Society of Saint Pius X

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The Society of Saint Pius X
Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X
Abbreviation S.S.P.X.
Motto Christus vincit!
Christus regnat!
Christus imperat!

(Christ Conquers! Christ Reigns! Christ Rules!)
Formation 1970
Type Canonically irregular Catholic priestly society
Headquarters Menzingen, Switzerland
Superior General
Bishop Bernard Fellay
Key people
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – founder, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta
Website central US district

The Society of Saint Pius X (Latin: Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X; Spanish: Hermandad Sacerdotal de San Pío X; also informally known as the SSPX) is an international priestly fraternity founded in 1970 by the French Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The society is known for rejecting the ecclesial reforms both influenced or institutionalized by the Second Vatican Council with the claim of maintaining orthodoxy and doctrinal purity among its followers.

Pope Benedict XVI declared that, for doctrinal rather than disciplinary reasons, the Society has no canonical status in the Catholic Church and because it lacks canonical status, the ministries exercised by its ministers are not legitimate within the Church.[1] However, the Society maintains that the Holy See gives some recognition to the canonical existence and ecclesial ministry of the Society's priests.[2] Tensions between the society and the Holy See reached their height in 1988, when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II, resulting in a declaration of excommunication against the bishops who consecrated or were consecrated. However, the excommunication was removed in January 2009[3] with a hope expressed that all members of the society would quickly return to full communion.[4]

Formal discussions between the Holy See and the Society began in 2009 and reached a critical stage in 2012, when Bishop Bernard Fellay rejected the doctrinal document presented to him on 13 June, evaluating a text proposed by the society on 15 April.[5] Fellay asked Pope Benedict if that document had the Pope's personal approval and the Pope sent him a handwritten letter assuring his direct approval.[6] On 27 June 2013, the society's three remaining bishops (it had expelled Bishop Williamson) formally rejected the Holy See's proposals[7] and on 12 October 2013, Bishop Fellay spoke of Pope Francis as a Modernist.[8][9]

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, stated on 22 December 2013 that the leaders of the Society are in schism, having departed from communion with the Church, but that the door is open for them if they change their attitude and accept the Catholic Church's conditions and the Pope as the definitive criterion of membership.[8][10] In an interview on 12 February 2014, he added that there is no backdoor for admittance, but only the open door of acceptance of the doctrinal preamble presented to the society in 2012.[11] At present, the Society vehemently rejects any proposition that does not either clarify or ultimately reject the ambiguities of the Second Vatican Council documents. The present Superior General of the Society is Bishop Bernard Fellay.

Foundation and early history[edit]

Lefebvre, the society's founder, celebrating Tridentine Mass, which the society uses exclusively, rejecting the revision made after the Second Vatican Council.

Like the Traditionalist Catholic movement in general, the SSPX was born out of opposition to changes in the Catholic Church that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The founder and central figure of the society was the French prelate Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had previously served the Catholic Church as apostolic delegate to French-speaking Africa, Archbishop of Dakar, and superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a missionary order of priests. In May 1970, shortly after his retirement as Vicar General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Lefebvre was approached by 11 French seminarians in Rome, who were criticized for their adherence to the traditional doctrines of the Catholic Church. They sought Lefebvre's advice on a conservative seminary where they could complete their studies.[12] He directed them to the still conservative University of Fribourg, in Switzerland. But soon, the University had become as liberal as anywhere else.

In late 1970, at age 65, urged by the Abbot of the Abbey of Hauterive and Dominican theologian Father Marie-Dominique Philippe to teach the seminarians personally, Lefebvre, feeling too old to undertake such a large project, told them he would visit François Charrière, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, with a request to set up a religious society. He told them, if he said to go through with it, he would see in it a sign of Divine Providence. Charrière granted Lefebvre's request and, with a document predated by six days to 1 November 1970, he established the Society of St. Pius X as a pia unio on a provisional (ad experimentum) basis for six years. Pia unio status was the first stage through which a Catholic organisation passed prior to gaining official recognition as a religious institute or society of apostolic life. (Since 1983, the term "association of the faithful" has replaced "pia unio".) The Society of Saint Pius X was formally founded, adhering to all canonical norms, and receiving the episcopal blessing and encouragement of the local ordinary. Some Swiss laymen offered the seminary at Ecône to the newly formed group, and in 1971 the first 24 candidates entered, followed by a further 32 in October 1972.[13]

