Vatican throws down gauntlet to ultra-traditionalist SSPX
The Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet to the ultra- traditionalist Society of Saint Piux X (SSPX), which planned to ordain 27 new priests this month without approval from Rome. A statement by the Vatican press office today declared that the ordinations would be illegitimate. The four SSPX bishops were only readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church in January after 20 years of excommunication. If they go ahead and ordain the priests anyway, they could risk being disciplined — possibly even excommunicated — again.
The SSPX claims its fidelity to the old Latin Mass and rejection of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reforms represent authentic Catholicism as opposed to the “modernism” practiced in the world’s largest church since then. It has also claimed to be loyal to the pope, although this was always hedged with reservations about his authority because of the doctrinal dispute over Vatican II. Having won its bishops’ readmission without making any concessions, it looked set to test the limits again by ordaining priests without Vatican permission.
The Vatican statement quoted a March 10 letter by Pope Benedict to Catholic bishops saying the SSPX did not have any official status within the Church and would have to negotiate it in discussions with Rome. “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,” he wrote.
After quoting that, the Vatican statement said: “So the ordinations should still be considered illegitimate.” It added that there were “reasons to think that the definition of that new status is near” and that “doctrinal and, consequently, also disciplinary questions still remain open.”
(Photo: Pope Benedict, 17 June 2009/Max Rossi)
The statement comes at the last minute — 13 of the 21 were due to be ordained at an SSPX seminariy in Winona, Minnesota on Friday. The rest were planned in Ecône, Switzerland and Zaitzkofen, Germany on June 27. The ball is now in the SSPX’s court, to go ahead with them after all, or not.
Is Benedict listening more to his critics? His decision to readmit the SSPX bishops in January amid an uproar over Holocaust denial by one of them was a public relations disaster that reaped critical comments from several bishops’ conferences in Europe. In recent weeks, three German bishops — including Robert Zollitsch, president of their conference — openly criticised the planned SSPX ordinations and urged the Vatican to intervene. And now it has.
Several readers objected to the headline on our last post on this issue — “SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again” and suggested that calling the ordinations a challenge was only my personal opinion. One quoted the great theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas at length to try to show the SSPX was not actually being disobedient by ignoring the pope’s warning that it could not “legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.” As a reporter covering the Catholic Church, I have to assume the pope’s words carry weight. Measured against that warning, the ordination plan did indeed amount to a bid to “push the envelope against the Vatican again.” With this statement, the Vatican has identified the plan as a challenge and declared it illegitimate in advance.
Roma locuta, causa finita? (Rome has spoken, the case is closed?) — let’s see.