July 2011 Print


Beatification and Canonization Since Vatican II


The Difficulties Arising from the Council

Second Difficulty: Collegiality

An attentive examination of the new norms reveals that the legislation reverts to what was in place before the 12th century: the pope leaves it to the bishop to make a direct judgment of the causes of saints and reserves to himself only the power to confirm the judgment of the Ordinaries. As John Paul II explained it, this regression is a consequence of the principle of collegiality: “In light of the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council on collegiality, We also think that the Bishops themselves should be more closely associated with the Holy See in dealing with the causes of saints.”1 But the legislation of the 12th century merged beatifications and canonizations as two non-infallible acts.2 This is what keeps us from simply assimilating the canonizations proceeding from the [conciliar] reform to the traditional acts of the extraordinary teaching authority of the Sovereign Pontiff; in these acts the pope is satisfied with certifying the act of a local Ordinary. This constitutes a first reason warranting a serious doubt that the conditions required for the infallibility of canonizations have been met.

The Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem of June 29, 1998, reinforces this doubt. The purpose of this document is to insert certain norms into the 1983 Code of Canon Law, additions made necessary by the 1989 Profession of Faith. First, the infallibility of canonizations in principle is established. The 1989 Profession of Faith in effect distinguishes three categories of truths that constitute the object of the teaching of the supreme Magisterium: truths formally revealed and infallibly defined, truths taught authentically, and truths proposed definitively and infallibly because of a logical link or historical connection with formal Revelation. In the Instruction Donum Veritatis of 1990, which is the authentic commentary of this Profession of Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger gives as examples of this third category: the reservation of priestly ordination to men, the unlawfulness of euthanasia, and the canonization of saints. The 1998 Motu Proprio [Ad Tuendam Fidem] confers a greater authority to these two documents: the Pope teaches them as expressing his own teaching and inserts them into the Code of Canon Law. But then the text of Ad Tuendam Fidem establishes distinctions which diminish the range of the infallibility of canonizations, since it becomes clear that this infallibility is no longer to be understood in the traditional sense. At least this is what comes across from a reading of the document drafted by Cardinal Ratzinger to serve as an official commentary of the 1998 Motu Proprio.3 This commentary specifies in what way the pope can henceforth exercise his infallible teaching authority. Up to now we had a personally infallible and definitive act of the locutio ex cathedra as well as the decrees of ecumenical councils. Hereafter we shall also have an act that will be neither personally infallible nor definitive of itself but which will remain an act of the pope’s ordinary magisterium: the object of this act will be to discern doctrines as infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the episcopal College. Consequently, under this third category, the pope exercises an act of the magisterium which is infallible by reason of the infallibility of the episcopal College; and this act will be neither definitive of itself, for it will be limited to indicating what the episcopal College teaches.4 Now, if one observes the new norms promulgated in 1983 by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of John Paul II, it is clear that in the precise case of canonizations the pope, for the sake of collegiality, will exercise his teaching authority according to this third mode. Taking into account both the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of 1983 and the Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem of 1998, when the pope exercises his personal teaching authority [magisterium] to proceed to a canonization, it seems that his will is to intervene as the organ of the collegial magisterium; thus canonizations are no longer guaranteed by the personal infallibility of the pope’s solemn magisterium. Would they be so in virtue of the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the College of Bishops? Until the present, the entire theological tradition has never said that such was the case, and has always regarded the infallibility of canonizations as the fruit of a divine assistance granted only to the personal magisterium of the pope, which can be likened to ex cathedra pronouncements [locutio ex cathedra]. This constitutes a second reason authorizing us to entertain serious doubts about the infallibility of the canonizations carried out in conformity with the postconciliar reforms.

