Of SSPX internal unity, the prognosis, and an ultimatum

According to the intrepid Andrea Tornielli, the SSPX Superior Bp. Fellay has sent an ultimatum to SSPX Bp. Williamson asking him to back away from some claims. And there is a time limit. If Williamson does not conform, he could be expelled from the SSPX.

Williamson is clearly the figurehead for opposition to unity with the Roman Pontiff, the sector of the SSPX which is determined to dictate to Rome rather than obey lawful authority.

The author of the site True Restoration says that he spoke with Williamson, who said that Bp. Fellay told Williamson to shut down his dinoscpus.org and make a public apology for the harm he caused to the SSPX, “and commit to making ‘reparation’ for the remainder of his days.”

Interesting, no? In the old days, Superiors could impose this sort of thing. There were even an equivalent of ecclesiastical prisons for clerics. Perhaps they should be revived in a revision of the present Canon Law. Reminder: the 1983 Code of Canon Law is now in force for the Latin Church, not the 1917 Code. There are revisions of certain parts of the 1983 Code underway, but the the 1983 Code is in force. But I digress.

Apparently, Bp. Williamson has until 23 October before he faces the consequences.

This is all very hard to substantiate, but it is pretty clear that there is a split in the SSPX.

On Rorate you can find something from the DICI news outlet for the SSPX.   There is an interview with Father Niklaus Pfluger, First Assistant General of the SSPX, who says “We’re back to square one”.

Here is a taste:

Kirchliche Umschau: Since you seem so little disposed to compromise, why do you still hold discussions with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

Father Niklaus Pfluger: Because the pope and Rome are realities inseparable from the Faith. The loss of faith in the Church’s structures—a loss of faith from which we have been spared, thanks be to God–is only one aspect of the crisis in the Church. For our part, we suffer also from a defect: the fact of our canonical irregularity. The status of the post-conciliar Church is imperfect, nor is our status the ideal.

Kirchliche Umschau: Are you referring to members of your community who refuse the discussions with Rome?
Father Niklaus Pfluger: Yes, but they are few, very few. The prolonged period of separation has led certain members to confusion in theology. Deep down, these persons set faith in opposition to law, as if union with the pope, the primacy of the pope, were just a minor question of law.
Separating the legitimacy of the pope from the Faith, and reducing his legitimacy to a merely juridical question, is a sign of great danger. Finally, it comes from a Protestant view of the Church. But the Church is visible. The papacy belongs to the domain of Faith.
We ourselves, Catholics faithful to Tradition, suffer from the crisis in two ways. We participate in this crisis, albeit on a different and higher level, as I see it. There is no denying the obligation to take an active part in overcoming the crisis. And this combat begins with us, by desiring to overcome our abnormal canonical status.

Kirchliche Umschau: So we are back to square one. [Ummmm…. no.] Why not just go along with Rome?

Father Niklaus Pfluger: Because we cannot exchange an imperfect status for one that is even less perfect. Union with Rome is supposed to be an improvement, not a mutilation. [I think that is where he puts his foot wrong.] Having to omit certain truths of the Faith, as well as being forbidden to criticize various doubtful and liberal positions: all this would be tantamount to a mutilation. We will not go along with that.


I hope that during the Year of Faith some helpful concrete steps can be taken to heal this break.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, SSPX, The Drill, The future and our choices, Vatican II, Year of Faith and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Seamus says:

    The whole problem with trying to enforce discipline in the SSPX is that the entire reason we have the SSPX in its present form is that its founders refused to conform to the lawful discipline of the Church. As with Protestantism, centrifugality is in its DNA.

