Rorate Caeli

Should the SSPX be excommunicated? An Apostolic Nuncio's thoughts

As the possibility of an imminent regularization of the canonical status of the Society of St. Pius X seems increasingly remote, calls for their mass excommunication or for the formal acknowledgment of their alleged "schismatic" status once and for all, are again beginning to be heard. As if preparing for a tide of such comments, Archbishop Thomas Edward Gullickson, Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, published the following article on his blog a week ago:

The Clear and Distinct as Gift  
With a genuinely upright enthusiasm, I wish to thank RORATE CAELI for posting the YouTube video interview in German with Fr. Schmidberger. This priest has always distinguished himself for his clear and distinct ideas, for the noble and profound way he makes his analysis. This video is no exception.  

As much as it pains me to hear him step back from the path of full communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, where only it is to be found, Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia, I can deal with and appreciate his level-headed-ness.  

As I was listening to the interview, however, it came to me that the possibility of renewing the excommunication and extending it to all who adhere to the brotherhood if they refuse the Holy Father's extended hand, ought perhaps to be excluded for another reason and that on ecumenical (within or without the Church) grounds. Excommunication, as an imposed penalty today, should be salutary in its intent and working. Excommunication should work for the Church today like it did in the words of St. Paul. I turn the man (cohabiting with his father's wife) over to Satan in hopes of saving his soul and in the meantime eliminating a cause of great scandal within the body of the Church. After so many years away from us, you would have to find arguments for convincing me that a renewed or extended excommunication would bring the brotherhood to its knees and home to Peter, or that the brotherhood's continued separate existence through scandal, by reason of our acquiescence to the separation, risks the kind of scandal among Catholics which could put the eternal salvation of members of the Catholic Church at risk.

Ecumenical, I say, because I doubt if the penalty of excommunication could be effectively used today to return anyone who is still separated from us to full communion. The question for me and I think for Fr. Schmidberger is always the same: What happens when that clear-headed elite of which he is the stellar example passes from the scene? Who will steer the course? Whence comes the indefectibility or infallibility?

We must redouble our prayers for the unity of Christ's Church cum et sub Petro.

The Archbishop explains his views in greater detail in the comments section to his original post.

Many thanks to Archbishop Gullickson for noting our post!


  1. reader11:37 PM

    If the sspx is declared to be outside the church does that mean their confessions and marriages will then be valid?

  2. Joseph1:01 AM

    It is my understanding that if they were declared to be 'outside the church', as you postulate, then their marriages and confessions would be certainly valid to their members, exactly the same as with the Eastern Orthodox. They would essentially be Protestants (i.e. we recognize the marriages of protestants). However, if a Roman Catholic were to seek marriage to a member of such a group, the marriage would be certainly invalid due to lack of jurisdiction. The validity of the Sacraments only applies to members of the sect/group.

  3. LOL What those in partial communion with the Church routinely complain about - nothing definitive issuing from the Magisterium - is precisely what is being counseled here; and it is entirely predictable that his counsel will be applauded by those who, in principle, reject such actions.

    Is this a hoax written by John Cleese?

  4. John L1:24 AM

    You need a canonical basis for an excommunication, and there is none in the case of the SSPX. Talk of excommunication is just another ploy. I'm surprised to find a nuncio giving it publicity.

  5. Seriously, I say it should be done. How many times can these guys jerk the Holy Father Around. Matt 16:18 means spiritually the Church cannot err. If the Novus Ordo wasn't valid and licit as these guys tend to propagate then wouldn't the whole church be false? Then why should they even do what they do? To me excommunication would make EM realize that you gotta actually obey the Pope and not pay him lip service. That and if they ever want to be respected by the main Catholic Church, they have to become acceptable by being canonically valid.. It is a Yoda situation here: "do or do not, there is no try."

  6. Sheesh. From one extreme to another.

    Negotiations are still ongoing and can be considered to be such until the doctrinal preamble is published.

    Until the negotiations have ended and it is determined that the SSPX have definitively rejected anything the Vatican has or will offer, any talk of excommunication is both premature and irresponsible.

