Brief Thoughts on the SSPX’s Position Regarding the Francis/Kirill Meeting

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has started to weigh-in on the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (more here). Using excerpts from several sources, including John Allen’s thoughtful editorial at Crux, the Society appears concerned that the meeting will sow confusion in the Catholic Church and intentionally blur the lines about which way is the true path to Salvation. In particular, the SSPX objects to how “[p]ast ecumenical gestures with Orthodox have weakened not only the image of the Pope but his very function as defined by Christ Himself” and the Catholic Church’s de facto policy of not seeking to convert the Orthodox (more on this below). With respect to the first charge, the function of the papacy has been a hot-button issue for decades, not only among those concerned with keeping up good ties with the Orthodox, but among Latin traditionalists as well. Traditional Catholics have loudly condemned the “papalotry” which has emerged during the modern era of the “celebrity pope” and the idea that the pope is unlimited in what he can do with respect to faith, morals, liturgy, and so forth. I don’t think the Orthodox (particularly the Russian Orthodox Church) would disagree with this in the slightest. Where the SSPX and the Orthodox likely disagree is how far the pope can reach into the affairs of other patriarchal churches. In lamenting the Catholic Church’s rejection of two Orthodox bishops which wished to enter into communion with her in 1989, the Society decries this as false ecumenism while saying nothing about the fact that it’s just such an apparent overreach of authority which the Orthodox abhor. Had the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had its rights as a sui iuris church respected, the two aforementioned Orthodox bishops could have been received without incident. It’s somewhat ironic to think that the SSPX would likely defend the right of the pope to freely make such a flagrant incursion into the affairs of the UGCC even if it leads to very troubling results.

As for the Balamand Declaration—which the SSPX is, understandably, unhappy with—it’s, well, complicated. As Fr. Aidan Nichols discusses in his excellent book Rome and the Eastern Churches, Balamand “was well intentioned but underwent the unfortunate fate of pleasing no one.” The Eastern Catholic churches were not unanimous in celebrating Balamand, and the hardline Orthodox were wrong to think that the outcome of the statement would be the abolition of the so-called “Uniate” (Greek Catholic) churches. Whatever politics Rome has tried to play with the Orthodox East has not gotten in the way of Orthodox faithful converting to the Catholic Church. Both the Code of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches and the particular law of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church contain specific provisions for the reception of non-Catholic Eastern Christians into the Catholic Church. Although some Catholic ecumenists may have hoped that Balamand would result in a “live and let live” approach to relations with the Orthodox, that hasn’t exactly been the case, as evidenced, for instance, by recent events in Ukraine. Moreover, the SSPX may, in its zeal, fail to see that the self-guided mission of the Eastern churches is not to simply “cherry pick” individual Orthodox from their confession, but to serve as a bridge to full ecclesiastical communion between East and West.

Although now is not the place to get into the “dirty details,” it is worth noting that “Uniatism,” as a practical policy, has left behind a mixed legacy which some argue has had more to do with East/West estrangement today than anything else. (Others argue that’s nonsense, but again, I leave that debate to another time and place.) That the Catholic Church has decided to step away from it is not surprising, particularly since very little good will come from Catholics attempting to setup “parallel churches” to those already established in the East. The “game plan” now, for better or worse, is to dialogue with those already established churches with an eye towards full ecclesiastical communion. It is unfair to the hopes and intentions of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI to say that they simply were looking for an “I’m ok, you’re ok” approach to the Christian East; they desired for the wound of schism to be healed. While the SSPX is entitled to its own opinion on how to treat that injury, it would perhaps be best if it wrote with more circumspection on the matter and with a wider understanding of the historical and political problems which have kept Christendom tragically split for centuries.