Preliminary Thoughts on a Roman Ratification

Preliminary Thoughts on a Roman Ratification

Preliminary Thoughts on a Roman Ratification


Sean Johnson




On January 12, the French conciliar journal La Croix ran a story on the forthcoming SSPX General Chapter, which included the following quote from French District Superior, Fr. Christian Bouchacourt:

D’ailleurs, dès qu’un nouveau supérieur est élu, la décision est immédiatement transmise au Vatican.”  [“Moreover, as soon as a new superior is elected, the decision is immediately forwarded to the Vatican.” -SP]

And immediately following the words of Fr. Bouchacourt, La Croix added:

“Canoniquement, le vote doit même être ratifié par les autorités romaines…”  [Canonically, the vote must even be ratified by the Roman authorities…”  -SP]

In light of these passages, the following questions seemed to logically present themselves:

  1. Has the SSPX always reported the election results of its prior General Chapters to Rome (e.g., 1982, 1994, and 2006), or is this a new policy resulting from Bishop Fellay’s ralliement of the Society?
  2. Are the words regarding a Roman ratification those of Fr. Bouchacourt, or La Croix (and do they suggest an intent to seek Rome’s ratification, or are they merely informative)?
  3. Most importantly, what are the necessary implications should the forthcoming General Chapter actually receive a Roman ratification?

We will explore these questions, and offer our thoughts on the matter (which as always, may only be worth the price you have paid to read them).


Reporting the General Chapter Results to Rome:

A prudent thinker would naturally ask himself whether it has always been the policy of the Society to immediately report the election results of the General Chapter to Rome, or, given the current process of ralliement emanating from Menzingen, does this policy represent yet another innovation designed to facilitate that process?

The simple answer is: I don’t know.

At one level, such a communication would seem to be unnecessary:  Rome follows everything the SSPX does, and would surely be watching Society websites for news in this regard.  At another level, given the increased frequency of Roman-SSPX communications, there would surely be private and unofficial communications/notifications between liaisons on both sides. 

But what seems novel and conspicuous in Fr. Bouchacourt’s explanation (at least in light of the context within which La Croix has included his quotation) is that, not only do his words seem to be trying to create the impression of an already existing normal relationship between Rome and the SSPX (to acclimate the clergy and faithful to the acceptance of this hoped-for and eventual reality?), as well conveying what seems to be a new sensitivity toward compliance with the Canon Law, but he seems also to be explaining the simple execution of a policy already established and in place (to camouflage the newness of the legalism?).

But surely, if this was the case, then one would expect to find it established firstly in the SSPX statutes themselves.  Secondarily, one might expect to find an allusion to it in the General Chapter declarations.  Failing this, one would at least expect to see some evidence of having established this policy de facto in the writings by or about Archbishop Lefebvre (e.g., Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol III; Fideliter; etc), or something on the SSPX websites.

Exploring firstly a copy of the SSPX Statutes as modified subsequent to the last ordinary General Chapter of 2006 (i.e., Because the General Chapter of 2012 was not an elective or ordinary General Chapter, and did not deal with this subject matter), one notes that there is no mention anywhere of such a requirement to notify Rome of the results of its elections (see Sec. V, which concerns the administration of the Society, and covers elective offices and the General Chapters).  It must therefore be understood to be a voluntary act, from the SSPX’s perspective.

The 2006 General Chapter Declaration is likewise silent regarding the existence of any such requirement to notify Rome of the Society’s elective results, as are cursory searches of the most obvious writings by or about Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX, such as Michael Davies’ “Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre” (Vol. III), which discusses the first SSPX General Chapter in 1982 (see Ch. 71 here), and which was actually taken from the SSPX’s own Fideliter #29 (Sept/Oct. 1982).  My cursory internet searches also come up empty in attempting to discover any pre-existing SSPX policy of notifying Rome of its elective results.

My preliminary conclusion, therefore, is that Fr. Bouchacourt’s announcement does not reflect a pre-existing policy, and that it seems rather contrived to create the appearance of a normal canonical relationship between Rome and the SSPX (possibly with the goal of inculcating acceptance of this idea among the clergy and faithful), in furtherance of the ralliement already in process. 

If subsequent research should reveal contradictory information, I reserve the right to retract this conclusion.


“Canonically, the vote must even be ratified by the Roman authorities…”

Whose words are these: Fr. Bouchacourt’s, or La Croix’s?

One notes that the previous sentence regarding reporting election results to Rome were in quotation marks, clearly denoting they came from Fr. Bouchacourt.  But the sentence “Canonically, the vote must even be ratified by the Roman authorities…” which immediately follows Fr. Bouchacourt’s sentence is not in quotes.  

Minimally, this means these words do not necessarily come from Fr. Bouchacourt.

