Another point about the SSPX. They are not a small, fringe group.

In the wake of my post about the SSPX yesterday, it has come up in email and comments that the SSPX is a small group.  Libs really like to fling this around.  “This is a small fringe group.  They shouldn’t be given any attention or place in the Church.”


The SSPX isn’t as small as some people think (or desire).

Take a gander at the SSPX entry on Wikipedia.  We read…

If the Society’s canonical situation were to be regularized, it would be the Church’s 4th largest society of apostolic life [!] (similar to a religious order, but without vows), according to the three criteria published annually in Annuario Pontificio [of 2016]: number of erected houses (median 31; SSPX 167), number of members in the society (median 229; SSPX 971), and number of priests in the society (median 149; SSPX 640).

If they were completely regularized, they would have been in 2016 be the 4th LARGEST society of apostolic life in the Church!

Meanwhile, they have been growing and other orders and societies in the Church, without canonical conundrums, have been shrinking.

No wonder libs and some non-libs are nervous about them.

Also, they have built a huge new seminary in these USA in Virginia.  A beautiful place.

They are building an enormous church in Kansas.

They even had sent out a survey in consideration of creating a kind of Catholic town or community.

If people think that the SSPX is just some little group and not worthy of consideration, they are not living in reality.

Please allow me to add the point I concluded with yesterday.

The situation of the SSPX is messy.  The Society doesn’t fit easily into categories.   It’s unique.  This is complicated affair and not fairly characterized by simple black and white Olympian statements.

A great deal of what I see written about the SSPX is poorly-informed, mean-spirited, spiritually-stingy twaddle hurled down as if it were an unerring bolt from Zeus.

It behooves us to treat the priests of the Society with charity.  We have to be at least as flexible and generous as the Church herself in the way that she interprets her laws. We interpret laws that place burdens as narrowly and strictly as possible, so as not to place undue burdens on people.  We interpret laws that give advantages and favors as widely and liberally as possible, so as to expand what we enjoy.

When we consider matters having to do with the SSPX, let’s be at least as gentle as the Church’s attitude in interpreting her laws.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. CatholicNerdGirl says:

    They have excellent reading material. I used to have to read it secretly! ;)

  2. malegaruxa says:

    I’m still quite confused about SSPX. We know people around the globe who identify as SSPX who are also sedevacantists. [The SSPX is a Society or Fraternity of PRIESTS. Lay people re not SSPX. If the lay people who go to SSPX chapels are sedevacantists, they are out of step with the SSPX.] They do not recognise NO in any way as valid. [Which is a little crazy.] Is it in communion to believe there hasn’t been a valid pope for some time? [“in communion” is not really the right category here, however… there is little of use to say about sedevacantism, and it is a rabbit hope for the purposes of my post.]

  3. thomistking says:

    Thank you for your recent posts on this subject, Father. While I don’t think I agree with all of your conclusions, it has been informative to read. Especially helpful is your call to charity in our dealings with and discussion about the Society. We must remember that whatever the status of the society, these are by and large good men doing their best to serve the Church. Now that you have waded in on this issue, one thing that might be helpful is if you would address Cardinal Burke’s contention that the faculties granted by Pope Francis to priests of the SSPX are irrelevant to their canonical status because they are “an anomaly” (his words) and were given outside the context of canon law. It does seem a bit odd to lay too much emphasis on them, given the strange way these faculties were granted by Francis and his open contempt for Church law.

  4. taylorhall95 says:

    This is something that I wondered about myself. The only real evidence that I can come up with against the SSPX is Cardinal Burke saying that Pope Francis’ giving the SSPX official faculties is an anomaly. I’m not sure how that can be so. The Holy Father can extend faculties to whomever he wants. I also have to say that I think Timothy Flanders’ citation of Ludwig Ott as saying that we should hold to decisions of Vatican Congregations as binding under a religious assent. So Cardinal Burke’s opinion is just an opinion and the Vatican’s ruling is binding

  5. Hidden One says:


    “Anomaly” does not mean “something bad”.

  6. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I think that if we follow a traditional Catholic thinking, in line with a canonical and legal standpoint, it is very difficult to reconcile Pope Francis’ actions, that are in favor of the SSPX.

    Cardinal Burke said as much when, knowing the Pope’s pastoral approach to the SSPX, still insisted that the Society “is in schism since the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained four bishops without the mandate of the Roman Pontiff” (July 15, 2017, Conference in Medford, Oregon).