Third Difficulty: Heroic Virtue

The formal object of the magisterial act of canonization is the saint’s practice of the virtues in a heroic degree. Just as the magisterium is traditional because it always teaches the same immutable truths, so also is canonization traditional because it ought always to point out the same heroic practice of the Christian virtues, beginning with the theological virtues. Consequently, if the pope sets forth as an example the life of one of the faithful departed who had not practiced the virtues in the heroic degree, or if he shows them under a new perspective, as inspired more by the dignity of human nature than by the supernatural action of the Holy Spirit, one cannot see in what way this act would constitute a canonization. To change the object is to change the act.

This change of perspective is indicated to us by a sign. Since Vatican II, the number of beatifications and canonizations has taken on unheard of proportions. John Paul II alone conducted more canonizations than each of his predecessors of the 20th century in addition to all those of his predecessors combined since the creation of the Congregation of Rites by Sixtus V in 1588. The Polish Pope himself explained the reason for this increase in the number of canonizations during a speech to the Cardinals during the consistory of June 13, 1984:

Sometimes it is said that today there are too many beatifications. But besides reflecting the reality that, by the grace of God, is what it is, this also corresponds to the express desires of the Council. The Gospel is so diffused in the world and its message has so deeply taken root that it is precisely the large number of beatifications which reflects in a vital manner the action of the Holy Spirit and the vitality that He causes to spring forth in the domain the most essential for the Church, that of holiness. For it is in fact the Council that has spotlighted in a special way the universal call to holiness.

Hence this quantitative change is caused by a qualitative change. If beatifications and canonizations are henceforth more numerous, it is because the holiness to which they attest has taken on a different meaning: holiness is no longer something rare, but something universal. This makes sense because holiness since Vatican II is considered a common gift. The idea of a universal vocation to holiness is the central theme of Chapter V of the Constitution Lumen Gentium; universal vocation brings about two consequences. Firstly, it is remarkable that this text does not mention at all the distinction between the remote call to holiness which in principle comes to all, and on the other hand the proximate (and efficacious) call which in fact does not come to all.5 Secondly, it is also remarkable that the text is silent about the distinction between a common sanctity and heroic sanctity in which holiness properly so-called consists.6 The very term “heroic virtue” does not appear anywhere in Chapter V of the Constitution Lumen Gentium. And in fact, since the Council, when theologians speak of the act of heroic virtue, they tend more or less to define it by distinguishing it from an act of simply natural virtue, instead of distinguishing it from an ordinary act of supernatural virtue.7 This is a first reason authorizing us to doubt that the beatifications and canonizations accomplished since Vatican II are identical with what the Church has always intended to do until then by such acts.

This change of perspective also appears if one observes the ecumenical orientation of sanctity since Vatican II. The ecumenical orientation of sanctity was affirmed by John Paul II in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint as well as in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. The pope alludes to a communion of holiness transcending the different religions, manifesting the redemptive action of Christ and the outpouring of His Spirit on the whole of mankind.8 As for Pope Benedict XVI, one has no alternative than to recognize that he defines salvation in the same ecumenical sense, which falsifies by the very fact the notion of sanctity, a correlative of supernatural salvation.9 This is a second reason why one can only hesitate to see in the acts of the new beatifications and canonizations a real continuity with the Tradition of the Church.


Three serious reasons authorize the faithful Catholic to doubt the merits of the new beatifications and canonizations. Firstly, the reforms that followed the Council have produced as a consequence certain inadequacies in the process10; and secondly they have introduced a new collegial intention, two consequences that are incompatible with the soundness of beatifications and the infallibility of canonizations. Thirdly, the judgment that occurs in the process involves a conception of sanctity and heroic virtue at the very least equivocal and hence dubious.

In the context resulting from the postconciliar reforms, the pope and the bishops offer to the veneration of faithful Catholics authentic saints, but canonized at the conclusion of an inadequate and doubtful procedure. Thus there can be no doubt that Padre Pio, canonized after Vatican II, practiced the virtues in a heroic degree even though the new style of process that concluded with the proclamation of his virtues can only give one pause.

