Recent ‘Excommunications’ of Lay Supporters of SSPX – Press Release from the Latin Mass Society




Bishop Semeraro of Albano: %22excommunications%22

COMMENT: letters from the Bishop Semeraro of Albano, Italy (photo, right), and then from Bishop Sarlinga of Zárate-Campana in Argentina, have declared that the lay faithful who receive the sacraments from priests and bishops of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) are automatically excommunicated, and would need to go through a process authorised by the bishop to be readmitted to communion with the Church (i.e., not simply confession). The Latin Mass Society holds no brief to defend the position of the SSPX, which is canonically irregular, but feels it necessary to point out that these letters are not just ill-considered but have potentially very serious pastoral consequences. They imply that anyone who has ever been to Mass said by a priest of the SSPX is not welcome in the churches of these dioceses. This conflicts not only with the ‘opening of hearts’ requested by Pope Benedict XVI as a prelude to a healing of these divisions ‘in the heart of the Church’, but equally with the emphasis on mercy of Pope Francis.

CANON LAW BRIEFING: In light of canonical advice from our National Chaplain and Canonical Adviser, Mgr Gordon Read, the Latin Mass Society would like to clarify some canonical principles in relation to the recent statements of Bishop Semeraro of Albano, Italy, and Bishop Sarlinga of Zárate-Campana in Argentina, lest misunderstandings spread to dioceses around the world.

1. Basing a canonical argument on the assumption that the Society of Pius X (SSPX) has no canonical status in the Church and that its priests are suspended following ordination without dimissorial letters, it does not follow that to seek the sacraments at their hands is an act of formal schism on the part of the lay faithful.

a. Such a conclusion conflicts with the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops of the SSPX by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009: it would be incongruous for the legislator to lift the excommunication of the bishops while imposing or maintaining it on the lay faithful to whom they minister.

b. It also conflicts with the provision in canon law for the effects of suspension or excommunication of a priest to be lifted when someone approaches the priest subject to the penalty in order to receive a sacrament (canon 141).

2. Excommunication by adherence to a schism can only be incurred where there is both a schismatic intention and an external act (canon 1364).

a. There can therefore be no question that those seeking the sacraments at the hands of priests of the SSPX without a schismatic intention incur excommunication.

b. Were a member of the lay faithful to incur excommunication by a schismatic intention, this would be a matter of the private forum (the confessional), and not the public forum.

c. Those under the age of sixteen cannot in any case incur a penalty (canon 1323.1); this would apply to those under this age who received baptism or confirmation.

3. The attitude of the Holy See has always been that lay faithful who receive the sacraments from priests of the SSPX are not excommunicated. Examples are as follows.

a. In 1991 Bishop Joseph Ferrario of Honolulu declared six lay Catholics excommunicated on grounds of schism for having procured the services of an SSPX bishop to administer confirmation. These appealed to the Holy See which, though Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared the decree invalid because their action, though considered blameworthy, did not constitute schism.

b. On 5th September 2005, the Holy See, through the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, affirmed that ‘the faithful who attend the Masses of the aforesaid Fraternity are not excommunicates, and the priests who celebrate them are not, either—the latter are, in fact, suspended.’ (Protcol n.55/2005, signed by the then Secretary of the PCED, Mgr Camille Perl)

c. On 27th September 2002, quoted and reaffirmed on 18th January 2003, the Holy See, through the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, stated that ‘In the strict sense you may fulfil your Sunday obligation by attending a Mass celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X.’ (Letters signed by Mgr Camille Perl).


Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in a letter to his diocese dated 14th October 2014, declared:

The Catholic faithful cannot participate at Mass, neither request and/or receive Sacraments from or in the Society. Acting otherwise would mean to break communion with the Catholic Church.

Therefore, any Catholic faithful who requests and receives Sacraments in the Society of Saint Pius X, will place himself de facto in the condition of no longer being in communion with the Catholic Church. A readmission to the Catholic Church must be preceded by an adequate personal path of reconciliation, according to the ecclesiastical discipline established by the Bishop.


