Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the Shoes of the Fisherman

IN the aftermath of the recent lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops illicitly ordained by Abp.Lefebvre, and the unfortunate statements of one of them discrediting the historicity of the Nazi extermination of the Jews during World War II, a lot of criticism had been heaped on Pope Benedict XVI from some quarters both outside and within the Catholic Church. This was further exacerbated by his unflinching declarations in his recent visit to Africa against the widespread distribution of condoms as a futile response to the AIDS pandemic in that continent. In effect, what some quarters in the Church had been harping on for a time—even in connection with the Pope’s unwavering magisterium against contraception, abortion and divorce— was an old heresy that the Pope, just like any other bishop, did not really enjoy the supreme authority—in magisterium, in governance and as regards the sacraments—that Catholic doctrine has always taught he enjoyed. Can you shed some light on this matter.

THIS is a deeply theological question, best answered in the context of ecclesiology rather than Canon Law. Nevertheless, short of going into the theological roots of papal supremacy and infallibility in matters of faith and morals, I shall attempt to shed some light on the matter from the prism of Canon Law, which is my competence.

1. The Office of Peter

The identity of the papacy is set forth in the Code of Canon Law in the following glowing terms:
Can.331 — The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office given in a spe-cial way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth; therefore, in virtue of his office he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he can always freely exercise.

The first part of c.331 gives a series of titles applied to the Roman Pontiff:
1) Bishop of Rome — The canon opens with a reference to the bishop of the Church of Rome, and only afterwards enumerates the other pontifical titles. This implies a logical priority of the title of Roman Pontiff as the foundation of all the other titles. This affirms that the Pope should always be the Bishop of Rome (and not any other See).
2) Successor of Peter by Christ’s Will — The First Vatican Council had already de-clared the permanence of the office of Peter by the Lord’s Will, and that it therefore had to be transmitted to his successors, the Bishops of Rome. As the two Vatican Councils have taught, this office consists in being the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.
3) Head of the College of Bishops — Caput collegii is clearly Vatican II terminology, although it has a long history and can hardly be considered an innovation. Being the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, who is the first of the Apostles, the Pope is necessarily also the Head of the Episcopal College. Again this underscores the necessary membership of the Pope in the Episcopal College—i.e., he is intrinsic to that college, even if hierarchically superior to it as its Head.
4) Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth — The fact that the title of Head of the College appears first does not imply an ontological priority with respect to these last two titles, but rather a logical order in relation to the title of Bishop of Rome. On the other hand, the title of Vicarius Christi—of medieval vintage—is not exclusive to the Pope, since the other bishops are also Vicars of Christ in their respective dioceses and their power come directly from God. Nevertheless, the title acquires special significance in the Pope where it is united to that of Pastor of the universal Church.

