Archd. St. Paul/Mpls on lifting the SSPX excommunications

From The Catholic Spirit of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis comes this statement of the Chancellor of the Archdiocese about the SSPX.

My emphases and comments.

Lifting of bishops’ excommunication doesn’t mean they are in full communion with church 

By Jennifer Haselberger For The Catholic Spirit  
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law imposes the penalty of latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication on both the ordaining bishop and the ordinand when the consecration of a bishop occurs without a pontifical mandate. Only the Holy See can remove this penalty. On June 30, 1988, the penalty was incurred by Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta of the Fraternity of St. Pius X after they received illegitimate Episcopal consecration at the hands of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

On Dec. 15, 2008, the four men requested that the excommunication be lifted, citing the suffering that it has caused them and affirming their belief in the primacy of the Holy Father and their willingness to accept the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, Pope Benedict XVI, taking into account the “spiritual distress of the parties” and “trusting in their commitment . . . to spare no effort in exploring as yet unresolved questions,” authorized the removal of the penalty of excommunication. This became effective on Jan. 21, 2009, with the Decree of the Congregation for Bishops.

The decree frees the four bishops from the penalty of excommunication, but it does not change the status of the Society of St. Pius X, which is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church[Indeed, this is the case.] While no longer excommunicated as a result of their illegitimate Episcopal consecration, the four bishops are not clergy of the Roman Catholic Church and may not exercise ministry on behalf of the church.

All baptized Roman Catholics are obliged to maintain communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This communion is expressed through the bonds of the Profession of Faith, the sacraments and union with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. When someone does not profess all of the faith, or rejects one or more of the sacraments, or rejects the ecclesiastical governance of the hierarchy, they are no longer in full communion. The remission of the excommunication of the four bishops, which was an act of charity on the part of the Holy Father, did not bring the individual bishops or the Society of St. Pius X into full communion with the Catholic Church. That will only happen when the society demonstrates its recognition of and fidelity to the Magisterium and the authority of the pope, and is visibly united to the Roman Catholic Church. [Right.  They can state all they want about their fidelity to the Holy Father, but formal adherence is another.]

Subsequent to the lifting of the excommunication, the Holy Father further clarified that Bishop Williamson’s viewpoints on the Holocaust are unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy See. Moreover, while regrettably Bishop Williamson’s statements do not result in the imposition of additional penalties under canon law, the Holy Father has specified that Bishop Williamson must unmistakably distance himself from such viewpoints before he can be admitted to Episcopal functions in the Roman Catholic Church.

Jennifer Haselberger is archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs and director of the Office of Conciliation.


Accurate in its details.    I like this because it doesn’t say more than it has to.

There is an SSPX presence in the Archdiocese and it was probably a good idea to say something.

The only thing I might want to quibble with is the idea that it might be in some way desirable for Bp. Williamson ever to have "functions" as a bishop in the Church.  Even should he be fully reconciled with the Church, he should quietly retire.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    One might quibble about this or that in the document (how is it that one who is not excommunicated not in full communion? are suspended priests not in full communion?), but it isn’t bad. Instead of harping on Vatican II it instead focuses on submission to the Pope. That is definitely a point in its favor.

  2. Why do you keep harping on this “quietly retire” idea? Just let the good bishop go back to Winona where he was for 20+ years. He is great training semanarians. Let him keep doing it. [Great? Not from the stories I have heard. No… just retire.]

  3. “Even should he be fully reconciled with the Church, he should quietly retire.”


    But I do not believe for a moment that the press will let him do so. They will make every effort to give him center stage so that he can spout more nonsense that will be unjustly attributed to Pope Benedict. The drive-by media outlets are only happy when there is tension. They create it, breed in it and feed off of its swill.

  4. TNCath says:

    Greg Hessel in Arlington Diocese: “Why do you keep harping on this “quietly retire” idea?”

    Because Father Z. is right. He has caused great embarrassment to the Church and the Holy Father with his divisive and, quite frankly, bizarre views on the Church and society. I still can’t get over his comments about the Oklahoma City bombing, the September 11 attacks, women going to college, and, of all things, The Sound of Music! Honestly, do we really want him training seminarians? No way. Honestly, I don’t think he’ll ever function as a bishop in good standing with the Church.

