Two Societies at the Gallows

The Society of St. Pius X & the Fraternity of St. Peter

Thanks to columnist Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo, the BC Catholic is giving us an in-depth report on two organizations who “came into existence for contradictory reasons, but apparently for the same motive: to retain the liturgy of the Mass of St. Pius V.”  After years of silence on that topic, the readers of the BC Catholic should appreciate that someone with the authority and experience of Msgr. Gallo has made an attempt to “clarify the situation of these two entities, especially the misconceptions that both organizations could have created.”  Unfortunately, Msgr. Gallo’s answers are not relevant, and need to be corrected.

Foundation of the SSPX: A few years after its foundation, some observers accused the seminary of Ecône to be a “wildcat seminary”.  Thanks to Msgr. Gallo, the readers of the BC Catholic are being made aware that Archbishop Lefebvre’s foundation was initially approved by Rome.   Msgr. Gallo asserts that his years spent in Rome and, in particular, his time spent as an employee of the Congregation of the Clergy gave him “good knowledge” of the circumstances surrounding the first approval of the Society of St. Pius X in 1970-1971. Yes, indeed, in the early years of his foundation, Archbishop Lefebvre was able to receive the decree of erection of the Society of St. Pius X, signed on November 1, 1970, by Bishop Charrière, the bishop of Fribourg-Lausanne in Switzerland.  Then, on February 18, 1971, a letter of praise was sent by Cardinal Wright, then prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy and “boss” of Msgr. Gallo.  In the recent articles published in the BC Catholic, Msgr. Gallo gives the impression that the Holy See extended this “gesture of good will” in order to prevent Archbishop Lefebvre from falling into an open revolt against Pope Paul VI, by encouraging him “to renounce his errors about the decisions taken by the Ecumenical Council, Vatican II.” 

On the contrary, the first words of Cardinal Wright’s letter “With great joy” should be enough to dispel such misconceptions.  There is no reason to doubt that such letter was a true and sincere approval of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X: “With great joy I received your letter, in which your Excellency informs me of your news and especially of the Statutes of the Priestly Society. As Your Excellency explains, this Association, which by your action, received on 1 November 1970, the approbation of His Excellency Francois Charrière, Bishop of Fribourg, has already exceeded the frontiers of Switzerland, and several Ordinaries in different parts of the world praise and approve it. All of this and especially the wisdom of the norms which direct and govern this Association give much reason to hope for its success.  As for this Sacred Congregation, the Priestly Society will certainly be able to conform to the end proposed by the Council, for the distribution of the clergy in the world.

I am respectfully, Your Excellency, Yours in the Lord. J. Card. Wright, Prefect. Rome, February 18, 1971”

The New Mass: As a matter of fact, 35 years after the introduction of the New Mass, a number of Catholics are still upset about it.  Why? Being the essential act of worship in the Catholic Church, the Mass ought to express the Catholic faith.  One may be surprised to learn that 6 Protestant ministers were part of the commission that drafted the New Order of the Mass, called the Mass of Paul VI.  As a result, most reminders of the Catholic doctrine  offensive to our “separate brethren” were erased from the prayers of the Mass.

A number of Catholic priests and faithful were shocked, and thus refused the reformed liturgy.  They stayed with the Mass of all time, called the Mass of St. Pius V (1570).  Among them, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991), was the most famous figure. In 1970, he founded the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).  At first, the Society of St. Pius X enjoyed full approval from the Roman Catholic Church.  However, it came under fire when Archbishop Lefebvre kept ordaining priests that would say only the Traditional Latin Mass. Because they did not follow the New Mass of Paul VI and questioned the other novelties that followed the Council Vatican II, traditional Catholics have been outcast by the mainstream Catholic Church.

