Pope Francis: Priests of SSPX Absolve ‘Validly and Licitly’ During Holy Year of Mercy

To My Venerable Brother
Archbishop Rino Fisichella
President of the Pontifical Council
for the Promotion of the New Evangelization


[Skip to penultimate paragraph, here emboldened, regarding our headline —Catholicism.org]

With the approach of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy I would like to focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God. It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.

My thought first of all goes to all the faithful who, whether in individual Dioceses or as pilgrims to Rome, will experience the grace of the Jubilee. I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed. To experience and obtain the Indulgence, the faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion. Likewise, I dispose that the Indulgence may be obtained in the Shrines in which the Door of Mercy is open and in the churches which traditionally are identified as Jubilee Churches. It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the Church and of the entire world.

Additionally, I am thinking of those for whom, for various reasons, it will be impossible to enter the Holy Door, particularly the sick and people who are elderly and alone, often confined to the home. For them it will be of great help to live their sickness and suffering as an experience of closeness to the Lord who in the mystery of his Passion, death and Resurrection indicates the royal road which gives meaning to pain and loneliness. Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence. My thoughts also turn to those incarcerated, whose freedom is limited. The Jubilee Year has always constituted an opportunity for great amnesty, which is intended to include the many people who, despite deserving punishment, have become conscious of the injustice they worked and sincerely wish to re-enter society and make their honest contribution to it. May they all be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of the Father who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness. They may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.

I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one. The Jubilee Indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity.

Furthermore, the Jubilee Indulgence can also be obtained for the deceased. We are bound to them by the witness of faith and charity that they have left us. Thus, as we remember them in the Eucharistic celebration, thus we can, in the great mystery of the Communion of Saints, pray for them, that the merciful Face of the Father free them of every remnant of fault and strongly embrace them in the unending beatitude.

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

Trusting in the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, I entrust the preparations for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year to her protection.

From the Vatican, 1 September 2015


  • John Henderson

    I recently told an SSPX trained priest after Mass that like the writings of Fr. Feeney. He told me that I should refrain from receiving the sacraments until I renounce Fr. Feeney’s “grave errors” and accept the “infallible doctrines” of salvation by baptism of desire and baptism of blood. He actually defends the theory of anonymous Church membership. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. can all belong to the Church without even knowing it. The only people who are definitely outside the Church according to his theology are “Feeneyites” who cannot claim ignorance for their “grave errors.”

    I commend the SSPX priests for their liturgical orthodoxy and right wing political views, but I wish that they would defend the dogma of faith.

  • schmenz

    Perhaps, when you next speak to this priest, you might gently encourage him to extend to the “Feeneyites” the same mercy the Pope is extending to them. Who knows….you may soften a heart or two with that approach.

  • Robert Swanson

    As likely the first Catholic on my family tree for some 500 years, I am wondering whether – in light of the EENS dogma – it would be futile to offer masses on behalf of my Nordic ancestors?

  • One never knows the exact dispositions of another individual when he meets his Maker. Father Feeney used to offer the Holy Mass for deceased family members of his converts, with no knowledge of the deceased having converted. At that point, the whole “problem” is God’s, for He knows where these souls are. Traditionally, such Masses were not “announced,” but the intentions were kept private — no doubt, to avoid the implication of indifferentism.

  • Robert Swanson

    Thank you for your reply, Br. Andre.
    “(Blessed) Anne Catherine Emmerich deposes frequently on the subject of Purgatory, among which revelations one of the saddest is that the souls of Protestants languish the longest and suffer the worst in Purgatory because they generally have so few friends and relatives to pray for them.” (Purgatory, Fr. F.X. Schouppe, SJ, TAN Books)

    While private revelations such as the aforementioned are not binding upon the faithful, on what basis might we believe that any Protestants at all would be in purgatory, given the authoritative pronouncements of EENS? If it depends upon the subjective dispositions of the individual, to whom would the general exclusions in said pronouncements apply?

  • You’re welcome, Robert. I have always interpreted that passage to mean that those who were lifelong Protestants, but who were deathbed converts, perhaps unknown to others. Those who are validly baptized (and the Lutherans representing the lionshare of Protestants Blessed Anna Catherine knew of were validly baptized) can convert on their deathbed by a merely internal acts. It is all a question of grace and not of accidents of history. Such people might still commonly be known as “Protestants,” since their conversions were unknown.

