A new way to look at the “status” of the SSPX. Wherein Fr. Hunwicke bowls a wicked googly.

With great respect to Fr. John Hunwicke, I reproduce here, entirely, his recent comments about the ecclesial “status” of the SSPX.   This is a theological curve-ball thrown for a strike on the inside.   In terms Fr. H would perhaps be more inclined to accept.. quidquid recipitur and all that – it’s a wicked googly.

I’ll add a some links, emphases, and comments for the uninitiated.  What follows, the aforementioned excepted, is the venerable Fr. H’s.

Spoiler: He’s right.

SSPX: Status.

It seems hardly respectful, with regard to a body as admirable as the SSPX, for an outsider to discuss its ‘status’. I write what follows aware that it may seem arrogant to the point of being infuriating; and with very real apologies to readers who find that I am simply making them angry.

The status of the SSPX has, in my reading, always or usually been treated in canonical terms. Thus, ‘states of necessity’ become points of discussion. I cannot help wondering whether it might be more realistic to discuss it in terms of Ecclesiology.

In the CDF document Communionis notio of 1992, there is a chapter “De Communione Ecclesiali et OEcumenismo”. It affirms the existence of a “Communio quaedam etsi non perfecta” [a certain communion although not perfect / albeit imperfect] with separated Christians. It then goes on to discuss the status of “Ecclesiae orientales orthodoxae”, explaining that, although seiunctae a Sede Petri [separated from the See of Peter], they “cum Ecclesia Catholica coniunctae esse pergunt” [remain joined  / united to the Catholic Church].

The reason for this is that they possess “successio apostolica et valida Eucharistia” [apostolic succession and valid Eucharist], and, because of this, deserve (merentur) the ‘titulus Ecclesiarum particularium’ [title of particular Churches]. Quoting Vatican II, the CDF assures us that “per celebrationem Eucharistiae Domini in his singulis Ecclesiis, Ecclesia Dei aedificatur et crescit” [through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these individual Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows]; and then adds to the conciliar wording this interesting and thought-provoking phrase “quia in quacumque valida Eucharistiae celebratione vero praesens fit Ecclesia una, sancta, catholica, et apostolica.” [because in whatsoever valid celebration of the Eucharist the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church becomes truly present.]

I am not suggesting a precise identity between Separated Byzantines, and the SSPX. But the principles which apply in the favour of one can hardly be denied to the other.

The defences often advanced for the position of the SSPX state or imply that it is has the same status as organisations such as, for example, Opus Dei or the Dominican Order. It seems to me that, given the decades which have followed the Écône consecrations, this description no longer ticks the necessary boxes. Indeed, at a human level, one might wonder whether it is appropriate for Roman Pontiffs to fawn upon Separated Byzantines (and even Separated non-Chalcedonians), sometimes (literally!!!) groveling before them, while maintaining a disdainful distance from a community which is theologically closer to the full Magisterium of the Catholic Church than are the Separated ‘Orientals’.

The curious action of PF in not granting formal faculties to absolve to SSPX clergy, while ‘giving permission’ to the laity to go to them for Confession, seems to me to express perfectly (if unintentionally!) the ecclesiological analysis which, I argue, is offered by Communionis notio.

How ‘ecclesial’ is the SSPX? I suggest that one litmus-paper here might reside in the Chrism Mass and the use of the Oils of Chrism and of the Catechumens.

If a bishop … say, Bishop Fellay … makes available to a presbyter the oils which he has consecrated, and if that presbyter receives and uses them, then the Episcopal Ministry of that bishop becomes most intimately internal to all the rites of Christian Initiation performed by that presbyter.

This, it seems to me, is ecclesial and sacramental.

I think, and I’ve consulted Those Whom I Know, Fr. Hunwicke is right.

Click his link, above, and boost his stats.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA, SSPX, The Drill and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: A new way to look at the “status” of the SSPX. Wherein Fr. Hunwicke bowls a wicked googly. – Via Nova Media

  2. Markus says:

    Perhaps it is a fine example as how politics, in its purest form, dominates truth. And attempts to do likewise to Truth. These two situations have always puzzled me.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    I’m not sure if I am following Fr. Hunwicke’s logic to the intended conclusion, or perhaps trying to read a step or two beyond it. Please do tell me if I’m getting carried away, because I would definitely not be qualified to advance such an interpretation on my own initiative.

    The general logic is straightforward up to what I take as the conclusion that the SSPX is at least as much a part of the Catholic Church as the Eastern Orthodox Church. There’s no doubt in my mind on that matter, but it’s also not a very remarkable conclusion.