2. Characteristics of Papal Power

The redaction of c.331 establishes a connection—therefore—between the Petrine func-tion and the power of the Pope. As previously pointed out, this office consists in being “the per-petual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole com-pany of the faithful.” It is in the service of this finality that the office of Peter comes with a power whose characteristics are enumerated in the second part of c.331: in virtue of his office, he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he can al-ways freely exercise.
1) Ordinary (ordinaria potestate)— The Pope possesses his power in virtue of his office, and therefore not as a physical person but as the titleholder of the capital function of government of the universal Church. Thus, it is an ordinary power—not delegated—in the sense of c.131, §1.
2) Supreme (suprema) — It is not subordinated to any other human power, either eccle-siastical or temporal (secular), and therefore enjoys absolute hierarchical superiority in its order. The consequences of this superiority can be gleaned from different canonical provisions:
a) Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur. This principle, enunciated by c.1404, has as a consequence that any act or decision made in violation thereof is considered invalid (c.1606, §1).
b) The Roman Pontiff is the supreme judge for the entire Catholic world (c.1442). There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree by the Roman Pontiff (c.333, §3), and a censure is established against one who takes recourse against an act of a Ro-man Pontiff to an ecumenical council or to the college of bishops (c.1372).
c) The supreme direction and coordination of endeavors and activities which deal with missionary work and missionary cooperation belongs to the Roman Pontiff and the college of bishops (c.782, §1).
d) The Roman Pontiff is the supreme administrator and steward of all ecclesias-tical goods (c.1273; cf. c.1256).
3) Full (plena) — The Pope possesses all the power that Christ entrusted to his Church, and therefore all that is necessary and sufficient for the government of the Church in all the or-ders and spheres of ecclesial life. Such plenitude includes both the power of Order as well as the power of jurisdiction, extending to all the functions of the sacra potestas: munus sanctificandi, docendi et regendi. It also extends to all the functions of government properly speaking—i.e., legislative, executive and judicial.
Full, however, does not mean unlimited. As the Council pointed out, such power had been granted by God “in the care of souls...to promote the common good of the universal Church and the particular good of all the churches.” Thus, its limits are determined by the ends of the Church, and it must respect the constitution and structure of the Church itself, which are of di-vine institution.
4) Immediate (immediata) — The Pope can exercise his power over each and every one of the faithful, and over each and every one of the particular Churches, without need of any per-mission, authorization or license of the respective Bishops or Ordinaries. Consequently, the faithful also have the right to direct themselves to the Pope without any need of intermediary.
This characteristic of the power of the Roman Pontiff also has different manifestations in the CIC, among which are the following:
a) Anyone of the faithful is free to bring to or introduce before the Holy See a case either contentious or penal in any grade of judgment and at any stage of litigation (c.1417, §1).
b) It is the right of the Roman Pontiff himself alone to judge ... other cases he has called to his own judgment (c.1404, §1, 4┬║), whether motu proprio or at the petition of parties (cf. c.1444, §2).
c) Clerics are bound by a special obligation to show reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and to their own Ordinary (c.273); while individual members (of Institutes of Consecrated Life) are also bound to obey the Supreme Pontiff as their highest superior by reason of the sacred bond of obedience (c.590, §2).
d) The Roman Pontiff can dispense all types of vows and oaths in the Church (cc. 1196 and 1203).
5) Universal (universali) — The exercise of the Pope’s power extends to all spheres in the Church, whether territories, persons or matters. Therefore, nothing in the ecclesiastical order can be subtracted from his authority, or reserved to any other authority without his consent.
6) Exercised freely always (quam semper libere exercere valet) — because otherwise it would not be full and supreme. He has the right, according to the needs of the Church, to deter-mine the manner, either personal or collegial, of exercising this function (c.333, §2 in fine).
On the other hand, the text of the canon (and that of LG, n.22) intentionally states semper libere—not semper et libere—to avoid any impression that the Pope can continually and arbitrarily meddle in what is the competence of the local Ordinaries. And when he does, he will do so always united in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church (c.333, §2 in medio).

3. Extension and Limits of Papal Power

To speak of extension and limitation of the exercise of papal power is tantamount to speaking about primacy and hierarchical communion, and these notions are regulated in c.333, §§1 and 2 respectively.
1) The Primacy — This term refers to a complex relationship that exists between the Pe-trine Office, Pastor of the universal Church, and the individual Bishops who are also Pastors of the particular Churches.
Can.333, §1 — The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office, not only has power in the uni-versal Church but also possesses a primacy of ordinary power over all particular Churches and groupings of churches by which the proper, ordinary and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care is both strengthened and safeguarded.
This paragraph of c.333 establishes the two important aspects regarding the extension of papal power:
a) The Primacy of the Roman Pontiff extends not only over the universal Church in its totality, but also to each and every one of the particular Churches and groupings thereof. This is really nothing else but a manifestation of the immediate character of the power that cor-responds to the Pope by virtue of his office.
b) Such Primacy does not undermine the equally ordinary, proper and immediate power of the Bishops in their respective particular Churches (c.381, §1). On the contrary, the lat-ter is both strengthened and safeguarded (c.333, §1; cf. LG, n.27).
2) Hierarchical Communion — If the extension of the papal power is best expressed by the notion of papal primacy (in the context of the communio ecclesiarum), the limits of the ex-ercise of such power is best expressed by the notion of communio hierarchica, as laid down in the next paragraph of c.333.
Can.333, §2 — The Roman Pontiff, in fulfilling the office of the supreme pastor of the Church, is always united in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church; however, he has the right, according to the needs of the Church, to determine the manner, either personal or collegial, of exercising this function.
What this paragraph establishes is that the exercise of the primacy of power is not ex-empted from the communion in the Church, and that the Pope—as Head of the Church—cannot separate himself from the body of the Bishops or from the body of the universal Church.

