After the FSSP’s creation, a joint declaration was signed with the Holy See, in which the Fraternity’s members promised fidelity to the Church and the pope, assenting explicitly to the 25th section of Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council.
Furthermore, the FSSP had to declare itself in favor of an attitude of study and communication with the Holy See, recognize the validity of the sacraments celebrated in the Novus Ordo, and respect the general discipline of the Church and canonical laws.
The promulgation of Traditionis custodes had, therefore, also cast doubt on the very existence of groups such as the FSSP, born precisely with the vocation of celebrating according to the usus antiquor (“ancient usage”).
It is worth remembering that in July 2021, an FSSP group was expelled from the Archdiocese of Dijon, eastern France, where it had been for 23 years, precisely because some of its priests refused to concelebrate in the Novus Ordo.
Pope Francis instead confirmed the FSSP’s particularity. Is this a decision that is part of Pope Francis’ strategy to absorb, step by step, the traditionalist world?
It should be noted that he has also extended his arms many times toward the so-called “Lefebvrists.” In 2015, Pope Francis decreed that confessions and weddings celebrated by SSPX priests during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy were canonically valid. At the end of the Holy Year, he made this decision permanent in the apostolic letter Misericordia et misera.
In that same year, Cardinal Aurelio Poli, who succeeded Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as archbishop of Buenos Aires, gave the OK to the Argentine government to register the SSPX as a diocesan association.
Also in 2015, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) appointed the then SSPX superior Bishop Bernard Fellay as a judge of the first appeal in an abuse case involving an SSPX member. It was the first time that the CDF had appointed an SSPX member as a judge. However, it has been a standard procedure that the Society appealed to Vatican authorities in cases of delicta graviora, i.e., the gravest crimes, including abuse.
Pope Francis’ generous attitude toward the Lefebvrist world did not extend to other traditional movements within the Catholic Church, such as the group Familia Christi in the Italian Archdiocese of Ferrara, the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles of Brussels, or the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, all of which saw Vatican interventions. But the pope did show a similarly open attitude toward the FSSP, which is in communion with the Church, but still with some prerogatives.
Time will tell if the pope wants to absorb the traditionalists’ realities in the Catholic Church or keep good relations with those who already enjoy their prerogatives, waiting for the moment to absorb them too — or finally marginalize them.