Of the SSPX and Schism and The Bitter Pill

I look less and less often at the simply dreadful catholic media, such as Fishwrap and Amerika, Commonwelt and Crickey (Croix of Bobby Micky).  I also try to avoid RU-486 (aka The Bitter Pill aka The Tablet).   However, a tweet from the estimable Joseph Shaw of the LMS made me look at the latter.

I responded that this was another example of people who don’t know what they don’t know. That’s what happens when libs try to write about these complicated issues.

Mind you, I haven’t seen the whole piece at RU-486.

Note that RU-486 said that the SSPX is NOT now in schism.

They are right.

What they are wrong about is that they write implied that they WERE in schism.  Let’s see with my emphases and comments.

“The SSPX, whose four bishops were excommunicated in 1988 and readmitted to the Church [wrong] by Benedict XVI in 2009, …. Benedict’s controversial concession ended the schism [no] the bishop’s ordinations had created [no] but left the society with no Vatican-approved mission.”

People who are excommunicated are still members of the Church.  They are members who are not permitted to receive the sacraments until they have – in general – repaired whatever it was they did that was wrong.   They have to have the censure lifted by the proper authority.  When Benedict lifted the censures, the bishops were able to receive the sacraments again.  They were members of the Church before and after.

The 1988 consecrations of bishops (without papal mandate, which incurred the excommunications) constituted a “schismatic act”.   However, it takes more than one act to cause a schism.   The SSPX was not in schism before or after the episcopal consecrations.  The SSPX is not NOW is schism.

It is sort of true that the Society has “no Vatican-approved mission”.   Francis gave the SSPX the faculties to receive sacramental confessions.  That’s a mission.  Moreover, in a way, they have a wider faculty than diocesan priests!  Dioceses grant faculties to diocesan priests.  If they travel outside the diocese, they are still able to absolve sins when asked for confession.  If a priest travels to another diocese for an extended period of time, he should get faculties from that diocese, too.   But the SSPX guys are, ironically, with the faculty to hear confessions but they are not incardinated anywhere.  So, they can forgive sins … anywhere.

It amuses me to compare them to the Anglican “flying bishops”.  They are bishops with a loose connect to a place but who move around to minister to people who won’t (rightly) accept the ministry of women priests and bishops.

“Flying priests!”

Anyway, I wrote about the SSPX HERE.

Theirs is a complicated situation.  And the issue of incardination is one of the most complicated elements in who the SSPX are.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard an SSPX priest preaching about Christian unity, and saying that the situation whereby the Society and its followers are out of regular contact with the local bishop is not normal and should pain anyone with a Catholic heart. Those would be strange words to come out of the mouth of a schismatic.

  2. thomistking says:

    While I certainly agree with you, Father, that the SSPX is not in a state of formal schism (although certainly the material conditions often appear to be there), I think it would do the faithful good if you could address Cardinal Burke’s claim that they are in fact in schism. Thank you.

  3. JustaSinner says:

    If the SSPX are schismatic, what is the term for Joe Biden and Nancy Pilosi?

  4. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  5. Imrahil says:

    Reverend father, thanks for the article.

    There is one sentence I disagree with:

    >>The 1988 consecrations of bishops (without papal mandate, which incurred the excommunications) constituted a “schismatic act”. However, it takes more than one act to cause a schism. The SSPX was not in schism before or after the episcopal consecrations. The SSPX is not NOW is schism.

    “However, it takes more than one act to cause a schism.” No. If you (did) commit a schismatic act, you are (would be), in fact, in schism until you repent of it.

    The thing is there was no schismatic act.

    Now, Pope St. John Paul II did speak of a schismatic act in Ecclesia Dei, and the Congregation for the Bishops in its degree even included the statement “excommunicated due to can. 1364 ‘schism'”. But the Congregation for the Bishops is not a Church court; it has no business in deciding judicial matters. The Congregation simply was wrong. Pope St. John Paul notably, and – given the said decree – very considerably did not include that in Ecclesia Dei, that is, not when he was speaking with precise terminology: He makes it very clear that his excommunication is based on can. 1382 “unlawful consecration of bishops”, and can. 1382 alone. Given that, and given that the Congregation for the Bishops who also spoke about a schismatic act had said can. 1364, the fact that he also speaks of a schismatic act is simply not to be taken terminologically serious; a bit of “saving the face of the Congregation”, a bit of “explaining why it is that consecrating without Papal mandate is forbidden at all”, and maybe simply a bit of negligence.

    That’s also why the explanation in Ecclesia Dei, “hence such disobedience – which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy – constitutes a schismatic act.(3)”, emphasis mine, where the footnote is simply “can. 751” which defines schism and does not speak of, as it were, “disobedience becoming bad enough to be more than disobedience” at all, is rather weak. It had been said before that that “however, not every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command” (Catholic Encyclopedia); if Pope St. John Paul doesn’t bother to say his sentence is based on can. 1364 (when the Congregation for Bishops had), I see no reason that the concept of “schism” as outlined in 1911 would have been changed by what is then to be taken as mere colloquialism of his.

    And if the definition of the Catholic Encyclopedia is agreed on, noone ever has suggested the SSPX were such people. Nor have they been treated as schismatics by the Church, both before 2009 (it’s allowed to attend their Masses; it’s possible but “morally illicit” whatever that means to fulfill the Sunday duty in this manner; if you happen to attend, whatever to be said about attending itself, it’s quite okay to give a moderate donation) and, obviously, after (a schismatic cannot get his excommunication lifted, period).

    — As for Cardinal Burke’s claim that they were “in fact in schism”, what is “in fact in schism”? If the words are to have any sense at all, it would be that they denote who is objectively schismatic (but bona fide and thus not culpably so). This might be a description of, alas, Bishop Williamson now (who split from the SSPX because they didn’t agree to his notion that anti-Romanism is necessary for being a true Catholic) – if he is bona fide, but we’re charitable so we’ll assume it anyway. But as the SSPX are not even objectively in schism it doesn’t describe them.

  6. robtbrown says:

    Imrahil says,

    “However, it takes more than one act to cause a schism.” No. If you (did) commit a schismatic act, you are (would be), in fact, in schism until you repent of it.

    The text above referred to the SSPX, not merely to an individual person or two who committed the act.

  7. The SSPX is NOT schismatic. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are Catholics but not in good standing.

  8. I’ve already done that.

  9. There are a lot of places where the SSPX use the local tribunual, follow the local bishops local legislation about Mass obligation and other matters. All of them say the local bishop’s name in the Canon. So, you can’t make a blanket statement.

  10. JumpJet says:

    Wonder if Church Militant has seen this post…I’d like to see some dialogue between Fr Z & their spokesperson.

  11. robtbrown says:

    There are places in Germany where the SSPX priests help out with Confessions in NO parishes.

    A group in schism does not recognize the papacy. Nb: The papacy is more than just the present pope.

  12. Imrahil says:

    There are also diocesan priests helping out in SSPX chapels.

    Well, of course, the case I know of (which is perhaps less public, so, don’t tell anyone) is of course incardinated in some trad diocese near Austria and Switzerland whose seminary is all but run over by traditional-minded candidates fleeing the other dioceses… so the priests get sent abroad… but still, that’s technically a diocesan priest.

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