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This is more like a privilege, which remains in effect for the time described or until they are rescinded.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.
Might this not be better understood under the rubric of an indulgence for the laity than as a privilege for the priests? [I don’t think so. And as I mentioned above, Francis says that it is for the laity, not for the priests.]
Dear Fr. Z,
Thank you for this excellent and detailed analysis. While you are not a canonist (neither am I, though my secular legal background provides a similar mindset), I believe that you are correct in your interpretation, including the specific personal limitation to as to duration (i.e. that if Francis’ pontificate were to end before the Year of Mercy ends, the privilege ends, subject to possible renewal by his successor).
I see here another olive branch being extended to the SSPX. (Is it too much to speculate that this may have been the result of collaboration between the Pope and the Pope Emeritus? Reconciliation is a cause dear to his heart.) One can only hope, as you have said, that the SSPX humbly accepts this gift, that their hearts may be opened, and that they may return to the fold.
Read with Summorum Pontificum, an interesting trend may be emerging. It seems that for at least (1) the wider use of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite and (2) steps toward solving the SSPX’s situation — both of which arguably support an “interior reconciliation at the heart of the Church” — the Pope is looking for the laity to take affirmative steps… i.e., to do something!
Perhaps it is a recognition that the top-down approach of the indult-era just didn’t work and now it’s time for a different approach. Thanks Fr. Z for encouraging us, and many others, to “ride the damn bike!” This may very well be one of those moments again!
“Looking diligently, lest any man be wanting to the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up do hinder, and by it many be defiled. ” Hebrews 12:15
It seems to me that the gesture while greeted in some corners with rejoicing, in other places it is accepted with great bitterness, paranoia, and hostility. In other cases people have taken the merciful gesture turned it around on itself and have used it as a weapon to beat down anyone who does not assent to the SSPX’s words and deeds.
The question more or less for our Leaders in the Church and the SSPX is where is the line? Will a perpetual privilege continue be granted if they continue to hold marriage tribunals, attempt the reconfirmation of Catholics, attack Divine Mercy Sunday, instruct Catholics that the NO is evil and should be avoided, etc.
If the SSPX is asked to drop some or all of these relatively visible actions/opinions will they? If they do will they lose a large portion of those who rely on them to other factions? Perhaps they will be allowed to continue to do so while retaining the privilege to absolve, its not beyond the realm of possibility.
Even with the privilege, which is good, I don’t see it healing division. As moving as another rosary bouquet would be I think a public announcement of stopping their marriage tribunals would be better.
It seems like a lot to hope for, but so did this gratuitous act of Pope Francis.
Father Z –
You say “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!”
Couldn’t diocesan bishops (not the bishops of the SSPX) grant the authority to lift the censure and absolve the sin to SSPX priests within their dioceses? While I’m not aware of any bishop having done so, wouldn’t that be possible?
This letter from the Pope, not surprisingly, is a topic of discussion among canon lawyers. I applaud your contribution to the discussion, Father. One canonist, Travis Rankin, (who might be a reader of this blog) wrote a dissertation on the faculty to absolve and concluded that the Church cannot abrogate the need for the faculty. That makes the “privilege” possibility suspect. That being said, the commentary I’ve seen that suggests that the Pope is granting a “privilege” makes sense out of the text of the letter. –Dan
Although the Society believes they already have faculties, I would like to see them–in a truly noble gesture that would set an example for the whole Church–humbly ask for faculties. It would be win-win-win (the third win would be for parishioners).
With all due respect, those described as SSPXers are Catholics, [I have never said they weren’t] just like us, [That depends, I guess. It is getting harder to know what that means.] desirous of cleaving to the fullness of the Deposit of the Faith in times of undeniable confusion. You stated that, “So, what is the Pope doing? It’s hard to know, since the paragraph isn’t written in clear juridical language.”
This is exactly why I cannot follow the subsequent argumentation of this being a special privilege. [I am sure that others will have their other, good, ideas about this. I await them and their arguments.] For just as you said, if this is the case for the Year of Mercy, why not afterward? [Yes, I wrote that.] Is Mercy no longer applicable for souls of good will, souls in obvious need? [I didn’t write that.]
Let’s ALL not abuse this opportunity the Holy Father has provided by attempting to define what he has clearly not defined – save that of the undeniable need of true mercy for well intended Catholics to be absolved from their sins while in the pursuit of sanctity. That is what the Church has always supplied. And I thank God for it. [Keep at it!]
Thank you for these much needed clarifications Fr. Z. Highly appreciated.
Thank you Fr Z.
Its so confusing sometimes and you make things easy for the average person to understand.
