It's all rather fascinating, not just from an ecclesiastical point of view, but also in terms of my own little psychological self-analysis. Here I am, a fellow whose first instinct is (and whose chosen profession involves) finding reasons why things shouldn't or can't be done, expecting and planning for the worst, and just being generally negative, and I've spent the last two days getting bugged because other people are doing that very thing in terms of the potential reconciliation. I need to be careful or I'll turn into an optimist and I'll have to change my moniker to Pollyanna, if the Situation is soon resolved.
These curmudgeonly people, mostly what Chris Ferrara and Tom Woods (and many others) label "neo-catholics" (see explanations here and here), are fretting as if the Church will come to greater harm with the SSPX and its adherents holding up its right flank instead of standing across the field in one of the opposing lines. I just don't get the neo's. Lots of these folks go jump through great intellectual hoops to justify certain abuses (and certain normative practices which were once abuses), so why can't they jumpt through a few lower hoops to help get the Situation resolved, at least in their own hearts, if not in Rome and Econe?
I did a Google blogsearch and looked at the SSPX posts by other folks in the last 24-48 hours this evening. In addition to Bettinelli's post, which I commented on Wednesday, and articles in the secular press and Catholic World News largely repeating reports in Il Giornale, we've got a Jimmy Akin post in which he erects a rhetorical roadblock: we have to keep calling it a schism (neverminding that the Holy Father can, unless one of his Curial officials left only a black crayon and a white crayon, and no other colors in his box, distinguish between breaking communion and somewhat lesser disobediences), and we can't let bygones be bygones or minimize past actions, because the principal actors in the Situation haven't yet gone to their eternal reward (or, they might presume, eternal punishment).
We've also got a post from a guy named Whiskey (bourbon, scotch, or rye?) who at one point in a long post that I won't try to answer in full, narrowly defines the notion of faith and accuses the Society and its adherents of being faithless:
But the point is that by insisting on the Tridentine formulations, of doctrine and of worship, SSPX has lost the spirit that lives within them. They have become a society of works without faith. This is of course in a literal sense true: for they lack faith in the Holy Spirit to guide the church when it meets in an Ecumenical council. But it is also psychologically true: for they lack the ability to think radically (again, in the etymological sense) about their faith.
To which I simply would suggest that they study the faith one an "average" SSPX priest, or one of their "average" adherents, and compare it to the "average" suburban priest or soccer-mom parishioner. One could argue, I suppose, that the average SSPX priest, and his congregants, are seriously lacking in one or two or three other virtues (humility, obedience, charity, perhaps?), but I have to believe that they have plenty of faith, especially in comparison to their foils. Insofar as literal faith in the Holy Ghost's guidance of an Ecumenical Council goes, I'm sure they have that, but they know that His Graces don't go so far as to guaranty that prudential, disciplinary, liturgical, and pastoral declarations are infallible, as are Magisterial statements on faith and morals. And if by "thinking radically" (in the etymological sense, meaning "to the roots") about their faith, they mean keeping within arms' reach of its two roots--Revelation and Tradition--then, again, I don't see that they lack faith.
And then a couple of blogs, including Bettnet, link to a post on the blog of Ed Peters, a canonist on the faculty of Sacred Heart seminary in Detroit. Prof. Peters tries to erect a canonical roadblock to reconciliation, but he doesn't try hard enough, because I'm an amateur, and I think I can knock it down.
His analysis is as follows:
In 1988, Abp. Lefebvre and four bishops he ordained were excommunicated by Pope JohnPaul II for violating 1983 CIC 1382. The resulting SSPX has never acknowledged the efficacy of this papal act and has called for the Holy See to repudiate the excommunication as a prerequisite for reconciliation talks. According to canon law, however, excommunication cannot be remitted unless the offender has "withdrawn from contumacy" (1983 CIC 1358 § 1). It is difficult to see how one can be considered to have "withdrawn from contumacy" (see 1983 CIC 1347 § 2) when one denies there is any contumacy to withdraw from in the first place. So, what to do?
Then Prof. Peters uses the red herring tactic: he gives the reader three options, the best of which he dismisses out of hand as having a "proverbial snowballs' chance," and he then spends time on an analysis that we need never reach:
As I see it, there are only three options here: either the Holy See decides that John Paul II's decree of excommunication was insufficiently grounded in law and/or fact, and on that basis it lifts the penalty without addressing the merits of the situation today; or, the SSPX leadership somehow acknowledges its wrong-doing and repents sufficiently to allow lifting of the penalty under 1983 CIC 1358; or the SSPX remains fixed in its position and the excommunication remains in place while talks continue—or not, as the case may be.
Now, let's go back to the first option. I'm not warranting that this will work, and (as usual) I don't have all the facts, but if we're playing the armchair-Pontiff, this is the single best play in our book. Here's the gist of my response to Prof. Peters, (his blog doesn't have a comment option--he must not use the Socratic method--but I'll find his email address and send it to him directly):
Prof. Peters, I'm neither a canon lawyer nor an adherent to the SSPX, but I think you missed something, and as a result didn't give Option 1 due consideration. The excommunications, if any, occurred latae sententiae, by their own acts (much as we do if we fall into mortal sin), not ferendae sententiae, by a juridic act of the Church. John Paul II did not excommunicate anyone in the aftermath of the "Situation"; he declared that the five bishops (actually six--don't forget co-consecrator Castro de Mayer) had excommunicated themselves.
Now, thanks to the infinite maleability of the 1983 code, we can make a case where both Rome and Econe can "save face" without too many canonical acrobatics (I can't take full credit for this analysis; I saw it, in part, made elsewhere long ago).
Rome can maintain that the consecrations were objectively illicit and objectively violated Can. 1382, but with respect to the penalty for that action, it can look at Can. 1324 ss. 1.5, 1.8, and 3. This Canon provides that if a punishable action (other than one that is inherently evil or tends to the harm of souls) is taken out of necessity, or even by one who, in culpable error, thought that there was a necessity, the penalty must be tempered, or in the case of a matter providing for a latae sententiae penalty, the accused is not bound by the penalty at all.
Lefebvre and the ordinands went through with the consecrations because they subjectively and honestly believed there was a necessity for it. Consecration of a bishop is not inherently evil, and it did not tend to the harm souls (or at least, the bishops, through culpable error, thought it did not). Rome could have taken juridical action (i.e., tribunals in accordance with Cann. 1400 et seq.) against the bishops that may have resulted in a ferendae sententiae penalty, of course, but it did not; the Holy Father's predecessor simply declared that they had incurred the latae sententiae penalty. From there, it should be easy for Benedict to revisit his predecessor's declaration and find that upon further factual investigation, it is clear that via the mediation of Can 1324, the bishops, because they subjectively believed that the consecreations were necessary, were never excommunicated.
Which of course, leaves the SSPX with four suspended, non-execommunicated auxiliary bishops, 500 or so suspended priests, hundreds of associated irregular priests and religious, and hundreds of thousands of confessions and marriages performed without ordinary jurisdiction and therefore potentially invalid (which is precisely where the SSPX was before 1988). This is where the real heavy lifting begins, and the amateurs like me should step aside to let real canon lawyers handle the erection of administrative structures, granting of regular faculties, and the issuance of mass sanations in order to recognize the irregular sacramental matters of the last twenty or thirty years.
So much for my analysis of the SSPX buzz for today. I'll try to do something more interesting (and unrelated to the potential reconciliation) for tomorrow's post.