Msgr. Gherardini on the SSPX talks and the future of the SSPX

Our friends at Rorate have a bit of an interview with the distinguished theologian Msgr. Brunero Gherardini (an old prof at the Lateran back in my day).

My E and C.

Msgr. Brunero Gherardini on the SSPX

On September 29, 2010, Messa in Latino published an article from the pen of Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, containing various reflections on the Vatican – SSPX dialogue. The following is a private and unofficial translation made by some friends of Rorate.

On the Future of the Fraternity of St. Pius X

Monsignor Brunero Gherardini has been so kind as to give us the following reflections on how he sees the future of the SSPX.

During a friendly colloquium some friends asked me how I look at the future of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X upon the conclusion of the talks taking place between the Fraternity and the Holy See. We talked a long time on this subject and were of divided opinions. Therefore, I would also like to express my own opinions in writing, in the hope – if this be not presumptuous of me, God forbid! – that this may benefit not only friends, but also the (two) parties of the dialogue.

First of all I would emphasize that nobody is “a prophet or the son of a prophet.” The future lies in the hands of God. Sometimes it is possible to predict it, at least to some extent. Other times it escapes us completely. We must also take into consideration the two parties finally working on a solution to the now long-standing problem of the “Lefebvrists,” who, up till now, have remained duly silent regarding the discussions, in a laudable and exemplary manner. This silence, however, is of no help to us in foreseeing possible developments. [It is probably for the best that the principals in the discussions have been so close with information.  Yes, we burn with interest and curiosity, but, for the most part, people out there… out here… aren’t capable of understanding the reports or discussing what they hear.  In turn, the buzz created could wind up being more like a white noise that begins to drown out and confuse the dialogue.]

However, “voices” have also been heard – and not a few at that. The facts on which they base their conjectures remain unknown. I will therefore examine some of the opinions expressed on the aforementioned occasion, and afterwards I will express my own.

1 – There were those who judged in a positive way a recent invitation to “come out of the bunker in which the Fraternity – in order to defend the Faith from the attacks of the Neo-modernists – had barricaded itself during the post-conciliar period.” It was easy to show the precariousness of such an opinion. That the Fraternity for some decades has been in a bunker is evident; unfortunately, it is there still. However, it is not evident if it entered there of its own accord or if it was made to do so by someone else, or urged by events themselves. It seems to me – if we wish to speak of a bunker – that it was Mons. Lefebvre who led his Fraternity there on that day, the 30th of June, when, after two official warnings and one formal admonition to withdraw from his projected “schismatic” act, he ordained to the episcopate four of his priests. This was a bunker, but not one of schism properly so called[Keeping in mind early on that John Paul II thought what they did was “schismatic” (cf. Ecclesia Dei adflicta) here is the necessary distinction towards which the Holy See moved to express over time.] because even if he “refused to submit to the Supreme Pontiff” (CIC 751/2), there was no malicious intent and no intention to create an “anti-church.” The act was instead determined by love of the Church and a sort of pressing “necessity” for the continuity of genuine Catholic Tradition, which had been seriously compromised by post-conciliar Neo-modernism. [Therefore it was a schismatic act but not one which actually resulted in schism.  The question now remains open, however, whether – over time – there will effectively be a the schism toward which Lefevbre’s act tended but didn’t at that moment accomplish.] But a bunker it was: it was a bunker of disobedience touching the limits of defiance, a deadlock with no way out in view. Not a bunker for safeguarding compromised values.

It is hard to understand why “in order to defend the Faith against the attacks of Neo-modernism,” it was really necessary to “barricade oneself in a bunker,” that is to say: give way to the Modernist heresy and let it flood in.  [This has always been a serious question in my mind.  As a matter of fact, I have always been disappointed that they darted off to do their own thing, leaving many like-minded priests and people behind to fight an even tougher battle without their help.  Their disobedience made it easier for liberals (most of the establishment) to paint all traditionally-minded Catholics with the brush of disobedience, even while those same liberals were far outside the pale themselves. ] No, because the inundation by heresy was constantly opposed. The Fraternity above all attends to the formation of priests, this being their special task, even if carried out in a position of canonical condemnation, and therefore outside the official ranks, with, however, the consciousness of working for Christ and for His Church, the holy, catholic, apostolic and Roman Church. Above all, they have founded and are directing seminaries, promoting and sustaining theological debates – often with a remarkably high profile – publishing books of relevant ecclesiological value, and rendering an account of themselves by means of internal and external newsletters. And all of this is done openly, thus demonstrating– though regrettably from the margins – the force with which the Church can exercise her mission of universal evangelization. The effects of the active Lefebvrist presence may be considered modest and in fact not very conspicuous for two reasons:

  • the canonically irregular condition in which it operates,
  • and its dimensions; as is said: “la mosca tira il calcio che può” (“the fly lifts whatever foot it can”).

However, I am profoundly convinced that it is just for this reason that we must thank the Fraternity: in the context of a secularization which has now reached the frontiers of a post-Christian era—an era which does not hide its antipathy for them—they have held and still hold high the torch of Faith and Tradition.  [I warmly agree.]

2 – During the debate which was mentioned at the beginning, someone referred to a conference during which the Fraternity was asked to have more confidence in the contemporary ecclesial world, if necessary resorting to some compromises, because the “salus animarum” demands– as a Lefebvrist has said – that we take this risk. Yes, but certainly not the risk of “compromising” our own or others’ eternal salvation.

It is probable that his words do not convey the [speaker’s] intentions. Or that the true weight of his words is not known. Compromise is something we should avoid in matters of the Faith. And the Fraternity reminds us – as does each authentic follower of Christ – that the “Yes yes, no, no” of Matthew 5:37 (James 5:12) is the only reply to be made when asked to compromise. The cited text continues: “for whatever is more than this is from the Evil One”: this involves even and especially compromise, at least when compromise means a renunciation of one’s own moral principles and one’s own raison d’être.