On the other hand, the same procedure makes possible canonizations that would have once been unthinkable, in which the title of holiness is conferred upon faithful departed whose reputation is controversial and in whom the exercise of virtue in the heroic degree is not particularly outstanding. Is it certain that for the popes who have accomplished these newfangled canonizations, heroic virtue is what it was for all their predecessors until Vatican II? This unwonted situation can be explained by the confusion introduced by the postconciliar reforms. It cannot be dispelled without getting to the root cause and examining the soundness of these reforms.


Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize


Translated from Courrier de Rome, February 2011, pp. 5-7.

1 Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, A.A.S., 1983, p. 351: Putamus etiam prælucente doctrina de collegialitate a concilio Vaticano II proposita valde convenire ut ipsi episcopi magis Apostolicæ Sedi socientur in causis sanctorum tractandis.”This statement of John Paul II is quoted by Benedict XVI in his Message to the Members of the Plenary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of April 24, 2006.

2 Such is the opinion of Benedict XIV in his treatise On the Beatification and Canonization of Saints, Bk. I, Ch. X, No. 6.

3 Section 9 of the Note of the Sacred Congregation for the Faith published in the A.A.S. of 1998, pp. 547-548.

4 For example, the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of May 22, 1994, is presented by Cardinal Ratzinger as an infallible act of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium of the College of Bishops. In the explicit intention of the Holy See, this text cannot be assimilated to a locutio ex cathedra.

5 This confusion implies a predestination of the entire People of God to sanctity and salvation. And that also implies a definition of the Church in the Protestant sense. On the contrary, as Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange remarks (Christian Perfection and Contemplation, II, 419-427 [French edition], called does not mean elect or predestined. And this is the sense of the parables in the Gospel (Lk. 18:7; Mt. 20:16, 22:14, 24:34; Mk. 13:20-22). All Christians are called to sanctity in virtue of the grace of baptism and insofar as they belong to the Church; but all are not elected, which leads to the negation of the proposition that the Church is the society of the predestined.

6 The distinction between common virtue and heroic virtue is an essential distinction: as remarks, among others, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, heroic sanctity corresponds to a divine mode of acting that remains specifically distinct from the human mode, and this distinction is much more than a simple difference of degree. The divine mode takes place when the intervention of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which is common to all the baptized, no longer remains frequent but hidden or rarely manifested, but becomes both frequent and manifest. See Christian Perfection and Contemplation, I, 404-405 [French edition].

7 For example, Jean-Michel Fabre in his work La Sainteté canonisée (Tequi, 2003), pp. 104-105. Even in the context of ordinary supernatural life, the baptized is already under the influence of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which is characteristic of supernatural activity in general, and not the formal element that would distinguish it from heroic action. As Father Garrigou-Lagrange points out, this element would rather be the influence of the gifts not as gifts, but as preponderant and manifest.

8 “Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and of the martyrs. The communio sanctorum speaks louder than the things which divide us.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 37); “In the radiance of the ‘heritage of the saints’ belonging to all Communities, the ‘dialogue of conversion’ towards full and visible unity thus appears as a source of hope. This universal presence of the Saints is in fact a proof of the transcendent power of the Spirit. It is the sign and proof of God’s victory over the forces of evil which divide humanity.” (Ut Unum Sint, 84); ”Albeit in an invisible way, the communion between our Communities, even if still incomplete, is truly and solidly grounded in the full communion of the Saints—those who, at the end of a life faithful to grace, are in communion with Christ in glory. These Saints come from all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which gave them entrance into the communion of salvation. When we speak of a common heritage, we must acknowledge as part of it not only the institutions, rites, means of salvation and the traditions which all the communities have preserved and by which they have been shaped, but first and foremost this reality of holiness. (Ut Unum Sint, 84); “The witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, as Pope Paul VI pointed out in his Homily for the Canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 37).