    We simply do not know the state of negotiations despite what recent interviews (with someone other than the head of the SSPX) seem to indicate.

  7. John McFarland3:57 AM

    Can anybody point out to me where in the teaching of the Church before 1962 there appears the concept of degrees of communion?

    Since the answer is no, then the SSPX are a group of disobedient Catholics.

    Then comes the real question: are justified in their disobedience?

    As for the threat of excommunication, the notion is just silly. Since the opening address at Vatican II, the Holy Father and the hierarchy have, with very rare exceptions, exercised no authority. They have issued instructions, counted upon the conservatives to accept them with servile obedience, and let the liberals defy them with impunity. The whole notion of supressing resistance is utter foreign to the mindset of the conciliar Vatican, even when the resistance is from entire outside the thinking of Vatican II.

  8. KnightofChrist4:02 AM

    Excommunication for the whole SSPX? But not for all the catholic public officals who openly reject the Church's moral teachings? It scares me there may be a double standard here.

  9. Virgil4:10 AM

    Young Canadian RC Male,

    "How many times can these guys jerk the Holy Father Around." What are you talking about? Once again, the clear, laid out facts of the matter show that there is a firm willingness on the part of the Society to find a solution to their canonical irregularity, but not at the expense of doctrine or morals. After much back and forth with a preamble, Rome seemed to indicate an acceptance (as stated by the bishop in charge of the commission for the interpretation of legislative texts) that there was nothing problematic with that doctrinal response. And yet, when Bishop Fellay shows up to a meeting with Cardinal Levada, the entire thing is changed to reinstate those elements that the Society saw as problematic. To anyone with eyes to see, it's clear that it is not the Society that is playing games with the Vatican; it's the other way around.

    Also, before commenting on boards such as this, do the research to realize that the Society has NEVER "propagated" (to use your term) the idea that the New Mass is invalid, as it was promulgated.

  10. Not everything the Church says or does, even the Pope, is protected from error. Very few things are.

    The SSPX does NOT hold that the NO is invalid or illicit. Some IN the SSPX do, but they do not. They do consider it offensive to God as it is not as perfectly oriented towards offering sacrifice to God.

    The Mass should NOT just change with the times. It should only move towards a more perfect truth and that only happens through slow, organic development. The NO is a complete seperation from organic development. Wholesale portions of the Mass and prayers surrounding it, including most of the sacraments, were changed significantly.

    To say the NO is better or was needed denies the previous centuries of the Holy spirit working to nuture and advance the Mass. In essence it is to almost say the pre-conciliar Church was in error.

    The SSPX are being asked to do what NO concilar organization is asked to do, they are asked to BLINDLY submit. They are being asked to do that which the conciliar Church says is the WRONG way to bring anyone to the faith; which is by force.

  11. Romanitas5:30 AM

    @Young Canadian RC Male:

    You cannot excommunicate people for being difficult, obstinate, or annoying in disciplinary matters—which is the crux of the SSPX issue: when will they be structurally incorporated into the discipline set by the Pope. But disobedience is not, nor has it ever been, a legitimate reason for excommunication. Heresy, schism (not recognizing that a certain authority exists, not necessarily disobeying that authority), and apostasy are the grounds for schism; also, public and unrepentant mortal sin which damages others (ex: interdicts against nations for the sins of their monarchs). One cannot excommunicate and damn a bishop and his fraternity for "jerk[ing] the Holy Father around."

    Also, the SSPX officially and practically does not teach that the Pauline Mass is intrinsically invalid (Bishop Williamson, Fr Pfieffer etc certainly do not represent the majority opinion of the Society). What they do often teach is that the Pauline Mass was made up in a conference room by some people of dubious orthodoxy with oecumenical aims, that it is usually celebrated with tremendous disrespect, and that although valid it may not be pleasing to God. This does not mean the SSPX believes the "gates of hell" have prevailed against the Church, but rather that the gates of hell have prevailed against devotion and sensibility. Personally I find a bit of French-countryside Gallicanism in the SSPX, but the solution to that disobedient streak is not to "excommunicate" them until they become another version of the FSSP or IBP.