To tell the truth, when the discussions between the Holy See and the Fraternity started, I too heard a rumor of a possible compromise. That is to say, of an unworthy kind of conduct, which the Holy See itself would probably be the first to shy away from. A compromise on anything which does not involve the profession of the authentic Faith is possible and even plausible. However, that is never the case as far as non-negotiable values are concerned. Moreover, this would be a contradiction in terms, inasmuch as the compromise itself is the object of a “negotium” and one that carries a risk: the risk of the shipwreck of the Faith. The very idea that the Holy See could propose and accept such a compromise is repugnant to me; the Holy See would gain much less than “a mess of pottage” and would assume the responsibility for inflicting a grave wrong. It is also repugnant to me to think that the Fraternity, having taken as the standard of its very existence the Faith without compromises, should then slip on a banana peel by renouncing its raison d’être[And…. so?]

I add that, to judge by some indications, it may not be wholly unfounded to say that the methodology being employed by both sides does not seem to permit a very large perspective. It is the methodology of point, counter-point: Vatican II “yes,” Vatican II “no,” or at the most “yes, but ….” This requires that on one side or on the other, or on both, one’s guard is lowered. Is this an unconditional surrender? For the Fraternity to place itself in the hands of the Church would be the only really true Christian behavior, [OORAH!] if there did not exist the reason for which [the Fraternity] exists and which made it “secede to the Aventine” (so to speak), namely Vatican II which – especially in some of its documents – is, according to the letter, opposed to that which the Fraternity believes in and that for which it labors. With such a methodology, there is no middle way in sight. It is either capitulation or compromise.  [And so what would work?  They would all have to be in a room together, for an extended period of time, as they hammered things out, rather than sending point-counter-point essays back and forth on certain hard questions.  That and both sides would have to let the guard down.]

Such a fundamental outcome could be avoided if one would follow another methodology[What will he suggest, I wonder.] The “punctum dolens” of all the controversial issues is called Tradition. Each side calls attention to it constantly, while simultaneously having a totally different conception of it[NB…] Papa Wojtyla declared officially in 1988 that the Fraternity had a notion of Tradition that was “incomplete and contradictory.” One would, therefore, have to demonstrate the reason for such an incompleteness and contradiction. But what is most urgent is the necessity for both parties to arrive at a common concept, a concept which can be shared bilaterally. Such a concept would then become the instrument by which all the other problems could be solved. There is no theological or ecclesiological problem which could not be unlocked with this key. If, though, the dialogue were to continue with each side keeping to its own point of departure, then there will either be a dialogue between the deaf, or – in order to demonstrate that they have not dialogued in vain – they would give free access to compromise. [Keep those labels in mind.  “Dialogue of the deaf” on the one hand, and “compromise” on the other.] This would be the outcome especially if the Fraternity were to accept the term “apparent contrasts,” apparent because they do not involve dissensions of a dogmatic character but only ever-changing interpretations of historical facts. Then the Fraternity would declare its own demise, because they would have wretchedly substituted their Tradition, which is that of the Apostles, with the flimsy, inconsistent, and heterogeneous notion of the “living Tradition” of the Neo-modernists.

3 – In our amiable colloquium we discussed one last question, expressing more hope than concretely founded expectations: the future of the Fraternity. This very subject has recently been treated by the web-site “Cordialiter” with an idyllic anticipation of the happy tomorrows awaiting the Fraternity: a new canonical status (new? yes, new, because up to now there has never been one); the beginning of the end of Modernism; [Fraternity] priories overrun by the faithful; the Fraternity transformed into an “autonomous super-diocese.” For my part, I too expect great things from the hoped-for settlement being worked out, with my feet, though, a bit more firmly on the ground.

I try to look at things in a more acute way in order to see what could happen tomorrow. The specialty of the Fraternity, as has already been said, is the formation of young men for the priesthood and the care of priestly vocations. Therefore, they should not open themselves up to fields of endeavor other than seminaries, this being their true “theater of operations.” In both their own and others’seminaries, more than anywhere else, the nature and purpose of the Fraternity can be given expression.

Under which canonical profile? It is not easy to foresee. However, it seems to me that since they are a priestly fraternity this ought to suggest a canonical arrangement like a “priestly society” placed under the supreme governance of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Otherwise, the fact that it already has four bishops could suggest as a solution a “Prelature,” with a juridical configuration that the Holy See, at an opportune time, could determine more precisely. This does not seem to me to be the principal problem. More important is undoubtedly both the settlement within the Church of this contentious issue, scarcely comprehensible at a time when dialogue is undertaken with everyone, as well as the emancipation of a force hitherto confined to the idea and the ideal of Tradition, so that it may operate not from a bunker but in the light of the sun and as a living and authentic expression of the Church.

Sept. 27, 2010
Brunero Gherardini

What do you think of Gherardini’s assessment?

Would the best approach be to hammer out a common definition of “Tradition”?

Should they be confined to formation of priests in seminaries?   I find that intriguing.

Finally, Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Pope of Christian Unity, The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. luiz says:

    “Then the Fraternity would declare its own demise, because they would have wretchedly substituted their Tradition [NB], which is that of the Apostles [!!!], with the flimsy, inconsistent, and heterogeneous notion of the “living Tradition” [‘Living tradition of the Church’ is the name of a pastoral letter of Msgr. Rifan…] of the Neo-modernists.”


    “Papa Wojtyla declared officially in 1988 that the Fraternity had a notion of Tradition that was “incomplete and contradictory.” [which is that of the Apostles]


  2. MrD says:

    Let us pray that the SSPX will avoid schism and join the Church.

    How odd is it that the traditional Anglicans are beginning to come home, yet the SSPX cannot seem to do so?