9 Benedict XVI, Speech given at the Ecumenical Meeting at the Prague Archdiocese, Sunday, September 27, 2009: “[T]hose who fix their gaze upon Jesus of Nazareth with eyes of faith know that God offers a deeper reality which is nonetheless inseparable from the ‘economy’ of charity at work in this world (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 2): He offers salvation. The term is replete with connotations, yet it expresses something fundamental and universal about the human yearning for well-being and wholeness. It alludes to the ardent desire for reconciliation and communion that wells up spontaneously in the depths of the human spirit. It is the central truth of the Gospel and the goal to which every effort of evangelization and pastoral care is directed. And it is the criterion to which Christians constantly redirect their focus as they endeavour to heal the wounds of past divisions…” [www.radiovaticana.org.].

10 [See part one of this article in The Angelus, June 2011.–Ed.]



The State of Necessity

Why do the priests of the Society of St. Pius X exercise a ministry even though they lack an “official” canonical structure? In the following article, the author demonstrates that the present “extraordinary” situation which has become the ordinary state of affairs in the Church for the last 40 years necessitates recourse to the “extraordinary rules” provided by the Code of Canon Law. These rules not only justify but also obligate these priests to exercise their ministry in behalf of souls, whose salvation is the supreme law.

“And answering them, he said: Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fall into a pit and will not immediately draw him out, on the sabbath day?” (Lk. 14:5)

Even after the lifting of the so-called excommunications, about the invalidity of which so much has been written and which I shall address later in this article, the ministry of the priests of the SSPX continues to be labeled illegitimate because it is exercised without due canonical form. In point of fact, these priests hear confessions and administer the sacraments like parish pastors, when the authorities of the Church have not granted them the right to exercise any kind of ministry. Our goal in this article is to examine by what right, and on the basis of what divine and juridical rules, the priests of the SSPX continue to exercise their ministry. They often invoke a “state of necessity”: what is this state, and the exercise of what juridical powers does it justify? Is the state of necessity a kind of jungle, a regression to a pre-social state, or is it on the contrary an extraordinary situation in which extraordinary rules apply, and in which it would be wrong to try to apply ordinary rules to the letter? In other words, does there exist, de jure and de facto, a situation that renders impossible or inexpedient or even harmful the application of ordinary positive law and which calls for, on the contrary, recourse to the application of higher laws, which are not arbitrary but which have been provided for by legislation and by divine law?

We intend to show in this article that the ministry exercised by the Society of St. Pius X is absolutely legitimate, opportune, and adequate.

Necessity: Definition and Degrees

We speak here of a spiritual state of necessity, that is, the need to receive the sacraments (and, secondarily, the helps that predispose the soul to their reception–everything from sacramentals to instruction according to the various spiritual works of mercy). We are not considering the state of corporal necessity, which concerns the obligation in charity to bring relief according to the corporal works of mercy.

The state of necessity can be of three kinds, if distinguished according to its gravity: 1) Extreme necessity, the necessity of someone who cannot evade a certain and proximate danger of losing his soul without the help of someone else. It is the case of a child in danger of dying without baptism, or of a sinner at the point of death who does not know how or is unable to make a perfect act of contrition, be he believer or unbeliever. 2) Grave necessity, the kind of necessity that cannot be overcome without great difficulty; for example, in case of proximate danger of losing the faith or grace. This necessity is that of a sinner in danger of death (the difference from the preceding case is in the fact that here it is supposed that he can save himself by an act of perfect contrition), but also that of someone who, without help, runs the risk of being lost. 3) Common necessity, the necessity of someone who, unless helped, could fall into sin, even if the danger can be overcome without this help. Here the adjective common indicates the fact that this situation is the usual situation of the majority of situations in the lives of men.

It is clear that pastors of souls are bound in justice to help their flock in these cases of necessity, sinning more or less gravely according to the type of necessity in which the faithful find themselves; other priests (and also laymen, at their level) can be held in charity to lend to those who are in spiritual need, each according to his means and with more or less urgency according to the gravity of the necessity.

The Current Situation: General Grave Necessity

Now let us ask what is the current situation? in what state of necessity do the faithful of the Church today find themselves? Then we shall try to understand how one can and one ought to remedy this type of situation.