Was Archbishop Lefebvre someone who could not submit to authority?  In his articles, Msgr. Gallo gives a brief summary of the circumstances that led to the foundation of the Society of St. Pius X “four years after the closure of Vatican II, in 1970, he (Archbishop Lefebvre) established in Ecône, Switzerland… to train priests following pre-council ways.” However, I cannot see how any Church authority could have given any approval to someone who would be from day one “refusing to submit to authority”.  The articles give also the impression that, from the days following the council, Archbishop Lefebvre had planned to found a society whose purpose would be to keep tradition and “using Latin as a pretext to overcome the authority of the Holy Father.”  It claims also that Archbishop Lefebvre, “like most dissidents, needed dissident proselytes”.  As an answer to such allegations, let me give a report on a meeting which took place in 1969, Fribourg, Switzerland, with a group of seminarians, priests and laymen interested by a traditional seminary.  Archbishop Lefebvre recalled that meeting at which it was decided to found the Society of St. Pius X: “They literally took me by the scruff of the neck and said: “something has to be done for these seminarians!”  It was useless my saying that I was 65 and retired.  “Okay,” I said to them, “I’ll go and see Bishop Charrière.  If he says yes, that will be a sign of Providence.”  From that conversation, it is obvious that Archbishop Lefebvre had not planned to found a society to foster a revolt against Church authorities.

Msgr. Gallo made a parallel between the foundation of the SSPX in 1970 and the foundation of the “Old Catholic Church” in 1870, by those who refused to admit the newly proclaimed dogma of the infallibility of the pope.  Such parallel is not ironical, but very tendentious, as the Old Catholics established themselves as a New Church, with an independent hierarchy that has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church.  On the other hand, the Society of St. Pius X does not deny any dogma of the Church, and was founded with full Church approval.

Does the SSPX recognize the pope?  Msgr. Gallo presents Archbishop Lefebvre as someone who “believed that the true Church had stopped with Pope Pius XII.”  Moreover, he says that the members of the Society of St. Pius X “believe that the Holy See is vacant and that all the Popes since Pius XII have been anti-popes.”  In all charity, it appears that Msgr. Gallo was misinformed when he made such statements.  Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X always recognized the authority of the successor or St. Peter, including the present pope, John Paul II.  As a matter of fact, Archbishop Lefebvre said: “I cannot allow individuals in the Society to refuse to pray for the Holy Father or to refuse to recognize that there is a Pope.”  Personally, I had the opportunity to write an article in the SSPX-Canada magazine, in which I gave the reasons why the Society does not agree with the sedevacantists, namely those who think that the present popes since the council completely lost their see, on account of their heresies.  

Is the Magisterium always infallible?  If we recognize Pope John Paul II, it doesn’t mean that we follow him in every thing he does, or word he says.  What belongs to his Extraordinary Magisterium is infallible, thus out of discussion.  But, what belongs to his Ordinary Magisterium is infallible only if it is an echo of Tradition.  On disciplinary matters, it is clear that a pope could change and reform what was done before him; but when it is in matters of faith, no pope has authority to change or to alter it.  The Council Vatican I affirmed: “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”  However, it is a matter of fact that, in a number of occasions, the recent popes took a stand radically different from what has been the constant teaching of the Church. 

The Faith:  This leads us to the understanding of the key reason why Archbishop Lefebvre refused the New Mass and the other novelties that followed the Council Vatican II. Msgr. Gallo makes an interesting statement:  “the members of the Society of St. Pius X are convinced that they are on the right path and WE are the real heretics.” For a proper understanding of the stand taken by the Society of St. Pius X in regard of the liturgical reform, it is extremely important to talk about doctrinal matters.  In the traditional ritual of the Sacrament of baptism, the very 1st questions that the priest asks to the neophyte are as follow: “What do you ask of the Church of God?” “The faith”.  “What does the faith offer you?” “Eternal life.”  These two sentences are very important.  What the faithful are asking to their priests and bishops, it is to be instructed about the faith, “without which it is impossible to please God”, and to be fed by the true Sacraments.  If we want to escape hell, and get to heaven, we need to keep the faith whole and entire till the end of our lives. 

