Many traditionally-minded Catholics have wondered lately if the Vatican’s recent overtures regarding regularization of Society of Saint Pius X might have muted their likely criticism of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Some have even speculated that the timing of this outreach — which appears to have some real chance of ending the decades-old standoff between Écône and Rome — was specifically calculated to push the Society into a position of careful diplomacy just as its usual theological candor would be most valuable to those trying to grapple with the document’s implications.
To some extent, these concerns were allayed when the strong statements of several SSPX priests were published on the various official websites of the Society. The analysis of these priests was summed up in the title of one of the critiques, which declared Amoris Laetitia “a Victory of Subjectivism.” Still, with no official statement from Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Superior General of the Society, these statements seemed somewhat provincial, lacking the force of a unified position as outlined by the group’s leader.
Until today. Today, Bishop Fellay has made his own assessment, which is clear and concise.
Before I share his thoughts with you, there’s something I want to take a moment to address. Some of our readers have recently asked why we reference these analyses from the Society when they are in a canonically irregular status (they are not in schism, as many erroneously claim) and as such, have no jurisdiction or authority within the institutional Church. Some have wondered about my own personal affiliation with the SSPX. I want to make clear to those asking these questions that I, too, have expressed my concerns about the SSPX over the years. I will not rehash them here, but suffice to say that I am in no way directly affiliated with the Society, nor do I attend their chapels. I have kept my distance and, I hope, my objectivity about their situation.
I have made clear in the past what our position as a publication is on the SSPX; I have also expressed my concern that their status is kept intentionally confusing by certain powers in Rome. I have asked that we take our concerns with the Society no further than did Pope Benedict XVI, who expressed paternal affection for them and their love for Christ. As a publication, we have even taken the time to fact-check some common claims about the Society in the interest of greater clarity.
All of this is a matter of justice. What makes the Society of such value to the Church is their maintenance of traditional Catholic teaching and praxis, and the way in which they stand as a mirror to reflect the perennial Catholicism of the ages in contrast to a Church occupied by Modernist forces. This is why we publish their statements and analyses of our present moment. Though they lack canonical status, they also lack the institutional bias that so often clouds our thinking as we try to approach obvious novelties through a (often imaginary) “hermeneutic of continuity.” What matters in such things is not so much the provenance of a claim, but its veracity.
And so, I would like to share with you the last four points in Bishop Fellay’s seven-point statement. These in particular cut to the heart of the matter as regards the exhortation. They are written with clarity, concision, and charity. There is no hyperbole, no bombast, just a crystalline understanding of where the exhortation falls short, and what must be done about it:
- In a papal document one expects to find a clear presentation of the Church’s magisterial teaching and the Christian manner of living. Now, as others have correctly noted, Amoris Laetitia is rather “a treatise on psychology, pedagogy, moral and pastoral theology and spirituality”. The Church has the mission of proclaiming the teaching of Jesus Christ in season and out of season and of drawing from it the necessary conclusions, all for the good of souls. It is incumbent upon her to remind men of God’s Law and not to minimize it or explain how it might not apply in some cases. The Church has the obligation of stating principles, the concrete application of which she leaves to pastors of souls, to confessors, and also to the conscience that has been enlightened by faith, the proximate rule of human action.
- Because of its search for a pastoral practice based on mercy, the document is in some places marred by subjectivism and moral relativism. Objective rules are replaced, in Protestant fashion, by the individual’s conscience. This poison is in part attributable to personalism, which, in the matter of pastoral care of families, no longer places the gift of life and the good of the family first and foremost, but rather the personal fulfillment and spiritual development of the spouses. On this subject we can only deplore once again the inversion of the ends of marriage sketched out in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes of the Second Vatican Council, an inversion that is found again in Amoris Laetitia. The so-called “law of gradualness” turns Catholic morality upside down.
- The consequences of Amoris Laetitia are already making themselves felt in the Church: one parish priest, in keeping with his duty, refuses the Body of Christ to public sinners, while another invites everyone to Holy Communion. The President of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has declared that Amoris Laetitia will be put into practice immediately in his country and that consequently, in certain cases, divorced-and-“remarried” persons will receive Communion. A deep division is forming within the episcopate and the Sacred College of Cardinals. The faithful are bewildered; the whole Church is suffering from this rift. Calling into question the obligation to observe in all cases God’s commandments, particularly the commandment of marital fidelity, means surrendering to the dictates of current practice and the spirit of the age. In many countries—Germany for example—what is required by divine law has already been trampled underfoot for a long time. Instead of raising what is to the level of what ought to be, they are lowering what ought to be to what is; that is, to the permissive morality of modernists and progressives. Catholics whose marriages have failed but who, given the situation, have very virtuously and sometimes heroically remained faithful to the promise they made before the altar, feel betrayed. It is enough to make one weep.
- We humbly but firmly implore the Holy Father to revise the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and most especially chapter 8. As with the documents of Vatican II, what is ambiguous must be interpreted in a clear manner, and what contradicts the constant doctrine and practice of the Church must be retracted, for the glory of God, for the good of the whole Church, and for the salvation of souls, especially those in danger of being deceived by the guise of a false mercy.
You may read Bishop Fellay’s full statement here. I encourage you to do so.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.