SSPX Bp. Williamson v. The Pope of Christian Unity

It seems that SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson is a bit worried. 

To his latest piece, which I received by email from a reader, I add my emphases and comments

Before we start drilling, however, here are a few points to keep in mind while reading Williamson’s letter.

  • R.W. of the Anglicans [Archbp. Rowan Williams], feeling the threat looming in the Motu Proprio Anglicanorum coetibus, tried rhetorically to taint the waters for members of the Anglican Church so that they wouldn’t go over to Rome.
  • R.W. of the SSPX, threatened by a possible Motu Proprio along the same lines, is trying rhetorically to taint the waters so that followers of the SSPX don’t go over to Rome.
  • When Anglicanorum coetibus was issued I said that it was – among other things – a trial run for finding a way/structure to heal the break of the SSPXers.
  • Williamson is undoubtedly highly attuned to the vicissitudes of the Anglican Church, since he was once an Anglican.

Let’s drill.


    While the Rome-Society of St Pius X discussions are, by accounts from both sides, running into a doctrinal brick wall, reports from France and Germany together with a rumour [rumour, indeed] from Rome spell danger for Catholics. That danger is a political deal which would simply go round the side of the doctrinal blockage. Politics threaten to circumvent doctrine["Political" is, in his view, bad.  But is "political" to be so reviled?  More on that later.]

    From France and Germany, I was told me [a bit more rumor… I grant this this is acknowledged as rumor.  He is not hiding the fact that these are things he is being told.  Fair enough.] a few weeks ago that a large proportion of Catholics attending SSPX Mass centres are only hoping and waiting for some agreement to come out of the discussions. [This, I am sure, vexes him. I believe it is a good and Catholic desire to desire harmony with Peter.] If – repeat, if — this is true, it is very serious. [read: bad] Such Catholics [Note the disparaging tone.] may get full marks for wishing not to be cut off from what appears to be Rome, [You see… Rome isn’t the real Rome.  The present Roman Curia, "Rome", doesn’t match the nearly Platonic idea Williamson is presumably qualified to identify.  One could wonder if his judgment in about Rome is as trustworthy as his judgment about other controversial issues.] but they get low marks for not grasping [here it comes] that as long as the discussions remain doctrinal, [note "doctrinal"] there is no way in which the neo-modernist teaching of Vatican II can be reconciled with the Catholic doctrine of the true Church. [Williamson get to determine what the "true" Church is?] Such Catholics [Again.  Is he signaling a growing separation between himself and the majority of the followers of the SSPX?] may venerate and love Archbishop Lefebvre as they see him, but they have not understood what he was all about. [But Williamson knows!] They had best wake up if they are not in one way or another to fall into the arms of the neo-modernist Romans. [Not "true" Romans. Who made Williamson the arbiter of what is truly Catholic?] 

    Agreement in front of doctrine means politics before religion[I think this means "Giving preference to coming to some practical arrangement over coming to an agreement on doctrine…".  But is his statement correct?  Is there a sharp contrast between "doctrine" and "politics"?] unity before truth, man before God. God before man means truth before unity, religion before politics and doctrine being more important than any non-doctrinal agreement. Only dreamers could not foresee the Rome-SSPX discussions running into a doctrinal brick wall. Only politicians can wish for any non-doctrinal agreement to come out of them. [Is it not possible for there to be a legitimate "political" dimension to theological discussion?]

    Alas, to all appearances Benedict XVI sincerely believes in the Newchurch of Vatican II which is to unite in its bosom all men absolutely, regardless of whether they believe or not in the one true doctrine of the Faith. [That is an unfair reading of Vatican II.  But he has misread facts of history before.  Consider, for example, Lumen gentium 14: "They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it."] Therefore he sincerely wishes to gather in the SSPX as well [The implication is that the Pope set aside "truth" for the sake of unity.] – and he does not normally have too much longer to live ! [The idea of "normal" here must be, "the Pope is close to the end of the span of normal human life".] So the blockage of doctrinal discussions should not unduly worry him. He must be [And so he veers into pure supposition.  He doesn’t really know anything.] looking to cut a political deal with the SSPX, in order to unite it with the rest of the Newchurch. [Again, we must raise the possibility that what he calls "political" might actually be a legitimate course of action when considering the ecclesiological (theological) ramifications of this continued wound to unity.] It follows that he must ask of the SSPX neither too much, or it would refuse the deal, nor too little, because then the rest of the Newchurch would rise up in protest.

    The rumour [again] from Rome is precisely [an odd juxtaposition of "rumour" and "precisely", n’est ce pas?] that he is thinking of a "Motu Proprio" which would accept the SSPX "back into the Church" once and for all, [NB…] yet require from the SSPX no explicit acceptance of Vatican II or the New Mass, but only, for instance, the acceptance of John-Paul II’s 1992 "Catechism of the Catholic Church", which is substantially modernist but in a quiet way. Thus the SSPX would not appear to its followers to be accepting the Council or the New Mass, [Note the loose language.  What does "accept" mean, here?]yet it would be softly, softly, beginning to go along with the substance of neo-modernism.  [And knows what the "true" Church is, not the soft modernist Benedict XVI.]

    Thus all seekers of unity would be content. Only not believers in Catholic doctrine.

    DANGER !

    Kyrie eleison.

It may be that Bp. Williamson doesn’t understand clearly what Popes are for. 

Popes guard and foster unity.

Bishops and Cardinals can help the Pope do this, but it is especially the Pope’s job to deal with unity.   When there is a break in unity, or a chance to foster it, Popes who do their jobs well, seize the opportunity with both hands.  When they do, they don’t fail to defend the Faith.

Anyone can put on a miter and say Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Only Popes truly provide for unity.

The problem is people rarely like to see the process involved in fostering and guarding unity. They like the language and the idea of promoting unity, but – as in the similar case of making sausage – they don’t like to watch it being done. 

Popes pull the sheep into one flock… sometimes coaxing… sometimes using a stick.

When Popes don’t do this, they are not very good Popes.  When they do a great job, they can even get the nickname "Great". 

What Pope Benedict is doing isn’t about power (politics), it is about unity.

Unity is forged and shaped and at times coerced. 

Unity is messy and arduous business.  Just look at what Popes Leo I and Gregory I had to deal with.

In the history of the Church there have been many theological/political compromises for the sake of unity.  Someone versed in the history of Holy Church’s dogmatic theology will instantly recall the compromises, hammered out after decades of sharp conflicts, over language to describe how, for example, the Son is "homoousios" with the Father.  Eventually, and after a lot of fights, a clear teaching emerged and was given voice in a formula.  Then there was the long period of work so that the formula would be accepted by more and more people who had different ideas about how to express very hard things.  The history of the Church involves constant "political" compromises.  All human interactions are, after all, "political".

When there are difficult theological questions on the table, the position of the "other side" must be given its due.  Greater precision can be sought down the line and after reflection which has the benefit of time.
Through the history of the Church all major and even minor points have been arrived at through political methods, by debates and tussles and compromises, by messy striving and even conflict. 

If there is a Motu Proprio out there – let’s call it SSPXorum coetibus –  Pope Benedict – the Pope of Christian Unity – would be providing cover to SSPXers.  He would be giving them an honorable escape route out of separation and into greater unity.  SSPXers would have honorable cover so they can come into unity with Rome without giving in on the documents of Vatican II.

