Thursday, September 17, 2015

Michael Voris on the SSPX: not charitable, not true

The announcement by Pope Francis that priests of the Society of Pius X (SSPX) will be given faculties to hear confessions during the 'Year of Mercy' has stimulated Michael Voris to reiterate once again his view that the SSPX are in schism. I've mentioned Voris  positively over the years on this blog, and the current issue of the Latin Mass Society's magazine, Mass of Ages, includes an interview with him, but I have to disagree with him about this, which is far from being a merely theoretical issue.

The reality is that the exact legal status of the SSPX has always been somewhat ambiguous, and as does happen in real life, it is an ambiguity which has been deliberately maintained by both sides to facilitate a positive evolution of the relationship. It is not for Michael Voris to insist on what successive Roman officials have refused to insist on.

Voris tells us that 'In 1988, Pope St. John Paul called their movement a schism'

Not exactly. He said that Archbishop Lefebvre's ordination of four bishops without the consent of the Holy See was 'a schismatic act', and later in the document pointed out the penalty - excommunication - for 'formal adherence to schism'.
The Code of Canon Law of course would tell us the same thing. 'Formal' here means 'with the intention of being in schism', where 'schism' means 'rejecting the authority of the Pope'. The document points out that the consecration of the four bishops 'implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy', which opens up the possibility of formal schism, but as a matter of fact the SSPX has never rejected the authority of the Pope in theory, and regularly ejects from its membership priests who do reject the Pope. 

As Bishop Schneider recently remarked, having been sent by the Vatican to visit an SSPX seminary, they have pictures of the Pope on their walls and they pray for the local bishop in their Masses.

In any case, how has the SSPX been treated in the years since 1988?

In 2002, the PCED were telling enquirers that they could fulfil their Sunday obligation by attending Mass in an SSPX chapel, and could even make a contribution to the collection.

In 2007, Cardinal Castillon Hoyos insisted in an interview that the SSPX is not in schism:

The Bishops, Priests, and Faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebvre who has undertaken an illicit Episcopal consecration and therefore performed a schismatic act. It is for this reason that the Bishops consecrated by him have been suspended and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society have not been excommunicated.

Then, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI formally lifted the excommunications on the four bishops consecrated in 1988. No mention is made of any schism in this decree, although it looks forward to 'the prompt attainment of full communion with the Church on the part of the whole Society of St Pius X'. 

Now, in 2015, Pope Francis makes a new gesture to them for the Year of Mercy:

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

The position of the SSPX has always been that their confessions are valid due to what is known as 'supplied jurisdiction'. This is a concept in canon law according to which a priest without faculties from a bishop, even one who has been suspended, can hear the confessions of - say - someone who is dying and can't reach another priest, and the Church makes this possible by giving him, as it were, emergency faculties to hear the confession. Whether this argument works in relation to the more ordinary circumstances in which most confessions are heard by SSPX priests, is the kind of question which leads to what the Holy Father delicately calls 'an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint'. I'm not going to comment any more on the validity of the argument, except to say that it is evident that it is made in good faith. But to settle any doubts, the Pope is personally extending to them faculties for the Year of Mercy so that there can be no question about their confessions.

But this is the moment Michael Voris has chosen to tell us that the SSPX is in schism, that all its priests are in mortal sin, and that Catholics who attend their Masses are in peril of their souls. I find this incomprehensible. It is surely absurd to imagine that the Pope has given faculties to schismatic priests for the benefit of people who should on pain of sin have nothing to do with them.

I have no authority to rule on whether the SSPX is is schism or whether anyone is in a state of mortal sin. I don't want to insist on my personal interpretation of the facts. The point is, however, that Voris has no authority either. He has a lot to say about people lacking discretion when it comes to the SSPX, but it is he who is acting in a most reckless manner. It is reckless with regard to the good faith of those who do go to the SSPX for the sacraments, and it is reckless towards the efforts of the Holy Father and others in Rome who are doing what they can to heal a wound, as Pope Benedict put it, in the heart of the Church. I wish that Voris could take on the attitude of charity and solicitude so movingly expressed by Pope Benedict in his Letter to Bishops which accompanied the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007.