Normally, after a suitable period of experience and consultation with the Holy See, a bishop would raise a pia unio to official status at diocesan level. Lefebvre attempted to bypass this stage, and contacted three different Vatican departments in order to secure early recognition for his society. He succeeded in obtaining a letter of encouragement from Cardinal John Joseph Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, but there was no approval from the Vatican congregation responsible for raising an association to the level desired by Lefebvre. Cardinal Wright's letter, dated 18 February 1971, said with regard to the field of competence of Cardinal Wright's own Congregation, that the association "will be able to contribute much to accomplishing the plan drawn up by this Congregation for worldwide sharing of clergy". Cardinal Wright was still recommending prospective seminarians to apply to Écône as late as 1973.[14]

The establishment of the SSPX was unwelcome to a number of churchmen, most notably to the French bishops, whose theological outlook was quite different from that of Lefebvre and who had important connections with the Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State, Jean-Marie Villot. Much of the tension between Lefebvre and his critics must be seen in the context of long-term theological, cultural and political divisions between opposing elements of French society. According to Michael Davies, a defender of Lefebvre, at the meeting of the French episcopal conference at Lourdes in 1972, the seminary at Écône acquired the nickname "le séminaire sauvage" – the "wildcat seminary",[14] and by November 1974 the French episcopate had indicated that they would not incardinate any of Lefebvre's priests in their dioceses. They also publicly criticised Catholics who remained attached to the Tridentine Mass.[15] By this time, the SSPX had opened additional seminaries in Armada, Michigan, (1973) and in Rome (1974).

The Society's principal seminary in Écône, Switzerland.

The first sign of intervention by curial authorities was a meeting held in the Vatican on 26 March 1974. By June 1974, a commission of cardinals had been formed to inquire into the SSPX. The cardinals decided that a canonical visitation of the seminary should be undertaken and, from 11–13 November 1974, two Belgian priests carried out a visitation. Franz Schmidberger, later superior general of the Society in 1990, said that their report was favourable.[16] However, the seminarians and staff at Écône judged some theological opinions that the two priests expressed there to be excessively liberal and greatly shocking. In what he later described as a mood of "doubtlessly excessive indignation", Lefebvre wrote a "Declaration" in which he strongly attacked what he considered to be liberal trends apparent in the contemporary Church, which (he said) were "clearly evident" in the Council and in the reforms that had followed.[17] This document was leaked and published in January 1975, in the French Traditionalist Catholic journal Itinéraires.

By now, Lefebvre was in serious difficulties.[13] In January 1975, Monsignor Pierre Mamie, the Bishop of Fribourg, wrote to Rome stating his intention to withdraw the pia unio status that his predecessor had granted. In the same month, Lefebvre was asked by the cardinals to come to the Vatican. He met with them twice, on 13 February and 3 March. To Lefebvre's declared surprise, the meetings were hostile in tone: at one point a French cardinal, Gabriel-Marie Garrone, reportedly called him a "fool".[13]

On 6 May 1975, with the approval of the cardinals, Bishop Mamie withdrew the SSPX's pia unio status. Lefebvre instructed his lawyer to lodge appeals and he ultimately petitioned the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court of the Catholic Church, which turned down the complaint. From this point onwards, the SSPX was no longer recognised as an organisation within the Catholic Church.

An SSPX Priest and altar server. Pictured are a red-veiled tabernacle[18] and the priest's black biretta,[19] features of the pre-1965 pious devotional practice for hundreds of years.[20]

Lefebvre and the leadership of the society have always maintained that he was treated unfairly by the Roman Curia, that the suppression of the SSPX was unjust and also that the procedures followed in its suppression violated the provisions of the Code of Canon Law.

The SSPX continued to operate in spite of its dissolution. In the consistory of 24 May 1976, Pope Paul VI rebuked Archbishop Lefebvre by name – reportedly the first time in 200 years that a pope had publicly reprimanded a Catholic bishop – and appealed to him and his followers to change their minds.[21]

Lefebvre announced that he intended to confer ordination on some of his students at the end of June 1976. On 12 June 1976, the Nuncio in Switzerland was given instructions to inform Lefebvre that, by special order of Pope Paul VI, he was forbidden to do so.[22][23] On 25 June 1976, Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, the deputy Secretary of State, wrote directly to Lefebvre, confirming, by special mandate of the Pope, the prohibition to administer the holy orders, and warning him of the canonical penalties for Lefebvre himself and those whom he would ordain.[22][24] Lefebvre ignored the warnings, and went ahead with the ordinations on 29 June 1976.

