SSPX prospects and my ruminations

Our friends over at Rorate have picked up on Paolo Rodari’s note on Palazzo Apostolico about the Five Conditions posed by the Holy See to the SSPX.  The Holy See is requiring a response by the end of the month.

Here is my translation of Rodari’s item:

First consideration: I don’t know if the Lefebvrites will accept the conditions of the Holy See.  I know that another, similar occasion probably will not happen ever again.  And I know that, if they don’t accept, they would probably lose quite a few of their followers, principally because they want to participate in Masses with the old rite.  But this Mass, today, can be found also elsewhere, thanks to the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

[Right.  Pope Benedict, understanding all the angles here, knew when it was time to pose the unavoidable question.  Will you accept union with Peter and his role or will you be like the others, way over on the other side of the road.  Remember: Ceteris paribus, people would rather be with the Church than against her!  With the local bishop than against him!]

Second consideration: A very small indication concerning the fact that, probably, the Lefebvrites will accept the conditions posed by the Holy See (or that at least they are seriously thinking them over) came to me from a telephone call I made yesterday to Ecône, headquarters of the SSPX.  As at other times in the past, I asked to speak with Bishop Fellay, Superior of the SSPX. Usually, especially when he wanted to reassert that there was nothing new concerning their reentry into the Church, he answered me quickly. Instead, yesterday he made it known that he had nothing to say.  Perhaps this is because he is seriously thinking about accepting the Vatican’s conditions  – but doesn’t want to say it?


I think Rodari has hit the nail on the head both times.

Even if we consider that the conditions were probably put directly to Bp. Fellay, maybe, rather than the whole SSPX.  Still, he is their Superior.

First, if there is a viable option, I think that people in their goodness and their native Catholic instincts, unless they have been somehow terribly hurt or perhaps twisted in their thinking or their hearts, would by far rather be in union with the local Church and with Rome.  That is why I wrote ceteris paribus… all things being equal.  Also, most people want a reverent Mass and sound preaching.  They care little for the loftier theological arguments.  They need the spiritual nourishment neccessary to get through their days and weeks according to their vocations.

Second, were Bp. Fellay to say that he was considering accepting these conditions, the pressure on him would ratchet up beyond what it must be now.  Frankly, I think this is probably a mirror of what happened to the late Archbp. Lefebvre that night after he signed the concordat in 1988 in Card. Ratzinger’s office at the CDF.  I imagine the pressure on the old man was tremendous.  It could be that these young men, perhaps Bernard Fellay, desired that it go the other way and the old man finally caved it.  Speculation on my part, perhaps.  But it seems just about right.  So, what goes around comes around.  Now it is Fellay’s turn, though he is not in the same role that Archbp. Lefebvre had in the SSPX as its founder.

I really don’t envy this poor chap.  He must be under tremendous stress, hounded by a hundred shrill voices.

He needs our prayers, friends. 

I will say Mass for Bp. Fellay’s intention this afternoon, as a matter of fact.

The identity of the SSPX is at stake now. 

What do they stand for?  Who are they?

I think they could by their reunion send a magnificent message not only to many on the left in the Church, but also many non-Catholics who in their hearts look to the Church with hope. 

Also, within the Church I think they could be an incredibly effective leaven.  I always call to mind what our good friend His Hermeneuticalness says, Fr. Finigan.  He looks foward to the SSPX men joining their deanery meetings!  Their integration into the fuller life of the Church, with all its strains and factions and problems, will be real pastoral work, friends. 

The setting of a broken bone is painful, as is the knitting – tedious, inconvenient and worrisome.   But Holy Church needs the strength his knitted bone will have.  A broken bone can wind up a stronger.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Romulus says:

    I wonder if many readers of this blog have read Evelyn Waugh\’s great war trilogy Sword of Honour. In the final book the protagonist\’s father sends him a letter scolding him for his bitterness about the Church’s 70-plus years of accommodation with the now-collapsed Piedmontese usurpation and latter-day Fascisti. I think that passage from the novel is strikingly applicable to the present situation:

    \”Of course in the 1870s and 80s every decent Roman disliked the Piedmontese, just as the decent French now hate the Germans. They had been invaded. And, of course, most of the Romans we know kept it up, sulking. But that isn\’t the Church. The Mystical Body doesn\’t strike attitudes and stand on its dignity. It accepts suffering and injustice. It is ready to forgive at the first hint of compunction.

    \”When you spoke of the Lateran Treaty [read: an accord between Rome and the SSPX] did you consider how many souls may have been reconciled and have died at peace as a result of it? How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance? Quantitative judgments don\’t apply. If only one soul was saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of \’face\’.

