Can We Accept a Canonical Recognition Proposed by a Neo-Modernist Authority?
Published in Le Sel de la Terre 101
The answer is not self-evident. Indeed, for years Msgr. Lefebvre envisioned an accord as though it were possible; furthermore, he took steps in this direction, it being before 1988, let us not forget.
Before answering, it is first necessary to define the terms of the problem, because there is talk here and there of an “accord” or “canonical recognition“.
What is an “Accord“?
The etymology of this word indicates a harmony of hearts. The current sense of this word, in this context, is that of an “arrangement among those who are in agreement” (Petit Robert French dictionary). The same dictionary, defining the expression “in agreement,” says [“to be in agreement“]: “To have the same opinion, the same way of thinking, or the same intention (to work in the same direction, make a common cause, walk hand-in-hand as a single person, to be united).” In other words, an accord designates a community, be it in thought or action.
If one applies this to the relations between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X, as well as to the associated communities, the accord can be doctrinal or practical.
— At first, an Accord can be doctrinal
After the Second Vatican Council, a doctrinal ditch was dug between the Catholic hierarchy and the faithful who remained attached to Tradition. Thus there is no longer accord but divergence on questions of faith. After fifty years, neo-Modernist Rome is forced to reestablish an accord and lead the faithful of Tradition toward the doctrine of Vatican II; there is accord when they adopt the new doctrines. Msgr. Lefebvre and his successors were forced to bring the Roman authorities back to the traditional doctrine; in other words, they sought a doctrinal accord in the truth, which supposes the conversion of neo-Modernist Rome.
— Then an Accord can be practical
This is to say that it does not concern doctrine, because the two parties diverge, but action; one seeks an arrangement to live together, each remaining what it is. But action is governed by law. Thus, such an accord is sealed by a canonical structure conceded to the communities of Tradition. Is this modus vivendi possible without the latter changing doctrine? In fact, concretely, this has never existed, as the history of the successive accords since 1984 proves.
— Finally, an Accord can be simultaneously doctrinal and practical
There are two cases to envision:
* either the neo-Modernist Roman authorities propose a canonical statute, requiring at the same time adherence to some doctrinal points taken from the Council;
* or these same authorities, having returned to Tradition, recognize the canonical statute that the SSPX and associated communities already have, after having denied its existence (because the suppression of the SSPX in 1975 means nothing, and the erection of associated communities draws its legitimacy from the state of necessity – supplied jurisdiction applies here in this case).
An accord supposes that the two parties “are in agreement“. If one works for a practical agreement, one seeks an arrangement, modifying the conditions as needed, until one reaches an agreement.
What is a Canonical Recognition?
The current sense of the word “recognition” (in the context which concerns us) is “the fact of admitting (something) after having denied or doubted it“.
More precisely, it is the “action of formally, juridically recognizing. […] Recognition of a government, by which a State recognizes the legality of a government arising from a revolution” (Petit Robert French dictionary).
— Nature of a Canonical Recognition
A Canonical Recognition is the granting of a canonical structure by the ecclesiastical authority to an entity that does not have it. In reality, one speaks rather of an “approbation” or “canonical recognition” of an Institute. If one uses the term “recognition” here, it is because of the particular situation in which we find ourselves: the Pope recognizes the juridical existence of communities that already exist.
However, in the mind of the Roman authorities, these communities do not currently have any juridical existence. For example, the aforementioned authorities do not recognize the vows of these religious as public vows but they consider them private vows. On the occasion of various accords (at Le Barroux [Benedictine community of Dom Gerard], at Papa Stronsay [Redemptorist community of Fr Michael-Mary], it was necessary for the members of these communities to renew their vows in the hands of the local bishop or of a representative from the Holy See. Consequently, in the case of canonical recognition, it will be necessary to examine closely these circumstances. If the Holy See, either by words or actions, declares a work legal that until then it judged illegal, to accept this line is ipso facto, despite later rectifications, to admit that the aforesaid work was illegal. Implicitly, it denies the state of necessity that has legitimized our resistance to the self-destruction of the Church.
— Consequences of a Canonical Recognition
The first consequence is that the recognized institute acquires a legal personality, thus a certain autonomy in its internal government.
The second consequence is that this Institute depends more closely on the local bishop, if it is a diocesan Institute, or on the Holy See if it is an Institute of pontifical right. In the latter case, the Institute is removed from the vigilance of the bishop in anything that regards its internal government. The reason for this vigilance (of the bishop or Rome) is that it is necessarily under the direction of the hierarchy of the Church that the institutes led their members to Christian perfection. Is this canonical dependence toward the neo-Modernist authorities compatible with the preservation of the faith and its public profession?