What are they then?  Is La Croix paraphrasing Fr. Bouchacourt?  Are they simply throwing extra information into the article for their reading audience?  Short of contacting La Croix and/or Fr. Bouchacourt, and asking them the question (perhaps I will do that, but as yet, I have not), it is impossible to know.  

If these words were a paraphrase of Fr. Bouchacourt, the next question becomes: Is he simply explaining the normative canonical procedure (i.e., What would normally happen in normal times), or is he announcing the Society’s intention to seek a Roman ratification?

In the as yet hypothetical and unverified worst case scenario, these would indeed be the paraphrased words of Fr. Bouchacourt, and he would in fact be conveying the idea of the Society feeling a canonical compulsion to obtain a Roman ratification of the election results.  From this, certain implications would follow, and we will now explore what some of these implications might be.


What Follows from a Roman Ratification?

Firstly, that the SSPX would institute a new requirement to notify Rome of its election results (or suddenly be concerned about satisfying the canonical requirement to do so, if there even is one) implies a further slip into legalism.

Second, it follows that the measure is not frivolous: If they feel compelled to submit the election results to Rome’s scrutiny, they will likewise be concerned to actually receive the ratification.  

In this worst-case scenario, it would seem that what I wrote three years ago on the subject of the SSPX’s future episcopal consecrations would be equally applicable to losing control of its own internal elections:

Unfortunately, [Bishop Fellay] has basically forecasted to Rome (by these types of letters) an idea that going forward, all unapproved consecrations are not an option, or, that consecrations can only be performed with the consent of Rome. It is difficult, in the new Regime, to imagine Menzingen being willing to perform a consecration to perpetuate the SSPX without the permission of Rome. That being the case, what can clergy and laity expect from Menzingen in the future?

No bishops at all?

Bishops picked by Rome?

Those seem to be the only alternative futures for a Menzingen which has eagerly placed its head into the noose, and now pulls the loop tight. (see here, at the “Conclusion”).

In other words, just as the SSPX will no longer be able to choose its own future bishops without Roman ratification, now too in this hypothetical, it would seem to have also surrendered the ability to elect its own officers (Just as the FSSP did).

Would Rome have ratified the election of Bishop Williamson (with Fr. Morgan as 1st Assistant and Fr. Thierry Gaudray as 2nd Assistant)?

And if not, would the neo-SSPX have disregarded Rome’s refusal to ratify (recalling that the very notion of sending to Rome the election results heavily implies a concern that those results should in fact be ratified, lest the whole undertaking be frivolity and folly)?

But even that would not be the most serious consequence of the SSPX obtaining a Roman ratification of its elections.

The very word “ratify” is a verb, the definition of which means “to sign or give formal consent to (a treaty, contract, or agreement), making it officially valid.”

Firstly, consider what is necessarily implied in a ratification:

A formal and legal relationship of superiors and inferiors.  The latter subjects its decisions to the former, with the former holding a determinative power.  Consequently, if a Roman ratification brings a formal approval to the SSPX’s elections, it follows that the SSPX is subordinated to Rome (not merely sentimentally, or spiritually, but canonically/de jure).  If this were not the case, it would be as impertinent for Menzingen to submit to Rome the results of its elections, as it would be for Rome to ratify them!

The ultimate question then becomes this:

A Roman canonical ratification would not only represent an official recognition and approval of the Society’s governing officials, but also the authority of its governing body (the General Chapter).  Consequently, if Rome approves the authority of the General Chapter to govern the SSPX, is it not necessarily canonically approving the SSPX itself?



Leaving aside for the moment that certain ambiguities in the La Croix article remain unresolved, we have chosen in this article to explore the worst case scenario: That the SSPX will seek the Roman ratification of its election results, and Rome will grant it (Why shouldn’t they?  After aall, there are none among the capitulants who would pose a threat to the ralliement process, regardless of who is elected).

From this ratification, certain things are necessarily implied, the first among them being the existence of a de jure/canonical relationship between superiors and inferiors.  Without that, Rome would not be in a position to ratify, nor would it be pertinent for the SSPX to submit results for their approval.

We noted that a ratification itself would represent an official act of recognition, not only of the election results, but implicitly the very liceity and legitimacy of the acts of the governing body of the SSPX (i.e., the General Chapter).

We then ask the necessary question: If Rome officially recognizes the authority of the General Chapter to govern the SSPX, how is this not a canonical approval of the SSPX itself (i.e., per se)?

What part of the SSPX would still be lacking canonical approval by Rome? 

From the conciliar perspective, in what way would the SSPX still be lacking in “full communion.”

Its sacramental life has already been “regularized” by grants of ordinary jurisdiction (which place those sacraments under the authority of Rome).  Now in this hypothetical, it would seem that the Society’s administrative and governing power is also recognized.

We ask in all sincerity, “What is left to be “regularized?”