Father Pfluger Flubs

Fr. Niklaus Pfluger, outgoing 1st assistant to the Superior General of the SSPX, recently gave an interview to Catholic Family News.
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In that interview, he made a significant misrepresentation of the content of the Statutes of the SSPX. The passage concerned follows:
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CFN: Was it the Archbishop’s intention that the Superior General be responsible for relations with the Roman authorities?
Father Pfluger: Our Statutes indicate clearly that the Superior and his Council has to work for a so-called papal recognition. That’s a normal process for a new Institute which begins only as a canonical foundation in a particular Diocese. This process is typical for any Institute in the Church. Well, it’s precisely the role of the Superior to guide and to govern the Institute. That’s why the Archbishop himself went to Rome to talk with Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and their Curia. With the unjust condemnation of the Society arose the indispensable need for our Founder to keep up the contacts with Rome so as to remove this unjust condemnation.
(Source: sspx.org/en/news-events/news/interview-father-niklaus-pfluger-sspx-catholic-family-news-38721)

CFN seemed to attach some importance to these words in particular:
“Our Statutes indicate clearly that the Superior and his Council has to work for a so-called papal recognition”,
because they used them for the caption under one of two photographs of Fr. Pfluger that accompanied the article. (See the print edition, July, p.23)
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This is unfortunate, because his statement is false.
I have a copy of the statutes (1990 ed.). I have read them carefully several times over the course of many years, so I suspected immediately what Fr. Pfluger had done.
I reread the entire Statutes once again to make sure I was not mistaken.
But it was as I thought.
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Here is the actual passage in question, with the context:
1) In its beginnings, the Society shall be subject to the local Ordinary, who erected it as a Pious Union, and approved its Statutes, in conformity with the prescriptions of Canon Law.
2) Consequently, as long as the Society remains of diocesan status, members that are destined for the priesthood must, before their final engagement, be incardinated into a diocese, unless a special indult granted by the Sacred Congregation of Religious authorizes them to be incardinated into the Society. As soon as the Society has houses in various dioceses, it shall take the necessary steps to become of Pontifical right.
(Statutes, Section IV, 1 & 2)
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For those unfamiliar with the way that religious orders or congregations, or other institutes of consecrated life (such as the Pious Union of the SSPX) are founded and ruled, it should be said that normally the founder of such a society writes a Rule and/or Statutes, presents them to his/her local Bishop (Ordinary), and asks him to approve them and authorize the founding.
Such an institute, once founded, and if it spreads to other places in the world, may then petition Rome to become of Pontifical right; also called a ‘papal exempt institute’.
What this means is that, instead of being under the authority of the local Ordinary, the institute is subject directly to the Holy See. This is usually convenient for all concerned, to avoid possible conflicts between the Ordinary in whose diocese the institute was founded, and other Ordinaries in whose dioceses the institute operates.
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This is the sort of papal “recognition” the Statutes are talking about.
However, the interviewer, CFN, was not asking about this kind of recognition at all. CFN’s question very clearly was in regard to the famous question of a possible “canonical” recognition, whereby the SSPX would “regain” the official status as a legitimate ecclesiastical institute that some suppose it has lost since the “suppression” of the SSPX in 1975.
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What happened here?
Fr. Pfluger has tried to give the impression that the very Statutes of the SSPX require the SSPX to seek that Rome repeal the 1975 “suppression” of the SSPX! He has tried to make it look as if the very Founder of the SSPX put it as a Rule in the very Constitution of the SSPX that the SSPX must seek “regularization”.
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When you think about it, of course, this is totally ridiculous, for the Statutes were written before 1970, and their very approval in 1970 was itself the original canonical recognition of, and founding of the SSPX. And if they contained a clause that could be construed as an expectation that someday the SSPX would be formalistically suppressed, but would have to carry on its work anyway, while negotiating to get the suppression overturned, Bishop Charriere, who approved them, would most likely not have done so!
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But how many people have thought about that?
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In itself, Fr. Pfluger’s switcheroo amounts to a despicable shell game that dupes the unwary, But did he play it intentionally?
God knows, of course. I don’t. But the possibilities I can think of are:
1) It was an off-the-cuff remark; simply a result of faulty memory.
But if that’s the case, it shows a tendentious spirit; a habitual desire to view things in a Go Deal fashion.
2) It was a deliberate equivocation.
But if so, that means that a) Fr. Pluger lied, and b) He can think *very* fast on his feet. I prefer not to believe the former, and the latter is unlikely, simply because so few people are that mentally agile. (Of course, the interview could have been done by correspondence and not face to face, in which case quick thinking would not be required).
3) It was simply an erroneous understanding on his part; he simply confused the “papal recognition” of achieving papally exempt status with the “papal recognition” of regaining legalistic canonical status.
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I would like to think the latter was the case, but if so it reveals an alarming ignorance regarding the way institutes of consecrated life operate in the Church.
And of course, that ignorance is not unknown among SSPX priests. A major superior recently referred to the SSPX as a “religious society”.
Religious institutes in the Church are only those whose members take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The SSPX is an Institute of Common Life Without Vows (the same thing as a Pious Union). The original Statutes speak only of priests in the SSPX, and the priests do not take vows of poverty or obedience.
The Brothers and Sisters of the SSPX are indeed religious, but they do not constitute the SSPX as such, they are adjuncts to it, so you can’t speak of the SSPX as a religious society.
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As said, Fr. Pfluger is no longer the 1st assistant of the SSPX. I did not write this as a way of kicking him in the behind to speed his progress out the door. The confusion caused by his statement was serious, and had to be corrected, that is all.

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6 comments on “Father Pfluger Flubs

  1. Thank you for the clarification. It’s very helpful indeed.

  2. Question for you, NIN:
    With the new leadership at SSPX, do you there may be a rapprochement between the Society and Bishop Williamson and other former SSPX priests who may recently gone separate ways?

    • Dear Anthony,
      You are asking for my mere speculation, of course.
      But before even doing that, I would have to know a LOT more about the personal histories and dynamics of those involved.
      So I would have to ask you to excuse me, and decline.
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      But even without considering personal histories and dynamics, one could say, I think, that it will be very hard for Bp. Williamson, at least, to be reaccepted, for at least one very practical reason: HIs reputation by now, whether justly or unjustly (mostly unjustly, IMHO), has been so thoroughly trashed and dragged around the world that he would become an ongoing public relations liability to the SSPX, at least in its external relations, and probably even in its internal ones.
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      If I am right, it is most unfortunate, so I hope I am wrong.

      • Thank you for your response. Perhaps this situation calls to mind the practical liability of not having a reliable higher authority for appeal, from which both parties could benefit. Let us pray for a rapprochement. Many saints have been known for their ability to reconcile hostile parties.

        • Indeed. Just another example among a thousand others of the evil effects of Rome losing its intellectual and moral authority.
          In fact, this whole dispute of the SSPX vs. the Resistance is precisely about whether the SSPX should submit itself to that authority or not.

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