The Failed Defense of the SSPX – Reply to Bocca

Recently, Mr. Joe Bocca wrote a reply to my articles against the SSPX (see here and here).  In my article, I demonstrate that the ministry of the Society is illegitimate due to its lack of a juridical (or extraordinary) mission, according to divine law and the teaching of the Church. In short, the SSPX is not part of, nor has been sent by, the Roman Catholic Church, and the SSPX also rejects the Catholic Church’s Profession of Faith (among other doctrines). Therefore, the clergy of the SSPX are not considered legitimate Catholic ministers.

Mr. Bocca’s “case for the SSPX” is entirely flawed ab initio, because he thinks the SSPX can operate due to a suspension of the Church’s legislative laws, based on the ever nebulous and subjective “state of necessity,” and the higher law: “the salvation of souls.” The obvious problem with Mr. Bocca’s argument is that the requirement that clergy have a juridical mission in the Church is a matter of divine law, not the Church’s legislative law. While the Church’s canon law may lack provisions for certain unforeseeable cases, divine law foresees all things (including cases of “necessity”). Thus, the presence or absence of something in the Church’s legislative laws, due to “necessity,” as Mr. Bocca argues, can never be used to circumvent the divine law. Hence, Mr. Bocca’s entire argument is invalid and should be dismissed without further consideration.

In my prior articles, I have explained this truth in some depth, but will briefly repeat it here. Christ conferred the divine mission upon the Apostles by sending them into the world (Mt. 28:19), and commanded them to confer mission upon others, and so on, until the end of the world. Pope Pius XII teaches:

For in virtue of the juridical mission by which our Divine Redeemer sent His Apostles into the world, as He had been sent by the Father, it is He who through the Church baptizes, teaches, rules, looses, binds, offers sacrifices.[1]

Pius XII also says that acts performed by clergy without juridical mission “are yet gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious,” and equated such clergy to “thieves and robbers,” in the words of Our Lord.[2]

To further underscore that the necessity of juridical mission is a matter of faith, the Council of Trent declared:

If anyone saith that bishops…who have neither been rightly ordained, nor sent by ecclesiastical and canonical power, but come from elsewhere, are lawful ministers of the word and of the sacraments; let him be anathema.[3]

To hold such bishops as lawful ministers, as Mr. Bocca does, is anathema because the necessity of mission is a requirement of the divine law, not the “legislative laws of the Church,” which only regulate mission.

Because Mr. Bocca has failed to address the real issue – how the SSPX can circumvent the divine law of Christ by operating without being part of, or sent by, the Roman Catholic Church – I could simply stop here. His entire article is a non sequitur which does not respond to my own arguments. Nevertheless, for the remainder of this article, I will quote relevant excerpts from Bocca’s article to prove that he has “missed the boat,” and provide some brief commentary where necessary.

Bocca:Along came a man sent by God, and his name was Marcel” (to quote Michael Davies).

Salza: After Lefebvre was suppressed by Pope Paul VI and lost his canonical mission, he was no longer sent by the Church, much less God. If he were sent by God and not Church authority, he would have had the miracles to prove he had such an extraordinary mission from Christ. He did not.

Bocca: “On that same day, the Archbishop consecrated four men to the episcopate without papal mandate, which though it is extraordinary, is not without precedence and does not place one outside the Catholic Church.”

Salza: Bocca’s decision to “rebut” my (the Church’s) position on the divine necessity of mission by beginning with Lefebvre’s illicit consecrations is certainly an odd approach, because it only highlights that Lefebvre and his Society did not have a juridical mission from the Church (nor did any of the clergy have an extraordinary mission proven by miracles). In doing so, Bocca only helps my case, not his.

Mr. Bocca has also failed to understand that the canonical issues relating to the illegality of the 1988 consecrations (which my opponent goes on to refer to in his “case for the SSPX”) are not relevant to the question of how the SSPX justifies its circumvention of divine law by without a juridical mission. Whatever conclusion one reaches (positive or negative) on the canonical implications of the consecrations are not relevant to the divine law requirement of mission. Bocca’s references to canon law (e.g., canons 1323, 1324, etc.) throughout his piece reveal that he has completely missed the boat on the issue of juridical mission and divine law.

Moreover, Lefebvre did much more than consecrate bishops “without papal mandate.” He expressly repudiated the positive will of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who permitted Lefebvre one bishop (not four), to be consecrated on August 15, 1988 (not June 30), and to which Lefebvre had previously agreed both orally and in writing! Many “traditionalists” do not know these facts. A greater disregard of papal authority, especially after agreeing to the Holy Father’s terms, is hard to imagine (not to mention disgracing one’s own honor and credibility).

