D. Rockville Centre: Bp. Murphy clarifies his SSPX position

Not long ago, His Excellency Most Rev. Bishop William Murphy made comments about the SSPX/Williamson/Holocaust controversy in The Long Island Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

I have written of Bp. Murphy before.  His comments are usually good. 

The last time His Excellency wrote about the SSPX, I was not convinced that he conveyed with precision certain details of some points.

However, in his recent offering Bp. Murphy makes some clarifications. I respectfully include them here below with my own emphases and comments.  I edited out a few things not directly relevant to our immediate interest.

A pastoral clarification

My column last week commented on several issues of Church interest that had been in the news. Those comments were received favorably by a goodly number of persons who wrote to me. They did, however, elicit some negative reaction and even some sharp argument from some who believe that I wrote inappropriately and inaccurately. [I sympathize.  Sadly, there are people on the "right" who harm their own cause by being, simply put, nasty.] Upon prayer and reflection, I believe I need to share these thoughts with you in the hopes that I might be more precise and more irenic in my reflections to respond better to the concerns some of you have expressed.  [Admirable.]

Regarding the Society of St. Pius X, (SSPX), I believe I need to re-visit my own language. Their founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, took strong exception to some of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. He argued his positions during the Council, but his arguments did not prevail. The documents of an ecumenical council are binding on all Catholics, once passed and then approved and promulgated by the Pope. From direct personal experience I know how much the Servant of God, Paul VI, suffered from the public and private criticisms of Archbishop Lefebvre regarding aspects of the Council’s teaching and the Holy Father’s implementation of that teaching. These criticisms continued against the Servant of God John Paul II and caused him much suffering. This included public criticisms of some of John Paul’s pastoral initiatives in which I was personally involved. Thus my own history is interwoven in a small way here.  [Could it be that Bp. Murphy worked in the Roman Curia for a time and was involved in something that the SSPX sharply criticized?  Are we really going to make "he hurt the Holy Father" a criterion for how we treat with the SSPX?]

Here again Pope Benedict may be the “chosen instrument” to bring healing and reconciliation. I certainly pray daily that this will be the case. Thus as I reflect on my own words regarding the status of the SSPX, I recognize that I should shape my statements on the statements of Pope Benedict and the Secretariat of State. Good and qualified canonists maintained that the ordained bishop and priest members of the SSPX were in schism following canons 751 and 205[On the other hand, Card. Castrillon, Pres. of the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei is insisting that they are not in schism.  This is a thorny matter for many observers.  If you apply the "duck argument" it looks as if they are, especially in light of JPII’s use of the word in the M.P. Ecclesia Dei adflicta.  But the Holy See gets to judge these things, not canonists, nor bloggers, … nor members of the SSPX!] They are validly ordained, but they are not in full communion with the Church. When Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops, he removed, as one Vatican official said to me, “a roadblock” to help them as leaders of the SSPX to move more easily along the road they need to travel toward full communion. I am totally in agreement with that and rejoice in this further expression of the Holy Father’s generous and paternal benevolence.

Further, last Friday, after my column had been written and published, the Secretariat of State felt the need to offer a note of clarification. You may find the full text on the Web site of our diocese, www.drvc.org. I urge you to read it. From that point on, I make its language mine. Note, however, what the Secretariat of State says in part: “The remission of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a very serious canonical penalty, but it has not changed the juridical status of the SSPX which presently does not enjoy any canonical recognition by the Catholic Church. The four bishops, even though they have been released from excommunication, have no canonical function in the Church and do not licitly exercise any ministry within it.”

The statement goes on to explicate the major issue, “A full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition for any future recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X.”

Because the SSPX does not yet have canonical recognition nor do its bishops and priests licitly exercise any ministry within the Catholic Church at the present time, I, as Pastor of this Church, continue to urge the faithful of this diocese not to participate in the Masses offered and the sacraments administered by priests of the SSPX.  [This is his right as the bishop.  I, too, am not wholly satisfied when people attend SSPX chapels exclusively.] No Catholic incurs any sin by attending Mass celebrated by a priest of the SSPX, but neither does one fufill the Sunday obligation by doing so. [?] Canon 1247 states that, on Sundays and holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. This obligation is fulfilled only by participating in Mass celebrated in a Catholic rite by a priest who is in full communion with the Church. [I am perplexed.  That is not what can. 1247 says.  Can. 1247 states an obligation to participate at Mass, but it doesn’t clarify how.  It is one of those canons which stress a theological idea.  It is can. 1248 which speaks of how we fulfill the obligation.  There is nothing in either canon which talks about the priest who says the Mass.  More on this below.]

When first I came to this diocese, I expanded the opportunities for the faithful to participate in Mass according to the “extraordinary rite.” After Pope Benedict published “Summorum Pontificum,” I saw to it that this Mass, based on the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII, was available at three locations, one in each vicariate of our diocese. In addition, some pastors also offer this Mass on Sundays. I sent priests who wanted to learn how to celebrate the extraordinary rite to a special school set up by the Fraternity of St. Peter. [Excellent!  I wish every bishop was as open as Bp. Murphy!  He should be thanked for this.] At the request of some of the faithful, I celebrated and conferred the sacrament of Confirmation at the Cathedral of St. Agnes last June in the extraordinary rite[Wonderful!] As pastor, I believe I have done my best to respond generously and appropriately to the legitimate requests of the faithful here in our diocese. I will continue to do so to the best of my pastoral ability.

