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On the reality of the Society of Saint Pius X being in schism, perhaps the most vociferous protest to that by SSPX supporters is "But, but, Pope Francis gave the priests of the Society faculties to absolve and marry people, so, therefore, they can't be in schism." That wildly false conclusion is even trumpeted, unthinkingly or deceptively, by internet Catholic media types and websites. It is simply false. Being extended the faculties to absolve or marry does not regularize a priest or make the SSPX no longer in schism.
What Pope Francis did during the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy, in order to encourage confessions by the faithful, was grant faculties to the schismatic SSPX so that those laymen who follow them would receive valid absolution. Notice a point here not talked about very often, especially by the Catholic internet/media types who support the schism: In order for him to grant them faculties, that means prior to that, they did not possess the faculties. But the granting of faculties does not bring about the end of a schism.
The pope, whoever he may be, has supreme jurisdiction over the Church. And if he so desires, he may grant faculties to a priest — even if the priest is suspended or in schism. This is a matter of ecclesiastical law, again, of which the pope is the supreme lawgiver. As we discussed last week, it is the pope who has ultimate temporal jurisdiction over the Church — not the laity, not the bishops and so forth — the pope. If he dispenses with an ecclesiastical law for some reason, then it is dispensed with.
We aren't talking about divine law here, which no one can dispense from. Because in the case of divine law, the divinity — God — is the lawgiver. Only God can dispense from His own law. But man-made laws and disciplines in the Church the pope has supreme authority over, and if he so wishes, he can dispense or make exceptions or do whatever his little heart desires. None of that even comes close to touching on the issue of schism. Schism is a totally different matter; the two are completely unrelated.
And again, note well that what the pope did was (as an act of kindness in trying to bring the SSPX back into the Church) grant them an exception, not for the good of the Society but for the good of the faithful, so that their absolutions would be valid. Because prior to that, the absolutions the lay followers of the SSPX received were not valid. Their sins were not absolved. Such is the normal price of being in schism. But if a pope grants it, a schismatic priest — for the good of the faithful, not the priest — can absolve sins.
So to make the argument — especially among Catholic internet pro-schism media types who hold forth as experts on this, which they decidedly are not — that "the SSPX is not in schism because Pope Francis gave them some faculties" is flat-out wrong, and, we suspect (in some cases, at least) a decided lie.
After the Year of Mercy ended, Pope Francis continued the clemency, again, for the welfare of the faithful, not the SSPX — and certainly not ending the schism. He did this in 2016. Just last year, he wrote and declared as pope that the SSPX is a schismatic movement. Now, some Catholics ask, how can a priest be schismatic on the one hand and have faculties on the other? Well, look East, young man — that is the exact case with the Eastern Orthodox. They have faculties to absolve and marry; so do the SSPX, at least since 2016 and for now.
But no one would make the argument that because the Orthodox can absolve and marry, they are not in schism. Likewise, to further suggest that a priest who can absolve or witness a marriage is "all good to go" is to woefully misunderstand the entire situation. Theodore McCarrick, for example, because of his priestly ordination, still has the power through that priesthood to absolve sins (in certain situations) according to ecclesiastical law.
If he is wandering down the road and comes across an automobile accident victim who is near death, he can absolve that dying man of his sins. But he himself, Theodore McCarrick, is not "restored" or anything of the sort. For the good of the soul of the dying man, the Church permits McCarrick to exercise his ministry but only in that single instance and then only for the good of the dying man (not McCarrick). Once he absolves the man, he reverts, so to speak, to his nonministerial life. He does not all of a sudden become an active priest. This is exactly the case with the SSPX clergy. When they offer Mass, each and every one of them does so in disobedience.
As Cdl. Burke admonishes, no faithful Catholic should attend those illicit sacraments because, as three popes have said, they are offered by a schismatic sect. Likewise, on the question of valid marriages, even here Pope Francis did not give the schismatics a blank check. In order for a marriage in the SSPX to be considered sacramentally valid, the Society must contact the local bishop who is in union with Rome for permission and provide a witness to it. Again, this does not make the schism not a schism anymore. It is done as a kind gesture to help heal the schism. The gestures do not end the schism — far from it, in fact.
When Pope Francis reached out his hand and granted the exceptions for absolution and marriages, it was rebuffed by the Society, who said, in essence, "Thanks but no thanks. We don't need your permission." Such is the mindset of a schism that has taken deep root.
And remember, the pope — any pope — has the authority to reverse and remove these exceptions at any time. So what if a pope, this pope or a future pope, does that? What would then be the answer from the supporters of the SSPX? When they get the exceptions, they cheer and say, "Look, we aren't in schism." But if/when a pope removes the exceptions, they will say, "Who cares?"
So which is it? Does the granting, by a pope, of special exceptions carry any weight, or does it not? No one, including the schismatics, gets to have it both ways. Three popes in a row: "The SSPX is in schism" — and whatever kindness extended for the good of the faithful does not end that schism. It only proves the schism. It's why they need to be granted the exceptions to begin with.