If what Williamson is describing is accurate, if there is some Motu Proprio for SSPXers coming along the lines of Anglicanorum coetibus (and we don’t know that there is), then Pope Benedict would be saying to SSPXers,

"I won’t require you to sign off on the documents of Vatican II, which you don’t like.  Instead, you SSPXers can sign off on just the Catechism.  Accepting the Catechism is enough for unity and an ecclesial structure of your own in unity with Rome." 

This is why Williamson is spooked.   

Williamson is saying that in accepting the Catechism, SSPEXers would actually be accepting the modernism of the Vatican II documents.  This is why Williamson paints this alleged deal as "political".

Just what the Pope of Christian Unity has in mind for the SSPX is a matter of conjecture.   But it would not surprise me in the least were he to offer something very like his solution for more traditionally-minded Anglicans. 

SSPXorum coetibus?  We shall see.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. HighMass says:


    Why doesn’t Bishop Fellay Silence this Williamson??? Seems to want to find all kinds of roadblocks to move Forward with Society of St. Pius X and our Anglican Brethren…

  2. Oleksander says:

    Excellent post Fr. Z

  3. THREEHEARTS says:

    Father it would be good if you published the opening and closing homilies of the Council of Vatican 2 [I believe they have already been published.]
    We were all lead to believe the it was a pastoral council and it was and could not change the Church.
    That being so why were so many things changed under the auspices of Vatican 2 later. This you cannot deny. The catechism of Vatican 2 if you read it rightly changes the belief in sanctifying grace. The oath priests make was changed to suit the Bishops. I think that when John 23rd wrote in one of his biographies that once the council started he went back to his office and let the bishops handle it. This was tantamount to some kind of schism. I have never read a definite statement by the Pope of any year that said the Bishops were selected by the Holy Spirit but we do believe that the first born /elder brother who rules the family according to our Hebrew antecedents which never changed just fulfilled is picked by the Holy Spirit. This elder brother the head of the family is Benedict today. Now as to being picked by the Holy Spirit tell me about Remi-Roo, Gumbleton et al and their relationship with holiness and obedience

  4. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Excellent! Encouraging!

    Here’s a thought…is it not entirely reasonable for someone to be thoroughly familiar both with where the SSPX is coming from; and also thoroughly familiar with Vatican II, what it teaches, and conclude that–despite whatever appearances and grumbles and beliefs of particular people, there is no contradiction. Ergo, the unacceptable compromise of the truth that Bishop Williamson warns against is a phantom?

    Of course it is reasonable that someone can know this; and if that person is the pope, then it is the one person qualified in every way to declare this, if expedient; or to act on it without declaring it, if (as I think he would say in this case), it is inexpedient.

    So however compelling Bishop Williamson’s warnings may seem, they collapse instantly if there is no actual contradiction.

    Now, now, I know what some will say; that there are any number of problems arising from ambiguities in Vatican II, misapplications, or the hauntings of the Council’s alleged spirit. But that misses the point: the issue is whether there is any real doctrinal conflict. Can a person who subscribes to whatever the SSPX subscribes to, also subscribe to Vatican II, authentically understood? Who can answer that question?

    I think the pope can if he wishes, and if he makes that determination, and acts accordingly, that is how he could arrive at what Bishop Williamson scorns as a misbegotten “political” solution that–he alleges–sacrifices the truth. If the Successor of Saint Peter determines that the truth is not sacrificed, why does that not settle the matter? “Roma locuta est; causa finita est.” Hence the incessant claims that Rome is not Rome.

    Once more, I feel the greatest peace in reposing confidence and trust in the Successor to Peter to handle this; my heart goes out to those who find it difficult to do so, but we must always seek refuge in Peter’s boat.

  5. THREEHEARTS says:

    I have to make some corrections to my grammar I wrote quickly faster than I can think
    Father it would be good if you published the opening and closing homilies of the Council of Vatican 2
    We were all lead to believe that it was a pastoral council and it was not to and could not change the Church’s dogmas and doctrines.
    That being so why were so many things changed under the auspices of Vatican 2 at later dates later by all and sundry? This you cannot deny. The catechism of Vatican 2 if you read it rightly, changes the teaching of sanctifying grace. The oath priests make was changed to suit the Bishops. You have mentioned this recently. I think that when John 23rd did, as described in one of his biographies, that once the council started he went back to his office and let the bishops handle it. This was tantamount to some kind of schism. I have never read a definite statement by the Pope of any year that said the Bishops were selected by the Holy Spirit but we do believe that the first born /elder brother who rules the family according to our Hebrew antecedents which never changed just fulfilled. He is picked by the Holy Spirit. This elder brother the head of the family is Benedict today. Now as to being picked by the Holy Spirit tell me about Remi-Roo, Gumbleton et al and their relationship with holiness and obedience

  6. asperges says:

    Bp Williamson is a liability and a danger to much more than SSPX. The situation vis-a-vis SSPX is at a critical stage certainly. They are their own worst enemies politically yet very important in the balance within the Church. Their greatest danger remains being / staying sectaire – a Church within a Church. If they cannot reconcile under this Pope, there really is no hope for them.

    The situation in France is a good starting point. Much of the French Church is now so well off the scale thanks to the hierarchy’s mishandling of things (the numbers practising Catholics now less than 5%), that I am sure that many faithful going to something still Catholic at SSPX churches do not want their irregular situation to go on forever. It is inconceivable to be a Catholic and not wholly in union with Rome. This is not the only crisis of its type that Holy Church has seen over the centuries!

    One thing is sure: the Pope understands all this better than anyone and if there is a way through it all, he will find it.

  7. Nathan says:

    IMO, the most interesting comment so far on Bp. Williamson’s article comes from good Fr. Blake at St Mary Magdalen in Brighton, England (

    “I presume talks will continue, I am a little disappointed that they will not define exactly what should be believed in VII’s teaching or what may be rejected but I find it fascinating that now it is the Catechism that defines what it is to be a Catholic. I suppose in a sense the Council has become irrelevant – that is fascinating in itself, isn’t it?”

    I’ve been trying to get my brain around that all day.

    In Christ,

  8. Tom in NY says:

    Let us pray he has the courage to leave the cave and its shadowed images for the Light (cf. Republic VII, 514ff).
    Salutationes omnibus.

  9. FranzJosf says:

    What an interesting development this note may foretell: an SSPX motu proprio.

    (For people not very familiar with the SSPX, it is important to remember that their bishops, as bishops, have no governing power within the Society. They function like auxiliary bishops confirming, ordaining, consecrating churches, et al., without any ordinary power. Bishop Fellay does have governing power because he was elected to his second 12-year term as Superior General, but a priest could be elected, too.)

    Having followed the Society for about ten years, and having listened to all of Bishop Fellay’s talks and interviews in English, I have never known him to publicly pass on a rumor that hasn’t been true. I simply don’t know if the same is true for Bishop Williamson, but I would guess that something is at least being considered along those lines.

    Possible scenario: If Bishop Fellay mentions this same rumor, it will certainly have my attention, and eventually it will be reported in the main-stream Catholic press. Then we’ll hear reactions from various quarters. (What will some of the lefty French bishops have to say, for instance? Will there be threats of schism in the French hierarchy?) Time will pass; people will begin living with the idea. Then, the Holy Father will act. If he asks for no doctrinal change, whatsoever, from the SSPX, the reverberations beyond the Society will be great indeed. There will be great knashings of teeth in certain quarters; others, including me, will consider it a Great Step Forward for the Deposit of Faith and curbing of what the French Revolution hath wrought.