  5. Jordanes says:

    Yes, this is a pretty good statement, all in all. Now if only the folks at Catholic News Service can figure out how to read the Feb. 4 statement from the Vatican Secretary of State. In their story today on Bishop Williamson’s apology, CNS says, “The Vatican later published a statement saying that Bishop Williamson would not be welcomed into full communion with the church unless he disavowed his remarks about the Holocaust and publicly apologized.”

    I’ve noticed them make the same erroneous statement a few other times, once from John Thavis their Rome correspondent. The statement didn’t say Bishop Williamson would not be “welcome into full communion unless . . .,” it said he would not be admitted to episcopal ministry. Whether or not he is currently in “full communion,” the fact remains that the Vatican has never published any “statement saying that Bishop Williamson would not be welcomed into full communion with the church unless he disavowed his remarks about the Holocaust and publicly apologized.”

  6. TJM says:

    It’s a sane, measured statement. Good for the Archdiocese. Tom

  7. Brian Mershon says:

    With the news that the Catholic Church in the U.S. dropped nearly 400,000, I can’t wait for all the diocesan statements issued warning their congregations about the 25,000-plus heretical, schismatic sects.

    I’m also awaiting diocesan warnings about the “valid” but “illicit” sacraments issued by Orthodox priests in the very midst of dioceses with Catholic Churches.

    These are all heretical and schismatic and dangers to the eternal salvation of all people. Their erroneous ideas have contributed to the downfall of society on earth and jeopardized the salvation of millions.

    Awaiting such statements…

  8. Paul Haley says:

    Playing the devil’s advocate for a minute on this quote:

    Right. They can state all they want about their fidelity to the Holy Father, but formal adherence is another.

    What form would formal adherence take?

  9. Brian Mershon says:

    To clarify my last statement about heretical, schismatic sects that set up “churches” all throughout the U.S., because tongue-in-cheek doesn’t come across well in comment boxes, ecumenism, as practiced in the actions of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes over the past 40 years is B.S. pure and simple.

    The hypocrisy of repetitively calling the SSPX bishops, priests and laymen “schismatics” for 20 years, while calling heretics/schismatics our “separated brethren” is the best example of hypocricy in the institutional Church.

  10. Considering the quality of the teaching in the seminaries in the US the past 25 years…..I am sure Bishop Williamson would be a vast improvement. I still talk to priest friends in the Arlington Diocesew who had to deal with a lot of nonsense at Mt St Mary’s. I say put him back in Winona and tell him to stick to faith and morals. It’s in the middle of nowhere and basically would be like semi-retirement anyways.

  11. Can someone compare the case of Bishop Williamson, who apparently has repented (God is quick to forgive) and the ridiculous stance on church issues by Fr. Hans Kung. True, he cannot act as a theologian, but it seems people turn their heads and continue to allow his rantings?

  12. Kevin says:

    dcs is right to raise this point:
    “Not in full communion” means “excommunicated”,
    unless there is such a thing as “partial communion”.
    If the latter is the case, should it be said that there is no
    no salvation outside the inner circle of the Church?

  13. Chris says:

    I find it hard to believe, as Greg pointed out, that H.E. Williamson wouldn’t be a welcome addition at a seminary as long as he could stay behind the scenes. The level of formation has fallen so far over the last 50 years that I cannot fathom how someone would not jump at the opportunity to get him forming young priests.

    And what are all these bishops going to say if, let’s say next week, the Holy Father flips a switch and brings them into full communion? Will all these bishops now be fine with their local SSPX? Will the local SSPX priest be invited to the priest councils and retreats?

    I pray that is the case, but …

  14. Brian Mershon says:

    Kevin, you must not be up to speed on the VII “ecclesiology” of “partial communion.”

    Tsk. Tsk. Where have you been all of these years?

  15. TMG says:

    Well, I’ll be looking forward to seeing if this Diocese publishes an article informing Catholics that they can go to Mass at SSPX Chapels once they ARE in “full communion”. If they actually would publish something like that I would be very pleasantly surprised.

