SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again

June 8, 2009

mueller-regensburgThe ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), recently in the headlines for having a Holocaust denier as one of its four bishops recently readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church, looks set to push the envelope with Rome again by ordaining 21 new priests in three different countries on June 27.* Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, the German diocese where the SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen plans to ordain three of those men, has declared the planned ordinations a violation of Church law and has urged the Vatican to warn the SSPX not to go through with them. He told Bavarian Radio on Sunday that he hadn’t heard back from Rome yet and would bring up the issue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) personally on his next monthly trip there.

*CORRECTION: Not all will be ordained that day — 13 priests will be ordained in Minnesota on June 19.

(Photo: Bishop Müller, 21 Sept 2007/Michael Dalder)

In the subtle ways of the Vatican, a non-response from Rome to a bishop’s query is like the yellow signal on a traffic light. It’s neither yes nor no, in that vague way that says if it’s not openly forbidden, one might be able to live with it, but, uh, we don’t want to put that in writing, so over to you. The question now is whether the Vatican will opt to live with this latest challenge to its authority.

The Vatican has made several concessions to the SSPX, the biggest being the lifting in January of the 1988 excommunications of its four bishops. This meant they were back in good standing as Catholics, but they had no official function as bishops and therefore (presumably) should not use their episcopal privileges without permission from their ecclesiastical superiors. But once the uproar over the Holocaust denials by SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson died down, the SSPX announced it would go ahead with the planned ordinations — three in Zaitzkofen, 13 at the St Thomas Aquinas Seminary at Winona, Minnesota and the rest at the SSPX headquarters at Ecône, Switzerland. “The benevolent act of the Holy See cannot be interpreted as a desire to asphyxiate the Society of St. Pius X,” it said in a statement.

pope-open-armsPope Benedict, in an extraordinary mea culpa letter after the uproar over Williamson, called the lifting of the excommunications a “discreet gesture of mercy” and “a gesture of reconciliation.” He then asked: “Can it be completely mistaken to work to break down obstinacy and narrowness, and to make space for what is positive and retrievable for the whole?” He said that welcoming back other rebel communities had “changed their interior attitudes” and “enabled them to move beyond one-sided positions and broke down rigidity so that positive energies could emerge for the whole.” So Benedict seems to see the lifting of the excommunications as a magnanimous gesture that would be matched by more flexibility from the steadfast SSPX.

(Photo: Pope Benedict, 7 June 2009/Max Rossi)

In an June 1 interview with Vatican Radio, Bishop Müller said he contacted the Zaitzkofen seminary after learning of the planned ordinations. “I told them the ordinations violated canon law and that, in such a precarious situation, one must let Rome say how to proceed … One must simply suspend everything until this society’s position in canon law is cleared up. In the letter the society wrote to the pope in January, it said it fully accepted the pope’s primacy … they are not prepared to accept the consequences.”

On Bavarian Radio, he said the CDF “should say, in a theologically clear way, that both those seeking and those performing the ordinations are not acting legally and the ordinations are therefore not allowed, even if they are formally valid.” He said he wanted to ask the prefect of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada, about this.

Do you agree with Bishop Müller that the SSPX decision to proceed with the ordinations is a provocation? Should the Vatican put its foot down and insist these bishops show the respect for authority that they pledged in their appeal for the excommunications to be lifted? Or should Rome let them go ahead, in the interest of healing the only schism resulting from the Second Vatican Council?

21 comments

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The SSPX has been ordaining priests since the early 1970′s. Folks in Rome are trying to make something of a normal, annual occurrence sound provocative.

Posted by Grider Lee | Report as abusive

The Catholic Church is in shambles. It has been hemoraging members (like me)since the 1970′s. Anyone can read the old catechisms and then go to one modern Roman Catholic church service and see that Vatican II was a rupture with historical Catholicism! Leave the SSPX alone! Atleast they are honest about what they are doing…
Obviously, traditional Christian religious values are totally unacceptable to modern western democratic societies, as evidenced by the press coverage (that includes name calling) of the SSPX. As for Bishop Williamson, it is a logical fallacy and absurd to smear an entire organization for the personal (non expert)opinion of one person in leadership! (Do Congressman Ron Paul’s opinions about religion discredit the entire US Congress?) The press appears biased and fanatical by the way this whole thing has been reported.

Posted by Ellen Conners | Report as abusive

The previous comments are correct – these are nomral ordinations for the SSPX; in the broader context of the ongoing doctrinal discussions with Rome they do not have the meaning of a challenge to anyone other than those already set against the SSPX. Depsite the modernists in the Church continuing to cause more problems than there are I believe that the Holy Father will receive more upset from the modernists than from those in the SSPX.