It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

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  1. I have certainly supported Voris in the past but he has gone too far this time. The SSXP, whose services I have never attended, incidentally, are in schism, but not heretical schism, as is the Kasperit faction in the Germanic regions, as we approach the second Session of the Synod.

    Voris says the SSXP are in mortal sin. Now who is Voris that he should judge?

    One thing is clear to anyone who cares to stand back and just look at the Catholic Church at present is that it is in a mess and getting worse.

    Voris, who otherwise teaches good solid Catholic doctrine, something quite rare theses days, should be more careful

  2. What about this from Pope Benedict?

    "As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. There needs to be a distinction, then, between the disciplinary level, which deals with individuals as such, and the doctrinal level, at which ministry and institution are involved. In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church."

    1. Lack of 'canonical status' is not in dispute by anyone - is it?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I posted that after reading this: "In 2002, the PCED were telling enquirers that they could fulfil their Sunday obligation by attending Mass in an SSPX chapel, and could even make a contribution to the collection."

    I believe it's important to also look at what Pope Benedict stated regarding their lack of "canonical status" and lack of "legitimate ministry". I would think that "canonical status" and "legitimate ministry" have something to do with Mass. I may be wrong on that but it seems like it would??

    I see your main point is the Schism though so maybe just consider it a: Point of information--as is done in Roberts Rules of Order.

  4. With regard to the SSPX, the arguments are always the same. Why MV continues to beat a "dead horse" is beyond me. He is entitled to his opinion on the matter. But that is all it is, his opinion.

  5. If I am right that "canonical status" and "legitimate ministry" does have something to do with the Mass & Confession, then we have a definitively confusing situation where PCED says that people can attend SSPX Mass & Confessions, and Pope Benedict said "the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church"

    1. Faculties (a fruit of canonical status) are necessary for valid confessions. Not for valid Masses. If an SSPX Mass is the only one which is reasonably accessible to you, then you are obligated to attend it.

  6. The Pope's grant of faculties to hear confessions in his letter is worth expanding on. As my priest, a member of the SSPX, noted, the Society previously claimed supplied, extraordinary jurisdiction to celebrate the sacraments. For all other priests in the Catholic church (except cardinal priests, I believe) ordinary jurisdiction to hear confessions must be granted by the local ordinary. In virtue of Pope Francis's measure, however, the priests of the SSPX now have ordinary jurisdiction to hear confessions that is independent of the local ordinary, because it is granted to them directly by the Pope in virtue of his universal ordinary jurisdiction over the entire Church (cf. Pastor Aeternus). This is an extraordinary step that does not as far s I know have any precedents in the history of the Church. it was adumbrated by Pope Francis's idea of sending out 'missionaries of mercy', but it is odd to say that least that the only priests who now concretely have the right to be such missionaries are the priests of the Society of St. Pius X. Of course one could not find a better group of priests for this purpose, but the logic of this in the context of the pope's other actions is elusive.

  7. We must distinguish between valid, and legitimate, The SSPX not be legitimate but they are valid.

    Their doctrinal position is pre-Vatican II, as is mine, since as the Pope Emeritus has pointed out Vatican II (whatever the ambiguities etc. incerted by the Relativist factions) declared no new doctrine at all, but chose to remain on a pastoral level.

    SSPX are for example far, far closer to the Catholic Church than are the Orthodox Churches with whom we most certainly talk etc. And, a few nutters apart, are far, far closer to the Catholic Church than the now clearly seen to be heretical and schismatic Kasperite factions, with whom we still apparently are pally??

    So for heavens sake, what in Heavens name is going on??

  8. Hello Joseph,

    Correction on your closing comment: Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying letter from Pope Benedict came out in 2007, not 1988.

  9. Strangely enough, the Pope does not speak in his motu proprio of giving faculties to priests. As some canonists have already noticed, the faculties are not mentioned at all, and the Pope does not directly inform the alleged beneficiaries of his largesse – priests of SSPX. Instead, the document speaks about rights of the faithful. Would it be that Francis just created a new (temporary) mechanism for the supplied jurisdiction (beside the danger of death and common error)?

  10. Giving the priests of the SSPX faculties for hearing confessions (which the Pope has done, but which the local ordinary could also do) is an admission that they are not in schism. Orthodox clergy who are in schism can absolve without having to obtain such faculties. Also, Rome has consistently maintained that the canonical status of the Society is an internal matter, which would not be the case with a schismatic group.

