SSPX: Defending its own no matter how wrong

WegnerAs I write, the nearly exclusive focus of many people regarding the SSPX concerns recently made allegations against it. Any number of readers have asked me to comment on them.

To be sure, the who, what, when and how in this case matters. Let’s hope and pray that the truth comes to light quickly so that justice – be it retributive, exculpatory or otherwise – can be served as may be appropriate. Following this, may our collective sight return to more important things, like seeing to it that Catholic tradition is faithfully taught, docilly received and vigorously defended – all for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

With this in mind, at present, my focus remains on the degree to which the SSPX is upholding its duty to stand up for the Sovereign Rights of Christ the King – the same that Archbishop Lefebvre identified as the central issue affecting the post-conciliar age.

At this, I wonder how many readers will jump off in search of more salacious content?

BACKGROUND

On March 24, in a post titled, SSPX UK renounces the Kingship of Christ, I called attention to the fact that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had issued an order that effectively prohibits the public offering of Holy Mass and the Sacraments, declaring:

We’ll stop all social events​, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals … If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

In response to this unlawful edict from the State, Fr. Robert Brucciani, SSPX, District Superior of Great Britain, dispatched a letter to Society faithful stating:

An announcement this evening by the British PM has left us with no choice but to cancel all public religious ceremonies… [Emphasis added]  

Well-established Catholic doctrine (treated in some detail HERE , HERE and HERE) teaches that the State has neither the right nor the authority to so dictate to the Church.

Even so, Fr. Jurgen Wegner, SSPX, District Superior of the U.S. District, had issued a statement on March 14 saying, we will follow the lawful government orders and all unnecessary public gatherings will be canceled, including Holy Mass. Such orders, however, are not lawful.

The exclusive authority vested in the Church concerning things of a sacred character is a direct consequence of the Sovereign Rights of Christ the King; to deny one is to implicitly deny the other. In other words, the stakes are extremely high.

On March 26, I sent a letter to Fr. Davide Pagliarani (which may be read HERE) calling his attention to this matter and begging him to issue a statement making the traditional doctrine clear. Whether or not my efforts motivated a response from the SSPX, I cannot say, but a response did in fact come.

THE SOCIETY ISSUES A RESPONSE

On April 10, the SSPX published an article by Fr. Arnaud Sélégny titled, A Reminder Concerning the Relationship Between Church and State.

As readers will soon discover, it is truly nothing more than a verbose defense, not of the Sovereign Rights of Christ the King and His Holy Catholic Church in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather of the State and its egregious encroachment upon the same.

Much of Fr. Sélégny’s essay is not directly relevant to the present discussion. Here, I will highlight those portions of the text that are. He begins:

The traditional ecclesiastical doctrine on the relationship between Church and State has been developed and tested over the centuries, sometimes in extremely difficult situations. It is useful today to avoid exaggerated or unsound judgements.

On this, every Catholic is in agreement. Fr. Sélégny continues, rightly pointing out:

…temporal things and temporal acts must be subject to supernatural acts. They must not only not oppose them, but even favour them by removing obstacles to the development of the spiritual life, and by providing it with everything morally necessary for its fulfilment…

Thus, temporal power must align itself with the spiritual power, not with regard to its temporal end, which is within its competence, but with regard to the spiritual end, in order to provide the Church with the help She needs for her own end…

She [the Church] received from her founder full authority over the baptised, to lead them to eternal life…

Fr. Sélégny then moves on to discussing “mixed matters,” which he describes as follows:

The mixed domain concerns matters which, in themselves, touch on the spiritual order, such as matters concerning worship, religious education, marriage and the religious state, but which are at the same time subject to civil legislation. Therefore, by their nature they are of interest to both the Church and the State.

He then rightly asserts:

In this mixed domain, it is in the name of its direct power over the spiritual that the Church acts and legislates.

