Controversies surrounding the Society of St. Pius X

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There have been several controversies surrounding the Society of St. Pius X, many of which concern political support for non-democratic regimes and alleged antisemitism. The Society of St. Pius X is an international organisation founded in 1970 by the French traditionalist Catholic archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Political controversies[edit]


There is an overlap in French society between the SSPX's constituency of support and support for reactionary political positions. In the French context, such positions include:

  • Condemnation of the 1789 French Revolution and of the French Republic, accompanied by support for the restoration of the absolutist French monarchy. Archbishop Lefebvre vocally condemned the French Revolution, the ensuing dechristianization of France, and Reign of Terror by the Jacobin Club. The Archbishop called the Revolution's principles "Masonic and Anti-Catholic." He expressed regret that the Classical Liberalism personified by the Revolution had entered "mitered heads," before, during, and after Vatican II.[1] Lefebvre's close associate Fr. Paul Aulagnier, who has since left the SSPX and been reconciled with the Church hierarchy, was quoted in an SSPX periodical in 2001 as saying, while serving in Belgium (a constitutional monarchy): "I am pleased to be in Brussels – I who detest the republic and hate democracy."[2]
  • Support for the Vichy government (1940–1944). Lefebvre spoke approvingly of the "Catholic order of Pétain", referring to the Vichy Premier Marshal Philippe Pétain, who was later convicted of treason and collaboration with Nazi Germany.[3] The Society organises pilgrimages to Pétain's tomb,[4] and during the 1987 pilgrimage the Archbishop referred to him as having "restored [France] spiritually and morally".[5] The Society's official journal in Belgium has denounced the anti-Vichy trials conducted after World War II by the mainstream republican followers of Charles De Gaulle.[6] The trials resulted in 791 executions and almost 50,000 forfeitures of civil rights. There have also been allegations that the SSPX had links with the Vichy functionary Paul Touvier and that Vichy songs were learned at a scout camp of the Society (see below).
  • Support for the Front National political party and its former leader, Jean-Marie le Pen, who is on the far right of the political spectrum.[7][8] In 1985, Lefebvre was quoted in the French far-right periodical Présent as endorsing Jean-Marie Le Pen, though his endorsement was made on the basis that Le Pen was the only major French politician who unambiguously condemned abortion. In 1991, the then SSPX priest Fr. Philippe Laguérie called the Front National "the party least removed from the natural law".[9]

Archbishop Lefebvre's first biographer, the English traditionalist writer Michael Davies, wrote in the first volume of his Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre:

In France political feeling tends to be more polarized, more extreme, and far more deeply felt than in England. ...Since the [Second World] war, and especially since Vatican II, the official French Church has veered sharply to the left. ...Thus, a large proportion of right-wing Catholics was predisposed to support any religious movement opposed to the policies of the French hierarchy. The political views of some of the French Catholics who support the Archbishop would certainly be odious to many English-speaking traditionalists – although such views are more understandable (if not acceptable) within the French context. However, if they wish to support the Archbishop (and not necessarily for the right reasons) there is nothing he can do about it. ...The French hierarchy has replaced [Catholic] social teaching with diluted Marxism to such an extent that anyone adopting the Catholic position is now automatically accused of fascism.

Occupation of the church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet[edit]

In 1977, a group of SSPX priests and laypeople led by Monsignor François Ducaud-Bourget entered the parish church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet in central Paris and celebrated Mass. They subsequently refused to leave, and the church remains in the possession of the SSPX to this day.

The various French municipal authorities have had ownership of the older churches in France since the enactment of the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State, though the buildings are permitted to be used by the appropriate religious denominations. Ducaud-Bourget maintained that the Traditionalist Catholics represented by the SSPX were the true heirs of the Catholics of 1905. Although the occupation was declared illegal by the French courts,[10] the authorities reached the conclusion that, by comparison with forcibly evicting the SSPX, the continuing occupation would cause less disturbance to public order. An SSPX attempt in 1993 to occupy another church in Paris, that of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, was unsuccessful.

