"A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime,motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins."
My friends, this is good news. Undoubtedly, good news.
There are those who are arguing that this is a bad because it represents a further "concession" of Rome and a further "victory" for the SSPX. Yes, this is a concession from Rome; and yes, it certainly is a victory for the SSPX - but Rome and the SSPX are not "against" each other, as if the SSPX "wins" and Rome "loses." People who think that way see these two groups in fundamental and irreconcilable opposition; they do not want the SSPX to reconcile with Rome. They want the SSPX to go off into oblivion (or for Rome to).
My friends, I have argued in the past on this blog that I believed the SSPX were in an objective state of schism. I have argued for a traditionalism that is not yoked to the SSPX. I did not personally come to Catholic tradition through the SSPX nor do I feel I personally owe anything to Archbishop Lefebvre. Still, no matter what position you hold, this is good news. It is good because it is legitimate. It is undeniable. It removes us from the realm of speculation and debate and puts us on solid footing with something.
There are some who will say that Francis should not have restored their faculties for confession without first settling their irregular canonical status. There are those who will huff and say that they didn't need to have their faculties restored because they were never validly revoked. Whatever. I am going to rejoice in this, and rejoice in it fully, without any "yeah buts" or "should've beens."
It is ironic that Francis, in his obvious lack of any care for the specifics of doctrine, is better poised to reconcile the SSPX than Benedict, for whom every doctrinal issue had to be settled first. Francis' approach to the SSPX has only been generous thus far; it is not perfect. He no doubt sees the SSPX and traditionalism as one of many "ways" of "expressing" the infinite "creativity" of the Holy Spirit's movement within Catholicism. Trads are one member of the group under the big tent - a stodgy, ill-manner, sour-faced, funereal, rosary counting member, but a member none the less. And there is room under the tent for us, just like there is for charismatics, Novus Ordo Catholics, and every other little group within the Church (whatever he means by that word).
I am fairly certain this is Francis' ecclesiology. And from the point of view of the SSPX's situation, it is good, because it means that Francis values getting them in the tent rather than making sure they agree on everything before they can come in.
I am going out on a limb here, but I believe that once faculties are restored, it will be difficult to remove them again without some kind of precipitating event or crisis. Francis cited the SSPX's excellent character and behavior as reasons for restoring their faculties. I assume the next year is a time of testing and probation for the SSPX. If nothing goes wrong, I would be surprised if they are not fully reconciled before the end of Francis' pontificate. Is that too optimistic? If even Benedict, who was sympathetic to the Traditional Mass, could not reconcile them, how could Francis? Simple. Francis is way, way more likely to simply reconcile them immediately and work out the details later. Again, he doesn't care about the doctrinal details. He just wants them in the house. He is more likely to grant them unconditional reconciliation; no preambles, no agreements, just "come on in and we'll sort it out later."
Sure, some will say it is a plot - that he wants them regularized so he can begin dismantling them, as he did with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. I don't know; I grant that's a possibility, but my in my gut I do not think this is the case. I suspect, motivated by some happy-clappy "We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord" sort of mood, he just wants everybody together and everything else can ultimately be debated later.
One final point - I have argued in the past that the SSPX are/were in a state of schism. Many Catholics are divided on this, and honestly, not just because of axes to grind for or against the Society, but because the Magisterium itself has given contrary opinions on the matter and refused to definitively clarify their position. But one thing is clear: after yesterday's announcement, there is no way I can consider the SSPX to currently be in schism.
The reason is simple: the Pontiff cannot give faculties to a group truly in schism. If they were in schism, reconciliation would have to happen first. If the Pope wanted to make judgments pertaining to the faculties of some oriental schism or some other break-away group, reconciliation with Rome would be a sine qua non of such discussions. Can you imagine the Pope talking about the granting or removing of faculties to a group that had not even been reunited with Rome? It would be unthinkable; nonsense, even. Like restoring faculties to the Old Catholics without first getting them back into some sort of communion.
By granting the SSPX faculties, Francis has demonstrated his belief that they are not outside the pale. Not that they are in a perfect situation, either. The pope had said in his statement that he hopes the SSPX will recover "full communion" with Rome, which obviously speaks to the point that the Society's position is still irregular and that they are not in perfect communion. There is still work to be done. But I can't see how they can still be in schism.
That's not to say I believe they were never in schism, but I cannot see how they are still in that state now. Of course, there is one other option to consider - that neither the Pope, nor anyone at the Vatican, knows what their true status is; in fact, "status" may not even be a concept that this pope cares about. After all, this is a man who calls a Protestant pastor "my brother bishop." That words like "schism", "communion", "reconciliation" and so on no longer mean anything and anyone trying to sort out of objective status of the group is trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.
I do not know how to sort out the particulars; any attempt to do so presupposes a kind of consistency on the part of the Magisterium and a uniformity of the definitions of words and canonical terms, something nobody can presume upon anymore.
That is why it is enough for me to simply say, this is a good thing. I pray for my brethren in the SSPX. I pray they will find away, in the wisdom of God, to be fully reconciled in the Church with a regularized status in full union with Rome and exercising a legitimate ministry. This is a very powerful step, and it is one I rejoice in unconditionally.