ASK FATHER: Can I send my kids to an SSPX school?

sspx-busFrom a reader…

We live near a private school run by the SSPX. I have no doubt the school eschews educational fads and gives a solid, faith-based education, and because of that it, along with the oddly sectarian-like community around it, seem to be thriving. I’m wondering about the canonical allowability (and general wisdom) of sending our children to this school. One of them already attends an evangelical Protestant school and two others are in the public system; I hardly think the SSPX folks would be any more dangerous as teachers than the Protestants and pagans already teaching my children, although I realise that these other teachers don’t necessarily have as much of an axe to grind about Rome. I’m also wondering about the canonical status of attending their Mass – is it permissible even to attend? Would it be necessary to refrain from Communion?

All things being equal, it is wise to give a wide berth to those groups which are not in unimpaired communion with the Bishop of Rome.

However, as you know, all things are not equal these days. Alas, we live in a time when having “Catholic” on the school or the parish’s sign is no guarantee of sound doctrine.

If one had the option of a solid school, staffed and operated by the Priestly Society of St. Pius X and a solid school, staffed and operated by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, there would be no question of an obligation to support and send one’s children to the FSSP school.

Parents now have to make some very difficult choices.

The fact that the local parish has a school is no longer a guarantee that it’s a school where little Barney and Beatrix will get a solid education and good formation in the Faith. Parents have a serious obligation to educate their children in the Faith.  This is even spelled out in canon law. Canon 226 states, in part,

“parents have the most serious obligation and right to educate their children. It is therefore primarily the responsibility of Christian parents to ensure the Christian education of their children in accordance with the teaching of the Church.”

If solid, Catholic schools in full communion with the Bishop of Rome are not available, then parents must do their utmost to supplement their children’s education in the Faith.

But remember… parents are the FIRST educators of their children!  They must know the Faith so they can hand it on regardless of how solid their parish or school.  Parishes and schools are NOT SUBSTITUTES for the instruction that parents must give.

That said…

It may be that sending one’s children to a Protestant school, which provides good moral training, decent scripture study, and quality overall education, might be an option for some parents, [Since I posted this, I must revised.  Canonist Ed Peters added in the combox the sobering can. 1366: “Parents or those who take the place of parents who hand over their children to be baptized or educated in a non-Catholic religion are to be punished with a censure or other just penalty.”  I suspect that this canon is hardly ever applied.  I had forgotten about it, frankly.] who will then have to take the extra time to teach their children the Catholic dimension they will miss.  They would need to correct Protestant heresies and errors.  They would probably have the difficult task of teaching their children to respect their teachers, but not believe everything those same teachers tell them.  Not a good scenario.

Other parents could choose a public school. They must then shoulder the entire responsibility of teaching the Faith to their kids.

Others may choose a school operated by the Society of St. Pius X.  These parents will also have to supplement their children’s education in the Faith to stress the importance of fidelity to the Bishop of Rome and obedience to proper ecclesiastical authority.  They will have to teach their children to respect all priests and bishops.  It could be, in some cases, a reasonable option to choose.

I would monitor very closely what your children are being taught.  But that rule applies no matter which school they attend!

That said…

I caution against regular participation in Masses offered by the priests of the Society, especially if there are options available in parishes that are in full communion with the local bishop.

I strongly caution against reception of Holy Communion at these Masses, especially in places where the local bishop has made his magisterial opinion known.

Yes, the Masses are valid.  Yes, the Eucharist is validly confected.  Yes, it really is Jesus Christ.  Yes, one can fulfill one’s Mass obligation there.  However, their priest’s do not have faculties validly to receive confessions.  What happens when it is time for little Beatrice’s 1st confession?

Strive always in your actions and prayers to cleave closer and closer in unity with Holy Church’s visible head, the Bishop of Rome.

I look forward to their canonical reconciliation… and soon!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. torch621 says:

    Homeschooling could be an option, could it not? [The question wasn’t about homeschooling. It was about whether it is okay to send children to an SSPX school.]

