Continuing initiatives aimed at a reconciliation with the Priestly Society of St Pius X (SSPX), Pope Francis has made it possible for bishops to ensure the validity of marriages celebrated in the traditionalist communities.
A letter published by the Vatican on April 4 said the Pope will allow Catholic bishops to appoint priests to assist at SSPX marriages and formally receive the consent of the couples. The nuptial Mass then would be celebrated by the SSPX priest.
In addition, Pope Francis gave bishops the option of granting an SSPX priest the necessary faculties to officiate validly over the marriage rite “if there are no priests in the diocese” available to do so.
The provisions are meant to ensure the validity of the sacrament and “allay any concerns on the part of the faithful,” said the letter published by the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” which is responsible for the Vatican’s ongoing talks with the Society of St Pius X.
The commission is led by German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who signed the letter on March 27.
For decades the Vatican and leaders of the traditionalist society, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, have been seeking a way to fully reintegrate the members of the society back into the life of the Catholic Church.
During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis made special provisions to recognise as valid the absolution offered by SSPX priests through the sacrament of confession. After the Holy Year ended, the pope extended that provision “lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.”
Pope Francis met in April 2016 with Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the society. The meeting seemed to signal progress in reconciling the group with the Church.
“Despite the objective persistence of the canonical irregularity in which, for the time being, the Society of St Pius X finds itself,” the commission said in its new letter, the provisions approved by the pope on marriages should alleviate “any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage.”
The commission also said it relied on the cooperation of the Church’s bishops to ensure that “the process toward full institutional regularisation may be facilitated” between the Church and the traditionalist society.
Vatican talks with the society began under St John Paul II and continued throughout the papacy of now-retired Benedict XVI.
St John Paul had excommunicated Bishop Fellay and other leaders of the society in 1988 when they were ordained without papal permission by Archbishop Lefebvre, who died in 1991. Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications in 2009, opening the way for more regular talks.
The talks have focused particularly on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and especially its documents on religious liberty, ecumenism, liturgy and relations with other religions.
More to follow
Full text of Cardinal Müller’s letter
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 (Letter Misericordia 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
Archbishop Guido Pozzo
Titular Archbishop of Bagnoregio