COMMENT: letters from the Bishop Semeraro of Albano, Italy, and then from Bishop Sarlinga of Zárate-Campana in Argentina, have declared that the lay faithful who receive the sacraments from priests and bishops of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) are automatically excommunicated, and would need to go through a process authorised by the bishop to be readmitted to communion with the Church (i.e., not simply confession). The Latin Mass Society holds no brief to defend the position of the SSPX, which is canonically irregular, but feels it necessary to point out that these letters are not just ill-considered but have potentially very serious pastoral consequences. They imply that anyone who has ever been to Mass said by a priest of the SSPX is not welcome in the churches of these dioceses. This conflicts not only with the ‘opening of hearts’ requested by Pope Benedict XVI as a prelude to a healing of these divisions ‘in the heart of the Church’, but equally with the emphasis on mercy of Pope Francis.
CANON LAW BRIEFING:
In light of canonical advice from our National Chaplain and Canonical Adviser, Mgr Gordon Read, the Latin Mass Society would like to clarify some canonical principles in relation to the recent statements of Bishop Semeraro of Albano, Italy, and Bishop Sarlinga of Zárate-Campana in Argentina, lest misunderstandings spread to dioceses around the world.
- Basing a canonical argument on the assumption that the Society of Pius X (SSPX) has no canonical status in the Church and that its priests are suspended following ordination without dimissorial letters, it does not follow that to seek the sacraments at their hands is an act of formal schism on the part of the lay faithful.
- Such a conclusion conflicts with the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops of the SSPX by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009: it would be incongruous for the legislator to lift the excommunication of the bishops while imposing or maintaining it on the lay faithful to whom they minister.
- It also conflicts with the provision in canon law for the effects of suspension or excommunication of a priest to be lifted when someone approaches the priest subject to the penalty in order to receive a sacrament (canon 141).
- Excommunication by adherence to a schism can only be incurred where there is both a schismatic intention and an external act (canon 1364).
- There can therefore be no question that those seeking the sacraments at the hands of priests of the SSPX without a schismatic intention incur excommunication.
- Were a member of the lay faithful to incur excommunication by a schismatic intention, this would be a matter of the private forum (the confessional), and not the public forum.
- Those under the age of sixteen cannot in any case incur a penalty (canon 1323.1); this would apply to those under this age who received baptism or confirmation.
- The attitude of the Holy See has always been that lay faithful who receive the sacraments from priests of the SSPX are not excommunicated. Examples are as follows.
In 1991 Bishop Joseph Ferrario of Honolulu declared six lay Catholics excommunicated on grounds of schism for having procured the services of an SSPX bishop to administer confirmation. These appealed to the Holy See which, through Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared the decree invalid because their action, though considered blameworthy, did not constitute schism.
On 5th September 2005, the Holy See, through the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, affirmed that ‘the faithful who attend the Masses of the aforesaid Fraternity are not excommunicates, and the priests who celebrate them are not, either—the latter are, in fact, suspended.’ (Protocol n.55/2005, signed by the then Secretary of the PCED, Mgr Camille Perl)
Related: Another Bishop “excommunicates” faithful who go to SSPX Masses – now in Argentina!