  2. magister63 says:

    My daughter is in the local NO school. As far as it goes, it is not bad. They have morning offering, stop for Angelus at noon, say the act of contrition over the loudspeaker at the end of the day, but the prayers are “kiddified”, not the traditional forms. They use Christ Our Life for religion. As the primary educator of my child, I know that I have a grave responsibility before God to pass on the Faith to her. I have been using the Sisters of the SSPX Our Lady of Fatima Correspondence Catechism for several years now. It is wonderful and mature, and I find that she is far advanced in her knowledge of the Catholic Faith compared to what she is learning in school. It also gives me an opportunity to sit with her, read each lesson with her, and work with her in this most important endeavor. We send the lessons back to the Sisters, and she receives her grades and a nice note from Sister in return. We usually have the same Sister for a year. They also send her Christmas and Easter cards and handwritten messages, and there are seasonal projects. It is very good, and I have no scruples about using such a beautiful and orthodox resource for the education of my child in our Faith. We are in a grave crisis, and we must avail ourselves of the means to endure. When it comes to our children we must ensure that they are receiving the Faith, pure and entire. Unfortunately, there are very few schools in this country that are doing that. My own high school, run by the Christian Brothers, just published a “Wedding” notice for two alumni who “married” each other. Yes, it is an all boys school. Kyrie eleison.

  3. APX says:

    Keep in mind, if you send your children to one of these schools, they’ll be expected to attend Mass at school as well as go to confession with their priests. If you have children of the age of needing their first sacraments (I know First Confession is done during school time and as a class), they’ll be taught everything according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

  4. Neal says:

    I’m afraid that I must disagree with what magister63 wrote above. As argued by Bp. Morlino and reported here, we are not in a crisis, grave or otherwise. How do we know this? Because the Holy Father has said so (or, more properly, not said so). So please keep calm and carry on. If and when things do sink to crisis level, you will be alerted by the proper authorities, probably by encyclical or other official communication.

  5. James C says:

    The good mother must remember that the Church is in a state of pastoral, catechetical and doctrinal collapse. It is in chaos. It is in crisis. Now, more than ever, you cannot simply trust your local parish or diocese with the religious education of your children. Be vigilant. Use your wits. You must never let up, if you want to keep your kids in the fold. For the wolves are not only outside—they are prowling freely—mostly with impunity— within the heart of the Church, devouring souls.

    If your wits tell you that the SSPX school is more likely to help you with your bringing up your children in the Faith, then that is where you should send them—with discernment. That’s why the SSPX was formed in the first place, to provide islands of sanctuary in the devastated vineyard.

  6. pledbet424 says:

    My brother sends his kids to a SSPX school, and he espouses their opinions. I’m not sure the SSPX school would enroll children if their parents didn’t have the same views as the SSPX.

  7. Bea says:

    We sent them to the Parish Elementary School, but taught them their Baltimore Catechism at home.
    With one or 2 exceptions their teachers were lay teachers. One was way off the wall and I complained to the school principal (who was a nun). She defended the lay teacher and I had a hard time with the one son who had her as a teacher. She eventually left the Church. Her ideas were already Protestant but the principal could not recognize it.
    By the time they got to “Heresy High” (as they lovingly referred to their “catholic” High School, their Baltimore Catechism saved them. They had a few run-ins with their teachers but defended their Faith well. They did have a good Faithful Priest as one of their teachers and that helped, but they learned to sift with what was being taught and the Truth of our Faith. They learned to be warriors at an early age.
    Parental knowledge, constant conversations with our children as to what they are being taught, and supervision over what they are garnishing from their peers and teachers is so important.
    A friend of mine had a trust in the “catholic” schools and the nuns and later had much to suffer because of the mis-direction her children received in their early years.
    It is to cry for in pity for parents and children who have suffered and seen the loss of Faith in their children.

  8. jflare says:

    “…It also gives me an opportunity to sit with her, read each lesson with her, and work with her in this most important endeavor. … It is very good, and I have no scruples about using such a beautiful and orthodox resource for the education of my child in our Faith.”

    Seems to me that such is the approach that Fr Z more or less endorsed. It would seem that SSPX materials are being used, but are being…filtered…for appropriate understanding by Mom and Dad. That makes sense. I would expect someone’s parents to act in this way, given the state of the Church.

  9. catholictrad says:

    At a school meeting this year at our parish school, the religion teacher explained that its OK not to be Catholic, or even Christian. You can be Budhist or Muslim or nothing because we are all the children of God and He loves us where we are. Luckily only a few people heard me whisper, “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”. They us the Jesuit’s “Christ Our Life” which strives so hard to be “relevant” that it loses relevance.
    Needless to say, I’ve been correcting false teaching for the past seven years. Our local TLM priest teaches the children from the Baltimore catechism and trusts no one else to teach them.