And when Bocca says Lefebvre’s actions are “not without precedence,” he is correct – we see the same schismatic actions in other sects which left the Church, such as those of Novatian, Lucifer of Cagliari, the Old Catholics, the Sedevacantists and the Resistance, to name a few sects. Schismatic consecrations prove – not disprove – that such clergy operate outside the Church, without a mission from the Church.

Bocca: “Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, SSPX, in his essay ‘The State of Necessity,’ posits: ‘If the application of the law goes against the end of the law intended by the legislators, it is no longer legitimate, because it is self-contradictory. The subjects can and must take no notice of it in order to obtain the end of the law despite the authorities who apply the law contrary to the law.”

Salza: Fr. Gleize’s appeal to the principle of epikeia (which is what he is doing here) is fallacious because the necessity for clergy to have juridical mission is a matter of divine law which foresees all things. Epikeia only excuses one from obeying the letter of the law; it does not confer upon someone the power they didn’t already possess. Whether Gleize maintains that Lefebvre was justified in circumventing the canonical requirements of suitability or pontifical mandate is irrelevant to the necessity of divine law which requires juridical mission, which epikeia does not and cannot confer. I will have more on this topic in my upcoming refutation of Fr. Peter Scott, SSPX and his equally fallacious appeal to canonical equity to justify their illicit ministry.

Bocca: “If the power of the legislator were being applied against his own mission and the mission of the Church, such power would be arbitrary by definition. As a result the faithful would be forced to neglect our faculty of reason and conform our beliefs to whomever is in power at a given time.”

Salza: First, the “legislator” was Pope John Paul II, the supreme authority of the Church. It is the Pope who determines who is given a canonical mission, and he can exercise this authority at his will and pleasure, notwithstanding what Mr. Bocca’s “faculty of reason” is capable of comprehending.

But John Paul II was anything but arbitrary in his dealings with Lefebvre. After all, it was Lefebvre who withdrew submission from papal authority in 1975, after which he committed countless illicit acts in defiance of the Pope and bishops, leading up to his schismatic consecrations in 1988. The truth is that, in spite of Lefebvre’s 13-year schism, John Paul II still bent over backwards to grant Lefebvre a bishop in August, 1988 (which Lefebvre agreed to!). Again, John Paul II made this incredible gesture, even though Lefebvre had rejected papal authority by committing the following illicit acts – many of which were multiple and repeated and subject to additional canonical censures – since his suppression in 1975:

  • disregarded the juridic effects of lawful suppression
  • disregarded warnings not to ordain priests without permission
  • ordained priests without permission
  • sent priests to minister without incardination
  • sent priests to minister who are under censure
  • ignored suspension from the exercise of Orders
  • ignored Pope Paul VI’s direct order to respect his suspension
  • preached in dioceses without permission of the local bishops
  • publicly promoted hostility to the Pope and the Holy See
  • publicly propagated false doctrines (such as his erroneous rejection of collegiality or his teaching on Sacramental intention, which went against the Holy Office)
  • founded a substitute tribunal to perform acts reserved to the local ordinaries or Holy See (e.g., marriage annulments, lifting of excommunications, dispensing of religious vows)
  • promoted the erection of chapels, seminaries and schools without ecclesiastical permission

In light of Lefebvre’s ongoing and blatant repudiation of papal authority, Pope John Paul II would not have been acting “arbitrarily” in refusing Lefebvre even a single bishop. And yet the Pope, in great humility and charity, still granted Lefebvre a bishop, which Lefebvre agreed to, and then reneged on, in complete disgrace.

God only knows how much better the condition of the Church would have been, and tradition would have been served, had Lefebvre submitted to the authority of the Pope. We likely would not have had the forty-some years of invalid confessions and marriages that took place in SSPX chapels, along with illicit Masses, sacrilegious re-ordinations and confirmations, the erection of a schismatic “canonical” tribunal, and countless additional schisms from SSPX breakaways (Sedevacantism, Resistance, Avrille Dominicans, independent sects), which continue to afflict the Church today.

Bocca: “In such a case, the faithful would be subject to a kind of papal voluntarism, in which the will of the man who is pope is the supreme governing principle in the Church (editor’s note: this is the definition of the false spirit of Vatican One). The condemnation of this papal voluntarism can be inferred from canon 1752 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: ‘the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.’”

Salza: The salvation of souls? As with my former opponents (Messrs. Xavier and Hall), Bocca does not know what the Roman Catholic Church is. For Mr. Bocca, a Catholic can save his soul by going to the SSPX, which is not part of the Catholic Church, has not been sent by the Catholic Church, and rejects the Catholic Church’s Profession of Faith. Thus, Mr. Bocca believes that there is salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church.