    Based on my reading of SSPX apologetics and their criticisms of the Church and the Pope, it will be very hard to them to reconcile with the Church.

  3. MrD says:

    And… as I see it… they wish for the Church to reconcile with them…

  4. asophist says:

    Prior to Summorum Pontificum, I attended Mass at our local SSPX chapel exclusively; I subscribe to their magazine (The Angelus); I have attended lectures by their bishops. Thus, I am very interested in what becomes of the SSPX and I think they can make a big improvement in the life of the Church, once regularized. Msgr. G’s assessment does make sense to me. This “point-counterpoint” approach really tempts a “dialogue of the deaf”. Locking all the negotiators in a stuffy room until they reach a consensus may be the only solution. Further, on Tradition: how does Webster’s define it? Confining the Society’s work to seminaries is an interesting idea. However, would that be fair to the faithful who attend their chapels who may have only the Society to rely upon for the orthodox faith, their dioceses having gone over to the loonies?

  5. Francis says:

    Pope of Christian Unity- isn’t that a tiresome hyperbole- a pope, by definition, must specially look towards preserving unity. Either you have the Faith or you dont have it- be you the ‘Vatican’ or Econe. Either you are truly christian or not. Now, it must be recognised that the SSPX has been labouring for nearly 40 years to preserve and propagate the essentials of the timeless aspects of Catholic identity, which is bound up with the Faith, naturally, and done so more efficiently than the Vatican and its attachment to the last council (latr…?). You will censor my comment or banish it anyway. If Benedict is to be remembered as the Pope of Christian Unity then he ought to assume the integral implications of his office as per the Tradition- which he probably does, but being constrained by a certain ideological line of faithfulness of the previous council. If therefore this ideological line constitutes an impediment to the full exercise of the authority vested in him, then, it is precisely, the ideological line and its source must be re-evaluated. If something prevents the Church here militant from being what it must be, that something must be cut off. And that something is not the SSPX or its status. I’m not properly versed in Bellarmine and others to address this question but the fact remains that something is an impediment on the Church’s way, and that something must be removed. But i trust that it will be removed given the promises of our Lord that even the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Msgr Gherardini speaks of heresy- but there are proper ways to deal with heresiarchs, heresies and heretics, and these must be used- we should talk tough to those who talk false.

    In many aspects, i’m not a fan of the SSPX, aesthetic and cultural aspects- not big issues really, or perhaps. For i personally think that the Tradition of the Church is not to be reduced to the Counter-Reformation and Baroque. That the ancient uses in the patriarchate of Rome be encouraged, that the Patristic and Later authors be actively put back into favour, besides the invaluable scholastics, and then not just thomism. We could find parallels bet. the carolingian eucharistic controversies and the current crisis. Both were about the Body of Christ after all. And i would most certainly have sided with Saint Paschasius Radbertus. We should be free to have the whole spiritual, liturgical, theological and devotional treasures of Tradition at our disposal- for they all gather to form the Harmony of our Faith.

  6. danphunter1 says:

    As I commented over on Rorate Caeli:

    “…the emancipation of a force hitherto confined to the idea and the ideal of Tradition, so that it may operate not from a bunker but in the light of the sun and as a living and authentic expression of the Church.”

    And finally here is the marrow of the call to stand up in the dioceses and chancerys of the world, meeting diocesan priests in deanery assemblies and teaching the Truths of Tradition in an open manner within the diocesan structures.
    The Church needs the FSSPX to do this now.
    The Society can help to save even many more souls than they are saving right now.

  7. wolfeken says:

    Father Z, you wrote: “As a matter of fact, I have always been disappointed that they darted off to do their own thing, leaving many like-minded priests and people behind to fight an even tougher battle without their help. ”

    We should recall that the FSSP was created as a spinoff of the SSPX. Its first priests — including the superior general — were ordained by Archbishop Lefebrve for the SSPX in order to continue the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments.

    While I have respect for diocesan priests who prefer the TLM yet keep saying the novus ordo out of what they perceive as “obedience,” I must commend the SSPX and, thus, the FSSP. These brave men got us to where we are today because they went the extra mile while taking brave risks. Diocesan priests who say a TLM here and there ought to remember that.

  8. Mitchell NY says:

    I will just continue to pray for a speedy end to the seperation and hope that a canonical solution and an independent place in the Church can be found for them. I say independent, not from the Pope, but from Dioceasean Bishops who will not take pity on them and welcome them back fully into the fold and mold of the Diocease. And no matter what the laity may think the Bishops in regards to SSPX will just ignore their flock. The time or current stock of Bishops is not right for that type of union. Pray for all involved and especially our Holy Father.

  9. kgurries says:

    Msgr. Gherardini is sometimes a little difficult to de-code as I noted here:

    I do agree with the idea that the concept of Tradition is fundamental. I don’t agree that this was first mentioned by Pope John Paul II. Pope Paul VI had already identified this issue back in 1976 in a letter to Archbishop Lefebvre:
    “…But behind these questions and other similar ones, which we shall examine later on in detail, it is truly necessary to see the intricacy of the problem: and the problem is theological. For these questions have become concrete ways of expressing an ecclesiology that is warped in essential points….You say that you are subject to the Church and faithful to Tradition, by the sole fact that you obey certain norms of the past that were decreed by the predecessor of Him to whom God has today conferred the powers given to Peter. That is to say, on this point also, the concept of “Tradition” that you invoke is distorted. Tradition is not a rigid and dead notion, a fact of a certain static sort which at a given moment of history blocks the life of this active organism which is the Church, that is, the Mystical Body of Christ. It is up to the Pope and to Councils to exercise judgment in order to discern in the traditions of the Church that which cannot be renounced without infidelity to the Lord and to the Holy Spirit – the adapted to facilitate the prayer and the mission of the Church throughout a variety of times and places, in order better to communicate it, without an unwarranted surrender of principles. Hence Tradition is inseparable from the living Magisterium of the Church, just as it is inseparable from Sacred Scripture. “Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church… are so linked and joined together that one of these realities cannot exist without the others, and under the action of the Holy Spirit to the salvation of souls” (Constitution Dei Verbum, 10).”