  10. paulbailes says:

    Brilliant, Neal!

    Delicious irony, bravo!!

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Canon 1366. Parents or those who take the place of parents who hand over their children to be baptized or educated in a non-Catholic religion are to be punished with a censure or other just penalty.

    [Right! A “non-Catholic” religion. That would apply to the Lutheran school. It wouldn’t to the SSPX school. Thanks for bringing in this sobering canon. Good contribution.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. anilwang says:

    Regardless of where you send your children, it’s important to know the lay of the land and to know your children and provide necessary suppliments. Some children are more just accept whatever is taught and might appear to flourish in a no-holds bar Catholic education, but the truth of the faith never sinks in because they’re just going with the flow, so they fall away later. Others might appear to be as stiff necked as the Jews of old and need constant strick discipline in the faith to keep them from drifting, yet like the Jews of old survive countless pursecutions while other cultures died out.

    I fell into the first category. I was so sheltered that I thought everyone was Catholic and flourished in my Catholic education (which had strong morals and reverence but unfortunately little else in the way of doctrine). Yet when I went to high school and discovered that there were “other voices” that had different practices but seems to have the same morals and attitude to worship, I drifted away without realizing that I was and in University settled into a more Platonic/Stoic/Confucian understanding of the world and discipline.

    My naivity on religion extended into my late 30s, since I didn’t even realize that Protestants existed. I honestly thought what Protestants like Billy Graham were Catholic priests since they appeared to wear vestments and spoke of Jesus (unfortunately far too many Catholics are in this boat today).

    It was only by marrying a Protestant that I was forced to confront the differences and learn to embrace my faith to the fullest.

    For me, being sheltered worked against me. Had I been brought up in a school more hostile to the faith and had my faith supplimented at home and my parish, I would have been more fervent in the faith at a much younger age. My son (which is very technically minded) is very much like me and although he’s going to Catholic school, I’m making sure he’s challenged in the faith so it becomes hardened. My daughter will go to school in September. She’s a trickster with a sharp mind that takes little serious she needs more reinforcement in the faith. I’ve descerned she’s naturally got the wits to defend her faith and make you appear foolish for even questioning her faith. Teaching her the faith, is a bit harder.

  13. SanSan says:

    Poor parents these days……….:( WE “trusted in the “catholic” schools and the nuns and later had much to suffer because of the mis-direction her children received in their early years.

    It is to cry for in pity for parents and children who have suffered and seen the loss of Faith in their children.

  14. SaintJude6 says:

    Regarding Dr. Peter’s citation from Canon 1366:
    I had children in a “blue-ribbon” neighborhood public elementary school for three years while our family size was rapidly expanding. And even though the teachers there were very conservative (we’re in Texas) compared to the rest of the nation, I can say, without a doubt, that the public schools ARE religious schools. The religion that they teach is secular humanism plus scientism plus prosperity. Even in kindergarten they would send home flyers telling the children that “College is the Key to Happiness in Your Future” which listed the yearly salaries for various professions. My neighbor said she overheard a teacher tell her daughter (intending to be well-meaning) that “even Jesus wasn’t perfect.” We gave up trying to endlessly correct the errors and returned to homeschooling. Attending PTA meetings, parent-teacher nights and school board meetings does not mean you know what your child is being taught. Unless you plan to sit in that classroom every day with your child, you will never know the damage that is being done. Get your children out of the government religion schools.

  15. Cerbonius says:

    Regarding Canon 1366 — I attended the local Presbyterian high school with the reasoning that it was better to know what I was being taught was not Church teaching than to go to the Catholic school and wonder. Does the canon apply more to the earlier years of school? Or would the proper reading of 1366 say that my parents were in the wrong? Would a public school have been the better option?

  16. CurmudgeonKC says:

    The Curmudgeons regularly attend Mass at an regularized Ecclesia Dei chapel. After several years of homeschooling, we decided that they would be better off at a faithful Catholic school and enrolled them at St. Vincent’s Academy, the SSPX school in Kansas City. Diocesan schools were not an option, [Yes… they were. You didn’t like the option.] and of course neither the FSSP or the ICR operate schools (why not? …another thread entirely). It’s a decision we came to after prayer and seeking counsel (from a couple of canonically regular priests, BTW).

