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Is Pope Francis’ “generous act” towards SSPX more modernist trickery, or perhaps huge gaffe? September 3, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in abdication of duty, Basics, catachesis, episcopate, error, General Catholic, Papa, persecution, Sacraments, Spiritual Warfare, SSPX, the struggle for the Church, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.

I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle a bit on Pope Francis surprise announcement on Monday, issued in a typically novel manner, making licit the confessions of the SSPX for the Jubilee Year of Mercy 2016.  My first reaction was that this was a generous act.  I then began to see comments that this might be some bit of modernist trickery, some attempt to divide orthodox Catholics against each other on the eve of the Synod.  Others have claimed that while trickery may have been the intent (and the division might happen), if Francis does have great hostility towards the SSPX, he messed up big time, because his act seems to prove the SSPX were right all along, that their confessions were always valid and licit due to an extraordinary crisis providing supplied jurisdiction.

I guess you could say I remain in the muddled middle.  I’m far from being a Francis apologist, but I’m having a bit of a hard time convincing myself this act was all part of some Machiavellian plot.  I recognize Francis’ less than positive qualities I think about as well as anyone, but I still have a possibly naive hope that this act could have been motivated by a genuine desire to do something he perceived as good and generous.  I do think the commentary I’ve seen that Francis may have inadvertantly given more credence to SSPX claims  of supplied jurisdiction is probably some of the more valid I’ve seen thus far.  I don’t think Francis, nor the advisers he surrounds himself with, are particularly able to see the distant implications of many of their actions. Or maybe there are and just don’t care, or are so diabolically brilliant they’re thinking 30 moves ahead of my addled little mind.

Nevertheless, at this point I don’t see enough evidence either way to either lambaste this action as a trick nor praise it as a great breakthrough.

For my money, some of the best analysis I’ve read thus far comes from 1 Peter 5, and this post by P.F. Hawkins.  By best, I mean “from which I learned the most.”  I think you can draw some implications from the below that goes some way towards supporting, or refuting, some of the speculation that is abounding at present:

CLAIM: “The SSPX bishops do not have jurisdiction and are not in full communion, so the priests of the SSPX have never been able to absolve sins in confession”


Generally speaking, the principles outlined in the article are true. Bishops with jurisdiction have to grant canonical faculties to priests in order for absolutions they grant to be valid.

However, in the past, the Vatican has not always acted toward the SSPX as if this were the case. For example, whenever an SSPX priest illicitly hears a confession that touches on one of the sins reserved to the Holy See, the SSPX forwards the proper paperwork to the Holy See to obtain permission to absolve and guidance on what penance should be administered.

Every time the SSPX has done this in the past, the Vatican said that all was “good and licit”, and treated the administration of that sacrament as it would with any priest in good standing.

We thus know that, at least in these limited cases, the Vatican has acknowledged certain absolutions granted by SSPX priests are valid.

Also of note: the Orthodox churches are not in full communion with Rome, but have jurisdiction and therefore valid confessions. So not being in “full communion” has no bearing on whether or not a group’s confessions are valid. It is specifically jurisdiction that does. [Like the Mass, then, they are valid but not licit, although I know many Catholics outside SSPX including Ecclesia Dei communities who argue strongly that they are neither.  I think we have enough confirmations from Vatican sources to know that the Mass is valid but not licit.  Confessions I’m less certain about. Question – does what amounts to an extension of faculties for the year not also make Masses licit, too?]

CLAIM: “the group was canonically dissolved in the 1970s”


It is true that the Vatican withdrew approval for the SSPX in the 1970s. But it is not true that the approval was withdrawn in a canonical manner.

In 1975, Rome sent an Apostolic Visitation to the sole SSPX seminary. All reports indicate that the visitors did not find anything amiss at the seminary, although documentation of the visit has never been released. The visit, however, prompted Archbishop LeFebvre to write a declaration to members of the SSPX. This declaration was used as the sole justification for closing down the seminary.

Given that the justification for shutting down the SSPX was insubstantial, Archbishop LeFebvre appealed his case to the Apostolic Signatura, as was his right in canon law. He received no response whatsoever. His appeal was not rejected; it was simply never heard, or even acknowledged. This can hardly be considered canonical….

CLAIM: Pope Francis’ decision is an “unprecedented act of ecumenism from the Holy Father”


While this act of Pope Francis’ is unprecedented, it is not an act of ecumenism. Ecumenism describes those relationships developed between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christian religions. The members of the SSPX are Catholic, and have never been declared to be otherwise.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian unity, perhaps put it best in a 3 May 1994 letter:

“… Regarding your inquiry (March 25, 1994) I would point out at once that the Directory on Ecumenism is not concerned with the Society of St. Pius X. The situation of the members of this Society is an internal matter of the Catholic Church. The Society is not another Church or Ecclesial Community in the meaning used in the Directory. Of course the Mass and Sacraments administered by the priests of the Society are valid. The Bishops are validly, but not lawfully, consecrated…. I hope this answers your letter satisfactorily.”

CLAIM: “Previously, when asked to sign a doctrinal preamble, the current head of the SSPX, Bp. Bernard Fellay, balked.”