Allegations of antisemitism[edit]

There have been statements by some members of the society which have been widely interpreted as antisemitic,[11][12] particularly regarding Holocaust denial.[13] The Society itself denies the claim that anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism is rampant in important circles of the Society.[14] The Society stated that it has lay supporters and even a priest with a Jewish background, a reference to Father Florian Abrahamowicz, whose views on the Jews have been interpreted as negative,[15][16] and who was expelled by the Italian chapter of the Society in February 2009.[17]

Bishop Richard Williamson[edit]

The views of Bishop Williamson have been a particular source of controversy. For example, the bishop has written:

However, until they re-discover their true Messianic vocation, they may be expected to continue fanatically agitating, in accordance with their false messianic vocation of Jewish world-dominion, to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem. So we may fear their continuing to play their major part in the agitation of the East and in the corruption of the West. Here the wise Catholic will remember that, again, the ex-Christian nations have only their own Liberalism to blame for allowing free circulation within Christendom to the enemies of Christ.[18]

In an interview with Swedish Television in November 2008, whose broadcast on 21 January 2009, the date on which the Holy See lifted the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops, gained wide publicity, Williamson repeated his opinion that the generally accepted history of the Holocaust is wrong. He accepted an estimate of only 200,000-300,000 Jews who perished in Nazi concentration camps, and denied that any were killed in gas chambers.[19] Subsequently, former SSPX seminarians have come forward with additional information about Williamson's Jewish views. One former seminarian characterized Williamson as "a sick man" with "a horrible attitude toward women and a horrible attitude toward Jews." [20] The Vatican has repudiated Williamson's views as "intolerable and altogether unacceptable." [21]

Williamson's views on this and other subjects are controversial even within traditionalist Catholicism. After his interview, broadcast by Swedish Television on 21 January 2009, both the Superior General of the SSPX, Bishop Fellay, and the District Superior of the SSPX in Germany, Fr. Franz Schmidberger, stated that Williamson's views represented his own personal opinions;[22] and Bishop Fellay, as superior general of the Society, "prohibited him, pending any new orders, from taking any public positions on political or historical questions."[23]

Although the SSPX authorities have thus distinguished Williamson's views from those of the Society, the Anti-Defamation League has accused the Society of St. Pius X of being "mired in anti-Semitism",[24] and journalist John L. Allen, Jr., has said it would be misleading to consider Williamson an isolated case: Father Florian Abrahamowicz, who after being the superior in Italy has since been expelled from the Society also said he was not sure the Nazis had used gas chambers for anything other than disinfection, seemed to cast doubt on the number of six million Jews killed, complained that the Jews had exalted the Holocaust above other genocides, and called the Jews first "the people of God" and then the "people of deicide", to be converted to Jesus Christ at the end times.[25]

Williamson was forced out of the SSPX on 23 October 2012 for the "common good of the society", following his refusal to submit to the group's leadership.[26]

Paul Touvier[edit]

On 24 May 1989 Paul Touvier, a former secret police official for Petain's Government, was arrested in a Society priory in Nice. The SSPX stated at the time that Touvier had no link to the Society and had been allowed to stay at the Priory as "an act of charity to a homeless man".[27] In 1994, Touvier was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1944 summary execution of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape. The massacre was a reprisal for the French Resistance's killing of Petain's Propaganda minister Philippe Henriot.[28] On his death in 1996, a Requiem Mass for the repose of Touvier's soul was offered by Father Philippe Laguérie,[29] an SSPX priest who was then the Rector of the Parisian church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet.[30] Like Fr. Aulagnier, however, Fr. Laguerie subsequently left the Society and founded the Institute of the Good Shepherd with Papal approval.

Southern Poverty Law Center report[edit]

The SSPX was also accused of anti-Semitism in a 2006 report on Traditionalist Catholicism published by the American Southern Poverty Law Center. Defenders of the SSPX have strongly criticised the report and accused the SPLC of using accusations of anti-Semitism as a means of "silencing opponents of liberalism."[31]

Newsletters and websites[edit]

The society was reported to have perpetuated the Jewish deicide and Jewish world domination plot canards in its official newsletters and on several of its websites internationally (although the offending websites have been removed since the controversy surrounding the bishops' reinstatement).[32]

The website of the SSPX in the United States carried a 1997 The Angelus article titled "The Mystery of the Jewish People in History"[33] which the Overland Express of Melbourne said "methodically repeats every slur of medieval anti-Semitism."[34] The piece was written by British priests Michael Crowdy and Kenneth Novak.[33]

Statements by SSPX clerics about the Church authorities[edit]

One of the Society's four bishops, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, has stated that Pope Benedict XVI "has professed heresies in the past! He ... has never retracted his errors. When he was a theologian, he professed heresies, he published a book full of heresies."[35] In the same interview, Bishop Mallerais said of the Second Vatican Council: "You cannot read Vatican II as a Catholic work. It is based on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. ...I will say, one day the Church should erase this Council. She will not speak of it anymore. She must forget it. The Church will be wise if she forgets this Council."[35]

