Remnant retort: the limits of ecumenism

September 10, 2014
Source: District of the USA

The post-conciliar novelty of ecumenical outreach is supposed to be applied to everyone—so why is it denied to the SSPX? Michael Matt of The Remnant asks this very question and demonstrates the double-standard applied to Tradition.

Image above: Bishop Zubik praying with Protestants during the Festival of Hope

From The Remnant newspaper, we offer this piece from editor, Michael Matt, concerning the recent declaration made by the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania diocese claimed that the Society of St. Pius X "is separated from the Catholic Church", and no Catholic should attend its Masses.

As Mr. Matt adequately demonstrates, this diocesan statement is at complete odds with the ecumenical outreach that Bishop Zubik has been practicing with non-Catholics, and thus once again, reveals the double-standard of ecumenism towards Tradition.

We are grateful to Mr. Matt for allowing us to republish in full his editorial piece here for the benefit of our readers. Note that the external links present in the editorial are those cited by The Remnant.

The limits to ecumenical outreach: Bishop Zubik and the SSPX

Michael Matt, Editor
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bishop David Zubik is a good man, reportedly one of the better bishops in the country in fact. He has been an outspoken opponent of homosexual “marriage”; he has prayed the rosary in front of abortion clinics; he’s even gone on the record opposing Common Core.

Because he’s a good man we’re confident he must be concerned when members of the Catholic faithful become confused and scandalized by something his chancery office has done.

A bit of background: Last week we reported that Bishop Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh encouraged the Catholic faithful of Pittsburgh to join him in joining hands with Billy Graham's son, Franklin, for the recent 3-day praise and song festival in Pittsburgh—the Three Rivers Festival of Hope at which “altar calls” and “forgiveness of sins” by Protestant ministers were reportedly part of the program.

We posted a video of the Bishop in attendance at the gathering and in fact praying with the Protestant attendees (though electing not to make the Sign of the Cross onstage), asking God to bless them but saying nothing about any need for them to convert to the Catholic Church.

We also reported that a few days later Bishop Zubik’s office released a sternly-worded letter of warning against any association on the part of Pittsburgh’s faithful with the Society of St. Pius X, which had recently purchased an old Catholic church in downtown Pittsburgh with the intention of restoring it and reopening it for use by Catholics rather than Muslims, for a change.

Bishop Zubik let it be known that he was not happy that the old church had been spared the wrecking ball or worse in this manner, and instead determined to admonish the faithful to stay away from the SSPX and their recently acquired building because the Society is “separated from the Catholic Church.”

Conspicuous by their absence from the diocesan letter of warning, however, were any expressions of love, hoped for reconciliation, willingness to dialogue, or words of kindness or solidarity with the souls attached to the SSPX. Nothing! Just: “SSPX, BAD! Stay away!

And this is part of a bizarre pattern on the part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In an earlier “official statement” regarding the status of the SSPX’s Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Collier Township, the faithful were informed that the SSPX Masses do not fulfill Sunday obligation (a contention that contradicts several statements from the Vatican, including not a few issued by the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei Commission), that participation at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel implies “separation from the Catholic Church” and results in “excommunication from the Catholic Church” and the “subsequent denial of Christian burial from the Catholic Church.”

Now, isn’t this the intolerant attitude of the dreaded Spanish Inquisition (at least the Inquisition about which the revisionists like to tell their lies) for which the modern Catholic Church never ceases to apologize? How peculiar, then, that at a time when “getting along” and “understanding differences” and celebrating “diversity” mean everything, Pittsburgh’s bishop does not think to reach out to members of his flock in the SSPX in a more sensitive and caring manner. Where is the compassion? Could it possibly be that the only group not worthy of compassion and ecumenical outreach in Pittsburgh are traditional Catholics who have questioned not one jot or tittle of Catholic dogma but who still find themselves suffering under a temporary interdict for holding fast to tradition and the Latin liturgy?

