Catholic Apologetics

Entries in Society of St. Pius X (1)


A Brief Response to Fr. Z

The well-known [neo] Catholic blogger Fr. Z has provided a brief opinion regarding Bishop Fellay's recent comments prompted by Pope Francis' recent eyebrow-raising interviews.  (One's eyebrows will, of course, remain firmly fixated if one has swallowed the Red Pill and learned to perpetually "read Francis through Benedict", of course.)


Fr. Z claims that the blunt response of the bishop to what are, at the very least, to anyone who is able to see and hear and understands Catholic theology, confusing, obtuse, and seemingly scandalous statements indicates that the Society of St. Pius Xth is now, indeed, on the road to "schism".  Whenever we see this word used in relation to the Society we can be fairly certain that the individual throwing it about is either unclear regarding its definition, has no understanding of the purpose and history of the Society, is using it as a sort of slur, or two or more of the above.  This case is no exception.


Of course, nothing fundamental has changed with the Society, which does not and has never had a schismatic spirit.  What has changed is that, tragically, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church has chosen, not once, but now on several occasions, to make the sort of statements that, unfortunately, do call for such a strong response for the sake of the faithful.


Before I continue, here are two good recent commentaries on this scandal (that's what it is):


In addition, here is an extended radio interview with John Vennari, who makes some excellent points as well:


In order to ascertain whether Fr. Z's musings here are near the mark, let's explore a bit the facts of the general case: the history of the Society, its attitude, and the basis for the charge of "schism" that has rung out again and again from neo-Catholic quarters.


Canon Law Says There Is No Schism


In the 1983 Code, illicit consecration of a bishop is not a schismatic act.  That is because a schismatic act is one which denies the divine right of the superior to command.  Such was never the attitude of the Society or Archbishop Lefebvre: if he did not recognize the office of the papacy he would not have gone to the great efforts he did to obtain official permission for the consecrations he saw as direly necessary.  


In other words, disobedience does not imply schism: a schismatic act includes the intetion of denying the superior's very right to act.  Such is the attitude toward the papacy of, for example, the schismatic Orthodox.


The Code, in other parts, makes it clear that it is possible for a state of necessity to exist that creates the inability to obey an ecclesiastic command.  The Church knows that the true obedience must always be in service of the Faith: obedience has as its true end the service of God.  And, so, the theologians (including the two greatest Doctors of the Church) have been careful to point out that the possibility of the necessity to disobey a valid ecclesiastical superior exists:


Bellarmine: "Just as it is lawful to resist the pope that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed."


Suarez: “If the pope gives an order contrary to right customs, he should not be obeyed; if he attempts to do something manifestly opposed to justice and the common good, it will be lawful to resist him; if he attacks by force, by force he can be repelled, with a moderation appropriate to a just defense.”

Note that these statements imply that it is possible for an individual Catholic to know, in general, what is of the faith and what is opposed to it (especially for an Archbishop who earned his doctrorate in theology at one of the most prestigious Roman universities).  This alone puts to bed the neo-Catholic obfuscation that anyone who claims that any action, statement, or teaching from any ecclesiastic source is actually false or against the faith, he is "behaving like a Protestant" and foolishly believes himself to be "more Catholic than the Pope".


St. Thomas says similar things; though he does not seem to address the question of refusing a command, such is implied by the notion of "resistance": "To resist openly and in public goes beyond the measure of fraternal correction. St. Paul would not have done it towards St. Peter if he had not in some way been his equal... We must realize, however, that if there was question of a danger for the faith, the superiors would have to be rebuked by their inferiors, even in public."


The 1983 Code (1323, 1324) speaks of a "state of necessity" that abrogates the enforcement of ecclesiastical law.  It does not, however, define the attributes of such a state; what is implied is that the Church's "chain of command" is effectively broken.  Given the apparent diabolical disorientation under which the Pope was furthering the "self-demolition" (Paul VI's words) of the Church, it was.


No one who reads the Archbishop's sermons and speeches from the time before the episcopal consecrations could fail to see that he acted out of love for the Church and grave concern for its future if, by his death, his Society, which really, actually was the only ecclesiastic body in the Church faithfully preserving Tradition (that this statement is factual becomes clear with a clear understanding of Tradition) failed.  His enemies were indeed attempting to snuff out the last & only refuge of pre-conciliar thinking: the Rite of Mass as handed down from the Apostles, never changed in substance before the Council, the actual Church teachings on religious liberty and ecumenism, and scores of other subjects, doctrinal and practical, tainted then by the modernism that had taken root.  A study of the time & circumstances makes this clear.


A great, great deal of ink has been spilled regarding these points and I don't pretend to be adding anything original to the discussion here.  It remains completely clear that one who violates a law out of what he believes is necessity, even if he is incorrect, incurs no canonical penalty whatsoever, much less could be said to be acting in a schismatic spirit.  Archbishop Lefebvre certainly believed his actions were necessary for the very furtherance of the Church, for the Church's primary mission on Earth, the salvation of souls, and that is actually all that is necessary under canon law to avoid any penalty for performing an act that is not intrinsically evil (consecrating a bishop is intrinsically good).  I also believe that a proper reading of the times and situation shows the Archbishop's belief to have been firmly grounded in reality.  One must understand this crisis in the Church to understand why what the Archbishop did was necessary. 