Similarly, Bishop Richard Williamson has said of Pope Benedict XVI: "His past writings are full of Modernist errors. Now, Modernism is the synthesis of all heresies (Pascendi, Pope St. Pius X). So Ratzinger as a heretic goes far beyond Luther's Protestant errors, as Bishop Tissier de Mallerais said." Williamson added that the documents of the Second Vatican Council "are much too subtly and deeply poisoned to be reinterpreted. The whole of a partly poisoned cake goes to the trash can!"[36]

SSPX and Scouting[edit]

A number of groups whose following overlaps with that of the SSPX, such as the Scouts d'Europe, have been accused of extremist leanings.[37] In 1998, the Association Française de Scouts et Guides Catholiques faced international scrutiny following an accident at Perros-Guirec that claimed the lives of four marine Scouts and of a sailor who died in an attempt to save them.[38] A media frenzy followed, and it was alleged that Fr. Cottard, the SSPX priest responsible for the children, had subjected them to a harsh disciplinary regimen, forcing them to spend the night before their deaths sleeping on a pebbled beach. Fr. Cottard had also failed to call the emergency services for almost 8 hours, and did not take basic safety precautions such as properly checking the weather forecast.

Erich Priebke[edit]

When former S.S. Captain Erich Priebke died in October 2013, the Diocese of Rome forbade a Requiem Mass for him. The reasons cited were Priebke's involvement in murdering 335 Italians in the 1944 Ardeatine Massacre and his subsequent lack of remorse. SSPX offered to hold a funeral and issued a statement on their website saying, "A Christian who was baptized and received the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, no matter what his faults and sins were, to the extent that he dies reconciled with God and the church, has a right to the celebration of the holy Mass and a funeral." Nevertheless the ceremony was not held due to 500 protesters outside the SSPX headquarters in Albano. The lawyer, Paolo Giachini, told reporters outside the SSPX headquarters that the funeral Mass had not taken place, but that he had fulfilled his obligation to arrange a funeral. "Now it's up to the authorities to decide what to do with the body," since he was unable to find a city where Priebke could be buried.[39]

Allegations of abuse cover-up[edit]

On 5 April 2017 Uppdrag Granskning, a Swedish television program focused on investigative journalism, reported that four different clerics of the SSPX – three priests and a former seminarian – had molested at least a dozen young people in several different countries.[40] The program also stated that evidence of abuse was kept secret by the SSPX and that the priests were allowed to continue in ministry.[40]

Other controversies[edit]

In February 2008 Saint Mary's Academy, a school in Kansas affiliated with the SSPX, refused to allow a woman referee to officiate at a high-school basketball game in which St. Mary's was participating, reportedly on the grounds that it was not appropriate for a woman to be in a position of authority over male students. In response, the other referees refused to referee the game.[41] The school issued a statement denying that the refusal was due to the reported reason. It stated instead that "[the] formation of adolescent boys is best accomplished by male role models," and that "teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference, we cannot place them in an aggressive athletic competition where they are forced to play inhibited by their concern about running into a female referee."[42]

In May 2012, Our Lady of Sorrows Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, also affiliated with the SSPX, forfeited the Arizona Charter Athletic Association state baseball championship game rather than play against a team with a female player. The opposing team, from Mesa Preparatory Academy of Mesa, Arizona, included Paige Sultzbach, playing infield.[43] Officials at Our Lady of Sorrows issued a statement saying that the decision to forfeit was consistent with a policy prohibiting co-ed sports. They stated that school teaches boys respect by not placing girls in athletic competition, where "proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty."[44]


