- The Society consists only of priests and religious. Laymen cannot be members, but they can (and frequently do) attend masses celebrated by a priestly member of the Society.
- The ordination of priests in the Society are valid, but these priests are currently suspended by Rome, therefore, the Eucharist offered in a Society mass is a legitimate sacrament, even though the celebration of the mass itself is "illicit" meaning not approved by Rome.
- Roman Catholic laymen may attend a Society mass without any fear of disciplinary action by the Roman Catholic Church, however, Rome discourages such attendance.
- The layman who attends a Society mass solely to observe and participate in the traditional Latin litugy commints no sin, and is not in schism, nor is he excommunicated.
- The laymen who attends a Society mass because of a refusal to accept the Second Vatican Council, or the teachings of the pope, does commit sin, is in schism and can incur automatic excommunication.
- The reason why Rome discourages attendance of Society masses (at this time) is because a pervasive attitude of schism often permeates Society congregations. Occasional attendance may do no harm to the lay faithful, but more frequent attendance may cause the faithful to pick up schismatic attitudes which could jepordize the laity's communion with Rome.
PONTIFICIA COMMISSIO "ECCLESIA DEI"
N. 539/99 Rome, 28 September 1999
Mr. Joseph E. Rebbert
10024 Piebald Lane
Dear Mr. Rebbert,
We wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter to His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger. It has been transmitted to this Pontifical Commission as dealing with matters that come within our particular competence. With regard to the schismatic Society of St. Pius X we can say the following:
1. The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, but suspended, that is prohibited from exercising their priestly functions because they are not properly incardinated in a diocese or religious institute in full communion with the Holy See (cf. canon 265) and also because those ordained after the schismatic episcopal ordinations were ordained by an excommunicated bishop. They are also excommunicated if they adhere to the schism (cf. Ecclesia Del, #5, c). While up to now the Holy See has not defined what this .adherence consists in, one could point to a wholesale condemnation of the Church since the Second Vatican Council and a refusal to be in communion with it (cf. canon 751 on the definition of schism). Further, it is likely that these priests, after eleven years in a society whose head is now an excommunicated bishop, effectively adhere to the schism. . .
2. Concretely this means that the Masses offered by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are valid, but illicit i.e., contrary to Canon Law. The Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony, however, require that the priest enjoys the faculties of the diocese or has proper delegation. Since that is not the case with these priests, these sacraments are invalid. It remains true, however, that, if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that the priests of the Society of St. Pius X do not have the proper faculty to absolve, the Church supplied these faculties so that the sacrament was valid (cf. Code of Canon Law c. 144).
3. The situation of the faithful attending chapels of the Society of St. Pius X is more complicated. They may attend Mass there primarily because of an attraction to the earlier form of the Roman Rite in which case they incur no penalty. The difficulty is that the longer they frequent these chapels, the more likely it is that they will slowly imbibe the schismatic mentality which stands in judgement of the Church and refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff and communion with the members of the Church subject to him. If that becomes the case, then it would seem that they adhere to the schism and are consequently excommunicated. For these reasons this Pontifical Commission cannot encourage you to frequent the chapel of the Society of St. Pius X. On the other hand it would seem that you are among those who attend Mass in chapels of the Society of St. Pius X because of the reverence and devotion which they find there, because of their attraction to the traditional Latin Mass and not because they refuse submission to the Roman Pontiff or reject communion with the members of the Church subject to him. At the same time it must be admitted that - this is an irregular situation, even if the circumstances which have caused it have come about through no fault of your own, and it should be remedied as soon as circumstances permit. With prayerful best wishes I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Msgr. Camille Perl