This article was originally published as an Op-Ed piece in the May 2011 issue of The Four Marks.
I didn’t come to the Traditional Catholic movement until 1996, long after Archbishop Lefebvre had passed from this world to the next. But, I, like any honest Traditional Catholic, know that without him, there would likely be many fewer Traditional Masses throughout the world. Some say he went too far, some say he didn’t go far enough, but I am grateful for what he did do. What Traditional Catholics need to realize is that the situation is now quite different for Catholics than it was in 1991, when the Archbishop died. The question is not “what the Archbishop/SSPX would do” but rather, “what is the reality of the situation?”
Bishop Fellay recently announced the end of the “negotiations” with the Roman authorities. He seems disappointed, but can he really have expected otherwise? Let us review some facts.
The Society of St. Pius X takes dispute with Vatican II. The Roman authorities consider this to be an ecumenical council, much like Nicea, Trent, and Vatican I. Its teachings and spirit have permeated the structures of the Catholic Church since 1962 and have destroyed the faith of millions. The Society of St. Pius X adopts a hybrid position in regards to this Council: their bishops and priests and vast majority of the faithful who attend their chapels consider Vatican II to be an “optional” or “questionable” council. They cite terms like “pastoral” in order to make their case, while ignoring that every Vatican II document was signed by Paul VI as, “We, too, by the Apostolic Authority conferred on us by Christ, join with the venerable fathers in approving, decreeing, and establishing these things in the Holy Spirit, and we direct that what has thus been enacted in synod [council] be published to God’s glory…(signed) I, Paul, Bishop of the Catholic Church.”
I once made this point to a friend outside of Mass, asking him by what authority he, or any SSPX bishop or priest, questioned the authority of Vatican II. “It goes against Tradition,” he said. “Okay, and who made the Society of St Pius X the arbiter of ‘Tradition’? Where can I find in my catechism that if a council is dubious, a religious congregation in Switzerland is to be my guide?” You can imagine I got no answer.
Additionally, what started as a simple fact-finding mission, an interview with Bishop Tissier de Mallerais nearly 5 years ago now, turned into an avocation for me, and apart from hearing Bishop Tissier say that Vatican II must be “erased” from Church history, I’ve also heard Bishop Williamson tell me that Vatican II is a “poisoned cake” and must be “discarded entirely.” Bishop de Galerreta has once referred, in a sermon he gave at a Winona ordination, to the last 20 years as the “institutionalization of the Revolution,” implying that Vatican II was a revolution. Bishop Fellay and the vast majority of Society priests and faithful will often refer to the Novus Ordo as a “new religion” which is manifestly clear, as this new religion has new sacraments, new beliefs, and new behavior. When I ask the question, “How can JPII/Benedict XVI be heads of a ‘new religion’ as well as heads of the Catholic Church?” the silence I receive is indicative of two things: 1) there is a failure to think through the implications of such rhetoric as “new religion” and that 2) the intellectual conclusions of calling it a “new religion” are too horrifying to even discuss.
So, the Society considers Vatican II to be suspect AND Benedict XVI to be a legitimate Pope. There is no Catholic teaching anywhere on earth that makes provision for a Swiss (or any) congregation to be the arbiter of “Tradition” nor is there an explanation anywhere as to how the Supreme Head of the Church on earth, the Vicar of Christ, can be the head of a “new religion” other than the Catholic Church. But, this is the explanation for why there were “negotiations” in the first place. If you believe that you are holding the Catholic Faith, and that all that remains is for you to show the wayward Pope and the other billions of Catholics that they, indeed, are the ones who are lost, then of course you will, like naïfs and ingénues, show up in Rome for “negotiations.” Yet, even this was simply an imitation of the Archbishop’s actions, instead of learning from his mistakes. Countless times the Archbishop went “to Rome” and countless times he was disappointed. Formed in the Roman diplomatic tradition, Archbishop Lefebvre was always looking for one more angle with which to treat with Rome, instead of recognizing that at some point, his tenuous holding position could have only one real conclusion – that the men who let the “smoke of Satan” into the Church were the Churchmen themselves. This is why the Archbishop ordained known sedevacantists and had sedevacantist professors at Econe for years: he knew it was a future possibility.
