ASK FATHER: Does the SSPX “exercise legitimate ministries” or not?

From a reader…


I appreciate all of your hard work on the topic of the SSPX and just your whole candid approach to speaking clearly about topics that are otherwise ambiguous. I attend the SSPX frequently and have had nothing but wonderful experiences. I wanted to get your take on Pope Benedict and his letter to the Bishops about the remission of the excommunications and his heavy language about the priests “not exercising any legitimate authority” etc. I noticed you had a mini podcast on the letter itself but I wanted to see if in light of the changes under Pope Francis do those changes of themselves remove the weight of the letter from Pope Benedict? This letter is commonly sited by friends and peers that otherwise would in good faith attend the SSPX Chapels but due to the letter being from a Pope (at the time) it has a level of weightiness that lay faithful feel in their guts where the topic generally feels so confused. So to spear head this… Does the letter of Pope Benedict simply reflect the status at the time** and not presently and if it does can we arrive at the conclusion that we can dismiss that letter (with respect) due to Pope Francis’s actions and PCEDs statements? God Bless you and myself and many others thank you deeply.

The 2009 DECREE by which Benedict XVI remitted the excommunications of the SSPX Bishops HERE

Note that the decree says, “This gift of peace, coming at the end of the Christmas celebrations, is also meant to be a sign which promotes the Universal Church’s unity in charity, and removes the scandal of division.”

Remove the “scandal of division”… we still hope and pray.

The LETTER from Benedict to the Bishops HERE

I wrote two posts about the SSPX which can help people understand the situation more clearly than it is often explained by others, who tend not to know what they don’t know.  HERE and HERE

Since the publication of Benedict XVI’s letter a lot has taken place.

For one thing, faculties were granted by Francis to priests of the SSPX regularly (not exceptionally) to receive sacramental confessions and to absolve validly.  That’s a “legitimate ministry” in the Church.

For another thing, Francis made it possible for SSPX priests to have the faculty to witness marriages, so that they have proper form.  SSPX priests can work with dioceses in this regard.  That’s a “legitimate ministry” in the Church.

If you say that Francis is the Pope and that he has the authority to do these things, then, yes, the SSPX now exercises ministries legitimately and conditions described by Benedict in his Letter back in 2009 no longer apply… fully.  Something has changed.  Not everything.  Something.

The canonical situation of the SSPX is really complicated.  It doesn’t easily fit into one category or another.  As a result, we have to remind ourselves to look on the SSPX with the benevolence heralded by Benedict’s Letter and also discipline ourselves to see the SSPX as an evolving canonical anomaly.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    And the complication goes beyond that. I was sniffing around online the other day, looking at options to eventually escape California (on its way to becoming Venezuela del Norte), and became curious about Silver City, New Mexico. I saw a small but very interesting Benedictine monastery in the hills (check out the bell tower), thought they would be outstanding neighbors, and found however they are not listed on the diocesan website. Turns out they are not SSPX, but are ‘allied’ with SSPX, and follow the traditional liturgies for Mass and divine office. So, are they part of the OSB family, or totally estranged? Do the faculties granted to SSPX apply to them also? If I were a neighbor, could I meet my obligation by attending Mass there? Like many, I’m not exactly edified by typical suburban parish Masses, particularly musical selections. At yesterday’s Mass, for example, the closing ‘hymn’ was “Go Make a Difference” or something like that. Really? Stalin “made a difference”. Enough already…

    [No, they would no be affiliated with any other Benedictines. And what has been given to the SSPX was not given to them. Also, I recall that, back in the day, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” said that people do NOT fulfill their Sunday obligations in chapels like that, though they do at SSPX chapels.]

  2. TonyO says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z. This is so knowledgeable, so balanced, so precisely stated, and so charitably directed! I cannot fully express how grateful I am that you have taken pains to speak on this.

  3. kat says:

    Actually Father, when the faculties were given, Bishop Fellay specifically asked Rome about the Friends of the SSPX (religious orders affiliated with them). Rome did grant those groups faculties as well. Not independent groups, but those who specifically work with and along the SSPX, and who receive Sacraments including Holy Orders from SSPX bishops. Silver City Benedictines are included.

