Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, recently defended the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) from detractors who continue to insist the Society is “in schism.” This is not the first time that Schneider has come to the SSPX’s defense nor will it likely be the last.
During a September 2022 Q&A hosted by the Ohio-based Confraternity of Our Lady of Fatima, Bishop Schneider reiterated what the SSPX has always maintained, namely that it is not outside the Catholic Church. The bishop also rejected the claims that the Society’s members were excommunicated and highlighted the fact that the Society upholds the Church’s traditions as they were exhibited up until the Second Vatican Council. Schneider likewise noted that the alleged excommunications of the Society’s bishops were long contested and that the matter was finally put to rest in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Importantly, Bishop Schneider assuaged concerns about attending Masses offered by the SSPX. Although Schneider believes that the Society and other groups founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre “are [in an] irregular canonical situation,” that is not a barrier to Catholics receiving sacraments from SSPX clergy.
In an October 2022 interview with the Catholic journalist John-Henry Westen, Schneider again stated that the SSPX was not in schism and that Catholics may attend Society chapels. He noted that only “a very narrow, legalistic view of the reality of the Church” could lead one to believe the SSPX is schismatic and that those who state as much are “putting the letter of the Canon Law above the importance, the primary importance of the fullness of the Catholic faith and of the traditional liturgy.” Additionally, Schneider highlighted that the SSPX continually exhibits “canonical community with the Pope” by praying for Pope Francis during Mass and offering other public prayers for him.
The bishop’s conclusions should surprise no one. As he recalls, “Pope Francis granted…habitual, ordinary, universal faculties of confession to the priests of the” SSPX and that Society priests can witness marriages with the approval of the local bishop. While the SSPX has held firm to the position that its clerics can grant valid absolutions and witness marriages independent of special permission due to the ongoing crisis in the Church on the basis of supplied jurisdiction, the fact that the Pope has exercised extraordinary jurisdictional powers on the Society’s behalf in recent years militates strongly against any accusation that it exists outside of the Catholic Church.
Some may recall that Bishop Schneider made official visits to two SSPX seminaries in 2015 and declared in an interview with Adelante la Fe that “there are no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition, meanwhile they should be accepted as they are. This was indeed Archbishop Lefebvre’s petition to the Holy See: ‘Accept us as we are.’” Furthermore:
When the SSPX believes, worships and conducts a moral life as it was demanded and recognized by the Supreme Magisterium and was observed universally in the Church during a centuries long period and when the SSPX recognizes the legitimacy of the pope and the diocesan bishops and prays for them publicly and recognizes also the validity of the sacraments according to the editio typica of the new liturgical books, this should suffice for a canonical recognition of the SSPX on behalf of the Holy See.
For the SSPX and those faithful who receive the Church’s sacraments at its chapels, Bishop Schneider’s words confirm what they already know. However, that has not stopped fellow Catholics from spreading misinformation about the Society, including the falsehood that the SSPX is in schism and that its priests do not offer valid sacraments. While it would be a cause for joy if the Bishop of Astana’s words put to rest this needless controversy, that is unfortunately unlikely to happen for the time being.
At a point in history where the Catholic Church continues to suffer from the aftermath of Vatican II and must brace herself against new radical onslaughts such as the upcoming “Synod on Synodality,” the faithful are in desperate need of Tradition. The SSPX continues to hold Tradition out for the Universal Church, for the good of souls. As Bishop Schneider points out, the faithful have no reason to be concerned that they would be putting themselves outside of the Church or doing anything sinful by entrusting their souls to the ministrations of SSPX priests. For those who are seeking a safe haven at a time of great crisis in the Church, Bishop Schneider’s words of clarification are most welcome.