Society of St. Pius X

From Academic Kids

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is an international society of Catholic priests administered by a Superior General and District Superiors in various countries. Its official name is Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X or Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X.

SSPX is one of many organizations that promote what is known as Traditionalist Catholicism.



SSPX was founded, with the provisional canonical approval of the Bishop of Fribourg, Switzerland in November 1970 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, former Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a Father of the Second Vatican Council, and one of the best-known modern prelates in Africa, where he spent much of his early career. He retired as head of the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1968 when the order began revisions of its constitutions, which Lefebvre considered modernist.

Shortly after his resignation, Lefebvre was approached by seminarians from the French Seminary in Rome who, they said, were being persecuted for their adherence to traditional beliefs and doctrines. They sought advice on a conservative seminary to complete their studies. He directed them to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

In 1970, urged by the Abbot of Hauterive and the Dominican theologian, Fr. Philippe, to teach these seminarians personally, Lefebvre approached the Bishop of Fribourg, who, three months before resigning the see, approved, with a document predated by six days to November 1, 1970, the founding of SSPX at the level of a "pia unio", the preliminary stage towards becoming an officially recognized religious institute or society of apostolic life. ("Pia unio", in English "pious union", was the term used in pre-1983 canon law for such an experimental group, which would now be called an “association of the faithful”.) Swiss laymen offered the seminary at Ecône, Switzerland to the newly formed group.

In the normal evolution of such an association within the Roman Catholic Church, the diocesan bishop, after a suitably long period of concrete experience of the "pia unio", and after asking the advice of the Holy See, would raise it to official status at diocesan level. Lefebvre attempted to bypass this diocesan stage, and contacted three different departments of the Holy See for the purpose of passing directly to the stage of recognition at papal level. He succeeded in getting a letter of encouragement from Cardinal John Joseph Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, but no approval from the Congregation competent for raising the association to the level desired by Lefebvre. Even Cardinal Wright's letter, dated February 18, 1971, was couched in sufficiently prudent terms, speaking of the association "as Your Excellency presents it", and saying, 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".

On 6 May 1975, the Bishop of Fribourg withdrew the "pia unio" status his predecessor had granted the Fraternity.

The "Nine Priests"

Within a decade of its founding in 1970, Archbishop Lefebvre's SSPX had become well established throughout western Europe and the Americas.

In the early 1980s, several SSPX priests ordained by Lefebvre broke with him or were forced to leave his Society, principally because of his insistence on using the 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal and on accepting John Paul II as Pope.

One of these groups was led by Fr. Clarence Kelly, the SSPX's Northeast District Superior in the United States. Fr. Kelly and eight other SSPX priests, known as the "Nine Priests," were expelled by Lefebvre for insisting on using the Roman Missal as it was at the time of Pope Pius XII's death and for maintaining that it is, at least, a debatable question whether there has been a pope since 1958.

In 1983 Fr. Kelly and the other eight former SSPX priests organized as the Sacerdotal Society of St. Pius V(SSPV).

Within a few years, about half of the initial nine SSPV priests separated from Fr. Kelly, most of them forming their own sedevacantist group under Fr. Daniel Dolan and Fr. Donald J. Sanborn, who were later consecrated as bishops through the alleged episcopal lineage of Archbishop Peter Martin Ngo-Dinh-Thuc. This group, based in Fr. Dolan's St. Gertrude the Great Church in West Chester, Ohio, a former SSPX chapel, now works closely with another sedevacantist group, the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI), based in Mount St. Michael, Washington. The other seceders founded separate groups.

In 1993, 87-year-old Chicago-born Bishop Alfredo Francis Méndez, C.S.C., who had resigned in January 1974 as Bishop of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, consecrated Fr. Kelly as a bishop. This was not announced until a few days after Bishop Méndez's death in 1995.

The 1988 consecrations

A central controversy surrounding SSPX concerns the consecration of four SSPX priests as bishops, despite papal prohibition.