    This is an irony for us–if traditional Catholics truly wish to canonically justify the ministry of the SSPX, we have no choice except to take on the thinking of Pope Francis.

    That thinking in so many words is that the letter of the law cannot obstruct pastoral and merciful accompaniment to the SSPX. Thus, we have the papal mandate that the SSPX priests absolve and witness marriage without a lifting of their suspension.

    On the other hand, if we see this from a traditional Catholic viewpoint, we have to side with Cardinal Burke. Namely, the Pope can do what he wants canonically, but it makes no sense to grant faculties to suspended priests without first ordering them to repent and reconcile.

    Again, Cardinal Burke stated clearly at the same Conference in Medford, “And so it is not legitimate to attend Mass or to receive the sacraments in a church that’s under the direction of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X.” From a traditional reading of canon law, why would we doubt Cardinal Burke?

    What makes his eminence a good critic of the Pope in other matters, but out of bounds if he speaks plainly of the SSPX? I am sympathetic to some beliefs of the Society, but I am also convinced that Burke knows what he is talking about. And regarding the SSPX, Burke has not walked back or revised his stance.

    Personally, I think that to be consistent and intellectually honest, we have to concede that the Pope’s pastoral methods, albeit the cause of things being “messy” in the case of the SSPX are also important to keep open hearts and communication with the Society and other elements of the Church which are irregular.

  7. JustaSinner says:

    Are SSPX priests real priests? [Yes.] Do they have the same faculties as my parish priest? [No.] The rest makes interesting intrigue, but does not give me Communion or Absolution…only get that from my priest; no Bishop or Cardinal seems to ever be in my area.

  8. Uxixu says:

    Fr. Sotelo speaks to the deeper issues beneath the surface. It’s easy to be obedient, when it’s what we want to hear… I’ve read various theories on what happened with the traditional rites and liturgies… conspiracy theories that Masons and who knows what infiltrated the Church at long last…. to those that naively insist the post Concilar “Spirit of Vatican II” was a good thing despite all the evidence to the contrary.

    I’m reminded that the intrusion of SSPX into hundreds of diocese without permission isn’t an issue of Vatican II as much as it’s one the Council of Trent legislated to stop WRT the Clerici Vagantes. I’ve also read De Defectibus that those priests who celebrate Mass while under Ecclesiastical censure confect a valid Sacrament, yet commit a grievous sin in the process…

    It really seems the test of Job and there is more than one to fail at it. God allowed men both wicked and foolish to take away the greatest treasure the Church had, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass but allowed it to preserved nevertheless. I’ve met both priests and faithful who frequent SSPX chapels and they seem devout and pious and I’m sure it’s better in every measurable way than the banality of the diocesan novus ordo. I’m sure they’re just trying to work out their salvation in fear and trembling as I am. As it is, I’m thankful that the FSSP was invited into the diocese the proper way, even if I can’t help but wonder what might have been if Abp. Lefebvre had kept his protocol of May 5, 1988. Would JP2 have issued something much like Summorum Pontificum in 1988 or 1989? Would natural allies not have been alienated? Or would the SSPX have split apart at the seems and the infamous Germans and Jesuits have defeated it?

  9. There are people who go to SSPX chapels who hold that the Novus Ordo is invalid, but the way the Society operates proves they don’t hold the Novus Ordo to be per se invalid. Such a stance would logically compel them to try to set up as their own church, which they haven’t done (and 1988 would have been the time for them to do that, if they were going to do that, as some feared they would). The overwhelming majority of priests and bishops have for some time been ordained and consecrated according to the new rites, so if the Novus Ordo were invalid, then that would mean there are almost no real priests or bishops outside the SSPX. Yet the SSPX works with diocesan bishops and priests, which they wouldn’t do if they didn’t recognize the validity of their Orders, and therefore the validity of the Novus Ordo, deeply flawed though they hold it to be.

  10. teomatteo says:

    So the main problem is “salvation outside the church”? issue?