I am trying very hard to understand so much of what the Holy Father says but most often I am just left confused. I have several really good catholic sources (like Father Z) that I keep up with and even with good commentary and explanations like the one above I’m still left pondering what it all really means. I feel as if I am frying brain cells trying to figure out and understand what the Holy Father is actually saying and encouraging us to do. It’s overwhelming, it really is. Shouldn’t it all be more simple?
“…Is Mercy no longer applicable for souls of good will, souls in obvious need?”
That last part was me, Father.
As for this unprecedented act of His Holiness Pope Francis, I have only one thing to add. The seas are likely far rougher up ahead than imagined and we need all the reinforcements we can get. God bless!
I do not believe I have observed any comments to this effect; but am I alone in my perception of the hand of Benedict in this? (After all, Pope Francis has been more noted for his hammer-like verbal thrashing of those who hold dearly to “tradition”)? [Francis stands on the shoulders of his predecessors. Surely he is aware of what Pope Benedict began and what John Paul did before him… and Paul VI. I think this was all Francis but in continuation with Benedict. Benedict paved the path and pointed in this direction. Benedict’s dispositions and gestures lead in this direction. So, we can read Francis through Benedict in this move. However, I think this is really Francis. Francis is chaotic and confusing, but I believe his heart is in the right place and that he means business about the sin of abortion and about the state of souls of many Catholics who are not going to confession… properly or at all.]
Given the gravity of souls uncleansed during the Year of Mercy, the Pope has granted to the faithful a gift: that God grant them absolution for their sins through his servants in an irregular situation.
God, through the Pope, is the loving Father. In the year of mercy, God welcomes the prodigal children back through confession. While SSPX might view themselves as the loyal son who toiled while the prodigal son went astray, is God, through Francis, challenging them to view themselves differently. No Son knows more than His Father. A Roman Catholic priest must humble himself to the Pope. Is God inviting these men, whom “several Brother Bishops have told” the Pope ” of their good faith and sacramental practice” back into the fold?
There is so much sin in the world. There is so much good to be done. It’s all hands on deck. Please, SSPX, use this year to humble yourselves. The Pope and the Roman Catholic Church desperately need your talents.
I’m glad Pope Francis did this. This is the kind of thing I would also be expecting from the Synod on the Family – an outreach to all Catholics – as Pope Benedict started. This kind of pastoral care is what the world needs and reflects Our Lord’s supplications with his Image of Divine Mercy. People feel like being a good Catholic today is like threading a needle. Many of us have been miseducated, are confused, and are looking for and awaiting answers.
God help me, I’ve become a horrible cynic.
Might this be the bone, before the Synod.
How unusual is the phasing of this Jubilee – to begin on 8 December rather than Christmas Eve?
Herbert Thurston’s 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia article says “a number of witnesses allude to the unwalling of the holy door in connection with the Jubilee of 1450” quoting one as to “when it is broken down at Christmas when the Jubilee commences” and commenting “All this describes a rite which has lasted unchanged to the present day”. And this was indeed the case of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
But the forthcoming one begins – as it happens – on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. And as you now explain it is in some sense “those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation [who] shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins” rather than “these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X” who shall absolve.
This seems, if that is not putting it too indelicately, to have, in fact, a certain ‘in your face’ quality with respect to “these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X” and indeed the Fraternity of St Pius X as a whole. ‘In fact’: might this fact (whatever the intentions were) not more courteously have been avoided?
So is this declaration by Pope Francis an act of mercy itself toward the priests of the SSPX? Has the SSPX issued any statements? Do they care?
Tamara T. said –
2 Peter 3:15-16 —
“And account the patience of our Lord, salvation; as also our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, has written to you. As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are certain things hard to be understood….”
So divinely inspired Scripture, written by the head of the Apostles, says officially that Paul’s letters are hard to understand. :) We don’t get the full brunt of this in English, but I gather that Paul’s Greek is very prone to shift around from subject to subject without much warning or explanation. I gather that the Book of Revelation also treats Greek in some weird ways, and obviously the subject matter is difficult to understand. And so on, back through many OT books.
Obviously it would be nice if Pope Francis talked more straightforwardly, but most retired chemistry and literature teachers are not Julius Sumner Miller or masters of rhetorical skill. This pope has good points to make, but it’s also possible to strain oneself looking for clarification that just isn’t there. Sometimes the man just talks vaguely. Give him the benefit of the doubt, or take the strain off yourself by not studying his documents. Countless generations of Catholics have almost totally ignored papal pronouncements that weren’t law, so you can do it too. :)
The Year of Mercy thing is a goodish document, and the SSPX provision is nice and interesting. I am enjoying the legal and theological analysis.