  2. AnnAsher says:

    Seamus makes a good point. I appreciate Bishop Fellay taking out his hammer on Bishop Williamson. It does appear accurate that the long separation has led to confusion in theology of some SSPX. But it also sounds like Fr. Pfluger is a tad confused. Or maybe it is me? I thought that the CDF allowed for certain questioning of certain practices and debate over certain aspects of the implementation of V2? I thought that was granted and they had only to assent to the Creed and the fact that V2 was legitimate ? Which it was, in my understanding – a legitimate pastoral council. What is the problem?! Maybe I over simplify but I also don’t understand why there is such a hold up with Orthodox and Rome reunion as well. Really, there is a lot of wiggle room in the Church outside of Doctrine.

  3. Jack Orlando says:

    1. Williamson should have been gone yesterday. No, that’s wrong. The day before yesterday.

    2. The Society wants it both ways: unity with the papacy and no unity with this pope. There is simply no other way to read this.

    3. Fr. Z is right. We’re certainly not back to square one. The next square isn’t back to talks. The next square isn’t back to protesting Vatican II. The next square is either i. sign the Preamble, or ii. be declared schismatic.

  4. Dismas says:

    Interesting, no? … I suppose, is Expulsion the magisterail term used by eternal L’Econe for Excommunication?

  5. Weetabix says:

    What are these “certain truths of the Faith” that unity would force them to deny?

  6. monmir says:

    Listen to Bishop Fellay’s explaination, it is over 2 hours long, better hear it directly from him.

  7. Speravi says:

    Bishop Fellay is the Superior General of a clerical congregation. Bishop Williamson is a member of that congregation. The fact of their being bishops, as I understand it, is totally accidental. As I see it, the Superior General has been very patient with his subordinate.

  8. moon1234 says:

    It is amazing to me that hammer with which people would like to use against the SSPX. Submit or be declared outside the Chuch. I wonder if these same people fully reject St. Paul. “Pope St. Peter I himself was publicly resisted to his face by St. Paul because he endangered the truth of the Gospel.

    “But when Cephas [Peter] was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” (Galatians 2:11)

    The first Pope, St. Peter said “But Peter and the apostles answering, said: We ought to obey God, rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

    St. Thomas followed this up with:
    “It is written: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God. Therefore, superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.” (Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, Q. 104, A. 5)

    The theologian Juan Cardinal De Torquemada O.P. († 1468) expressly related that Bible passage to the duty to resist a wayward pontiff.

    “Although it clearly follows from the circumstances that the Pope can err at times, and command things which must not be done, that we are not to be simply obedient to him in all things, that does not show that he must not be obeyed by all when his commands are good. To know in what cases he is to be obeyed and in what not, it is said in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘One ought to obey God rather than man’; therefore, were the Pope to command anything against Holy Scripture, or the articles of faith, or the truth of the Sacraments, or the commands of the natural or divine law, he ought not to be obeyed, but in such commands, to be passed over.” (Summa de Ecclesia)

    The Fathers of the Church explained that the incident shows us the correctness of resisting wayward ecclesiastics, even popes. The great Scripture commentator Cornelius a Lapide († 1637) wrote as follows:

    “Superiors may be admonished by their subordinates in all humility and charity so that truth may be defended: this is the basis (Galatians 2, 11) on which St. Augustine, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory, St. Thomas and many others who are quoted support this opinion. They teach quite unequivocally that St. Peter, although superior in authority to St. Paul, was admonished by him. St. Gregory rightly states that, “Peter remained silent so that, being first in the hierarchy of the Apostles, he might equally be first in humility.” St. Augustine writes, “By showing that superiors admit that they may be rebuked by their subordinates, St. Peter gave posterity an example of saintliness more noteworthy than that given by St. Paul, although the latter showed, nonetheless, that it is possible for subordinates to have the boldness to resist their superiors without fear, when in all charity they speak out in the defence of truth.”“ (Commentary Ad Gal., II, 11.)

    Pope Innocent III († 1216) stated that a pope can “wither away into heresy” and “not believe” the Faith.