  10. Stu says:

    Question: Why doesn’t Bishop Fellay Silence this Williamson???

    I’m not sure he has that ability.

  11. Tradster says:

    Thank you as always for your excellent analysis (except, perhaps, the shot at “his judgment about other controversial issues”). I have not yet formed an opinion as to whether I agree with +Williamson. [I can’t let this pass. That “+”, which comes from the way some bishops may sign their names, as it was explained to me by someone name Joseph Ratzinger, comes from the bishop’s office, his jurisdiction, not from the mere fact of his being a bishop. Thus, the ordinary bishop of a diocese signs “+”. A bishop without a see would not. But let this not become a rabbit hole. People can e-mail me about this and I can make a separate entry.] That will come after some reflection. Regardless, I do feel he is being judged a bit unfairly. In his defense, Bishop Williamson is deeply concerned about the proverbial nose of the camel in the tent. He is acutely familiar with the problems encountered by those traditionalists groups that fully reconciled with the Vatican, such as the FSSP (recall the Canadian bishop demanding they distribute Communion in the hand during the H1N1 scare). It may be that he is overreacting and hurting the SSPX, or he may be completely accurate. That is not for me to judge. Either way, give him credit for caring about the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s a too-rare trait in bishops nowadays.

  12. Henry Edwards says:


    I agree that the most compelling (and even exciting) idea here is that the CCC defines Catholicity. I would myself ordinarily would place no credence on anything Bp. Williamson says, except for a ring of truth such as this.

    After all, now that the Church has an official catechism, what else should define one’s adherence to what the Church teaches? As the opposed to the utterly meaningless question of one’s “acceptance of Vatican II”. Meaningless because a statement that one “subscribes to Vatican II” implies little or nothing about what he does or does not believe. Whereas a sworn statement – as I believe a group of traditional Anglican bishops submitted – of acceptance of what the CCC teaches leaves little further to be asked.

    I know nothing about any Roman rumors, but perhaps even more convincing is the suggestion that, instead of making some kind of “deal” with the SSPX , Pope Benedict will at some point simply tell them and us what their situation is (take it or leave it). To me, this seems much more becoming for the Vicar of Christ on earth than any kind of deal with a dissident group, however much he may respect (as I believe he does) their resolute adherence to much traditional faith and liturgy.

  13. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I believe Bp. Fellay does not want to do anything with Bp. Williamson that would risk a serious rupture from within the ranks. Fellay does not want to be branded with the mark of “compromiser” by martyring Williamson with severe measures.

    However, Williamson is right that acceptance of the Catechism would be tantamount to acceptance of the Council and the New Missal, for the Catechism is saturated through and through with Vatican II teaching and references to the Ordinary Form of the liturgy, as is the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

    When you ask the typical traditionalist, “would you accept Vatican II?” they would say NO right away. However, if you ask them to accept a “catechism,” that is different–that is much more palatable, especially since Lefebvre was not alive when the new catechism was published and so could not be on record attacking it. Williamson is saying, “don’t be fooled. This is a marketing coup for the negotiators at Rome. It is like when people give a dog a pill stuck inside a piece of hot dog. The dog thinks he is getting meat, but the medicine has been hidden inside.”

    What is interesting is that when St. Pius X wanted to call certain doctrines modernism, he had to write Lamentabili and a long encyclical justifying his reasons. But Williamson gets to simply point a finger at, say, Vatican II, and voila, it is declared radioactive with modernism. He does not even have to cite a single passage or make any logical arguments. He can just condemn away, and then go out for high tea and leisure. No need to research or show you have pondered the issues. Something is modernist because and when he says so, and something is truly Catholic when he says so.

    Contrast Williamson’s style of writing, and the deeply prayerful, spiritual and charitable style of Fr. Michael Mary of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer on Papa Stronsay. Williamson cannot hold a candle to the depth of spiritual vision of Fr. Michael Mary whose first concern is to see how Our Lord is with the Church. Here, in this link, Fr. Michael Mary deals specifically with the question of whether “politics” before “religion” should impede submission to the Holy See:

  14. Fr_Sotelo says:

    After hitting the above link, you have to go down below and see Father’s reply to Fr. Morgan, SSPX.

  15. czemike says:

    The most amazing part of this is that Bp. Williamson isn’t even all that familiar with the CCC himself, not having read much of it, and not in the last 20 years at that!

  16. czemike: Bp. Williamson isn’t even all that familiar with the CCC

    Ummm… really? How do you know that?

  17. Williamson. Wasn’t he the one who was supposed to keep his mouth shut? Or was that about certain other subjects, and this is his loophole? Any question of accepting the legitimacy of Vatican II (all of whose documents were signed by one Marcel Lefebvre, as I remember reading) is unlikely to be on the table, except perhaps that it is understood as being interpreted in the light of tradition (or Tradition, whatever). What I have a problem with, is that we come very close to an accord with the SSPX when something like this happens. And it seems to happen a lot over the years. That makes me wonder who has something to gain by prolonging a “state of siege” mentality.

    But hey, that’s just me.

  18. kgurries says:

    How is it that adherence to Catholic DOCTRINE contained in the CCC is understood as a so-called “political deal which would simply go round the side of the doctrinal blockage.”

    If the SSPX can adhere to the doctrine contained in a universal Catechism (never mind the endless arguments over various theological aspects of this or that council) then it would demonstrate that the SSPX adheres to the doctrine of the Holy See and the Universal Church (end of discussion). I don’t see this approach as a danger to the SSPX or even a “go round”. If true, it seems like a reasonable way to move forward.

    If the SSPX finds that they can’t adhere to the CCC — then there would have to be discussions on those specific doctrines that are rejected as modernist, etc. Either way there is no “go round”.

  19. chatto says:

    As an interesting footnote, and following on from Fr’s own comments, Eric Sammons wrote a blog entry a while back about the differing approaches to heresy and schism in West and East. It seems that if Pope Benedict is willing to tolerate a difference of opinion on what may be called ‘non-essentials’ (whatever they might be) for the sake of unity, he’ll be following the blue-print worked out by his predecessors of blessed memory. Here’s the link:

  20. LaudemGloriae says:

    Interesting analysis. However my impression from spending a bit of time in my local SSPX chapel and being friendly with people there who once attended our regular parish, is that *they are not on tenderhooks waiting for an agreement to be hammered out* so as to normalize SSPX’s Canonical status (or however you state that). These are people and families who have made a decision, a difficult one: whether it is better to be obendient to that which violates your conscience, or, in disobedience, adhering to that which you believe. These are not just quibbles over a few small issues, but fundamental question of validity and salvation. Remember, they are re-administering sacraments with coniditonal Baptizms and such to their new members.

    Such individuals have largely made their peace with being on the outs with Rome. Considering also that these people tend to be highly stigmatized in Catholic circles (for the obvious reasons) I don’t know how anxious they are for repatriation.

    I tend to cringe when RW (SSPX) communicates publically, but in this case I do think he correctly articulates the sentiments I have heard from his adherents.

    That said, the idea of accepting the Catechism without the Council is intriguing.

  21. Jacob says:

    A comment at Rorate on Bishop Williamson’s comments made the point that using the Catechism the purpose Williamson suggests with his ‘rumor’ is not the best idea since catechisms are teaching instruments.