    I pray someone puts Waugh\’s words before Bishop Fellay\’s eyes.

  2. Fr W says:

    Indeed, Father Z, we really must pray. We need the SSPX back in the Church, at our deanery meetings, Parishes, Seminaries, and Diocesan Offices. Can we use your blog to promote the possibility of everyone joining their Masses and Communions—perhaps on the Vigil of St. Peter and Paul—to pray for this intention, for the union of the SSPX with the Church, for Bishop Fellay and for all in the Society? And then can we all offer our Masses and Communions on Sunday, the glorious Feast of St. Peter and Paul to pray for Our Holy Father? Just a thought.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    I hope and pray for the full communion of the SSPX, but let’s not jump the gun. Their USA website is still full of articles which say to stay away from FSSP Masses, the “Novus Ordo” Mass, the new Catechism, etc. I think all this needs to be dealt with. The SSPX needs to undergo a conversion, otherwise orthodox Catholics such as myself will always be suspicious them, even if they are in full communion.

  4. I imagine that the faithful of the SSPX really don’t care about religious liberty or ecumenical dialogue. They just want to practice the Traditional Catholic faith unhindered — which really centers around the Gregorian Rite. Secondly, after reading the monthly bulliten here in the US, it appears that many of the SSPX “parishes” aren’t really typical parishes. In other words, an SSPX priest shows up on Sunday to celebrate the Mass and then is gone for the rest of the week to another part of the state or even another part of the country. It is hard to establish a true parish life if this is the case (and it seems to be the case if you look at Mass times for many of their locations). Maybe being re-integrated into the Church would help solve this problem. Add to this fact that I believe they are losing many vocations to the FSSP and ICKSP gives them even more reason to re-enter (there are no priestly ordinations this year for USA branch of the SSPX).

  5. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    One point I think that is lacking in the commentary I have seen, is the desire of Rome to have all the bishops come back and not only some. The Church needs to be able to control the power of conferring the priesthood especially its fullness in the power to consecrate bishops. I do not think Rome is too keen on a deal that would let Bishop Williamson loose from all authority. This of course makes the regularization much more difficult. Fellay must get a deal that allows him to save enough face to keep the SSPX mostly intact to take away the incentive of a bishop jumping ship and starting fresh with a significant group of followers. The position of the Church and the SSPX is very difficult.

  6. Tzard says:

    I have no doubt The Holy Father understand Angels, and there are plenty around during this time (Deo Gracia). He also knows the angles, like a good natural philosopher. (wink).

    I have one word for this – babysteps. This is a call for a very definite step, though small. But a journey of a thousand steps begins with just one.

  7. Patrick T says:

    Their identity is indeed on the line. If they take this step toward Rome (May God grant them the strength for this), they will have to abandon their entire language of “Conciliar Church” and “New Mass.” They will have to turn their backs on the attitude captured perfectly in the words of Archbishop Lefebvre:

    “We are not of this religion. We do not accept this new
    religion. We are of the religion of all time, of the Catholic
    religion. We are not of that universal religion, as they call it
    today. It is no longer the Catholic religion. We are not of that
    liberal, modernist religion that has its worship, its priests, its
    faith, its catechisms, its Bible.”

    Are they ready to do this? Perhaps some are. Some certainly are not. But one way or the other, it looks that this whole “separation” may be very clearly defined and resolved in the near future.

  8. Paul Goings says:

    In other words, an SSPX priest shows up on Sunday to celebrate the Mass and then is gone for the rest of the week to another part of the state or even another part of the country.

    This is the situation at S. Jude’s in Eddystone, a suburb of Philadelphia. The pastor, I believe, lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and comes down on Sundays and Holy Days to say Mass. I cannot understand how that is tenable as a long-term solution. For a time I believed that this was anomalous, but I understand that it is the common way of operating for most Society chapels in the U.S., outside of a very few places.

  9. Paul Haley says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with Bishop Fellay because he has a tremendous responsibility to shoulder and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as well as from the blogosphere, are already being dispatched in his direction. Father Z shows his graciousness by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for Bishop Fellay’s intention and I encourage everyone to join in praying for that intention. May Almighty God be with Bishop Fellay as he ponders what sort of response to make to the proposal before him.

  10. dcs says:

    I believe the same situation perdures at the SSPX’s St. Anthony of Padua Mission in N. Jersey. Aside from very obvious issues, such as sick calls, it would seem to leave laypeople in charge of the “parish” for a majority of the time.