The negotiations failed not because the SSPX was unconvincing or because Bishop de Galerreta was rude, or as some supremely ignorant laymen postulate, because Bishop Williamson hates Jews (or women, or children, or dwarfs too perhaps), but because, as Bishop Fellay seems surprised to learn, they believe in a DIFFERENT RELIGION than the Society holds. The question then devolves to the Society: do we hold the Catholic Faith? If we do, then those in possession of the Catholic instruments of authority are usurpers, as the Arians were during the time of St. Athanasius and St. Eusebius. If those in the Society dare to say that they don’t have the Catholic Faith, and that wearing a white cassock makes you right (even though antipopes have worn the white cassock, reigned from Rome, etc.), then they should humbly, on their knees, seek suppliance, forgiveness, and reintegration into the Catholic Church.
The negotiations failed because the Society of St Pius X has a distorted ecclesiology, and the chickens finally came home to roost. What remains to be seen is what will happen now. For those of us who have watched the SSPX for years, the predictable will likely happen: the SSPX will crawl back into the bunker, after some time in the sunshine after the (ironically more restrictive) Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI and the propagation of the Orwellian phrase "Extraordinary Form." There will be appeals to “tradition” and “the Archbishop” and all that, and no honest confrontation of what is going on.
The negotiations failed because the Novus Ordo Church, as headed by Paul VI, JPI and JPII, and now Benedict XVI, are bent on creating a One World Religion. All the Archbishop did in 1986 when Assisi I happened was make a statement of protest. He never called it what it was: an act of apostasy. Assisi II happened and Bishop Fellay made his necessary noises. And now Assisi III will happen, in the same year that John Paul II was made “Beato.” Yet the Society continues to, in Orwellian fashion, tell us that none of this means anything. It doesn’t matter that the Pope writes books saying that contraception is okay, it doesn’t matter that he prays in mosques or synagogues, it doesn’t matter that he is calling a congress of religions, and it doesn’t matter that he beatified who is potentially the worst Pope (if he was one) in Church history. Nothing matters. He has a white cassock, and as such, HAS to be Pope. The issue of canonizations/beatifications has proven to be a thornier one, as no one really cared when John XXIII was “beatified.” But people know that JPII was notoriously bad – not just for his heresies, but for his conduct. Yet the SSPX and other "recognize and resisters" maintain that canonizations/beatifications are not covered by infallibility – yet the issue of Sainthood/Blessedhood must indeed be covered by the Church’s disciplinary Magisterium. It is not for a congregation, Swiss or otherwise, to dispute who the Church proclaims as worthy of veneration. It is out of order in the organizational sense, and it is completely unfounded in the Catholic sense.
The negotiations failed because the large checks that flow into Menzingen and other Society General Houses around the world would stop if the Society were to ask The Question: Is the Pope Catholic?
As for the faithful, who are struggling to simply get to Mass, say the Rosary, and live a virtuous life, it is a battle entirely out of their control. If the SSPX does one day lose its schizophrenic current ecclesiology, it will either: 1) rejoin the New World Order Church that it was briefly part of in 1970-1971 or 2) realize its own Catholicity and reject the holders of authority in the Church as usurpers. In the first scenario, tens of thousands of faithful will return to garage and hotel Masses, and learn the lesson that St. Augustine drives home in the City of God: nothing on this earth lasts. In the second scenario, tens of thousands of faithful will ask the question in prayer that has been too horrific for the SSPX to confront since the Archbishop died: what do I do now? Yet, in both of these scenarios, the faithful will gain, as they will be confronted with the truth. The SSPX’s current position, schizophrenic and distorted, is simply unsustainable, and more importantly, not Catholic.