There exists today in the whole Church a crisis recognized by all, and we have often decried its manifold aspects. The crisis consists essentially in the fact, publicly recognized up to a certain point even by the supreme authority of the Church, that today it is nearly impossible to still live as a Catholic in the ordinary framework of the Church (this is not to deny the indefectibility of the Church, for the extraordinary means the Church is endowed with come into play, as we shall see in this article). Every aspect of Catholic life has become problematic: first of all, the unambiguous, full and external profession of the faith, but also the liturgy, sacramental life, the life of prayer, the teaching of the faith in the catechism as well as in the training of priests, moral teaching in conformity with doctrine in all its aspects, the frequentation of an environment dangerous to faith, etc. To give just one concrete example, just consider the objective difficulty the average faithful meets with when having recourse to the sacrament of penance: supposing he finds a confessor inclined to hear him and who still really believes in this sacrament, the faithful no longer has–generally speaking–the necessary guarantees of going to confession and being instructed, guided and absolved according to the moral teachings that have always characterized Catholic praxis, with particular reference to sin, to the drama of mortal sin, to the knowledge of what sin is, to the necessity of grace to be forgiven and to be saved, etc.1

These factors obviously do not all have the same general character, nor do they all have the same importance; they are not all necessarily found together, and they are not all equally approved or caused by the authorities themselves. We can divide them into two major groups, the first general and uniform, the second extremely variable.

First of all, every member of the laity and every priest today must take a stand against the errors which are commonly spread through the diocesan episcopacy. In practice, the totality of diocesan bishops profess, at least exteriorly, the major errors of Vatican II (as for the content of these errors, we refer the reader to the numerous articles that have appeared in this publication and to the numerous studies available). And this exterior profession of error (or at least tacit agreement) is required of all the clergy, including those who celebrate the traditional rite, in order to be able to claim to be included among the official structure of the hierarchy and to receive charge of souls in the usual manner. The very rare examples of priests or other ordinary pastors who retain their posts all the while taking a clear stand against the new doctrines and the new liturgy changes nothing of the substance of the problem; rather, they confirm it by their exceptional character. The Catholic (and in particular the priest) finds himself in the objective difficulty of not falling into a profession of faith at least ambiguous as regards the new doctrines, and of not participating in or approving a rite which, according to the famous expression of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, departs in a striking manner from the Catholic doctrine on the holy Mass defined at Trent. This state of things, we emphasize once again, is universal: we find ourselves, in this respect, faced with a general common necessity: the permanence of this situation would be in and of itself sufficient to invoke the state of necessity.

In the second place, to this universal situation are added the thousands of obstacles to Catholic life posed by the pastors themselves, what we could call the “abuses” of all kinds: from pastoral and liturgical abuses (going even beyond the new norms) to the doctrinal enormities that go much further than the letter of Vatican II and which are taught from children’s catechism to the seminaries and pontifical universities, passing through many episcopal sees. The supreme authority sometimes condemns, sometimes tolerates, and sometimes encourages this state of affairs; but it rarely rises to truly effective action, and this is so because the situation has become ungovernable, the result of the absence of genuine acts of the supreme teaching authority (the act of the will follows the principles to which the reason adheres). A vast literature, from SiSiNoNo to the books of Gnocchi and Palmaro [or Michael Davies and Romano Amerio–Ed.], document these innumerable situations. These abuses may be either more less grave, more or less manifest, or even non-existent: they aggravate or diminish the state of necessity, but they do not change its nature: because of what was stated in the previous point, the situation remains grave and general. If the situation described in the first point were to disappear, the state of necessity would also disappear, for then we could emerge from the “abuses” in the ordinary way, without having recourse to exceptional means. We say “could,” but we do not say that this would be easy: very many priests and faithful, even without contesting Vatican II, do not manage to avoid these abuses which go against the new laws themselves because of the pressure they exert on the environment in which they are found. Imagine how difficult it would be, for example, for a parish priest to act in such a way as to render extraordinary Eucharistic ministers truly extraordinary (not to mention a pastor who would like to re-establish the old Mass in his parish).