    So is he saying a little more? Might the SSPX actually be considered an autonomous particular church? In such case, the two closing examples mentioned would suggest:

    1) SSPX priests would not need to be granted the faculty for absolution from Pope Francis, as it would be licitly granted by the authority of their own bishops.

    2) Those who receive the sacraments of initiation into the SSPX would also canonically be members of said particular church, rather than of the Roman Church.

    While Father Hunwicke did not continue to my next interpretation, I observe that Traditiones Custodes also did not seem to preclude it: wouldn’t an autonomous particular church also have certain ritual rights?

    Assuming I’m not far off from the intended meaning, one of the difficult parts for me about the idea is the implication Pope Francis is the one observing this distinction, while nearly everyone else misses it. Not only observing it, but perhaps even unintentionally legislating in a way that respects the rights of such a particular Church.

  4. moon1234 says:

    I believe the conclusion that SHOULD be drawn, since all of what the SSPX does CAN and SHOULD be available to anyone in major orders who is a member of the Latin Rite.

    Reducing this analysis to it’s most simple conclusion, in my own understanding would be this: “If we hold our separated particular Churches so close (Oriental, Eastern, etc.) even to point out the validity of all of their sacraments, how unjustifiable are the actions we take against those who are fully members of own Church, even to the point of denying that which we grant to those who are separated.”

    The closest analogy would be “Let’s invite the neighbors over to watch the football game and lets kick our family out because they prefer soccer.” We treat our neighbors better than our family. What does that say about our own character?

  5. Lurker 59 says:

    When we look at this question, there is the juridical nature of the office of the episcopate as well as the ministerial nature of the office (cough something about B16 cough). It is very clear in VII that the ministerial nature of the office of the episcopate flows directly from Christ (vis a vis the Apostles) whereas the juridical nature of the office is more so tied in with the individual bishop functioning as part of the college of bishops with the Pope at its head (not doing this would be schismatic). There is also the additional wrinkle of the Pope functioning as both Pontiff and Patriarch for the Western Church, whereas the Eastern particular Church has a separation between the Universal Pontiff and her particular Patriarch — it is more correct to say that the bishops are united juridically to their Patriarch than directly to the Pontiff.

    Because the ministry flows directly from Christ while the juridical nature speaks more so to temporal configurations, there are real limitations on the juridical nature of one bishop (or group of bishops) when imposing its will upon the ministry of a particular bishop.

    [One can see this, strangely enough, in how Canon Law treats marriage. A Roman Catholic is bound by all sorts of juridical restrictions regarding the form of marriage, thus allowing for juridical infractions to render the marriage null, whereas Canon Law makes no attempt to bind juridically the ministry of Protestants conducting marriage, which VII sees outside of the juridical authority of the local bishop to set norms regarding marriage, thereby rendering Protestant marriages “harder” to annul.]

    One of the quirks of history is that the Western Church has never differentiated or spun off a new particular Church. The East has done this all the time (much of the issue in Ukraine currently has to do with this). The West, though, does have a plethora of semi-autonomous religious orders. So here we have two solutions to the SSPX/Traditionalists if the powers that be wanted to resolve things by essentially codifying the status quo without addressing the underlying difficulties.

    It is next to impossible to argue that the SSPX doesn’t possess the ecclesial ministry from the point of VII — the question really is whether or not there is the juridical authority to exercise said ministry. That is also the rub, for if they don’t neither do the Orthodox, and this is also the juridical argument that the more hardline Orthodox use to say that Rome’s sacraments are null.

    Of course, this is a mess and there really isn’t any way forward without a real hard reevaluation of ecclesiology coming out of VII — which is what the SSPX wants and what Rome doesn’t.

    [As to the mind/theology of PF, it strikes me that things are very much about authority (rather the wielding of authority) as what makes a thing real rather than the sacramental reality giving rise to limited juridical authority in the episcopate.]

    But I digress and am all over the map because I find the canonical/juridical issue to be dancing around the real issue of the failure of the Missionary Mandate following VII which stems from flaws in the ecclesiology coming out of VII (of which Dominus Iesus is a valiant effort to correct).

  6. JEF5570 says:


  7. Rod Halvorsen says:


    LITERALLY…..earlier today, I was reading ORIENTALIUM ECCLESARIUM and UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO in Denzinger-Hünermann…and thought the exact same thing! Indeed, that sharp ole Monsignor Pozzo even used the exact same “physically or morally” language in a response some years ago… in reference to the “unless” that actually makes it LICIT for Catholics to meet their Mass obligation at SSPX Mass.