Such truth is more or less ignored or forgotten in the mainstream Roman Catholic Church.  On the contrary, Catholics are being told that they should not consider other religions (other faiths) as displeasing God and leading to hell.  Now, under the name of Ecumenism, Catholics are encouraged to be friendly with other religions. Let us be more precise: how such Ecumenism is practiced right now in the Church? Recently, an “Old Catholic” bishop went to Rome, with the sincere desire to amend his life, and be reconciled with the Church.  That bishop had a meeting with Cardinal Kasper, who told him: “You know, since the Council things have changed in the Church. Now, you don’t have to convert.”  So, modern Ecumenism is not looking any more for “the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it.” (encyclical letter Mortalium Animos, from Pius XI, 1928).  Rather, it is only looking for establishing friendly relations with non-Catholics.  A true Catholic who loves the Church and is deeply convinced about the absolute importance of the salvation of souls will be devastated to witness the thousands of souls comforted in their errors and kept away from the true Church by the practice of modern Ecumenism.

Let me quote from the declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre, November 21, 1974.  It could be considered as the charter of resistance of traditional Catholics against the novelties in the Church: We adhere with our whole heart, and with our whole soul to Catholic Rome, the guardian of the Catholic faith and of those traditions necessary for the maintenance of that faith, to eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth. Because of this adherence, we refuse and have always refused to follow the Rome of neo-modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies, such as were clearly manifested during the second Vatican Council, and after the Council in all the resulting reforms. (…) No authority, even the very highest in the hierarchy, can constrain us to abandon or to diminish our Catholic faith, such as it has been clearly expressed and professed by the Church's Magisterium for nineteen centuries. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema". (Gal. I, 8) (…)  It is for this reason that, without any rebellion, bitterness or resentment, we pursue our work of the formation of priests under the star of the age-old Magisterium, in the conviction that we can thus do no greater service to the holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to future generations.  (…) Meanwhile, we wait for the true Light of Tradition to dispel the darkness which obscures the sky of the eternal Rome.”

Neither heretical nor schismatic:  There are two ways to consider the Episcopal consecrations of 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre, without pontifical mandate.  For those who don’t want to see that there is a very serious crisis in the Church, such consecrations were “contrary to the will of the Supreme Pontiff and (…) incurred the penalty envisaged by canons 1364 and 1382 of the Code of Canon Law (excommunication).” 

But for Catholics who are aware of the very serious situation of our Mother the Church, where the official pastors do not feed their flock with the good “bread of the sane doctrine”, and are thus found spiritually starving, they understand that the consecrations done by Archbishop Lefebvre on June 30, 1988 were done for the survival of Catholic tradition.  In the sermon of the day of the consecrations, Archbishop Lefebvre said: “There is no question of us separating ourselves from Rome, or of putting ourselves under a foreign government, nor of establishing a sort of parallel Church as the Bishops of Palmar de Troya have done in Spain. They have even elected a pope, formed a college of cardinals... It is out of the question for us to do such things. Far from us be this miserable thought to separate ourselves from Rome! On the contrary, it is in order to manifest our attachment to Rome that we are performing this ceremony. It is in order to manifest our attachment to the Eternal Rome, to the Pope, and to all those who have preceded these last Popes who, unfortunately since the Second Vatican Council, have thought it their duty to adhere to grievous errors which are demolishing the Church and the Catholic Priesthood.” Archbishop Lefebvre was convinced that there was (and there is still now) a grave state of necessity in the Church.  To answer such state of necessity, he was convinced that it was his duty to perform these episcopal consecrations.  According to the provisions of canon 1323, he was then excused from imputability. 

Msgr. Gallo is quoting extensively from Cardinal Hoyos’ report on the FSSP.  He should be interested to learn that the same Cardinal Hoyos stated to Bishop Fellay that, after carefully studying what the SSPX members have said and done, he reached the conclusion that the SSPX is neither heretical, nor schismatic, and that the whole matter was only of regularizing a canonical situation.  It is true that the Society of St. Pius X is being labelled as disobedient, rebellious, excommunicated and schismatic.  However, we do not consider the sentence of excommunication formulated in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei of July 2, 1988 as valid, because of the state of necessity which prevails now in the Catholic Church.  Also, in spite of the Motu Proprio, Rome has never dealt with the SSPX as if we were real schismatics.  Here are some proofs: #1: If we were real schismatics, Rome would have used the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity to start an “ecumenical dialogue” with us.  Rather, it was Cardinal Hoyos, President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, who approached us.  #2: Rome had always recognized both the validity and the lawfulness of holy orders of former priests of the SSPX who left us.  #3: when the priests of Campos were regularized, there was no word of schism in any of the official documents, but for years Campos was in the same situation as the Society of St. Pius X is still now.

