26 January AD 2009
I am not a member of the Society of Saint Pius X, but in the past few days I have received a goodly number of questions from people wanting to know the significance of the Holy See's lifting of the “excommunications”against Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson, and Alfonso de Galarreta. I have placed the word “excommunications” in quotes for reasons which we will see below. While this is in no way a legal opinion, the few references to the Code of Canon Law are to the 1983 Code issued by Pope John Paul II. The canons in the 1917 Code in this connection are substantially the same.
Excommunication is what the Church calls a “medicinal penalty” (c.1312 §1). In simple terms, that means a penalty intended to get the attention of one who has committed a serious crime so that he can reconsider his actions, cease committing the crime, and make appropriate amends. There should be no surprise that the rules for determining whether or not a punishable crime has been committed are similar to the rules for determining whether or not one has committed a mortal sin: (1) serious matter, (2) sufficient reflection, and (3) full consent of the will. “No one can be punished for the external violation of a law or precept unless it is gravely imputable by reason of malice or culpability” (c.1321 §1). The Code (c.1323) exempts from punishment anyone who is, and I paraphrase: 1° underage; 2° ignorant of violating the law; 3° acting under physical duress or unforeseen force; 4° acting under great fear or inconvenience, or out of necessity unless the act is intrinsically evil or harmful to souls; 5° acting in self defense or defense of another; 6° lacked the use of reason; or 7° believed that he was acting as described in 4° or 5° above.
Who Were the Actual “Bad Guys”?
During the period following Vatican II the authorities of the Conciliar Church acted in such a ways as to seriously undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church, expose Her to ridicule, and refute the belief that She is unique as the representative of God on earth; to undermine the validity or at least the faithful's confidence in the Mass and Sacraments; to place core doctrines of the Faith into question; to reduce the importance of the Church's moral teachings; to replace the perennial philosophy of an unchanging God with one grounded in human opinion, dialogue, and consensus; and to replace the faithful's sense of the sacred with a sense of the mundane if not the moronic. These same authorities acted in such away that many religious vocations were destroyed and many people fell away from the practice of the Faith or left the Church altogether.
I am not going to make any pronouncements as to whether the authorities of the Church were ignorant, or malicious, or both—But if there were (are) any crimes deserving of penalties, those crimes were committed by those authorities who presided over what Pope Paul VI, himself referred to as the “auto-demolition of the Church.” The crimes were committed by those who felt the need to tamper with the proven wisdom of the centuries and the infallible Magisterium of the Church, changing everything Catholic merely for the sake of change or for an increase in ambiguity—the Mass, the Sacraments, the Scriptures, the philosophy and theology, the moral precepts, and everything right on down to the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary.
The Church uses the word “anathema” as a synonym for excomunication. “If he doesn't believe such and such: Let him be anathema,” is a phrase used in Church documents for the excommunication of one who does not accept the Magisterial teachings of the Church. Look at what Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians. Look and see just who it is that is anathema!
The handful of traditional bishops and men who became bishops, both in- and out-side of the SSPX, who stood up to Pope Paul's “auto-demolition” are heroes worthy of praise and admiration. What they did was not “intrinsically evil,” rather it was “intrinsically right”—“truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, as the Church says in the Preface to the Canon of the Mass!” They were not perfect men, and they may have had some disagreements amongst themselves, but their intention was to stop those who “would pervert the Gospel of Christ.” Out of “necessity,” they did what they did “in self defense, and in defense of others”—they did it in defense of the truth and the honor of God. But those who would preach another Gospel, which is not really a Gospel, the architects and workers in the “auto-demolition of the Church,” let them be anathema.
Why did Catholics Go Along?
Why did not greater numbers of the Catholic faithful recognize what was going on at the time of the SSPX bishops' “excommunication” in 1988, or during any of the years following Vatican II? Why did they allow their Faith to be corrupted by the “auto-demolishers of the Church”? Why did they allow the Mass and Sacraments to be taken from them and their children? Why are so many Catholics willing to accept the idea that traditional Catholics are somehow disobedient, rebellious, dissident, or even schismatic? Why can they not see that such adjectives apply to those who would pervert the Gospel rather than to those who would protect It?
Lifting the “excommunications” may encourage a few of the Catholics described above to attend a true Mass in traditional Catholic chapels, but that will be a fruitful thing only if the opportunity is seized upon to dispel the confusion detailed above. If they come merely for cultural reasons, but remain Modernists at heart, little will be gained.
What Exactly Has Changed?
Twenty years ago and more, traditional Catholic bishops were declared ecclesiastical criminals by the Conciliar Church. What has transpired to make them no longer criminals?