    “The pope should not flatter himself about his power, nor should he rashly glory in his honour and high estate, because the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. Still the less can the Roman Pontiff glory, because he can be judged by men, or rather, can be shown to be already judged, if for example he should wither away into heresy, because “he who does not believe is already judged.” (St. John 3:18) In such a case it should be said of him: ‘If salt should lose its savour, it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot by men.’” (Sermo 4)

    Pope Adrian VI († 1523) stated that “it is beyond question” that a pope can “err in matters touching the Faith”, he can “teach heresy” in decrees. He also stated “many Roman Pontiffs were heretics”.

    “If by the Roman Church you mean its head or pontiff, it is beyond question that he can err even in matters touching the faith. He does this when he teaches heresy by his own judgement or decretal. In truth, many Roman pontiffs were heretics. The last of them was Pope John XXII († 1334).” (Quaest. in IV Sent.; quoted in Viollet, Papal Infallibility and the Syllabus, 1908).*

    Venerable Pope Pius IX († 1878) recognised the danger that a future pope would be a heretic and “teach contrary to the Catholic Faith”, and he instructed, “do not follow him.”

    “If a future pope teaches anything contrary to the Catholic Faith, do not follow him.” (Letter to Bishop Brizen)

    So you see, there have been MANY examples of popes and doctors of the Church who state that it is possible and is has happened that popes and high clerics can and have taught error. This is where the statements from the SSPX come from when they state that they recognize the Pope in Rome and submit to him, but only in those things which are proven to be part of the faith. Those things which are innovations or opinons of a particular personality and NOT part of the doctrine of faith can be rebuked.

    The Catholic faith is NOT about blind obedience, especially for those who should know better based on what they have been taught. To follow error is no different than denying the truth.

    The SSPX wants definitive statements about certain documents and theology of VII and how it relates to tradition. The Vatican does not want to answer. Would it not put the vatican in better light to explain the documents and answer the SSPX than to stonewall and essentially say “submit”? How do you think St. Paul would respond were he presented with a similar situation?

  9. Dismas says:

    @moon1234, I don’t understand your argument. I don’t recall St. Paul involved in invalid ordinations or refusal of regularization?

  10. Jack Orlando says:

    Moon is wrong about this, and Dismas is right.

    Moon, I’m sorry to say, has given reasons for being a Protestant and a Liberal. Because I’m neither, I must reject Moon’s views. That his remarks give reason to be Protestant is obvious enough. A Liberal will say, “If you reject as error Sacrosanctum Concilium, Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aestate, and Dignitatis humanae, then why can’t I reject the Quanta Cura, the Syllabus, Immortale Dei, Quas primas, Mystici corporis, Humani generis, Satis cognitum, and Mortalium animos?” It looks like Cafeteria Catholics can be found among Trads as well.

    And to anticipate the objection, “pastoral” teaching require obedience as well.

    Either you’re with Peter, or your not. St. Paul wanted to be with Peter, and argued with Peter because he wanted and needed Peter’s assent (and he got it). St. Paul didn’t start his own Society separate from the church. Those who reject the administrative authority of Peter are not in the Roman Catholic Church.

  11. JacobWall says:

    moon1234’s argumentation is very, very similar to that used by the Orthodox. Several of the Orthodox have told me directly: “We believe the Bishop of Rome is the primus inter pares and holds the first position of honour within the Church and its bishops. But we cannot accept the Pope as our supreme teacher so long as he is in heresy.” (Which, as they see, includes all Popes at least since the East-West schism, and possibly back to the “Frankish Renaissance.”) They back these arguments with similar quotations and abundance of stories of bad Popes and how good Christians were disobedient to them. (However, the always fail to address the fact that they were disobedient within the Church.) In fact, this kind of argumentation seems to be common among many break-away groups as well.

    Questioning and criticism from within the Church, accompanied by the humility and a sufficient degree of obedience, is (as I see it) very healthy. But many groups quickly cross the line to “the Pope is wrong, so I cannot and WILL NOT obey” – they close doors (eg. Bp. Williamson.) The problem is that once you’re out of the Church, your criticism is pointless and meaningless. You are nothing but another one of the hundreds of warring factions claiming to be the TRUE guardians of authentic faith over and above the Church’s true authority. (Eg. Old Catholics, who have now joined together with those other “guardians of authentic orthodoxy,” the Anglicans.)