    “…but it is considered morally illicit for the faithful to participate in these Masses unless they are physically or morally impeded from participating in a Mass celebrated by a Catholic priest in good standing…”

    (1995 letter sent by Msgr. Camille Perl, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei)

    “Unless” indeed!

    All the conciliar language of the Conciliar Church aimed at reconciliation with the Eastern Churches can be used to, AND THEN SOME, further support the “irregular regularization” of SSPX which has been accomplished during the pontificate of Francis. In the negative, at the very least, all that language PRECLUDES any sort of legitimate logical, canonical or morally defensible suppression in detail of SSPX and (pure opinion follows) causes me to wonder if the TLM will be canonically preserved…yes by this Pope Francis…in the SSPX, with full canonical clarity at some point…maybe in the very near future.

    All of this of course is cause for reflection on more canon law and sensible interpretations thereof:

    “Canon. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.”


    Canon 844§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.”

    Could the Council and its subsequent derivative canons be the ultimate defense of the SSPX? Could it be that the “God of Surprises” is in this case being “astutus sicut vulpes” as He once counseled us to be?

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    I have read many good, sometimes excellent, analyses of the situation of the SSPX, some indeed in this very place.

    And Fr. Hunwicke’s explanations seem to be entirely compatible with all of the most significant ones.

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    Lurker 59 :

    There is also the additional wrinkle of the Pope functioning as both Pontiff and Patriarch for the Western Church

    The Pope is not the only Latin Patriarch, though he is of course the principal one.

    There are also the Patriarchates of Venice, Lisbon, Jerusalem, and the East Indies.

  10. haydn seeker says:

    How deeply insensitive. The England cricket team have just been thrashed by Australia, whose spinner took 4 wickets. Your lack of care for English cricket shows that you really do hate Vatican II.

  11. haydn seeker says:

    How deeply insensitive. The England cricket team have just been thrashed by Australia, whose spinner took 4 wickets. Your lack of care for English cricket shows that you really do hate Vatican II.

  12. JonPatrick says:

    But @Haydn Seeker, isn’t England being thrashed by Australia in keeping with tradition and we must be guardians of Tradition!

    Also consider that after this Australian team returns home after its victory, it will be subject to the same eternal lockdown as the rest of its unfortunate citizens whilst the Brits will be able to drown their sorrows at the nearest pub and thereby have something of a normal life. That is unless BoJo gets his way and locks everything down due to the dreaded Omicron variant which has yet to kill anyone in Europe or the US.

  13. HvonBlumenthal says:

    I hope Fr Hunwicke elaborates a little. For example, the subject of “partial communion” which, I believe, is a concept that the SSPX rejects, makes an entrance.

    In the same document that granted faculties to the SSPX, Pope Francis referred to those who “for various reasons “ – does not seem to care which – go to SSPX Masses, as “faithful.” I take it that such people are in “full communion” and my limited intellect cannot see how SSPX priests whose Masses they attend can be categorized differently.

  14. IaninEngland says:

    “But … isn’t England being thrashed by Australia in keeping with tradition and we must be guardians of Tradition!”

    Harsh, JonPatrick, harsh.

  15. Lurker 59 says:


    Those listed really are not patriarchs but mostly honorary titles. The term patriarch formally belongs to the head of a particular church sui iuris. Those that you listed are not heads of particular churches.

    But back to my point of looking at the wrinkles in the ecclesiology coming out of VII. Ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Anglican Communion often has the sticking point of whether or not union with Rome would involve the Anglican Communion being recognized as a particular church sui iuris, or if the hypothetically reestablished Anglican Church belongs to the Roman Patriarch and the Anglican Rite is simply a derivative of the Latin Rite to be eventually phased out/unified/regrafted back to the branch from which she was cut. It is a separate question from the ministerial/sacramental efficacy questions, and purely a question of judicial authority and autonomy.

    Same questions with the SSPX — Does the SSPX have sacramental efficacy/ministry authority of her bishops? How can it be argued in the negative unless one argues that they are prevented from said exercise by the judicial authority of the Roman Patriarch and Universal Pontiff? That is a giant power grab that no one, especially the Orthodox, wants to hear.

    Rome is stuck because the Divine Commission supersedes Ecclesial judicial authority. In fact, in all interdicts/suppressions/laicization/etc. there is always an “emergency clause” that recognizes that in dire need, the episcopal ministry is not bound by temporal judicial declarations.

