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The Society of Saint Pius X recognized in Argentina: what does it mean? Much more than you may think! A guest-piece by Don Pio Pace

We are very honored to post this new article by a very wise, knowledgeable, and highly influential cleric, writing under the pen name of don Pio Pace.

The Society of Saint Pius X recognized in Argentina: what does it mean? 
Much more than you may think!

Father Pio Pace

By way of a decision of March 13, 2015, of the Secretariat of Worship of Argentina, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX / FSSPX) was recognized in that country as a legal person, as an association of the Catholic Church "according to what is established" by Canon Law, and was registered in the Registry of Institutes of Consecrated Life. It should be known that the concordat links between Church and State in Argentina are very strong. The State grants all sorts of advantages to worship activities, so long as the organizations providing them as registered by it, either as Catholic or as non-Catholic, but nevertheless belonging to a recognized confession. This presupposes an administrative recognition, without which they are illegal and may be dissolved: in order to be legal, and juridically able to sign contracts, have assets, plead in courts, etc, they must be registered in the appropriate Registry.

The SSPX, which had been established for a long time in Argentina, was benefited by a status quo of tolerance, as a cultural association. But since its activities were confessional, it was, in fact, in an illegal situation, which could have grave consequences for its works (churches, chapels, priories, the international seminary at La Reja, schools), as well as for the residence on Argentine territory of the foreign priests of that Society, whose visas, due to that illegality, could always be placed into question (that in fact had been the case for the visa of Bp. Richard Williamson, former member of the Society and then-superior of the La Reja seminary, that had been revoked after the declarations of which we are all aware).

The entire difficulty for the SSPX had been that, in order to be recognized by the Argentine state as a Catholic association that could have public worship, apostolate, and related activities, it had to be presented as such by the hierarchy of the Church, to whose declarations the Argentine state always gives credence (as all state authorities in other countries in similar situations: what is deemed 'Catholic' by the States is what the Catholic hierarchy of the interested country recognizes as such).

Father Christian Bouchacourt, current superior of the District of France of the SSPX, had started the talks in ordered to obtain this administrative-religious space when he was superior in Argentina. He has been helped, regarding the visas of his priests, by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who, contradicting the Apostolic Nuncio, attested that the SSPX was indeed Catholic. Since then, he has always held this position, undoubtedly because he believes this community to be sufficiently "peripheric" so as not to truly trouble the everyday life of dioceses, but also because he loves, more than anything else, to confuse the interpretations of how he is viewed.

The SSPX therefore continued its negotiations, and the successor of Cardinal Bergoglio, Cardinal Poli -- about whom it is widely said that he is merely the "coadjutor" of Buenos Aires, asking constantly for the Pope's advice for the administration of his diocese -- gave his necessary confirmation to the Argentine authorities so that the Society be henceforth recognized as a juridical person "inside the Catholic Church."

"Chinese-like" recognition

What is most interesting, in fact, is evidently the confirmation of Cardinal Poli: as it is clear from the preamble of the decree of recognition, he asked that this Society "be held" (sea tenida) as an Association of Diocesan Right, according to Canon 298 of the Code of Canon Law, in the expectation that it will become (in fieri de ser) a Society of Apostolic Life without vows (an old category of the 1917 Code, under which the SSPX had been recognized by the Bishop of Fribourg, Switzerland, on November 1, 1970, before its dissolution), a status which the Society claims according to its statutes, approved by Ecclesiastical authority.

That is, not only did the Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos grant a public certification of Catholicity to the SSPX, but he confers to it a juridical status similar to that of a diocesan association. The diocesan associations, called "associations of the Christian faithful" (among others, religious communities in formation make use of this framework) "strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit." (Canon 298, § 1)

It is absolutely possible, in legal terms, to consider that Cardinal Poli proceeded thus to what is equivalent to a kind of "erection" of a diocesan association for the SSPX:

- First: because he recognizes to it, publicly, the character of Catholic, which flows forth usually from the erection foreseen by Canon 312;
- Second: because he clears up that it is "Diocesan";
- Third: and because this association proposes to teach Christian doctrine in the Church's name and to promote public worship -- which can only be the case for associations erected by Ecclesiastical authority.

But supposing that it means nothing, it would at least remain that Cardinal Poli considers the SSPX as a Catholic association constituted by private agreement (Canon 299), to which he granted, exceptionally, specific rights.

It is a remarkable juridical step. In the language of canonists who are concerned with the institutional fate of the SSPX, the "Chinese" approach is often recalled. The word refers to the fact that, after the fall of the Soviet iron curtain, and despite the permanence of a brutal tyranny in China, the Holy See has tried a "workaround" operation, basing itself on the wish of a good portion of the members of the "Patriotic Church" to return to Rome. One might summarize the Roman attempt thus: a growing number of the bishops named by the "Patriotic Church" have secretly received (but it is an open secret) "powers" granted by Rome, that is to say, papal investiture (see, for example, this report by Sandro Magister).

In an analogy, for the SSPX what happens today is that, in certain dioceses, confession powers, even permanent ones, and canonical delegations to receive matrimonial consent, even permanent ones, are at times granted to certain priests of this Society. In particular cases, the canonical incardination of priests of the SSPX by diocesan authorities was even contemplated -- with such priests remaining members of this community and exercising their apostolate within it.

In the perspective of a gradual canonical recognition, we could perhaps also imagine that "powers" be granted provisionally to the bishops of the SSPX, which perhaps might already have happened occasionally. Naturally, the administrative-canonical recognition in Buenos Aires -- set up, absolutely without a doubt, by the Pope himself -- could create precedent and be repeated on this or that diocese for SSPX groups, or friendly communities of religious men or women, schools, etc.

Menzingen terrified?

As sson as knowledge of this intervention of the Cardinal of Buenos Aires was made known to the wider public, the General House of the SSPX immediately limited its reach. According to a communiqué published by its DICI agency, of April 13, 2015, essentially for internal purposes, Menzingen (the General House) affirms that, "Cardinal Poli’s document has no canonical authority," and that all of that, "is nothing more than a strictly administrative procedure in the restricted context of the Republic of Argentina.” That no one thinks, above all, that there could be a punctual and partial canonical recognition!

An additional evidence that, at this point in History, Bishop Bernard Fellay, the SSPX Superior-General, has in his hand all the cards for a complete canonical regularization, and that some around him (perhaps some of the faculty at the Écône seminary?) remain hostile to any regularization. Is the internal opposition preventing additional action?