  12. don pierluigi6:00 AM

    Obviously all this talking about excommunication makes non sense. There has to be a reason for that, and a canonical one. Nevertheless the big question, I think, is: how far can they go? If there is no excommunication, but at the same time no full communion, the four bishops one day will be dead. By that day either the SSPX will be left without bishops and without a valid apostolic tradition for the sacraments, or they will have bishops because new episcopal ordination have taken place, which implies a new excommunication. If to say that there is no risk for an imminent excommunication is a way for the SSPX to sit back and relax, then it would be better to think that a future excommunication is possible.

  13. Gratias6:47 AM

    If the SSPX could not accept Benedict XVI, then they will be decades separated from the Church. I am well pleased to be in the inside following the communion of Saints and the Apostle Peter. Una Voce, FSSP and ICR are moving ahead. We will be at the Tridentine Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St.Peter's on November 3. Pity so many wonderful Catholics are being leaded on a divergent path.

  14. To hypothesise that The SSPX is no longer of The Church makes no sense whatsoever. It is patently clear that the Vatican Councils brought about a rupture with orthodox liturgical and pastoral processes. The notion is yet again risible. Demonstrable objective evidence illustrates a church that is in a state of utter chaos & manifests almost every sign of corruption within. Who can deny this now? Every chief indicator and current financial records indicate decline. The increase in sexual and financial criminality is on the increase too as further reports intimate.
    As for the indult societies the rate of expansion is extremely limited considering they are supposedly in "full communion". More evidence also suggests that many instances of The Latin Mass are "one-offs" and studying Mass times reveals many are still at unusal times other than on Sunday.
    Next year the door opens to more changes liturgically for the NO and this will have direct repercussions on The Latin Mass also due for changes. It is no use denying this - it is going to happen. With the lack of discipline in the church so blatant today the liturgy is heading for further abuses and this will impinge upon The Latin Mass. Once it is permitted "ad populum" with NO prefaces there will be further confusion for attendees. Do we really imagine that after that changes will stop? The answer to that is a resounding not. We live in a church that has become incapable of resisiting this postmodernist tendancy.
    In or out, I shall continue to attend SSPX Holy Masses where they concur with the rubrics laid down "in perpetuum" by Pope St Pius V.

  15. It makes me mad when people pick on the FSSPX.

    Walk into your average Novus Ordo Mass, and then walk into your average SSPX Mass and tell me who is extra ecclesiam??

  16. Can anybody point out to me where in the teaching of the Church before 1962 there appears the concept of degrees of communion

    Dear Mr. McFarland. I can.

    Here is Saint Augustine on Partial and Full Communion (confronting the Donatists) :

    For as union of bodies arises from continuity of position, so in the agreement of wills there is a kind of contact between souls. If, therefore, a man who has severed himself from unity wishes to do anything different from that which had been impressed on him while in the state of unity, in this point he does sever himself, and is no longer a part of the united whole; but wherever he desires to conduct himself as is customary in the state of unity, in which he himself learned and received the lessons which he seeks to follow, in these points he remains a member, and is united to the corporate whole.

    Chapter 2

    And so the Donatists (Read SSPX) in some matters are with us; in some matters have gone out from us. Accordingly, those things wherein they agree with us we do not forbid them to do; but in those things in which they differ from us, we earnestly encourage them to come and receive them from us, or return and recover them, as the case may be; and with whatever means we can, we lovingly busy ourselves, that they, freed from faults and corrected, may choose this course.

  17. Gratias said...

    "Una Voce, FSSP and ICR are moving ahead. We will be at the Tridentine Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St.Peter's on November 3."

    How nice to be able to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in ROME no less while the SSPX preserves and strengthens, especially large Catholic families in the WHOLE Faith. I'm glad the FSSP, ICR and the Sons of the Holy Redeemer (Transalpine/Redemptorist) all confect the True Mass but what about the large Catholic families? Do they provide the WHOLE Faith? Where, for instance are their schools? As the mother of 10 and now grandmother, I accuse many men of not spiritually providing for our Catholic children. Yes, how wonderful so many men get to fly off to different parts of the world, here and there, to "grab" a Traditional Mass now and then. The SSPX merely, DAILY, provides for the sheep anywhere and EVERYwhere.

