Yesterday Pope Francis sent a letter to the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and made a completely unexpected announcement regarding the SSPX:
“A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime,motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.”
For those of you who are not familiar with the SSPX here are a few brief facts:
- The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is an international organisation, founded in 1970 by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, of traditionalist Catholic priests.
- It was born out of opposition to changes in the Catholic Church that followed the Second Vatican Council.
- It is commonly believed that they disagree with the whole of Vatican II, but it is only just five paragraphs. These are the ‘pelagian’ paragraphs relating to conscience.
- The society is known as a strong defender and proponent of the Tridentine Mass.
- The central controversy surrounding the SSPX concerns the consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre and a Brazilian bishop, Antônio de Castro Mayer, of four SSPX priests as bishops on 30 June 1988 in violation of the orders of Pope John Paul II.
- The following day, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree declaring that Archbishop Lefebvre and the four newly ordained bishops had incurred the automatic canonical penalty of excommunication reserved to the Holy See.
- Lefebvre argued that his actions had been necessary because the traditional form of the Catholic faith and sacraments would become extinct without traditionalist clergy to pass them on to the next generation.
- The canonical situation of the SSPX has been the subject of much controversy since the 1988 Écône consecrations. The Society claims to possess extraordinary jurisdiction for celebrating masses and for other sacraments like penance and marriage.
- The view of the Holy See, as expressed by Pope Benedict XVI on 10 March 2009, is: “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”
So you can see now why today’s announcement was so surprising.
The SSPX responded to the announcement on their website:
“The Society of St. Pius X learned, through the press, of the provisions taken by Pope Francis on the occasion of the upcoming Holy Year. In the last paragraph of his letter addressed September 1, 2015, to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Holy Father writes:
The Society of St. Pius X expresses its gratitude to the Sovereign Pontiff for this fatherly gesture. In the ministry of the sacrament of penance, we have always relied, with all certainty, on the extrdaordinary jurisdiction conferred by the Normae generales of the Code of Canon Law. On the occasion of this Holy Year, Pope Francis wants all the faithful who wish to confess to the priests of the Society of St. Pius X to be able to do so without being worried.
However, it struck me that the timing of the announcement was rather significant. The opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy will take place on December 8th 2015 – the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Lest we forget, that the SSPX was born out of opposition to the Second Vatican Council.
The optimist here will tell you that this announcement is an extremely exciting step that shows real hope of reconciliation between the SSPX and Rome. That it is following the same direction as Summorum Pontificum in which Pope Benedict XVI stated that all priests may once again freely celebrate the Tridentine Mass, and that Pope Francis is really reaching out to these guys.
The cynic however will tell you that it is just a way of publicly sweetening the SSPX as Rome prepares to celebrate 50 years of the thing that caused the SSPX to come into existence in the first place. And that this gesture means very little to the SSPX as far as its interaction with Rome goes because according to the Normae generales of the Code of Canon Law, their sacrament of confession is valid already – and always has been.
And the end-times watcher will tell you this is just a way of trying to include and appease the traditional side of the church, when what is really about to happen is that the church is going to be taken over and completely remodelled by a set of uber liberal diverse cardinals at the family synod in October all under the banner of the ‘spirit of vatican 2′.
Well I suppose we will have to wait and see what happens at the synod before we start to imagine all sorts of monstrosities – but I can tell you this: If things do go pear shaped at the Synod and the so called ‘spirit’ of Vatican 2 and Cardinal Kasper’s version of mercy prevails, the SSPX is gonna get real busy, real quick.