Just as I started to draft a post on the recent news that Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, Pope Francis’s Apostolic Commissioner in charge of unjustly dismantling the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI), has been found guilty of defamation and ordered to apologize publicly while making restitution, a friend alerted me to a fresh piece by Steve Skojec: “Crypto-Lefebvrianism & the Willful Confusion Around the SSPX.” Though Skojec devotes only a single paragraph to the Volpi affair, his decision to turn his thoughts toward the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and the problematic manner in which they are treated by the wider Catholic Church is one which I wish to applaud. Not only does Skojec highlight the disgraceful manner in which the Society has been rendered toxic by various ideologues within the Church, he forcefully proclaims a truth which the SSPX’s legion of critics wish to obscure:
If it is schismatic or somehow un-Catholic to believe the things that [the SSPX] believe[s], then this means all of our ancestors in the faith should be similarly condemned for believing and worshiping the same way. As an institution, they do not hold a single theological position that is not clearly and unequivocally Catholic. They cannot be condemned because of their theology – it is simply not possible to show it to be in error. They even believe in and promote submission to the Petrine office. (One could cogently argue that they have more respect for the institution of the papacy than even the last few popes have—because those last few have been willing to make changes that no pope, if he desired continuity with his forebears, should have made.) Even the infamous act of disobedience has been presented with a very explicit canonical justification. Agree or disagree that this justification is valid, they do not appeal to their own authority, but to the law of the Church.
I doubt Skojec’s observations will sit well with a sizable number of Catholics, including a few traditional Catholics who sometimes take ridiculous pains to distinguish themselves from the SSPX. “Oh, I’m a traditionalist Catholic…but not like those schismatics in the Society…; “I use the Angelus Press 1962 Missal at my parish’s weekly Tridentine Mass, but the Novus Ordo Mass is just as good…maybe…”; “The Second Vatican Council helped create the crisis in the Church. It’s terrible but, you know, not like ‘terrible’ like the SSPX says it’s terrible, just, um, terrible like that it’s not interpreted properly terrible,” and so on and so forth.
Mind you, I don’t wish to judge too harshly. Many traditional Catholics are forced to live under a cloud of suspicion and fear—the same cloud Fr. Volpi placed over the FFI. Traditionally minded faithful often worry that if they raise their voices too loudly and, indeed, too honestly, they will be ostracized by their local priests and ordinary, and perhaps denied access to the Tridentine Mass. (Technically this is illegal after Summorum Pontificum, though plenty of bishops have found ways around the motu proprio.) It is, unfortunately, doubtful that Volpi’s exposure will provide much sunshine for traditional Catholics in the Church. It won’t take long before anti-traditional Catholics brush the Volpi affair to the side, claiming that while perhaps the FFI aren’t really “crpto-Lefebvirites,” there are plenty of “so-called Catholics” in the Church who are—and the time to deal with them is long overdue!
Pay no mind of course to the fact that many non-traditional Catholics have free license to besmirch traditional Catholic piety, thought, and practices. Many proponents of the Novus Ordo Missae routinely blast the alleged shortcomings of the Tridentine Mass, including its spiritual and theological substance. However, if a traditional Catholic criticizes some aspects of the new Mass, such as the gutted Offertory or the fabricated Eucharistic prayers, they are immediately castigated as parochial, chauvinistic, and backwards. Similarly, a traditional Catholic will often find theological giants such as Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange attacked for his stuffy, out-of-date Thomism, but if they utter a single word against the “new theology” then these traditional Catholics are found guilty of not accepting the heart and soul of the Second Vatican Council. I could pile on dozens of examples, but I am sure you get the point.
The SSPX—and those who regularly attend their chapels—don’t care. Deo gratias. They have found it necessary in these troubled times to be intentionally hard to the volley of misguided, and sometimes calumnious, criticism which is sent their way on all sides. This does not mean that the Society is closeminded or unwilling to discuss their positions; it only means that they will not let the unfair derision distract them from their apostolate. Contrary to the false claims of others, the SSPX is not out to replace the Catholic Church or her hierarchy. The Society has no interest in vesting itself with the mantle of being the “last true Catholics” on earth. As Skojec makes clear in his article, the SSPX is not perfect. There is reasonable room to disagree with some of the SSPX’s actions and words, including those of their founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Even so, the Society continues to bear good fruit while remaining a thorn in the side of those who would demolish and then rebuild the Church into a worldly institution bereft of Divine mandate and purpose. And for that all Catholics, particularly traditional Catholics, owe them a debt of gratitude.