Rorate Caeli

The Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X: Prospects for 2019 (Guest Post)

by Côme de Prévigny

The visit this past November of Father Davide Pagliarani, new Superior-General of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), to the Ecclesia Dei Commission in Rome has revived the everlasting matter of the relations between the Holy See and the society founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, raising speculations on the possibility of having this body officially recognized by the Vatican. Inquiring minds wonder if a tendency that wants regularization or not has assumed command of the SSPX. Here and there, a commentator strives to know if doctrinal agreements should be reached before considering a practical agreement, reaching back to a configuration that resembles the situation of 15 years ago. But where, concretely, should these discussions lead? Should they wait until Rome has finally condemned Vatican II, or rather are mere safeguards enough? This point remains to be clarified.

Because the current canonical situation of the Society of St. Pius X is mostly normalized. The Mass that its members celebrate is the same that all priests of the world can recite or sing following the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, of July 7, 2007. The condemnations that weighed on the bishops of the Society were lifted by a decree signed of January 21, 2009. In 2015, the Holy See granted to its Superior-General the powers to judge on the first level of jurisdiction. The validity of the confessions heard by its priests was recognized by the Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, of November 20, 2016. 

In that same year, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei asked the bishops of the dioceses in which Society seminaries are situated to accept the ceremonies of ordinations that take place in them. Marriages celebrated before Society priests are at last fully recognized by Rome, as attested by a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of March 27, 2017. This document goes even further: it tells Society priests to send registries proving the celebration of marriages to diocesan chanceries. These registries are to be organized along with the registries of all parishes and communities in fully regular situation. Implicitly, since the sanctions have disappeared and since its priests have received the canonical charge to administer the several Sacraments, the Society has found anew its original status, which had been abolished on May 6, 1975, and behaves, de facto, as a personal prelature.

Those who have become accustomed to reject all regularization, because they fear that bad influences would arrive through canonical links, have undoubtedly remarked that these branches have been almost completely re-grafted. Nothing is missing for the Society, except perhaps a Court of Ecclesiastical appeals for canonical procedures that a Prelature structure would allow. One day, the Society will also have the need to renew its bishops. In the current context, one cannot see what would prevent the Pope from granting them to the Society. The SSPX has become, in the end, as an automobile that has all elements to move forward: a body, wheels, steering wheel, seats -- all elements are brand new and nothing is missing. Due to a state of tension, both internal and external, on the subject of regularization, undoubtedly due to the current pontificate, all that is missing is a license plate bearing its status, but the highway patrols around the world know that the car can move as it pleases. Finding a church for a marriage celebration or for a pilgrimage stop poses no difficulty anymore: this is not where the problem is anymore. The Pope has decided it.

The faithful from all corners can visit the churches of the Society. Their conscience cannot anymore be subjected to distress and anxiety. These have been set aside by the pontifical texts. Now then, when will the regularization has been almost completely accomplished by installments become definitively official? Has it already taken place in pectore? Will it take place one of these days on the back of the envelope, as if to seal all that has been already granted? It is possible. In any event, the Holy See has granted, on a practical level, all priestly functions to the members of the SSPX. The assessment of catholicity has been made on the long term, and not in view of conditions still to be fulfilled. And it is only a matter of justice to the work of Abp Lefebvre that it be thus recognized. Which is simply what he himself had always asked for.