God’s Speed

Posted by Stephen Mattia | Report as abusive

All Catholics should join in the SSPX Superior General’s request made recently this past Easter at its North American Seminary in Winona, Minnesota; 12 million rosary crusade scheduled to end March 2010. The intention; ask the Holy Father to petition all the bishops of the world in union with him, to consecrate Russia per the BVM’s instructions at Fatima. Forget the hype surrounding +Williamson and the ‘licitness’ of holy orders given by a SSPX bishop because of the timing. The Catholic Church is in crisis! and the true friends of HH Ben. XVI are asking the world to pray! A former clerical member of the SSPX…the ordinations in Winona take place on June 19.

Posted by John Kokenge | Report as abusive

The SSPX are the only Catholics who exercise true obedience to the Church and the pope.

Meanwhile apostates at Notre Dame are free to invite Obama.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

How come we never hear of the various apostates and heretics(see: Notre Dame and Georgetown) who pollute the Church of “pushing the envelope” against the Vatican?

Oh wait that’s right the SSPX are the few true Catholics left and the mainstream media can’t have the Church actually being Catholic again can it?

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Ted says “The SSPX are the only Catholics who exercise true obedience to the Church and the pope.” Is he talking about the same group whose four bishops were excommunicated for 20 years for participating in a schismatic act? Whose leader, Bishop Fellay, regularly denounced Popes John Paul II and Benedict as sellouts? Who still will not openly and officially state their acceptance of the pope’s full authority? Of course, they always swear their loyalty to the pope, but their actions speak louder than their words. Calling them obedient to the pope either misconstrues the meaning of obedient or twists it out of all relation to reality.

Ted says “the mainstream media can’t have the Church actually being Catholic again can it?” It looks like he wants the media to accept him — and the tiny minority that the SSPX represents — as the judge of who and what is Catholic, and not the pope, the college of cardinals and the overwhelming majority of the 1.1 billion-strong Church. This is not to say that the majority wins in religion. There are many opinions and debates in the Catholic Church. But only one tiny group took the schismatic route and even now does not look very reconciled to the pope and the church Ted says it obeys.

If the SSPX were so obedient to the pope, Benedict should be quite satisfied with them and let others know it. But in his letter to bishops after the Williamson affair, he said he lifted the excommunications partly to “work to break down obstinacy and narrowness.” Does that sound like he finds them as obedient as Ted says?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I am a former SSPX seminarian who has great respect and filial devotion to HH Benedict XVI. This is an article in respose to Tom Heneghan’s previous comments…obedience is not as black and white as it would seem. The following is taken directly from New Advent.org and is a summarization of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa. (IIaIIae, Q104,5 ad 3 from the Summa itself)http://www.newadvent.org/summa/31 04.htm

“We are not bound to obey a superior in a matter which does not fall within the limits of his preceptive power. Thus for instance parents although entitled beyond question of the submission of their children until they become of age, have no right to command them to marry. Neither can a superior claim our obedience in contravention to the dispositions of higher authority. Hence, notably, we cannot heed the behests of any human power no matter how venerable or undisputed as against the ordinances of God. All authority to which we bow has its source in Him and cannot be validly used against Him. It is the recognition of the authority of God vicariously exercised through a human agent that confers upon the act of obedience its special merit. No hard and fast rule can be set down for determining the degree of guilt of the sin of disobedience. Regarded formally as a deliberate scorning of the authority itself, it would involve a divorce between the soul and the supernatural principle of charity which is tantamount to a grievous sin. As a matter of fact many other things have to be taken account of, as the greater or lesser advertence in the act, the relatively important or trifling character of the thing imposed, the manner of enjoining, the right of the person who commands. For such reasons the sin will frequently be esteemed venial.”

John Kokenge, thanks for the quotation, which supports my argument. If they are obeying God over the pope, they cannot claim at the same time to be obedient to the pope.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

It would be more prudent if the SSPX will suspend for the meantime their ordination of their Seminarians without the Pope ratifying their Bishoprick. Pope Benedict XVI showed his mercy towards SSPX. Out of respect to the Pope, the SSPX Bishops must reciprocate the same by following the Canon Law that Bishops must be in communion with the Pope. A true Bishop must always be in communion with the Pope for it is he who has been given the keys. Since their being Bishops of SSPX has not yet been ratified by the Pope, therefore they are not in communion with the Pope as Bishops and therefore it would be inappropriate for them to ordain Seminarians as Priests. Although they have been doing this in the past, but the situation today is now different since they have already acknowledge their excommunication and they beg to the Pope to lift up the same. I hope the SSPX will also learn to respect the authority of the Pope and Church hierarchy. God bless

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive

To Mr. Heneghan..
I can not understand your most recent entry in which you claim the quotation I placed supports your argument. Please do yourself the mental justice and read St. Thomas Aquinas regarding the subject.

