The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has certainly been in the news a good deal these last few weeks, especially since the announcement of Superior General Bernard Fellay's upcoming meeting with CDF Prefect Cardinal Levada on September 14.
Of course, just about every news source puts their label on the SSPX:
"The ultraconservative SSPX..."
"The schismatic SSPX..."
"The Pre-Vatican II SSPX..."
So what of it? No one would deny that the SSPX is conservative, not even its members. They have done an admirable job of conserving the Church's liturgical traditions while the rest of the Church has dabbled in every type of experiment imaginable.
The schismatic label, however, is more problematic. One might have argued that the SSPX was schismatic before January 2009, when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of its four bishops. However, it was only the bishops who were excommunicated, not its priests, nor the thousands of Catholics who attend Mass at their chapels around the world.
Yet even before the excommunications were lifted, key players in the Church's dialogue with the SSPX repeatedly said that the SSPX was not in schism.
When Pope John Paul II excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, he also created a commission for the care of Lefebvre's followers and other Catholics who desired the Traditional Latin Mass: The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED). Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the PCED President from 2000 to 2009, said on more than one occasion that the SSPX was not in schism. One of his most powerful comments came in a 2007 interview with the German magazine Die Tagespost:
- The bishops, priests and faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebrve 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. They are not heretics.
They Are NOT Heretics!
A heretic is someone who has committed heresy. Heresy is a controversial or novel change to one's religious beliefs that conflicts with established dogma.
So is being a "Pre-Vatican II" Catholic an act of heresy? Not if the pope is correct. As both Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff, the pope has repeatedly said that Vatican II defined no new dogmas and was not a reform council either, but merely a pastoral council. In December 2005, he turned the Catholic world on its ear by declaring that the discontinuity and rupture we have experienced since the closing of the Council was not what was intended by either Pope John XXIII (who called the Council) or the Council Fathers. He has also said that the Council must be interpreted in light of Tradition.
So if the Council gave us no new dogmas--that is, no new beliefs that must be held by believers in order to be Catholic--does rejecting the Council make one a schismatic or heretic? Christopher Ferrara, in a recent column for The Remnant, makes a good argument that it does not. He points out that for many years we have been told that Vatican II abolished and abrogated the Traditional Latin Mass, but the one authority who counts, the pope, has told us the opposite: It was never abrogated. Ferrara suggests that the pope's affirmation of the Traditional Mass' legitimacy is a first step that may result in the pope affirming that one does not have to accept all of Vatican II to be a Catholic in good standing, in full Communion with the Church. And why should it, if indeed this Council defined no new dogmas?
Finally, here is a very puzzling development to consider:
If the SSPX is schismatic and not in full communion with the Church, why did the Vatican recently approve the transfer of a nun from her religious order to a Dominican order under the authority of the SSPX?
Change is in the air.