  10. LaudemGloriae says:

    The SSPX continues to profess unity with the Chair of Peter and the ban of excommunication has been lifted, but I think this is as far as things can go, for now. A Prelature, while granting autonomy and regularized cannonical status for the Society, would also be an implicit admission that while the Society chooses to do one thing, the rest of the Church is perfectly fine doing as it is currently doing. I know of no SSPX priest who could say or imply that in good conscience. I simply cannot see the SSPX agreeing to any sort of equivalence between the TLM and NO. Perhaps, in time, more years, decades? centuries? down the road, the “reform of the reform” may make this equivalence possible. I pray this will be so, and sooner rather than later. As for restricting the SSPX to priestly formation, it seems absurd without granting the freedom for those priests to put that formation to use.

    The SSPX (and its parishioners depending on your opinion) have endured excommunication. They are certain that their disobedience is obedience. If they are “bunkered” it is because they believe they are guarding something precious. And I ask myself, if all Church documents were to be destroyed and I had the opportunity to preserve the text of TLM or the NO, which would I choose to put in the time capsule for posterity? God help me it wouldn’t be the NO.

    Like Jack Nicholson in a Few Good Men, you may want to demonize the SSPX, but you need them out there.

  11. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    The more I see the effects of the “Spirit of Vatican II” in the world, the more I agree with Msgr. LeFebvre that it did give rise to a true crisis for the Church, and that the acts of those good priests were necessary. Moreover, I have come to believe that the crisis that was effected was a crisis that was intended to be exactly what it is today. I mourn for our losses. I despise the Paul VI-Bugnini-Bernadin-Weakland corruption of our liturgy, faith, and morals. I haven’t gone over to the SSPX, and I most likely never will. But by all that is Good, I pray that they will never compromise, and that the Church will be pulled by gravity of their convictions, so to speak, back to the uncompromised Truth. This is a crisis as dire as Arianism, and the SSPX must not stop acting as our Athanasius. There are two whole generations of socialist, activist, apostates to outlive before we can wrest the Church back from their frankly evil clutches. But it is happening, as evidenced by the headline today “More nuns over 90 than under 60”! The Saint-Simonianists of all stripes have been having their way with our Mother the Church for decades, and only the SSPX has had the courage to call their lies for what they are. Like Mother McKillop and John Chrysostom, both of whom were excommunicated, I believe that one day LeFebvre will by canonized as a saint.

  12. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    LaudemGloriae: While you were posting, I was writing. Kudos to you; I think you are exactly right. I couldn’t agree more with you assessment of the effect of their becoming a Personal Prelature. It would be a betrayal on their part to their commitment to restore the whole Church. Somehow, the suggestion of it leaves the stink of dhimmitude in my nostrils.

  13. TrueLiturgy says:

    I would have no issue once the SSPX were fully reconciled with and recognized by Rome, for them to lead the formation in seminaries! Sounds like a great idea and one that would help to make sure we have a true pure church, not a heterodox one.

  14. Sedgwick says:

    Brian McCall’s Remnant article was much more helpful than this – in fact, I can’t think of anything good to say about this piece. It is full of contradictions: “bunker” vs. “holding high the torch of Faith and Tradition” vs. all their activities being done “openly,” “don’t compromise” vs. “necessity for both parties to arrive at a common concept.” Very poor thinking, Msgr. And let me also point out that the positions taken by the SSPX are not “their” beliefs, but the infallible statements of the Magisterium, unpolluted by the liberalism that has poisoned the Church and the hierarchy since Vatican II, because of Vatican II. It should be obvious that there can be no “common concept” between Catholic teaching and the liberal Catholicism espoused by post-VII Popes and clergy – this is just another Bernardin “common ground” ploy.

    The JPII quote brings to mind what he once said to Fr. Malachi Martin: “Your faith is not my faith.” How sad, and how true.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    Obedience has always been the mark of true holiness, whether in a saint, such as in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, or in a group. One cannot appeal to a “higher power” in the instance of obedience, as the test of that virtue is in seeing God in the immediate superior. In the case of the SSPX, obedience to Rome was not the primary issue, but obedience to some interpretation of Tradition, which Paul VI rightly pointed out.

    As to a definition of Tradition, even in the old edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, there was the idea of the “living Magisterium” and “living Tradition” of the Church. In a sense, there is the doctrine of infallibility and the idea of the living Tradition as two faces of one door. As stated in the CE, “There is, therefore in the Church progress of dogma, progress of theology, progress to a certain extent of faith itself, but this progress does not consist in the addition of fresh information nor the change of ideas. What is believed has always been believed, but in time it is more commonly and thoroughly understood and explicitly expressed. Thus, thanks to the living magisterium and ecclesiastical preaching, thanks to the living sense of truth in the Church, to the action of the Holy Ghost simultaneously directing master and faithful, traditional truth lives and develops in the Church, always the same, at once ancient and new–ancient, for the first Christians already beheld it to a certain extent, new, because we see it with our own eyes and in harmony with our present ideas. Such is the notion of tradition in the double meaning of the word; it is Divine truth coming down to us in the mind of the Church and it is the guardianship and transmission of this Divine truth by the organ of the living magisterium, by ecclesiastical preaching, by the profession of it made by all in the Christian life.”

    The two ideas which the SSPX would have to agree on are both what the group most prides itself on: Tradition and obedience. But, the obedience to Rome would have to be reconciled with the idea of obedience to Tradition.