IIA,IIae Q 104, Art V, Obj 2, and Reply specifically
Article 5.

Whether subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things?
Objection 1. It seems that subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things. For the Apostle says (Colossians 3:20): “Children, obey your parents in all things,” and farther on (Colossians 3:22): “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.” Therefore in like manner other subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things.

Objection 2. Further, superiors stand between God and their subjects, according to Deuteronomy 5:5, “I was the mediator and stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you His words.” Now there is no going from extreme to extreme, except through that which stands between. Therefore the commands of a superior must be esteemed the commands of God, wherefore the Apostle says (Galatians 4:14): “You . . . received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” and (1 Thessalonians 2:13): “When you had received of us the word of the hearing of God, you received it, not as the word of men, but, as it is indeed, the word of God.” Therefore as man is bound to obey God in all things, so is he bound to obey his superiors.

Objection 3. Further, just as religious in making their profession take vows of chastity and poverty, so do they also vow obedience. Now a religious is bound to observe chastity and poverty in all things. Therefore he is also bound to obey in all things.

On the contrary, It is written (Acts 5:29): “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God. Therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.

…Reply to Objection 2. Man is subject to God simply as regards all things, both internal and external, wherefore he is bound to obey Him in all things. On the other hand, inferiors are not subject to their superiors in all things, but only in certain things and in a particular way, in respect of which the superior stands between God and his subjects, whereas in respect of other matters the subject is immediately under God, by Whom he is taught either by the natural or by the written law.

Did Paul always obey Peter? Should Catholics *always* have obeyed the Popes? Particularly those whose own personal morality may have infected their ‘support’ of the Truth? Obedience IS NOT blind, and criticism of any superior when warranted is necessary and not disobedience. This criticism does not make Benedict XVI less of a Pope.
Furthermore, the primary purpose of the canons of Law is the support of the Faith and by extension, the Truth of which the church is the protectress. The obedience of canons without care for the final cause for which canon law exists, is a form of legalism.

Posted by John Kokenge | Report as abusive

Mr. Heneghan, I am dull, but I am not certain how my previous quote supports your argument. Please read St. Thomas Aquinas on this subject.
The raison d’etre of Canon Law is support of the Faith and by extension, the Truth of which the Church is the protectress. This is its final cause. Blind obedience of the codes of Canon Law without the knowledge or support of its ‘Final’ cause is no obedience. The final cause is the first in intention, last in execution; but that is not the case if in the support of canon law, Faith is lost! If these codes do not serve the Faith, then they MUST NOT be obeyed, for it is better to obey God than man. The criticism of which the subordinate makes of his superior does not the superior un-make. (+Fellay and his criticism of Benedict XVI) Peter did not cease to the the Pope when Paul rebuked him to his face, nor did Paul disobey God or the entire end to which his office in the Church required.

IIa,IIae Q104, article 5

Article 5. Whether subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things?
Objection 1. It seems that subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things. For the Apostle says (Colossians 3:20): “Children, obey your parents in all things,” and farther on (Colossians 3:22): “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.” Therefore in like manner other subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things.

Objection 2. Further, superiors stand between God and their subjects, according to Deuteronomy 5:5, “I was the mediator and stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you His words.” Now there is no going from extreme to extreme, except through that which stands between. Therefore the commands of a superior must be esteemed the commands of God, wherefore the Apostle says (Galatians 4:14): “You . . . received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” and (1 Thessalonians 2:13): “When you had received of us the word of the hearing of God, you received it, not as the word of men, but, as it is indeed, the word of God.” Therefore as man is bound to obey God in all things, so is he bound to obey his superiors.

Objection 3. Further, just as religious in making their profession take vows of chastity and poverty, so do they also vow obedience. Now a religious is bound to observe chastity and poverty in all things. Therefore he is also bound to obey in all things.

On the contrary, It is written (Acts 5:29): “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God. Therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.