This is good news! Pray and fast for our Church, for reconciliation with the SSPX and for the upcoming Synod. Please pray. If every reader of this blog would offer one decade for our Church, it would be tremendous! How about a Hail Mary when you think of it? Any amount of prayer would help.
We had a public rosary this past week for our city. My sister came with her boys. They try to pray a family rosary every day. She attends an SSPX chapel. When we were leaving our pew, she turned and whispered, “Is the Body of Christ here? Where do they keep the Body?” I motioned to the beautiful gold tabernacle on the altar. She genuflected. Only two of the five or six leaders of the rosary gave slight nod or bow when they approached the altar and passed the Body of Christ. She could not tell from our behavior where the Body was kept (the red candle’s flame was barely visible).
Praise God we had good number of people come to a public rosary! Praise God for Pope Francis’ sign of mercy! Please pray for the Church.
We say “We are the Church! We are the Church! Obey the Church!” The SSPX reply, “Yes, but that is GOD.” Please pray for the smoke to clear so we quit fighting each other and start fighting side by side for souls and so the whole World sees that we are THE Church. There is one Truth. Christ IS present in the Holy Catholic Church. I have hope.
As a canonist, I tend to like my decrees in nice, neat, little boxes. I like things within defined borders, clear promulgation and expiration dates, well-stated authority and precise wording. Pope Francis often confuses me, because he is not a canonist and does not put things into nice, defined boxes. Ultimately, that’s my problem, not his.
That said, I’m also aware that Jesuits tend to think like chess players. I’m more of a checkers man myself. Chess players are always thinking three or four steps down the road – that’s too much for my little mind.
I can’t help but wonder, when Pope Francis does something like this, if what I see as sloppiness is, perhaps, a sign of Pope Francis playing chess – laying a foundation for something down the road wherein this will all make retroactive sense. This Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, for example – was it just a whim? Or perhaps did Pope Francis, in regular communication with Pope Benedict, who has been spending his days in contemplation and mystical prayer, have an insight into what is to come? This extension of the faculty to remit the sin (crime? excommunication attendant on?) of abortion and the permission granted to the faithful to receive valid absolution from priests of the Society of St. Pius X – have these things been done in an effort to get as many people as possible into a state of grace to prepare the Church for something? Could this even somehow tie into the behind-the-scenes efforts to find a way to accommodate folks who are living in second, and irregular marriages? Is this the commander of the vessel trying to make sure everyone’s in uniform, standing at the ready as best as they can in order to fend off a major assault?
[A spiritual SHTF moment? Plausible. Just look at the signs of the times. In any event, we should always feel edgy and a little nervous about our souls. We must be vigilant, because we don’t know the moment when we will be put to trial and test.]
Fr Timothy Ferguson says: “have these things been done in an effort to get as many people as possible into a state of grace to prepare the Church for something?”
Perhaps not just the Church.
The last apparition of Our Lady of Akita to Sister Agnes was on the 13th October 1973. In 1988, the Philippine ambassador to the Vatican spoke to the former Cardinal Ratzinger about Akita and the Cardinal personally confirmed to him that the two messages of Fatima and Akita are essentially the same.
“If men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the Bishops and the priests.
“The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see Cardinals opposing Cardinals, Bishops against other Bishops. The priests who venerate Me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres (other priests). Churches and altars will be sacked. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises, and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.
“The demon will be especially implacable against the souls consecrated to God. The thought of the loss of so many souls is the cause of My sadness. If sins increase in number and gravity, there will no longer be pardon for them.
“…Pray very much the prayers of the Rosary. I alone am able to still save you from the calamities which approach. Those who place their confidence in Me will be saved.”
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us
Our Lady of Akita, pray for us
Fr Tim Ferguson says,
That said, I’m also aware that Jesuits tend to think like chess players. I’m more of a checkers man myself. Chess players are always thinking three or four steps down the road – that’s too much for my little mind.
Not to argue with your larger point, but not all great chess players have been step by step thinkers. Some take a more aesthetic approach–emphasizing the beauty of a certain position–rather than a methodical consideration of one move followed by another. Among others, Bobby Fischer played this way
This pope is a Jesuit ordained in 1969. That means he has an aversion to anything he considers as legalistic or ideological (which unfortunately seems to him to include theology).
IMHO, although the SSPX isn’t his cup of tea, he considers the differences with Rome to be mostly legalistic.
Also: Karl Rahner probably was very influential in the formation of Papa Bergoglio. Rahner’s approach to Jurisdiction is that it is included with episcopal consecration. Thus, priests lacking faculties for Confession would mean illicit Absolution but not invalid. (My understanding is that Cardinal Tettamanzi also held this opinion.)
