What’s up with the SSPX?

People are asking me about the meaning of a Swiss Bishop, 76 and retiring, who will live with the SSPX at one of their schools.  Rorate has a pretty good round up from different stories.

Basically, the Bishop of Chur, Vitus Huonder, wanted to retire some years ago, but Francis kept him on. Now, with Francis’ blessing, he will retire and live at a boarding school of the SSPX in Switzerland.

Chur has had some conservative bishops, including Wolfgang Haas, now in Liechtenstein. Their tenure has been hard.

What does this mean?

First, consider that, years ago, Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the SSPX bishops. That didn’t change the status of the priests, who did not have faculties.

In 2007, Benedict issued the “emancipation proclamation”, Summorum Pontificum.  That was huge.   The impact of that move will have a massive knock-on effect across many sectors of the Church.

Benedict then put the PCED under the aegis of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seeing that most of the problems facing the Holy See and the SSPX were now doctrinal.

Then, Francis, in the Year of Mercy, found a sideways method of giving the SSPX faculties hear confessions and absolve. That was big. He extended that indefinitely. Then Francis found a way for SSPX priests to witness marriages, in conjunction with bishops of dioceses.

Recently, Francis suppressed the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (my old gig).  It is now wholly subsumed into the CDF as a “section”.  Its head is the Cardinal Prefect.  The personnel remain in their old digs.  The work goes on.   If now someone messes with Summorum Pontificum, they are messing not with little PCED, but with La Suprema.  Under Francis, the CDF isn’t quite what it once was, but it is still the heaviest of the heavy weight congregations of the Curia.

What we are seeing is a kind of creeping incrementalism.   It is commonly used on the Left to obtain permission of abuses, such as communion in the hand, girl altar boys.   The usual suspects like James Martin or Phyllis Zagano, are employing it to obtain approval of sodomy and women’s ordination.   It is a slow … pick your analogy… drip drip or chip chip or nudge nudge until you get what you want.   It is slow and patient and relentless, like cooking the frog in the slowly heating water.

I often say here, “Brick by Brick!”  Eventually you have built up the edifice… or have torn it down, without making a dramatic move that everyone notices and fights against.

Small gestures of recognition are being given to the SSPX.  Some not so small, when they involve the sacraments of matrimony and of penance, but you get my drift.

The fact is, Francis has okayed that a Bishop live with an SSPX community.   That’s not nothing.

If we turn the sock inside out, there could be other elements to this, which will have to be verified over time.  For example, if this bishop is with the SSPX, it is possible that he will be called upon to confirm and to ordain for the SSPX.  That’s what the other SSPX bishops do, but they are also getting older.   That might contain Bp. Huonder within the SSPX.    If Huonder were not with the SSPX, might he be – in his retirement at some blah blah place – another Athanasius Schneider (bless him)?  Free to travel, pontificate, speak?

In any event, I look forward to seeing what happens next.

It seems to me that we can look with optimism on the recent developments, until anything contrary comes up.

Meanwhile, I believe that these moves, along with what the PCED affirmed in the past, when I was around the place, that the SSPX is not formally schismatic, that you can attend their chapels, that you can fulfill your Sunday obligation at their chapels.  Now it is possible to go to confession and to get married in their chapels.   Those chapels are not parishes.  Their priests are not pastors (parish priests).  Hence, they cannot grant certain dispensations or delegations.   They don’t have, strictly speaking, the cura animarum as a parish priest does.   Nevertheless, you can see which way things are going.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Hidden One says:

    Perhaps there will be an incremental extension involving the Anointing of the Sick, granting universal faculties for SSPX clergy to offer it, even outside the immediate danger of death (as happens when, say, a 95 year old is anointed without medical diagnosis beyond being old and frail). The Anointing has a sin-forgiving element, so does Confession… mercy enters in here too. It would only be consistent to provide this, after all.