Bishop Semeraro is coincidentally the Secretary to the Council of Cardinals set up to advise the Pope. Albano is the location of the Italian headquarters of the SSPX.

Bishop Óscar Sarlinga of Zárate-Campana in Argentina, in a letter to his diocese dated 3rd November 2014, declared:

-It is not licit for the Catholic faithful to take part in the celebration of Mass in these conditions, neither to request nor to receive sacraments from the priests of the aforementioned “Society of Saint Pius X”, including in private places turned into places of worship, without excluding, in case of obstinacy, also the ferendae sententiae penalties that may apply, according to the ecclesial spirit and that of protection of the faithful.

– In the case of the rupture of ecclesiastical communion by the above-mentioned founded motives, in order to be later readmitted to the Catholic Church, a personal path of reconciliation (and eventually of removal of the canonical censure) will be required, according to the discipline advised by the Holy See and the [diocese’s] own, established by the diocesan bishop.


The Latin Mass Society, founded in 1965, promotes and supports the celebration of the Traditional Mass and sacraments (Extraordinary Form, Vetus Ordo) within the official structures of the Church and with the permission and cooperation of the bishops and the Holy See.


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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10 Responses to Recent ‘Excommunications’ of Lay Supporters of SSPX – Press Release from the Latin Mass Society

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    Thank you, Gertrude, for bringing this to our attention. A disturbing development (which is why I haven’t *liked* this post). It would be interesting to know how Bishops Semeraro and Sarlinga voted last month at the synod, if they were in attendance. And might I ask what authority they have to speak on canonical issues of application to the entire Chruch?


  2. johnhenrycn says:

    …such a bad typo 😦


  3. TerryC says:

    Not saying this is a good thing, however Bishops Semeraro and Sarlinga have the authority, as successors of the apostles to bind and loose, which means in the strictest sense they get their authority from Jesus Christ to speak on canonical issues of application, not to the entire Church, but to their own dioceses. This is similar to the excommunications imposed by Cardinal, then Archbishop, Burke against the board of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in St. Louis. As in that case if someone thinks they have been wronged they can and should appeal to the Holy See.
    We should remember that priests of the SSPX, because they are validly ordained, but do not have faculties from the Ordinaries, these two bishops in this case, cannot validly absolve sins or witness marriages. Their Masses are valid, but illicit, and though they meet the requirement for meeting one’s Sunday duty, it has been stated by multiple bishops and priests that it is not preferable that the laity attend such Masses exclusively or habitually.
    I wish that there were more Traditional Masses celebrated within the official structures of the Church and with the permission and cooperation of the bishops and the Holy See. As long as the SSPX cannot come to an accommodation with the Holy See it is not likely that we will see a great increase in such Masses. At some level they will have to find a way to protect their own institutional independence, and having done that hold their noses on the issues of the Mass of Paul VI and Vatican II. The Church would be much better with then in it than standing on the sidelines.


  4. kathleen says:

    I was deeply shocked when I first heard about this, and I too am grateful to Gertrude for posting this article: the LMS’s rebuttal of the two bishops’ misdirected action in “excommunicating” those lay faithful who attend the sacraments from members of the SSPX. Having just mentioned only yesterday that I attend a once monthly Tridentine Mass celebrated by priests of this order, had I been one of those lay faithful of their diocese, I would have been “automatically excommunicated” by them! 😕

    The article clears up any misgivings we might have entertained after reading the disturbing title, but I am left with a deep sense of sadness that there is still so much hate and distrust among some members of the Church hierarchy for not only the loyal defenders of Catholic orthodoxy in the Church (and that includes the members of the SSPX) but also against the unsurpassable Mass of the Ages.
    We have seen it over and over again in recent weeks and months, and bishops like the faithful, heroic Card. Burke, have been slandered, criticised and even demoted because of their adherence to both Catholic Truth and the TLM. (These two do seem to often go hand in hand!)