    Let’s pray that the SSPX does NOT reach this point. They are right about many things, but if they cross this line, than that no longer matters – at all. Most (but not all) of what Fr. Pfluger says is encouraging. The ultimatum to Bp. Williamson is encouraging. (Let’s pray that he accepts it and submits to his authority.)

  12. Sixupman says:

    +Williamson has, de facto, not been part of SSPX for a long time. What he has done is to create a cult, within the system of SSPX chapels , honouring himself. Whilst at Winona he also created like-minded clergy by means of his silver-tongue and created a covert sect, akin to the Scottish “Wee Frees”, where anyone ‘perceived’ not to be an adherent would be publicly denounced from the pulpit. Likewise, clergy who were not prepared to be subsumed into his cliques would be set=upon by fascist manque “Honor Guards”. That nothing was being done about the outrages was a disgrace. +Williamson, currently exiled in England [that other Elba] he has repeated the American scam.

    Those who post anti-SSPX comments must live in a cosy world all of their own, whilst I live in a world where diocesan priests with Traditional leaning are demeaned, where Traditional [read orthodox] parishes have actually been closed-down in preference to those run by Modernist clergy. In the North of England, even currently, an orthodox Catholic community, built-up over 20 years to a thriving congregation, has been forced to move from their base and be replaced by Jesuits. I can only adduce the same to the prejudice of the bishop and jealousy of other diocesan clergy. They give nought for the souls involved.

    It was the position, in the North of England – pre+Williamson, that both SSPX and diocesan clergy dialogued with one and another.

    Msgr. Lefebvre was one-hundred-per-cent correct [except regarding +Williamson – his one mistake] and all those in the Curia attempting to make-out Vatican II to be something it is patently not, are mere pygmies compared to him and his actual experience on the ground – such not gained in some official sinecure.

  13. Sixupman says:

    Jacob Wall:

    I have just read your post and refer to the ‘Primus Inter Pares’ comment. Are you not aware that probably the majority of Bishops’ Conferences, under “Collegiality”, are of the view that the Pope can only act jointly within decisions made and agreed jointly with themselves. BXVI has, apparently, admitted as much: “.. my power ends at the door of my chambers .. .”!

    The E& W Bishops’ Conference ignore edicts, as do the German Bishops’ Conference and others. It is far easier to distract attention by pursuing SSPX than cleaning out The Churches ‘Augean stables’

  14. JacobWall says:

    @Dismas – Another part of this rhetoric is that “dialogue with the ‘enemy’ ” (i.e. true Church authority) is poisonous or “selling out the Truth.” You see it among the more radical factions of all of these groups, as with Bp. Williamson. (Dismas – it is also present among many more “radical” Orthodox. You asked what the “hold-up” for re-unification, and this is certainly part of. Not all of it, but a big, big part of it. Orthodox hierarchs and even laypeople interested in discussions with Rome can be branded as “ecumenical,” which, in that rhetoric is tantamount to “heretical.” You usually get something about Free-masons and Jesuit conspiracies thrown into the mix of accusations.)

    It’s their way of closing the doors and, through fostering fear and deep distrust, preventing that others come to their senses. The SSPX has to be very careful to distance itself from this kind of rhetoric. (I know it’s there, but I don’t know how wide-spread it is. I hope Bp. Fellay’s actions with Bp. Williamson will help to rein this kind of rhetoric in. I hope.)

    What is most encouraging about Fr. Pfluger’s interview is that he is distancing himself from this foolishness. Thank God for that. Let’s pray that their desire to rectify their canonical status prevails.