  2. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’ve almost given up trying to figure out what Pope Francis is thinking at any given time. I’m also curious what’ll happen to these gestures towards the SSPX once the next Pope’s in charge. (I don’t think they’re bad, mind, but I worry what’ll come out of a Conclave with Francis-appointed Cardinals =-\ )

  3. Clinton R. says:

    I am very suspicious of the actions and motives of His Holiness. However, I do pray for him everyday. I pray that God may grant him graces to be a faithful and worthy successor to St. Peter. While it may seem extremely unlikely or even impossible, I pray the Mass of All Time be restored as the ordinary form of the Latin Rite. What is the future of the TLM or SSPX? Only God knows. Fasting, prayer, alms giving and going to Confession are very much needed. +JMJ+

  4. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    It is always good to be aware of Leftist incrementalism; it is also always good to be aware of Leftist deception tactics.

    The Vatican is very clearly Leftist at the present time, and because they are clearly working incrementally on propagating several anti-Christ evils, why would their incremental “support” or “approval” or “rehabilitation” (whatever the word is) of SSPX be considered a good thing?

    In other words, the Leftist Vatican is collaborating with SSPX (which presents itself as “traditional Catholic” or “authentically Catholic”), while the same Leftist Vatican is supposedly working on suppressing authentically Catholic entities, persons, and doctrines.

    Is it possible that SSPX is actually not the so-called “conservative” or “traditionalist” entity that people think it is?

    You make a good point, Fr. Z., about Archbishop Schneider. One could also mention Cardinal Burke or a few other names.

    The current Vatican is collaborating with SSPX but pushing away/”exiling” Cardinals Burke, Pell, etc.?

    The current Vatican sold out authentic Chinese Catholics but wants to incrementally bring in the so-called “traditionalist” SSPX?

    Doesn’t seem to pass the smell test.

  5. Kate says:

    I’ve been thinking on their status lately. I guess I still don’t understand what is left to make them fully regularized.

  6. Malta says:

    I was secretly going to SSPX masses before it was fashionable (I wrote an article here: https://isidore.co/misc/Res%20pro%20Deo/New%20Oxford%20Review/Fever%20of%20Vatican%20II.pdf and got into a pissing match with a professor from Wyoming Catholic College). That was never my intent, and I still don’t normally go to SSPX Chapels (I do exclusively go to TLM approved by our local bishop).

    The thing is the TLM was said for centuries and participated by the greatest Saints the world has ever known, many of whom knew little or no Latin. The SSPX preserved that for us, unilaterally. Even a non-Catholic, like Agatha Christie knew that abolishing something so beautiful would have consequences not just on the Catholic faith, but on the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie_indult

    Many of the most beautiful pieces of music were written for it: from Jewish Bernstein, to Hyden (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie_indult) to Palestrina, to Mozart etc. Why take sophistication and beauty out of the Church and replace it with banality?

  7. Malta says:

    This is even better; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRfF7W4El60. The Pope at the time only allowed polyphony at mass after hearing Palestrina.

  8. adriennep says:

    Please explain PCED and when exactly they affirmed it’s okay to fulfill Sunday obligation. We have a problem in Archdiocese of Portland with SSPX continuing Masses every weekend in a local school gymnasium, despite a formal cease and desist letter from our Archbishop Sample. How can a Roman Catholic attend these Masses in knowing defiance of their Archbishop?

  9. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Don’t you find it odd that people are ultrascrupulous about the canonical situation of SSPX but cheerfully go to Masses which are rife with liturgical abuses? And then it is Traditionalists who are accused of rigidity!

  10. Uxixu says:

    The biggest problem with the novus ordo is that blatant abuses such as clown Masses, etc don’t happen often enough and the reality is quite banal and uninspiring of either devotion or outrage.

    Biggest problem with SSPX is not with Rome, but with the diocesan Ordinaries in whose territory they intrude without permission: a violation not of Vatican II but of Trent’s legislation against the “clerici vagantes.” The sede position is ironically more consistent as they deny they are valid Catholic bishops. Being a heretic or not does not affect this (a serious charge of course that bears a burden of formal accusation) and setting up a parallel Church is unprecedented even with actual heresy (See St. Ambrose vs the Arian Auxentius).