In 1987, after over 15 years of heavy travelling to confer sacraments and ordain priests, the 81-year-old Lefebvre declared his intention to consecrate a successor, to ensure SSPX seminarians could be ordained and the rest of the sacraments could be conferred using the traditional Catholic rite. The Holy See objected to the plan, but began discussions, which led to the signing on 5 May 1988 of a protocol in two parts (for the contents, see L'Attività della Santa Sede 1988, published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, pages 520-521).

In the first part, which is of doctrinal character, Archbishop Lefebvre, in his own name and on behalf of the Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X:

  • promised fidelity to the Catholic Church and the Roman Pontiff, Head of the Episcopal Body
  • accepted the doctrine contained in section 25 of the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church's magisterium and the adherence due to it
  • pledged a completely non-polemical attitude of study and communication with the Apostolic See on the points of doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and the later reforms that he and the Fraternity considered difficult to reconcile with tradition
  • recognized the validity of the Mass and the sacraments celebrated with the required intention in accordance with the rites in the typical editions promulgated by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II
  • promised to respect the common discipline of the Church and the ecclesiastical laws, in particular those contained in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, making allowance for special discipline granted by particular law to the Fraternity.

The second (juridical) part of the document envisaged, apart from the canonical reconciliation of the persons concerned, that:

  • the Fraternity would become a society of apostolic life with special exemption regarding public worship, care of souls and apostolic activity, in line with canons 679-683
  • the Fraternity would be granted the faculty to employ the liturgical books in use before the conciliar reform
  • a special commission, including two members of the Fraternity, would be set up to facilitate contacts and resolve problems and conflicts
  • it was proposed to the Holy Father that a member of the Fraternity be appointed a bishop.

This document was to be submitted to the Holy Father for his approval. The next day, however, Archbishop Lefebvre declared he was obliged in conscience to proceed with the ordination of the bishop on 30 June, with or without papal approval.

On 24 May, Archbishop Lefebvre was promised that, on condition that he requested reconciliation on the basis of the protocol he had signed, the Holy Father would appoint a bishop from among the members of the Fraternity, chosen according to the normal procedures, and that the consecration would then take place on 15 August, at the close of the Marian Year. Archbishop Lefebvre, on his part, presented at the same meeting of 24 May three written demands:

  • the consecration must take place on 30 June
  • not one, but three bishops, must be consecrated (this he had been asking for before the discussions that led to the signing of the protocol)
  • the majority of the members of the special commission must be from the Fraternity

On instructions from Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger replied to Archbishop Lefebvre on 30 May, indicating that the Holy See found these demands unacceptable and declaring that the promised authorization for the ordination of a bishop could not be granted, if Lefebvre persisted in his intention to carry out unauthorized consecrations on 30 June.

On 3 June, Lefebvre wrote from Ecône to say he would still go ahead with the 30 June consecrations. On 9 June 1988, Pope John Paul II replied to him with a personal letter, recalling the agreement the archbishop had signed on 5 May and 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." This was the first time the term "schism" was used in the discussions. No reply came from Lefebvre, and this letter was made public on 16 June.

On 30 June 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre then consecrated as bishops four SSPX priests: Richard Williamson, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Bernard Fellay. One of the normal conditions for a consecration is that a consecrating bishop must have two assistant consecrators; thus, the existence of four bishops ensured that, upon the death of one, three would remain to consecrate a replacement. Bishop Emeritus Antonio de Castro Mayer of Campos, Brazil, assisted Lefebvre in these 1988 consecrations.

Pope John Paul II, confirming a decree of the Congregation for Bishops, issued a motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei Adflicta [1] ( condemning the consecrations as schismatic and as entailing, in view of canon 1382 [2] ( of the Code of Canon Law (the code of laws of the Latin Church), automatic excommunication of all the bishops involved.