    So will we now see more and more Dioceses publishing warnings like this while firmly twisting the screw on the SSPX? I wonder if the hostility toward them will ever end?

  16. David Deavel says:

    I’m not sure why people find the idea of partial communion in the Church so difficult. Anybody who commits mortal sin and thus can’t go to communion can’t be said to be in full communion. Many Protestants are validly baptized and show many of the fruits of the Spirit–though they can’t come to the Eucharistic feast, it’s clear that they are Christians anyhow.

    Brian Mershon rightly points out that there is a lot of hypocrisy (and I would add silliness) in contemporary ecumenism, but there is a lot to be said for acknowledging that those who are baptized validly outside the Catholic Church are indeed Christians and thus Catholic Christians in some sense. While some of their ideas are materially heretical, they are not formally heretics since they were brought up with these ideas and didn’t reject the truth knowingly. Instead, they often have been brought up with misunderstandings of what the Church teaches. The emphasis on the fact that they are brethren, if separated, often opens them up to hear what the Church really teaches.

  17. Ray from MN says:

    Greg Hessel in Arlington Diocese: “Winona is in the middle of nowhere.”

    Why it’s right next door to “Zuhlsdorf Country.” Best not disparage Winona!

  18. TMG on “full communion”
    If you believe what you seem to be asking for, why wait for official seal to practice the Latin Rite. The Eastern Othodox chuch is not in communion with Rome. Do you think they will all go to hell?

  19. TMG says:

    David V.

    Actually, I assist at the TLM at a SSPX Chapel now. Just wondering if the “average faithful” in the pews will ever be encouraged to assist at their Masses by the various Dioceses when all “objections” are gone…or will they still be branded as black sheep then also?

  20. Bro. AJK says:

    Dear Fr Z.,

    If they are not priests in good standing and then they “say Mass,” what happens? In other words, are their ordinations valid, even if illicit? The bishop is clear that they are not in good standing.

    By analogy, let me explain. We know that women who pretend to be Catholic priests are regularly excommunicated because they pretend to be ordained and then mimic the Sacraments. Is this the same for the SSPX?

  21. The Other David says:

    The hypocrisy of repetitively calling the SSPX bishops, priests and laymen “schismatics” for 20 years, while calling heretics/schismatics our “separated brethren” is the best example of hypocricy in the institutional Church.
    Comment by Brian Mershon


    The difference is the Protestants and Eastern Orthodox of today were born into the separation and did not choose it. The SSPX on the other hand did choose to act. In the illicit consecration in 1988 and by those who chose to remain with them.

    No Hypocrisy here. just two entirely different situations that need to be handled differently.

  22. TMG: on assisting at mass by the average faithful: If you are asking will the faithful in the pews will be able to serve, as I understand your question, as lay persons now do in a Novus Ordo mass? The faithful belong in the pews to let the religious attend at mass. Do not expect to see girls as alter “boys” in an SSPX mass any time soon. Lord, let it be in accordance with your word.

  23. TMG says:

    David V.

    You misunderstand my post. I mean will the faithful ever be encouraged to ATTEND Mass at a SSPX Chapel, instead of being discouraged from doing so.

  24. ssoldie says:

    Thanks Brian Mershon, Now let’s let the Holy Father and the Bishop’s get on with the business of unity, and we the laiety pray the Holy Ghost will lead them.

  25. Latinman 1 says:

    Thank God, for the priviledge to attend the Traditional Latin Mass
    and for the faithfull traditionalists, like TMG. Keep up the good work of spreading the truth instead of the usual uninformed innuendo.
    All Catholics should be encouraged to assist in the Traditional Latin
    Mass as it was set forth under the direction and instruction of Our Lord Jesus Christ and is as valid today as it was at the last supper.

  26. David Kastel says:

    “I’m not sure why people find the idea of partial communion in the Church so difficult. ”

    Here’s why Mr. Deavel…it’s ambiguous.

    These bishops, priests, and faithful of the SSPX are either

    a) Catholic
    b) Not Catholic

    The same is true of Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and everyone else who is not Catholic.

