Fr. Michel Simoulin discusses the current situation in the Church vis-á-vis historical events and decisions made by Archbishop Lefebvre
Editor’s Note: This article was originally given as a talk in June, 2017. As such, the oral style has been retained throughout.
For over twenty years, I held positions of authority: rector, director, dean, superior. By the grace of God, since 2004 I have been in a position to realize that I am no cleverer than the others, and to look at things with greater detachment. When you are superior, you easily risk thinking you are necessarily right, and if you have a scrupulous, pessimistic, distrustful, worried, susceptible, or pretentious or arrogant temperament—which is a sign of mediocrity—you can even find yourself trying to teach your own superiors lessons! And I have learned to dread that intellectual wrinkle that consists in considering that all other superiors are necessarily mistaken when your own judgment is different!
Why do I confide this to you? Because there have been cases where I have been wrong when the fear of being wrong (or humility) was not a part of my reflections and choices! I am not particularly proud of it, but it did make me more prudent (for lack of humility!). But this flashback has brought some memories to mind.
I remember, for example, that in the beginnings, the Archbishop encouraged his priests to look for parish priests willing to welcome them for weddings and receive the spouses’ vows, in order to avoid the risk of contestation. We all did so, and nobody had anything to say about it.
Or when I was a young subdeacon, I went with Archbishop Lefebvre to his sister-in-law’s funeral. The Archbishop hesitated, then chose to assist at the new Mass before blessing the casket. A few days later, an article was published in certain bulletins: We must rally! The example is given from on high! Born of the Conciliar Church through Bishop Charrière on November 1, 1970, in the diocese of Freiburg, the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has today returned to the Conciliar Church! Its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, gave a beautiful example on June 30, 1980, by participating “actively” in the Conciliar rite…etc… There is nothing new under the sun!
Another more recent memory is of some reflections from a venerable correspondent on the all-too-well-known theme of communion with the “spiritual Church” with no need for hierarchical communion. That is what the heretics claimed at the end of the Middle Ages, and the Council of Constance condemned it in the person of John Hus. According to St. Thomas Aquinas and his best commentators, since necessity has no law, if the case of necessity presents itself, the law of the Church does not keep the priest from absolving even sacramentally, so long as he has the power of the keys. It is what we call the Church’s supplied jurisdiction: Ecclesia supplet. But when we talk about the Church, it is the Church unseparated from her visible head. This supplied jurisdiction can only be exercised through the essential relation all ministers must maintain in the Church at least with the supreme head. Doing without the connection with Peter, living and acting as if it did not exist, would deprive a priest of this supplied power.
I don’t wish to overwhelm you with my memories, but they are part of what has formed my mind, that is doubtless limited and less enlightened than others…which saves me from wishing to teach my superiors a lesson.
That said, I observe that the acts of John Paul II with the 1984 indult and of Benedict XVI with the 2007 motu proprio, who sought to recognize that the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated, and therefore to allow its celebration, suffered from a grave lack of logic, since they granted the faculty of this celebration to those who did not contest the doctrines of Vatican II. Why a lack of logic? Because fidelity to the Mass is intrinsically connected with fidelity to the doctrine it expresses and defends: Trent and its Mass or Vatican II and its Mass. To be coherent, the choice has to be total. And the 1984 indult was already incoherent:
That it be made publicly clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970.”
It is the famous illogical nullam partem’s, that was not repaired by the motu proprio of 2007. If we refuse the new Mass, it is not because it is less beautiful, or for a question of Latin or the direction priest faces, but because, as Cardinal Ottaviani’s Brief Critical Study of 1969 declared:
the Novus Ordo Missae represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXIII of the Council of Trent. The ‘canons’ of the rite definitively fixed at that time provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery….It is evident that the Novus Ordo has no intention of presenting the Faith as taught by the Council of Trent, to which, nonetheless, the Catholic conscience is bound forever.”