    I would be interested if there is any precedent out there for the use of a catechism for teaching the faithful for the purpose of unifying groups like the Traditional Anglicans and the SSPX.

  22. chcrix says:

    I think Bishop Williamson is technically ‘silenced’. As far as I know one gets his columns only by having gotten on an earlier email list. So it could be argued that these are not really ‘public’ documents but rather ‘communications to my friends’.

    Bishop W. actually seems to be worried that an accomodation IS possible. Oh, my goodness! That’s the kind of error (and feeling) that sounds almost — Protestant.

    Is there anything official from either the Holy See, or SSPX about what is going on?

  23. Mitchell NY says:

    I would like to see this rumor become fact and the Holy Father to issue some type of Moto on the SSPX because I believe they can benefit souls and the Church much better from being in complete Communion with Rome. And the longer the seperation, no matter how big or small, will only see positions harden as the Pope has said and we can all plainly see happening already. The more I hear about the way this Pope does things in regards to unity the more I am convinced he knows exactly what he is doing and trust in that. That being said, it will be a tough pill to swallow for those who wish to get some doctrinal clarification out of these talks, to have it simply put aside for a better time. It may be the correct decision or path to follow but it will allow a certain ambiguity to continue on for many years. It may not be resolved or “clarified” in my lifetime, but if an agreement is to come first, and clarification much later, then the future Church and her Faithful will still benefit. Our children may be the ones to see the rewards, which is the unselfish position we may just have to take. We may all have to wrap our minds around the “centuries thinking” in this case. I would rather it this way than not at all. Leaving things as they are is very dangerous, and I think Bishop Williamson does not spend enough time thinking about that, or at least writing about it. The hardening of positions is very real. I believe that Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Fellay are the 2 most likely to work this out, for the good of all Holy Church. I pray for their success.

  24. annieoakley says:

    One of the things that Lumen Gentium changed was the definition of the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII, in his encyclicals “Mystici Coporis Christi” and “Humani Generis” had identified the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. In doing so, he was simply reflecting traditional church teaching.

    Then along comes Lumen Gentium. Its original draft agreed with Piua XII and stated that the Church, existing on earth as a structured society, is the Catholic Church. However, this was revised to, “This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church”.

    Why go to all the trouble to change one word? Don’t is and subsist mean the same thing? Perhaps to some orthodox commentators at the time they did. But to the periti at the Council who got the word changed there was a huge difference. Gregory Baum, one of these “experts”, noted that “The Council has, therefore, admitted that the Church of Christ is something bigger than the Roman Catholic Church”. (Pope John’s Council, p. 61).

  25. Getting the SSPX to accept, which can only be interpreted as accepting the teaching of, the CCC, they would be tacitly accepting the teachings of Vatican II. If you look at the footnotes in the CCC, there are a ton of references to the council documents. I don’t know if this is intended as cover as some have mentioned or if it’s truly a sleight of hand.

    So, if you can get them to take the CCC, the rest will follow in time I believe.

  26. Jason Keener says:

    On the question of Christ’s Social Kingship and Religious Liberty, the Catechism did make some good clarifications that should help put the SSPX more at ease with the Church’s stance on some of the Religious Liberty issues after the Council.

    Paragraph 2105 of the Catechism reaffirms the Social Kingship of Christ: “The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and SOCIALLY. This is “the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.” By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them “to infuse the CHRISTIAN SPIRIT [note: not just a religiously neutral or natural law spirit] into the mentality and mores, LAWS and STRUCTURES of the communities in which they live.” The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over HUMAN SOCIETIES.”

    Paragraph 2109 of the Catechism points out that religious liberty is not without limits and that the political authorities even today can repress religious errors that are viewed as being harmful to the common good: “The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The “due limits” which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by POLITICAL prudence, according to the requirements of the COMMON GOOD, and ratified by the CIVIL AUTHORITY in accordance with “legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order.”

  27. Geoffrey says:

    This is another example of why I have a hard time seeing a SSPX reunion with Rome. They despise Vatican II, the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the pontificate of Venerable Pope John Paul the Great, etc. Their writings maintain this. I just don’t see how it can happen…

  28. TJerome says:

    maybe they despise the way Vatican II was implemented. I do.

  29. LaudemGloriae says:

    I apologize for my earlier comments. Moderator, please feel free to delete.

  30. JulieC says:

    Like many others, I find the possibility of using the CCC as a litmus test for acceptance intriguing.

    Personally, I prefer the Catechism of the Council of Trent since everytime I’ve had to research a subject in the CCC, I’ve found orthodox explanations but at the same time felt it necessary to consult the Catechism of the Council of Trent for more clarity and precision.

    But, hey, maybe in this case a little ambiguity isn’t all bad and the SSPX can read into the CCC what they need to help them take the final short leap into Peter’s boat.

    Believe me, for those of us in the trenches who are sympathetic to our SSPX friends, once the Pope gives them the green light, we’ll be singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” while popping the champagne corks!

  31. chonak says:

    This letter reminds me that Richard Williamson moved from Anglicanism to Lefebvrism without ever passing through normal Catholic life. I wonder whether he was validly received into the Church if the priest doing so had no jurisdiction. I don’t have an answer: it might be one of the things any priest can do, or maybe not.

  32. muckemdanno says:

    …”…In the history of the Church there have been many theological/political compromises for the sake of unity. Someone versed in the history of Holy Church’s dogmatic theology will instantly recall the compromises, hammered out after decades of sharp conflicts, over language to describe how, for example, the Son is “homoousios” with the Father. Eventually, and after a lot of fights, a clear teaching emerged and was given voice in a formula. Then there was the long period of work so that the formula would be accepted by more and more people who had different ideas about how to express very hard things. The history of the Church involves constant “political” compromises. All human interactions are, after all, “political”…”…

    This is quite troubling to me, Fr Z. Are you saying that it’s good for the Church to make it’s teaching ambiguous enough so that it can become acceptable to everyone? [Those are your words, not mine. That is not what I wrote. Read it again, but all of it.] Is the new Catechism so ambiguous that it can be accepted by people with contradictory beliefs such as Soc of St Peter priests and Anglican Protestants (who reject the idea of the priesthood itself.) [Your description, not mine.]

    I hate to say it, but I think Bp Williamson may have a point which should not be dismissed so flippantly. [I don’t think anything Williamson wrote was dismissed flippantly.]

    Remember the words of Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis:

    “… let them also be careful not to transgress the limits which We have established for the protection of the truth of Catholic faith and doctrine. … finally, let them not think, indulging in a false “irenism,” that the dissident and the erring can happily be brought back to the bosom of the Church, if the whole truth found in the Church is not sincerely taught to all without corruption or diminution.”

    Changing the “formula” while allowing people (such as the Anglicans) to remain in their false beliefs is a false unity. [It may be that you are confused about what is going on.]

  33. Geoffrey says:

    “maybe they despise the way Vatican II was implemented. I do.”

    As do I, but I don’t recall the SSPX complaining about the way it was implemented. Rather I hear many calls for scrapping it altogether.