    I have always understood the extreme measure of excommunication as being only for those who cling to heresy and/or flaunt serious mortal sin (and even then, seldom is this an official declaration of excommunication), but it now seems that it can be tossed around by any bishop who wants to dissuade the faithful from following the Church’s beautiful ancient Liturgy!

    Here is a 25 minute interview from “The Remnant Forum” about this latest ‘slap in the face’:

    P.S. @ JH, I consider the “like” button to be not necessarily a sign of one agreeing with what the article is condemning, but because of its interesting content, or (as in this case) it providing a worthy ratification against the non-canonical action of these two above-mentioned bishops.


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    Kathleen, your P.S. regarding the ‘like” button is a reasonable approach. And yes, the idea that one can be automatically excommunicated and publicly shunned for worshipping – even just once – at an SSPX chapel is out of all proportion to the perceived offence, assuming it is an offence and not just an irregularity.


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    TerryC: Your elucidations above on these issues were helpful and appreciated.


  7. Roger says:

    Lets see it is acceptable to Bow to Mecca! It is acceptable to recieve the mark of an Indian Hindu God. Orthodox Church sacraments are vaild. It is permissible for Curia to be Masons and even vote in conclaves.
    You can be excommunicated from attending a Tridentine Mass? SSPX Bishops and priests are ordained and consecrated.
    Pope Francis marked his first month as pope on Saturday by naming nine high-ranking prelates from around the globe to a permanent advisory group to help him run the Catholic Church and study a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy … Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, will be secretary .


  8. JabbaPapa says:

    It seems that every three months or so there is some or other hoo-hah related to the non-canonical status of the SSPX and excommunication.

    There have been only a very small number of official general comments on these questions from the Roman Curia, from Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Ecclesia Dei Commission, who (together with the Holy Father) have the only Authority to make such declarations.

    Off-the-cuff remarks made unofficially and provisions that may exist concerning individual dioceses or individual SSPX chapels or members of clergy are not of universal application to all of the Catholic Faithful.

    The actual universally applicable provisions concerning SSPX Masses are quite complex though, and are hard to understand fully without some degree of effort and focus — though the Latin Mass Society is entirely correct that a schismatic intent is the conditio sine qua non for an excommunication latae sententiae to exist — although the condition of non-fulfillment of Sunday Obligation is more easily entered into.

    My reading of the abovementioned official positions of the Roman Curia suggest to me that most Lay Catholics cannot be “excommunicated” simply by attending SSPX Masses — except through consistent and durable failure to fulfill Sunday Obligation in a canonically regular parish or deanery or failure to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that SSPX clergy are, with the occasional exception, unable to provide. Bearing in mind that those official positions exempt all of those from excommunication who through lack of knowledge may not understand these provisions, as well as all of those who may be impeded from attending Masses elsewhere, as well as all of those who are only motivated by their desire to attend the TLM wheresoever no other such Masses may be available.


  9. kathleen says:

    Thank you for this Jabba.

    However, I have come back to your comment of yesterday to ask you something that worries me:
    Why, in your opinion, if the SSPX are validly consecrated priests (as it appears we all agree is the case) are they unable to provide the “Sacrament of Reconciliation”? It is the first time I’ve heard that.
    Please don’t think I’m nitpicking with anything you’ve said – just asking. 🙂


  10. JabbaPapa says:

    No problem Kathleen — it’s what the Holy See has declared concerning which Sacraments the clergy of the SSPX can or cannot provide, due to the canonical irregularity of the Fraternity.

    It’s not really a special rule for the SSPX clergy, it’s part of the general rules concerning priests in situations of irregularity — also bearing in mind that priests need permission from their Ordinary to hear confessions in any case ; which is why I mentioned some exceptions, as I understand that there are some cases of SSPX clergy who have indeed received such permission.

    Though again, in cases where the person confessing is honestly seeking Reconciliation, and is also either unaware of this rule, then the Sacrament is still received.


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