UPDATE 6 April:
I want to make a point. Specific marriages (that is, involving real people not theoretical cases) are assumed to be valid, unless they are declared by a tribunal not to have taken place at all. Some marriage ceremonies are undertaken without the proper “form” being observed (e.g., lack of an authorized witness to receive the vows – bishop, pastor, priest with delegation, etc.). Hitherto, SSPX weddings have had a defect in the form observed because their priests have lacked proper delegation. But! The marriages enjoy the presumption of validity until proper authority has made the estimation that there is a problem. That is accomplished through a proper canonical procedure. Documents are submitted. A case is drawn up and examined. A determination is made and communicated. In the case of lack of or defect of form, the process is pretty simple. Anyway, I just want to emphasize that, in the eyes of the Church, marriages are presumed to be valid until they are shown with moral certainty not to be.
___ Originally Published on: Apr 4
For about the thousandth time, I look forward to the day that the SSPX is fully reconciled. Under the unlikely pontificate of Pope Francis, steps are being made. Just as Nixon went to China, it seems that Pope Francis may be the one to get this job done together with SSPX Bp. Fellay. Fellay, by the way… how ‘about that guy? He is proving to be a great leader.
Over the years my two biggest concerns have been the validity of sacramental confessions and the validity of marriages. To review, for absolution to be valid, the priest confessor has to have the faculty to absolve. Ordination is not, by itself, enough. To exercise the power of the keys, the priest needs permission from the legitimate authority of the Church. Also, for marriage to be valid, it must be witnessed by witness authorized by the Church. The couple give to each other the sacrament of matrimony. However, for the marriage to be valid, the proper form must be followed. One of the elements of the form is that there is a witness who is authorized by the Church. Hitherto, the priests of the SSPX did NOT have the faculty to receive sacramental confessions. Except in the extraordinary cases of danger of death, their absolutions were, in themselves, invalid. That doesn’t mean that the penitent never received any sort of graces, but they did not receive valid absolution. However, for the Year of Mercy Pope Francis (in a rather indirect and foggy way) gave the priests of the SSPX the faculty to absolve validly. After the Year of Mercy, Francis extended the faculty indefinitely. That takes care of the absolution issue. The priests of the SSPX, however, are still not authorized witnesses of marriage. Thus, the marriages witnessed by the SSPX are not valid. This is something that can be easily resolved. However, it has not yet been resolved.
Now we learn that steps are being taken to resolve the SSPX marriage issue.
In the Bolletino today we read with my emphases and comments:
As you are aware, for some time various meetings and other initiatives have been ongoing in order to bring the Society of St. Pius X into full communion. Recently, the Holy Father decided, for example, to grant all priests of said Society the faculty to validly administer the Sacrament of Penance to the faithful (Letter Misericordia et misera, n.12), such as to ensure the validity and liceity of the Sacrament and allay any concerns on the part of the faithful.
Following the same pastoral outlook which seeks to reassure the conscience of the faithful, despite the objective persistence of the canonical irregularity in which for the time being the Society of St. Pius X finds itself, the Holy Father, following a proposal by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, has decided to authorize Local Ordinaries the possibility to grant faculties for the celebration of marriages of faithful who follow the pastoral activity of the Society, according to the following provisions.
Insofar as possible, the Local Ordinary is to grant the delegation to assist at the marriage to a priest of the Diocese (or in any event, to a fully regular priest), such that the priest may receive the consent of the parties during the marriage rite, followed, in keeping with the liturgy of the Vetus ordo, by the celebration of Mass, which may be celebrated by a priest of the Society. [So, a priest who is fully “regularized”, whether he is a diocesan priest or a priest of a religious institute serving there, etc., can be present at the wedding and he would receive the vows. The SSPX priest could do the rest.]
Where the above is not possible, [I wonder about that: for example, of the SSPX priest refuses to play ball?] or if there are no priests in the Diocese able to receive the consent of the parties, the Ordinary may grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society who is also to celebrate the Holy Mass, reminding him of the duty to forward the relevant documents to the Diocesan Curia as soon as possible. [Pretty easy.]
To the Ordinaries
of the Episcopal Conferences concerned
Certain that in this way any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X as well as any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be alleviated, and at the same time that the process towards full institutional regularization may be facilitated, this Dicastery relies on Your cooperation.
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on 24 March 2017, confirmed his approval of the present letter and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 27 March 2017.
Gerhard Card. L. Müller
+ Guido Pozzo
Titular Archbishop of Bagnoregio
So there it is.
This move confirms the Holy See‘s view that SSPX marriages are – in general – not valid due to a defect of form. As to specific marriages, all marriages are presumed valid until proper authority has made a determination about them. Lack of or defect of form cases are pretty easy to figure out.
I hope there are not any thick SSPXers out there who refuse to go along.
How is this being reported? Let’s look at Crux with my emphases and comments:
Pope Francis offers way to recognize marriages by traditionalist group
Pope Francis has made another concession to the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX),in an attempt to bring the group into full communion with the Church.
The latest olive branch was extended on Tuesday, when a method was announced for their marriages to be considered valid in the Church.
Currently, priests of the society lack the necessary permissions to conduct Catholic weddings, so the marriages in their chapels are not considered valid by Church authorities.
Under the new system – outlined in a letter by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, who also serves the President of the Commission which deals with the SSPX [the Pont. Comm. “Ecclesia Dei“] – a local bishop would have a priest of his diocese attend the wedding at the SSPX chapel, and receive the consent of the parties, while the SSPX priest celebrates the wedding liturgy according to the traditional rite.
Müller also said if no priest of the diocese was available, then the bishop could give the necessary faculties to the SSPX priest to receive the consent from the parties, and have him send the necessary paperwork to the diocese.
[… some blah blah…]
Francis seems to be trying to sidestep this doctrinal roadblock by looking directly at the pastoral situations, with this latest letter citing the pope’s concern over “any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X as well as any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be alleviated.”
Perhaps by increasing contact between the local bishops and local SSPX congregations – which often have no communication at all – the pope is hoping to break down some of the psychological and cultural obstacles to unity.
However, the SSPX does not think it needs these permissions, [great guys, but they are wrong] and a visit to any of their websites will give you pages and pages of explanations of why their priests have all the faculties necessary to perform their ministry.
And although Francis is known as a “pope of gestures,” these gestures on priestly faculties are probably not the ones the rank-and-file traditionalists want to see him make, and that takes the pope back to the doctrinal roadblock he has been trying to circumvent.
In an interview earlier this year, Fellay said “the main obstacle is the degree of obligation of adherence to the Second Vatican Council,” in particular mentioning the SSPX “will not yield” on questions such as “the way in which ecumenism is practiced, [ehem… that’s not a doctrinal problem] including statements very dangerous for the faith, that make you think all have the same faith; the liturgical question or the relationship between the Church and the State.” [i.e., religious liberty]
Those are questions which it is doubtful this pope will answer in a way the traditionalists will accept, even if they don’t have to worry about the validity of their marriages. [Grrrr…. at the end, the writer had to piddle on future. The solution isn’t that difficult: because the issues that the SSPX has trouble with are, in fact, fraught with difficulties, simply allow that people have freedom to disagree about what they mean.]