Pope Francis has taken another step to bring a breakaway traditionalist society back under the Vatican’s wing by decreeing that its priests can celebrate marriages that will be recognized by Rome.
The measure announced Tuesday follows the pope’s decision in 2015 to allow priests of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X to validly hear confessions.
The permissions come amid continuing negotiations to regularize the status of the Swiss-based society, which split from the Vatican over the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The Vatican letter to bishops’ conferences outlining how to implement the change says the society remains “irregular,” but only “for the time being.”
For months, news reports have suggested that a deal is near to give the society the same legal status in the church as another Catholic movement, Opus Dei. The “personal prelature” functions as if it were a diocese unto itself.
Francis said he was taking the measure “to reassure the conscience of the faithful” who may question the validity of a marriage celebrated by a priest from the St. Pius X society rather than one who is in full communion with the Holy See.
The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the St. Pius X society in 1969, opposed to Vatican II’s outreach to other faiths and its call for Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than Latin. In 1988, the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and four other bishops after Lefebvre consecrated them without papal consent.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI had made reconciling a priority, removing the excommunications and allowing wider celebration of the old Latin Mass. But three years of doctrinal talks collapsed in 2012. Talks resumed in 2014 and Francis met with the head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, in 2016.
Francis is no friend of Catholic traditionalists, and many commentators have noted the irony of a possible deal being reached during his pontificate rather than Benedict’s. But Francis is less a doctrinal purist than Benedict and has sought to make his church as inclusive as possible, bringing back excluded Catholics from all margins.