    As to placing the priests in seminaries, which diocese would take them? I think the priests would be excellent in priestly formation and would be a great asset to the Church, but I cannot imagine our diocese, or the seminary colleges being open to the Society teaching either at St. Meinrad’s, Conception Abbey, or at Mundelein, for example. An interesting dilemma.

    As to the priests being taken from the parishes, I am afraid many people in those parishes would leave the Church for good. I have many, many friends who attend, regularly, SSPX Masses, have received all the sacraments for several generations in those parishes, who would never cross the street to the FSSP parish.

  16. Maltese says:

    I like the idea of a provisional rapprochement with FSSPX; maybe a three year period, similar to Summorum Pontificum, to “test the waters,” and, maybe, gain some trust.

    Interestingly, Msgr. Gherardini was originally asked to take part in the doctrinal discussions with FSSPX (from the Vatican side) but had to demur because he felt he was too sympathetic to FSSPX.

    I am a peon compared to the mind of Gherardini, but I can say I have transitioned, inch-by-inch, to the FSSPX side over time. Years ago, I thought them “schismatic,” then I thought them rebellious, then I thought them confused (but good-hearted,) now I find myself going to their Chapels once or twice a month, and am extremely sympathetic to them.

    Ultimately, the question has to be asked: was their fight justified in the face of a disintegrating Church? And, what has the seed of their fight born? I would say the fight was justified, and the seed has born enormous good-fruit; from FSSP to Summorum Pontificum. God works in mysterious ways!

  17. Jason Keener says:

    I think both the Holy See and the SSPX should cut each other just a bit of slack, as the issues they are discussing (ecumenism, religious liberty, etc.) are not always so clear-cut. I think reasonable people can disagree about the best way to carry out ecumenism and the best way to understand religious freedom. Both parties can still be fully Catholic.

    The Catholic Church allows for a legitimate diversity in theological, liturgical, and spiritual approaches. Why can’t the SSPX hold their opinions and still be considered to be fully in communion with the Chair of Peter as are the Eastern Catholic Churches with their differing theological ideas? The Eastern Catholics were basically allowed by the Treaty of Brest to retain their own understanding of Purgatory, which is just one example of a legitimate difference in theological opinion that is currently allowed in the Church. Why can’t the SSPX, then, as long as they are respectful of the Holy See, hold their own ideas about topics like religious liberty? In fact, the Holy See should give the SSPX permission to critique Vatican II, as long as it is done truthfully, charitably, and without polemics.

    I’ll close with a quote from Vatican II’s “Degree on Ecumenism:”

    “All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth,” (UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO, no. 4).

  18. kgurries says:

    Msgr. Gherardini said: “This would be the outcome especially if the Fraternity were to accept the term “apparent contrasts,” apparent because they do not involve dissensions of a dogmatic character but only ever-changing interpretations of historical facts. Then the Fraternity would declare its own demise, because they would have wretchedly substituted their Tradition, which is that of the Apostles, with the flimsy, inconsistent, and heterogeneous notion of the “living Tradition” of the Neo-modernists.”

    Clearly Msgr. Gherardini appeals to the same notion of Tradition as the SSPX. Futhermore, it would seem that Msgr. Gherardini is not entirely convinced by the “hermeneutic of continuity” as taught by Pope Benedict (i.e., he basically rejects it). According to Msgr. Gherardini it must seem “flimsy, inconsistent, etc.” Nevertheless, this is what the Pope had to say about it:

    “It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance. It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters…precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within. On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change. Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005)”

  19. kallman says:

    I think they should be active not only in priestly formation but in all aspects of pastoral care, theology, study and teaching once their situation has become regularised. I wonder what the relationship between SSPX and FSSP would be like if the SSPX reached some kind of arrangement with Rome?

    Also SSPX does need to accept that the faithful must live in the 21st century world and that the approaches which worked in previous ages may no longer work so effectively in the current times

  20. Maltese says:

    Jason Keener: good points! The Feeneyites were allowed unconditional rapprochement with the Vatican though they held to the strident-line of *extra ecclesiam* . Similarly, SSPX asks nothing more than they not be force-fed non-dogmatic statements from Vatican II. That council–unique among councils–didn’t give us one single new dogma. And, like Laterin IV, certain provisions therein might be declared obsolete later on.

    History is replete with unwise council decisions (non-dogmatic, of course) but also wonderous ones, like the Nicean Creed. It is plain foolishness to hinder FSSPX from rapprochement just because they disagree with non-dogmatic, provisional arrangements in the Church.

  21. Joe in Canada says:

    a small point, but it might have been better if Fr Z translated the original. Then we wouldn’t get confusions like “substituted their own tradition … with” when what was presumably meant was “replaced their own tradition”. And I am left wondering if the word “Fraternity” for what is usually called “Society” in English is significant.

  22. paulbailes says:

    Dear Fr Z, what do people mean when they talk of the SSPX “abandoning” or “darting off” or “hiding in their trenches” since the 1988 consecrations please? As far as I can see, they remain as visible as ever, indeed more so, with priests flat out responding to the needs of the faithful in various ways, much as before 1988 but only much busier as the years have passed. It wasn’t as if pre-1988 the SSPX was welcome around the diocese of the world – rather they were shunned by the modern establishment as they remain now. All that seemed to change in 1988 was what some other people thought of them.

    Re Mr D’s “And… as I see it… they wish for the Church to reconcile with them…”, except for substituting “the Church” with “the Vatican authorities”, I would agree:
    1. that this seems to be the SSPX position
    2. and that this would be the correct position to adopt under the circumstances! People need to understand that the SSPX did not somehow materialise from nowhere and set out to make trouble. No! The SSPX arose as a reaction to the Vatican authorities’ implementation of a Revolution in doctrine and liturgy, a Revolution to which successive Popes have been attached, and seem to remain so to some extent.