In the sermon that he delivered on that occasion, Lefebvre explicitly recognized the possibility that he himself would be struck with suspension and the new priests with an irregularity that should theoretically prevent them from saying Mass.[25] On the next day, 1 July 1976, the Press Office of the Holy See declared that in accordance with canon 2373 of the then Code of Canon Law, Lefebvre was automatically suspended for one year from conferring ordination, and that those whom he had ordained were automatically suspended from the exercise of the order received. It was also announced that the Holy See was examining Lefebvre's disobedience to the orders of the Pope that were communicated by the above-mentioned letters of the Secretariat of State dated 12 and 15 June 1976.[22][26]

On 11 July 1976, Lefebvre signed a certificate of receipt of a letter from Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, intimating to him a canonical warning that further penalties would be inflicted on him in accordance with canon 2331 §1 of the then Code of Canon Law concerning obstinate disobedience to legitimate precepts or prohibitions of the Roman Pontiff, unless within ten days of receipt of the letter he took steps "to repair the scandal caused". In a letter of 17 July to Pope Paul VI, Lefebvre declared that he judged his action of 29 June to be legitimate. The Pope considered this response inadequate and on his instructions the Congregation for Bishops, on 22 July 1976, suspended Lefebvre for an indefinite time from all exercise of holy orders.[27]

1988 consecrations[edit]

Main article: Ecône consecrations

A central controversy surrounding the SSPX concerns the consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre and a Brazilian bishop, Antônio de Castro Mayer, of four SSPX priests as bishops in 1988 in violation of the orders of Pope John Paul II.

By 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre was 81. At that point, if Lefebvre had died, the SSPX would have become dependent upon non-SSPX bishops to ordain future priests – and Lefebvre did not regard them as properly reliable and orthodox. In June 1987, Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate a successor to the episcopacy. He implied that he intended to do this with or without the approval of the Holy See.[28] Under canons 1013 and 1382 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law, the consecration of a bishop requires papal approval. Consecration of bishops without papal approval had been condemned by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Apostolorum principis, which described the sacramental activity of bishops who had been consecrated without such approval as "gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious".[29] The Roman authorities were unhappy with Lefebvre's plan, but they began discussions with him and the SSPX which led to the signing on 5 May 1988, of a skeleton agreement between Lefebvre and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the future Pope Benedict XVI.

On Pope John Paul II's instructions, Cardinal Ratzinger replied to Lefebvre on 30 May, insisting on observance of the agreement of 5 May and adding that, if Lefebvre carried out unauthorized consecrations on 30 June, the promised authorization for the ordination to the episcopacy would not be granted.

On 3 June, Lefebvre wrote from Écône, stating that he intended to proceed. On 9 June, the Pope replied with a personal letter, appealing to him not to proceed with a design that "would be seen as nothing other than a schismatic act, the theological and canonical consequences of which are known to you". Lefebvre did not reply and the letter was made public on 16 June. For the first time the Holy See stated publicly that Lefebvre was in danger of being excommunicated.

On 30 June 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre proceeded to ordain to the episcopate four priests of the SSPX. Monsignor Antônio de Castro Mayer, the retired Bishop of Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil, assisted in the ceremony. Those consecrated as Bishops were: Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta, and Richard Williamson.

The following day, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree declaring that Archbishop Lefebvre and the four newly ordained bishops had incurred the automatic canonical penalty of excommunication reserved to the Holy See.[30] On the following day, 2 July, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter known as Ecclesia Dei in which he condemned the Archbishop's action.[31] The Pope stated that, since schism is defined in the Code of Canon Law as "withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (canon 751),[32] the consecration "constitute[d] a schismatic act", and that, by virtue of canon 1382 of the Code,[33] it entailed ipso facto excommunication for all the bishops involved.

Lefebvre argued that his actions had been necessary because the traditional form of the Catholic faith and sacraments would become extinct without traditionalist clergy to pass them on to the next generation. He called the ordinations "opération survie" ("Operation Survival"), citing in his defense canons 1323 and 1324 of the Code of Canon Law, the first of which says that "a person who acted coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls" is not subject to penalty for violating a law or precept, while the other says "the perpetrator of a violation is not exempt from a penalty, but the penalty established by law or precept must be tempered or a penance employed in its place if the delict was committed ... by a person who thought in culpable error that one of the circumstances mentioned in canon 1333, 4 was present".[34]

Some members of the SSPX disassociated themselves from the Society as a result of Lefebvre's actions and, with the approval of the Holy See, formed a separate society called the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Canonical situation[edit]

