Thursday, November 8, 2012

More on the SSPX: Clear as Mud

In 2008, Fr. Z had an interesting “guest contribution” (by a layman named Brian Mershon) addressing concerns about the standing of the SSPX – are they in schism or not? Are the sacraments administered by SSPX priests valid or not? The article is very informative, and you should read the whole thing.

I present portions of the article here because we were recently discussing the sad state of affairs in the Church around the liturgical abuses that run rampant in the Novus Ordo Mass in many parishes, and the pain we feel when we have no other option but to attend such Masses.

The question is, I guess, whether or not the SSPX chapels really provide us with an option to the NO Mass. The Church Herself seems a little confused about the whole issue. Is the SSPX in schism or not?!

Here are a few paragraphs from the article by Mershon; Fr. Z has added the emphases, and I have left in some of his comments, which are enclosed in [brackets].

First, after mentioning that Cardinal Castrillon has made numerous public statements to the effect that the SSPX is “not in formal schism”, Mershon asks:

Q: Is this your mere private opinion, or the official teaching of the Catholic Church in your official capacity as head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei?

PCED: “Statements made by Cardinal Castrillón need to be understood in a technical, canonical sense. Stating that the Society of St. Pius X “is not in formal schism” is to say that there has been no official declaration on the part of the Holy See that the Society of St. Pius X is in schism. Up to now, the Church has sought to show the maximum charity, courtesy and consideration to all those involved with the hope that such a declaration will not eventually be necessary.” [This means that it might in fact be the case that the SSPX is in schism, but at this point the matter hasn't been officially decided by the Holy See, or if it has, they have decided not to say. No official declaration means that, right now, people can act in moral certainty that the SSPX is not in a state of schism, disagree or not.]

Here’s the question put another way:

Q: Does the Catholic Church currently hold that the priests and bishops of the Society of St. Pius X are in formal schism with the Catholic Church?

PCED: … The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, but suspended, that is prohibited from exercising their priestly functions because they are not properly incardinated in a diocese of religious institute in full communion with the Holy See (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 265) and also because those ordained after the schismatic Episcopal ordinations were ordained by an excommunicated bishop. [There’s that word again. Puzzling.]

The PCED also addresses the question of attending Mass at SSPX chapels, saying:

“While it is true that participation in the Mass at chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute “formal adherence to the schism” (cf. Ecclesia Dei 5, c), such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a schismatic mentality which separates itself from the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff and the entire Catholic Church. [It can happen over time, though this would differ with every person.] While we hope and pray for a reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” cannot recommend that members of the faithful frequent their chapels for the reasons which we have outlined above. [Because, to one degree or another, you are weakening your bond wit the local bishop and the Roman Pontiff.] We deeply regret this situation and pray that soon a reconciliation of the Society of St. Pius X with the Church may come about, but until such time the explanations which we have given remain in force.”

Q: Do lay Catholics who frequent Society of St. Pius X chapels, either more less frequently, incur any sin or canonical delict by doing so, [Well... you don't "incur" sin or delict, you "commit" them. You incur a censure.] if done solely out of devotion to the Church’s Latin liturgical tradition and not to separate one’s self from communion with one’s diocesan Ordinary or local pastor? [Again we are into matters of conscience.]

PCED: “Catholics who frequent the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X do not incur any sin or canonical delict by doing so. [They are quoting his language back to him.] However, we further refer you to what we have already stated in #4 above.”

In his own summary of the PCED’s response to his letter, Mr. Mershon includes the following (again, with Fr. Z’s emphases and [comments]):

Catholic laymen may attend Mass at a Society of St. Pius X chapel without committing any sin nor incurring any canonical penalty. However, the PCED guidance is that it “cannot recommend” attendance at the Society of St. Pius X chapels due to the danger of imbibing a “schismatic mentality.” [And we have seen that mentality among some lay people who frequent their chapels and give them support.] In other words, someone might find some Society priests fomenting division from full communion with the Church, their local Ordinary and/or the Holy Father in their sermons. The PCED’s recommendation is not to attend their chapels habitually, but they acknowledge there is no sin committed nor canonical penalty incurred resulting from attending Mass at SSPX chapels solely out of the desire to worship according to the 1962 missal and in order to fulfill their Sunday obligation

A thought I had, upon reading this, was that not all SSPX chapels are created equal. I have never been to a single one, so I have no basis on which to judge. However, given human nature and individual differences, I imagine that there might be some priests who are “schismatic” and who are sedevacantists, and who actively promote these ideas. But others…not so much. In fact, a friend who could probably be considered a “habitual attendee” has told me that he has never heard a word preached against the Holy Father, and he himself does not hold a schismatic view.