  34. Fr. Sotelo: Again, I thank you for your commentary; the aspect of spirituality and a living relationship with the Lord vis-a-vis His Holy Church is fundamental, as far as I am concerned, to really deal with these issues.
    To be honest; I don’t get it…I’m probably too stupid or scatter-brained; I don’t know.
    But to love the Lord in His Holy Catholic Church is the greatest joy I have known, and to be a monastic and His priest, as well.
    I love the Holy Tradition; the love of the Holy Mother of God, the Magisterium, the papal primacy and most of all the Holy Eucharist lead me into the Church and keeps me there.
    All this fighting about this and that; I know some of it is important, yeah; but come on…why aren’t we striving for a true deepening of our love for the Lord, for the Holy Tradition, for the ways and means to become holy and stop clobbering each other? The world is bad, nasty, evil and destructive as all hell…and yet “the destruction comes from within” as Pope Benedict said (in so many words) in the interview to his recent pilgrimage to Fatima.
    Okay; the problem with the document on religious liberty is there…the issues with the liturgy (although with SP, one would think that was “sewed up”)…the ecumenical issues; isn’t that more pastoral than doctrinal?…has any Pope ever denied the Faith outright and deliberately (I’m waiting for a backlash on THAT one…the Koran-kissing of JP II, Benedict going to the Jewish synagogue).
    For heaven’s sake we’re not living in the Twelfth Century; why and what is the problem here?
    I pray the SSPX are fully and canonically united with the Holy Church of Rome and then everybody can just shut up about it.
    If they just do what they do, are faithful to the Church and the Tradition, and keep on doing what they do, with God’s grace, much good will come from it.
    But this fighting?
    Good Lord! I hate fighting…unless it’s for a good cause!

  35. Sixupman says:

    +[as an abbreviation]Williamson is an intellectual of an high order, but he lacks that which Msgr. Lefebvre possessed – Charity. The blessed Msgr. may have been outspoken but that was still tempered with Charity and his recognition of ‘fellow travellers’ within the Vatican and diocesan church. My problem with +Williamson,is not so much what he says – some of it self-indulgent nonsense, but with the fruits of his seminary teaching. Both he and his cohorts have created an element of bigots intent upon creating a ‘Catholic Church’ of their own imaginings and intent upon a ‘mind-control’ environment within their flocks. [Clearly not all who have passed through the seminary are of that ilk, just as all who pass through diocesan seminaries turned-out as Modernists.]

    An harsh assessment? Google Fr. John Rizzo [a diminutive but outstanding priest]and Anthony Ferro, from such one will be able to see the fruits of +Williamson’s teaching. Post Falls an SSPX community redolent of the “Wee Free” Church in Scotland, preaching against individuals from the pulpit and even worse. They even have [had?] their equivalent of the ‘hitler youth’ – the “Honor Guard”!

    The sooner the Vatican / SSPX situation is sorted the better, even if +Williamson takes away his adherents to create their own church – like so many other self-opinionated ‘head cases’.

    Whilst we criticise SSPX, what of my parish priest, and others like him, who preach against BXVI and refer to Communion as a meal? They proceed unfettered with their nonsense and are even more dangerous than +Williamson. What of the Bishops’ Conferences which are against any pre-Vatican II manifestations of Catholicism and proceed on the basis of their perceived invulnerabilty to give ‘two fingers’ to both Vatican and Pope?

    +Fellay stated it might take forty years to resolve. He was probably not referring to the ‘negotiations’, but to the time needed to eridicate the cancer within Mother Church.

  36. Sixupman says:

    PS The Fr. Rizzo and Ferro cases are not isolated instances and they with others should be publicised to demonstrate the position vis a vis +Williamson, but not SSPX as a whole.

  37. Andrew says:


    “The Council has, therefore, admitted that the Church of Christ is something bigger than the Roman Catholic Church”.

    The above statement is a twisting of the actual Conciliar text.

    Par. 8 of Lumen Gentium makes a distinction between the visible and the invisible elements of the Mystical Body of Christ where the visible subsists within the whole Body which includes also the invisible. There is nothing doctrinally new about that statement.

  38. frere wilfrid says:

    My Rectory is a mile or so away from the SSPX UK House where His Lordship Bishop Williamson resides. Some of my parishioners keep pestering me to invite him for dinner. Should I, I wonder? I am not sure I could face a whole evening of nonsense about how George W. Bush knocked down the twin towers, or how no Jews died in German gas chambers during WWII. In my experience these nutters spend their lives researching very narrow fields, and are thus not easy to debate. Am I being cowardly?

  39. Fr Martin Fox says:


    We have always held that there are members of the Mystical Body of Christ who are not necessarily visible, tangible members of the Catholic Church (setting to one side the obvious fact that the whole Body of Christ, even on earth, is not limited to the Roman Rite). Search the Tradition: have we not always granted that when baptism is celebrated validly, even by non Catholics, it is valid? If valid, then what happens to a baptized Lutheran or Pentecostal? They are validly baptized into…whose Body, if not the Mystical Body of Christ? Yet are they formal members of the Catholic Church? They are not.

    It’s not that this situation is okay, who cares if they ever become Catholics in the full sense; but the fact remains that the Body of Christ in the fullest sense includes those who are not Catholics in the usual sense. Lumen Gentium did not change anything in this regard; but it attempted to describe this mysterious reality.

  40. robtbrown says:


    In what way does the Catechism change the doctrine of grace?

  41. robtbrown says:

    should be: doctrine of sanctifying grace.

  42. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Robtbrown, Threehearts:

    That’s an excellent question, I’d like to know that too…

  43. Fr_Sotelo says:

    nazareth priest: I think Bp. Williamson is such a fighter because of the way Pope Paul VI treated the SSPX in its inception. Paul VI went after the SSPX with zeal, which seemed odd in that the SSPX would have been pleased in those early days with the concession to use the 1962 liturgical books, accept Vatican II “in the light of Tradition,” and have a bishop to carry on their work. So, there is the issue of anger because of Rome’s past attempts to crush the SSPX.

    But now, I believe we are way beyond that. Rebellion seems to have become more extreme in the Church, and I believe Williamson lays it all at the feet of the Popes, Paul VI et al. There is a righteous anger we all feel about what has happened to Catholic faith and practice as a result of the dissent. But most of us have the sense that the Holy See cannot be saddled with the blame. A lot of things come together to make the perfect storm, spiritually. But one gets the sense from Williamson, as he speaks of the Pope and Curia, that his anger resides in them as the guilty party.

    Naturally, beyond the concerns of doctrine, I think the bishop and his supporters in the SSPX feel it is not sufficient for Rome to give in to demands. Rome should be truly penitent and sorry for what it has allowed to happen to the Church; if there is politicking going on by the Curia, it is not just bad for doctrine, in the mind of these folks. It shows they have no contrition for presiding over the destruction of the Church. It shows their theological outlook is still full of pestilence and contagion, with which the SSPX must not be contaminated.

  44. annieoakley says:

    Fr. Fox,

    Pre-Vatican II, we were told that a person properly baptized was indeed a Christian and received the graces of Baptism, but at the same time was imperfectly connected to the Body of Christ. At the same time, Protestants were thought to have the responsibility to convert to Catholicism if they came to recognize it as the one true Church.

    Lumen Gentium comes along and states that the Catholic Church is a subset of the Body of Christ. I mentioned Gregory Baum, who was a theological advisor (peritus) at the Second Vatican Council. His comment on the change of definition was that, “Instead of simply identifying the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, the Constitution rather says more carefully that the Church of Christ ‘subsits’ in the Catholic Church. The body of Christ is present in the Catholic Church, but, at the same time, without losing its historical and incarnate character, transcends it . . .”. (“Pope John’s Council”, p. 60)

    Basically that boils down to saying that Protestants already have the fullness of faith by being part of the body of Christ, so what’s the point of being Catholic?