    We are delighted with the school. The little Curmudgeons are learning the faith, and are immersed in a Catholic environment. The principal (an SSPX priest), Franciscan sisters, lay staff (some of which are also “indulters”), and other families (some of which aren’t even Catholic…yet) have all been gracious, welcoming, etc. The focus there in religion and all classes is on what the Church has always taught, not on the controversies that came to a head in 1988, and which for some adults (who should know better) have become monomania. There’s no sense of stridency, no hint of infusing them with any sort of schmismatic outlook. In fact, the little Curmudgeon “indulters” are probably more strident than their peers who grew up under the SSPX, or at least they are more aware of the crisis in the Church (don’t pretend there isn’t one) than the other kids in school.

    I’m not saying that every SSPX school is suitable, because I haven’t explored them all, but here in KC at least, St. Vincent’s is a far better option than public, diocesan, or other private schools for parents who want to make sure their children are formed in the faith, and not deformed by it.

    And of course that’s more important than anything else, isn’t it?

    [NB: Under regular circumstances, the SSPX priests cannot validly absolve your children.]

  17. CurmudgeonKC says:

    Oh, Father, and as your questioner’s statement that the community was an “oddly sectarian-like community”? Not a whiff of it. I’d have to say that on the whole, I find the SSPX families I know to be less “oddly sectarian” than the families in the two canonically regular communities I have been a part of. [I have a somewhat different experience.] Their canonical situation may be somewhat complicated by circumstances not of their making, but they’re not sectarian, in the sense I take you questioner to imply. [Ooops. The families don’t have complex canonical situations. The actual members of the SSPX do: the priests. Leaving aside the issue of invalid marriages, of course.]

  18. AP says:

    I’m hoping Dr. Peters or Fr. Z will expand on Canon 1366. I am in no way well-versed in canon law, but from my reading of this canon, the Church seems to be addressing a different sort of scenario. I think it would be wise for us to figure out what the Church means by this description before we apply it to all parents who send their kids to non-catholic schools.

    The canon is speaks of “parents who hand over their children to be baptized or educated in a non-Catholic religion.” In my mind, the Church is focusing in on parents who are knowingly indoctrinating their children into another religion. That’s not what seems to be going on with the reader who sent Fr. Z an email or the scenario that Cerbonius gave us in the comment above mine. Again, I’m not an expert, and I am in no way giving any one advice. I only hope that Dr. Peters or Fr. Z will expand on this important topic.

  19. Midwest St. Michael says:

    What James C said.


  20. My son entered preschool about the time his mother left me. We enrolled him in a Catholic inter-parochial preschool.

    When she missed two monthly tuition payments (and it wasn’t because I wasn’t sending her the money), the pastor sent a bill collector after her, which was a bit unusual in that diocese. He didn’t even bother to call either of us, and I was on the school committee. This pastor was given to very poor judgment to begin with — I was removed as a lay reader by one of his matronly minions for refusing to use inclusive language in the Scriptures — and by the time I was done speaking with him, and the financial issues resolved, he knew my thoughts on that, and why. We eventually had to pull our son out, as the experience was so unpleasant, even after the financial matter was resolved.

    The upshot of this (and yes, I was getting to it) was that we then put him in a private Christian day school run by a kindly Belgian hausfrau, that ran through the third grade. I don’t believe we ever forsook the responsibility for raising him in the faith — when he studied philosophy as a senior in public high school, I taught him the works of Thomas Aquinas on my weekends with him, and he even read Plato’s Republic on his own — and I don’t imagine he would have been any better off in the parochial school system anyhow. That is a story for another day.

    As to any “ensure or other just penalty,” I should hope that took care of itself.

  21. Gabriel Syme says:

    Having personally been through 13 years of “official” Catholic schooling (7 Primary and 6 Secondary / High) I would not hesitate to send my children to an SSPX school. There is one in our country but its too far away (and likely too expensive also).

    Don’t get me wrong, the schools I went to provided an excellent education and they had an excellent ethos regarding community, effort, achievement and respect – but when it came to the Catholic faith, they absolutely stunk.

    Receiving no Religious Education (RE) at all would have been a better situation than the drivel served up to us in the 80s and 90s.