So, if one is outrageously scandalized by one’s local NO Mass, and if there is an SSPX chapel nearby that doesn’t promote schismatic viewpoints, perhaps it’s not a bad option to attend there, even regularly. Certainly, an occasional visit would seem to be justified (that’s just my personal opinion) – we need to recharge our batteries every now and then when subjected to inept NO Masses on a constant basis!

Another point Mershon (and Fr. Z) make is this:

The Society of St. Pius X priests are suspended from priestly ministry. Therefore, objectively speaking, they are committing sins of grave matter by continuing their active ministry without a specific mandate of the Church. [Of course they may subjectively not be sinning, they may be either so convinced of their rectitude or, perhaps, dense, that they are not actually guilty of the objective sins they may be committing.] Of course, the Society’s official claim, wrongly or rightly, is that the salvation of souls and the current state of emergency in the Church forces them to continue to offer their ministries without ecclesiastical approval. There has been no indication by the Catholic Church that the priests, as a whole, are excommunicated or in formal schism. [Remember: it is pretty hard, I would say impossible, to continue a claim of a state of emergency when more than one Pope, over quite a long time, says there isn't not one that justified their actions.]

I think it’s important to consider Mershon’s observation that the SSPX priests don’t have a “specific mandate” from the Church to continue their ministry. That’s a problem for a member of the laity who wants to remain in obedience to Rome, but also wants to have at least an occasional taste of “real” liturgy!

Still, there are so many mixed messages! One reader of this blog has noted:

Unfortunately, in spite of the clear words of the Holy Father and Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, the Church Herself contributes to ongoing confusion by not always acting in ways consistent with what She has said. Because of these inconsistencies, what should be clear becomes less so. For example, within the past year a Dominican sister asked to be transferred to another Dominican convent aligned with the SSPX. She was given permission to do so by the proper Vatican office. SSPX priests are given permission, regularly, to say Mass within St. Peter's Basilica. Complicated matters arising from within the Sacrament of Penance (administered by SSPX priests) have been referred to the Sacred Penitentiary for resolution and always, without exception, resolved in favor of the penitent (i.e., the validity of the Sacrament of Penance in these instances has been affirmed). In other words, what the Church is saying on the one hand is then contradicted by the other. In important ways, the SSPX is treated AS IF they are Catholic in both doctrine and practice, all in the face of words that suggest, clearly, that they are not.

So the Church’s stance on the SSPX is clear as mud, right? I know I’m still a bit confused!

But here’s another thought: with the state of the US – which has become an Obama-nation in God’s sight – it remains to be seen just how long it will take SOMEONE in authority to declare that there does, in fact, exist in the Church the state of emergency that the SSPX  claims justifies their existence.

Let’s face it: over half of self-described Catholics voted for Obama, despite a few bold words here and there from bishops, and despite the big noise being made by the USCCB over “religious freedom” and the HHS mandate. I think that whole “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign fell on deaf ears, though, because the vast majority of “Catholics” don’t think there’s anything wrong with contraception, and the USCCB could not convince them that the mandate was about anything else.

In my opinion, this blatant disregard for Church teaching has its roots in the Novus Ordo Mass and all the liberties that are taken with it. Bishops and priests are not effectively correcting liturgical abuses, people are falling away from the Church at record rates, and the majority of those who stay think it’s their right to disagree with Church teaching!

We can’t save the world without saving the liturgy. And so far, that’s not happening.

Does that constitute a “state of emergency”? Well, I know I’m starving for good liturgy.


  1. We cannot save the world without saving the liturgy ...well said !
    If people only knew the TRUTH of that statement .
    How our world need Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King and to embrace HIM and His Church .
    You see it is not about us at all, it is about HIM who is to be EXALTED and WORSHIPPED ! No one else ...not elected official is going to save us...ONLY CHRIST!
    Wake up America !
    Wake UP Holy Catholic Church and embrace Your God ...and reverence GOD the way he should be ...adore HIM and fall on your knees because the Holy SACRIFICE of the Mass is the only way to HIM ...He has given us everything ...HE laid down His Life on Calvary ..and with each Holy Mass we attend , The Mass of all times, the Traditional Latin Mass ...we go to Calvary each and every Sunday my dear friends ! Let us pray for Our Holy Catholic Church , people are straving and have been robbed ....Let us never give up Hope ...because God will be victorious!

  2. "In my opinion, this blatant disregard for Church teaching has its roots in the Novus Ordo Mass and all the liberties that are taken with it. Bishops and priests are not effectively correcting liturgical abuses, people are falling away from the Church at record rates, and the majority of those who stay think it’s their right to disagree with Church teaching!
    We can’t save the world without saving the liturgy. And so far, that’s not happening.
    Does that constitute a “state of emergency”? Well, I know I’m starving for good liturgy."

    Last week, I would have disagreed. Not any more. I took the self-made blinders off and faced reality thanks to yesterday.