What One Can or Should Do in a State of General Grave Necessity

According to the Dictionarium Morale et Canonicum of Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, a kind of summa of these sciences published on the eve of the Council by the greatest Roman canonists and moralists, which incorporates the most certain doctrines and most official interpretations, common grave necessity corresponds to the extreme necessity of the individual by reason of the pre-eminence of the common good over the private good. This point has corollaries, the first on the level of duty, the second as regards the powers granted in this situation.

According to the precepts of charity, it is a greave duty to go to the aid of one’s neighbor in extreme necessity, and following what has been said above, also in a case of common grave necessity. Palazzini explicitly affirms that every priest, even without care of souls, is bound ex caritate to help sub gravi his neighbor in case of extreme spiritual necessity by giving him the sacraments, even at the risk of his own life. He is bound to do the same in a case of common grave necessity. In other words, when a whole community finds itself in difficulty, whoever is in a position to help must do so according to his means.

This duty of charity also establishes the faculties the Church gives priests in these cases: in particular, all the acts of the power of orders become licit, and jurisdiction for hearing confessions is granted to all priests. As the canons (c. 882; n.c. 976) explicitly allow, every priest can licitly and validly absolve a Catholic in danger of death, that is, in a state of extreme necessity; but to this extreme necessity of the individual corresponds a common grave necessity, not only as regards the duties but also as regards the faculties granted for enabling these duties to be fulfilled. Thus presently every priest can come to the aid of a Catholic who asks him for absolution, receiving at that precise moment the necessary jurisdiction to do it in accordance with the law. We cite as analogous examples the situations in some countries where persecution exists and where every priest able to help the faithful may do so even if they are not in danger of death and are not subject to him.

A Symmetrical Principle

To the notion of grave necessity corresponds symmetrically the problem of grave inconvenience. In general, a grave inconvenience (or impediment) in the spiritual order is any notable moral injury to the soul of a person or another party. There exists a fundamental moral and legal principle, admitted by all the canonists and moralists (cf. Can. 20): Lex positiva non obligat cum gravi incommodo–The positive law does not oblige in cases of grave inconvenience. In the presence of a grave inconvenience, every purely positive law (that is to say human, not the natural law or divine law) loses its binding character. The current grave necessity precisely rests on the fact that a grave inconvenience for the faith exists, and even often a veritable obstacle to its profession in respect to numerous positive and even ecclesiastical laws. To give a different example: a priest imprisoned by persecutors can and should celebrate Mass and communicate, especially if death is imminent for himself or others, provided that he observe what is of divine law, that is, that he have wheaten bread and grape wine, and that he say the words of consecration; but indubitably, he is not bound to observe the liturgical laws, nor to have the vestments, etc., nor to pronounce all the words in the Missal: all of which are serious prescriptions but of ecclesiastical provenance, which do not oblige him in the circumstances since it is the divine precept to communicate in danger of death that takes precedence.

The Society of St. Pius X would be completely paralyzed in its work if, for example, it were constrained to observe the purely ecclesiastical laws concerning the opening of new houses or places of worship, concerning ordinations with the accord of the local Ordinary, concerning the limitations posed by the right to the licit exercise of the power of orders, etc. In effect, it would be impeded from doing all these things unless it accepted in some way the new doctrine (this is undoubtedly the situation at present), which would be far more than an inconvenience–a real injury for the profession of faith. This does not imply a descent into anarchy, but simply an understanding that the role of positive law (and of the orders of prelates) is subordinate to the observance of the divine precepts, among which is to be found at the head the obligation not to fall into ambiguity in the expression of the faith, especially on the points of doctrine that may be at risk in a given era. One does not descend into illegality, but rises to the observance of higher laws. The common good demands that, in such grave cases, everyone act according to his possibilities, which for priests are those of the power of order (cf. St. Thomas, Suppl. Q. 8, Art. 6).