— Canonical Recognition and the Apostolate
The local bishop is responsible for all the faithful in his territory. Consequently, the entire apostolate of the priests—including those of the members of the exempted institutes—is ruled by the bishop and is exercised under his dependence and vigilance.
This is why Msgr. Lefebvre, envisioning the regularization of the works of Tradition, examined which structures could allow for continuing the apostolate beside the faithful in a certain independence from the bishops. This supposes the Institutions fall directly under the jurisdiction of the Pope.
Let us especially examine the case of a personal prelature, which is still on the agenda of Rome and of the Society.
The Second Vatican Council inaugurated personal prelatures. They are “jurisdictional entities, erected by the Holy See as instruments within the framework of the pastoral hierarchy of the Church, for the realization of particular pastoral or missionary activities“. These pastoral tasks are addressed to particular groups of people. So things are done orderly, the prelatures should be made known to episcopal conferences, before their erection, to coordinate their work.
At the head of the prelature is a prelate who has jurisdiction over the faithful upon whom particular pastoral activities are exercised by the priests of the prelature. However, to be able to exercise its apostolate in a diocese, the prelature should have obtained the preliminary consent of the local Ordinary. The personal prelature is thus an auxiliary of the diocesan clergy. The faithful who benefit from its apostolate are thus submitted principally to the local Ordinary and, in addition, to the prelate of the personal prelature.
This concerns the prelatures envisaged by the 1983 code. To tell the truth, the structure foreseen by the SSPX and by its related communities will enjoy, it seems, an almost complete independence with respect to the bishops; in any case, this independence will be much greater than that of the Opus Dei. Nevertheless, it cannot be complete, because by divine right the diocesan bishop is the head of the territory confided to his care.
Also, the simple juridical recognition implies all this: by the recognition of the Institutes, there is a dependence on the Holy See, normally on the Congregation for Institutes of consecrated Life (although the Holy Father is free to associate them with another congregation); for the erection of personal prelature—if applicable—there is a dependence on the Congregation for Bishops; then, a certain harmony with the local Ordinaries is necessary. Finally, the prelature depends on the Roman Congregation for Bishops.
— “Unilateral” Recognition?
This is an expression that is frequently heard recently. What does it mean? A recognition can be bilateral?
We limit ourselves to the case of a canonical recognition: the recognition is the act of who recognizes. Yet, who recognizes the traditional communities? The Holy See. It is not we who recognize the latter and who give it a canonical structure. Consequently, a canonical recognition is essentially unilateral. So, why the pleonasm?
On the one hand, this expression seems to mean that the act of the pope would be without “doctrinal compensation“. The proposed canonical structure would not be accompanied by a preliminary doctrinal declaration to sign. In this case, it would be better to speak of a “canonical recognition without a doctrinal compensation“. On the other hand, this expression gives the impression that the works of Tradition will be regularized despite them, that they will not be for nothing, and that they will not be able to refuse.
Msgr. Rifan 1 said in 2002: « The Pope has offered to recognize our bishop with the promise of a successor; it remains for us to get out of the irregular situation in which we find ourselves. We accept and, in conscience, we cannot refuse this offer. »
Now, this is evidently false; it is necessary to agree on a document, which necessarily implies an acceptance or a refusal on the part of the aforementioned works [of Tradition]. Thus, in 1988, the Monastery of the Holy Cross 2 made a declaration refusing the agreement established between the Holy See and Dom Gérard 3. « Our Monastery of Santa Cruz, it was said, was included in the terms of the agreement that we come here to refuse, without our having been consulted about it. At the time Msgr Lefebvre fully approved this conduct. »
This brings us to a third possible sense of the expression “unilateral recognition“: it suggests that there would not be a compensation on the practical level; everything would continue as before, without any change, if only we would be officially recognized. This masks an aspect of capital importance, which is the effective submission to Roman authorities, and the inevitable influence that these would exert on us. Indeed, law is never “unilateral“; it rules the relations between persons (physical or moral) in view of the common good, thus the relations between superiors and subjects. It is inconceivable to imagine a subject who only has rights and a superior who only has duties; this would be revolutionary. Thus, the subjects necessarily have duties toward their superiors. So, if the superiors grant something, even more so do the subjects concede their submission; the right is thus essentially bilateral. Whence the question it will be necessary to examine: Does not this dependence risk leading to a doctrinal agreement on the Council?
— De Facto Recognition?