As respected German canonist Dr. Georg May has stated, "The SSPX is not schismatic because she neither rejects the subordination to the Roman Pontiff nor rejects the communion with the bishops." He goes on to note that "Rather, the latter reject communion with the Society."  Exactly!


The Vatican Says There Is No Schism


The Vatican has made it clear on many occasions and in many ways that no state of schism has ever existed:


- Ecclesia Dei has responded to inquiries about the Sunday Mass obligation being satisfied by Mass at Society chapels in the positive.  This would not be possible if Society priests were outside the Church.


- The former head of Ecclesia Dei, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, has publicly stated many times - at least five - that the Society's priests (much less the faithful) are not in schism.  Here is one source:


- Vatican officials have also referred to the canonical status of the Society's priests as an "internal matter" of the Church: this implies, again, there is no schism, as schismatics are outside the Church by definition.


- The latae sententiae excommunications (if they ever existed, which is doubtful) were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI with no recantation of any statement or position required of any of the subjects.  Schismatics cannot be rejoined to the Church until they recant the doctrinal errors that caused their separation.  (Not only have the Society's bishops or priests never held any doctrinal error, there is no body of clergy more faithful to all Catholic teaching than the SSPX.)  The very fact that the supreme pontiff declared the excommunications lifted in the manner he did suggests that they were indeed never valid.


They Don't Act Like Schismatics


If the Society were, or ever had been, of a schismatic mentality, they would have done what all schismatic groups do: set up an ecclesiastic structure (bishops with territorial jurisdiction) in competition with that of the True Church, the Roman Catholic Church.  


To quote Michael J. Matt of The Remnant: "The SSPX has never set up the much-feared petite eglise ["little church']; the Society has never attempted to elect its own pope or even confer territorial jurisdiction on its own bishops. Approve or disapprove of the SSPX’s irregular canonical standing, it is hardly difficult to recognize that for more than forty years the SSPX has been guided by men driven by three primary concerns:  the defense of doctrine, the preservation of Catholic Tradition, and the good of souls."


If the Society were a schismatic group, the Archbishop would never have gone to the lengths he did for an accord with the Vatican to allow him to continue to simply operate (in the face of a canonically-invalid persecution).  Nor would Bishop Fellay have engaged in the recent meetings that, sadly, did not come to fruition, due to the Society's refusal - inability - to compromise the Faith.


Schismatic groups, by definition, believe they are the Church, and do not negotiate with the See of Peter which they do not even recognize for proper canonical status in a Church they claim is false.




Fr. Z does show some prudence and intelligence: at least he is not dogmatically declaring the Society to already be in schism, as so many neo-Catholic writers have, despite all the evidence above and in contradiction of the Vatican.


I generally avoid descending into the subjective, but perhaps this ubiquitous habit of calling "schism!" (or even "maybe schism - watch out!) calls for a bit of armchair psychoanalysis.  Is this habit perhaps a kind of defense mechanism?  Dismissing them out-of-hand means one needn't take a close look at the Society, its history, and the true state of the Church then and now.  


Yet, as the years slip by, we see cracks in the Great Facade appear.  We now have Cardinal Kasper's (yes, the same Cardinal Kasper who publicly thumbs his nose at extra ecclesium nulla salus, encouraging interested parties not to join the Catholic Church, with never any reprimand or correction) stunning admission that the documents of the council "themselves have a huge potential for conflict, [and] open the door to a selective reception in either direction."  We have Rome insider Monsignor Gherardini's equally startling suggestion that "the authentic ‘spirit’ of the Council is... allied with the ‘counter-spirit’" - that is to say, that the Council itself is to blame for this present horrid crisis of the faith rather than some "false" spirit of it.  And we have our recently retired holy father Benedict XVI completely re-opening the Third Secret "controversy" by declaring that those who would claim the Secret's fulfillment lies in the past are "deluding themselves" (this is highly relevant to the crisis).


My personal experience is that the SSPX clergy are among the most thoroughly Catholic I have encountered.  By that I mean that, not only do they know, accept, and love all Catholic doctrine and dogma, but they are Catholic in their spirit as well - a spirit devoid of any hint of bitterness in this time of insanity.  This lack of bitterness is, of course, crucial, for bitterness is not only a poison that taints the soul, but one that clouds the mind as well.  The Society priest at the chapel we attends exhorts us frequently to pray for the Pope, and we certainly do, more fervently than ever.


Understanding the Society ultimately comes down to understanding this crisis for what it is: those who cannot see these things clearly will not be able to understand that the Society's position is the correct one.


While countless abject heretics enjoy "full communion" (an ultimately meaningless phrase - one is in the Church or out of it), the Society's priests and bishops, who are completely dedicated to the Four Last Things, to serving the Church's primary mission, will continue to wait patiently for Rome to return to Eternal Rome.