Bocca: “This principle is also refuted by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. Here I quote from a Thomistic study on the 1988 Consecrations: Universal laws…are established for the good of the whole. Therefore, in establishing them the legislator bears in mind that which happens ordinarily and in the greater number of the cases (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q.147, A.4)… Therefore, in cases ‘that happen rarely’ and in which ‘one happens to have to act outside the ordinary laws,’ ‘it is necessary to judge on the basis of principles higher than the ordinary laws’ (ST, II-II, Q.51, A.4).”

Salza: This argument from St. Thomas fails because it incorrectly appeals to “higher laws” that supersede “ordinary laws” of the “legislator,” even though the necessity of juridical mission is of the divine law, outside of which one cannot act, and which necessarily provides “for the good of the whole.”

Bocca: “These ‘higher principles” are the ‘general principles of divine and even human law’ (Suarez, De Legibus 1. VI c. VI n.5) which supply for the silence of positive law…The Church is authorized to apply said principles when, because of cases not foreseen by the law, it defers to the general principles of law and to the common and constant judgment of the Doctors, which, precisely because common and constant, must be considered canonized by the Church.”

Salza: My opponent acknowledges that the “higher principles” that must govern in times of crisis refer to “divine law,” and thus he concedes my argument, since this “divine law” requires clergy to be part of, and sent by, the Roman Catholic Church in order to be lawful ministers in the Church. Also, if my opponent would follow his own advice and consult “the common and constant judgment of the Doctors” of the Church, he would discover that they are unanimous on the divine necessity for clergy to have juridical mission to lawfully minister in the Church, or to administer the Sacraments outside of cases of danger of death (or delegated faculties).

Bocca: “Based on the law of the Church and principles established by St. Thomas, we can conclude with certainty that papal voluntarism is not in conformity with Church teaching and further proof that a hierarch must legislate with clear sight of the telos of the law.”

Salza: Once again, this fails to address my argument. Neither “papal voluntarism,” nor a schismatic bishop’s claim of necessity, can circumvent the divine law.

Mr. Bocca then goes on to address Vatican II, even though this material also has nothing to do with the Society’s operating outside of the Roman Catholic Church and without canonical mission.

Bocca: [Quoting the agreement between Lefebvre and Rome] “‘Regarding certain points taught by the Second Vatican Council or concerning subsequent reforms of the liturgy and law which appear difficult to reconcile with tradition, we commit ourselves to a positive attitude of study and of communication with the Apostolic See, avoiding all polemics.’ Indeed, this proposition represents a concession on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith (CDF) to allow Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX to interpret the council as erroneous; if this position excluded one from being Catholic, certainly the CDF would not have left it ‘open for study,’ as it were.”

Salza: A “concession by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”? To Lefebvre? Not quite. The Second Vatican Council itself granted the bishops the ability to discuss and even question the conciliar texts. Archbishop Pozzo, the point man who has been attempting to bring the SSPX back into the Church, made clear that allowing debate about the pastoral aspects of the conciliar documents is not a concession granted to the SSPX, but rather one granted by the Vatican II council itself, to all Catholics. He noted:

This is certainly not a [later] conclusion on our part, but it was already clear at the time of the Council. The General Secretary of the Council, Cardinal Pericle Felici, declared on 16 November 1964: ‘This holy synod defines only that as being binding for the Church what it declares explicitly to be such with regard to Faith and Morals.’ Only those texts assessed by the Council Fathers as being binding are to be accepted as such. That has not been [later] invented by ‘the Vatican,’ but it is written in the official files themselves.[4]

Now, we ask Mr. Bocca: what does one’s ability to question non-definitive teachings of the authentic Magisterium have to do with clergy operating without a canonical (or extraordinary) mission? The answer, of course, is nothing. Ironically, Mr. Bocca does not seem to be aware of the fact that Lefebvre and the SSPX actually reject the proposition in the Church’s Profession of Faith – a traditional doctrine of the Church – which requires religious deference to non-definitive teachings of the Magisterium (which, by its nature, is conditional)![5] And this rejection of the Church’s Profession does indeed “exclude one from being Catholic,” in the words of my opponent. Because Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre rejected this traditional doctrine of the Church, which is now part of the Church’s formal Profession of Faith, while falsely claiming it was a novelty of Vatican II, the Society of St. Pius X refuses the formal Profession of faith that every Catholic, of whatever rite – East or West – must profess to enter the Church, or to hold office in the Church.[6]

Bocca: “To defer to the principle stated in the prior paragraph, the teaching authority of the Church must instruct the faithful in accordance with tradition, any deviation is logically incoherent and contrary the Code of Canon Law.”