    On what grounds is anyone trying to claim the priests of SSPX are not Catholic? You may claim that the SSPX has no juridical existence, and that therefore these priests have no juridiction to offer the sacraments. But you have no right to claim they are not Catholic. Jennifer Hasselberger is wrong to say this and apply it to SSPX: “When someone does not profess all of the faith, or rejects one or more of the sacraments, or rejects the ecclesiastical governance of the hierarchy, they are no longer in full communion.” The SSPX accepts all of the faith, sacraments and hierarchy.

    Protestants, who reject the many tenets of the faith, most if not all of the sacraments, and the hierarchy are still held to be in so-called “partial communion” The SSPX, who accept all the faith, sacraments, and hierarchy, are also said not to be in so-called “full”communion? [Did you decide to ignore that part about “governance”?]

    What gives? Who is in “full” communion if not those who accept the things Miss Jenny mentioned?

    If the dioceses want respect, they should start acting a little more charitably and honestly. If they want to say that SSPX priests have no right to offer mass, okay.

    But they can no longer pretend that SSPX priests are not Catholic by using terms like “partial” communion.

  27. Latinman 1 says:

    David Kastel,
    You are spot on with regard to this article .

  28. Brian Mershon says:

    David Deavel: “Anybody who commits mortal sin and thus can’t go to communion can’t be said to be in full communion.”

    David, I believe this is incorrect. Anyone who commits mortal sin is a full-fledged member of the Catholic Church, even if he is not in a state of grace.

    “Partial communion” is not a teaching of the Church and I believe you will be hard pressed to find it even in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Yes, “full communion” is in some official magisterial documents, but I’m pretty sure that “partial communion” and “degrees of communion” are but theological speculation.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    As for “validly baptized Protestants.” I would say that once they reach the age of reason, they are most likely no longer “in some imperfect manner” as Vatican II says, connected to the Church nor in the Mystical body of Christ.

    As for who specificaly is a “material” vs. a “formal” heretic, only
    God knows, and we are presumptuous to assume just because someone is raised as a heretic that he has not heard what the one True Church teaches about herself.

    Remember, “God desires that all should be saved.” Sure seems like I’ve heard that a lot since Vatican II.

    Yes. He gives EVERY SINGLE PERSON the opportunity(ies) and grace to choose the one true Church of Jesus Christ.

    Therefore, is even one single person does not join it prior to death, it is NOT God’s fault. We all have many opportunities for grace EVERY DAY–and we reject them.

    At least the same can be said for adult Protestants who, in some manner, reject the Church of Jesus Christ, outside of which neither holiness nor salvation can be found.

    No one but God knows for certain who is a “material” or “formal” heretic.

    In the end, parts of our souls will not go to heaven with parts going to hell. That is why the idea of “imperfect” and “partial” communion and “full” communion is so ambiguous.

    Use Thomistic terms and we will all be speaking the same language.

  29. David Deavel says:

    Juridically speaking, Brian and David are correct to a degree. People either are fully Catholics or not. But juridical categories don’t cover everything. The Church has taught (since Pius IX at least) that people can be in invincible error and thus the possibility of heaven is not closed to them. This was reaffirmed by the 1949 letter of the Holy Office to the Abp. of Boston with regard to Fr. Feeney. So we have the affirmation that to be part of the Church in Heaven it is not absolutely necessary to have been fully incorporated as a Catholic in this life. Yet isn’t all salvation from Christ and the Church, as Brian pointed out?

    What Lumen Gentium did was to affirm the theological reality that a) incorporation into Christ and the Church is necessary for salvation and also affirm a) the possibility that people of good will outside of the Church can be saved. Thus the Council Fathers talk (LG 14) about those “fully incorporated” into the Church, not hesitating to admit that some will not end up in heaven. These, Lumen Gentium says, were “of the body” but not “of the heart” of the Church. This goes beyond the question of simple juridical categories. When it talks about other Christians, LG talks about those in various ways “joined” (“coniunctam”) to the Church. This notion of fully “incorporated” and “joined” sounds to me like “partial union” or something like it. While ultimately only God knows who’s in and who’s out, what is real is that there are many Christians who had valid baptism (and often valid marriages) and manifest the presence of the Spirit in various ways. The Council Fathers wanted to affirm that these people were Christians truly–because of Catholic sacramental teaching–but also that they lacked the fullness of the faith.