    That part of Ecclesia Dei Adflicta which deals with the SSPX was drafted by Cardinal Gantin and makes assertions which cannot be justified in Canon Law. Consecration of bishops without papal mandate is a grave matter, but under the 1917 Code did not incur automatic excommunication; and it is a matter of debate whether Lefebvre incurred it under the 1983 Code. The canonist Edward Peters points out that there are so many loopholes that it is impossible to be certain that any latae sententiae excommunications have actually been incurred. What is certain is that the act itself does not make the participants schismatic and Lefebvre was careful not to appear to be erecting a parallel hierarchy.

    Paragraph 5b of EDA refers to Vatican II formulating 'points of doctrine' which were 'new'. This comes close to vindicating Lefebvre's criticisms of the Council and is somewhat at odds with the official interpretation. Furthermore the opening paragraph of the document is misleading to the point of mendacity. The negotiations were in fact badly handled on both sides and could have been successfully concluded.

    Thankfully EDA was superseded by Summorum Pontificum in 2007 and is now of historical interest only.

    1. That is very interesting, thank you very much.

      The point about jurisdiction is very important. In classic cases of 'schism' it is a group of dioceses which break away: they had jurisdiction at the start of the process, and they carry on regardless of the Holy See (or the real Holy See). On the basis of Fr Z's 'it's a duck if it looks like a duck' argument, this does not look like a schism, it looks like a disobedient religious order, of which there have been many.

  11. This is a continuation of the Info Operations Mr Voris has been using against the SSPX. IO and now IW (Info Warfare) uses negative propaganda and disinformatsia (as the Soviets called it) to bend target populations’ opinions and eventually actions by the use of repeated disinformation techniques. Voris’s 4 main techniques seen to be

    1. Use a straw man.

    Find or create a seeming element of your opponent’s argument which you can easily knock down to make yourself look good and the opponent to look bad. Either make up an issue you may safely imply exists based on your interpretation of the opponent/opponent arguments/situation, or select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way which appears to debunk all the charges, real and fabricated alike, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.

    2. Ignore facts presented, demand impossible proofs.

    This is perhaps a variant of the ‘play dumb’ rule below. Regardless of what material may be presented by an opponent in public forums, claim the material irrelevant and demand proof that is impossible for the opponent to come. In order to completely avoid discussing issues, it may be required that you to categorically deny and be critical of media or books as valid sources, deny that witnesses are acceptable, or even deny that statements made by authorities have any meaning or relevance.

    3. Play Dumb.

    No matter what evidence or logical argument is offered, avoid discussing issues except with denials they have any credibility, make any sense, provide any proof, contain or make a point, have logic, or support a conclusion. Mix well for maximum effect.

    4. Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule.

    This is also known as the primary ‘attack the messenger’ ploy, though other methods qualify as variants of that approach. Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as (breakaway, schismatic, radical, and so forth. This makes others shrink from support out of fear of gaining the same label, and you avoid dealing with issues.

  12. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", stated on 22 December 2013 that the leaders of the Society are in schism, having departed from communion with the Church, but that the door is open for them if they change their attitude and accept the Catholic Church's conditions and the Pope as the definitive criterion of membership. (1)(2)In another interview on 12 February 2014, he said there is no backdoor for admittance, but only the open door of acceptance of the doctrinal preamble presented to the society in 2012. (3)

    1. Corriere della Sera, 22 December 2013, p. 5
    2. Catholic World News: "CDF prefect says SSPX in schism, suspended from sacraments"
    3. Interview granted to the Austrian Catholic Press Agency, 12 February 2014

    1. Seems clear enough. The SSPX is not a schismatic sect - only the 'leaders' are 'in schism', which Cardinal Muller explains as not being 'in communion'.

      How that squares with the lifting of the excommunications, only Muller will be able to explain.

      Nevertheless, can we expect a retraction from Voris?

    2. It's a Priesly society. Hence hierarchical and if it's leaders are in schism, clearly the tail follows. It appears that Mr. Voris doesn't need to retract anything. He never called it a sect.
      And Cardinal Muller speaks for the Church as the prefect of the CDF. I think that trumps everyone else's opinion except the Pope.