This same general grave inconvenience justifies, for example, the fact of not addressing one’s local parish priest when planning to marry, given the objective risk of having to participate in marriage classes or ceremonies of questionable doctrine, which is certainly a great danger for the greater good, the preservation of the faith. One may then, and in many cases one ought to, have recourse to the canonical extraordinary form of marriage, explicitly foreseen by the canons in case of grave inconvenience, in the presence of witnesses only, and eventually of a priest who can bless the marriage (c. 1098; nc. 1116).

A last remark for now on a topic that would merit lengthier treatment: in the last analysis, when scrutinized, it is the same principle, with that of general grave necessity, which allowed the consecration of four bishops by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. If it is against the divine law to claim to confer episcopal jurisdiction, which is reserved to the Roman Pontiff, it is not the same for the consecration of bishops for the sake of the power of order without the Pope’s consent (and in effect this act, until Pius XII, was only punished by the penalty of suspension, a sign that it involves disciplinary measures). Consequently, faced with the grave necessity for the general good to transmit the power of order without being obliged to submit oneself to the grave inconvenience (or rather injury) of accepting an ambiguous profession of faith, the positive laws obliging the obtention of the Pope’s accord for the consecration of bishops ceased, and with it the penalties tied to this act (as is explicitly foreseen by the law itself, which excuses from the penalty anyone who acts out of necessity: c. 2205, § 2; nc. 1323.

Response to an Objection and Conclusions

The real disagreement of the innovators with this reasoning does not bear so much upon everyone’s faculties or duties in a state of necessity such as we have described, but upon the existence of this state of necessity. It is clear that if one accepts and promotes or justifies the new doctrines, perhaps even affirming that they are not new but in continuity with the preceding authoritative teaching [magisterium], one cannot grant the first reasons we advanced for establishing the universal gravity of the present situation. As for the second point, many nowadays are disposed to admit its existence, and the authorities themselves seem to want to take the “abuses” in hand; in this the defenders of continuity are disposed to grant our case, blaming the current situation on a bad reading of the Council. However, this would not be sufficient justification for employing the extreme means to which Archbishop Lefebvre resorted with his Society. And especially one reproaches the Society with having invoked a state of necessity denied by the authorities, at least in its essential aspects.

In reality, it must be said that one cannot expect those who are the cause of the state of necessity, that is to say, the authorities themselves, to recognize its existence. The absolute specificity of this state of necessity lies in this fact. Indirectly, it is the very proponents of continuity who attribute to conciliar doctrines the cause of the present situation. The documents, according to them, have been the object of a bad reading which is on-going to this very day–which at the very least shows that they are problematic. It has to be simply understood that those who deny the existence of a state of necessity are the vey ones who accept, albeit in differing manners and in differing measures, the errors of Vatican II: therefore the recognition of these errors by the authorities, which we hope might be the fruit of the doctrinal discussions [between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X] and of our prayers, will ipso facto involve the recognition of the state of necessity, at least in its essential elements.

As for ourselves, we hold that for the Society not to resort to an extraordinary ministry would constitute a grave omission and an unforgivable lack of assistance to the souls that are victims of the current crisis gripping the Church and had no choice in being born in this period of time. For extreme evils, extreme remedies apply. It goes without saying that no one claims to arrogate to himself a mission he lacks: it is simply charity that urges every priest to go to the aid of his brethren in spiritual necessity with instruments proportionate to the state of this necessity. Suprema lex salus animarum.


Don Mauro Tranquillo Courrier de Rome, January 2011


1 Obviously, no one denies that there are priests who still believe in this sacrament and administer it in a manner in conformity with the Church’s perennial practice, without making of it a banal exercise or reducing it to a simple conversation with psychotherapeutic overtones. Nevertheless the general guarantees of finding such priests in any given parish no longer exist: this absence of assurances is already sufficient to establish a general state of necessity on this very delicate point. Moreover, it should be noted that not a few priests or religious have been systematically reprimanded (and sometimes transferred) by their superiors precisely because they are refractory in adopting the new pastoral criteria for the administration of the sacrament of penance.