True obedience: Obedience in itself is neither good nor bad.  It can be and act of virtue and it can also be a vice, sinful.  As an example, there is the question of the obedience of doctors to the Governments who have legalised abortion.  “We have to obey or else we will lose our job.”  Is that a virtuous obedience?  Surely not!  It is a sinful act because it is to collaborate with a sinful law, with a sinful end, destructive of human life.  Other examples could be given of false and of sinful obedience.  These principles apply also inside the Church.  One cannot blindly obey priests who organize sacrilegious ‘Masses’, or who invite their parishioners to attend non‑Catholic services; one cannot obey Bishops who encourage heretical Catechisms in the ‘Catholic’ schools.  And one cannot obey even Rome when orders coming from Rome lead us to abandon or diminish our Faith.  “Though we or an Angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1, 8).  Faith is then greater than obedience.  Obedience is at the service of Faith, not Faith at the service of obedience.  “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Act V, 29).

Valid Marriages:  Quite obviously, I do not agree with Msgr. Gallo’s reasons, but I would like to thank him for stating that the marriages performed in the SSPX church, Christ the King in Langley and elsewhere in the SSPX, are valid.  However this is not because the SSPX members “had defected from the Church and were therefore not obliged to follow the canonical form”, but because we follow the extraordinary form, according to canon 1116. 

The Fraternity of St. Peter: It is curious to see that Msgr. Gallo attacks also the ‘approved’ Fraternity of St. Peter.  On that occasion, I would like to make a brief parallel between this Fraternity and the Society of St. Pius X.  Msgr. Gallo affirms that the Fraternity of St. Peter “was formed to be a catalyst for those Catholic faithful who rejected the Lefebvre movement” by giving “a chance not only to those who repented and desired to come back to the papal authority, but also to those who felt attached to the Latin tradition.”  Fr. Devillers, superior of the Fraternity St. Peter, precised: “The reconciliation of such priests (SSPX) with the Church is part of our mission.”

Msgr. Gallo affirms something that I never heard, that “Pope John Paul II was the founder of the Fraternity of St. Peter”, just to remind Fraternity members that they “should make it a point to take responsibility for sincerely executing the directives given to them.” This gives him the occasion to remind them the directives given by Cardinal Hoyos, president of the Ecclesia Dei commission, namely that “no superior beneath the Supreme Pontiff can hinder a priest from following the General Law…, namely to celebrate in the reformed Rite of Paul VI.” 

Msgr. Gallo is giving a serious warning to the PSSP: “Frequently, some priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter give the impression that they are superior to other members of the clergy because they have the privilege of saying the Mass in Latin. They segregate themselves from the Corpus Sacerdotale diocesanum and refuse to concelebrate with the local bishop.”  Officials are afraid to see the Fraternity of St. Peter as an approved ‘clone’ of the Society of St. Pius X.  If permission was given to them to say the Old Mass, it was not to favour a true restoration of the Latin Mass in the Roman Catholic Church, but mainly to serve as a half-way house for ‘repentant Lefebvrists’.  If the members of the Fraternity of St. Peter were to dare to criticize the New Mass or the Council, they may lose their precarious status.

Wisdom of Bishop Bernard Fellay: Msgr. Gallo’s articles are giving us another proof of the wisdom of the decision of Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X.  In 2000, he was first approached by Cardinal Hoyos, who was offering a deal to the Society of St. Pius X with full recognition and a Tridentine Mass Ordinariate.  Bishop Fellay asked for a sign of good will from Rome, that all priests from the Latin Rite be given the freedom to say the Old Mass if they wish.  So far, we are still waiting for it.

Rev. Dominique Boulet, SSPX

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