The canonical situation of the SSPX has been the subject of much controversy since the 1988 Écône consecrations. The Society claims to possess extraordinary jurisdiction for celebrating masses[35] and for other sacraments like penance and marriage.[36]

The view of the Holy See, as expressed by Pope Benedict XVI on 10 March 2009, is: "Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church."[1]

Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, says that, for Catholics, assistance at Mass celebrated by priests of the Society is not necessarily a sin: "It would only become so if a person attended this Mass with the deliberate intention of separating himself from communion with the Pope and those in communion with him." However, he concludes: "Only if there is objectively no alternative should one attend the Mass celebrated by a priest from the Society of St. Pius X. If one has to do so, then I would say that one may go in good conscience." He adds: "At the same time, it is our ardent prayer and desire, as it should be for all Catholics, that the doctrinal issues with the Society of St. Pius X will be resolved as soon as possible so that these priests may return to full communion and canonical good standing within the Church."[37]

Pope Francis has authorized priests of the Society to give absolution to all of the faithful during the Jubilee Year of Mercy that begins in December 2015. This both asserts his power as Pope, and is also a conciliatory gesture. Pope Francis declared that the Society's Confessions will also be licit for that Jubilee year.[38] In his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, issued on November 21, 2016, Pope Francis extended this authorization "until further provisions are made." The Society has, however, never doubted the validity of its Confessions.

SSPX today[edit]

As of December, 2016,[39] the Society has 613 priests present in 37 countries and active in 35 more, 772 Mass centers, 165 priories, 117 religious brothers, 195 religious sisters, 79 oblates, 215 seminarians in six seminaries, 40 pre-seminarians, more than 100 schools, 7 nursing homes, 4 Carmelite convents, 17 Missionary Sisters of Kenya, and 2 university-level institutes.

The Society is divided into two classes of territorial units called districts and autonomous houses, each headed by a superior. An autonomous house may become a district after three priories have been established within its jurisdiction.[40] The most recent organizational addition of the Society is the Autonomous House of Brazil, formed from territory taken from the District of South America, erected on 19 March, 2017.[41] Over 120 of the Society's priests are stationed in the District of France.[42] If the Society's canonical situation were to be regularized, it would be the Church's 4th largest society of apostolic life (similar to a religious order, but without vows), according to the three criteria published annually in Annuario Pontificio: Number of erected houses (median 31; SSPX 165), number of members in the society (median 229; SSPX 1045), and number of priests in the society (median 149; SSPX 613).[43]

The Society is currently sub-divided into 14 districts, and 4 autonomous houses:[44]

District or Autonomous House Priories Chapels Schools Retreat
District of Africa 7 23 2
District of Asia 6 39 2
District of Australia
(also Oceania)
7 38 4
District of Austria 4 16
District of Belgium-Netherlands 3 8 1
District of Canada 6 30 3 1
District of France 44 109 47 4
District of Germany 13 29 4 1
District of Great Britain
(also Scandinavia)
7 31 1
District of Italy 4 16 1
District of Mexico-Guatemala
(also El Salvador)
6 20 2
District of South America[45] 8 30 3
District of Switzerland 10 17 6 1
District of United States 20 103 26 3
Autonomous House of Brazil[46] 3 12
Autonomous House of Eastern Europe
4 15 3 1
Autonomous House of Ireland 2 5
Autonomous House of Spain
(also Portugal)
1 17

The first seminary founded by the Society (St. Pius X Seminary) is located in Écône, Switzerland. Its largest,[47] however, is located in the United States (St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary: Buckingham County, Virginia). The seminary, having outgrown its previous facilities, recently relocated from Winona, Minnesota; the former seminary complex continues to house the novitiate of the religious brothers.[48] Other seminaries are located in France (Flavigny-sur-Ozerain), Germany (Zaitzkofen), Australia (Goulburn), and Argentina (La Reja). The Society also runs pre-seminaries for prospective priestly vocations in Italy (Albano Laziale), and the Philippines (Santa Barbara).

The SSPX has received explicit support from the following diocesan bishops:

In addition, the Society was supported by retired diocesan bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, who on 20 August 1981 had resigned at the age of 77 from the governance of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Campos, Brazil and who participated in the 1988 Écône consecrations. After his retirement, he founded the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney,[49] which remained closely associated with the SSPX until 2001, when it reconciled with the Holy See.