Salza: There again we see Mr. Bocca’s fallacious reference to “the Code of Canon Law.” What about the divine law, Mr. Bocca? Should not the faithful, such as yourself, be instructed in accordance with Sacred Tradition and the perennial and dogmatic teachings of the Church concerning the divine law, which includes her teaching on mission? And shouldn’t you also be instructed on the anathemas that are attached to your rejection of those teachings?

Bocca: “Given the innovations in theology and liturgical praxis, and the resulting exodus from the Catholic Church – into nominal Catholicism, other religions, agnosticism, or atheism – we can conclude that a state of necessity Archbishop Lefebvre perceived did, in fact, exist.”

Salza: What about the “exodus from the Catholic Church” to independent groups which are not part of, nor sent by the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Bocca? As Cardinal Burke stated, “The Society is not part of the one Roman Catholic Church throughout the world.” Or do you believe that clergy who are not part of the juridical structure of the Church, and who do not have a juridical mission from the Church, and who reject the Catholic Church’s Profession of Faith, are still Catholic ministers?

Bocca: “In his article, Mr. Salza claims that “the existence of a crisis in the Church is not relevant to the question of ‘How Can the SSPX Justify its Ministry in the Church?’” His entire case hinges on the veracity of this assumption which ultimately is proven false. The Catholic Church herself – as I have proved above – allows for Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX to navigate a Church in crisis, in opposition to the expressed will of the hierarchy (not to be confused with the will of the Church). None of the penalties foisted upon the Archbishop and the SSPX have carried the weight of legitimacy and, as such, the Catholicity of the SSPX has been maintained since its inception.”

Salza: Does my opponent actually think these appeals to human law is an answer to my article on extraordinary mission? As I said before, these types of “rebuttals” only prove that my opponents have no rebuttal. My statement that the SSPX has no ministry is not an “assumption” as Mr. Bocca falsely claims; rather, it is a conclusion that is proven from two undeniable premises, both of which Mr. Bocca has failed to (and cannot) rebut:

Major Premise: To be a lawful Catholic minister (who can teach, sanctify and govern) in the Roman Catholic Church, clergy must have juridical mission (be part of, and sent by, the Church).

Minor Premise: The clergy of the SSPX do not have a juridical mission (they are not part of, nor have they been sent by, the Church).

Conclusion: Therefore, the clergy of the SSPX are not lawful Catholic ministers.

Bocca: “John Salza has also posited that the SSPX, given its irregular stature, would have to produce miracles to ratify the legitimacy of its work. Mr. Salza’s thesis concerning miracles also relies on a premise that is demonstrably false. He cites Cum Ex Injunctio by Pope Innocent III, who in turn, quotes Romans 10:5: “No one should indifferently usurp the duty of preaching for himself. For, according to the Apostle: ‘And how shall they preach unless they be sent?’” He then proceeds to tell us that Pope Innocent warns us that the SSPX should not be believed because they were not sent by the Church. On the contrary, the Catholic Church, the logic of her laws, and the mercy she shows to her faithful soldiers, frees the SSPX to proceed with its mission freely. Mr. Salza has conflated the will of individual hierarchs with the will of the Church as such.

Salza: Mr. Bocca asserts that my premise (that the SSPX does not have an extraordinary mission because they have no miracles) is “demonstrably false” because… the SSPX can operate without them? This is “question-begging” and invalidates his argument. On the contrary, it is actually my opponent’s “premise” (that the SSPX “can proceed with its mission freely” – what mission!!?) that is “demonstrably false,” because the SSPX has neither a canonical mission from the Church, nor an extraordinary mission from Christ.

And Bocca claims I have “conflated the will of individual hierarchs with the will of the Church as such”? As I have stated repeatedly, it is the will of Christ that clergy have juridical mission in order to lawfully minister in the Church, and to say otherwise is anathema according to the Council of Trent.

Bocca: “He fails to make the distinction as St. Thomas does (quoted above) between ordinary and extraordinary circumstances of law, and between orthodox hierarchs (who act according to the will of Christ) and heretical or misinformed hierarchs (who may act contrary to the will of Christ).”

Salza: Wrong. “Ordinary and extraordinary circumstances” of human law do not circumvent the divine law. And it was Archbishop Lefebvre, a “heretical and misinformed hierarch,” who “acted contrary to the will of Christ.”

Bocca: “He then alleges that the SSPX can point to no passage in Scripture to make their case. However, there appears a passage which my interlocutor has hitherto not considered: “Jesus said to him, you must see signs and miracles happen, or you will not believe” John 4:48 (Knox).”