  11. Andy says:

    I imagine that the faithful of the SSPX really don’t care about religious liberty or ecumenical dialogue. They just want to practice the Traditional Catholic faith unhindered—which really centers around the Gregorian Rite.

    I’d beg to differ. I’m not FSSPX and I do care for the grave consequences of the falsely understood ecumenical dialogue, which too often means putting aside Catholic doctrine and identity and is indeed based on a flawed concept that all churches are made equal – or that the one universal Church is a mystical entity present in all churches to some degree but in none of them fully. I don’t understand, for example, why the Church won’t extend his hand to those in the Anglican Church who want to come back to the only true Church?

    In other words – SSPX has one more thing that attracts traditionalists: ardent clarity. They indeed follow the yes-yes-no-no principle when it comes to values in their preaching. Too many bishops and priests in the Church now want to be nice, warm, likeable guys so they don’t want to offend anyone – so they don’t speak with this clarity. There are noble exceptions, but this is the every day norm.

    But this very clarity and pastoral zeal could be SSPX’s gift to the Church if they come back. I just wish they could be more humble and have more charity – and have enough self-criticism to accept this offer which basically says exactly that: be more humble, don’t call Holy Father names.

  12. This issue became clearer to me this morning when I compared it with the Good Friday Prayer controversy.
    Sure, there were some trads who said that he shouldn’t have changed any thing– but the pope did and the Mass could no longer be said to be an irrelevant fossil. The liberals went bizzerk. The neo-cons were silent. They could defend a hundred imprudent moves by JP2 but when this pope was called a Nazi they weren’t exactly rushing to sign The Remnant petition of support.

    Now, Benedict has given the SSPX that chance to avoid irrelevancy. Pride may make them hesitant but consider how those who despise them are reacting (I know as most of my friends are NOT trads).
    Most libs are either ignorant of these events or grinding their teeth. Now consider the neo-cons. Their arguments against the SSPX haven’t always been as reasoned as Fr. Z’s. No, the SSPX are: “schismatic, “extreme traditionalists” etc because of : X, Y, and Z. It’s always the same script.

    But X, Y, and Z are not to be found among the things they must repudiate to enjoy full communion. Therefore, people can hold to those things.

    The battle against the libs will be won, demographics will see to that as they aren’t breeding.

    However, the battle against the neo-cons has just begun! Welcome home SSPX, can you get to work for us on Monday?

  13. Michael B. says:

    As I remember the many friends and priests who slipped away into sede-vacantism in the 70’s and 80’s, and the point I reached when I had to decide whether or not to follow, I recall now how the SSPX’s confusing talk about adhering to the Church of Tradition while not rejecting the Pope led to two possibilities: sedevacantism or return to the Church, crippled as it was. That’s when I returned to my local NO parish.

    This rhetoric of “the Church is the Church but it’s not the Church” (paraphrase) makes it difficult to answer the question that Benedict XVI is now pointedly asking Bishop Fellay with the five conditions: Do you or do you not recognize me as the Pope?

  14. Woody Jones says:

    My impression of H.E. Bishop Fellay is that he is truly the voice of reason and moderation within the SSPX; I have never met him, although I did meet his predecessor, Fr. Schmidberger, whom Father Z would really like (money quote: “marritch is ze union of vun man vith VUN VOMAN”), who was always gracious and at the same time zealous. These men could do so much good functoning within the ordinary structures of the Church (with their own juridical arrangement, to be sure) that we must pray very, very hard for this possible regularization to come to fruition.

    The Rodari article in the Italian was classic with its reference to “i lefebvriani”; sounded like the name of an opera.

  15. Matthew says:

    The label ‘neo-con’ may have meant something to somebody at one time, in some other context, but with regard to the factions you seem to see in Catholicism, it is entirely debased of any meaning.

    Ranting about those dratted neo-cons is a truly pitiful substitute for thinking.

  16. ekafant says:

    For many years I attended Masses offered by SSPX priests and even worked at one of their schools for 3 years where I met my wife. There seems to be a prevailing attitude amongst those who have not had any contact with them to continually use ideas such as prideful, arrogant, etc., well you get the picture. That has not been my experience at all. I have found them being some of the few that will speak the Truth of the Catholic Faith. I have not attended any of their chapels in a while, not for any sort of doctrinal reasons, only that I live 1.5 hours away, and it is tough with a young family. The Traditional Mass is local now with good priests. My kids, all they know is the Mass, whoever celebrates it. That is what they know, is that it is the same wherever they go. “Why do we have to travel so far and spend most of the Sunday away” is a tough question to answer. I think the game has changed in the past year or so, but if Bishop Fellay does not take the offer, he will give sound reasons to have done so. The SSPX is not a bunch of Rome-haters. That is such a mischaracterization! Most are wonderful souls who love and care deeply about the Church and of souls. Please do not pass judgement on them prematurely, I think that is fari. We must pray though for Gods’s Will to be done in this matter in the end.