I answer that, As stated above (A1,4), he who obeys is moved at the bidding of the person who commands him, by a certain necessity of justice, even as a natural thing is moved through the power of its mover by a natural necessity. That a natural thing be not moved by its mover, may happen in two ways. First, on account of a hindrance arising from the stronger power of some other mover; thus wood is not burnt by fire if a stronger force of water intervene. Secondly, through lack of order in the movable with regard to its mover, since, though it is subject to the latter’s action in one respect, yet it is not subject thereto in every respect. Thus, a humor is sometimes subject to the action of heat, as regards being heated, but not as regards being dried up or consumed. On like manner there are two reasons, for which a subject may not be bound to obey his superior in all things. First on account of the command of a higher power. For as a gloss says on Romans 13:2, “They that resist [Vulgate: 'He that resisteth'] the power, resist the ordinance of God” (cf. St. Augustine, De Verb. Dom. viii). “If a commissioner issue an order, are you to comply, if it is contrary to the bidding of the proconsul? Again if the proconsul command one thing, and the emperor another, will you hesitate, to disregard the former and serve the latter? Therefore if the emperor commands one thing and God another, you must disregard the former and obey God.” Secondly, a subject is not bound to obey his superior if the latter command him to do something wherein he is not subject to him. For Seneca says (De Beneficiis iii): “It is wrong to suppose that slavery falls upon the whole man: for the better part of him is excepted.” His body is subjected and assigned to his master but his soul is his own. Consequently in matters touching the internal movement of the will man is not bound to obey his fellow-man, but God alone.

Nevertheless man is bound to obey his fellow-man in things that have to be done externally by means of the body: and yet, since by nature all men are equal, he is not bound to obey another man in matters touching the nature of the body, for instance in those relating to the support of his body or the begetting of his children. Wherefore servants are not bound to obey their masters, nor children their parents, in the question of contracting marriage or of remaining in the state of virginity or the like. But in matters concerning the disposal of actions and human affairs, a subject is bound to obey his superior within the sphere of his authority; for instance a soldier must obey his general in matters relating to war, a servant his master in matters touching the execution of the duties of his service, a son his father in matters relating to the conduct of his life and the care of the household; and so forth.

Reply to Objection 1. When the Apostle says “in all things,” he refers to matters within the sphere of a father’s or master’s authority.

Reply to Objection 2. Man is subject to God simply as regards all things, both internal and external, wherefore he is bound to obey Him in all things. On the other hand, inferiors are not subject to their superiors in all things, but only in certain things and in a particular way, in respect of which the superior stands between God and his subjects, whereas in respect of other matters the subject is immediately under God, by Whom he is taught either by the natural or by the written law.

Reply to Objection 3. Religious profess obedience as to the regular mode of life, in respect of which they are subject to their superiors: wherefore they are bound to obey in those matters only which may belong to the regular mode of life, and this obedience suffices for salvation. If they be willing to obey even in other matters, this will belong to the superabundance of perfection; provided, however, such things be not contrary to God or to the rule they profess, for obedience in this case would be unlawful.

Accordingly we may distinguish a threefold obedience; one, sufficient for salvation, and consisting in obeying when one is bound to obey: secondly, perfect obedience, which obeys in all things lawful: thirdly, indiscreet obedience, which obeys even in matters unlawful.

Posted by John Kokenge | Report as abusive

John Kokenge, you’re not addressing the same question I am. I’m not talking about whether the SSPX can or should disobey the pope or how it justifies not following him. That’s for them to decide. What I am saying is that they and their defenders, such as Ted above, cannot claim they are loyal to the pope when they act against his wishes. This is what I objected to in Ted’s comment that “The SSPX are the only Catholics who exercise true obedience to the Church AND THE POPE” (my emphasis). The arguments you provide could be used concerning obedience to the Church, but that is not necessarily the same as obedience to the pope. The issue here is obedience to the pope.

The following statements make it clear the SSPX has serious doctrinal differences with the Vatican which Pope Benedict says must be resolved before it can legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church. Despite that, they are going ahead and ordaining priests. It’s very hard to see how that can be called obedience to the pope.

SSPX Bishop Bernard Fellay, in his “Letter to the Faithful” on 24 January 2009:

“We are ready to write the Creed with our own blood, to sign the anti-modernist oath, the profession of faith of Pius IV, we accept and make our own all the councils up to the Second Vatican Council about which we express some reservations.”

Pope Benedict’s letter to bishops on 12 March 2009:

“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.”

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi’s statement on 12 March 2009 accompanying the pope’s letter to bishops:

“The Pope makes a distinction as far as the problem of the juridical recognition of the Saint Pius X Fraternity is concerned, linking it clearly to doctrinal questions about the acceptance of Vatican II Council and the magisterium of the Popes since that Council. Until that happens, their representatives will not be able to fulfil any recognised ministry in a legitimate way in the Church.”