This expression indicates the act of a Pope who, seeing that the negotiations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are stalemated, would pass over any doctrinal, canonical, or liturgical condition. It would be a recognition above all of the facts than by way of legal or canonical right. The Pope has already begun in this direction (notably in conceding the jurisdiction for confessions, then the recognition of the priestly ordinations, and now of the marriages).
We remark that what is called “de facto recognition” has some juridical consequences. Indeed, to declare that the confessions of the priests of the Society are valid amounts to saying that they are legal, conforming to the right, to the law. Although the Pope does not explicitly say: “I give jurisdiction to these priests,” it is a matter of delegated jurisdiction; in fact, it is he who set the duration of it (at first in restricting it to the limits of the year of mercy, then in deciding to continue it afterwards). What was done for confessions has now been done for other acts of the ministry of the priests of Tradition. It is a sort of “piecemeal” or “step-by-step canonical recognition“.
What the distinction between “de facto recognition” and “legal recognition” could indicate is the difference between the phase where some aspects of the ministry of the priests of the Society are recognized as legal, and the other phase where all the aspects of their ministry would be (which necessarily implies a juridical statute, because one cannot be associated with a Society without following its law). And it is only in this phase that the submission to the Roman authorities would become effective.
This distinction suggests that there could be a total recognition of the legitimacy of the Society without a dependence on the current Roman authorities, which is impossible. It is better to speak of an “ongoing canonical recognition” or an “ongoing canonical regularization” than of a “de facto recognition” as St. Thomas said, II-II q. 1 a. 3 : « Movements are specified by their terminus, and receive their name from it. For example, a casserole that heats on the stove warms, tending toward the state of heat in stages ». So here, according to the Roman authorities, the term is the canonical statute. The movement that leads there is the canonical regularization. Consequently, the movement where we find ourselves is an ongoing canonical regularization.
Canonical Recognition and Agreement
As it is now understood, the term “agreement” generally designates a practical agreement, with or without a doctrinal declaration (the current project includes one). The canonical recognition is included in the practical agreement.
— The clarity of words
But why make all these clarifications of vocabulary? They are necessary if we want to be “children of the light“. In her language the Church supremely adheres to clarity of words. Firstly in the expression of dogmas; but this holds true in all the teaching of the Church, from encyclicals to the simple children’s catechism course.
On the contrary, the Revolution dreads clear expressions. Abbé Joseph Lémann 4 said:
“One cannot be careful enough, in France and elsewhere, of the manner in which evil men come to invade bit by bit all avenues of society. Their ability has been infernal. They have seized language before seizing your schools, oh Catholics, your hospitals, your courts of law, your institutions […]. The invasion began in words, in ideas; it is achieved in institutions. It was logical. A profound thinker made this reflection that one cannot meditate on enough: “As long as a people is invaded in its territory, it is only defeated; but if it allows an invasion of its own language, it is finished. The language of a people […] is the supreme bulwark of a people, its last sanctuary.” Behold why it is to render a service to the patriotic cause of the nations than of theirs to cry: Carry, before all, the battle into language, call things by their true name, and for that purpose use a naming that clarifies and disenchants the poor deceived populations.”
Alas! Modern Rome has abandoned this clarity. It would above all not be necessary to let it impose vague language on us.
This is thus the objective of these reflections: to establish clarity of language. It is necessary to call a spade a spade. If a canonical recognition undergoes negotiations where each side makes accommodations, it is necessary to call that an “agreement“. For example, the regularization of the priests of Campos 5 (Brazil) was an agreement. When signing, Abbé Rifan said: “This is not an agreement; it is a recognition.” He implied that Rome recognized the validity of Tradition, which was false. The faithful believed Abbé Rifan, and cried for victory. They have been deceived.
We would prefer to cast aside the expressions “unilateral recognition” and “de facto recognition” and simply speak of a “canonical recognition, with or without a doctrinal compensation“; things will thus be much clearer.
Translation by AA
(to be continued)
1 — Brazilian bishop consecrated by cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos, successor of Msgr Rangel consecrated by the bishops of the Society to succeed to Bp de Castro-Mayer (note of the Editor).
2 — Ruled bt Fr Thomas Aquinas, now Bp Thomas Aquinas, in Brazil (note of the Editor).
3 — Superior of the benedictine of the Monastery of Le Baroux in France (note of the Editor).
4 — Famous convert from Judaism in France in the 19th century, who converted with his brother. Both became priests, and worked for the conversion of the Jews to save them (note of the Editor).
5 — Former diocese of Bp de Castro-Mayer (note of the Editor).