The Society and Rome


Neither schismatic, nor excommunicated, nor disobedient

“Sectarian, schismatic, fundamentalist Society, excommunicated, anchored in medieval beliefs”. Such judgements and similar others are heard regularly about the Society of St Pius X, known mainly for its attachment to the traditional rite of the Mass. Do those who think and speak in such manner really know the origins, goals and works of this Society? In a word do they know the real nature and status of the Society of St Pius X?

1) The key issue: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The key issue behind this whole history is the right to have the traditional Latin Mass, and the constant refusal of the new rite of Mass. In his bull Quo Primum (1571), Pope St Pius V clearly established the three grounds upon which stands the tridentine rite of Mass:

1. It is a general law of the Church, (everyone must use this missal);

2. It is a privilege (everyone may use this missal);

3. And it is an centenary and immemorial custom: the Mass was “restored to the rite of the Fathers”.

Pope Paul VI in 1969 did not remove, or abrogate, any of those three grounds, he merely derogated from them i.e. modified one of the clauses of Quo Primum (which forbade the use of any other Missal less than 200 years old) by issuing a new rite of Mass. In 1976, Archbishop Lefebvre was told that all his problems would be solved if he ordained his priests in the new rather than in the old rite of Mass (see above March – June 1976). He justly refused, relying on Quo Primum, which said that any censure issued to prevent this Missal from being used, was null and void.

In the period 1977 – 1983, the Vatican authorities gradually softened their requests by demanding first that the Archbishop say the New Mass just occasionally, then just once.

In 1984, they only asked him not to speak against the New Mass, to accept its doctrinal soundness and legitimacy. This became the first condition of the “Indult” of October 3, 1984.

2) The Consecration of Bishops

Note: also read the consecration sermon of 1988.

It is imperative to know the sequence of events that led to the consecration of Bishops on June 30, 1988.

a) In the early 70’s, the Archbishop decided to hold on fast to the traditional rite of Mass.

b) In order to have the Mass, priests are needed. Thus, he proceeded to perform the priestly ordinations especially from 1976 onwards, in spite of the (invalid) prohibition to do so.

c) But no priests can be ordained without a bishop — that is the reason for the consecrations of Bishops of 1988 to assist the aging Archbishop, whose health was deteriorating. His health made it no longer possible to travel around the world to the six Seminaries to perform the various ordinations as well as the innumerable ceremonies of confirmation.

3) The State of Necessity

The Church’s Canon Law explicitly states that a censure (such as excommunication) is not incurred if one acts out of necessity or thinks he is in a state of necessity.

Every code of law, civil and ecclesiastical, provides for cases of emergencies, since laws are made for the common good which, at times, admits exceptions. St Thomas Aquinas teaches that “a circumstance gives the species of good or evil to a moral action, in so far as it regards a special order of reason” (I-II, q.18, a.10) and, “that circumstance is the most important of all which touches the act on the part of the end, viz., the circumstance why ” (I-II, q.7. a.4). For instance, the law will condemn as vandalism the breaking of a window by a thief, but will praise the same act done to free one caught in a house on fire.

The Church knows well these principles and provides for them in its Code of Canon Law (1983). In the introductory canons dealing with sanctions in the Church, it is clearly spelled out. Canon 1323:

“No one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept: (…)

No 4 acted (..) by reason of necessity (…);

No 7 though, through no personal fault, that some of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in nn. 4 or 5.”

Archbishop Lefebvre “acted by reason of necessity” when he consecrated four bishops in 1988: firstly, because of the tragic shortage of priests (of which we hear regularly in the media); secondly, for having heard the cries of innumerable Catholics world-wide, abandoned, if not betrayed, by their shepherds. “The little ones have asked for bread (i.e. the catechism, the sacraments) and there was none to break it unto them” (Lament. IV, 4). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. X, 30-37), the priest and the Levite passed by the injured man, stripped, wounded, lying half dead. It was a good Samaritan who, moved with compassion, went up to him, bound up his wounds and took care of him, although that was unlawful… We are told to “go and do in like manner” (v. 37). Alas, some are scandalised by this good deed.

If one denies blindly the objective state of necessity at present in the Church, at least subjectively the Archbishop thought there was one, and in this case canon 1323 n. 7o quoted above applies and renders the penalty null and void. As long as the SSPX holds on to its Constitutions approved by the Church and does not act contrary to doctrine or moral issues, its claim to be fully in the Catholic Church is truly justified.

4) Obedience

Obedience in itself is neither good nor bad. It can be an act of virtue and it can also be a vice, sinful. For instance there is the obedience of Communists to their Party. This is a very strict obedience, and it can even be spontaneous. And there are numerous cases of what happens when a fraction of the Party refuses to obey! Is it a good obedience? Of course, not. Why? Because the purpose of this obedience, the goal of the Party, is wicked. Therefore, those who collaborate to achieve the aims of the Party accomplish a sinful act. Another example: 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 Society. Other examples could be given of false, of sinful obedience.

Obedience, then to be a virtue, must stand between two opposite errors:

a) error by defect (not enough): disobedience = the refusal to submit to the lawful orders of a lawful superior. For example, the child disobeying a legitimate order of his parents.

b) error by excess (too much): blind obedience = the submission to any order, good or bad, coming from a superior, as in the examples given above.

These principles apply also inside the Church. One cannot blindly obey to priests who organise sacrilegious ‘Masses’ in their parishes, 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. I, 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).

5) The Pope

The Society of St Pius X recognises the Pope as the successor of St Peter but reject his liberalism through fidelity to his predecessors. The Pope is not infallible in everything he says. There are very strict conditions which he must follow to fall under the charism of infallibility. One is that he must teach something in matters of faith or morals, another is that he must bind all Catholics to believe what he says as being divinely revealed. These conditions are to be found in the very words used by the Pope. In case of doubt, the Catholic must always refer to Tradition, following the rule of St Vincent of Lerins: it must have been believed always, in al