  45. annieoakley says:

    Fr. Sotelo,

    Perhaps part of the problem is that Joseph Ratzinger was one of the young periti at the Second Vatican Council who had seemed to give almost unquestioning support to his former teacher, Karl Rahner S.J., one of the driving forces behind the Council. Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that he came to disagree with some of that theologian’s positions but has never really spelled out which ones. I think there’s a question in the SSPX’rs minds as to what exactly the Holy Father believes.

  46. JulieC says:

    In an earlier comment I referred to “a little ambiguity” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Perhaps what I should have said intead is that from my experience using the CCC, the definitions therein give the bare minimum required for orthodoxy and no more and no less. They are a useful starting point, and I usually go on to other reference works for a more complete explanation.

    It takes a peculiar kind of genius, I suppose, to have crafted the explanations in the CCC with such parsimony and exactitude, and if I didn’t know any better I’d think the CCC had been written in such a way to satisfy the widest latitude of Catholic belief possible.

    If that is so, and I don’t know if it is, not being a theologian, I say the Pope and Bishop Fellay are wise to use the current broad parameters of the official Catechism to their advantage and quietly slip the SSPX under the wire NOW.

    Cardinal Schonborn and a future Cardinal Fellay can quibble about the alleged doctrinal ambiguities later at their leisure, and another Catechism with more precision, richness and depth can be constructed in the near future reflecting the renewal of Catholic tradition happily resulting from the return of our presently separated brothers.

  47. smad0142 says:

    Since when did the book Pope [Bl.] John [XXIII]’s Council carry the weight to interpret the teachings of the Church? That book is simply one man’s opinion. The statement declared at the Council does not offend the traditional teaching of the Church.

  48. Jason Keener says:


    For a good explanation about the orthodoxy of the phrase “subsists in” as used in Lumen Gentium please consult the Jan. 2008 issue of “The Thomist.” Christopher J. Malloy wrote a comprehensive article entitled “Subsistit in: Nonexclusive Identity or Full Identity?”

  49. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I should have clarified in the above post that in my last paragraph, I am conjecturing what is the thinking of Williamson. I am certainly not presenting my own attitude toward Rome and the Curia.

  50. Sid says:

    Thank you, Father, for your fisk. Let’s all continue to pray for an outcome of the Vatican-SSPX talks that brings unity.

  51. Fr Martin Fox says:


    I appreciate your response, I think there are a couple of things to say in response…

    “Pre-Vatican II, we were told that a person properly baptized was indeed a Christian and received the graces of Baptism, but at the same time was imperfectly connected to the Body of Christ.”

    True–but as you say, they are members of the Body of Christ. That is one of two essential points. This other, as you say, is that it they are “imperfectly” connected.

    “At the same time, Protestants were thought to have the responsibility to convert to Catholicism if they came to recognize it as the one true Church.”


    “Lumen Gentium comes along and states that the Catholic Church is a subset of the Body of Christ.”

    Precise language on these matters is key. Lumen Gentium did not say “subset.” This is not the place, nor am I the one, to expound on this–but that is simply incorrect.

    I mentioned Gregory Baum, who was a theological advisor (peritus) at the Second Vatican Council. His comment on the change of definition was that, “Instead of simply identifying the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, the Constitution rather says more carefully that the Church of Christ ‘subsits’ in the Catholic Church. The body of Christ is present in the Catholic Church, but, at the same time, without losing its historical and incarnate character, transcends it . . .”. (“Pope John’s Council”, p. 60)

    OK so far…

    “Basically that boils down to saying that Protestants already have the fullness of faith by being part of the body of Christ, so what’s the point of being Catholic?

    Ah, that’s where you go wrong, no offense. I don’t agree with how you boil it down; that is not what the Church teaches right now (check the catechism, check the ritual for Christian initiation, which–if you were right, would not have any provision for non-Catholic Christians to enter into “full communion.”

    Now, if you want to say that the message–i.e., how these things are presented in parishes etc.–is muddled; well I’ll buy that; but the message is always muddled. It was muddled before the Council in other ways.

    But as far as the doctrinal question? No, the “subsists” passage does not change anything about what you describe pre-Vatican II; that is all still what we believe.

  52. Andrew says:


    Perhaps you should read a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled “Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church, specifically this:

    Why was the expression “subsists in” adopted instead of the simple word “is”?


    “The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are “numerous elements of sanctification and of truth” which are found outside her structure, but which “as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity”.
    “It follows that these separated churches and communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

  53. Fr_Sotelo says:

    This part of Lumen Gentium speaks of the mystery of the Church, and whether it is possible that everything outside the Catholic Church is spiritually dead and a wasteland. The answer is that we do not consider everything outside of Catholicism to be zilch–there can be the life of grace, the existence of elements of the Church, outside of the visible institution of the Catholic Church.

    What is very important is that Lumen Gentium *did not say* that the Church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church as well as in other churches.” Believe it or not, there were Protestant authors who were infuriated that the phrase was “subsists in the Catholic Church–Period.” This means that *there is no other place in which you will find the Church of Christ.* Sorry, the full reality of the Church is not subsisting anywhere else–don’t bother looking for the whole enchilada except *in the Church of Rome.* It was the traditional Catholic teaching, just phrased differently.

    Nonetheless, look at the SSPX, certain branches of the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht, Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox churches, etc. There is some “church” outside of “the Church.”

    That is because wherever there is a valid bishop, a valid priesthood, valid Masses with the Blessed Eucharist, sacraments, and the teaching of faith which is mostly Catholic, you have that mystery present which is the Church of Christ. “Subsists in” was a fancy theological term for what is within legal and canonical structure as Christ willed things to be for a visible society. At the same time, we cannot deny that some elements of the Church of Christ have begun to reside piecemeal, here and there, outside of her structure. “Subsists in” was meant simply to take into account these piecemeal realities of church life which can exist outside of the canonical bounderies of Catholic life.

    The Church believes, as Andrew quoted, that these gifts of Catholic life found outside the Church’s bounderies belong to the Catholic Church and should inspire people to seek out her full and complete unity.

  54. RichardT says:

    Do you think we could ask ALL Bishops to “sign off on the Catechism” as well?

  55. frere wilfred: contact E. Michael Jones if you are somewhat concerned about asking Bishop Williamson for dinner; he has hosted him in his family home several times…and he’s no SSPXer!
    Fr. Sotelo: Thank you.
    These Byzantine intrigues and inner warfares just wear me down; I don’t know why we can’t just accept that yeah, we disagree upon minor things, but we all believe the Creed, we accept the Holy Father as the Successor of Saint Peter and get on with it…I’m just too simple, I guess.
    I, as a superior, cut these “wars” off at the root; I don’t put up with petty “bull***”…get over it, is my response. But I’m not the Pope nor a Bishop.
    Thanks, again, Father S!

  56. I wonder if Bishop Williamson is positioning himself for the neo-SSPX in case the SSPX unifies with Rome.

  57. Geoffrey says:

    “I wonder if Bishop Williamson is positioning himself for the neo-SSPX in case the SSPX unifies with Rome.”

