Introduction of the 1983 Code of Canon Law into the Society of St. Pius X
The following is taken from the February 1992 issue of the Cor Unum, official publication for the priests of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). The 1983 Code of Canon Law was introduced into the Society of St. Pius X in February 1992, less than one year after the death of Archbishop Lefebvre. When the SSPX becomes canonically regularized, the principles outlined herein will go out the window and the 1983 Code of Canon Law will become the sole binding document.
II. DECISION CONCERNING THE PROPER DISCIPLINE OF THE SSPX WITH RESPECT TO THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW
- The purpose of the law is to serve justice. Ecclesiastical laws have the objective of allowing the faithful to practice justice by placing them in favourable situations where Christian life is made possible and by removing situations that are dangerous to faith and customs.
- The reception of the new Canon Law poses in this regard a real problem of conscience for Catholics. Firstly, the Law distances itself in a dramatic way, in its totality and in detail, from the protection due to Faith and Morals. And secondly, we do not intend to jeopardize respect for legitimate authority.
- Archbishop Lefebvre, for all his wisdom, felt unable to settle the question of the validity of the promulgation of the Code, but the content – as the principles outlined in the apostolic letter of enactment (25 January 1983) – made him hold it as doubtful. In this case, according to canon 15 (n.14), this new legislation is not binding. In this situation, according to canon 23 (n. 21), the 1917 Code is not presumed revoked, but the new legislation must defer to the previous one and if possible be reconciled to the 1917 Code. The guiding principles of this delicate reconciliation follow.
- The 1917 Code is the reference in that it contains the spirit of the Church in all its purity and we follow it on principle to the extent that we can.
- This does not mean that we should outright reject the entire new Code. Indeed, on the one hand the law of the Church, even codified, does not form an inseparable whole that we must accept or reject. On the other hand certain norms of the new Code are justified because they provide a useful simplification or they correspond to a homogeneous development of the practice of the Church or to a better adaptation to circumstances. Thus, nothing prevents us from using that what is good in the new legislation and harmonizing it with the 1917 Code.
- We are obligated to refuse the new norms where they are opposed to the Catholic Faith or to the divine constitution of the Church or when they deviate from the protection due to Faith and Morals (eg., the new rules on mixed marriages, n. 1124-1129). In contrast, where the new norms are in accordance to what has been established (5) and appear justified, then we will retain them in place of the old in order not to deprive us or the faithful of the benefits they bring. (This is the case where certain impediments to marriage were removed: since the dispensing of ‘minor’ impediments was systematically granted, it was therefore justifiable to remove them). But where the new norms are not bad in themselves, but do not bring any improvement, we must insist on using the 1917 Code.
- Another principle must be applied: When the validity (of acts or sacraments) is at stake, it is difficult to declare as invalid that which is held as valid elsewhere in the Church, and on the other hand, there is also a practical necessity, for the good of the faithful, not to place them in opposition to the legislation in force in the official Church. In these cases, we opt for the 1983 norms, but then we reinforce our practice by leaning on the 1917 Code (for example, impediments to marriage due to age or close family relationships).
- Finally, regarding the matter and the form of the sacraments, we must err on the side of caution and, for example, consider as doubtful Confirmation conferred with oils other than olive oil, until the Church rules otherwise.
Decision approved in outline by the General Council in Rickenbach, 3 January 1992, developed by the Canonical Commission, and approved by the Superior General in Rickenbach, 8 February 1992.