Lefebvre said the consecrations were necessary because the traditional form of the faith and sacraments would become extinct without Traditionalist bishops to pass them down to the next generation. He cited canon 1323, 4° and canon 1324, 5° [3] (, the former of which states that the penalty does not bind when someone has acted "by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls." The latter canon states that, if the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls, the perpetrator is not exempted from penalty, but the penalty must be diminished or replaced by a penance, if the offence was committed by one who was coerced by grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience. It also states that the penalty is to be reduced or replaced if the perpetrator erroneously, but culpably, thought the necessity or grave inconvenience mentioned in the previous canon (excluding therefore acts intrinsically evil or tending to the harm of souls) existed (canon 1324, 8°). In all these circumstances, canon 1324 §3 concludes, automatic penalties do not apply.

In view of the clear formal canonical warnings given to Lefebvre, and the rule given in canon 1325 ("Ignorance which is crass or supine or affected can never be taken into account when applying the provisions of canons 1323 and 1224"), the Holy See considers this claim to be unfounded.[4] ( It views the four bishops in question as validly consecrated but automatically excommunicated. It regards ordinations of priests by them as valid, but illicit, with the result that the priests are by law suspended from exercising priestly functions. No excommunication decree has been issued against the priests or other religious of SSPX (which does not have lay members), nor has any been upheld against those who attend SSPX chapels.

Though it considers the 1988 consecrations to have been a schismatic act, the Roman Catholic Church does not view SSPX as constituting a schismatic Church, but does see some SSPX members as personally schismatic. The department of the Roman curia that has competence for relations with the Society is the Ecclesia Dei Commission, created by Pope John Paul II in his 1988 motu proprio. There has never been any question of this commission issuing a general instruction or decree revoking or revising the 1988 decisions of the Holy See. Instead, as well as carrying out the main functions for which it was instituted, it has written to individual enquirers, explaining "the Church's present evaluation of the situation of the Society of St Pius X", spelling out the consequences, and declaring that attendance at SSPX Masses, since they are celebrated by priests suspended from priestly functions and with schismatic views, is for Catholics morally illicit in normal circumstances. [5] ( [6] (

The SSPX considers itself faithful to the Catholic Church and all its infallible teachings, while rejecting some teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and it has acknowledged Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI as Popes. The four SSPX bishops do not claim ordinary jurisdiction over those who receive sacraments from SSPX priests and bishops. An appeal is made to extraordinary circumstances (grounds of necessity) in regard to the sacraments of penance and matrimony, for whose validity jurisdiction is normally required. Thus in reality they do exercise a form of jurisdiction not only for these sacraments,[7] ( but even for marriage annulments and dispensations.

SSPX today

In mid-2005, the Society had, as stated on its website,[8] ( "336 member priests established in 27 countries, 50 brothers, 53 oblates, 226 seminarians in six international seminaries, 130 priories, more than 600 Mass centers regularly-served, nine retreat houses, 14 major schools, and at least 50 connected to priories or chapels." Its main seminary is in Ecône, Switzerland; there have been others in the United States, France, Germany, the Philippines, Australia, and Argentina, but one of these has closed. As indicated on the website, the priests based in its 130 priories travel to well over three times that number of other centres to offer Mass in the Tridentine form.

The SSPX received support for a while from Bishop Salvador Lazo of San Fernando de la Union, Philippines and later from Bishop John Bosco Manat Chuabsamai of Ratchaburi, Thailand. It has links with unattached priests and religious who share its Traditionalist Catholic emphasis on law, liturgy and catechism. One such priest is of the Ukrainian Rite.