    As Fr Sotelo pointed out a little while ago, lack of trust seems to remain an obstacle in relations between the SSPX and the Vatican. Adding the persecution of Abp. Lefebvre and the SSPX over the years to the Vatican’s continued attachment to Revolution (the NOM, religious liberty, questionable cardinalatial appointments, etc. as documented e.g. here on WDTPRS) puts the onus on the Vatican to show that it’s finally changed its spots. You can’t obey someone you don’t trust.


  23. JMody says:

    Very interesting reflections — the idea of unity being in conflict with obedience to Tradition, or obedience to the Pope being in conflict with unity with Tradition. I always found this a fascinating dilemma, and food for plenty of thought. Msgr Gherardini hits the nail on the head when he points out that the ditch on one side is that of compromise and eventually being overcome by everything they seek to avoid.
    Paul above mentions the lack of trust — everyone who has tried to make this stand for Tradition has been co-opted in some way by the “Hermeneutic of Discontinuity” crowd, and so the Society is always very up-front about what they are not going to do and about how they feel they will be asked to sign something away. They also have some very severe reservations, and they have endured this time in the wilderness for most of their existence, so their perseverance is truly amazing.
    But obedience and schism are the truly interesting points — Msgr G touches on it here. Nothing they ever did seemed to indicate that they were (a) denying the authority of the Pope (they disobeyed but not in a spirit of “who’s he to tell us?” — they knew they were disobeying the Vicar of Christ for what they thought was a valid dire circumstance ), (b) trying to create their own Church, or (c) trying to lead people to another schismatic group like the Orthodox or whomever. They still expect the Holy Father and the Roman Curia to do the fixing, so that seems prima fascia evidence that they acknowledge his role and authority. They feel that a conflict has been set up by Vatican II docs and a near-zealous attachment to it. Stop and think — if they had been as zealous for Trent and V1 as they now are for V2, V2 would have been very, very different.

    And probably like Paul, I’m still waiting for that decree of excommunication to be thrown at the ChiCom Catholic Patriotic Association bishops …

  24. muckemdanno says:

    Probably a history lesson is needed for some of those making comments.

    What this article says is not true. It is not true that the SSPX never had canonical status. It was canonically established in 1970 and its status was revoked in 1975 (or so.) Its canonical status was revoked because they used the old missal only. When Abp Lefebvre was suspended ‘a divinis’, Pope Paul made it clear that if he used the new missal for the ordination mass, all would be well with the Society.

    As far as the idea of “Should they be confined to formation of priests in seminaries? ” – This was their official canonical status in the early 1970’s. However, no diocese in the world was willing to incardinate any of the SSPX priests, even after all the years of seminary study. It is completely unfair to ask young men to spend so many years of rigorous study in seminary to not have a chance of being a priest.

    Can anyone name a diocesan bishop today who would ordain a man who says the TLM exclusively? If there is no bishop, then this proposal is a non-starter.

  25. JMody says:

    THANK YOU for posting that fact! Paul VI created them just as you say, full canonical status to train priests in the traditional manner. Lefebvre intended to keep using the traditional forms and all, and got a reaction that maybe wasn’t … quite as PASTORAL as some other folks got.

    As a counter to your valid observation in re bishops, the Society has demonstrated that they are capable of remaining orthodox while shunned, building their own parishes, and compared to the decaying diocesan structure, they are growing rapidly. What will it look like in another 20 years?

  26. paulbailes says:

    Well said muckemdanno and JMody – except that I’m not actually focussing on the “ChiCom” bishops (not that it’s not a serious matter; but maybe the duress under which they may be operating goes a way to excusing their schism – which it is, as they ostensibly deny the right of the HF to appoint bishops, don’t they?). What about the bishops, the fear of whom going into schism is used to justify the Vatican’s tolerance of all sorts of abuse – I’d like to see them get theirs.

    God bless

  27. Sixupman says:

    SSPX are in the classic ‘Catch 22’ position. They do not trust the national hierarchies and some within the Curia, but who would blame them? ‘Smell the coffee’, just look at your own diocese and ask, youself, if they act in obedience to both Pope and Magisterium. There are those within SSPX who believe they, personally, are God’s gift to Catholicism, but a Catholicism, pre-conciliar, of which they have no experience whatsoever and therefrore have created one of their own devising – more akin to the Scottish “Wee Frees”. But Msgr. Lefebvre was unjustly treated, as demonstrated by others previously, and, the greater body of SSPX is a force for good.

    Until Rome deals effectively with the plethora of dissident bishops, the SSPX criticisms are surely sterile.

  28. steve jones says:

    I couldn’t make head nor tail of what he was saying. I’m not sure he could either which sums up the state of the modern Church. I haven’t heard a coherent sermon in decades.

  29. jflare says:

    I’m rather glad to see this commentary, Fr Z’s comments, and the comments of others as well. While we’re not privy to the conversations between Rome and SSPX–probably just as well–we’re still managing a conversation amongst ourselves that, even if dialogue between the principles fails for now, we may still lay the ground work for better understanding in the future. I think that’s good, regardless of what happens.

    I learned about a near schism within the Church from being stationed in a diocese in which the legal Masses available..didn’t strike me as being what they could be.

    My struggle since then has always been this: While I can barely tolerate all the changes that have been inflicted even upon the Novus Ordo, I’m still a lay man, not a priest or bishop. I’m certainly not the Pope!
    On the one hand, I share Fr Z’s taste for the greater understanding of the Church’s traditions. Apparently, up until Archbishop Lefebvre effectively went his own way, the SSPX had been a bulwark set to help us all remember the traditional Mass. Interestingly, I attend the parish I attend precisely because our pastor offers the Novus Ordo with several parts in Latin and various other more traditional ideas in mind.
    On the other hand, most times I’ve discussed faith with SSPX supporters, I’ve been accused, in some form, of being a heretic or some equally unacceptable “Catholic”. Unfortunately, near as I can tell, Vatican II can’t be thrown out because it didn’t precisely contradict any Church teaching, but few seem to understand how that’s true. SSPX may not be quite schismatic and it’s possible that they were never truthfully justly condemned, at least aside from the 1988 excommunications. Unfortunately, that only makes matters worse.

