From a reader at Fr Z’s Blog …
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 cited 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
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.