I believe the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) is in schism from the Catholic Church, as I explained in part 1 and part 2 of this series. The schism was initiated by a schismatic act on the part of their founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, and the bishops he illicitly consecrated; the schism was acknowledged with excommunication by Pope John Paul II; the schism continues in the form of their refusal to submit to legitimate authority in the form of the Pope and their local bishops.
I don’t believe that the withdrawal of their excommunication by Pope Benedict XVI resolved the schism. Their excommunication was formal recognition of their schism, but more than just rescinding the excommunication is required; it’s just a first step, as was the case with the rescinding of the excommunication that resulted in the East/West schism (that didn’t end the East/West schism either). Further steps are needed to complete the healing and establish the full communion Popes Benedict XVI and Francis has called for.
When Popes John Paul II and Francis called the SSPX situation a schism, I trust their use of terminology. Some sympathetic bishops may say otherwise, but I’ll stick with the popes.
What about faculties?
An important point been raised by sympathisers suggesting that schism doesn’t exist: the granting of faculties to SSPX priests for valid confession. This is unusual, unheard of, and suspended priests and schismatic priests do not have faculties, and therefore they cannot be suspended and/or schismatic.
Another is that the SSPX priests pray for the Pope at Mass.
Both are cases of fallacious reasoning. The latter assumes that schismatics will not pray for the Pope at Mass, but there is no rule that forbids this, and prayer for the pope at Mass is not a sufficient cause of or criterion for full communion – more is needed, such as obedience. The former assumes that suspended priests cannot be granted limited faculties, and that not even the Pope can grant anything to a schismatic. There is no rule that forbids or prevents this either. Both of these assumptions are the starting point of the logical argument, and both of these assumptions are faulty.
- A is a sufficient criterion/cause/action/requirement for avoiding schism ← this is the part that is faulty
- SSPX has / does A
- Therefore the SSPX is not in schism
I’ll try to explain how and why Pope Francis could supply faculties for valid absolution in the case of the SSPX priests by writing an imaginary letter that he could have written, in other words more bluntly paraphrasing the important bits of Misericordia et misera, paragraph 12.
You are in schism (I will use that word 5 years from now to describe your status). For you to absolve validly, you require faculties from local ordinaries, and, for the most part, you lack this. (I know you don’t acknowledge Church authority and therefore don’t believe this, but bear with me.) All your priests are suspended, and I am not revoking this suspension. Never before has a pope granted faculties for absolution to heretics or schismatics. But I am pope, and there is a first time for everything, and this is not an unreasonable gift of mercy.
Therefore, I am doing away with the requirement of your cooperation with local ordinaries (whom you won’t cooperate with anyway, for the most part), and unilaterally granting you faculties to provide valid absolution (which you believe you magically got elsewhere). None of the other consequences of your suspension are revoked (apart from the ability to marry validly, but only if you cooperate with your local ordinary). The reason for this gift of mercy is for the benefit of the Catholic souls attending your illicit chapels and receiving your illicit sacraments. God’s mercy is infinite, and he has not likely abandoned to hell the repentant souls who died after invalid SSPX absolutions, but with this visible extension of God’s mercy in the form of this provision of faculties, many souls may be comforted.
Your loving pope,
Pope Francis never rescinded their suspension; he just granted limited faculties. Unless something in canon law or divine revelation, binding even on popes, prevents the granting of such limited faculties to suspended priests, he can do so, and has done so.
To resolve the schism, the SSPX and its adherents need to stop ignoring it and take it seriously. Otherwise it will just continue.