    [I looked into this a little more. In 2018 the CDF/PCED responded to a dubium about such groups, whether or not the faculty to absolve was extended also to “priests of religious communities that are associated with the Fraternity (SSPX) but not formally part of it”. The answer from the CDF/PCED was “affirmative”.]

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    I picture a Giving Tuesday solicitation: “Please give generously to your favorite evolving canonical anomaly”.

  5. revueltos67 says:

    Regarding the Silver City monastery: several years ago I was planning a trip to Silver City with the intention, among other things, of visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe monastery. Silver City is part of the Diocese of Las Cruces and I knew I’d be there on Sunday so I called the Diocesan office and asked if I would fulfill my Sunday obligation by attending Mass at the monastery.
    The woman who answered the phone could not answer my question and said she would transfer me to the person who could. Once connected I asked again and this person asked if this was a Catholic monastery. I replied that it was a Benedictine Catholic monastery but was associated with the SSPX. She replied that, yes, I would fulfill my obligation there.
    Since I was not sure she had understood me properly I repeated my initial explanation and began explaining that the SSPX connection might be problematic but she interrupted me and again confirmed that I’d fulfill my Sunday obligation there.
    I asked if she was sure. At this point she became a bit annoyed and told me again that I would fulfill my obligation. I decided to take yes for an answer and did attend a quite beautiful sung Mass at the monastery that Sunday.
    If I recall correctly this all took place late in Benedict XVI’s papacy.

  6. revueltos67 says:

    The Archdiocese of Santa Fe maintains what it calls a “List of Schimsatic Churches/Religious Communities/Organizations”. This list can be found here:
    The list is prefaced with the following statement:
    “If you, or any of your Roman Catholic family members or friends, have been attending services or receiving sacraments in the following churches, please know they are NOT recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. It is not licit for Catholics to attend Mass or to receive sacraments at these churches, for the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize them as valid. In order to be Roman Catholic, a church must be in union with the Holy Father, the successor of St. Peter, and the local bishop of the diocese. The following churches do not accept the Holy Father or meet this criteria. Most Reverend John C. Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe, has not appointed any pastors or priests to the churches, communities or organizations listed below:”
    Albuquerque’s SSPX Chapel, Sts Peter and Paul is the final entry on this list.
    Apparently, based on the list preface above, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe claims that the SSPX is in schism, that all SSPX sacraments are both illicit and invalid, and that the SSPX is not in union with and does not accept the Holy Father.
    It’s hard to see how one could fulfill one’s Sunday obligation by attending an invalid Mass or receive valid absolution during an invalid confession. It’s also hard to see how these statements comport with contradictory statements from the Vatican and, indeed, from Pope Francis himself.
    I sometimes attend Mass at this chapel and, in fact, serve Mass there on occasion. As is well known, at the “una cum” at every Mass SSPX priests always pray for the Pope and for the local ordinary by name. In the sacristy – as I have seen with my own eyes prior to serving – there is a card for use by visiting priests listing the Pope as Franciscus and the local ordinary as John Wester.
    When Benediction is held after Mass the “Oremus pro pontifice” is always sung with Francis named explicitly.
    It’s hard to see how these things comport with with the claim that the SSPX does not accept the Holy Father or, for that matter, Archbishop Wester. Or with the claim that the SSPX is in schism.

  7. Fr_Andrew says:

    Dear Father,

    Here are a few points to help clarify the first question here.

    The PCED Letter about a “Friends of the Society of St Pius X” chapel and Sunday obligation is here:

    The issue with that and the interpretations that came from it was that the U.S. District of the SSPX confirmed that the chapel mention was neither an SSPX chapel, nor was one of those they publicly list as a priest or group which is associated with the SSPX.

    Regarding the Benedictine in New Mexico, they are an offshoot from Le Barroux stayed with the SSPX when Dom Gérard. They have a sister foundation in France at Abbaye Notre-Dame de Bellaigue, an old Cistercian Abbey. Their priests are all ordained by the SSPX, go to the SSPX seminaries, and all functions requiring a bishop are performed by the SSPX bishops. At their chapels SSPX priest often will say Mass, and these are listed among the “associated chapels” on the SSPX websites. I know several of their priests, well, some of whom were SSPX priests who wanted to live a Benedictine life.

    I will leave the rest to competent Canonical authorities, but the New Mexico Benedictines are certainly not of the type listed in the 2012 PCED response.

    I hope that information is helpful.

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