Conclusion

Perhaps we can end this discussion of the Petrine office by going back to the Gospel pas-sage which is its Scriptural foundation. The setting is Caesarea Philippi, after Peter had made his personal confession of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Then Jesus answered and said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven, And I say to thee, thou art Peter [Rock] and upon this rock I will build by Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16, 17-19).
Why is the Pope the supreme authority in the Church of Christ? Simply because its founder, Jesus Christ, established it that way.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Status of the society of St Pius X (Part I)

MY mother enjoys going to Mass at the Our Lady of Victories Church along Valley Road in New Manila (Quezon City). She finds the Tridentine Mass more solemn and pious. Besides, she is quick to add, the priests there are always in cassock and more approachable for confession. But I also seem to remember a circular from then Archbishop of Manila, the late Cardinal Sin, that those Lefebvrist priests were schismatic and the Catholic faithful were not supposed to go to them for anything. Now, to heighten my confusion, I just read a circular from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubao reprinting a Decree of the Congregation of Bishops (Vatican City, 21.I.2009) concerning the lifting of the excommunication pronounced on the four bishops consecrated by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. Can you shed some light on this matter?

IN order to fully understand this question and in the service of the truth—given that a half-truth is the worst lie—we have to dedicate two issues of this column, starting with a backgrounder in the present one.

A Short Background on Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
and the Society of St Pius X.


In November 1970, French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), with a seminary in Econe (France). In the confused doctrinal environment of the so-called post-conciliar crisis, his exaggerated traditionalism was initially perceived as a bastion of Catholic orthodoxy. The Econe Seminary even received a commendatory letter from the Congregation for the Clergy in February 1971. However, Lefebvre’s erroneous idea of Tradition soon led him to condemn the Second Vatican Council (especially its teachings on ecumenism) and the Novus Ordo (the new Order of Mass that came in force in 1970).

In May 1975, the Holy See ordered Lefebvre to close the Econe Seminary and in June 1976—given his refusal to obey—suspended him from ordaining. What followed was a sad chapter—still unfinished—in the history of the Church. Archbishop Lefebvre continued to distance himself from the Holy See, continued to ordain priests and in June 1988 committed the schismatic act of consecrating, without papal mandate and against the explicit prohibition of the Holy See, four bishops for the Society of St Pius X. With this, he incurred the automatic penalty of excommunication—a fact declared by a solemn Decree of Excommunication issued by the Sacred Congregation for Bishops on 1 July 1988, and confirmed by Pope John Paul II through the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei, issued motu proprio on 2 July 1988.

John Paul II himself explained Lefebvre’s error: The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of tradition ... But especially contradictory is a notion of tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the bishop of Rome and the body of bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his church (Ecclesia Dei, n.4).

Schismatic nature of the Lefebvre Movement & the Excommunication of its Bishops in 1988.
The Code of Canon Law gives the following definition: [S]chism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him (c.751). Lefebvre’s defenders argued that the consecration of the four bishops in June 1988 did not constitute schism as defined by Canon Law. Without getting into the details, we can simply recall that the Code itself established—following canonical doctrine—that laws are authentically interpreted by the legislator and by the one to whom the legislator has granted the power to interpret them authentically (CIC, c.16, §1). John Paul II was the legislator at the time of the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law; thus, he was the most qualified to interpret it, not only because of his role as Pope (which of itself gave him the right to determine the Code’s meaning), but also because it was by his authority that the Code was originally promulgated. His interpretation of the Code was thus—by definition—guaranteed to be accurate.

John Paul II explained that the consecrations of June 1988 constituted a schismatic act, not simply because they were unauthorized (i.e., without the mandate from the Holy See as required by Law), but because they were directly disobedient (i.e., against an expressed prohibition to proceed with such consecration) to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter: In itself this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience—which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy—constitutes a schismatic act (Ecclesia Dei, n.3).