    I’ve wondered that myself. I must admit that I am a bit surprised the SSPX has remained unified thus far. As history shows, those who break from Peter often end up splintering into numerous sub-factions.

  58. Jack Hughes says:


    There are at least 5 splinter groups that have broken off from the SSPX thusfar.

    The SSPV (1983)- Sedevacantists

    The Istituto Mater Boni Consilii who follow the Cassiciacum thesis (1985)

    And Finally the Loyalist FSSR (2008), IPB(2006) and FSSP (1988).

  59. The Cobbler says:

    ‘Do you think we could ask ALL Bishops to “sign off on the Catechism” as well?’
    I know plenty of people who could care less about the SSPX or traditionalism who have been begging for something hard and official like that for some time now.

    Though I tend disagree with Bp. Williamson, and though in particular here there’s a dangerous notion of seperating truth and unity (not because you can’t err while following the shepherd, but because you are no longer protected from mortal error if you refuse to be shepherded), I think he does have a point: tricking the SSPX into assenting to what they would oppose does nobody any good.

    There was a time when I would have thought the mindset Fr. Sotelo describes is crazy, but these days I think I can see where somebody like that is coming from. On the other hand, we’ve been in so many such situations in the past (the Babylonian Captivity in Avignon, the Great Schism following, the corrupt Popes in the Renaissance, and those are just the obvious examples) and as far as I know of never got out of it by means of a parallel hierarchy (though I’m sure the Eastern Orthodox would beg to differ). The question is, if you think the Church’s leaders are to blame for screwing the Church over, what can you do within the bounds of the Faith and its requirements of obedience?

    As a young non-SSPX Catholic I’m actually hoping to have some things clarified for me by those doctrinal talks. Whether the above question will be among them I don’t know, although I can hope, right? Here’s praying the discussions do get somewhere, regardless of whether that’s before or after any reunification with the SSPX.

    Somebody mentioned, I’m not sure if it was this thread or another, that Bp. Fellay may have meant that it could take forty years not merely to reunify the Church and the SSPX, but to clean up the post-Vatican II mess. I thought I’d mention that if he does think so, I’ll be very reassured; little could be more comforting than if Bp. Fellay believes the present troubles won’t last my lifetime.

  60. shane says:

    I quite like Bishop Williamson, in spite of his (erm) colourful opinions. He comes across as warm and humane. So many bishops today (and also in the past) are as cold as robots. Had he not joined the SSPX, and were he to keep a bit more circumspect on secular matters, he would have made an excellent bishop.

    I think the SSPX will be given a personal prelature. Weren’t they offered one in the past? We have seen with the ICK in France recently that hostile bishops are still a problem and given the controversial past of Lefebvre’s followers, the SSPX will need full independence from local bishops. Perhaps many diocesan priests disposed to tradition will join them after they regularize.

  61. annieoakley says:

    Fr. Fox, Andrew, Fr. Sotelo, Jason Keener, and smad0142,

    Thanks for your replies. I’m sorry if I led you to believe that I buy into the theory that the Catholic Church is a subset of the Body of Christ (I don’t). What I was trying to do (badly) was to point out that passage as an example of the ambiguity that is riven throughout the Council Documents. Yes, there are orthodox theologians who would agree with your views but there are also modernist theologians who would see it the other way. There were documents issued later (as Andrew pointed out) that tried to clear up the ambiguity but they’ve mostly been ignored.

  62. smad0142 says:

    Thanks for the clarification annieoakley!!

  63. Daniel A. says:

    “However, Williamson is right that acceptance of the Catechism would be tantamount to acceptance of the Council and the New Missal, for the Catechism is saturated through and through with Vatican II teaching and references to the Ordinary Form of the liturgy, as is the 1983 Code of Canon Law.” -Fr. Sotelo

    “Paul VI went after the SSPX with zeal, which seemed odd in that the SSPX would have been pleased in those early days with the concession to use the 1962 liturgical books, accept Vatican II “in the light of Tradition,” and have a bishop to carry on their work. So, there is the issue of anger because of Rome’s past attempts to crush the SSPX.” -Fr. Sotelo

    Fr. Sotelo, I have heard numerous people discuss this issue, and I know that we have discussed it before as well, but I am still perplexed by it. Basically, I would like to know what the most “traditional” position available to a faithful Catholic is. If all the SSPX wanted originally was to use the old liturgical books and accept Vatican II “in light of Tradition,” what of those of us who would simply like that concession today? Did Paul VI go after them with zeal because they were wrong to want this, or is it possible that “going after” them was a mistake?

    More importantly, to what extent may we refer to pre-Vatican II documents? I understand that a major disagreement exists about “religious liberty,” so I will use that as my example. I realize that a Council “outranks” encyclicals, etc. However, is it possible or permissible to use the many previous documents on the issue to help interpret the Vatican II document? Is it possible for a Council document to be poorly written, vague, or even ill-advised? I’m not trying, here, to say that such documents ARE ill-advised, I am just trying to get a picture of the extent to which a faithful Catholic may express concerns about them and even disagree with the usual interpretation of them, without embracing heresy.

  64. Fr_Sotelo says:


    There are many theories as to why Pope Paul VI was hard on Lefebvre and the Society. I have heard that Paul VI was enamored of all things French, as Pius XII had a special fondness for all things German. It is said further that the French bishops hated what Lefebvre was trying to accomplish and basically goaded the Pope into cracking down harder than he needed. In other words, while Paul VI may have had doctrinal concerns, there was a lot of church politics involved behind the scenes. I’m just not sure what was going on.

    I believe under Pope Benedict that it is not only permissible to see Vatican II in the light of Tradition, using the documents of Tradition to better understand the Council, but it is also the key to understanding the Council’s teachings correctly.

    In regards to religious liberty and other pastoral applications of doctrine, you may have to reach further back than the immediate pre-Vatican II era and papal encyclicals of the time. Some of what is revealed in Patristic thinking is closer to Vatican II than to Catholic teaching which preferred the suppression of public forms of non-Catholic worship. The era of the Fathers, like our era, was of terrible persecution. Thus, the emphasis of the Church at that time was the respect of a person’s conscience.

  65. Jason Keener says:

    Hi, Daniel A.

    With regards to the religious liberty issue, you should certainly refer to the pre-Vatican II documents like the encyclicals of Leo XIII (“Immortale Dei”) and Pius XI (“Quas Primas”). The older documents are extremely important because “Dignitatis Humane” of Vatican II was not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on the topic of religious liberty or the relationship of the church and state. I think it’s best to read “Dignitatis Humane” with all of the other older documents right next to it. Also, remember that section 1 of DH left untouched the traditional teaching of the moral duty of individuals and societies [including the public authority] towards the True Religion and One Church of Christ. This traditional teaching referred to in DH is best explained in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI.

  66. Geoffrey says:

    Mr. Hughes:

    I didn’t know about all of those, and wasn’t positive on the origins of the SSPV. I don’t know that I would count the FSSP, etc., in that tally though, as they broke off and returned home to Rome!

  67. Daniel A. says:

    Thank you, Fr. Sotelo and Jason Keener. I am not particularly concerned with the issue of religious liberty per se: it is interesting, but I am fairly clear on that particular point. I use it as an example of a teaching where there seem to be contradictions and these contradictions are a source of conflict among Catholics.