    Technically, SSPX never left the ad experimentum status, which expired after 6 years and never had canonical authority to spread outside of the Diocese of Fribourg. The “state of necessity” again stands in unfortunate contradiction to Trent’s deliberations.

  11. Gabriel Syme says:

    @ Hidden One,

    SSPX clergy can already administer anointing of the sick. Every priest can, due to Canon 1003 which says:

    Every priest and a priest alone validly administers the anointing of the sick.

    NB – Bishops can also do it, of course. I believe the way the latin is translated into English means the word “priest” is always used but that is a quirk, not an intentional exclusion of Bishops. Deacons cannot do it.

    Technically the priest administering the sacrament is supposed to be the one who is directly responsible for the person, for example a parish priest tending to one of his flock. However, the law does allow any other priest to do it for a reasonable cause (such as necessity, for example, or a lay person choosing to associate with the SSPX).

    See here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3L.HTM

    @ adriennep

    How can a Roman Catholic attend these Masses in knowing defiance of their Archbishop?

    Probably the Archbishops letter is directed at the local SSPX Prior and not the lay people attending the masses (?). This would mean the lay people are not personally defying the Bishop.

    I don’t say this regarding Archbishop Sample specifically but, generally speaking, with the conduct and standards we have seen from many Prelates in the Church, I think that today we are very far removed from the era where Bishops said “jump” and lay people said “how high?”.

    Of course, Bishops are important and so hopefully we can return to a place where they are respected and listened to by the lay people (if not SSPX Priors).


    Don’t you find it odd that people are ultrascrupulous about the canonical situation of SSPX but cheerfully go to Masses which are rife with liturgical abuses?

    And how! Even worse, people will not bat an eyelid when the parish priest encourages them to visit the services of the local protestant sect, and they will happily listen to protestant clergy preaching in Catholic Churches at ecumenical events.

    Muslims being invited to pray in the sanctuary of a Catholic Church? No problem! But don’t dare go near those Catholic Priests in the cassocks!

    This outlook seems related to the error of Papolatry. With papolatry, people almost worship the Pope and would never question anything he does or says – because he is the Pope.

    This kind of attitude seems to be applied to diocesan structures or canonical statuses, and so we arrive at the situation where people would be comfortable with a satanic orgy in the parish church, but an SSPX mass in a local gym hall is absolutely unconscionable.

    Don’t get me wrong, in normal times what the Pope says should be reliable, and a canonical status should give comfort – but we are not in normal times and so we must rely on our Catholic sense, and not be too trusting of the credentials of others.

  12. jflare29 says:

    I understand your thought…to a point. I can’t speak for anyone else, yet I have little choice but to be very wary of SSPX. And others.
    Years ago, having grown intensely frustrated with the typical Mass at 6 parishes in a particular city, I had accidentally found a traditionalist parish. I had seriously considered joining the last; certainly they seemed the most reverent parish, claimed to be Catholic through and through, and offered the most sensible arguments I’d heard about chastity or modesty I could remember. (Or at least, their typical, practical dress code for Mass and the pamphlet I found in a rack outside the sanctuary did.)
    However, …for all that I had never once before worried about the relationship between a parish, a local bishop, and the wider Church, something about the situation…still nagged at me. Finally, after much soul-searching, after 4 weeks of Advent, I reluctantly…returned to the least annoying Novus Ordo available. I did so because, while the chancery lady’s warning about “they’re Tridentines” didn’t tell me much useful, for all that I didn’t know anything about priestly faculties or what the pope’s infallibility truly meant, I had a vague idea that priests, bishops, and Rome still had/have some sort of formal relationship betwixt them. I could not discern any relation between the local bishop and that particular parish. As such, while I could readily agree that many post-Vatican II practices have gone insane, I could not agree that the parish aimed to follow Vatican I. If the pope’s infallibility may or may not apply accurately to Vatican II, the traditionalist camp, at the time, seemed to me defiant of recognizing the pope’s authority at all. In ANY matter. As such, I could not then justify continuing to seek Mass from a traditionalist organization. I recall standing just outside the communion rail of St Al’s, looking more closely at the high altar (I hope they haven’t torn it out since then), thinking it quite sad that such a beautiful work would not see routine use for much beyond a nice decoration for Mass. Even so, I still felt that as a lay man, I had no authority to demand that the traditional Mass be offered, a high altar of that sort be used, or even that Mass be offered ad orientem (a term which I did not know at that time, nor did it make an ounce of sense to me when I did learn it.)
    Notably, a few years later, I even refrained from responding to an FSSP mailing, fearing that I might be sucked into another materially schismatic group.
    Point is, whatever Pope Francis might be trying to do incrementally, I do not typically have time, as a lay man, to be picking over precisely what faculty this or that priest may have. Or not.
    As such, however much I may loathe the typical attitude at a Novus Ordo parish, I still do not believe I can justify seeking sacraments from SSPX. …thankfully, FSSP administers the parish I now attend routinely.
    If you wish to call that being uberscrupulous, well, we’re not dealing with whether a football team should go for it on 4th and 2 with a national championship on the line, are we? We’re dealing with the ultimate disposition of our souls. I’m not willing to risk eternity because I think Bishop X is a practical turd regarding liturgical matters and routine theology.