Before we move on, Fr. Sélégny’s description of mixed matters demands a clarification inasmuch as the wording may be confusing to some. Catholic worship, religious education, marriage, etc. are not truly “subject to civil legislation.” One need only recall what Pope Leo XIII said about such a notion:

To wish the Church to be subject to the civil power in the exercise of her duty is a great folly and a sheer injustice. Whenever this is the case, order is disturbed, for things natural are put above things supernatural… (cf Immortale Dei) [Emphasis added]

In truth, worship, religious education, marriage, etc. are properly subject to the Church, not civil legislation, as if said legislation could lawfully bind the Church (e.g., Fr. Brucciani’s unfortunate comment: the British PM has left us with no choice!)

To be very clear, the State does indeed have care of religious matters, and it is called to legislate in such a way as to support the Church in carrying out her mission; it does not, however, have the authority to dictate terms to the Church regarding it.

At issue is the fact that matters may occasionally arise about which the powers of the Church and the powers of the State intersect and, therefore, mixed jurisdiction exists. Pope Leo XIII describes it as follows:

But, inasmuch as each of these two powers [Church and State] has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing – related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing – might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both… (ibid.)

This is precisely what is taking place in our day as Catholic public worship is “subject to the power and judgment of the Church” (Pope Leo XIII, idib.) and yet the State does have the power to regulate public gatherings as necessary to safeguard the common good.

So, what if it should happen that the Church – to use a present-day example – exercises her power and judgment to rule “in spite of the current pandemic, the holy day obligation remains in force,” even as the State forbids any such public gatherings?

Pope Leo XIII spoke directly to this type of situation saying it would be a “deplorable contention and conflict” should “the Church and the State command contrary things” since, for the faithful, “it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two.”

The Holy Father then provided the answer, making it plain where the priority of power lies in such matters:

Wherefore, being, by the favor of God, entrusted with the government of the Catholic Church, and made guardian and interpreter of the doctrines of Christ, We judge that it belongs to Our jurisdiction, venerable brethren, publicly to set forth what Catholic truth demands of every one in this sphere of duty; thus making clear also by what way and by what means measures may be taken for the public safety in so critical a state of affairs. – Diuturnum

“For the powers that are, are ordained of God,” writes Poe Leo XIII, citing St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The Holy Father tells us that when both the Church and the State rule in a manner that reflects their divine ordination, there exists “a certain orderly connection which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man.” (ibid.)

Just as it is with respect to matters both spiritual and corporeal, whereby it is incumbent upon the body to be ruled by the intellect and the will, each of which are powers that “belong to the soul alone” (Aquinas, ST-I, Q. 77, Art. 8), so too is it incumbent upon the State in mixed matters to align itself with the rule of the Church.

Today, with respect to COVID-19, “deplorable contention and conflict” exist for two reasons, both the Church and the State are behaving in violation of their divine ordination; the Church by failing to assert her prerogatives, the State by overstepping its own.

Fr. Sélégny, having once rightly stated, “temporal power must align itself with the spiritual power,” proceeded to make a stunning about face. This, after all, is the only way he could mount a defense of churchmen who behave as if the State is well within its bounds to order the Holy Catholic Church to cease inviting the faithful to participate in the Mass and the Sacraments:

However, at the same time, the Church recognises the right of the State to legislate in these [mixed] matters as well, and, as long as it is not a matter of faith or morals, She is ready to adapt to situations in which the prudence of both parties is involved. For his part, the prince – i.e. the one who directs the State – does not have the same obligation of obedience as in other matters, according to his sound judgement.

Is Fr. Sélégny really suggesting that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments do not pertain to faith and morals, and so the Church should simply follow whatever the civil authority may decree?

Evidently, he would do well to consider the words of Pope Leo XIII who taught:

Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. (cf Immortale Dei)

Would he, in light of this unambiguous teaching, wish to insist that Holy Mass and the Sacraments are not of a sacred character and therefore are subject to the power and judgment of the State?

Fr. Sélégny then makes an attempt to convince readers that there is precedence for churchmen willingly conceding authority to the State in sacred matters, a rather lawyerly manner of arguing in favor (or against, in the present case) of Catholic tradition.