Negotiations with the Holy See

After the 1988 episcopal consecrations, the SSPX and the Holy See had little, if any, dialog or direct dealings. This is reported to have ended after SSPX led a large pilgrimage to Rome for the jubilee in the year 2000. Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, is said to have then approached the SSPX bishops about regularizing relations, stating that the Pope would grant them a personal prelature, essentially a worldwide diocese, like the personal prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei created by Pope John Paul II in 1982 for an organization founded in 1928 by Saint José María Escrivá de Balaguer. Such an arrangement has since been made, at a local level only, for the Priestly Union of St. Jean-Marie Vianney, Traditional priests in Campos, Brazil (formerly allied with the SSPX). The SSPX leadership indicated their distrust, saying Castrillón was vague on how the prelature would be implemented and supported, and citing what they called objectionable Vatican dealings with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) [9] ( and on the SSPX episcopal consecrations. They demanded two preliminary acts of good faith before continuing negotiations: that the Holy See officially declare that every Catholic priest has always been able to celebrate the Tridentine Mass and cannot be forbidden from doing so; and, secondly, that it declare null the excommunication decree concerning the 1988 consecrations. Cardinal Hoyos reportedly answered that declaring the excommunication null could be readily granted, but that making the statement concerning the Tridentine Mass would cause many of the world's bishops to go into open schism, particularly in France - a situation Rome was not prepared or willing to handle. With that, the dialogues ceased.

The account in the foregoing paragraph, with its surprising claim that the Holy See would readily declare null its own notification of Lefebvre's automatic excommunication for his 1988 action, finds no support in the reports of the Ecclesia Dei Commission appearing in the annual publication L'Attività della Santa Sede (Libreria Editrice Vaticana) for the year 2000 and those immediately following. The 2000 report says the commission continued its patient work of reconciling with the Catholic Church priests, seminarians and religious communities previously belonging to the Fraternity of St Pius X. The SSPX name does not appear at all in the reports for 2001 and 2002, which, on the other hand, do speak of the discussions that in the latter year brought about the admission to full communion of the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney in Campos, Brazil.

Only in the 2003 report, when, according to the above-quoted account, dialogues had ceased, does the Commission again mention the SSPX:

"During the year, dialogue about the canonical situation of the St Pius X Fraternity continued at various levels. In this connection, the Cardinal President had some high-level meetings and kept up an exchange of correspondence. On the Holy See's side, there has been no change in the effective proposals for regularizing the question. After examining the problems faced by priests and faithful, considering the good will of several members of the Fraternity and the recurrent problems of the faithful attached to the former liturgical tradition who take part in the Fraternity's liturgy, the full membership of the Commission studied and presented to the Holy Father a draft for restructuring the Commission with a view to ... a possible return of the St Pius X Fraternity or of some of its members" (page 1097).

This is the first indication in the Commission's 21st century reports of serious dialogue between SSPX and the Holy See.

Controversies and politics

While Traditionalist Catholicism, per se, is not a political position, Traditionalist Catholics claim that even the Holy See has discarded social teachings of the Church. They cite:

Accordingly, in some countries such as France, Traditionalist Catholics have been associated with far-right politics, espousing causes such as monarchism, hostility to separation of Church and State, anti-Semitism etc.

In 1982 Juan Fernández Krohn, who had been expelled from the Society in 1979, tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Portugal, claiming that the Pontiff was too liberal and was responsible for watering down Catholicism through Vatican II.

There is an ongoing controversy with respect to the Society of St Pius X occupying illegally the church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris since 1977. In accordance with the 1905 French law of separation of Church and State, ownership of the church is attributed to the city of Paris, which grants the Roman Catholic Church a free usage right. In 1978, the Cour de Cassation confirmed that the occupation of St Nicolas du Chardonnet by the Society of St Pius X was illegal. However, the Society has never been expelled.[10] ( On February 20, 1987, the Conseil d'État ruled that the disturbance to public order resulting from an expulsion would be greater than that resulting from the illegal occupation. In 2002, several executives of the Society of St Pius X were convicted of disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda at St Nicolas. On June 22, 2002, the municipal council of Paris passed a resolution that the Society of St Pius X should be expelled from the church, against the opinion of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who considered the matter internal to the Catholic Church and remarked that the Archbishop of Paris had not asked for expulsion.

Mass attendance at St Nicolas du Chardonnet continues to be very high. An SSPX attempt in 1993 to occupy another church in Paris, that of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, was unsuccessful.

See also

Official SSPX Websites

External links

fr:Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie X nl:Priesterbroederschap Sint Pius X


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