  17. Matthew:

    I was not my intention to rant about neo-cons (an admittedly imprecise term) for I owe them a lot for my trip out of the felt banner wilderness.
    But it is not I who have substituted name calling for thinking but they who, while often intelligent in dealing with protestants, fall back of the same tired cliches to dismiss what the SSPX has said critically (criticism Card. Hoyos has said is a treasure) of the Church post V2.

    Those “thought saving devices” to borrow a term from Fulton Sheen will be of no use to anyone if the SSPX accepts these terms.

    Now if you excuse me, I’m going to review a tape titled “Why are Extreme Traditionalists so Extreme”, it’s your standard anti-SSPX fare and the title is a tautology.


  18. KC says:

    “The setting of a broken bone is painful, as is the knitting – tedious, inconvenient and worrisome. But Holy Church needs the strength his knitted bone will have. A broken bone can wind up a stronger.”

    What an excellent post–one that inspired me to prayer as I read it–that ended with the words above: a wonderful metaphor. May it come all come true.

  19. Michael B. says:

    Found at Angelqueen:

    Here is a link to the Sermon given by Bp Fellay at the 2008 SSPX Ordinations over the weekend.
    (Rome mentioned about half-way through)

  20. Tiny says:

    In my simple analysis of the situation, Cardinal Hoyos has been a gentleman in his treatment of the SSPX, so I think the 5-points are more than acceptable for rapprochement.

  21. Ian says:

    Greg Hessell wrote:

    Add to this fact that I believe they are losing many vocations to the FSSP and ICKSP gives them even more reason to re-enter (there are no priestly ordinations this year for USA branch of the SSPX).

    If you look at the whole of the SSPX\’s American seminary you\’ll find that vocations are not wanting at all. While no priests were ordained in Winona this year, there were 9 deacons. That means potentially 9 priests next year. If I\’m not mistaken that\’s the largest priestly ordination that the American seminary has ever seen.

    If you look at the following year, you see the probably of another significant number (I though it was 10, though I might be mistaken).

    The entering classes have been so large (more than 20 in some years), and had so few leave that the seminary is full in every extent and there have been various discussions about what to do. Moving has been considered along with finding some way of adding rooms.

    If you look at numbers, the American SSPX seminary is doing far better than any of the other SSPX seminaries including Ecône.

    One year without priests in this case is a sign that none of the class that had entered for that year had vocations.

  22. David Addams says:

    I think everyone know who the “neo-cons” are even if it’s not a fair description.

    What are they saying about the altar girl situation?

  23. Mattheus says:

    In signing the Protocol on May 5, 1988, Apb. Lefebvre agreed to the conditions. What made him change his mind is open to conjecture and speculation. Fr. Z may be right and I agree with him: the archbishop was persuaded by the candidates of the episcopacy to renege on the agreement and go ahead with the consecrations. Lefebvre vacillated between accepting the NOM and rejecting it, and this depended on who was listening. Lefebvre did on a two occasions celebrate (or con-celebrate) the new Mass. Of course today we understand why the core of the SSPX is saying that it is not going to say “Yes” on June 28: “We are successful in what we are doing, and let’s remain this way until Rome meets with *our* conditions and not the other way around.

    The situation today is unlike, say, as late as a few years ago, when the state of necessity still existed. [I think we must reject the premise that the “state of necessity” justified defying the expressed will of the Supreme Pontiff and consecrating bishops, which wounded the whole Church. – Fr. Z] The problem is, this “state” is fast deteriorating, and the SSPX no longer has the “monopoly” of having the true faith and the mandate of saving souls: there are many places now where “necessity” no longer exists because of the FSSP, the ICK, the SSJV, IBC and many other traditions fraternities and society of priests. If the SSPX insists on being what they are and insists to be where they are, soon they will be running a parallel church and magisterium as the Orthodox, et al., whose Sacraments may be valid but illicit, and the schism will be made concrete. The SSPX is presently enjoying the use of the “extraordinary jurisdiction” supplied not by the Pope but by Holy Mother Church because of the state of necessity. Without this special jurisdiction, the SSPX doesn’t have priestly faculties (they are still suspended a divinis), and their absolutions won’t be worth the prayer they say, confession will be invalid.