In response to Donatism in the fourth century, St. Augustine was always very clear about the shortcomings of the Donatists, yet he always maintained friendly relations with their bishops and priests. [Augustine tried to do that, but didn’t succeed.  Initially, as a priest and first as a bishop he tried to reach out to them.  Things deteriorated.  Remember: Donatists actually were schismatic.  Donatists regarded Catholic sacraments as null and void, while Catholics regarded Donatist sacraments as valid but not efficacious.  The Holy See says the SSPX is not in schism formally.  There is no issue about validity of sacraments at stake.  Also, relations with the SSPX are improving.] He differed with their inadequate teaching, but he urged them by his prayers and words to come to full communion. And he always called them his “brothers.” I will always do the same with the SSPX because they are our brothers and sisters and, while we pray that soon they will come to full communion with us, we never forget that we, which is all of us and the members of SSPX, all pray together “Our Father.”

I am glad that Bishop Murphy engages tough issues in his column and doesn’t simply offer pabulum.  Well done.

Now some points.

First, Card. Castrillon, who is President of the Commission which has competence in all these matters, has let us know the Holy See’s position about the question of schism.   Bp. Murphy does not say in this article that the SSPX is in schism.  He makes reference to canonists who think it is.  I get the sense that he thinks it is.  I sure understand his position!  I scratch my head, but accept what Card. Castrillon has said.

Second, Bp. Murphy says that his subjects do not fulfill their Mass obligation by attending Mass at an SSPX chapel. 

I am entirely mystified by this.  The Holy See’s Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has made it clear that people do fulfill their obligation.  But we don’t need the Commission to clarify this.  The 1983 Code of Canon Law is already clear.

The Code describes in can. 1248 how we fulfill our obligation. 

The obligation of participating in the Mass is satisfied by one who assists at Mass wherever it is celebrated in a catholic rite, either on the holyday itself or on the evening of the previous day.

In Latin can. 1248 says "ubicumque … wherever/anywhere". 

Because canons 1247 and 1248 talk about our obligations, we are bound by can. 18 to interpret them strictly.  That means that we cannot add additional points to the obligation which are not in the canon.  Anything which imposes an obligation must be strictly interpreted so that the restrictions don’t become even more restrictive!

Simply put, the canon says that when you attend Mass in a Catholic Rite anywhere on the preceding evening or day itself, you fulfill your obligation.  Nothing more.

The Law is entirely silent about the place and the priest, whether it is a chapel of the SSPX or another group or the priest is in good standing or not. 

This has been the consistent position of the Holy See about the Masses of the SSPX. 

Furthermore, the British commentary on the Code (The Canon Law: Letter and Spirit by the Canon Law Soc. of Great Britain and Ireland, p. 701) says a person fulfills the obligation even by attending an Orthodox Mass (cf. Ad totam Ecclesiam (1967)!  

Even if you maintain that the SSPX is in formal schism you would still be able to fulfill your obligation.  If they are not in formal schism, then it is even clearer that you fulfill your obligation.

I think the law and the SSPX need the benefit of the doubt, of the law and of the present approach of the Holy See.

Thirdly, I note that His Excellency make reference to his own past experiences and the suffering of two Popes because the SSPX treated things they did harshly.

I can entirely sympathize with how treatment by some of the more zealous on the traditional side of things can really spoil your enthusiasm to receive them kindly.  The nastiness which which some of them express themselves is in my experience rivaled only by the hate mail of anti-Catholic homosexuals.

That aside….

When His Excellency makes reference his own experience and the suffering caused by traditionalists, SSPX members, to the Pope, I have to ask whether, again with all due respect, we are really going make "you hurt the Holy Father’s feelings" a criterion for whose Masses we can attend?

If so, then the Masses of certain university professors or priests of whole religious orders might be excluded.

Okay… I exaggerate.. but not by much. I am trying to make a point.

But the question is a serious one.  If we are really going to make "causing the Holy Father to suffer" some sort of element in our judgment about whether or not we fulfill our Mass obligation on Sunday, then we are in serious trouble. 

Can we doubt that the dissents of the left have caused the our Popes far more pain than what the members of the SSPX have caused?

I have stated clearly that people should not regularly attend chapels of the SSPX to the exclusion of regular parish churches, so long as there truly isn’t a grave moral of physical impediment to seeking the sacraments from regular place in good standing, etc. 

Nevertheless, I would not want to place an undue burden of fear on people about fulfilling their Mass obligation.

I need instruction from a canonist about whether or not a bishop can place additional restrictions on how to fulfill Mass obligations.  I don’t understand that part. 

If I am in error, I seek correction.

Also, and this is important if you write to Bishop Murphy, or any bishop, about something that bothers you: don’t be a jerk.  You hurt your own cause.  You advance nothing.  You harden hearts – yours and the bishop’s. 

If they are already not happy with the SSPX or anything to do with the older Mass, your attitude  confirms them in their unease.

It is just wrong to treat a bishop that way, even if you don’t care that you are harming your own cause. 

If you have a concern or disagree, it is your right to express it, but be respectful.  I think most of them will consider respectful disagreement carefully because they are for the most part men of good will.

So… for the love of God don’t screw it up for everyone else.

I will leave the combox closed on this, to avoid the knuckle-headed stuff sure to come in.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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