More needs to be said about this whole Pope Francis, SSPX lack of faculties, Year of Mercy confessions thing.
As I wrote before, the Pope, in his letter to Archbp. Fisichella, did NOT say that the priests of the SSPX will have the faculty to absolve.
Yes, yes, it can be argued that, if the faithful can have their sins validly absolved by an SSPX priest, then – somehow or other – the Holy Father has in effect granted the faculty to absolve. But that’s not how the Holy Father framed it.
Frankly, I forecast that sometime soon there will be an additional document, more juridical in nature, clarifying precisely what His Holiness wants. In such a document I suspect the faculty would be granted… but that is only speculation on my part.
In the meantime, we have to work with what he wrote in that letter to Archbp. Fisichella.
NB: The faithful can go to the SSPX priests for confession. He didn’t explicitly say that the SSPX priests will have faculties to hear their confessions. It seems like a nit-picky detail but – for now, at least – it isn’t.
A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.
So, what is the Pope doing? It’s hard to know, since the paragraph isn’t written in clear juridical language.
Let’s drill into it.
If it isn’t an explicitly granting of a faculty, it also isn’t a dispensation from having the faculty. Dispensations are usually given for single acts.
This is more like a privilege, which remains in effect for the time described or until they are rescinded. A privilege is like a dispensation, but it has more stability (it lasts longer). Read about privileges in the 1983 CIC can. 76-84.
It is a privilege not so much for the priests (which is odd) but for the faithful.
Pope Francis has said that this state of affairs, the privilege (my word – it’s not in the Pope’s letter) is in effect for the Year of Mercy, which has specific dates. So, within these dates the state of affairs applies to the faithful who want to go to the SSPXers for confession. Then it stops.
Considering just the letter (and not some future clarifying document that doesn’t yet exist) the priests of the SSPX are not granted the faculty to hear confessions (even though the effect is that they can receive sacramental confessions). Francis seems to have provided a favor to the faithful… a way for the faithful to have their sins forgiven licitly and validly in spite of the law, in a way that is beyond (praeter) or contrary (contra) the law.
At the end of the time period of the privilege (the close of the Year of Mercy) the priests of the SSPX will still not have faculties and the faithful will no longer be able to go to them for licit and, most importantly, valid absolution.
I hope this favor, this privilege (if that is what this is) doesn’t create massive confusion.
WHEREIN FR. Z will now be a priest to SSPX followers:
Can. 83 says that “privileges cease if, in the judgment of the competent authority, circumstances are so changed in the course of time that it becomes harmful or its use illicit.”
So… I recommend that SSPX followers and the SSPX priests not abuse this favor. They could abuse this favor, or create confusion around it, by distorting its meaning. The Pope has done you a favor. Don’t blow it. Say “Thank you!”… often!
And even though His Holiness might have spoken in a seemingly unfriendly way in off the cuff remarks about Spiritual Bouquets, I’ll bet that every time he receives one they warm his heart. How could they not?
SSPXers! Organize and send Spiritual Bouquets to Pope Francis with expressions of thanks!
Back to the post…
To recap again…
I think that – as things stand – we are looking a grant of some kind of favor or privilege that runs either beyond or contrary to the law. A canonist could help with this, but it strikes me as unusual for a privilege to be granted to a vague group, namely, “those who approach” the SSPX for confession. Can. 76 says that privileges are granted to physical or juridic persons. The followers of the SSPX do not fall into that category. “Those who approach” seem to me not to be a juridic person.
Another thing, the Pope says “through my own disposition”. Could it be that were he to die or resign before Holy Year or its end, this privilege might cease? Okay… I’m getting in over my head a little with that last part.
Anyway you look at it, however, it is clear that SSPX priests do not have the faculty to receive sacramental confessions and to validly absolve unless the competent authority gives them the faculty.
Finally, the more I think about this, the more I see what Francis did as a gesture of real concern for the SSPX priests and their followers.
He is truly concerned for them and their souls. The concession in the letter might be confusing in the juridical sense, but his pastoral and paternal intent is clear.
Consider that this favor is granted in a letter in which the Holy Father was also giving to all priests the faculty to lift the censure incurred by the crime (not just sin) of abortion. Priests of the SSPX don’t have any competent authority other than the Holy Father to give them the faculty to lift censures like this! Apparently, in this two step process, they will now have that ability.
And if this is the case for the Year of Mercy, then why not beyond the Year of Mercy?
Even though we are scratching our heads, we are doing so with a smile.
The moderation queue is ON.