While this claim is factually true, this bare sentence omits some important context. Bishop Fellay balked only because the Vatican, at the last minute, added new conditions to the preamble after previously negotiated, mutually acceptable conditions had already been agreed upon. [Widely reported as being conditions foisted on Pope Benedict by elements of the Curia who flipped out at the idea of the SSPX being allowed “back in” without some significant concessions towards “accepting” Vatican II and not criticizing the new Mass]

I’ve seen one disconnect of logic out there that I think bears mentioning.  I have seen it said that the Pope extending faculties for a year means there have always been faculties.  The above notwithstanding, which I think is very interesting, this statement has been made in a manner that is not substantiated, it’s pretty much just a bald assertion.  The fact is, popes in jubilee years in the past have extended all manner of benefits to local subsets of the Church, priests, and souls who accomplish certain acts.  So I don’t know that this act is as significant as it is being made out to be.

As some have already expressed to me, one bad side effect of this extension of faculties is that it could foster even more internecine strife among traditional groups.  Perhaps I’m contributing to that above unintentionally.  That’s not my point.  My point was actually to determine if that pious fear was correct, and it seems that it is.

We can discuss the matter with charity and consideration for the possibility that other’s viewpoints may have some value.  Please no ad hominems or general attacks (e.g., ALL Ecclesia Dei priests are sell outs who offer the Novus Ordo and forbidden to criticize Vatican II, the SSPX are protestants and a cult, etc).



1. Tim - September 3, 2015
2. Kathleen - September 3, 2015

The Franciscans of the Immaculate were smashed.

The SSPX has been treated with courtesy a few times now.

As I see it as a former leftist (during my fallen away period) the difference comes down to how the left views obedience and revolution.

Please note I’m going to say this as someone SYMPATHETIC towards the SSPX.

The left views obedience as a VICE and WEAKNESS and to be spurned.

The left LOVES revolution and views it as a VIRTUE.

In other words the view is PRECISELY the reverse of the Truth.

The Franciscans of the Immaculate are an example of perfect (or nearly as possible perfect) obedience. Obedience unto the death of their order.

Now then there is the SSPX — when SPECIFICALLY looking at them with the eyes of a radical/revolutionary.

When looking at them with those eyes one may well see them as an entity that (for different motives) would be inclined (to some degree at least) to be a source of rebellion against the Church — which in the left’s eyes is a VIRTUE and HIGHLY DESIRABLE. In other words a revolutionary may (mistakenly) see a kindred spirit or at least an entity that would serve that purpose in the SSPX.

So yes, this all does not sit well. There are significant elements in what is driving this that are not being disclosed.

But I agree — if it actually progresses to the natural conclusion it will backfire GLORIOUSLY — because the SSPX is NOT and will NOT rebel against the Truth and the Faith. If they were regularized with NO strings they would be a tremendous force countering the modernist revolutionaries entrenched within the Church.

3. Dismas - September 3, 2015

I remain in “wait-and-see” mode. I’m like you, Tantum, neither have I concluded that this is some sort of plot, nor have I concluded that it is tantamount to recognizing the unquestionable legitimacy (in the eyes of the modernists at the helm of the Church) of the SSPX.

I’m back to the pleas of Fr. Rodriguez and Michael Matt. The enemy here is Modernism. The truly great popes prior to Vat II warned us and described this insidious heresy.

All of the infighting between the various groups helps no one other than the modernist enemies of the Church. And I, for one, have yet to be impressed by all of the study-at-home-in-your-spare-time canon lawyers and theologians who have this all figured out to a tee.

4. David L Alexander - September 3, 2015

The 1P5 story is so riddled with errors that I am genuinely embarrassed for their producers, as their is an otherwise most worthy endeavor. Two more reliable sources are Father Zuhlsdorf and Bishop Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin.

The first piece by Father Z (who is very, VERY sympathetic to a reconciliation) shown here was nearly two years ago, but he explains the situation — absolutions are not only sacramental, but juridical acts; he even draws a darn picture for you — that is to be provisionally changed by the Holy Father, effective with the Year of Mercy.


Note that what is provided for the Society priests — indeed, for all priests — is the authority to lift the automatic excommunication for penitents who have procured or enabled an abortion, a remedy previously reserved to the Holy See, and only some priests in any given diocese. By extension, then, the Society priests would be functioning under jurisdiction, if only provisional, by absolving validly (in addition to licitly). Their marriages are still not valid, for the same reason that their absolutions would not be prior to the Year of Mercy.

Father Z goes on to explain the recent decree in a more recent article.


A further general explanation regarding the relationship with the Society in general (also issued shortly before the Mercy decree) is provided by Bishop Morlino, one of the truly faithful shepherds in America today.


For whatever concerns one might have about the prudential judgment of Pope Francis, he has shown an earnest desire to bring about a reconciliation between the Apostolic See and the Society of St Pius the X, which would be a great leap forward for the restoration of tradition in the Church. To suggest that it is a ploy, or a mistake, is to be held captive by a vivid imagination (if not temptation towards calumny). Sometimes a thing is … what it is.

5. c matt - September 4, 2015

The Remnant article makes many good points (and as usual, rather humorously). I think this may be a way of Francis tossing up a trial balloon – see how things go for a year, and if not too much kerfuffle, just let it continue. One commentor brought up the point of what happens after a year? Would some official statement be needed to extend it (and on and on)? Could there be an even more odd limbo if after a year, PF simply says nothing – does the jurisdiction then expire of its own terms?

6. Tim - September 4, 2015

Another “Must Read” from the Remnant from 2010, but still relevant:


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