It is not possible to separate the Mass from doctrine, and it is illogical to be satisfied with the Mass without fighting the doctrines that contradict it! Some are satisfied, I know, but it is a crippled attitude and it was not the attitude of Archbishop Lefebvre or of the Society. So it is pleasant for Rome to do us some favors, but we cannot be satisfied with that, and so long as Rome does not accept to give us a doctrine in conformity with the Mass we celebrate, which was never abrogated, we will wait for a more fitting time to cease our resistance.
As for Francis, his arguments are different, and his actions of a very different nature. In fact, he has no arguments, and moves things around as he pleases: doctrine, morals, canon law, etc. The situation is truly unprecedented and theologically absurd. To borrow from the Pope’s own words, “despite the objective persistence, for the moment, of the illegitimate canonical situation in which the Society of Saint Pius X finds itself,” our right to continue doing what we have done for the past 40 years without changing our positions is recognized! In other words, this implies, without saying so, that the state of the Church is such that we can administer the sacraments validly; it is what we call a state of necessity, on which supplied jurisdiction is based!
For the most abnormal thing about this is that the Pope changed nothing about what we are: he did not grant us anything, but he told the faithful our confessions are valid (which comes down to admitting the state of necessity) and now he is telling the bishops they can “grant us permissions for the celebration of marriages of the faithful who follow the pastoral activity of the Society of Saint Pius X.”
To do so, he invokes only his desire to avoid “debates of conscience among the faithful who adhere to the SSPX and doubts on the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage,” and “to facilitate the path towards full institutional regularization.” So the motive is the faithful’s dispositions of fervor and not a new right granted to our priests! These acts are in no way the fruit of some agreement between Rome and the Society; they are one-sided acts that were not requested or obtained by any secret maneuvers. The Society was informed of them just like everyone else: by the press! And the reason behind them is clearly stated: it is for the good of souls, not for the situation of the Society! It is clear, and in this Francis is logical, that he hopes it will lead us to an institutional regularization, but this is not written in the acts themselves.
Some bishops, the bishops of Carcassone and Fréjus, for example, have already followed Rome’s indications and granted our priests the faculty of celebrating marriages, and I do not see how we could oppose this! To keep ourselves pure of all compromise, must we return the decree to our bishop? Tell our faithful that our confessions are worth nothing because their validity is admitted by the pope?
Let us not try so hard to be more intelligent than others that we become idiots, and let us admit that the situation is simply absurd although it is not unfavorable for us: although we are “outlawed,” our sacraments are recognized as valid and in conformity with Church law! We are still in an illegitimate situation, but we are competent! The state of necessity continues and Rome is changing nothing, but declaring that what we are doing because of this necessity is in keeping with the law of the Church! Yes, Rome wishes us to turn to the bishops and thus admit there is no longer any necessity, but no one is fooled: the state of the Church is more disastrous every day!
All of this was clearly recalled in the analysis of the document published by our superiors on April 8, 2017:
This state of grave necessity in the Church has not disappeared. This is not to deny the terrible reality….For all these reasons, the faithful find themselves in a situation of necessity that allows them to turn to the priests of Tradition. Under the laws of the Church, their marriage is certainly valid. For the pope to ask the bishops today to facilitate their choice in ensuring the regularity of the authorized witness, i.e., the priest who receives the spouses’ vows, does not put an end to the objective state of the crisis of the Church.
There is no doubt that, were the Ordinary to refuse to designate a delegate and even to ‘directly grant the necessary faculties to the Society priest’, the latter would celebrate the marriage validly because of this state of necessity, and as for the bishop, he would be manifestly opposing the will of the Head of the Church.”
So let all rest assured: we will always have the possibility of hearing confessions and celebrating marriages like always, without asking the local ordinary or parish priest for anything, because of this state of necessity. The text imposes no obligations and simply offers a possibility. We are free to use it or not.
So, as Monsignor Ducaud-Bourget said: “we continue” without letting ourselves be troubled by the worried sowers of worry and distrust! Let us not forget to pray before we speak or write, and to pray even more after we do.
By the infinite merits of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg for the conversion of the poor sinners that we are.