29 June 1988. French Archbp. Marcel Lefebvre consecrated bishops without pontifical mandate. He, thus defied John Paul II who had personally appealed to him, create an ambiguous state for the SSPX which he founded, and incurred with the bishops who participated an excommunication.
This move prompted the creation of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (where I worked 89-97) as well as the foundation of the Fraternity of St. Peter. Some traditional groups who had been hitherto aligned with the SSPX chose to realign manifestly with the Holy See.
The SSPX insists that they have not separated from Rome.
Over the years, talks between the SSPX and the Holy See have followed a sine wave without resolution. Arcbp. Lefebvre, the great missionary in Africa and Council Father, died in 1991. In 2009 Benedict XVI lifted the 1988 excommunications on the living bishops, though in 2012 one of them was expelled by the SSPX. In 2013, Francis became Pope. Francis said that the priests of the SSPX could validly absolve sins during the 2015 Year of Mercy, which was extended by him thereafter. In 2017, the same Pope said that they could witness marriages, with cooperation of the local diocese.
The SSPX has nearly 700 priests worldwide. My personal meetings with them have been nearly always very positive.
30 years on, there are many issues to work through. The SSPX will soon hold a meeting of their members to determine their near future.
One of the questions that caught my eye involves something that I have wondered about for years.
Why have you not strengthened the ranks of traditionalists within the Church and fought for the truth in unity with Rome?
This is partly due to the history of the French. Since the French Revolution, a good number of French Catholics have been fighting against the error of liberalism. Therefore, events during and after the Council were perceived there much more acutely and urgently than in Germany. It was not about blatant errors, but about trends aiming at opening doors and windows. The reforms which followed showed this more clearly than the Council itself. The problem crystallized with the new mass. In Rome, Archbishop Lefebvre was told: “Either – or. Celebrate the new Mass once, and everything is sorted out.” Our arguments against the new Mass did not matter. The Missal of Paul VI; written in collaboration with Protestant theologians. If one is forced to celebrate this Mass, then there really is a problem. And we were forced.
Here is another interesting bit…
Do you personally trust the Holy Father, Pope Francis?
We have a very good relationship. If we let him know that we are in Rome, his door is open to us. He helps us on a smaller scale. He told us, for example, “I have problems when I do something good for you. I help Protestants and Anglicans, why can not I help Catholics? Some want to prevent an agreement because we are a disruptive element in the Church. The Pope is in between.
(He smiles and shows a handwritten letter that the Holy Father addressed to him in French, which begins with the greeting “Dear brother, dear son”)
I remain astonished at the lack of generosity and charity that the Left – like Beans and Cricket and crew – show toward the SSPX, towards all Catholic tradition, and, apparently, how they hold Pope Francis’ desires for them in contempt.