As a result, the Pope declared quite clearly: In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Bishops last June 17, Archbishop Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law (ibid.).

Formal Papal Prohibition of Supporting and Participating in the Lefevbre Movement.
In the Decree of Excommunication of 1.VII.1988, the Sacred Congregation for Bishops solemnly declared: The priests and faithful are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre; otherwise they shall incur ipso facto the very grave penalty of excommunication.

Because of the danger the new schism posed to souls, John Paul II further issued a direct and solemn appeal to the faithful to stop any and all support for the SSPX: In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfill the ... duty ... of ceasing their support in any way for that movement (Ecclesia Dei, n.5, c).

He also specifically warned against formally adhering to the Lefebvrist schism: Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church's law (ibid.).

This was the Church's definitive—and up to the moment current—statement on the subject of the status of Lefebvre and his organization. Nevertheless, to further clarify the issue, we need to distinguish between the clerics involved in the Lefebvre Movement and the laymen who participate in it.

Canonical status of priests and laymen of the Society of St Pius X

In a document of 26.VIII.1996, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (PCILT) clarified that the automatic excommunication declared by the two aforementioned documents as regards Lefevbre and the Society of Pius X is premised on a formal adherence to the schism. While respecting the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as regards the notion of formal adherence to the schism, the Pontifical Council clarified that such adherence implies two complimentary elements:

1st an internal element, consisting in a free and conscious agreement with the substance of the schism—i.e., to opt to follow Lefebvre rather than to obey the Pope;

2nd an external element, consisting in the exteriorization of such option, the clearest manifestation of which would be the exclusive participation in the ecclesial acts of the Lefebvrist Movement, without taking part in the acts of the Catholic Church. The document was quick to clarify, however, that this latter does not consist an unequivocal sign, since it is possible for any faithful to participate in liturgical acts of the SSPX without necessarily sharing in its schismatic spirit.

The above considerations resulted in a different treatment of clerics as compared to lay people in the SSPX as regards their canonical status:

1st In the case of the deacons and priests, it would seem that their ministerial activities within the schismatic movement was a clear sign of the presence of the two aforementioned elements, constituting a formal adherence to the schism. Thus, regardless of how they may present themselves in attire and manners, canonically they were considered under automatic excommunication.

2nd In the case of the other faithful, however, the document stated that an occasional participation in liturgical acts or activities of the Lefebvrist Movement—done without identifying themselves with the doctrinal and disciplinar disunity of the movement with the Holy See—would not be sufficient to imply a formal adherence to the schism. The document emphasized the need to take into account, above all, the intention of the person and whatever external manifestation of their interior dispositions. Thus, the document concluded, the various situations should be judged in a case-to-case basis, in the competent seat of the external or internal forum.

Preliminary Conclusions

This was the situation for the remainder of the Pontificate of John Paul II and the first years of the Pontificate of Benedict XVI, who—as John Paul II’s right-hand man in the whole Lefebvre issue—had tried in vain at that time to avert the schism. Summarizing then,
1) The 4 bishops ordained by Abp. Lefebvre—including Abp. Lefebvre himself and another bishop who concelebrated that Episcopal consecration—were all excommunicated automatically when they formally adhered to that schismatic act.

Aside from the automatic excommunication, that excommunication was expressly declared by a Decree of Excommunication issued by the Sacred Congregation for Bishops on 1 July 1988, and confirmed by Pope John Paul II through the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei, issued motu proprio on 2 July 1988.

2) Aside from the aforementioned bishops, no other followers of Lefebvre were expressly excommunicated. However, as is true of any automatic excommunication, such expressed declaration of the penalty is not absolutely necessary—i.e., the penalty is automatic as soon as the crime is formally committed. Nevertheless, in a document of 26.VIII.1996, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (PCILT) clarified that the automatic
excommunication affected clerics and lay people in the SSPX differently as regards their status:

1st In the case of the deacons and priests, it would seem that their ministerial activities within the schismatic movement was a clear sign of the presence of the two aforementioned elements, constituting a formal adherence to the schism. Thus, regardless of how they may present themselves in attire and manners, canonically they were considered under automatic excommunication.