    Whether they intend it or not, they effectively create a situation with TWO churches calling themselves Catholic, but you can’t tell who’s right easily, because they don’t conform to what Rome requires and don’t always teach consistently WITH Rome.
    I’d be much happier if they’d ease off the whole accusation of heresy business. I think they have a great deal to offer to the world AND the Church, but so long as they insist that Rome must be wrong, we’ll continue to have a problem.

  30. steve jones says:

    If Vatican II didn’t contradict any previous Church teaching, why are the SSPX being forced to “sign up” to it? Ask them one question, do you accept the CCC if they say yes then let them in. Give them the canonical status they desire and let them find a final solution (sic) to the Richard Williamson issue. The story will be forgotten within 2 weeks. Timing might be useful though. Wait until another banking crisis or Israeli atrocity.

  31. LaudemGloriae says:

    paulbailes you asked a good question about why the SSPX was perceived as “darting off”. LeFeb knew his actions would likely forece the issue and bring excommunication, yet he did it anyway, so sure was he that his actions were necessary to preserve Tradition. Traditionally minded priests were left to work within the Church system with significantly fewer allies, and were viewed with greater suspicion following LeFeb’s censure.

    Still I maintain that the problem in the Vatican is the same problem we have with politicians in the US – they have been in the Vatican too long. I am convinced that if we could take Papa Benny (and entourage) icognito in a golf shirt, jeans, and sandals, and sat them him in the last pew of any US church on any given Sunday, and we did this week after week, a different city each week, it would not take a year for them to understand.

  32. danphunter1 says:

    “…however, no diocese in the world was willing to incardinate any of the SSPX priests, even after all the years of seminary study.”
    I am surprised that Bishop Antonio de Castro Meyer did not incardinate any of the FSSPX priests in the diocese of Campos.

  33. paulbailes says:

    Thanks LaudemGloriae for your sympathetic reply, but may I respectfully disagree with your point that post-1988, “Traditionally minded priests were left to work within the Church system with significantly fewer allies”. Rather, the SSPX seemed just as marginalised before as it was after the “excommunications”, e.g. people regularly referred to the SSPX as schismatic. 1988 seemed more like wish-fulfillment on the part of tradition’s enemies.

    What I think I’ve learned is that there seems to have been many fellow-travellers who prior to 1988 drew some kind of strength from Apb. Lefebvre and the SSPX, but for whom the sad events of that year prevented them from looking there henceforth. But I still don’t think you can call that “abandonment” on the part of the SSPX: it perplexes me that some people want to portray the SSPX as the bad guys of 1988, when in reality they were the victims of a protracted persecution that reached its climax that year. I guess a fair question to ask those fellow-travellers is why they (including the ex-SSPX-ers who formed the FSSP) decided to take a different path from the SSPX at that stage? Perhaps their accusations to the SSPX of “abandonment” are in response to corresponding claims from some on the “SSPX side”?

    But let’s focus on the main game: Abp. Lefebvre and the SSPX didn’t instigate and maintain the Revolution in doctrine and liturgy. Nor did you nor I for that matter … we have a succession of Popes to “thank” for that! Even if Abp. Lefebvre were mistaken in his decision in 1988 (which don’t believe for a moment), the real villains of the tragedy are not to be found in the SSPX.

  34. Mark of the Vine says:

    Not meaning to put more wood on the fire, but certain postitions/opinions of certain FSSPX faithful/clergy seem to me to be offensive to Eastern and Oriental Catholics. Their position seems to be one of “Rome or nothing”, as though the other Churches are a footnote (at best) or to be tolerated, though not taken seriously.
    Would anyone care to comment (civilly)?

  35. M.D.R. says:

    I think it may indeed be a good idea for the SSPX to be confined to forming priests in seminaries. But then, what would happen to all of those properties owned by the SSPX, such as chapels and priories? Apb. Lefebvre’s main interest, it seems, was to form good and holy priests, so it would be wonderful if they could do this under the authority of the pope. I think there would be dioceses who would be happy to have them. I know that the FSSP needs more priests, and since some of them were ordained by Apb. Lefebvre, the FSSP would likely be happy to have their help, but they’re just one group, surely there would be others, too.

  36. danphunter1 says:

    “….opinions of certain FSSPX faithful/clergy seem to me to be offensive to Eastern and Oriental Catholics.”
    I have never heard an FSSPX priest disparage an Eastern or Oriental Catholic in any way, shape or form.
    Nor have I ever read any disparaging comments in FSSPX Catholic print.

  37. dspecht says:


    I also have never ever heard or read the SSPX disparging Oriental Churches or liturgies.

    More, the SSPX has a associated Society/Fraternity in the Ukraine, the St. Josaphat-Fraternity, that celebrates the byzantine liturgy. The Transalpine Redemptorists (in the time they were conected with/to the SSPX) had a special mission for the east, that was supported by the SSPX. They have also good contacts to the Lebanon and the Eastern Rite(s) there.

  38. kgurries says:

    I think DICI (SSPX) summed it up fairly in “Vatican II: a debate between Romano Amerio, Msgr. Gherardini and Msgr. Pozzo”.

    Basically, you have Amerio, Gherardini and the SSPX all in fundamental agreement with respect to Vatican II and the post-conciliar magisterium. I think it’s fair to say that this group (not convinced by the hermeneutic of continuity without sufficient demonstration and “proof”) sees rupture (more or less substantial) from Tradition and the previous magisterium of the Popes. Furthermore, this group wants an “authoritative” declaration from the Holy See with respect to Vatican II (presumably more authoritative than the council itself).