    "Pity so many wonderful Catholics are being leaded on a divergent path."

    Yes, not having the money to fly to Rome we fly to THEE!!


    And where are the schools
    The daily Mass
    Lines to confess
    A uniformed lass?

    And where are the schools
    The Latin class
    Cassocked priest
    Candles in brass?

    And where are the schools
    To strengthen souls
    Shape their wills
    Set the goals?

    And where are the schools
    The altar boy
    Assisting priest
    Like Christ, their joy?

    And where are the schools
    Oh, time you lied
    Two generations
    Have gone and died.

    And where are the schools
    Which don’t derive
    That two plus two
    Are sometimes five?

    S – S – P – X
    They’re found in large
    Where struggling families
    Let priest take charge.

    For the good of the whole
    Priests’ lives are laid
    So many may come
    Not be afraid.

    And win the Faith
    From Christ-like hand…
    St. Pie the Tenth
    Two and two are grand!!

  18. MP SSPX Member2:05 PM

    We trust in Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception to unite us with the Holy See again. It pains us greatly to be separated but we must hold fast to the truth and to the true channel of grace to mankind (The reverent and holy sacrifice of the traditional Catholic mass). As a SSPX member I pray that Rome will see the errors clearly and grace will once again flow freely to humanity.

  19. Herein lies the answer to this dilemma, in the very words of The Lord:

    But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
    This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
    And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men.
    For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
    Mark 7:6-9

  20. Virgil3:08 PM

    "If the SSPX could not accept Benedict XVI, then they will be decades separated from the Church"

    Gratias, again, these random assertions only harm, they don't help. Tell, me exactly what the SSPX did that constitutes not accepting Benedict XVI?

  21. Bernonensis3:19 PM

    It's always good when a high-ranking prelate expresses an opinion on a controversial matter, because it usually gives an insight into how widespread the sickness of error has become in the Church, and at the highest levels.
    Archbishop Gullickson thinks excommunication is not expedient in the case of the SSPX because it will fail in its purpose: to bring about their return. Their return to what, exactly? To a Church that extends full communion to individuals who defy her discipline and who openly teach error about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacraments, and the nature of the Church herself. These are not excommunicated because they pay lip service to the Pope's authority and the magisterium while applying distorted interpretations to anything issuing from Rome. And because of this figleaf of "obedience" they are in communion (in outward appearance, that is).
    Here we see the inadequacy of the Archbishop's understanding of the purpose of excommunication, an inadequacy that the hierarchy as a whole, and probably Benedict, share. Although it is employed as a means of calling the straying sheep to return, it is also meant as a quarantine to protect the flock from the scabby sheep in their midst. Let Rome rid us of the modernist innovators before thinking of casting anyone out for the "crime" of taking the whole of the Church's teachings seriously.

  22. Do not discount possibility that a separated (in whatever way) SSPX may actually be part of the bigger picture, from the perspective of eternity. For example, there is no telling who the next pope may be, or what he will try to ram down the throats of the faithful.

    Yeh,yeh, "gates of hell..." But the question could very well come to be: where is the true church? Where, bearing in mind the ibi Petrus phrase, is Peter? I am not saying this is the case at the moment, but looking over the crest of the next hill, one could see such an issue coming.

  23. NSY Canuck4:40 PM

    Young Canuck,

    Talk to most FSSP priests and they will also tell you that the NO is a poor choice of Mass, that there are many abuses, that it is even offensive to God despite the current pontiff's assurances of the contrary.

    I would add that Yoda is not Catholic.

    Not so young Canadian.

  24. Dismas9:27 PM

    It would seem to me that our Holy Father's act of paternal compassion in response to the SSPX's 2008 petition to lift the 1988 decree of excommunication, and numerous acts of paternal compassion witnessed since then, continues to be mocked.

    Could the SSPX's 2008 petition to lift the excommunication any longer be considered sincere if they still continue to illicitly confer the sacrament of holy orders and other sacraments but do not legitimately exercise any ministry in our Church and continue to resist regularization?

