Rorate Caeli

A Stunning Mea Culpa Regarding the SSPX

We recently brought you the not-so-ecumenical words (post here) of the Diocese of Richmond in regards to the status of the SSPX -- a society the diocese declared "schismatic."

Now, a clarification from the diocese:

Diocesan statement regarding article on the Society of St. Pius X

recent article in the Catholic Virginian on the Society of St. Pius X and the seminary it is constructing in Buckingham County contained inaccuracies.The article correctly stated that the society was founded in 1970 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary is one of several seminaries operated by the society. The society is not in regular communion with the Holy See (or the Bishop of Richmond).

These points need to be clarified:

  • • The seminary is currently located in Winona, Minnesota and is relocating to Buckingham County. Mass is not regularly offered at the Buckingham location at present. 
  • • Our former Holy Father, Benedict XVI, never personally declared that doctrinal differences stand in the way of regularizing the canonical status of the society; nonetheless, the regularization has yet to take place.
  • • The Masses offered by priests of the society are valid. Other Sacraments celebrated in the chapels of the society are considered valid, with the exception of Penance and Matrimony, which are, at best, doubtfully valid.
  • • It is not clear that the society is in schism, and it is not properly called a “sect.” In recent years the Holy See has recognized the society’s expressed desire for regular communion with the Roman Pontiff and the Church he shepherds, and the Holy See’s dialogue with the society since 2009 demonstrates the Church’s commitment to unity.

Several additional points should be made when discussing the Society of St. Pius X:

  • • It is necessary to distinguish between the priests, brothers, and sisters of the society, on the one hand; and the lay faithful who attend Mass at society chapels, on the other hand. The former are clearly in an irregular status. In regard to the lay faithful who attend Mass at society chapels, there has never been a statement by the Holy See that these people are in schism. In fact, the Holy See acts toward them as it does toward all the Catholic lay faithful.
  • • It’s also necessary to distinguish between acts that are invalid and those that are illicit. Acts are illicit when they go against the Church’s law. Still, acts that are canonically illicit may be valid, and, in the case of the society, the ministerial acts of their priests may be illicit and still be considered valid by the Church.
  • • Finally, a comment should be made regarding the Sunday Mass obligation of Catholics. The faithful do not properly fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation in chapels of the society, as the celebration of the Eucharist presupposes not only communion with the Lord, but also communion with the Church He founded, and the hierarchy who govern the Church by Divine mandate. [Rorate note: the Vatican, especially the PCED, has been nothing less than schizophrenic on this issue over the years, with letters answering questions on whether the obligation is met with "affirmative," other letters answering "negative" (for "Friends of the SSPX" chapels) and yet other letters completely punting on this issue. Then there's that pesky Canon 1248.] 

The Church’s unity is best served when the whole truth is communicated. We regret the errors in the article. Let us pray for restoration of the unity of all Christians in Christ, and that the Society of St. Pius X will be reconciled with ecclesiastical authority.