After granting the power to hear the faithful's confessions without recourse to “supplied jurisdiction”, Pope Francis encouraged the bishops of the world to grant to the priests of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X the faculty of celebrating the sacrament of marriage. Here is an analysis of a new stage in the relationship between Rome and the Society founded by Archbishop Lefebvre.
On April 4, 2017, a letter was issued from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei concerning the permission to be given for the celebration of marriages concerning the faithful of the Society of St. Pius X. This letter, approved on March 27 by the Sovereign Pontiff - signed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, President of the Commission, and by Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the same body - was addressed to the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences.
The purpose of the letter is to clarify the situation of the marriages celebrated by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X: so far, the SSPX - noting the moral impossibility of requesting a delegation from the local Ordinary and convinced to do what the Church has always done in the preparation and celebration of the sacrament of marriage - has based its reasoning on the notion of "supplied jurisdiction", provided for by canon law, in order to dispense spouses from the canonical form of the sacrament, and ensure its certain validity.
The Commission explains the reason for the permission granted today: "Following the same pastoral outlook which seeks to reassure the conscience of the faithful", like the papal document Misericordia et Misera recognizing the validity of absolutions given by priests of the Society. Here we find the priority often given by the Sovereign Pontiff to the pastoral dimension of the major issues affecting the life of the Church.
The Commission's letter provides that the vows [of the spouses] will be taken according to the traditional Latin ritual, "insofar as possible" by a priest incardinated in the diocese where the marriage is celebrated - or at least by a "fully regular" priest - the Society priest celebrating Mass later.
If this is not possible, the document specifies that the local Ordinary may "grant the necessary faculties to the priest of the Society who will also celebrate the Holy Mass, reminding him of the duty to forward the relevant documents to the Diocesan Curia as soon as possible."
It is interesting to note that the letter leaves open the question of the possibility or the impossibility of having recourse to a diocesan priest. The law of the Church requires that the laws be interpreted in the most favorable sense for the faithful concerned: one can therefore easily understand that the faithful claiming to be with the Society feel legitimately prevented from reaching out to a pastor different from the one who has conscientiously prepared them, often for more than a year, and knows them better than any other, like the "good shepherd" who knows his sheep and that his sheep know.
Through this Roman document, there also appears a concern not to undercut the episcopal conferences because the initiative for delegation belongs here to the Ordinaries of the place and to them alone, even if the Commission intends to encourage the diocesan bishops to be generous in the application of this measure: "This Dicastery relies on Your cooperation," concludes the letter approved by Pope Francis.
Moreover, it was a coincidence that this new permission was approved on March 24 at the pontifical audience granted to the Cardinal President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, just a few days before the Spring Conference of French Bishops in Lourdes, from March 28 to 31. It is probable that the case of the Society was raised, since the spokesman of the Conference, Bishop Ribadeau-Dumas, explained: "During this assembly, the Bishops devoted one day (Thursday 30) to the theme The Unity of the Church and the Diversity of Catholics."
For its part, the General House reacted in a statement published the same day: “The Society of Saint Pius X conveys its deep gratitude to the Holy Father for his pastoral solicitude as expressed in the letter from the Ecclesia Dei Commission, for the purpose of alleviating ‘any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage.’ Pope Francis clearly wishes that, as in the matter of confessions, all the faithful who want to marry in the presence of a priest of the Society of Saint Pius X can do so without any worries about the validity of the sacrament. It is to be hoped that all the bishops share this same pastoral solicitude.
The priests of the Society of Saint Pius X will strive faithfully, as they have done since their ordination, to prepare future spouses for marriage according to the unchangeable doctrine of Christ about the unity and indissolubility of this union (cf. Mt 19:6), before receiving the parties’ consent in the traditional rite of the Holy Church.”