Salza: This is a Protestant hermeutic. Mr. Bocca refers to a single Scripture passage, out of context, to throw out the rest of Scripture, Tradition, and the teachings of the Church, which require clergy to have a juridical mission to be lawful ministers of Christ! But that may be because Bocca has a Protestant understanding of the Roman Catholic Church. For Joe Bocca, clergy do not have to be juridically part of the Roman Catholic Church, or sent by the Roman Catholic Church, or even accept the Roman Catholic Church’s Profession of Faith, in order to be lawful Catholic ministers.

In Mr. Bocca’s ecclesiology, the Church of Christ “subsists in” clergy and sects that are separated from the Roman Catholic Church in government. In an exact parallel to the Protestants, Mr. Bocca’s ecclesiology maintains that the “visible Catholic Church” consists of all the baptized who profess the true faith, and partake of the true sacraments, regardless of whether they are united in government, and subject to the legitimate authorities. This heretical view distorts the nature of the Church, by replacing her juridical reality with a greater spiritual reality, just like Protestant ecclesiology.

Bocca: “In closing, I would invite John Salza to consider the words of our Savior and ask himself why it is he or anyone else should expect great wonders from a priestly order as criterion for communion with Rome. The SSPX is merely doing what all priestly orders did before the Council, which was suddenly deemed ‘illegal’ by a misinformed (or heretical!) hierarchy.”

Salza: In closing, I would invite Joe Bocca to explain what privilege he is claiming for the SSPX, who has not been sent by the Church or Our Lord, over that same Lord, or the Apostles, or Moses – all of whom performed miracles to authenticate their ministries? In light of the constant teaching of Popes and Doctors of the Church, on what ground does Mr. Bocca dispense the SSPX from this proof of miracles, when Our Lord Himself, the Source of all canonical mission, chose not to?

According to Bocca, “all priestly orders before the Council” were operating without being juridically part of the Roman Catholic Church? And these priestly orders were also operating without a juridical mission from the Church? And they were also making fallacious appeals to “supplied jurisdiction” to justify their entire ministry, even for acts which don’t require jurisdiction? And, in the process, were giving invalid absolutions and witnessing invalid marriages? And they were also offering illicit and sacrilegious Masses? And were incurring canonical censures for all of their illicit acts? What “priestly orders” are Mr. Bocca referring to exactly?

But as with my two previous opponents, such attempts do advance the debate by solidifying the truth, and prove once again that the Society’s apologists have no defense for the indefensible.


[1] Mystici Corporis Christi, June 29, 1943, No. 54, emphasis mine. For priests, canon law requires them to be “incardinated” (canon 265), that is, connected or “hinged” to a bishop with ordinary jurisdiction. This technically means priests share in the mission of their bishops. For sake of simplicity, I use “mission” to refer to the ministry of both bishops and priests.

[2] Ibid., Nos 41-42 (emphasis added). In addition to “juridical mission,” Pius XII also teaches that the power of jurisdiction, similarly regulated by positive law, is also rooted in divine law: “But the power of jurisdiction, which is conferred upon the Supreme Pontiff directly by divine rights, flows to the Bishops by the same right, but only through the Successor of St. Peter.” Ad Sinarum Gentem, October 7, 1954, No. 12, emphasis mine.

[3] Council of Trent, On the Sacrament of Orders, Session 23, Canon VI (July 15, 1563), emphasis mine.

[4] Ibid. In example, Archbishop Pozzo said “Nostra Aetate does not have any dogmatic authority, and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognize this declaration as being dogmatic.”

[5] Editor’s note: Mr. Salza here refers to the third-level theological note as given by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in its Professio Fidei (1989), which demands Obsequium religiosum (“pious reverence” or “religious submission”) to the non-definitive teachings of the Magisterium, of which Vatican II contains a great deal, as already stated. Non-definitive teaching include pious reflections on faith and morals not intended to resolve doctrinal questions, as well as prudential statements on socio-political particulars and other such non-doctrinal matters (e.g., not faith and morals). See also the CDF commentary here and T. S. Flanders, “The Meaning of Catholic: Theological Notes.”

[6] Lefebvre claimed that the third category of the Professio Fidei, which requires “religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium” was “very bad,” “dangerous,” “ridiculous” and “false.” He claimed that “what it means in practice is lining up on what the bishops of the world today think… To get rid of the error, they should have added, ‘insofar as this Magisterium is in full conformity with Tradition.’” Quoted in Fr. Peter Scott, “Profession of Faith” Cor Jesu (Jan – Feb 2018), 19.

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