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

An alcoholic drunken parent commands child A to give him the keys to the car to drive. This child “obeys” this command and the parent drives in a totally drunken state. When sober the next day the alcoholic parent thanks Child A for his “obedience”.

Same alcoholic parent a few days later commands A’s brother, Child B to give him the keys to the car to drive. Child B refuses to give the parent the keys to the car out of fear of driving drunk. Alcoholic parent yells at child B saying he is a disobedient wretch and should be more like child A and then goes on to beat child B senselessly.

Which child: Child A or Child B is truly obedient to their parent.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Ted, do you really have to compare Pope Benedict to a drunken parent who beats a child senselessly to get your point across? Do you really think this is a credible comparison? The problem is that you’re trying to square a circle, saying the SSPX is obedient to the pope while disobeying him on some issues. To do that, you deconstruct the word obedient to the point that it can mean its opposite.

There are ways to describe positively what Child B did, but calling it obedience is not one of them. Whether the SSPX should or should not obey the pope, or whether their view is right or wrong, is not the issue here. But one cannot call them obedient to him if the SSPX leaders go against his wishes and, acting illegitimately as bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, ordain new priests.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

The point that you are utterly missing Mr. Heneghan is the foundation on which the notion of disobedience hangs. Does the SSPX (Child B) really have the precedent to disobey his parent who has a ‘right’ to obedience or not? In all of your banter, I find it disappointing that while constantly reminding Ted and myself that you are speaking about an apple, and we an orange, you never once comment on the real issue here. Nor do you comment on the words of St. Thomas.
The only authority the bishops of the SSPX have is titular. IT is completely within the scope of responsibility for those who possess the fullness of the priesthood to ordain priests, and this irregular situation, regardless of the negation of the previous thought to have existed excommunication, does not change them or their office. Not one priest that has left the SSPX despite its irregularity has been thought to be invalidly ordained, so I do not understand the illegitimacy of their acts which you say exists.
Could it be that your personal opinions are the impetus to your argument?

Posted by John Kokenge | Report as abusive

I am basing my view on the quote from Pope Benedict himself — “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.” If they do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church, how can they be both obedient members of that Church and proceed with the ordinations?

As for commenting on “the real issue,” is the real issue is whether some Catholic can disregard the pope when they believe he is wrong, or whether they can describe themselves as obedient when doing so. On the first point, I agree with Saint Thomas that that right exists. But, on the second point, I do not think one who does that can then be called obedient to the pope.

You suggest all this is only my personal opinion. Since I wrote that blog post, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, has called the planned ordinations “a violation of canon law, a violation of the rights of the bishop of Regensburg and, in my eyes, an affront to the unity of the Church.” The bishop of Fulda has expressed similar ideas. I don’t think they came to that conclusion by reading my blog.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch is a heretic.

http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/apr  /09042107.html

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Yes, the SSPX should proceed with the ordinations of 21 new priests. The SSPX represents Catholic tradition and the holy beliefs of our Faith which Vatican II discarded.
You don’t throw out 1500 years of tradition and replace it with garbage!! But that’s what Vatican II did.
Thank God for the SSPX. Regardless of what Bishop Muller, or Benedict XVI thinks….Go ahead with the ordinations of 21 new holy priests. These are very holy young priests, (not the usuall Vatican II paedophile priests!!)
God bless the SSPX. I hope they ordain 50 next year!!

Posted by Kimiko | Report as abusive

Dear Tom Heneghan,

You are forgetting a basic Catholic principle: it is not a matter choosing God or the pope. When you choose the former (God), you are choosing the latter (the pope), because the OFFICE OF THE POPE (the Magisterium) cannot but be in sync with God, even if the PERSON OF THE POPE (the part that goes to confession just like everyone else) is not.

That’s the split we are enduring in the Church today, though the Church has had such situations before. We can only pray that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI will eventually return the Church to Catholic Tradition.

Thank you to the SSPX to have started the Restauration of the Holy Church,to have saved the Tridentine Mass of all time.Yes, the SSPX is a truly Catholic Society that is obedient to the Pope,that PRAYS for the Pope at every Tridentine mass,that has a picture of the Pope in all sacrities,that says the 3 Hail Marys at the end of all low masses,that prays for the Pope in all Benedictions.These ordinations(this month) have been planned months ago,they are an annual event world-wide.I have no doubt that the new priests are seen by the modernists as a threat…what else can it be ? The SSPX is helping the Holy Church to stay afloat,after having saved the Tridentine mass from extinction. My money is on the SSPX and its wise,patient, gentle, firm, and learned Superior-General,H.E.Bishop B.Fellay.

Posted by P.R.Margeot | Report as abusive