    I knew a man who was known as “the unbaptized one” — and thought of himself as such — until the midwife who baptized him set him straight.

    Years ago, I was riding in a car with the priest that taught be about EENS. We said a prayer for the dead as we passed a non-Catholic cemetery. He turned to us and explained that these people could have been reconciled to God unknown to others before their death. I wasn’t a bit scandalized.

  • Robert Swanson

    Thank you again Br. Andre. I am wondering what might constitute such a deathbed conversion. I’ve got a family full of Protestants who just don’t see the need for specific Catholicism…
    At the risk of pressing this discussion still further, one of the sisters I spoke with at your 2013 fall conference observed that my mother’s baptism by a Catholic priest (on the same day as my youngest daughter) made her Catholic. However, as a lifelong Protestant, she never was formally received into the Church, nor has she indicated interest in receiving any further sacraments. Her health is declining rapidly (along with her mind to some extent) and I am wondering what I can do for her in her present state. Would she be eligible to receive last rites when the time comes?

  • Alyosha Karamazov

    Bishop Fellay has responded to this gesture of the Holy Father’s with what I would call his — +Fellay’s — characteristic graciousness:

    The Society of St. Pius X learned, through the press, of the provisions taken by Pope Francis on the occasion of the upcoming Holy Year. In the last paragraph of his letter addressed September 1, 2015, to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Holy Father writes:

    “I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Society of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.”

    The Society of St. Pius X expresses its gratitude to the Sovereign Pontiff for this fatherly gesture. In the ministry of the sacrament of penance, we have always relied, with all certainty, on the extraordinary jurisdiction conferred by the Normae generales of the Code of Canon Law. On the occasion of this Holy Year, Pope Francis wants all the faithful who wish to confess to the priests of the Society of St. Pius X to be able to do so without being worried.

    During this year of conversion, the priests of the Society of St. Pius X will have at heart to exercise with renewed generosity their ministry in the confessional, following the example of tireless dedication which the holy Cure of Ars gave to all priests.

    September 1, 2015

    From: http://www.dici.org/en/news/communique-of-the-general-house-of-the-society-of-st-pius-x-on-the-letter-of-pope-francis-at-the-approach-of-the-holy-year-september-1-2015/

  • Alyosha Karamazov

    I just looked it up. The Jubilee Year of Mercy goes from December 8, 2015 to 20 November 2016. The former date is, of course, the Feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. The latter is the (Novus Ordo) observance of Christ the King.

  • Were in in your position, Robert, I would ask my mother is she were willing to speak to a priest, and get a priest to come see her. And pray. Deathbed (and “near deathbed”) conversions to the true Church happen. I’ve known of family members of our converts having such. Of course, you want to try to find the best priest for the job. But, at the end of the day, let us not let the best become the enemy of the good. We need to trust God and pray.

  • Robert Swanson

    Thanks for this counsel, Br. Andre, and each of your points here is well taken: I will be making some calls.

  • You’re very welcome, Robert. I will keep your dear mother and the rest of the family in my prayers. I’m headed to pray my office in front of the Blessed Sacrament, so they’ll be in my intentions right now, as will you.

  • MiserereMeiDeus

    The great theologian and doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1691-1787) taught: “But baptism of desire is perfect conversion to God by contrition or love of God above all things accompanied by an explicit or implicit desire for true Baptism of water, the place of which it takes as to the remission of guilt, but not as to the impression of the [baptismal] character or as to the removal of all debt of punishment. It is called “of wind␅ [flaminis] because it takes place by the impulse of the Holy Ghost Who is called a wind [flamen]. Now it is de fide that men are also saved by Baptism of desire, by virtue of the Canon Apostolicam De Presbytero Non Baptizato and the Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4, where it is said that no one can be saved “without the laver of regeneration or the desire for it.”- Moral Theology Book 6.

  • John Henderson

    I think that the decree from the Council of Trent that St. Alphonsus was basing his teaching on was a decree concerning justification and not salvation. Are there souls living under the new law who die in a state of justification without ever being baptized? St. Alphonsus appears to have thought so. I respect St. Alphonsus very much and enjoy reading his books and asking him to pray for me. I think in this one case he might have let the laws of probability prevail over the providence of God though!

    “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”