    Are you aware that it was the Catholic vote that helped to get him another four years? Like I said to my husband last night, it was the novus ordo church the produced the "Catholics" that voted for him. Just another fruit of Vatican II.

    I do not believe that Our Lord will hold it against any of us for taking advantage of any port in the storm that we can find. If we can't find one, then sit home.

    Keep close to Our Blessed Mother. She will take care of us and will never let us down.

    Despite what I thought, there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet. In fact, I firmly believe that everything is going to get much worse now. Arm yourself with the Rosary, Miraculous Medal, Brown Scapular, and keep a good supply of properly blessed Holy Water in your homes.

  3. Thanks for that, Jay. What confusion! They are....they aren't. It's's not okay. Jeez.

    For my part, I've only attended one particular SSPX chapel and only occasionally so I don't have any other chapels to compare it to but I never heard the Priest say anything against our Holy Father or anything remotely sedevacantist. Good, strong, orthodox, and LONG sermons. They were awesome and instructive.

    I do think that the blatant disregard for Church teaching is due to much more than the Novus Ordo and the tossing out of the Traditional Mass. Yes, the Mass is the most important thing to us Cathoics but I think the state of our Church today and the faith (or lack thereof) is due to way more than just the Novus Ordo, even the most outrageous ones.

  4. To put it bluntly, if we had an SSPX Chapel within reasonable driving distance and the Priests at said Chapel did not encourage disobedience to the Pontiff I would go to the SSPX Chapel on a consistent basis until such time (probably not in my lifetime) as the Church in my Diocese offered appropriate and respectful liturgy which conforms to what the Church actualy requires. How's that for a long sentence?

  5. Elizabeth - yes, there really is something else that underlies the deplorable state of our Faith: modernism. It's what destroyed the Mass,and it's a philosophy that feeds on the "me" mentality.

    And Lorraine - I also believe things are going to get much worse. But at least maybe it will be out in the open now.

  6. Jay,

    I have attended SSPX chapels in Missouri, Idaho, and British Columbia. I have not ever heard the priests state anything that could be considered schismatic or disrespectful toward the Holy Father. There have been spirited homilies concerning the abuses of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo mass, but frankly this has not been any different than what has appeared on this blog. The society remains in negotiations with the Vatican regarding what appears to be a personal prelature. Only time will tell what will happen. The recent appointments of Archbishop Mueller who has been openly hostile toward the SSPX and insistence on a complete acceptance of Vatican II without allowance for criticism has slowed down the process, but it remains ongoing. The society stands for the preservation of our Catholic tradition. It has never sought to set up a separate church. Archbishop Lefebvre though highly critical of Rome remained in communication with the Vatican throughout his life. Archbishop Lefebvre was often times quoted that the purpose of the SSPX was to preserve and hand on what they had been given. My useless lay opinion is that politics and the modernists dire need for the preservation of a Vatican II superdogma prevent reconciliation. As I have said before if we look at the horrific abuses and disregard for the Church and the Holy Father carried on by those who enjoy "full" communion (LCWR etc.), I find it ridiculous to wonder whether one should question attending a Mass offered by the society. In addition, Cardinal Castrillon, while head of Ecclesia Dei stated, "However, the fact remains that the lay faithful who attend SSPX masses to fulfill their Sunday obligation are not sinning nor incurring any canonical penalty by doing so." Sorry for being so long winded. God Bless.

  7. It IS ludicrous that some of these groups like the LCWR have been considered "in full communion" while the SSPX is not. And the whole canonical aspect is so muddy. Thanks for your input - you provide valuable insights.

    1. Dr. Jay, I agree. Anonymous does provide valuable insights. Also, I was going to write this yesterday...she is right about the sermons. You will mostly hear only true Catholic doctrine or sermons on developing and maintaining an interior life.

  8. Jay,

    You are so close (relatively) to such a chapel and it is clear that there is no sin involved, so why not give it a try?!

  9. Where, Agronomist? The one in New Plymouth, Idaho? Google maps puts that chapel at 2-1/2 hours from my house. I know you drive that kind of distance regularly, but it's not a good option for us, for a number of reasons. I keep threatening to go every now and then, though!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Yes, that's the one I was thinking of, but I didn't realize that it was that far away from your house. For some reason, I thought that you were closer to the Cathedral city. Still, when you are at your wit's end with the shenanigans at the local parishes you should go there once at least for a breath of fresh air; it's closer than going "over the rainbow"!

    3. We are 12 miles from the Cathedral, which adds a little time to any trip calculated from Baker City. Actually, I thought New Plymouth was closer than that, too; but google maps says otherwise.

      I do think that I will go there at some point, just for that "breath of fresh air" you mentioned! If I can get "over the rainbow" once a month, that helps, but is not always possible; it's usually closer to every other month.

      Thanks for your encouragement!


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