The Society now has close links with the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat, led by Father Basil Kovpak, a priest formerly of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who was definitively excommunicated from the Catholic Church in November 2007[50] after having Bishop Richard Williamson, then of the SSPX but expelled from the Society five years later,[51] illicitly ordain two priests and seven deacons for his society in violation of canons 1015 §1 and 1017 of the Code of Canon Law.

Archbishop Lefebvre, who as superior general had been unable to impose his will on the representatives of the Holy Ghost Fathers at their September 1968 general chapter,[52] gave the Society a statute that excludes elected representatives from SSPX general chapters, in which the only participants are office-holders (appointed personally by the superior general) together with (in a more limited number) the most senior members. There are similar restrictions within the individual districts.

Several religious institutes, mostly based in France, are associated with the Society. A specific article, SSPX-affiliated religious orders, is devoted to them.

Discussions with the Holy See[edit]

Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX

Discussions between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X towards an eventual reconciliation have been ongoing. In March 2017, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the prelate in charge of Ecclesia Dei, the Curia's organ for traditionalist societies, confirmed that the two entities are close to re-unification.[53]

For a number of years after the 1988 consecrations, there was little if any dialogue between the SSPX and the Holy See. This state of affairs ended when the Society led a large pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee in the year 2000.

On January 21, 2009 the Holy See remitted the excommunications of the Society's bishops that it had declared at the time of the 1988 consecrations and expressed the hope that all members of the society would follow this up by speedily returning to full communion with the Church.[4]

In June 2009, Father Franz Schmidberger of the SSPX said that the Society was moving in the "direction of a personal prelature", somewhat similar to the situation of Opus Dei.[54] Father Schmidberger's view was not confirmed by the Holy See, which saw the society as still requiring "to rediscover the path to full communion with the Church ... the doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry."[55] In May, 2011, Vatican Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi reaffirmed Pope Benedict XVI's statement of March 2009: "As long as the Society [of St. Pius X] does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church...Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church."[56]

On 14 September 2011, at the conclusion of doctrinal discussions that began in 2009 between representatives of the Society and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation gave Bishop Bernard Fellay, as superior general of the Society, a "doctrinal preamble", which if accepted by the Society would allow it to be accepted as in full communion with the Holy See and to be given a corporative canonical status within the Church. The possibility of making agreed adjustments of the wording was left open.[57] Fellay was told on 16 March 2012 that the reply that he had submitted in January of that year was "not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the fracture between the Holy See and the society".[58] Fellay continued to express optimism on the possibility of an agreement, but a leaked letter signed by the other three SSPX bishops showed their strong opposition to the proposal. On behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation told Fellay on 13 June 2012 that a further response that he submitted on 15 April 2012 still needed clarification and that, if reconciled, the Society could have the status of a personal prelature within the Church. A leak of a letter from Fellay to SSPX superiors showed that he viewed the doctrinal preamble "clearly unacceptable".[59] On 19 July 2012 the Society announced: "We have determined and approved the necessary conditions for an eventual canonical normalization. We have decided that, in that case, an extraordinary Chapter with deliberative vote will be convened beforehand."[60] On 16 September, it informed the Holy See that it needed more time to prepare its response to the Holy See's proposals of 13 June 2012. In a 4 October 2012 interview, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the new President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", remarked, with regard to the Holy See's demand that the Society accept the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, including those on religious freedom and human rights: "In a pastoral sense, the door is always open"; he added: "We cannot put the Catholic faith at the mercy of negotiations. Compromise does not exist in this field. I think that there can now be no new discussions."[61] And on 27 October 2012, the Pontifical Commission commented on the Society's request for more time to prepare its response: "After thirty years of separation, it is understandable that time is needed to absorb the significance of these recent developments. As Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI seeks to foster and preserve the unity of the Church by realizing the long hoped-for reconciliation of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X with the See of Peter – a dramatic manifestation of the munus Petrinum in action – patience, serenity, perseverance and trust are needed."[62]