  11. Dave H says:

    The only TLM where I live/work is a Society chapel and we have been attending for a year. ABP Lefebvre wouldn’t allow Society priests to be sedevacantists, and several have been kicked out over the years if they adopted this position (those priests become itinerant priests, join the SSPV, or start their own chapels in someone’s garage). Most lay sedevacantists attend the SSPV, CMRI, or even diocesan TLM’s. They usually don’t go to the SSPX because of its strong stand against sedevacantism. It is surprising that more sedevacantists attend diocesan TLM’s, but this is because diocesan Latin Mass communities are generally larger and folks can be relatively anonymous there. The vast majority of SSPX chapels are “mission” chapels and quite small.

    Most of the laity that I have encountered at our SSPX chapel have been accused for years of being schismatics in mortal sin and are quite thick skinned. It seems that the bitterness died out decades ago and the priests and laity just concentrate on St Francis de Sales rather than Francis of Rome.

    Being accused of mortal sin/schism/leading one’s family to hell is very disconcerting and upsetting—and very effective on the part of the accuser. So thank you Fr Z for setting the record straight! Those who search out Society chapels will be ostracized and accused, but the goal is to put our families of the safest path to Heaven. We must accept this suffering, pray for our accusers, and and offer it up.

  12. Ann Malley says:


    “What makes his eminence a good critic of the Pope in other matters, but out of bounds if he speaks plainly of the SSPX? I am sympathetic to some beliefs of the Society, but I am also convinced that Burke knows what he is talking about. And regarding the SSPX, Burke has not walked back or revised his stance.”

    This is an excellent question. What exactly makes +Burke a “good” critic? +Burke speaks plainly, but plainly from a position of opinion based on his asserting intention to +Lefebvre. That is something that +Burke, for all his stature and knowledge, cannot do. He is no mind reader and seems to fear causing schism. He also cannot invent something that is plainly not there — schism. There is no schsim. But his fear is real and it would seem, at least to this Catholic, that he operates on that basis, using his credentials and position to attribute sins to others that do not exist. As a means of controlling the flock, not teaching them or imparting the fullness of truth.

    A schismatic act doesn’t impute actual schism. One may fear that their spouse is committing an adulterous act by outward appearance, but having no knowledge of the motives and/or imputing only conjecture based on appearances (John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment.) So going forth and declaring said spouse an adulterer who must therefore be shunned and/or brought to repentance is out of line. Way out of line when demonstrable proof of fidelity is everywhere to be found.

    That is ironic, though. That a prominent figure of conservationism (+Burke) would declare that which he has no authority to declare. And so firmly to his followers. Does +Burke back Pope Francis as the Holy Father or not? Does +Burke uphold the whole of canon law and Church teaching? It would seem not, especially when the term anomaly is misapplied to steep continued fear and ongoing ignorance concerning fellow Catholics.

    Similarly, the charge of, “…it’s easier to be obedient when we hear what we want…” That’s a vanity plug right there. That’s telling listeners that “they” will be of a superior obedience if they follow that which the speaker tells them. In +Burke’s case, whatever his motives, the fallacy that the Society is in schism when they are demonstrably and canonically not.

    No anomaly there. That’s classic handling. An attempt at damage control. And, frankly, hugely disappointing when Catholics are in desperate need of the truth–all of it.

  13. Amerikaner says:

    Unfortunately there are some *really* kooky laity that associate with the SSPX. :-(

  14. Peter Stuart says:

    “Safest path to Heaven…” That about sums it up for me. After the McCarrick scandal hit the fan a couple years ago I was at the end of my rope as an SSA revert trying to get back on the right track. Couldn’t live with the thought of throwing any more money into the collection basket of a more or less openly queer racket. But assuming I didn’t want to just give up (still not sure why I didn’t) where was I supposed to go? I could’ve gone to the Orthodox, but I looked into that and it didn’t add up. And the sedes always have some dark conspiracy baggage around their necks. So the SSPX was my last resort.

    I found that the SSPX recognizes where we are as a Church (struggling) and what got us here (basically Vatican II, what made it and what came after it). Even more I found that their priests actually cared more about the salvation of my soul than politics in or out of the Church. If there was an easy way to Heaven we’d all be there, but for now SSPX is the safest path for me.

  15. cyrillist says:

    Sobering comment by Fr_Sotelo. I sometimes think that Francis’ sympathy for the SSPX may be a sort of “fellow feeling,” not that Francis is in any way a Traditionalist, but that he may view the perennial defiant stance of the SSPX as a manifestation of what he calls “hagen lio,” even though his direction and theirs are diametrically opposed. And so he makes an even bigger mess, Canon-Law-wise, by granting validity and liceity to their sacraments, without lifting the suspensions or requiring repentance. Perfectly in character! And also revealing, that the SSPX gratefully accepted the gesture, without noting its inconsistency (to the best of my knowledge). After all, hadn’t they always maintained that their sacraments were valid and licit?

