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The Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX-Lefebvrites), what progress?


In January, 2009, Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of the four bishops of the SSPX (Society of St. Plus X), illicitly ordained by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. It was a gesture of goodwill towards a possible reunion with the Society which was founded in 1970 (see our article "Benedict XVI and the SSPX controversy" C.I., April 2009, pp. 19-20).

The lifting of the excommunication itself made no change in the status of the SSPX clergy. The Vatican made this clear once more when the bishops of the Society prepared to ordain new priests and deacons on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, this year. In answer to enquiries, the Vatican reiterated that these ordinations were illicit (although valid), as all the previous ones had been. The Lefebvrites, therefore, exercise no legitimate ministry in the Catholic Church.

In a statement of June 17 the Vatican quoted from Pope Benedict's March 2009 letter to all the bishops of the Church: "As long as the Society (of St. Pius X) does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church ... Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers ... do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church"

Some Catholic bishops such as the Catholic Bishop of Regensburg, Germany, Gerhard Muller, may have thought that this would caution the Pius X Society against proceeding with its ordinations, but it did not. SSPX bishops went ahead and ordained three priests and three deacons in Bavaria, Germany, and 18 others in Encone, Switzerland, and Winona, Minn., USA. There were no comments from Rome.


Pope Benedict, meanwhile, has moved ahead with a restructuring of the machinery for negotiations. On July 8, 2009, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (Church of God) established in 1988 by Pope John Paul II in order to facilitate negotiations with the Pius X Society, was detached from the Congregation of Worship and made part of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF). The latter is led by the American-born Prefect Cardinal William Levada who now also becomes head of Ecclesia Dei. The Commission's Belgian secretary, Msgr. Camille Perl, retires in favour of Msgr. Guido Pozzo, former undersecretary of the Theological Commission and a staff member of CDF. The Commission retains its own staff.

The change in status and realignment with the doctrinal congregation indicates that the emphasis has now shifted to the deeper problems of doctrine away from questions of liturgy handled by the Congregation of Worship, the letter having been mostly resolved by the Pope's acceptance of the 1962 Latin liturgy as the Extraordinary Rite of the Roman Rite in 2007.

Explained the Pope in his July 8 letter Ecclesia Unitatem (The Unity of the Church), placing Ecclesia Dei under the doctrinal congregation will make it clear that the problems now to be addressed are essentially doctrinal in nature and concern primarily the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and the post-concilar Magisterium of the popes.

(Sources:, June 17; Fr. Zulsdorf, The Wanderer, June 18; Robert Moynihan, Letter from Rome, No. 15 and 16).

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Title Annotation:THE VATICAN
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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