A December 2012 letter, in English and in French, from Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", to all the members of the society indicated that the official reply of Bishop Fellay had not yet been received. Archbishop Di Noia lamented that some of the society's superiors "employ language, in unofficial communications, that to all the world appears to reject the very provisions, assumed to be still under study, that are required for the reconciliation and for the canonical regularization of the Fraternity within the Catholic Church". He added: "The only imaginable future for the Priestly Fraternity lies along the path of full communion with the Holy See, with the acceptance of an unqualified profession of the faith in its fullness, and thus with a properly ordered ecclesial, sacramental and pastoral life."[63] In a declaration of 27 June 2013, the remaining three bishops of the society (after the expulsion of Richard Williamson in 2012) repudiated Pope Benedict XVI's teaching that the Second Vatican Council should be interpreted in a "hermeneutic of continuity" with previous Church teaching, and declared that the Mass as celebrated by the Pope and the generality of the Catholic Church's bishops and priests is "penetrated with an ecumenical and Protestant spirit, democratic and humanist, which empties out the sacrifice of the Cross".[64] The Catholic News Agency interpreted this declaration as indicating a definitive break with the Catholic Church.[7] On 12 October 2013, Fellay declared, "We thank God, we have been preserved from any kind of agreement from last year", and said that the society had withdrawn the text that it presented to Rome on 15 April 2012, at the same time declaring that Pope Francis was "a genuine Modernist".[9]

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published on 22 December 2013 an interview with Müller in which he was asked: "Now that the discussions have failed, what is the situation of the Lefebvrians?" Müller replied: "The canonical excommunication for the illicit ordinations has been lifted from the bishops, but the sacramental de facto excommunication for schism remains; they have departed from communion with the Church. We do not follow that up by shutting the door, we never do, and we call on them to be reconciled. But on their part too, they must change their attitude and accept the Catholic Church's conditions and the Supreme Pontiff as the definitive criterion of membership."[10][65]

Political controversies[edit]

Prominent members of the SSPX, including Lefebvre himself, have, at various times, expressed approval or support for a restoration of an absolutist French monarchy; the Vichy government (1940–1944); and the party of Jean-Marie le Pen.

On the basis of statements made by Bishop Williamson, the Anti-Defamation League has accused the Society of being "mired in anti-Semitism".[66]

It was in an SSPX priory, where he had been granted asylum as "an act of charity to a homeless man",[67] that French Nazi collaborator and war criminal Paul Touvier was arrested. On his death, in 1996, a priest of the society publicly offered Requiem Mass for him.[68][69]

On 16 October 2013, the Society offered to perform a funeral for Nazi war-criminal Erich Priebke, but the ceremony did not take place due to protests by some 500 people outside the Society's Italian district house in Albano, near Rome. The local authorities of the Catholic Church had refused him a public funeral, citing a rule of canon law that, unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, a public funeral must be refused to manifest sinners to whom it cannot be granted without public scandal of the faithful.[70][71] The society issued a statement on its 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."

Notable groups that have split from the SSPX[edit]

There have been two major kinds of splits from the SSPX. Two notable splits of the first kind involved priests who viewed the SSPX as too liberal and who use the form that the Mass had before Pope John XXIII. The other kind involved groups who have reconciled with the Holy See and who, like the SSPX, use the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal.

The groups who broke with the SSPX for being too liberal include:

  • Society of St. Pius V — In 1983, nine U.S. SSPX priests broke with or were forced to leave the SSPX's Northeast USA District partly because they were opposed to Lefebvre's instructions that Mass be celebrated according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal issued by Pope John XXIII. Those in SSPX circles refer to these priests as "the nine". They began their organization by refusing to complete a transaction of a church that the SSPX was attempting to purchase, using one of the nine priests as the buyer. The founding priests took the money intended for the purchase of the church and kept the church for themselves.[citation needed] A number of the SSPV's priests and the lay people who go to their Masses are openly sedevacantist, a thesis rejected by the SSPX. Other issues occasioning the split were: Lefebvre's order that Society priests must accept the decrees of nullity handed down by diocesan marriage tribunals; the insistence that all Society Masses be celebrated according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal; the acceptance of new members into the group who had been ordained to the priesthood according to the revised sacramental rites of Pope Paul VI.[72]
  • Istituto Mater Boni Consilii — (English: "Institute of the Mother of Good Counsel") is a traditionalist congregation of priests that follows the Sedeprivationist school of thought. The founders of the institute seceded in 1985 from the Society of St. Pius X under the leadership of Fr. Francesco Ricossa, onetime faculty member of the seminary at Écône. In contrast to the North American-based SSPV, this Institute is based in Europe.
  • SSPX Resistance — Concern that the discussions with the Holy See that began in 2009 were leading the Society towards acceptance of the Second Vatican Council as the price of obtaining recognition led to the defection not only of Bishop Williamson but also of several priest members, in both North America and France. These referred to themselves variously as "the Resistance", the Society of St. Pius X Marian Corps (SSPX-MC), or l'Union Sacerdotale Marcel Lefebvre (USML, French).