I agree with others that Pope Francis seems to have a good heart (although I can’t say the same for some of his friends and advisors), and like robtbrown said, seems to think that laws get in the way of progress. This decision about the SSPX makes me nervous, not because of the SSPX; I pray that God will somehow find a way for healing and reconciliation, perhaps after another council in the next 50 years. No, this decision makes me nervous because if the same haphazard approach is taken to the situation of the divorced and cohabiting, the results could be disastrous. The law can’t just be tossed aside to “help” those in difficult marital situations without causing some serious problems. I guess all this worry about the synod is wasted energy, but I can’t help feel uneasy.
If the Pope isn’t granting faculties, then doesn’t this prove the SSPX’s argument all along that their priests CAN give valid absolution without faculties? And, not just in cases of danger of death, but as a privilege for the faithful who ask them for the Sacraments? [No.]
What happened to St. Athanasius during the Arian crisis when he was excommunicated? What about his faculties? Did he continue to function as a priest, did he hear confessions? [Things were done differently in ancient times.]
This Jubilee year begins on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (I Class, if I am not mistaken), instead of the usual start on the Nativity of Our Lord (also I Class)? His Holiness has some reason he is not saying for this change.
In my little mind…Pope Francis seems to be doing 3 things in his pontificate:
1. Evangelizing by getting the world’s attention so that we the faithful catechize an uncatechized People of God; 2. Seeking conversions throughout the world to God & His Church; 3. Encouraging Christian Unity…amongst the ‘irregular situations’ in The Church…including SSPX, et al, but also amongst the Eastern churches…”…so that both lungs may breathe as one.” St. Pope John Paul II paraphrase…and in answer to the Son’s prayer “…that they may be one….”.
This blog helps all of the above quite well, so that these 3 areas are addressed well in this post alone…by Fr. Z as well as in the comments. At least that is my understanding.
Interesting point about influence of Rahner on Bergoglio, however, reading the pope’s words, of the two major SJ theologians, Bergoglio smells 100 times more of von Balthasar than Rahner.
Any thought about jurisdiction through episcopal ordination, Rahner’s or not, is moot. Ordination gives a power, thus the man becomes a shepherd with power to wield jurisdiction. However it is not much use being a shepherd if you are not given any sheep. That’s why episcopal ordination should be accompanied with the granting of jurisdiction over a pusillus grex, (a portion of the flock).
Absolution is a juridical act, so the usual clear distinction between valid and licit becomes a little blurred for sacraments where the sign is a legal act (The other sacrament where the sign is a legal act is marriage. Not many canonists avert to the blurring between valid and legal in marriage). Since the sign of the sacrament of penance is judgement of a sheep by a pastor (shepherd), the judge needs to have legal jurisdiction over the sheep (“my sheep”) in addition to the general power to absolve.
Father Z says to the Society:
“The Pope has done you a favor. Don’t blow it. Say ‘Thank you!’… often!”
In a statement responding to the decree, the Society says:
“The Society of St Pius X expresses its gratitude to the Sovereign Pontiff for this fatherly gesture. In the ministry of the sacrament of penance, we have always relied, with all certainty, on the extraordinary jurisdiction conferred by the Normae generales of the Code of Canon Law.”
I assume this is their way of saying thanks.
I wasn’t defending the so-called German approach, just showing its outlines. I have to add, however, according to that approach episcopal consecration includes jurisdiction (legal jurisdiction is redundant) over the sheep. Its advantage, of course, is that it provides an explanation and foundation for validity of Orthodox Absolution.
Its disadvantage is that in undermining Papal primacy, it reduces the Communion between the pope and bishops (and in general the college of bishops) to a juridical relation. In draining Communion of its ontological basis, it likewise reduces the Mystical Body to a juridical relation.
I don’t see much influence of von Balthasar in Francis. I do know that after VonB left the Jesuits, they wanted nothing to do with him. I was told that VonB was the leading candidate for a chair in theology at Tubingen in 1960. Cardinal Bea used his influence to prevent the appointment. Hans Kung got the job.
robtbrown: “…the so-called German approach,…” “….according to that approach episcopal consecration includes jurisdiction (legal jurisdiction is redundant) over the sheep. Its advantage, of course, is that it provides an explanation and foundation for validity of Orthodox Absolution.”
My questions, hopefully related:
1. Validity of Orthodox Absolution then extends to SSPX?
2. The apparently non-schismatic SSPX then extends to the Orthodox?
3. Then, both SSPX and Orthodox are in ‘irregular communion’ with Rome?
4. Or does my wishful thinking show through in the previous 3 questions? Or are unrelated?