February 28, 2017
Posted by Tantumblogo
Rorate Caeli, with all the good work they do, continues to hint strongly that an accord regularizing the SSPX is very close to being finalized. Rorate has also long indicated their unqualified support for this regularization to occur, even, or especially?, under Francis. The great hope, I believe, is that regularization of the canonical status of the SSPX will introduce a great leaven into the Church, strengthening the cause of Tradition all around and hastening the much longed for restoration of Holy Mother Church. Of course, most feel there is much to be desired in regularization as an end to itself, as something that is very necessary for the good of the souls within or associated with the Society of St. Pius X.
I have not been so wholeheartedly in favor of this regularization, at least not now, under Francis, because I see the man as having a very clear agenda to wholly remake the Church, and that does not include long “permitting” recalcitrant recusants like the SSPX and others who hold to the great Tradition of our Faith to remain even a minor annoyance. Many in the Society seem aware of the potential for danger, even what might be called a “betrayal,” in the regularization, for the same penalties and attempts at co-opting made in the 70s and 80s seem to be at least quite possible in the present-day Church environment, but some tend to brush these concerns aside, claiming that if the Society could “escape” the post-conciliar milieu once, they can do it again. It is this kind of thinking I’d like to address in this post.
But before I do, at what cost will the regularization be granted? I am supremely doubtful that Francis regularizing the SSPX without any changes in thought, practice, or behavior on their part is simply one of his patented acts of mercy. Indeed, some believe there already exist hints that the Society IS changing in response to the potential for regularization. An anonymous priest recently levied the charge that the SSPX has been noticeably quiet in response to many of Francis’ errors and attacks on the Faith. A brief review of the SSPX website covering articles going back a month or so does not reveal any specific criticisms of the present pontificate, even though there are continuing general explorations of the problems of the post-conciliar Church and even the notion of papal heresy considered generally. Those who follow the SSPX more closely than I do (which is hardly at all) may rebut this particular claim. Even still, I would find it remarkable if this pontiff would really regularize the SSPX without some kind of quid pro quo. And let’s consider this, even if there is no quid pro quo demanding SSPX silence on certain matters, is it not human nature to want to play it safe during periods of delicate negotiation and subsequent “re-entry” into the full, regular life of the Church?
I’d also like to note that I am not entirely comfortable with the sense of fear and trepidation I have over regularization now, under Francis, while I certainly desire it as an overall objective to be realized. Part of me desires to see the SSPX enjoy full canonical recognition/regularity instantly, which would largely simply recognize their reality as being Catholic and part of the Church. I have a certain measure of guilt over my sense that this accord, if it occurs, will be supremely dangerous to the cause of Tradition and could even set it back decades, erasing all the small gains made in recent years and pushing whatever tiny bit of tradition remains to the extreme fringes of the Church, if not wholly outside it. But I completely understand the “regularization now is the only acceptable stand” arguments and on many levels wish I could share them.
But regarding regularization and then some kind of betrayal, could the SSPX simply “go back?” We have to look at the history. Archbishop Lefebvre did not set out to create a canonically irregular body “separated” from the Roman authority or somehow at odds with it. He simply wanted to preserve some semblance of the traditional practice of the Faith amidst the insanity of the immediate post-VII years, so he started a seminary to continue training priests in the pre-conciliar ways. As was inevitable in Church of the 70s, most bishops and powers in Rome were overtly hostile to this new priestly society. It didn’t take long before charges of disobedience were levied and refusals to abandon the traditional practice of Faith – the Catholic Faith – resulted in a certain ostracization from the “mainstream Church.” Eventually the issue was forced by various matters, especially the consecrations of 1988, for which Lefebvre, the four consecrated bishops, and others directly involved were excommunicated. Some of those excommunications were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI, but the canonical irregularity has remained.
The reason I go over this very complex history, admittedly very briefly, is because it is critical to understand that what happened then is radically different to what would have to occur if the SSPX is regularized, finds its situation intolerable, and then tries to revert to its present status. What occurred very gradually and under very different circumstances then – a gradual process of alienation between the SSPX and the authorities in Rome – would have to occur suddenly, almost violently, should the Society be regularized. Back in 1974, say, no one knew what would develop 5 or 10 or 15 years later, what the “end point” would be. But today the situation would be inverted, where all would know exactly what was in the offing and what the final destination would be – more excommunications, loss of canonical status, etc. This is huge.
Then there is the factor of human nature. After fighting a long, lonely struggle for decades, and finally achieving fully regular canonical status, would the wherewithal really exist to separate themselves again should things go south? It took an enormously charismatic, convicted figure in Archbishop Lefebvre to create and hold together the SSPX during its initial, very trying period of formation and then alienation from authority. Does such a figure exist today? Again, it is so important to note that everyone now knows where another irreconcilable dispute between Rome and the SSPX will lead to, instantly, this time. None of that was certain or known when Archbishop Lefebvre was treading these choppy waters decades ago.
From a psychological perspective, for a very long time, the Society maintained that they did not need to “return” to the Church, but that the Church needed to return to herself, and then reconciliation would occur naturally. Almost, in a sense, “Rome” coming hat in hand to the Society begging forgiveness for having lost its collective mind in the 60s and 70s and asking readmittance to the Church the SSPX had maintained. Whether that notion was ever realistic or not, the point is, Rome has not changed. In fact, under Francis, it has gotten far worse than it’s been in decades. Will a return at this time not entail a certain surrender of the vital, animating focal point of the Society’s existence?
Our experience in recent years with other, admittedly much more secular organizations, is that those who have resisted the secular pagal progressive zeitgeist for years, even decades, and then surrender on some key point – like the Boy Scouts – quickly surrender on all or many points of vital import. Resistance becomes totally untenable. They become co-opted, as it were, by the process of accommodating whatever it is the powers that be demand of them.
I’m sure people within the SSPX ,or closer to it than I am, have hashed over these matters in far more detail than I can. Indeed, the SSPX-SO split off because they see regularization as tantamount to surrender. I’m sure they’re aware of the risks. At least, I hope they are. Because I fear what is at stake in this process is far more than the canonical status of the SSPX, but possibly the entire traditional practice of the Faith, extending to the Ecclesia Dei communities, tradition-embracing religious orders, and even Summorum Pontificum and the ability of some diocesan priests, under friendlier bishops than we’ve had here in Dallas, to offer the TLM. All of these latter entities either came into being as a direct result of the SSPX’s existence, and the pressure that existence exerted on the Church. Indeed, many of them were created or allowed to exist both as a form of pressure on the SSPX (keeping people who otherwise might have associated formally with the SSPX from doing so) and as a carrot to lure them “back.” If the SSPX is regularized and back within the fold, then what purpose do those things serve anymore, from a realpolitik point of view? None. How long will the be permitted to continue to exist?
These men in power today in Rome, they do not fool around, and they despise all things traditional to a degree many readers would find unimaginable. Is this a leap of Faith, trusting in God’s Grace to prevail in the end, or a leap into the abyss? On a cost-benefit ratio, do the benefits come close to equaling the dangers here?
Anyway, those are my concerns. Some will think this makes me a bad Catholic and short on faith, but I simply see so much danger here, and we have the example of the Franciscans of the Immaculate to guide us. I’m also less and less sure what real meaning canonical regularity has in a Church where adultery is praised and fornicators are held up as virtuous examples for the rest of us, while being a faithful soul is excoriated as the very worst kind of person to be. With this kind of rank (and mass) moral inversion ongoing, the finer points of canonical regularity seem like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.