2nd In the case of the other faithful, however, the document stated that an occasional participation in liturgical acts or activities of the Lefebvrist Movement—done without identifying themselves with the doctrinal and disciplinary disunity of the movement with the Holy See—would not be sufficient to imply a formal adherence to the schism. The document emphasized the need to take into account, above all, the intention of the person and whatever external manifestation of their interior dispositions. Thus, the document concluded, the various situations should be judged in a case-to-case basis, in the competent seat of the external or internal forum.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Status of the society of St Pius X (Part II)

My mother enjoys going to Mass at the Our Lady of Victories Church along Valley Road in New Manila (Quezon City)—under the care of the Society of St Pius X. She finds the Tridentine Mass more solemn and pious. Besides, she is quick to add, the priests there are always in cassock and more approachable for confession. But I also seem to remember a circular from the late Cardinal Sin that those Lefebvrist priests were schismatic and the Catholic faithful were not supposed to go to them for anything. Now, to heighten my confusion, I just read a circular from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubao reprinting a Decree of the Congregation of Bishops (Vatican City, 21.I.2009) concerning the lifting of the excommunication pronounced on the four bishops consecrated by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. Can you shed some light on this matter?

IN the previous issue, we had summarized the events leading to the schismatic act which brought about the automatic excommunication of Abp. Marcel Lefebvre and the four original bishops whom he consecrated for the Society of St Pius X in 1988, and the subsequent declaration by the Holy See of such excommunication. We had also seen the criteria given by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts regarding the different status of priests and laity involved with that Society. Now we shall conclude this article with the continuing efforts at restoring communion, especially by the same person who had worked so hard to prevent the schism in the first place: Card. Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

Efforts at Restoring Communion

In the very act of declaring the schismatic nature of the Society of Pius X, through his Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei (2.VII.1988), Pope John Paul II also decreed the formation of a Pontifical Commission—henceforth referred to as the Ecclesia Dei Commission—to work for “full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities or indivi¬duals...linked in various ways to the Fraternity founded by Mons. Lefebvre, who may wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church, while preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions, in the light of the Proto¬col signed on 5 May by Cardinal Ratzinger and Mons. Lefebvre.” Thus, on 18 January 2002, for example, a group in Campos (Brazil), under Bishop Licinio Rangel—who had been consecrated by the three bishops illicitly consecrated by Lefebvre—was constituted into the Personal Apostolic Administration St. John Mary Vianney.

On the other hand, as soon as Card. Ratzinger ascended to the papacy as Benedict XVI, he expressed his concern for a return to full communion by those who followed Archbishop Lefebvre and wished to offer welcome gestures. Thus, in September 2006 for example, The Good Shepherd Institute—a society of apostolic life of pontifical right—was established in Rome. Composed of five priests and seminarians, including past members of the Society of St Pius X, it represented a return to full communion with the Catholic Church.

On 7 June 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued motu proprio the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, which—among other things—declared more availability of the Tridentine Mass through the extended use of the 1962 Missal, which he dubbed as the “extraordinary form” for celebrating Mass (vs. the ordinary form which is the Novus Ordo established by Vatican II). The letter brought attention to the situation of schismatic groups, such as the Society of St. Pius X, that had been refusing to celebrate the Novus Ordo. The response was immediate. As early as January 2008, Card. Castrill├│n Hoyos—President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei—reported that in response to Summorum Pontificum, many faithful of the Society of Pius X from all over the world had expressed their desire for full communion.

The Lifting of the Excommunication of the Four Original Lefebvrite Bishops

With a Decree dated 21 January 2009—though made public only on January 24— the Congregation of Bishops lifted the excommunication of the four prelates of the Society of St. Pius X, illicitly ordained to the episcopate by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. In an accompanying statement, the Vatican Secretariat of State made the following clarifications:

1) The decree lifting the excommunication came in response to repeated petitions from the superior-general of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, and the Holy Father's desire to “remove an impediment that adversely affected the opening of a door to dialogue.” It added: “Now [the Pope] expects that the same willingness be expressed by the four bishops, in total adhesion to the doctrine and discipline of the Church.”

2) “The lifting of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a most grave canonical penalty, but it has not changed in any way the juridical situation of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, which for the moment does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic Church.”

