VATICAN, April 4, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The pope has allowed local bishops to grant the faithful permission to be married by priests of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).
The SSPX is a traditionalist Catholic group founded by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The group seeks to share the truth of the Catholic faith in the modern world, a task they view as “especially necessary considering the spread of atheism, agnosticism, and religious indifference.”
Lefebvre was eventually excommunicated for validly but illicitly ordaining other bishops. In other words, the men he ordained did become bishops, but Lefebvre was acting against the Church’s rules by ordaining them without proper permission.
The priests of the SSPX are also validly, but illicitly, ordained. They are real Catholic priests but operating without the full permission of the local bishop.
The SSPX's canonical status is irregular; it is not in “schism” or “excommunicated.” In recent years, the SSPX has inched closer toward full communion with Rome. Pope Francis granted SSPX priests faculties to hear Confessions during the Year of Mercy and continued that permission when the year ended.
Until now, Catholics were not permitted to be married by SSPX priests because, as liturgy blogger Father John Zuhsldorf explains, a priest's job at a wedding is to act “as the Church’s official witness to ensure that the proper form is followed.”
With this new letter, a local bishop may grant a diocesan priest permission to act as the Church's official witness at an SSPX wedding, and if that's not possible, an SSPX priest may witness the wedding instead. In both cases, an SSPX priest is allowed to celebrate the Nuptial Mass, which in the Old Rite immediately follows the marriage vows.
This permission is granted “following the same pastoral outlook” as the granting of SSPX priests faculties to hear Confessions, “which seeks to reassure the conscience of the faithful, despite the objective persistence of the canonical irregularity in which for the time being the Society of St. Pius X finds itself,” a letter from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says. The letter was approved by Pope Francis.
“Certain that in this way any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X as well as any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be alleviated, and at the same time that the process towards full institutional regularization may be facilitated, this Dicastery relies on Your cooperation,” the letter finishes.
The full text of the Vatican’s letter
As you are aware, for some time various meetings and other initiatives have been ongoing in order to bring the Society of St Pius X into full communion. Recently, the Holy Father decided, for example, to grant all priests of said Society the faculty to validly administer the Sacrament of Penance to the faithful (Letter Misericordia et misera, n.12), such as to ensure the validity and liceity of the Sacrament and allay any concerns on the part of the faithful.
Following the same pastoral outlook which seeks to reassure the conscience of the faithful, despite the objective persistence of the canonical irregularity in which for the time being the Society of St Pius X finds itself, the Holy Father, following a proposal by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, has decided to authorize Local Ordinaries the possibility to grant faculties for the celebration of marriages of faithful who follow the pastoral activity of the Society, according to the following provisions.
Insofar as possible, the Local Ordinary is to grant the delegation to assist at the marriage to a priest of the Diocese (or in any event, to a fully regular priest), such that the priest may receive the consent of the parties during the marriage rite, followed, in keeping with the liturgy of the Vetus ordo, by the celebration of Mass, which may be celebrated by a priest of the Society.
Where the above is not possible, or if there are no priests in the Diocese able to receive the consent of the parties, the Ordinary may grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society who is also to celebrate the Holy Mass, reminding him of the duty to forward the relevant documents to the Diocesan Curia as soon as possible.
Certain that in this way any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X as well as any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be alleviated, and at the same time that the process towards full institutional regularization may be facilitated, this Dicastery relies on Your cooperation.
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on 24 March 2017, confirmed his approval of the present letter and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 27 March 2017.
Gerhard Card. L. Müller
Archbishop Guido Pozzo
Titular Archbishop of Bagnoregio