A Look Back - Legal Existence of the SSPX
The suppression of the SSPX is a warm to hot topic depending on with whom you are discussing it.
However, it is an important topic as it shows (as the FFI now know) the extent of the hatred for 'Tradition'.
The valid legal existence of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X
I. State of the question
- The Society is merely a "pious union." The local Ordinary could suppress it and in fact did suppress it.
- The Society is a "society of the common life." Suppression required the action of the Holy See. This act of suppression has taken place.
- Although the act of suppression was invalid in itself, it received aconfirmatio in forma specified from the Roman Pontiff, which sanated* the invalidity.
II. Brief Historical Survey
Dates Related texts: see founding SSPX documents August 18, 1970: Bishop Charriere of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, issued a letter of confirmation of the permission—already given orally on January 6—for an international house of candidates to the priesthood. November 1, 1970:Bishop Charriere confirmed the decree of erection of the International Priestly Society of St. Pius X, with approval of its statutes for six years. February 18, 1971:Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, sent a letter of commendation with mention of the expansion of the Society outside the diocese and outside the boundaries of Switzerland. January 24, 1975: The new bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg (Bishop Mamie) asked permission from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious (Cardinal Tabera) to withdraw the approval granted by his predecessor.  April 25, 1975: Cardinal Tabera wrote to Bishop Mamie. The text [of this letter] is not clear, but he said either that the Sacred Congregation or the Ordinary himself had the necessary authority to withdraw approval. He not only expressed agreement but even invited the Ordinary to make the act of suppression. May 6, 1975: Three cardinals (Garrone, Tabera and Wright) wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre: "A letter will be sent" (not "has been sent") to Bishop Mamie in which the right of withdrawing approval will be recognized. P.S. This letter is being sent to His Excellency Bishop Mamie and His Excellency Bishop Adam. May 9, 1975: Bishop Mamie published a "communication" in which he said the Society was a religious union or pious union, not a congregation or religious institute.
- against the decision of Bishop Mamie as a violation of Canon 493;
- against the competence of the "commission" of three cardinals;
- against the decisions of both the above, because the Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre, even if it had been worthy of condemnation, would have deserved a personal condemnation, not [condemnation] of the whole Society. The appeal was putin suspensivo.
+Marcel Lefebvre, May 21, 1975 May 31, 1975: Cardinal Tabera wrote to Bishop Mamie that he [Bishop Mamie] had full authority to withdraw approval of the Society. June 10, 1975: The Apostolic Signature rejected the appeal concerning the incompetence of the tribunal as being contrary to the execution of the decisions of the commission of cardinals as already approved in forma specifica by the Roman Pontiff.  June 29,1975: Paul VI wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre. The Roman Pontiff himself instituted the commission of cardinals, approved their conclusions and ordered that they take effect immediately.  "...the Commission of Cardinals which We instituted has regularly and scrupulously reported to Us on its work. Finally, the conclusions which it has proposed to Us, We have made our own—each and every one—and We have personally ordered that they take effect immediately ..."  "The Priestly Society of St. Pius X was erected on November 1, 1970, by Bishop Francois Charriere… it was destined, in the spirit of Archbishop Lefebvre, to be transformed into a society of the common life without vows. Until its recognition—recognition which was not further renewed—it remained under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Fribourg and the vigilance of the dioceses in which it exercised its activities. This is in conformity with the law."
III. Examination of the first position: "The Society was a mere 'pious union.' The local ordinary had the power to suppress it and in fact did suppress it."
1. The law
a) The nature of a pious union
b) The Suppression of a Pious Union
2. The Facts
a) Reasons for the status of pious union
b) Reasons against the status of pious union
IV. Examination of the second position: "The Society was a society of the common life. It required an act of suppression on the part of the Apostolic See. An act of suppression has taken place."
1. The law
a) The nature of a society of the common life
b) The suppression of a society of the common life
2. The Fact
a) Reasons for the status of society of the common life
b) Reasons against the status of society of the common life
V. Examination of the "process of suppression"
2. Absence of an act of suppression
3. The Incompetence of the Commission of Cardinals
- There is doubt as to how it was constituted. Only the Roman Pontiff can constitute a commission of cardinals. Although Paul VI later wrote: "The Commission of Cardinals which We instituted", a decree of constitution never came to light.
- In material penalties the Roman Pontiff alone is competent in matters concerning bishops (Canon 1557, 1,3°).
- Congregations of the Roman Curia cannot proceed collegially.
- "In matters of faith" only the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the former Holy Office) is competent.
- A defendant has the right of appeal (Canon 1655, 1).
- The presence of a secretary (Canon 2142) and a record of proceedings are required (Canon 1585, 1).
VI. Examination of the third position: "Although the act of suppression was invalid in itself, it received 'confirmatio in forma specifica' on the part of the Roman Pontiff which sanated the invalidity."
1. Confirmation according to the law
a. Fundamental notion
- Confirmation differs in itself from approval, since to approve is to admit that something has been done in conformity with some law or rule; to confirm, on the other hand, is to give greater firmness to some act, by authority of the one who confirms.
- Nonetheless approval is assumed under the heading of confirmation as in the Constitution Sapienti Consilio of Pius X...
- Confirmation supposes that an act or instrument is already valid and firm; hence ordinarily confirmation is useful, if the act or instrument stands by its own force; otherwise it is useless.
- Yet sometimes a superior intends to confirm a certain act in such a way that if there should be any intrinsic defect vitiating it, it becomes sanated by the authority by which he confirms it; this confirmation is called in forma specifica and by this means the matter is taken under the authority of the one who confirms, in such a way that the legal validity is to be sought in the one who confirms, as when the Supreme Pontiff in confirming a privilege, can so confirm it as to intend to grant it, if by chance it was lacking in force or had expired; or he so confirms as to assume validity...
- Hence, if the Supreme Pontiff should confirm in forma specifica an act, either judicial, such as an opinion, or extrajudicial, like a provincial council, provided the act can be corrected or abrogated by the Supreme Pontiff.
- The other, ordinary confirmation, by which a valid act is made more firm, is said to be granted in forma communi and leaves the act in its original validity."
2. The question as to whether there is a confirmatio in forma specifica
a. Rejection of the appeal of Archbishop Lefebvre to the Apostolic Signature
b. Letter of Paul VI of June 26, 1975
c. Absence of confirmatio in forma specifica