  1. ^ " Open Letter to Confused Catholics Chapter 13. Religious Liberty, Collegial Equality". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  2. ^ "Je suis content d’être à Bruxelles, moi qui déteste la république et qui hais la démocratie" Les croisés de l’Occident chrétien.
  3. ^ Spiritual Journey (in French) Archived 2009-05-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ See here on the 2007 pilgrimage, with links to video footage.
  5. ^ "...restaurée spirituellement et moralement..."
  6. ^ The journal is called Pour qu’Il Règne, and is quoted here
  7. ^ Berntson, M. , 2006-08-11 "National Preference, Gender Complementarity, and the Family Policy of France’s Front National" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Online <PDF>. 2008-10-09 from
  8. ^ Far-right leader Le Pen hints at retirement, AFP report, 11 September 2008
  9. ^ "Philippe Laguérie qui établissait dès 1991 que le Front National était «le parti le moins éloigné du droit naturel»" (Internet Centre Anti-Racism Europe: Actualité 24/08/2005 ).
  10. ^ "Le Conseil de Paris ... Emet le vœu :- que le Maire de Paris et le Préfet de police mettent tout en œuvre pour faire cesser l'occupation illégale de l'église Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet par des personnes diffusant une propagande raciste, antisémite, sexiste et antidémocratique"[1]
  11. ^ "Williamson's Colleagues Under Fire: SSPX in Germany Criticized over Anti-Semitic Statements." Spiegel Online. 10 February 2009. 14 May 2009.
  12. ^ "The Society of St. Pius X: Mired in Antisemitism." ADL. 26 January 2009. 14 May 2009.
  13. ^ DPA news agency (nda) (2009-01-02). "Criticism of Pope's Rehabilitation of Holocaust Denier Grows". Deutsche Welle English Service. A second German Catholic bishop Saturday raised unusual criticism of German Pope Benedict XVI for rehabilitating Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson, adding his objections to the pope's ultraconservative direction. 
  14. ^ "Pope gesture to traditionalists outrages Jews". Reuters. 25 January 2009. 
  15. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  16. ^ "BBC NEWS | Europe | Priest 'joins Nazi Holocaust row'". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  17. ^ Priest expelled over remarks
  18. ^ The Gulf War Archived 2009-01-31 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-16. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  20. ^ Paulson, Michael (20 February 2009). "Bishop's vexing beliefs have deep roots". The Boston Globe. 
  21. ^ Cindy Wooden (2009-02-12). "Pope says Holocaust denial is 'intolerable ... unacceptable'". Catholic News Service. 
  22. ^ Fellay's letter; Schmidberger's statement
  23. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  24. ^ The Society of St. Pius X: Mired in Anti-Semitism
  25. ^ The Lefebvrite case Archived 2009-02-02 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ Cindy Wooden (2012-10-24). "SSPX expels Bishop Williamson, who opposed talks with Vatican". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. 
  27. ^ AngelusOnline Page 831 Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Paul Touvier, 81, French War Criminal". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  29. ^ "Vade retro soutanas". Libé (in French). Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  30. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  31. ^ "The Liberal Inquisition". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  32. ^ Liphshiz, Cnaan. "Report: Vatican readmits society that propagates anti-Semitism." Haaretz. 29 May 2009. "The [web]site from Germany ... clarifies that 'contemporary Jews are for sure guilty of the murder of God, as long as they don't recognize Christ as God.'"
  33. ^ a b Crowdy, Michael; Novak, Kenneth (1997). "The Mystery of the Jewish People in History". Against the Sound Bites. Society of Saint Pius X. Archived from the original on 14 February 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  34. ^ "Forget Backman — meet the Pope’s anti-semite". Crikey. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  35. ^ a b Stephen L. M. Heiner's Interview with Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, of the Society of St. Pius X, for the print version of the Remnant, Sunday, April 30, 2006
  36. ^ «Ses écrits passés sont pleins d'erreurs modernistes. Or, le modernisme est la synthèse de toutes les hérésies (Pascendi, saint Pie X). Donc, comme hérétique, Ratzinger dépasse de loin les erreurs protestantes de Luther comme l'a très bien dit Mgr Tissier de Mallerais.» Mgr Williamson estime encore que les actes du concile Vatican II «sont beaucoup trop subtilement et profondément empoisonnés pour qu'il faille les réinterpréter. Un gâteau en partie empoisonné va tout entier à la poubelle!»."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  37. ^ Les Petits Soldats du Scoutisme, Le Monde, 2 septembre 1998, par Roland-Pierre Paringaux.
  38. ^ Mickael Tussier (6 August 1998). "Le drame de Perros-Guirec, une fatalité ?". Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  39. ^ "Nazi war criminal's SSPX funeral stopped by protests". National Catholic Reporter. 2013-10-16. Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  40. ^ a b "SSPX accused of abuse cover-up : News Headlines". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  41. ^ "Female Ref Banned From Boys' Game". Good Morning America. ABCNews. 2008-02-18. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  42. ^ "St. Mary's Academy & College". Retrieved 2017-07-11. 
  43. ^ "Phoenix high school baseball team balks over having to face team with a girl in title game". Retrieved July 11, 2017. 
  44. ^ "Team forfeits due to female opponent". Retrieved July 11, 2017.