The groups who have broken with the SSPX and reconciled with Rome include:

  • Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter – The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was established in 1988 after the Ecône consecrations. Responding to the Holy See's declaration that these constituted a schismatic act and that those involved were thereby automatically excommunicated, twelve priests left the Society and established the Fraternity, in full communion with the Holy See.
  • Institute of the Good Shepherd – The Institute of the Good Shepherd (Institut du Bon-Pasteur, IBP) was established as a papally recognised society of apostolic life on 8 September 2006 for a group of SSPX members who maintained it was time for the Society to accept reconciliation with Pope Benedict XVI.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society (of St Pius X) does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries within the Church" (Pope Benedict XVI, Letter of 10 March 2009 to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre).
  2. ^ According to an article on The Remnant, Bishop Fellay cited as evidence replies of the Holy See to SSPX priests regarding absolution from reserved sins, which in fact, since 1983, no longer exist, and the fact that SSPX priests are allowed, after reconciliation, to function as priests, as are, for instance, eastern Christian priests received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
  3. ^ "Office of Congregation for Bishops - Excommunication". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Pope Benedict lifts excommunication of bishops ordained by Lefebvre". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "Traditionalist SSPX calls Vatican offer 'clearly unacceptable'". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "Rome needs to change its demands if it wants to reach an agreement with SSPX". Retrieved 21 August 2015. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b "Traditionalists indicate definitive break with Catholic Church". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "CDF prefect says SSPX in schism, suspended from sacraments". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  9. ^ a b John Vennari, "Bishop Fellay on Pope Francis 'What we have before us is a genuine Modernist!'" in [[Catholic Family News, October 2013]
  10. ^ a b Corriere della Sera, 22 December 2013, p. 5
  11. ^ Katholische Presseagentur Österreich. "kathweb Nachrichten .:. Katholische Presseagentur Österreich". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  12. ^ The Wanderer Interviews Fr. Aulagnier, SSPX, Luc Gagnon, September 18, 2003
  13. ^ a b c "Short History Of The Society Of Saint Pius X". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  14. ^ a b " Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre: chp 2: A New Apostolate". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  15. ^ " Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre: Chapter 4: The Campaign Against Econe". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  16. ^ "Archbishop Lefebvre was told that this examination was very positive and that he just had to come to Rome and clarify some questions."Conference of Father Franz Schmidberger, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X at Rockdale, Sydney, Australia, October 16, 1990, by Father Gerard Hogan and Father François Laisney
  17. ^ The 1974 Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre,November 21, 1974
  18. ^ Herbermann, Charles George (1913). The Catholic Encyclopedia. p. 135. 
  19. ^ "In their quest to reform the liturgy, some Catholics hope to remake the culture". 5 June 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  20. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Biretta". Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  21. ^ Nos igitur iterum adhortamur hos Nostros fratres ac filios, eosque exoramus, ut conscii fiant gravium vulnerum quae secus Ecclesiae illaturi sunt. Invitationem ipsis iteramus, ut secum recogitent gravia Christi monita de Ecclesiae unitate (Cfr. Io. 17, 21 ss.) ac de oboedientia erga legitimum Pastorem, ab Ipso universo gregi praepositum, cum signum oboedientiae sit quae Patri ac Filio debetur (Cfr. Luc. 10, 16). Nos eos aperto corde exspectamus apertisque bracchiis ad eos prompte amplectendos: utinam humilitatis exemplum praebentes, ad gaudium Populi Dei rursus viam unitatis et amoris ingredi valeant! (Consistory for the creation of twenty new cardinals, 24 May 1976)
  22. ^ a b c The suspension ab ordinum collatione of Archbishop Lefebvre
  23. ^ Text given in English translation in M. Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, p. 194
  24. ^ English translation in M. Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, p. 197-199
  25. ^ "The Ordinations of 29 June 1976". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  26. ^ English translation of the statement in M. Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, pp. 215-216
  27. ^ The suspension a divinis of Archbishop Lefebvre
  28. ^ "The situation is such, the work placed in our hands by the good Lord is such, that faced with this darkness in Rome, faced with the Roman authorities' pertinacity in error, faced with this refusal to return to truth or tradition on the part of those who occupy the seats of authority in Rome, faced with all these things, it seems to us that the good Lord is asking for the Church to continue. This is why it is likely that before I give account of my life to the good Lord, I shall have to consecrate some bishops" (Sermon on 29 June 1987)