3) “Neither do the four bishops, though liberated from the excommunication, have a canonical function in the Church and they do not licitly exercise a ministry in it.”

4) Finally, the statement pointed out some requirements for the official recognition of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, and underlined the commitment of the Holy See in resolving the problems that caused a fracture.

The Canonical Status of the Fraternity of St Pius X, its Bishops and its Priests

Based on the aforementioned Decree, the accompanying clarification of the Secretariat of State and subsequent statements of the Holy Father himself, we can summarize the canonical situation as follows:

1) Only the four original bishops ordained by Abp. Lefebvre in 1988, who were the subjects of the Decree of Excommunication of 1988, are affected by the present decree lifting that excommunication. In other words, only those who were excommunicated ferendae sententiae—explicitly excommunicated by decree—are now freed of that excommunication.

It must be noted that any bishops that may have been consecrated by them—equally without the permission of the Holy See—would also have automatically fallen into the excommunication latae sententiae provided by Canon Law for such unauthorized episcopal consecration. In this latter case, these excommunicated bishops would not be affected by the recent remission of excommunication—i.e., they would remain under the excommunication latae sententiae.

2) Those same bishops—the four original bishops and any other bishop they may have consecrated afterwards—remain without canonical function in the Church—i.e., they are not inserted in the hierarchical structure of the Church, have no missio canonica and therefore do not enjoy any power of jurisdiction over the faithful.

3) The question of whether the priests and deacons—that up to now would be under the same canonical censure latae sententiae—remain under that censure, unaffected by the recent remission, is more problematic, since their being in that state is dependent on whether or not they subscribe to the schismatic posture of Lefebvre. It could happen that with the lifting of the excommunication of their particular bishop, a priest or deacon might already have distanced himself from such schismatic posture. The latest decree and explanatory statements have not touched on this ticklish issue.

4) Nevertheless, since the power of jurisdiction of the bishops, as shepherds of particular flocks within the one Church of Christ, is the basis for any sacred ministry exercised by the priests who form part of their presbyterate, the absence of such power of jurisdiction of the Lefebvrite bishops implies the lack of such legitimate ministry on the part of their clergy as well. So regardless of whether or not such clergy are excommunicated, the fact is they do not exercise legitimate ministry in the Catholic church.

5) The Fraternity of St. Pius X itself does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic Church—i.e., juridically it does not exist. As such non-entity, it cannot really be recommended for the Catholic faithful.

Towards Full Communion: Lefebvrite Progress Hinges on Doctrine

In an unprecedented letter addressed to Catholic bishops worldwide, dated 10 March but made public only on 12 March 2009—Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the clarification made by the Vatican Secretariat of State last month, which affirmed that the society has no canonical status in the Church. More importantly, he clarified that this is “not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons.”

The consequence of this lack of canonical status, he explained, is that the society's “ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. [U]ntil 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.”

To resolve the pending doctrinal issues, Benedict XVI announced that he will join the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, established precisely to oversee the process of healing the society's separation from the Church, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “This will make it clear—he said—that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes.” The Holy Father went on to speak of the centrality of the Second Vatican Council for any progress with the Society: “The Church's teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962; this must be quite clear to the society.”

Conclusion

While it is true that participation at Mass and other liturgical acts in the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute formal adherence to the schism, 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—classically exemplified in a SSPX Handbook, which states that the SSPX defends the traditional catechisms and therefore the Old Mass, and so attacks the Novus Ordo, the Second Vatican Council and the New Catechism of the Catholic Church, all of which—it claims—more or less undermine our unchangeable Catholic faith.

It is precisely because of this schismatic mentality inherent in the Lefebvre Movement that the Pontifical Commission responsible for the implementation of Ecclesia Dei has consistently discouraged the Catholic faithful from attending Masses celebrated under the aegis of the Society of St. Pius X.

The present remission of the excommunication latae sententiae of the four original bishops has not changed either that status of the Society of St Pius X or the general recommendation for the Catholic faithful to avoid attending the liturgy in their temples. As the Pope has just now clarified: “its ministers—even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty—do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.” If they do not exercise legitimate ministry in the Church, then the Catholic faithful should not legitimately subject themselves to such ministry.