  15. I hope Bp. Fellay understands that he is being more heavy-handed with Bp. Williamson that the Pope is being with him, although I think he is completely in the right to do so. My point is that I find the parallel dilemmas interesting, and that Bp. Fellay should expect a similar ultimatum coming his way. And if Williamson finds himself in a new organization, he will have an even harder time keeping it unified.

    I also agree with the comparison to Protestantism by Fr. Pfluger and other commenters.

  16. JacobWall says:

    I only mentioned “Primus Inter Pares” because that’s the term the Orthodox use. I was talking about the Orthodox at that point. Pope Benedict XVI, while addressing Orthodox I believe, made a point of saying that the Catholic Church does not believe the Pope is “Primus inter pares;” we believe, (according to our Pope and many sources,) that the Pope is not only a first among equals, but more than that a supreme pontiff, in terms of teaching authority and jurisdiction. Orthodox who oppose seeking unity with Rome (which is certainly NOT all of them) cite this comment from the Pope incessantly to prove that the pope wants to become their “evil overlord.”

    In terms of the Pope’s role, I am fully aware that the Catholic Church does not see it as Primer inter Pares. Nor should bishops mistake collegiality for this concept. (It’s good to remind our bishops of this, but – once again – it only means anything if we do it from within the Church. If we break off, well it’s just so much hot air. It doesn’t mean a thing.)

  17. Dismas says:

    @Sixupman: When you say ‘cosy world’ (cozy?) are you referring to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

    @Jack Orlando and JacobWall – thank you for your insights. At first glance they appear to contain much ‘circumspect’ wisdom.

  18. Rushintuit says:

    Let’s just keep things the way they are. Honesty is the best policy. On the one hand, we have the SSPX, defenders of tradition and on the other hand, we have the Hierarchy, who is dedicated to Modernism above all else. The beatification of Pope Paul VI will be another proof of Modernism run amok in the Church.

  19. dnicoll says:

    For while one saith, I indeed am of Fellay; and another, I am of Williamson; are you not men ? What then is Williamson, and what is Fellay?

    As for me, I reject my personal feelings and interpretations, for that us the Protestant way. I submit to the Vicar of Christ and the will of the Church. If I disagree or if I don’t understand, it is for me to take it up with my priest and bishop and Pontiff – but ultimately it is for me to obey until such time as I am told otherwise.

  20. TaylorKH says:

    SSPX: “Let me be anathema”

  21. Charles E Flynn says:

    From St. Ignatius of Antioch and the Early Church, by Kenneth D. Whitehead, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, at Ignatius (the later one) Insight Scoop:

    St. Ignatius of Antioch did not know of any such thing as a “Church” that was merely an assemblage of like-minded people who believed themselves to have been moved by the Spirit. The early Christians were moved by the Spirit to join the Church, the established visible, institutional, sacerdotal, and hierarchical Church-the only kind St. Ignatius of Antioch would ever have recognized as the Church.

  22. Gratias says:

    The SSPX sadly missed the best chance they had.

  23. Pingback: Rocco Palmo May Quit Blogging Pope Benedict XVI SSPX | Big Pulpit

  24. JesusFreak84 says:

    I personally am not holding out a candle for regularization so long as +Muller’s in charge of it. He hates the SSPX and is not going to do spit to help bring them in unless the Pope literally threatens to fire him.

    I do agree with the commenter who said that +Williamson needed to be removed ages ago. I actually kind of wonder if that’s what was meant when Rome said that +Williamson would be dealt with separately; we all figured Rome would be dealing with it, but perhaps +Fellay had already hinted he’d do so. The pro-Williamson blog linked to by Fr. Z seems to indicate that this booting has been in the works for a while now. Maybe that’s just me.

  25. Mariana says:

    “There were even an equivalent of ecclesiastical prisons for clerics.”

    A friend of mine who lives in Malta says the Knights of Malta there hade a nice dungeon called ‘oubliette’….

  26. Mariana says:

    HAD a nice dungeon, even.

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