    The restoration (of all things in Christ) cannot be accomplished outside the pale of the Church. In effect the SSPX must be within the citadel and do the battle there. Outside would be a quixotic attack against imaginary windmills. They want to restore what was lost, then they shouldn’t wait for Rome to return to Tradition. They have to reconcile and be in union with Peter, for it is with Peter that the Catholic Church can be found, outside of her, there is no salvation.

  24. Ralph Roister-Doister says:

    I think the best thing Catholic leaders genuinely interested in reconciling with the SSPX could do is clean their own house in a serious and numerically significant manner.

  25. Leonard says:

    The perception that parishioners can attend the Old Mass elsewhere now post Summorum Pontificum, is ill-conceived. Most clerics (not all) but MOST will not offer the Old Mass. Even if they did, one cannot inject or instill reverence and a sensus Catholicum into what is, essentially, a ‘Protestant-formed’ mind set. The only time I now attend a Novus Ordo Mass is at funerals. I am scandalised and appalled at the behaviour and comportment of the so-called “Catholics” congregation. They behave as if at a sporting or entertainment venue outwardly unaware of what is supposed to be being offered – a Sacrifice. The celebrant (or President as they like to be considered) could be any ‘master of ceremonies’ merely putting on a ‘show’ – as Francis Cardinal Arinze (Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments) recently described them as, “Reverend showmen”. Beats me how they can still use the adjective “discipline” whilst keeping a straight face. One encounters different versions of the N O depending on the particular parish.
    Finally, for an Australian problem, what is “Catholic” about priests who refuse to administer Holy Communion to a kneeling communicant? Answer: Whatever they have become, they are no longer “Catholic”. Arch. Lefebvre warned of this long ago.

    [Remember: This isn’t just about liturgy. – Fr. Z]

  26. Ralph Roister-Doister says:

    Anyone who thinks that, with the motu proprio, the problem is — poof! — solved, is sadly deluded. [Again: This isn’t just about liturgy. – Fr. Z]

    In my diocese, for example, the bishop has made it quite clear in public statements that he does not see the need for the TLM to be extended beyond the indult ghetto in which it currently resides. With this dismissive attitude coming from the bishop, how much enthusiasm for the TLM do you think will exist among the troops?

    In point of fact, most of them are politely dismissive of it as well. All sorts of excuses are brought to bear: don’t know Latin, don’t have time, too divisive, it just wouldn’t work HERE, yadda, yadda.

    The motu proprio means absolutely nothing in a diocese with such squalid leadership. Unfortunately, most American diocese have had precisely that sort of leadership for decades.

    Most bishops are careerists who have hitched their wagons to the Novus Ordo star, and the connumitarian palaver that accompanies it. So I repeat my earlier comment: “the best thing Catholic leaders genuinely interested in reconciling with the SSPX could do is clean their own house in a serious and numerically significant manner.”

  27. Ralph Roister-Doister says:

    Fr Z,
    You are absolutely right. It is not only about liturgy. At bottom, it is about GOVERNANCE. Or lack of it.

  28. Leonard says:

    Dear Fr Z,

    Most certainly “this is not just about liturgy” I could not agree more. It is about maintaining the “Catholic” faith and returning to our faith. Despite the numerous assertions that, post Vat.II the “Church has not changed”, it is abundantly clear to all that the Church has been turned upside down. Things will never improve until there is a recognition and resignation to what is so obvious to ALL – we are in a crisis. Religious orders and congregations turned away from the both the letter and spirit of their Holy Founders. IN Australia religious pride themselves in blending in with the masses and refuse to dress, but more importantly, act like religious.
    Prior to Vat.ii the Church stood alone in proclaiming the ONE, True, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. Now it is more concerned about acting in political correctness to the way of the world. Formerly, the Church cared not a scintilla about what the world thought; now She woos and panders to be seen as not offending. The only part of the Church (and I write so advisedly) which stands out as speaking the truth IRRESPECTIVE of who may be offended, is the SSPX

  29. Ralph Roister-Doister says:

    People tend to forget that Lefebvre, despite misgivings, signed off on V2. It did not take long for him to regret doing so, just as it did not take long for Pope Montini to begin musing wonderingly about the divisiveness, chaos, and “Satan’s smoke” caused by its promulgation. Much of V2 is simply a “mirror morror on the wall”. People read into it what they want to read into it, and take out of it what they want to take out of it. Its downfall is not its heterodoxy, but the ambiguity of so many of its key passages.

    In a perfect world, V2 would be retired to the same deep freeze in which Church leaders were content to stow the Gregorian liturgy in 1969. No need to renounce it. Simply push it to the side by marginalizing the theologians and explicators behind it — much as preconciliar theologians and even popes were thrown into the outer darkness in the sixties.

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