    I am not part of the SSPX, nor really keyed into them, but as far as I ever could tell, the concerns that they have are purely focused on aspects of post-VII thought and activity that impede the ministry of the episcopal office and where such thought causes judicial overreach (especially with legislation involving the sacraments).

  16. Lurker 59 says:


    It is about the chain of command. The SSPX’s hierarchy doesn’t exist within the Roman Church’s ecclesial hierarchy in an ordinary manner. This irregular nature causes there to be a formal partial communion. A layman isn’t part of the hierarchy so doesn’t have this difficulty.

    Speaking more directly to what Fr. Hunwicke stated when we look at the “partial communion” in Communionis notio and VII, following VII, communion is established by the act of receiving the sacrament of baptism. Therefore, everyone who is baptized is part of the body of Christ, which (pulling in Dominus Iesus’ corrections) is present here on earth as those particular Churches (the faithful lead by their patriarch) united together by the Petrine Office, aka the Catholic Church, whether they like it or not, to be trite. If you like it and are working towards that union, you have full communion. If you don’t like it, you have partial communion of one sort or another.

    More bluntly, and I think Fr.’s point, communion is about a sacramental reality stemming from an ecclesial mandate (to provide the sacraments and thus create this communion) rather than judicial fiat.

    Or to put it as St. Ignatius of Antioch put it, ‘The Church is where a sacramentally ordained bishop provides the sacraments’ (paraphrased).

  17. JabbaPapa says:

    Lurker 59 :

    Those listed really are not patriarchs but mostly honorary titles. The term patriarch formally belongs to the head of a particular church sui iuris. Those that you listed are not heads of particular churches.

    That’s probably true of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, though it is of historic significance too, but all the other Patriarchs s are heads of a territorial Archdiocese, which is hard not to understand as being “a particular church sui iuris”.

    Wikipedia (I know …) suggests that :

    Other than the above-mentioned three forms of sui iuris churches there are some other sui iuris ecclesiastical communities. It is “a Church sui iuris which is neither patriarchal nor major archiepiscopal nor Metropolitan, and is entrusted to a hierarch who presides over it in accordance with the norm of common law and the particular law established by the Roman Pontiff” (CCEO. 174).

    That the particular law of the Latin Patriarchates is the Law of the Latin Church established by the Patriarch and Bishop of Rome certainly means that the other Latin Patriarchs have far less direct power than the Eastern ones, and they are what the Catholic Encyclopaedia refers to as “minor patriarchates” :

    There remain only the so-called “minor” patriarchates in the West. At various times certain Western sees, too, have been called patriarchal. But there is a fundamental difference between these and any Eastern patriarchate. Namely, the pope is Patriarch of the West; all Western bishops of whatever rank are subject not only to his papal but also to his patriarchal jurisdiction. But a real patriarch cannot be subject to another patriarch; no patriarch can have another under his patriarchal jurisdiction, just as a diocesan ordinary cannot have another ordinary in his diocese. Eastern patriarchs claim independence of any other patriarch as such; the Catholics obey the pope as pope, the Orthodox recognize the civil headship of Constantinople, the Armenians a certain primacy of honour in their catholicus. But in every case the essence of a patriarch’s dignity is that he has no other patriarch over him as patriarch. On the other hand, these Western minor patriarchs have never been supposed to be exempt from the Roman patriarchate. They have never had fragments cut away from Rome to make patriarchates for them, as for instance Jerusalem was formed of a fragment detached from Antioch.

    But it would seem that some of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchates are “minor patriarchates” too.

    Only the Patriarchate of Rome is entirely self-governing in the Catholic Church, whereas we can see that the Pope has the right to order changes to the Canon Law of the Eastern Patriarchates.

    What I’m saying fundamentally is that all of the Patriarchates are established by the same canonical & historical principles, whether they be Latin or Eastern — regardless the clear differences that exist in the powers of establishment of Rites and Laws in these different Patriarchates.

    All Catholic Patriarchs are nevertheless subject to the Roman Pontiff in his particular powers thereto, contrary to an opinion expressed in that extract from the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

    Of course, these are the very difficulties that continue to fuel the Great Schism between East and West, and we’re hardly going to resolve such matters in these comboxes.

  18. The Cobbler says:

    Pardon my late addition, but given that the SSPX is affirmed not to be in schism, how do they compare to the Eastern Catholic Churches in contrast to the Eastern Orthodox Churches?

  19. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.