Under Pope Francis, Rome has moved with surprising haste to take concrete steps to bring the Society of St. Pius X closer to a regularized canonical situation. While SSPX Masses have always been seen as valid (though of questionable liceity), other sacraments offered by priests of the society which require jurisdiction from the local ordinary — specifically Confession and Holy Matrimony — have remained under the shadow of doubt. (The Society argues that they have “supplied jurisdiction” under a “state of necessity”.)
In September of 2015, at the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis granted faculties to all priests of the Society to licitly hear confessions for the duration of the Jubilee Year. In 2016, in his apostolic letter Misericordia et Misera, he extended those faculties indefinitely.
Today it has been announced, by way of the release of a 27 March, 2017 letter to bishops and cardinals, a similar privilege has been extended to priests of the society to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The letter is signed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), along with the PCED secretary, Archbishop Guido Pozzo.
The letter in its entirety reads as follows [all emphasis in the original]:
As you are aware, for some time various meetings and other initiatives have been ongoing in order to bring the Society of St. Pius X into full communion. Recently, the Holy Father decided, for example, to grant all priests of said Society the faculty to validly administer the Sacrament of Penance to the faithful (LetterMisericordia et misera, n.12), such as to ensure the validity and liceity of the Sacrament and allay any concerns on the part of the faithful.
Following the same pastoral outlook which seeks to reassure the conscience of the faithful, despite the objective persistence of the canonical irregularity in which for the time being the Society of St. Pius X finds itself, the Holy Father, following a proposal by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, has decided to authorize Local Ordinaries the possibility to grant faculties for the celebration of marriages of faithful who follow the pastoral activity of the Society, according to the following provisions.
Insofar as possible, the Local Ordinary is to grant the delegation to assist at the marriage to a priest of the Diocese (or in any event, to a fully regular priest), such that the priest may receive the consent of the parties during the marriage rite, followed, in keeping with the liturgy of the Vetus ordo, by the celebration of Mass, which may be celebrated by a priest of the Society.
Where the above is not possible, or if there are no priests in the Diocese able to receive the consent of the parties, the Ordinary may grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society who is also to celebrate the Holy Mass, reminding him of the duty to forward the relevant documents to the Diocesan Curia as soon as possible.
Certain that in this way any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X as well as any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be alleviated, and at the same time that the process towards full institutional regularization may be facilitated, this Dicastery relies on Your cooperation.
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on 24 March 2017, confirmed his approval of the present letter and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 27 March 2017.
Gerhard Card. L. Müller
+ Guido Pozzo
Titular Archbishop of Bagnoregio
It would appear that we are now one step closer to a full regularization of the Society. What that will ultimately mean — and the motivations behind these unprecedented efforts to overcome the decades-old stalemate between the Society and the Vatican — remain to be seen.
UPDATE: A question raised by a reader who is a traditional priest prompts me to offer an important distinction on this story: priests of the Society still have to receive the faculty to witness marriages from their local bishop, just like any other priest. As Father noted in his message to me, “Canon law gives pastor an ordinary faculty to witnesses marriages, in their parish and they can grant that to their vicars, but if they go somewhere else, they need to ask. So, if the SSPX does not ask, then the result is going to be the same, that they are invalid, with this important difference: if Rome has opened up this door, then it is much more difficult to argue a state of emergency. I would suggest though, that the title of the article could be clearer because already people have sent me messages saying now all SSPX marriages are valid or will be. That is not the case as I read the letter. They CAN be, but they have to be willing to do what every other priest has to do: receive their faculties from the hierarchy of the Church.”
With this in mind, I have updated the title of this report to include the word “conditional.” As with all stories relating to the SSPX, the devil is in the details and semantic precision is paramount.
See the Vatican Radio report on this story here. This post has been updated.