    I wonder if Bl. John Paul II's 1988 decree of excommunication that witnessed the partial fruit of the SSPX petition to lift the excommunication in 2008 should be reinstated until such time it's fruits can be more fully realized?

  25. Rorate reported over last couple of weeks...

    The first wedding in Denmark according to the Traditional Roman Rite since the late 1960s-early 1970s

    Habsburg traditional Latin wedding
    On the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there was a royal wedding in Washington, D.C.

    Nuptial High Mass on video
    It is now easy to find traditional Latin Mass videos in every form -- low, sung, sung with incense, solemn high, requiem, pontifical and so on. Sancta Missa has several of these here.

    LMS of England reported...

    August 06, 2012 (Oxford)
    Fr Aldo Tapparo to leave St Anthony of Padua.

    Fr Tapparo will be leaving at the end of September. He will be going to the parish of Charlbury. We must assume that the weekly Thursday morning EF Low Mass he has been saying at 9.30 am will cease to take place then.

    and Gratias said...

    "We will be at the Tridentine Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St.Peter's on November 3."


    A little bit
    Of Latin down
    In Rome

    November third
    Peter's dome

    A Habsburg
    Here and there

    Ev'ry few
    Decades it's
    Kept rare

    Merry Old
    Now and then

    A Danish
    They'll say when

    Put up pictures
    On the

    Put on
    Better yet

    Keep the rich
    And royal
    In sight

    All is well
    For nothing
    To fight

    Smells and bells
    Their opium

    To ends
    Of earth
    In circles fly

    While the grounded
    They pray

    Can't afford
    The travel

    But daily Mass
    Now, future

    From the
    Labeled last

    Who when
    In Rome
    As Romans should

    Mount the Cross
    And nailed
    To wood

    Pray for
    All as they
    Do thirst

    Your eminent
    Approved -
    Who've been placed first!

  26. John McFarland1:56 AM

    Dear Not Spartacus,

    The Donatists denied the authority of the Catholic Church.

    They were schismatics.

    The point of St. Augustine's remarks are that because of this, the many things that Donatists had in common with Catholics didn't matter; they are still outside the Church.

    In other words, St. Augustine's remarks are evidence that this is no such thing as degrees of communion -- not evidence that there is such a thing as degrees of communion.

    You don't understand what you're reading, and so should stop talking about it.


    The SSPX does not deny the authority of the Catholic Church.

    Rather, it denies that non-infallible statements from the Pope or the hierarchy or an ecumenical counsel have any value if they are at odds with the deposit of faith, the faith delivered once for all to the saints.

    As Vatican I says, the teaching authority of the Church exists for the preservation of the faith.

    So if that authority teaches error, that error cannot be accepted.

    The SSPX has laid this all out any number of times, in any number of ways.

    If one is too lazy to understand what the Society is saying, or not intelligent or educated enough to understand it, or too stubborn to let himself understand it, he has no business talking about the matter, much less criticizing the Society's position.

  27. Dave K4:37 AM

    Mr. McFarland,
    Vatican I teaches that all Catholics are bound by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience to submit to the judgment of the Pope in all matters pertaining to the faith, government and discipline of the Church. This is necessary so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme pastor through the preservation of unity both of communion and of profession of the same faith with the Roman Pontiff. The SSPX rejects this dogma. They have set themselves up as the supreme authority in the Church faulting the Pope for not sharing the same faith with them, refusing to abided by the laws of the Church , and refusing communion with those who share the same sacramental rites. This is not Catholic. You are the one who needs an education if you think acts of the Magisterium can not be trusted, or must be subjected to the lens of private judgment

  28. Gratias4:39 AM

    The reunification of SSPX was a central aim of Benedict's pontificate. We got Summorum Pontificum, in a large part thanks to SSPX. The Excommunications were lifted and years-long doctrinal talks held. For years it has been clear that acceptance of Vatican II would be required in turn.

    Many within the Church question Vatican II and will continue to fight to restore Traditional Catholicism. For SSPX this was a wasted opportunity to work from the inside. This is the best Pope anyone could have hoped for and now that door will close for some time.

    Congratulations Long-Skirts on becoming a Grandmother.