    Brian’s claim that “we are presumptuous to assume just because someone is raised as a heretic that he has not heard what the one True Church teaches about herself” seems to me to be backward. If even most Catholics don’t know what the Church teaches about herself, why should we assume most non-Catholics do? I talk with many Protestants and even the brightest and most well-educated hold very strange ideas about what the Church teaches.

    The complaint that the notion is ambiguous is well-founded. But I think that’s because the Church deals in topics that are ambiguous and go beyond simple questions of juridical structures. As I tell Protestant friends who complain that the Church’s teaching is complex and messy, “That’s because life is complex and messy.”

  30. Brian Mershon says:

    David, I don’t disagree with your assessment, and I believe it seems like a repeat of something I have heard many times before. This is not meant to be disparaging, but just a reflection. There is this way of presenting LG as if it is dogma or new, when really it is not. The Church has always taught that some people may be invincibly ignorant, but it is NOT due to their invincible ignorance that they MAY be saved. It would be in spite of it. The Church does not know for certain how those outside of its visible fold can be saved, but it is our every duty to bring them to the one true Church of Christ.

    Just one correction, you said, “Thus the Council Fathers talk (LG 14) about those ‘fully incorporated’ into the Church, not hesitating to admit that some will not end up in heaven.

    Of course, baptism and membership in the Church is NOT the only thing that gets Catholics to heaven. We have to die in the state of grace. So do those who, through no fault of their own, die outside the Church’s visible confines. They have to live and die in charity in the state of grace without at least 5 of the sacraments. Good luck.

    Of course, those outside the visible confines is mere theological speculation. The three defined dogmas of EENS are what the Church teaches as INFALLIBLE DOGMA and is certain of. The theological speculation of those outside the Church’s confines is just that–theological speculation.

    Again, I’m not denying that some Protestants seek the truth. If they seek it sincerely, God will not lead them astray. He will lead them into the Ark of Salvation, outside of which neither holiness nor salvation can be found.

    It is presumptuous to assume that non-Catholics who we think are pious, will end up in heaven. We should do everything in our power to evangelize them.

    Ask the Jesuit Martyrs of North America why they died to baptize thousands of lost souls. Certainly, they concerned themselves less with dialogue with the Native American Indians who had “elements of truth” in their pagan/idolatrous religion, and concerned themselves more with teaching the truth and baptizing as many as possible.

    Where is that fervor now?

  31. David Deavel says:

    I appreciate your desire to see that fervor for souls, Brian, and I certainly agree that it often hasn’t been there in the postconciliar period. But I don’t think you can get relativism, ecclesiological or otherwise, out of LG. In fact, I don’t think LG says anything particularly new, at least on the present topic. As I said, it just puts together theological data that had often been treated separately. It doesn’t exactly say how it is possible to be saved outside the Church, but it affirms that unity with Christ and the Church is necessary.

    One more thing: I fully agree with you that there are some Protestants who are in serious danger–they know what the Church teaches and they know it is true. My point is that most people don’t know these things. For the first group, tough love is sometimes needed; for the second group, affirmation of what they have can lead to questions about what it is they lack. A couple of great pieces to read on this are Chesterton’s “All Roads Lead to Rome” and “The Catholic Church and Conversion.” He underlines the point that agressive Catholic apologists often set people back because they keep harping on the truths the prospective convert hasn’t got and not building on the truths he has got.

    Above all, we need to pray for those who have started to ask questions about Christ and his Church.

  32. Barb says:

    It is sad to see so much confusion here regarding the status of other peoples’
    relationship with the Church. The Holy Father was simply doing his job in justic
    and charity.

    There are many who don’t want the SSXP people encouraged in any way for their own
    own misguided and sometimes evil ends. I pray we don’t help them inadvertantly by
    being so distracted by the arguments that we don’t offer up prayers and sacrifices
    for the good of all in this matter.

    I for one am overjoyed to see God’s mercy being administered to this sad rift in
    His glorious mystical body. I do see the “reed that was like unto a rod” in play
    here and it is a wonderful and terrifying time we live in.

    Fiat Voluntas Tua

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