Even if the SSPX is wrong to do what it is doing—proceeding without the proper paperwork, as it were—are the priests and faithful really less deserving of Catholic outreach and compassion than Protestants, Muslims and Jews? After all, even non-Catholics and those who’ve committed suicide are offered Christian burial in the modern Catholic Church these days…. But not the folks in the SSPX? No Christian burial for them, even though they are all baptized Catholics, accept the pontificate of Pope Francis and question not a single dogma of the Catholic Faith? This seems a bit over the top, no?

As an outside observer—I’m neither from Pittsburgh nor affiliated with the SSPX in any way—I fail to understand how Catholics with a temporary irregular canonical status (an in-house dispute that “does not rise to the level of schism and will be resolved in good time” according to, among others, Castrillon Cardinal Hoyos, who admitted this to me in person at a press conference and with cameras rolling) can pose a more clear and present danger to the mainstream faithful than folks who reject out of hand the Church’s teaching on the theology of the papacy while thumbing their noses at the priesthood, doctrines and even several sacraments of the Church—i.e., the folks gathered at the Franklin Graham event, for example. 

Actual, formal heretics and admitted schismatics are A-Okay, and we Catholics can associate, assemble and even pray with them, but the Society of St. Pius X is to be avoided like the plague?  Regardless of your position vis-a-vis the SSPX doesn’t this seem a little off-kilter? Are Catholic traditionalists the only “schismatics” left in the world today? Is everybody saved except those who do not question a single article of the Catholic Faith, prefer the old Latin Mass and are concerned about the "spirit of Vatican II" running roughshod over the faith of their children? (A concern shared by Pope Benedict XVI, by the way). 


I don’t enjoy questioning princes of the Church, but neither do I consider it an “attack” to quote them or post video of their public appearances that leave Catholics asking questions and even scandalized. I am not attacking Bishop Zubik, but I am asking why the event depicted in Photo 1 (see below) is acceptable for even a bishop to take part in, but if I were to join in on the event depicted in Photo 2 I would be ostracized by the Pittsburgh Diocese and even refused a Mass of Christian burial.  

Surely the non-Catholics in Photo 1 recognize no need whatsoever to convert to the Catholic Faith. Even the bishop in Photo 1 makes no mention of any need for them to do so. Anyone following the Bishop’s interaction with this group as they travelled to Rome and Israel together would naturally conclude that it is not necessary to be a Catholic in order to be saved, that ecumenism trumps dogma.

The folks in Photo 2, on the other hand, are already Catholic, have never been even accused of heresy and reject the charge of schism out of hand. (According to the Code of Canon Law even that rejection of the charge of schism is adequate to render the charge supremely suspect at best, the argument being that one has to willfully determine to be in schism and can’t just sort of fall into it.)

Is there not at the very least some gray area where the SSPX “schism” is concerned? After all, Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of the SSPX leadership; they pray for the Pope at every Mass; they question not a single dogma of the Faith; one of their priests offered Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome last month (with permission); and this month the Superior General of the SSPX was invited to visit the head of the CDF in Rome to discuss the doctrinal issues that form the bone of contention between the SSPX and the Vatican. Bishop Fellay accepted the invitation without hesitation. Say what you will about the SSPX but if this is "schism" it's the weirdest one in history.

One would think, given all these facts about the SSPX, that the Diocese of Pittsburgh might see the prudence of curbing its enthusiasm when it comes to issuing melodramatic condemnations worthy of Tomas de Torquemada. One need not be a partisan of the SSPX to recognize how bizarre it is that the only religious group in Pittsburgh still deserving of the anathema sit (discarded for use with everyone else back in 1983) are Roman Catholics who recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday morning and mean every word of it.

At the end of the day, treating our own in this manner, even if and when they are misguided or mistaken, seems eminently counterproductive. There must be a way for the Pittsburgh Diocese to reach out to the SSPX without coming off like ecclesial bullies with an axe to grind. Besides, if this is the way we publicly treat our own is it any wonder the Orthodox seem less than enthusiastic about rebuilding the eastern bridge over the Tiber?

A bridge-building church leader such as Bishop Zubik can do better than this, and we’re asking him to re-evaluate the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s intolerant position against Catholics associated with the Society of St. Pius X.