    3. When Charles I was on trial he said to Lord President Bradshaw: 'You have shown no lawful authority to satisfy any reasonable man'. Bradshaw replied: 'That is in your apprehension; we are satisfied that are your Judges.' Charles then made the telling reply: 'It is not my apprehension, nor yours either, that ought to decide it.'

      Müller's opinion is precisely that - his opinion. As for the insistence on the SSPX leadership signing a 'doctrinal preamble' before its situation can be regularized, it has to be asked what are the doctrinal differences between the Society and Rome that would require it. There are lots of people, including priests and religious that publicly reject fundamental teaching on faith and morals yet remain in full communion and good standing.

      In 1966 Paul VI made it quite clear that Vatican II was not a doctrinal council and its decrees were part of the ordinary Magisterium (not, please note, the ordinary and universal Magisterium, let alone the extraordinary Magisterium) and so to question or even reject those which do not appear to be in conformity with Tradition is not heretical.

      Added to this is the indisputable fact that the proceedings against Archbishop Lefebvre in the 1970s which resulted in his suspension 'a divinis' were not only illegal in a technical sense but contrary to all the principles of natural justice.

  13. BXVI declared that, for doctrinal rather than disciplinary reasons, the SSPX has no canonical status (1)

    During discussions with the SSPX in 2012 at the request of BXVI and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, three points were added (2) to the doctrinal preamble required of the SSPX: the first relates to the mass according to the Novus Ordo, and the SSPX are asked to recognise not only the validity of the new mass but its legitimacy as well.

    The second and third relates to VII and the magisterium. Which clearly states that the Holy See cannot accept the assertion that VII documents contain errors and asks the SSPX to distinguish between the Council texts and the interpretation of the Council texts, accepting the fact that the magisterium cannot be judged by another group.

    Msgr Fellay has refused to sign this preamble and is therefore refusing to submit to the Pope (3). Since the definition of schism according to cannon law (4) is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him, It appears that the SSPX are in schism.

    It's worth recalling that Mr. Voris 's attack on the SSPX started after a video made by the SSPX USA admonishing catholics not to attend the new Mass (5). True to his organisation's charism, Church Militant TV has launched a proportionate response to the salvo fired at the Mass by the SSPX. It's a very sad situation indeed, when catholics fight amongst each other rather than unite in worship.




    (4)Code of Canon Law c.751


  14. Muller said, as you quote him, 'leaders'. If he had meant 'members' he would have said 'members'.

    Yes, he has authority, and Pope Francis' more recent comments, as you imply, have more.

    You refer to the Doctrinal Preamble as if it were a magisterial document. But it can't be; it hasn't even been promulgated. None of us knows what is in it, for heaven's sake.

    Ask yourself a question. If this document had included something *unreasonable*, a situation in no way ruled out by the Indefectability of the Church, would the SSPX have been going into schism by refusing to sign it?

    What if the document had contained something *erroneous*?

    1. I think it's very clear that your sympathies lie with the SSPX. I too would like nothing less than complete unity. You are correct to say that the doctrinal preamble is not available in full in the Vatican or SSPX archives. There is no point in then referring to conjecture. I doubt very much that anything erroneous would have been included under BXVI scrutiny however. It is this very same mistrust of the post councilliar church that proves a stumbling block to many. Given the present confusion with regard to doctrine and pastoral practice and indeed bizarre pronouncements by theologians with papal approbation, I too sympathise with anyone that has a default setting of mistrust of the magesterium. Nevertheless obedience to the Holy Father is what michael voris advocates. And I second that.

    2. Stuart, you miss the point. It is not distrust of the magisterium (which is the teaching authority of the Church) which is at issue here. It is distrust of the attitude and policy of those who held sway in the Vatican during the two decades which followed the Council, who represent a veritable rogues' gallery. So committed were they to pushing through their revolution (with the backing of Paul VI) that anyone who stood in their way was not only misguided but wicked. This is feature of all revolutionary movements. Lefebvre actually agreed to most of the V2 documents, but when it became clear to him and to many others that the fruits of the Council were poisonous, he dug his heels in.

      Others, like Cardinals Siri and Oddi, agreed with him but lacked the courage to stand up and be counted. They confined their efforts to damage-limitation which clearly has not succeeded.

  15. Thank you, but I did get the point