The Society of St. Pius X is an international fraternity of “traditionalist” Catholic priests founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (d. 3.25.1991). It boasts of the highest membership of so-called traditional Catholics in the world. In 2022 it claimed over 700 priests and 1,135 total memberships.
Many readers of this Column know this, but younger members of the Chapel who have not been around for a while, probably do not. The SSPX, as it is called, is what the world thinks of as “traditional.” Among others who call themselves traditional, the SSPX has had a mixed review for a number of reasons. I will not belabor this point.
However, the Society has always been, let us say, theologically troubled. It has upheld the celebration of the “Latin Mass,” and the formation of seminarians for the priesthood—but its understanding and relationship to the Church has always been torturous and problematic. This is also true with regard to their understanding of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, which seems clearly erroneous. I say “seems” because the Society has a tendency to “change the goal posts” whenever it suits their agenda. For that reason, it’s sometimes hard to pin them down on just what it is they really believe and this can also be contradictory, depending on who you talk to.
The Society of St. Pius X officially acknowledges Bergoglio as a legitimate pope. They officially proclaim that the Second Vatican Council is a true Council in spite of its heresies. Also, officially, they maintain that the Vatican II church has unquestionably valid sacraments. This surprises some people as they assume that the Society was founded to repudiate all of the above, but such is not really the case.
Archbishop Lefebvre founded the SSPX not just for the Latin Mass and the formation of priests, but principally to fight “Modernism,” which is certainly a laudable thing to do. As with many of us, the Archbishop saw the infiltration of heretics, modernists, communists, Freemasons and the like, but stops short of one of the most important issues: whether because of this infiltration the Church was the same entity after Vatican II as it was before. The same is true with regard to his thinking about the Pope: were Paul VI and John Paul II real popes, or where they indeed imposters? The priests who were closest to him seem to say that he was highly conflicted on these matters, and that there’s evidence either way. Archbishop Lefebvre was not only a stalwart defender of orthodoxy, but he was also a diplomat, who desperately wanted to prevail upon Rome and the Vatican to take up its previous orthodoxy.
It became clear to many of us, certainly by 1986 after the “Assisi event” that this was truly wishful thinking and would never happen. Indeed, it hasn’t, and it has only gotten worse in successive years. But the Society, ever optimistic, thinks that the day will come when they will, turn everything around, and all will be good again. This type of thinking is totally out of contact with reality. More next week.
And so, the eclipse of the Church continues to darken the world.