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Fr. Gerald MurrayAsk a Priest Live! / YouTube

(LifeSiteNews) — Prominent canon lawyer Father Gerald Murray has declared that the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is not in schism, and that their Masses can fulfill Catholics’ Sunday obligation.

Murray explained on the Ask a Priest Live podcast on Thursday that the traditional priestly society is “not in schism” because the purported excommunication of its leaders, which is argued to have occurred automatically in 1988 when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated bishops without papal mandate, was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

“On the other hand, the SSPX is not canonically regular in the sense that it is not subject in the ordinary way to the governing authority of the Holy See and its relations with diocesan bishops,” said Murray, pointing out that the SSPX has not accepted the Vatican’s terms for such “regularization.” 

These terms include total, unreserved acceptance of Vatican II documents, which the SSPX argues contradict perennial Catholic teaching in certain statements on religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality, and the Church.

For example, the society argues that Lumen Gentium’s declaration that Muslims “along with us adore the one and merciful God” is incompatible with Catholic teaching, since Muslims reject the Trinity and deny Christ’s divinity. Christ made clear, “whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” [Luke 10:16] and “no one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:6].

Murray pointed out that Pope Francis “went beyond what Pope Benedict XVI did on a practical level” because he recognized the SSPX as having the faculties to “validly and licitly” absolve sins in confession, as well as marry couples and celebrate nuptial Masses. 

Because it is “presumed that a marriage will include a Mass,” that means that the SSPX Mass “per se is not… viewed by the Holy See as being harmful to souls,” Murray noted.

The canon lawyer also stressed that dioceses are inviting SSPX priests to offer Masses in their churches, and have been invited into diocesan churches for various other reasons. He recalled that a decade ago, SSPX priests were welcomed into St. Peter’s Basilica, where they offered Mass at the altar of St. Pius X.

More recently, SSPX Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais administered the Sacrament of Confirmation and offered a Pontifical Traditional Latin Mass at a Catholic Church in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida in October, with permission from the local bishop.

Murray also cited a demonstration of the SSPX’s recognition of Rome’s authority.

“We also get reports… [that] if an SSPX priest commits canonical offenses, that the leadership of the SSPX, with the agreement of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), presents canonical cases for judgment of those priests for their possible removal from the priesthood,” said Murray.

“If they’re operating in a cooperative way with the DDF to enforce canon law, then even though there’s no formal agreement over regulation of their activities within the Church, there is partial agreement and there’s a recognition of this.”

Murray went on to address the question of whether a Catholic can fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending an SSPX Mass, clarifying that “The answer is yes, because it is a Catholic valid Mass.”

He advised Catholics to take advantage of SSPX Masses when other Sunday Mass options are unavailable, although other prelates, such as Bishop Athanasisus Schneider, have argued that the current “emergency of faith” suffices as a reason to receive the sacraments from SSPX priests.

Murray cautioned those who attend SSPX Masses “not to adopt a separatist spirit, which would… reject the authority of the local bishop or the pope” and only “recognize the authority of the SSPX priest.”

The canon lawyer pointed out that in this regard, the SSPX priests themselves have shown a “cooperative spirit” with the Vatican.

When Pope Francis recognized their ability to validly and licitly witness marriages and hear confessions, SSPX leadership “did not reject that and say, ‘[W]e have no interest in the pope’s opinions on this, we do what we want.’ No, they were happy to receive that. So there’s an indication of a cooperative spirit, and that has to be extended.”

Schneider, who served as a delegate on behalf of the Holy See to the SSPX in 2015 and visited two SSPX seminaries in 2015, has said he sees “no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition.”

In a question-and-answer series hosted by the Confraternity of Our Lady of Fatima, Schneider declared, “The situation of the Society of St. Pius X is linked with the extraordinary crisis of the Church. They do nothing but [that] which the Church did always until the Council.”

“When there is an emergency of faith, the canonical legal aspect is secondary and the first [priority] is the faith, the truth, and the liturgy and all this which the Church always kept, as it was in the fourth century during the Arian crisis,” the bishop declared.

Schneider observed that the SSPX “believes, worship 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,” as well as recognizing the legitimacy of the pope and local bishops and praying for them. As such, he called for full unity to be granted to them.

“This should suffice for a canonical recognition of the SSPX on behalf of the Holy See,” he said.

Another bishop who lived with SSPX priests in order to better know their life and work, Bishop Vitus Huonder, the former bishop of Chur, Switzerland, said he now believes that Archbishop Lefebvre’s actions were merited because the Second Vatican Council departed from the “authentic teaching of the Church.” 

Huonder believes the current Church crisis is “one of the greatest crises of her history,” and that it was caused by a “cryptic moving away from Tradition, from the authentic teaching of the Church, both in the documents of the [Second Vatican] Council and in the ensuing magisterial documents and decisions.”

This is why, according to the Swiss prelate, Lefebvre “could not follow unreservedly the instructions and doctrinal statements of the Council and of the official church announcements that followed the Council.”

“His attitude was factually justified and entirely in line with the Faith of the Church,” Huonder concludes. “He should have been listened to more.” Accordingly, “the measure taken against him [by the Church’s hierarchy] was a grave injustice, because it is easy to prove that the Church’s government has moved away from Tradition.”