  13. Prayerful says:

    The Order of Malta showed Francis (and/or advisors) at his / their most cunning. I wonder if it’s a ‘slowly, slowly, catchy monkey’ type effort with Francis towards the FSSPX, not that somehow hopes to destroy them, but as a more manageable form of trad reservation. The FSSP or ICRSS often operate through diocesan churches, which might draw too many to the TLM, while the FSSPX operate their own chapels, and it far less likely that the ordinary diocesan NOM attending Catholic will ever get to hear of TLM. Maybe, maybe not.

  14. danielinnola says:

    This is great news. Only good can come of this. I wish the same approach coul

  15. yychay says:

    http://sspx.org/en/node/772 Letter from Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, approval for the expansion of the SSPX outside Fribourg, 1971
    https://fsspx.news/en/news-events/news/cardinal-m%C3%BCller%E2%80%99s-letter-and-his-non-renewal-head-cdf-30934 The sole reason why the SSPX remains canonically irregular is Rome’s demand that we accept the entire Vatican II, despite the Nov 16, 1964 declaration of Council General Secretary Archbishop Felici that the council is binding on faith and morals only when it expressly declares so (never did). I didn’t understand the hostility toward the “EF” communities until reading some of the comments here. We are still in this mess because *some people* will criticize the council privately but keep their heads down officially, while we are not going to be DISOBEDIENT towards Mirari Vos, Quanta Cura, Immortale Dei, Quas Primas, Mystici Corporis, Humani Generis, Pastor Aeternus, Pascendi, Lamentabili, just to turn a “pastoral council” into dogma, but here there are comments by “traditionalists” demanding we “accept Vatican II”, saying that Rome “reached out” to us (actually it’s the other way around) and we “rejected accountability to the Holy See”, asking “why didn’t they join FSSP in 1988”.
    Thank you Fr Z, for defending us so frequently.

  16. veritas vincit says:

    For the life of me, when alternatives for the TLM that are loyal to the magisterium of the Church, like the FSSP, are available, I don’t understand why people adhere to the SSPX. That group sure seems to be in “de facto” schism, being not “formally” schismatic only because of the apparent forbearance of the Holy See going back to St. John Paul II. (I’m sure Father Z will correct me if that statement is wrong). Maybe it’s just me, but using outrage over liturgical abuses to justify flirting with schism seems like using 2 wrongs to make a right.

    Speaking as a Protestant convert, the Norvus Ordo Mass (the only Mass I have ever known) is light years better than any Christian worship outside Holy Mother Church, as that Mass offers the Real Presence.

  17. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Veritas vincit
    It is very difficult to form a view on these issues in the abstract. May I suggest you find a TLM and go to it for a period of time, say three months, and you will find it easier to see why priests and bishops might be willing to sacrifice their careers in the church over these issues.

