SSPX news & events

Diocese of Buffalo Denies Catholicity of Society of St. Pius X

May 01, 2018

A married couple who attend the SSPX chapel in NY were denied the ability by the local Diocese to be Baptismal Godparents for a relative's baby.

An unfortunate and unsettling incident concerning the Society of Saint Pius X has unfolded over the past several weeks in Buffalo, New York. When officials of the Diocese of Buffalo learned that a married couple attending the local SSPX mission had been asked to participate as Godparents in their niece’s scheduled baptism on Sunday, April 15, 2018, they sprung into action.

Mr. and Mrs. X of Batavia, parishioners of the Society’s Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel in Buffalo, were informed by the diocese that they could not act as Godparents at the baptism. Instead, they were told they could assist only as “witnesses” (according to Canon 874 §2). The decision was made by Sister Regina Murphy, SSMN, interim chancellor of the Diocese and confirmed by Buffalo’s auxiliary, Bishop Edward Grosz.

The Diocese Clarifies Its Position 

Despite a Wednesday, April 11 phone meeting with U.S. District Superior Fr. Jürgen Wegner, and the Society providing explanatory documents regarding its canonical status, Sr. Regina insisted in an email on Thursday, April 12 to the District that it would be impossible for Catholics attending a Society chapel to act as Godparents, writing:

The Society of St. Pius X is not in full communion with the Pope and does not recognize the validity of many of the decisions of Vatican Council II. While a baptized Roman Catholic who attends a church sponsored by the Society of St. Pius X could be a witness at a Roman Catholic Baptism, he or she may not be a sponsor for the child being baptized for the following reasons: The person practices his or her Catholic faith within a church that is not in union with the Church of Rome and which has rejected the absolute authority of the Holy Father and many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council[.]
. . .

A child should not be put in the position where confusion could result from parents attending a church in union with Rome and the Godparents attending a Catholic Church not in union with Rome. This is not a judgement on the faith life or sincerity of any individual person, but it is simply a case of finding sponsors who are living the Roman Catholic Faith in order to help pass on that Faith.

There is a considerable difference between a Godparent and a witness. The presence of a Godparent goes back to the early Church: they make the profession of faith in the name of the one to be baptized and contract a real spiritual relationship with obligations. A witness merely testifies that the baptism took place validly.

A Contradictory Statement

It is contradictory to recognize that the faithful who attend Society chapels are “baptized Roman Catholics” who “practice[] [their] Catholic Faith” yet are not “living the Roman Catholic Faith” and cannot “help pass on that Faith.” They are instead recognized as being able to assist only as witnesses, under Canon 874 as they do not belong to the Catholic Church, but are instead baptized members of a “non-Catholic ecclesial community.”

Mr. Y of Eden, New York, the father of the newborn who had scheduled the baptism at his parish (Saint Anthony of Padua in Buffalo, which hosts a diocesan Traditional Mass) logically asks:

What makes the Society [of Saint Pius X] not Catholic? They’re simply continuing to worship and teach as Catholicism has done for 2,000 years. Yet the Diocese of Buffalo and the Bishop have no problem in doing things always condemned by the Church. They participate in and promote false, non-Catholic worship. Last year, the Bishop prayed with the Lutherans and celebrated 500 years of their schism, a real schism. The Diocese has also scandalously sold off beautiful churches like Queen of Peace, Saint Gerard and Saint Agnes to become Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples. There’s a huge discrepancy here which can’t be ignored.

His brother (the chosen Godfather), stated:

I feel insulted, to say the least, that we were not recognized as Catholics, and that it was suggested we assist as ‘Christian witnesses.’ How can it be admitted that attending Mass at a church of the Society [of Saint Pius X] fulfill one’s Sunday obligation, yet we aren’t considered Catholic?

An Injustice Committed

The Diocese of Buffalo clearly considers the Society of St. Pius X a non-Catholic denomination. Further, simple attendance at Mass at an SSPX chapel is interpreted as a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church. This, in spite of even current canonical legislation!

The recent debate over SSPX marriages is enlightening here. In the case of marriage, every Catholic is bound to submit to Church authority since jurisdiction is required for a valid marriage. Thus, a Catholic must be married by the priest that has proper authority or a priest that received delegation. If a Catholic does not follow the “ordinary form” of the marriage, his marriage is invalid. The only exceptions Canon Law foresees are situations where a Catholic cannot access a priest. Such situations can be situations in the diaspora, or, as the SSPX rightfully claims, situations where a Catholic fears that the full, integral, and uncompromised understanding of the Church's marriage doctrine might be put in danger during marriage preparation and the celebration of marriage itself. Non-Catholics, not being under the authority of the Church, are not bound to follow the canonical form instituted by the Church. As such, their marriages may still be considered valid.

Over the past decades,  marriages witnessed by priests of the Society of St. Pius X were “annulled” through defect of form exactly because  Catholics who participated in the parish life of the Society were considered Catholic, but in an irregular canonical situation. (As a side note, for those who are scandalized at recent instances when a diocesan priest or religious received the vows of SSPX faithful, they are apparently ignorant of the fact that this has been a practice of the SSPX since the beginning. The recent legislation only formalizes what has been done on an ad hoc basis in the past. Unlike some have claimed, there is nothing new here.)

The Diocese of Buffalo apparently wants it both ways: the Society is a non-Catholic denomination when it comes to baptism, but Catholic when it comes to marriage. The irony is that, in this case, it is the SSPX that insists on following the Church's law to the letter—and for this faithful Catholics are the ones who suffer!

A Happy End

In the end, the baby was happily baptized at the local Society chapel on Good Shepherd Sunday, with the participation of the selected Godparents. The U.S. District of the Society of Saint Pius X has informed the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei of this injustice and hopes for a clarification from Rome so that this sad situation will not be repeated. The SSPX will continue to do what the Church has always done for the good of souls, regardless of circumstances.