    On the other hand, we have the likes of Pozzo, Marchetto and Pope Benedict himself. Here we find the hermenuetic of continuity at work:

    With this approach – the council is liberated from the false interpretations of the para-conciliar ideology. Furthermore, the hermeneutic of continuity preserves the integrity and indefectibility of the teaching Church (something that rupture theology has not been able to resolve).

  39. Mark of the Vine says:

    Perhaps not officially, but this is the impression I’ve gotten from speaking with SSPX-ers. Then again, I could have talked to “the wrong crowd”. I am friends with a former SSPX-er who left because of this attitude, and recalls a that a former faithful become Melkite priest was shunned when he came to visit the local community. Needless to say that there opinion of permanent deacons also speaks on the matter.
    And no, I do not “hate” the Fraternity. If anything, I sympathize with their plight. I just do not like certain holier-than-thou attitudes that (sadly too often) come from their side of the fence.

  40. kat says:

    I know of SSPX’rs who go to Eastern Rite services when for whatever reason they cannot assist at an SSPX Mass. Often even those who leave SSPX chapels for whatever reasons go to more traditionally-minded Eastern Rites, rather than to the regular diocesan N.O. local Masses by their homes. I have never heard Eastern Rites disparaged simply because they were not Roman. You will also see Eastern Rite clergy attending SSPX ordinations.

  41. mvhcpa says:

    From the topic entry:
    So the Catholic Church, in teaching that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are intrinsically evil, [Idiots and the mendacious will claim that the Church (and Burke) says that the people who do these things are evil.]

    This post started as the desire to make a snarky comment on my part, but is really now a legitimate question that covers all kinds of things: Is not the person who commits and/or promotes intrinsically evil acts as “normal” or “up to personal choice” (whether or not they perceive them to be evil) in fact THEMSELVES evil?

    Michael Val
    (who really would like to do a lot better at “hating the sin, but loving the sinner” than he does now)

  42. mvhcpa says:

    Above post–wrong topic–my apologies. Michael Val

  43. Mark of the Vine says:

    I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with the wrong SSPX crowd then. :-/
    Thank you for your input, though.

  44. dspecht says:


    I think so. – At least here in Germany I´ve heard only positive things about Eastern Rites from SSPX-members or promoters. It is very intersting to here that you have a counter-experience.

    Some years ago there was a conference/summer school here in Germany, organized by Dr. H.L.Barth, who is very connected to/with the Society and there was one day the Byzantine Rite as Mass in the morning. I also know that Fr. Patrik Laroche from the SSPX visits the East (Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, Russia) with official commendation of the SSPX leadership – and he is promoting the Eastern Rites!

    So I wonder that I have to hear for the first time now that there seem to be also critics of the Eastern Chruches inside the SSPX. Where were they from? Were they members of the SSPX or “followers”/supporters?

  45. Steve says:

    First, I thought the article was inciteful. Second, it made me think what if the Archbishop had only consecrated the one bishop? It is likely JPII would not have made his declaration and the FSSP would not have been started. Perhaps because of his obedience, JPII would have or could have made a better place for SSPX within the Church. SSPX members have told me that but for the Archbishop, we would not have the TLM. But this makes me wonder, but for the Archbishop consecrating four bishops, would we be in a better place today.

    Paul asked why FSSP started, but the answer is clear. They wanted to remain within the Church, where they have flourished. Multiple dioceses now have FSSP only churches.

    The benefits of being within the Church structure are great. I know one priest that has several seminarians attend his Masses each week. One said he would be start a TLM in his dioceses as soon as he was ordained. This is a great example of Fr. Z’s brick by brick within the Church.

    I pray that the status of SSPX is resolved, but also the hearts and minds of all of their followers. I have heard more than one SSPX say that to attend the Mass of a FSSP required them to “compromise”. If you believe you are in union with the Pope and you believe in the 1962 Missal, and if the FSSP is using the 1962 Missal, I cannot imagine how this would be a “compromise.”

  46. hollingsworth says:

    I have been in attendance at SSPX chapels for the past 8 years. I grow more disconsolate and discouraged with each passing day. There is no way, in my opinion, that any kind of a practical, lasting detente or agreement, e.g. personal prelature, can be worked out between the Society and the Holy See. It is impossible under the circumstances. The Conciliar Church stands for something completey different from the SSPX and all the other truly traditional Catholic experessions, be they independent or organized. Bishop Williamson is essentially right. It is a “dialogue of the deaf.” The pope and his people are following an agenda other than the one most traditional Catholics follow. But what is even more troubling is the present attitude towards possible reconciliation, displayed by Bp. Fellay and the leadership of the Society. They are trying through methods of persuasion to convince Rome that she is on the wrong track. That ploy will not work! The Superior General, for the sake of achieving unity, I believe, is even willing to concede certain points to liberal, modernist Rome. I offer as examples a number of statements he has made regarding the Jews and their ‘Holocaust.’ One, in particular, is very disturbing from my perspective. He told a French daily last year that the Jews are “our elder brothers” in the sense that “we have something in common, that is, the old Covenant.” That is not true. Fellay’s remark reeks of ecumenism. Most of Jewry today has abandoned the Old Covenant- centuries ago, in fact. They do not wait for a Messiah. Talmudic Jews, the lion’s share of them, can not trace their lineage either to Moses or to the Old Covenant. To suggest that modern Jews and Christians share some kind of religious heritage is just plain nonsense. I am among those trads who feel that Fellay is going a little soft- not that he has performed any formal act of “selling out,” mind you, but simply in the sense that he seems willing to concede more ground to the Conciliarists than he ought. I look for no rconciliation. There is, in my opinion, no visible light at the end of the tunnel.

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