  16. poohbear says:

    “Also, they have built a huge new seminary in these USA in Virginia.”

    Hmmm, could this be why the devil is so active right now in Virginia? Why the governor chose Good Friday to enact his new anti life laws?

    I bet the devil is nervous about the SSPX too.

  17. robtbrown says:

    Fr Sotelo,

    We both know that anyone who has ever received Holy Orders can absolve anyone in an emergency, i.e., danger of death. That is true no matter whether it’s an ex priest and and atheist–only minimal intention is required. And it’s not a matter of him repenting and being reconciled with the Church.

  18. jflare29 says:

    Frankly, this kind of “yes, they are/no, they aren’t”..tiff.. provides cause for why people will avoid ANY traditionalist group. …And the Church, period. (Look at my siblings….)
    I learned lots about recent Church history et al while determining whether I could attend a traditional Mass, true enough. I still moved to a traditional parish rather reluctantly; trads tend to be every bit as nutty as moderns. If most priests CAN be personable, CAN have faculties, and CAN make logical sense, many still don’t. Whatever…efforts…Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, or Pope John Paul may have made, SSPX mostly seems convinced that Rome will eventually come around to agree with SSPX. For me, that’s as much a problem as Pope Francis’ being unwilling to go one way or the other clearly.
    If we truly want to evangelize, we need a straight answer, not a paragraph-long list of “can do this” and “can’t do that”.

  19. jflare29 says:

    Peter Stuart,
    I’ve heard Vatican II blamed many times for the current…kerfuffles…in the Church. I think that oversimplified. I think both traditionalist and modern seized an opportunity to yank of the boxing gloves and begin pounding away. Both sides had been looking for opportunities well before then though.

  20. Rod Halvorsen says:

    Another excellent piece. To add in sync with the theme of what you say here about word tossing and bolts from Zeus…

    Father Berg of the FSSP has stated RE the SSPX: “In general I would say that there has been too much, and often careless, use of loaded terms like ‘excommunicated,’ ‘schismatic,’ and so forth. These are terms which have precise theological and canonical meanings and consequences; anticipating the Authority of the Church in these matters or ‘interpreting’ the Church is often not helpful”. This is very wise counsel. One must be very careful when describing the irregular relationship that exists in the Church with the SSPX today and as he says, choosing “loaded” terms and then providing a canonical judgment supporting one’s own personal opinion is very dangerous indeed.

    I might add that Father Berg states also in this interview: “The Fraternity of Saint Peter and the Society of Saint Pius X do not have any ongoing formal relations. I believe there is a lot of contact between individual priests, and we have always encouraged this.” Let us pray more of this informal contact occurs. As I can personally attest to what I have seen in this regard, great good can come from it.

  21. Rod Halvorsen says:

    Forgot to add regarding a statement you made yesterday, Father Z. Cardinal Eduard Gagnon assisted at SSPX Mass during his visit in 1987. In a way, a small thing, but nevertheless indicative of the “Catholicity” recognized in the SSPX even by the Pope St John Paul II Vatican. Admittedly occurring before the ’88 consecrations, the important part is that that Archbishop Lefebvre was “suspended” at that time. Indicative of the fact that the Vatican has never really treated suspension of the Archbisop nor SSPX priests as a class in the same way as individually-disciplined priests are.

  22. James C says:

    Basically their paperwork isn’t in order in Rome. As a layperson, that’s way above my pay grade. So am I going to begrudge my second cousin and his eleven children for going to the SSPX back home, when the diocese is a wasteland and almost all of our family has fallen away? No I won’t for a second. God bless the SSPX for being there for my cousin and his kids when their bishop wasn’t.

  23. Akita says:

    A sweet, devout, 70-something Eastern European pastor of a Novus Ordo parish I attend for his 2pm Latin Mass tells me if he were a younger man he would choose the SSPX for his priestly formation. (Our bishop won’t allow him to transition to Latin Mass exclusively). ‘Nuff said.

  24. oldgrumpy says:

    It seems to me a church that has room for the Jesuits has room for the SSPX.

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