a formal canonical hearing or trial to make a determination and the Holy See ought, in justice, give it to them.
The SSPX ought to make a formal appeal to the decree of 1988 and the Holy See ought to consider the appeal.