  29. ^ (Encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, 41)
  30. ^ "Decree of excommunication on Marcel Lefebvre". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  31. ^ Ecclesia Dei Archived January 29, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  32. ^ Canon 751 Archived February 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ "Code of Canon Law - IntraText". Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  34. ^ Canon 1323 Archived December 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. ^ SSPX. "Do SSPX Priests Have Jurisdiction". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  36. ^ Fr Ramon Angles. "Validity of SSPX Confessions and Marriages". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  37. ^ Father Edward McNamara, Mass with the Society of St Pius X
  38. ^ "Year of Mercy Jubilee: Pope Gives Priests Authority to Absolve Sin of Abortion". Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  39. ^ "Statistics of the SSPX". French District of the Society of St. Pius X. Retrieved 3 March, 2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help); External link in |website= (help)
  40. ^ "Autonomous Houses - General House". Retrieved 2017-03-25. 
  41. ^ "SSPX: Brazil Becomes an Autonomous House - District of the USA". Retrieved 2017-03-25. 
  42. ^ Figure given by the SSPX's French District.
  43. ^ Annuario Pontificio, 2016. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2016. pp. 1467–1476. 
  44. ^ "The districts of the SSPX worldwide". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  45. ^ "Capillas - Distrito de América del Sur". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-03-26. 
  46. ^ "Priorados, missões e comunidades amigas". Fraternidade Sacerdotal São Pio X no Brasil (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2017-03-25. 
  47. ^ Catholic, New. "RORATE CÆLI: SSPX Exclusive - Bp. Fellay speaks to Rorate on Rome negotiations as world's largest traditional seminary is blessed in Virginia". RORATE CÆLI. Retrieved 2017-03-25. 
  48. ^ "A New Future for Winona & Moving Day! - St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary". Retrieved 2017-03-25. 
  49. ^ Nossa pequena história dentro da história da Igreja Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  50. ^ "Catholic News". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  51. ^ Cindy Wooden, "SSPX expels Bishop Williamson, who opposed talks with Vatican" in Catholic News Service, 24 October 2012[permanent dead link]
  52. ^ "With no authorisation from the Congregation for Religious, they wanted the chapter to be presided over by a triumvirate which meant that I, the Superior General, was not to preside over the chapter at all even though it was clearly written in the constitutions that the Superior General was to be in charge of all business discussed at the General Chapter." July/August 2003 Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words, Society of Saint Pius X – Southern Africa
  53. ^ "Vatican official confirms: agreement with SSPX is close : News Headlines". Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  54. ^ "IMPORTANT INTERVIEW: "Similar to Opus Dei?" Schmidberger responds: "Somewhat."". Rorate Caeli. 2009-06-25. 
  55. ^ Motu proprio Ecclesiae unitatem
  56. ^ "Fraternity of Saint Pius X ordinations illegitimate". Vatican Radio. May 7, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-12. 
  57. ^ Cindy Wooden, "Vatican gives SSPX doctrinal statement to sign" in Catholic Herald, 14 September 2011 Retrieved 15 June 2012
  58. ^ Cindy Wooden, "Vatican says SSPX response to basic doctrinal principles 'insufficient'" in National Catholic Reporter, 16 March 2012 Retrieved 15 June 2012
  59. ^ Michelle Bauman, "SSPX letter indicates refusal of Vatican reconciliation effort" in Catholic News Agency, 27 Jun 2012 Retrieved 29 June 2012
  60. ^ "SSPX General Chapter Statement". [dead link]
  61. ^ NDR. "Glaubenspräfekt Müller: Keine Gespräche mehr mit Piusbruderschaft". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  62. ^ IN LINGUA INGLESE Declaration of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" 27.10.2012
  63. ^ "Il Sismografo". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  64. ^ "Declaration on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the episcopal consecrations". Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  65. ^ Catholic World News: "CDF prefect says SSPX in schism, suspended from sacraments" (Retrieved 13 February 2015)
  66. ^ The Society of St. Pius X: Mired in Anti-Semitism, Anti-Defamation League, 26 January 2009
  67. ^ AngelusOnline Page 831
  68. ^ "Vade retro Soutanas", ("Get Thee Behind me, Satan"), Libération, 11 October 2006
  69. ^ "Lefebvre movement: long, troubled history with Judaism", National Catholic Reporter, 26 January 2009
  70. ^ "Nazi war criminal's SSPX funeral stopped by protests" by Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service,16 October 2013,
  71. ^ "Code of Canon Law - IntraText". Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  72. ^ Additional objections can be found at the "anti-Vatican II" Traditional Mass Organisation's website

External links[edit]