Has the Holy See recanted? Pope Benedict XVI is marginally more conservative than Pope John Paul II. But most of that conservatism is cultural. Despite his encouraging words, just before his election, decrying “moral relativism,” he is as much a relativist as before. Inter-religious dialogue is going on as before. His “extraordinary rite” may have better music, prettier vestments, and more “smells and bells” than than his “ordinary rite,” but he equates the two in every dogmatic aspect. He has displayed no concern for the the validity or sacrificial intention of the priests who follow his “extraordinary rite.” Despite the admission of the Vatican that the words “pro multis”of the “Institution Narrative” are not properly translated as “for all” this erroneous (if not heretical, if not invalidating) form continues in use.
The Vatican wants to be a “big tent” for all of the religions of the world. Religious indifferentism was one of the “hot buttons” of virtually every “traditionalist” since the issue of Dignitatis humanæ. It is hard to believe that either one has changed its position.
At least seven traditional bishops were “excommunicated” for the “crime” of defending Catholics and the Faith against the post-Vatican II Modernism. Curiously, Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer were missing from the list of those whose “excommunications” were lifted. These three are, of course, among the faithful departed. Did the SSPX bishops not also request the “dis‑excommunication” of their founder, consecrator, and co‑consecrator? Did no one recognize that whatever applied to all of them applied equally to Archbishop Thuc? Who is to speak for the dead?
The episcopal consecrations of 1988 took place two decades ago. Everyone involved is twenty years older. Prudence would dictate that a few younger men be consecrated now, so that they can get practical experience as bishops while their seniors are alive and well enough to guide them. It will be supremely interesting to see the reaction of the Vatican—and a bit illogical for the Holy Father to “excommunicate” them after “dis‑excommunicating” the bishops consecrated in 1988. Or will the “dis‑excommunications” of 2008 strike a note of compromise between the Holy See and the SSPX? Will they hold off doing what ought to be done, merely to preserve cordiality with the Conciliar Church?
At least unofficially, in the Angelus (December 2005-January 2006), we have already seen the SSPX declare the new rite of episcopal ordination valid— and that in spite of the rather clear pronouncement of Pope Leo XIII which required the essential form of episcopal consecration to contain a reference to the reception of the fullness of the priesthood, something missing from the form defined by Pope Paul VI. Even if they had been correct—in spite of Leo XIII and Pius XII—is it possible that the SSPX published the article merely to “grease the skids” for “dis‑excommunication” and future dialogue? And, if the rumor mill is trustworthy, we hear that Novus Ordo priests have been invited to offer the “extraordianry rite” in SSPX chapels. Is this another “greasing of the skids”? In 2001, then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that many Novus Ordo priests no longer consider the Mass a Sacrifice. And even those that do have been taught that the consecration of the Mass is effected by narrating our Lord's words—an error they have learned not only from the rubrics of the Novus Ordo, but also from the so-called “Catechism of the Catholic Church”—thus an error applicable to all rites.
Both Bishop Fellay and Cardinal Re speak of additional mutual discussions or talks. Is there any realistic expectation that the Holy See can be brought back to Catholic orthodoxy by discussions with the Society of Saint Pius X? It seems far more likely that It has in mind the same kind of fruitless “dialogue” with SSPX as It is engaged in with any number of non-Catholic religions. When announcing the “dis‑excommunications” (boasting of his “act of fatherly mercy”!) during his general audience of January 28th, they were sandwiched in between the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch, and our “unquestionable solidarity with our brothers receivers of the First Covenant.” Pope Benedict XVI was one of the theologians who gave us the disaster of Vatican II. Is it at all reasonable to think that he will correct the Council's errors after a few discussions? Note that in the “dis‑excommunications,” his agent admits no error in its 1988 decision to levy the initial “excommunications.” Why would we now expect them to admit the errors held by the Conciliar Church for over forty years?
The lifting of the “excommunications” has no substantial significance. The “excommunications” were clearly invalid in 1988, directed at the innocent by the guilty. On some level this action of the Vatican is impertinent to those who remained orthodox Catholics, for the Holy See has taken this opportunity to appear magnanimous instead of admitting to its errors and making amends, On another level it is dangerous if it causes traditional Catholics to compromise the Faith in return for the mere appearance of legitimacy, or the opportunity to live the comfortable life style of the Novus Ordo clergy.
I really would like to be wrong about all of this. But at age 62 I have spent two-thirds of my life watching the Conciliar Church demonstrate un-orthodoxy and unreliability—and plenty of downright foolishness. Let us all be sure to pray for Bishop Fellay—that God might give him the wisdom to see the truth in his dealings with Rome (whatever that truth might be), and the courage to act accordingly.
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