    It is difficult, given the extreme “rupture” ideology so prevalent among Catholics, to fully understand a hermeneutic of continuity. That is, if everyone is telling you that “that was the bad old days, the church doesn’t teach that anymore” it’s very difficult not to react in favor of the “bad old days” without considering how to reconcile them with current teaching.

    It seems to me that those of us with a more traditional point of view could benefit greatly from the dialogue between Rome and the SSPX. I hope that rather than focusing on politics and juridical solutions, they focus on doctrine. It seems likely to me that there is little real conflict, at least when Vatican II is read with an understanding of and deference to Tradition. At worst, an ambiguous or ill-advised document, when read in continuity with clear and reasonable documents, would lose destructive force, and at best, a well written but sorely misinterpreted document would be clarified and strengthened by association with older documents.

  68. Sixupman says:

    The Cobbler:

    My comment regarding +Fellay and forty years is based upon the situation prevailing: at parish level, where the laity have taken control and protestantism reigns; within the Bishops’ Conferences, which appear to demonstrate no allegiance to BXVI; and clergy, who prefer the easy life and possessed of only a lightweight grounding in The Faith; and finally the education system, which is non-Catholic to its core and those who kick against the goad are both reviled and quite often victimised. How long will it take to sort that mess out – at a very minimum, barring a miracle, one generation if not more.

    I cannot attend my parish church for what purports to be Catholicism there, but people just acept it and eventually it modifies their otherwise thinking,

  69. M.D.R. says:

    Regarding Pope Paul Vl and his attitude toward Archbishop Lefebvre, may it be possible that this attitude may have to do with the Archbishop calling the Pope Paul Vl a Protestant and other such things?

    Also, Archbishop Lefebvre ordained priests in 1976 against the wishes of Rome. The 1988 consecrations of the four bishops was not the first time that the Archbishop disobeyed an order from Rome. Of course the Archbishop felt he was doing the right thing. But still….

  70. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Long before Lefebvre started the name calling, the Pope had already started a crackdown on the seminary at Econe after ordering a visitation and report. He was angered that the Novus Ordo had not been implemented and that all the theology classes were using the old textbooks. In other words, it operated as a typical Catholic seminary would have operated just 10 years prior, as if the Council had never happened.

    At the same time, other seminaries in Europe and the U.S. were also operating as if the Council had never happened–Trent or Vatican I. Did Paul VI crack down on them? Did he reign them in? Did he threatened to suspend ordinations of the heretics they were spewing out? No, no, and ….again….no. Paul VI was not a poor, defenseless, victim soul lying in a bed like St. Gemma Galgani. He could have exercised authority and discipline in those cases, but did not.

    What would you think if your traditional seminary were being shuttered while other seminaries, Catholic in name only but completely heterodox, were allowed to stay open and wreak havoc upon millions of unsuspecting Catholics by ordaining priests who would later be a scourge to the Church? I’d have called the Pope a Protestant as well. I would have also called him pathetic, milquetoast, spineless, without cajones, and a whining sorry excuse for a Roman Pontiff. Mind you, Lefebvre did not do that, because he was far more charitable than I am.

    Remember also that Marcel Lefebvre, as a missionary in Africa, converted more people to the Catholic Faith in one year than Pope Paul converted in 25 years of being a priest. He sent many, many good vocations to the seminary. One boy he baptized became Cardinal Hyacinth Thiandoum. He was a bishop for many years in a poor but thriving diocese which he himself founded. After leaving Africa, his religious order elected him superior general. In other words, the man had earned himself serious credibility and should have been treated with a little more trust and respect. If he was a little half-cocked, the Pope could have been a little more patient. Lefebvre actually was not the enemy; he was trying to ready the lifeboats while the Titanic of the post-Vatican II Church was going down by the minute.

    I regret the many stinging comments which the archbishop made about Pope Paul VI, and the decision to ordain that first class in Econe in 1975. It was willful disobedience that would lead to further ruptures. But in retrospect, the Pope could have also avoided many of those ruptures by not treating Vatican II as some sort of super dogma that had to be followed to the letter–by traditionalists only, of course, since the liberals under Paul VI had the run of the ranch to destroy religious orders, wreck churches, and sow confusion and dissent in all corners.

  71. robtbrown says:

    I probably disagree a bit with what has been said above about LG 8.

    1. The Church has been in transition from the concept of Perfect Society to that of the Mystical Body of Christ. The PS approach was generally a product of Counter Reformation theology. The MB approach is more Scriptural and is found in the thought of St Thomas and St Augustine.

    2. The text of LG 8 attempts to straddle the two concepts, maybe not so successfully.

    3. I have no problem with subsistit in, which generally says that everything that is Christ’s Church is found in the Catholic Church: Sacraments, Doctrine, and Hierarchy (incl the Pope).

    4. On the other hand, I do have problems with the phrase nevertheless, many elements of Truth and Sanctification are found outside its structure. (licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur)

    What are these elements of sanctification found outside the structure of the Church? If they refer to Protestant Baptism, then it cannot be said that it is completely outside the Catholic Church. If they refer to pagan religious rites, then they cannot be said to be elements of sanctification (unless, of course, Karl Rahner’s Sacramental theology is invoked).

    5. Gregory Baum is a good example of someone not comprehending the Church as Mystical Body. His comments above seem to indicate that he thinks the Church is a big invisible thing that is incarnate in varying degrees.

    BTW, years ago I read a book by Baum in which he said it cannot be said that the Church is One because everyone is not in it.

    6. I do not think that anyone can honestly conclude from Vat II documents that a Protestant is not obligated to become a Catholic.

  72. robtbrown says:

    Fr Sotelo,

    I agree with most of what you said.

    1. Cardinal Thiandoum was ordained to the priesthood by Abp Lefebvre.

    2. The Lefebvre mess started in France. To make a long story short, it was a dispute between L and the French episcopacy. For various reasons, not excluding Cardinal Villot, PVI sided with the French bishops. Then the real problems began. Sadly, it was nothing new for the Montini papacy to side with the forces who were opposed to the papacy and Catholic doctrine. He is one of the more curious figures in the history of the Church.

  73. M.D.R. says:

    I appreciate your careful description regarding the atmosphere in which Archbishop Lefebvre was forced to endure. I have read Bp. Tissier De Mallerais’ biography of the Archbishop, as well as other biographical sources. No matter how bad the situation was (and it was, granted, bad), it still was not a valid reason the consecrate the four bishops on June 30, 1988. A bishop had been promised by Rome, but Archbishop Lefebvre was worried as to the orthodoxy of whoever would be provided as bishop.

    Even St. Athanasius, who suffered far, far more than Archbishop Lefebvre, did not consecrate bishops. What did St. Athanasius know that Archbishop Lefebvre did not know?

  74. Fr_Sotelo says:


    I completely agree with you that nothing can defend Lefebvre’s consecration of bishops, as that was a schismatic act. As far as Athanasius, I believe his situation would be very different. As the bishop of Alexandria, in a sense the patriarch of his own rite, at a time when a successor could be consecrated without papal mandate, he would have been perfectly within his rights to consecrate his successor if a successor had been lawfully elected by the clergy and people according to their canons of succession.

    Unlike Lefebvre who did incur excommunication, there is no firm scholarship which ever shows that the Pope excommunicated Athanasius. In fact the Pope was very supportive of Athanasius’ resistance to the Byzantine emperor and manifested this as long as he was able.

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