In an article titled "My Journey out of the Lefebvrite Schism," canon lawyer Pete Vere details his years spent as a supporter of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), frequenting its chapels and receiving its sacraments, and the reasons leading him out of the organization back to communion with Rome.
Vere admits it's "easy to sympathize with these folks"; people are drawn to the SSPX because they're scandalized by Church leaders offering heterodox teaching or liturgical abuse. He himself initially believed his attendance at SSPX liturgies would only be temporary. He goes on:
I failed to realize, however, that at the root of every schism, as the present Code of Canon Law explains, "is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (Can. 751). Such ruptures from communion with the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, "wound the unity of Christ's Body" (CCC 817). For that reason, at the heart of my journey back to full communion with Rome lay many questions about the unity of the Church as an institution founded by Christ.
After discussing the life and history of Abp. Marcel Lefebvre in his article, Vere addresses the "state of necessity" argument put forth by the SSPX to justify its disobedience to the Holy See. Archbishop Lefebvre claimed a state of necessity justified his illicit consecrations of four bishops in 1988, using canons 1323 and 1324, which provide that in emergency cases, the canonical penalty that attaches to certain prohibited actions either ceases to apply or is lessened.
But the Holy See disagreed with his assessment. The Pope rejected the idea that a state of emergency existed such that it warranted Lefebvre's illicit consecration of bishops without the Pope's permission.
This is an important point in resolving the dispute between Abp. Lefebvre and Pope John Paul II, for where there exists a difference in interpreting the application of canon law, canon 16 states clearly: "Laws are authentically interpreted by the legislator and by that person to whom the legislator entrusts the power of authentic interpretation."
Lefebvre was fully aware that the Holy Father — the highest legislator in the Church — had rejected the archbishop's interpretation of canon law. It is the Pope who has final say in interpreting canon law — yet not only did Lefebvre reject this fact, he also discounted the Holy Father's interpretation of the canons in question, placing himself — Marcel Lefebvre — in the position of supreme legislator, preferring his own personal interpretation of canon law over that of the Pope.
Therefore, because the idea of a state of necessity in Lefebvre's circumstances was rejected by Pope John Paul II, I came to realize that I could not legitimately invoke the state of necessity canons in defense of Lefebvre's consecration of bishops without Rome's permission.
It's a position the SSPX continues to carry to this day. Pope Benedict made clear in his 2009 motu proprio that, because of doctrinal differences, all SSPX clergy remain suspended a divinis — meaning they are forbidden under pain of mortal sin from offering the sacraments publicly. The SSPX ignores this prohibition by continuing to claim a state of necessity, which the Society says requires that it offer the sacraments for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls.
Vere goes on to address other common arguments offered by the SSPX: that the Novus Ordo Mass poses a harm to souls, that the illicit consecrations were not a schismatic act, that Abp. Lefebvre's situation can be compared to that of St. Athanasius under Pope Liberius, and more.
Read the entire article here.