Thoughts on Skojec on the SSPX

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.

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10 comments

  1. “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.”

    I need to read Skojec’s entire post again.

    I do not personally want to get involved in any attack on the SSPX as institution or individuals. But I think there is perhaps a misunderstanding on the part of the author of the above re: “they do not hold a single theological position that is not clearly and unequivocally Catholic.” It seems to me that Skojec might be confused between ‘heresy’ and ‘schism’. It is possible that the danger of schism, a serious temptation, is real and casts its shadows in these dark and confusing days.

    St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

    “Heresy and schism are distinguished in respect of those things to which each is opposed essentially and directly. For heresy is essentially opposed to faith, while schism is essentially opposed to the unity of ecclesiastical charity. Wherefore just as faith and charity are different virtues, although whoever lacks faith lacks charity, so too schism and heresy are different vices, although whoever is a heretic is also a schismatic, but not conversely. This is what Jerome says in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians [In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10]: “I consider the difference between schism and heresy to be that heresy holds false doctrine while schism severs a man from the Church.” Nevertheless, just as the loss of charity is the road to the loss of faith, according to 1 Timothy 1:6: “From which things,” i.e. charity and the like, “some going astray, are turned aside into vain babbling,” so too, schism is the road to heresy. Wherefore Jerome adds (In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10) that “at the outset it is possible, in a certain respect, to find a difference between schism and heresy: yet there is no schism that does not devise some heresy for itself, that it may appear to have had a reason for separating from the Church.””

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    I think you are correct.

    It makes me sad that the leadership of the SSPX and Pope Benedict XVI could not settle their differences. “Traditionally minded faithful” will probably suffer for this.

    In my opinion, it was not all Pope Benedict’s fault, not by a long shot. There is plenty of blame to go around.

    1. As soon as the word “schism” is uttered in the same sentence as the Society of St. Pius X, I stop reading. This issue has been addressed so many times over that it’s utterly pointless to re-engage it. If you — or anyone else — cares to address the Society’s claims concerning their decidedly non-schismatic status, along with the numerous defenses of the Society from this charge, I would be happy to read it. Until then…

      1. Why don’t you read what I wrote before you lose your cool? Respectfully. Thanks. Some of us have lived with this issue for a long time, and have had friends and/or family involved, not to mention personal contacts and experiences.

        1. I am aware of St. Thomas’s views on the matter, but they do not relate to the Society. Skojec didn’t devote much time to discussing whether or not the SSPX is “schismatic” because the charge is. on its face, without merit. He brought up the point about heresy and whether or not the SSPX holds the Catholic Faith in full because some like to imply they do not — and that is false.

          1. You wrote: “I am aware of St. Thomas’s views on the matter, but they do not relate to the Society.”

            Please excuse me if I do not uncritically accept your say on the matter. I was sharing things I honestly think are important and relevant to your post and discussion.

            Skojec wrote: “Reading the back and forth, I have to admit that I do not know what to make of the SSPX situation. I have always carefully avoided becoming involved with them, because it feels like a trap. I know there is good being done there. I know good faithful people who are involved.”

            At any rate, I never wrote the SSPX was or is in ‘heresy’ or ‘schism’, though the road has its dangers in my opinion. Regarding the late Archbishop Lefebvre, I do not know his intentions and heart. I do not personally want to get involved in any attack on the SSPX as institution or individuals.

            Skojec wrote: “Does anyone believe, after taking into account ALL the various pieces of documented evidence which so frequently seem to contradict each other, that they can say with 100% certitude they know that the SSPX is a) in schism or b) not in schism – based solely on the statements of popes, cardinals, and the relevant persons in the appropriate dicasteries and commissions in the Vatican?”

            Good question, especially in light of the lifting of the 1988 ‘excommunications’ on the living SSPX bishops by Pope Benedict XVI. That they were in the past ‘excommunicated’, justly or not, is historical fact. Right?

            “In itself, this act [‘unlawful episcopal ordination’] was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience – which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy – constitutes a schismatic act.(3) In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.(4)” APOSTOLIC LETTER”ECCLESIA DEI”

            http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_commissions/ecclsdei/documents/hf_jp-ii_motu-proprio_02071988_ecclesia-dei_en.html

            But that is water under the bridge, is it not?

            Skojec wrote: “Does anyone here think it’s possible to disagree with the disobedience of Archbishop Lefebvre but still agree with the theological positions he put forth?”

            Archbishop Lefebvre had a lot of theological positions, but insofar as they were Catholic…. on the whole, yes, why not?

            The late Michael Davies would hardly/strictly use the word ‘disobedience’ I think, but he still disagreed with Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX on certain issues, and saw potential danger or reasons for concern. For example:

            Michael Davies at St. Athanasius, Vienna, Virginia, August 1988

            Listen to approx. 1:19:15 – 1:47:10. Thanks.

            “Subsequent to this last point: can anyone think of a reason why, considering the modernist/gnostic/neo-pagan political machine that the Vatican has sadly become, we could reasonably expect there to be sufficient interest in Rome to accomplish reconciliation or at least offer sufficient clarification to pull us out of this morass?”

            Good question, but perhaps needs to be nuanced, Pope Benedict XVI did the best he could in my opinion. Or is it a rhetorical question?

            1. [Correction/Clarification] “…The late Michael Davies would *not* use the word ‘disobedience’ I think…”

        2. “As soon as the word “schism” is uttered in the same word as the Society of St. Pius X, I stop reading.”

          It appears that he made himself clear the first time, Paul. Did you read what he wrote?

          1. “As soon as the word “schism” is uttered in the same word as the Society of St. Pius X, I stop reading.” [sic]

            Then I suppose if one were to write “The Society of St. Pius X is not in schism”, it would remain unread?

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