Michael Voris and his initiative Church Militant have been militating pretty hard these days against the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX – a society of priests, not lay people, having a less than perfect canonical status).
Michael is pushing hard that the SSPX is schismatic.
I have been saying for years that the SSPX is not. Canonically screwed up? Yes. Schismatic? No.
So, in a recent piece (HERE) Voris provides the headline:
CM EXCLUSIVE: A Canon Lawyer Speaks on the SSPX
Former canonist for Holy See confirms Society is in material schism
But if you read that piece, which is an interview with a good canonist, Marc Balestrieri, you find that you could post the headline:
Former canonist for Holy See confirms Society is not in de iure schism
Material schism is vague. Maybe they are in material schism. Maybe they aren’t. Formal schism, on the other hand, is not fuzzy. We should not throw “schism” around and about the heads of the SSPX, even though we also should not deny that they are in a decidedly bad canonical situation and confusion abounds about their status.
It is the more probable opinion among approved authors that refusal of obedience of a Catholic to the Pope which is not predicated upon a rejection of the principle of his authority as Roman Pontiff as Caput Romanae Ecclesiae constitutes material, not formal schism. However, if those lay faithful receiving the Sacraments from them at any one point in time also severed themselves entirely from, or refused submission in principle to, the Roman Pontiff and per can. 1330 of the Code of Canon Law manifested in word or in deed externally such actions, then they are presumed to have descended into formal schism.
I don’t think SSPX members or followers do that. At least the sane one’s don’t.
The Prefect’s use of the term de facto emphasizes the factual divide in communion between the Holy See and the SSPX Bishops. If he had intended to emphasize clearly the existence of formal schism on their part, he most likely would have employed the term de iure given the context of the assertion.
The absence of the use of such term on his part, however, does nothing to mitigate the gravity of the material schism by which souls are at grave risk of not being saved for as long as the situation perdures.
Agreed. The SSPX is canonically screwed up. But they are not formally schismatic.
Concerning the invalidly of absolution involves, he explains what “common error” is and what it isn’t.
SSPX priests are presumed at Universal Law only to possess jurisdiction or the faculty to absolve from sin in two exceptional circumstances. First, pursuant to the norm of can. 976, “Any priest, even though he lacks the faculty to hear confessions, can validly and lawfully absolve any penitents who are in danger of death, from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present.” “Any priest” according to this norm would include validly ordained SSPX priests. Second, in conformity with the norm of can. 144, § 1, whenever (1) Common Error of Fact or Law and (2) Positive and Probable Doubt of Fact or Law have been verified to exist in a certain fact pattern, the Church “supplies” a iure universali the faculty required for SSPX priests to absolve from sins validly. “Error” in this norm means a state of erroneous judgment; “doubt” in this canon means a grave, positive and probable doubt asserted by numerous doctors of Canon Law of unimpaired reputation extant on the part of the SSPX priest acting as confessor.
While canonists find no controversy in the assertion that SSPX priests who are validly ordained and not otherwise impeded have the faculty to absolve the faithful from sin in danger of death of a penitent (cf. can. 976), the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota does provide some rare official light into the other question of whether SSPX priests possess the jurisdiction required to witness marriage validly.
The canonist lays out really well the situation of priests of the SSPX and that they don’t possess faculties (right now) validly to absolve and they cannot witness marriages (thus, making them invalid because of lack of form. He explains that judgments of the Church’s highest tribunal on marriage has consistently ruled that the marriages were invalid because SSPX priests cannot witness marriages.
The thrust here is that the judgments of the Roman Rota has found SSPX marriages invalid because of lack of form. This provides a parallel for understanding also that the SSPX also don’t have faculties to hear confessions. “Error” of judgment is excluded, because the teaching of the Holy See has been clear. “Doubt” is excluded because canonists are in line.
Canon 144 only refers to the Church supplying “potestatem regiminis executivam”, the “executive power of governance”.
Keeping with confession as an example, and one that involves internal forum, can. 144 covers instances wherein a priest who lacks the faculty to hear confessions at all, or he just lacks them in a particular place or situation, nevertheless believes he has the faculty and the penitent also believes he does. Thus, it doesn’t quite cover the situation of SSPX priests, who know very what proper authority as instructed about their state: they lack faculties. They, however, do not obey proper authority. They might honestly believe that they can receive confessions because of some state of “emergency” that the Church is in, but, intellectually, they know that the Church has told them that they don’t. They aren’t ignorant of the facts, though they – even with sincerity – may not accept them. Some lay people are up to date on the controversy, though most are not.
I thank Mr. Voris, because he laid out with this interview many of the issues that plague the sacramental life of followers of the SSPX and he explodes the claim that the SSPX is formally schismatic.
I’ll repeat also what I have written may times. I look forward to the complete reconciliation of the SSPX. They have great contributions to make. I also think that Pope Francis might be the one to resolve this formally. It took Nixon to go to China.