    The chief recollection I have of RE in Primary School is being taught that communion in the hand was “just the same” as receiving properly, a notion directly opposed to what the reigning Pontiff and his predecessors taught. My main memories of RE in High School are learning about Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish Liturgical items etc – to this day, I know words and phrases in Hebrew – and a film about a Protestant Pastor working with gangs in New York (“The Cross and the Switchblade”).

    Had the stated objective of the schools actually been to purposely smash the Catholic faith, they could not have done a more effective hatchet job. The “new improved” tripe, which later replaced the drivel my generation got, was itself eventually condemned by the Vatican. They are onto some newer course again now, apparently; I have heard it described as being so vague that even Presbyterians would be happy to use the material.

    Add to this that a close relation of mine was a head teacher of a Catholic school and I am yet to discover a single teaching of the Church they accept (pro contraception, pro women priests, pro IVF, you name it).

    So I am a very wary of “Official” ‘Catholic’ Schools. For the most part, all they produce is Athiest-Socialists / people who are otherwise ignorant of Catholicism and/or overtly contemptuous of the Church. The SSPX, on the other hand, produce Catholics.

    With due respect to the person who asked the original question, I think its a strong indicator of the disorientation in today’s Church that at the same time as puzzling over the acceptibility of an SSPX school, they go on to calmly state of their children “One of them already attends an evangelical Protestant school”. But the SSPX is what causes the worry over Catholicity?! Ye Gods! The Church has gone mad.

  22. Fr. Z: “They would probably have the difficult task of teaching their children to respect their teachers, but not believe everything those same teachers tell them. Not a good scenario.”

    That’s why I decided on homeschooling if I ever had children. I think that it’s not only a difficult task, it’s next to impossible. These days, one can’t really trust anyone. I want to pass on my beliefs to my children– not someone else’s values. Of course, that lofty goal is only as noble as my beliefs are consonant with the Church’s teaching.

    That said, I can see cases where a single parent might have to compromise in order to put food on the table. An SSPX school might be the least unpalatable alternative depending upon what the other alternatives are.

  23. aliceinstpaul says:

    “They would probably have the difficult task of teaching their children to respect their teachers, but not believe everything they tell them.”

    Yes, I do have this difficult task. I have to teach my children to respect their grandparents, but not believe everything they tell them, as one grandmother is pro abortion and thinks a lack of women priests is a problem. Their grandfather is an atheist. None goes to church. Their cousins think there is no God, and that the Bible is a silly book for enslaving people into thinking the earth was created in 6 earth days. Every day, I have to teach my children they must respect the authority of the government while not believing everything the govt espouses. Marriage, life, subsidiarity, religious freedom, etc., the govt gets all of these wrong. Yet we teach them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

    That I also have to teach my kids hat their teachers can’t be entirely trusted …well, gosh, why would that be different? It isn’t. Not in Catholic school, not in public school, not in privates.

    I take to heart the canon you cited, but my kids’ ecumenical Christian school is more Catholic than the post Catholic schools in town. They know marriage is between a man and a woman and life begins at conception. Their art teacher has the students make icons to our Lady of Guadalupe every December, and the Bible teacher is an Anglican who believes in the Real Presence. Several teachers have crucifixes in their classrooms, more than the local Catholic schools had. They teach Paul is St. Paul. My kid prays daily to Christ. I wish it were mass, I really do.

    I have to teach my children that their teachers don’t know the power of the sacraments, but many in our parish don’t either.

    The parish school is a disaster. Not doctrinal, incompetent at staying afloat, and incompetent at teaching academics. The most traditional parish in town had fewer books in its library than my kids’ bedroom had, and their only solution for my kid was he start grade 3 at age 6.

    There is no place here anymore where parents can assume other adults will teach the Faith to their children. They must do everything to stay vigilant, and to tell their children who can be believed. in the end, only Christ.

  24. rafferju says:

    that’s interesting, I send my kids to a catholic school in Ireland, but I doubt in reality that there is a catholic school in Ireland other than in name. on average a catholic primary may have 3-4 teachers. trying to find a school that will have all its teachers practising catholics wouild be futile. one would be a great find.
    in secondary schools it would be laughable to think there is a catholic school.
    would sspx not be a better choice in these situations or is a pretence more important? not meant sacractically
    home schooling may be against the law here as I think you have to have your kids educated by the system to 15 years of age.

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