  18. Ann Malley says:


    Thank you for making that observation.

  19. Lurker 59 says:

    @veritas vincit I have no affiliation with the SSPX nor has there ever been a TLM anywhere near where I have lived (and I have moved a lot). That is the issue — loyalty to the Magisterium. One side believes that loyalty to the Magisterium is that loyalty to the current Magisterium supersedes loyalty to the historical Magisterium and the other side believes that the current Magisterium exercises authority and demands loyalty only when it is itself loyal to the historical Magisterium. The “Hermeneutic of Continuity” is (was?**) an attempt to synthesize a bridge between the two positions.

    ** It is very early, but there is a good possibility that historians will point to the pontificate of Pope Francis as the point in which this hypothesis began to be rejected by the Magisterium.

  20. Hidden One says:

    Certainly, SSPX priests always administer the Anointing of the Sick validly, but in the instance I mentioned, would not be doing so licitly. Liceity matters, notwithstanding the present antinomian pressures both within and without the church.

  21. jflare29 says:

    Hvon, Lurker,
    As I read the comment again, I don’t think vincit aims to chastise anyone for seeking a traditional understanding of Catholic faith. Rather, I see a view much alike to my own: When SSPX acts as they have since 1988, taking the view they take, I’m hard pressed to define their status without referring to formal schism. Yet other groups, such as FSSP, ICK, others, even this blog, also exist, and remain in communion with Rome, to my knowledge. That being the case, I’m not as worried about SSPX being reunited, outside of concern for their souls and the strength of the Church.

    Then again, if we’re worried about souls, …I have Methodist relatives, a good childhood friend was a Presbyterian, and neighborhood friends were Lutheran. …Boy Scout friends were some loose form of Christian or only barely religious at all. I would see the Church dedicate FAR more effort to evangelizing these.

  22. robtbrown says:

    Gabriel Syme,

    The distinction between bishop/priest is episcopus/presbyter.

    Both are a sacerdos, which is used in canon 1003.

  23. Ben Kenobi says:

    Still waiting for the SSPX to acknowledge the authority of the Pope, and formally end their schism. I have a smallish bet with a friend now that this will never happen. IF they had the intention of doing so, they would have done so years ago. Insteand what they will try to do is have all the benefits without any of the responsibilities.

  24. Peter Stuart says:

    I’m bone-tired of doctors of the law and their never-ending moving of the goalposts. I just want to be Catholic. Finding the SSPX was the happiest event in my SSA life.

  25. Dave H says:

    The SSPX does recognize the authority of the Pope—they are not sedevavantists. The Vatican had (until last week) an official commission dealing with the Latin Mass communities—and the head/Secretary of that official Vatican commission stated that the SSPX was not in schism. Cardinal Burke or others may make pronouncements based on their private theological opinions, however the official line from the Vatican is NOT in schism. The SSPX rejects modernist interpretations of some of the (non-dogmatic) Vatican II documents. For example, they think that the modern idea of “religious freedom” is not consistent with previous magisterial Catholic teaching (see encyclical Quas Primas) that Christ is the King of Heaven and Earth and should be proclaimed as such to all nations. The SSPX is not encouraging military conquest and forced conversion, but their interpretation of this issue is that the Church still must have a missionary attitude and call all people to communion with the Church founded by Christ. So, no Assisi ecumenical meetings with little buddas placed on Christ’s altar. They would not deny that the Pope was the head of the Church, but they would say that ecumenical prayer meetings like the Assisi fiascos were prudentially very bad actions by the Pope; and damaging to the faith of the faithful; and damaging to the chance for eternal salvation of those non-Catholics that were confirmed in their spiritual darkness. They should have been invited into the light of the Catholic faith.

  26. fmsb78 says:

    My decision to attend Mass at a SSPX chapel was specially because of my children. I just want for them to grow up knowing that the true Catholic faith is the most important thing in life… and it’s not easy to simply relocate to where the Mass is offered under Bishop’s permission because they come and go, and the new one could revoke the permissions anytime. This just happened here in my Diocese.

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