He begins by pointing to St. Louis, King of France, whom Fr. Sélégny tells us, “refused to intervene with his royal authority against lay people in conflict with bishops on temporal matters.” [Emphasis added]

As mentioned, temporal matters are the proper domain of the civil authority, and no one is arguing otherwise. He then gives another example from the reign of St. Louis:

When requested by Pope Gregory IX, and again by Pope Innocent IV, he refused to start a war with the Emperor Frederick II…

A war? Another temporal matter! Clearly, Fr. Sélégny is grasping at straws, but things swiftly go from bad to worse as he writes:

Finally, we should also add that the Church has sometimes had to suffer from abuses of temporal powers, in these mixed matters. For as long as these abuses were not opposed to her mission to save souls, she tolerated them, according to the prudential judgement of her superiors.

Yes, you read that correctly; Fr. Sélégny is suggesting that the State forbidding public access to Holy Mass and the Sacraments, even going so far as to forbid baptism by name (as in the case of the British Prime Minister) is not opposed to the Church’s mission to save souls and therefore, should be tolerated.  

Would it also be Fr. Sélégny’s opinion that the Church should tolerate the police interrupting Mass in order to enforce the State’s stay-at-home order, as happened recently at a Novus Ordo parish in Paris?

CLOSING ARGUMENT

Fr. Sélégny, at long last, provides readers with his closing argument:

The regulation of public engagements, in this time of epidemic, is clearly a matter of temporal power. It so happens, that Catholic worship involves public gatherings. The question is therefore whether temporal power is within its right in making decisions with regard to Catholic worship, considered in its social dimension from the point of view of public meetings.

To ask the question is, in fact, to answer it, because it is clearly a mixed matter. To deny this right would be simply to obscure this chapter of Catholic doctrine.

One cannot help but wonder if Fr. Sélégny has any idea as to what Catholic doctrine (e.g., as briefly referenced above) actually states about matters of mixed jurisdiction.

Moving on, Fr. Sélégny then provides two specific historical examples of churchmen who, like so many of his SSPX brethren in our day, willingly submitted to the authority of the State during the Spanish Flu pandemic:

He informs readers that civil authorities in Switzerland had issued a decree stating:

Divine worship and religious gatherings may only be celebrated in the open air and far from built-up areas. Burials will take place without the public and only the next of kin may assist.”

In response, he tells us, “The ecclesiastical authorities complied with the decree issued by the civil authorities.”

Given the absence of any statements from the ecclesiastical authorities, it is impossible to say if this “precedent” truly resembles the current situation. One thing we can say for certain, however, is that even a dozen examples of churchmen behaving as if the Church is subject to the authority of the State in matters of mixed jurisdiction would not serve to make such behavior meritorious. It would still be irreconcilable with Catholic tradition.

Lastly, Fr. Sélégny cites what evidently is the only other precedent he could find; namely, that of Bishop John Regis Canevin of Pittsburgh who, in light of the Spanish Flu, stated:

When, in the judgment of the civil authorities, whose duty it is to safeguard public health, it becomes necessary to close churches and schools and take other strong precautions against epidemics of virulent disease, the only rule for pastors and people is to co-operate with the civil authorities of their district.

Might I remind readers that Pope Leo XIII had twice found it necessary to remind the episcopacy of the United States of Catholic tradition, via Encyclical Letter, concerning Catholic doctrine on matters of Church and State (see Longinqua and Testem Benevolentiae).

How telling it is that Fr. Sélégny turned to the example of an American bishop, with regard to matters of Church and State of all things, in his attempt to defend the behavior of the SSPX in its relationship with the civil authorities.

CONCLUSION

In all of my posts on the degree to which churchmen in our day have failed to stand up for the Sovereign Rights of Christ the King and the freedom of His Church, I have done so by citing papal magisterium at some length. It is striking that Fr. Sélégny’s 2,000-word essay includes no such citations in support of his conclusion. The reason is plain; none exist.

What Fr. Sélégny’s lengthy essay reveals is the extent to which the SSPX will go in order to defend its own, no matter how wrong they may be; in this case, turning its back on Christ the King, issuing blatantly contradictory statements, and ignoring entirely the “traditional ecclesiastical doctrine” it purportedly exists to preserve.

aka Modernist war

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