The End of the Affair? What next for the SSPX?

From The Sensible Bond

Everybody and his dog now knows that Bishop Fellay will be received by Cardinal Levada on 14 September this year, and Bishop Fellay has sketched out what the meeting will be about:

The truth is that Cardinal Levada has called me to Rome and it appears that it will be around the middle of September. That is the only thing we know. It’s about the discussions we had with Rome. After these discussions, it had been said that “the documents will be given to the higher authorities.” These are the exact words. That’s the only thing known  about the future. All the rest is made up. Please don’t run after these rumours.

Dici, the SSPX’s information outlet, gives more details here about the meeting which, it says, will aim ‘first to make an assessment of the theological discussions conducted by the experts of the Congregation for the Faith and of the Society of Saint Pius X over the past two academic years, and then to consider the future prospects (emphasis in the original).

Nobody knows yet exactly what the talks have covered, apart from the basic topics. For all we know, the papers are unlikely ever to be published. What we want to know, however, is what is going to happen now. The SSPX stipulated quite some time ago that no practical agreement with Rome was possible without there being a serious discussion of doctrine. Indeed, while this stipulation might have been couched in rather diplomatic language, the real meaning of these talks for the SSPX was that they would show Rome what the errors of the Council are, i.e. what the errors of the current incumbent of the Holy See and those under him actually are.

This is an important nuance to grasp. While he believed there were errors in the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre talked about the possibility of understanding the Council ‘in the light of Tradition’. Bishop Fellay and the SSPX’s theologians have believed for some time now that understanding the Council thus is not even possible since the least admixture of error with truth unavoidably harms the truth. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais has even talked before about erasing the Council from the history of the Church.

Now, – and this is a dangerously speculative assumption: if we take it for granted that the SSPX’s dream solution is not about to be realised by the highest authorities of the Church, and if we likewise take it for granted that the SSPX is not about to change its tack and admit that Rome has the final word on matters of doctrinal dispute, what else might happen at the end of these discussions which are by their very nature surely unique and unrepeatable? Several possible scenarios spring to mind:

1. Absolutely nothing. The SSPX are not about to change their modus operandi, their interpretation of the Council or their rejection of Vatican II with all its works and pomps. The Vatican, for its part, is known to be gifted at the long game and may choose simply to let things be until a new generation takes over the leadership of the SSPX – one not directly and personally implicated in the episcopal consecrations of 1988. The problem with this solution from Rome’s point of view is that, sooner or later – probably within the next ten to fifteen years – the SSPX will again consecrate its own bishops. It is already operating with only three of its usual four, and none of them are getting any younger.

2. A CDF analysis and condemnation of the SSPX’s theological position. In spite of the culture of admonishing rather than condemning, over the last few decades the CDF or the Holy Father have issued analyses and condemnations of various theological positions, notably liberation theology, the theology of Jacques Dupuis, the various ethical theories condemned in Veritatis Splendor and in other encyclicals, etc. The CDF is now in a better position than it ever has been to explain and analyse the SSPX’s theology, so why not tease out exactly what has gone wrong with it? Indeed, why not use such an analysis to highlight what they have got right? The problem with this eventuality is that the traditionalist movement is a hodge-podge of views, and such a clarification might only be able to hit certain targets. It is  doubtful  the Pope would be willing to have recourse to such a step if it were judged that most of the SSPX’s followers would simply ignore the condemnation anyway. And as Pope Benedict knows, when it comes to condemning theological errors, there are many bigger fish out there to fry.

3. The transformation of the FSSP into an ordinariate. It appears that the SSPX has already said no to an ordinariate as a purely practical solution of their situation. Well, if that is so, why couldn’t Rome grant to the FSSP the same status, with bishops and canonical self-sufficiency, by way of launching the traditionalist lifeboat that the SSPX has already said no to? It is not so long since Rowan Williams woke up to find the tanks of the Vatican parked on the lawns of Lambeth Palace. It would be entirely in keeping with Pope Benedict’s ability to hatch dramatic coups to offer to the FSSP what the SSPX have already turned down and look like they will never accept, unless it is on their own fanciful terms. The problem with this is that it would signify a clear break with the body of estranged traditionalists in France (not to mention Germany), many of whom regard the FSSP as a gang of spineless ralliés. It is certain the Pope is intent on trying to recuperate as many people – to rescue as many sheep – as possible from this sorry mess, not least because the SSPX’s priests could be an immense force for good in a Church where error, ignorance and irregularity can be found from Poland to Brasil. Surely, there would also be opposition from within the Church to this eventuality. Solving the SSPX’s situation is about solving a tangible division; boosting the FSSP’s position might look like undue favouritism.

Well, those scenarios far from exhaust the possibilities. Who knows eventually what will happen except for God? Some certainties are

1. that the SSPX will not change or even mollify their position and,

2. the Vatican will not throw out the Council.

This clash of wills cannot be resolved except by a solution which allows for the Holy See to serve the Church as it is meant to: by having the final word. There is no other solution attested by history:

The final criterion is what it has always been: the final criterion is the faith of the Church of Rome articulated by the Bishop of that holy, ancient See. This is not primarily a juridico-canonical category – though it is that – so much as the corollary of a charism which the Church perpetually needs. We are not talking about a production line of infallible statements here, but just the practical acceptance that the Magisterium of the Pastors (notably of the chief pastor) has priority over the Magisterium of the Theologians (be they in the SSPX or Tubingen); it is the practical acceptance that all charismatic action in the Church (which we might kindly interpret the SSPX’s action to have been) must be subject to the hierarchy. Under that umbrella there is immense freedom to criticise, debate and discuss. With that umbrella, indeed, we can have a thumping great debate about the new liturgy, religious liberty and ecumenism, as long as the rules of charity, honesty and patience are observed.

But without that umbrella there is never ANY endgame to ANY doctrinal discussion. Without that umbrella, discussion is only over when every individual from Bishop Fellay to Hans Kung and Mrs Miggens of The Tablet – say it is over.

In other words, without that criterion in the Church we are condemned to fragmentation. This is the lesson of history.


There has been another Dinoscopus letter from Bishop Williamson talking about the Vatican Insider’s view of the outcome of the doctrinal talks. Therein Bishop Williamson again repeats his view that the issue is one of Catholic Truth. According to his rather threadbare metaphor, the SSPX believes 2+2=4; the Vatican believes it equals 5. Bishop Williamson repeats this ad nauseam and never seems to show the least sign of realising that he is turning the theological differences between Rome and the SSPX into a blackbox the inside of which we cannot examine.

So let us take just one example and try to explain the complexity of the issues to the good bishop and those who agree with him:

1. There is no definitive Magisterial teaching which condemns the New Mass. Fact.

2. Everyone who finds fault with the New Mass must therefore make a theological argument based on other teachings about the Mass and apply those teachings to the New Mass.

3. Where there is a theological argument, there is room for individual error and there is the potential for theological disagreement.

4. When there is theological disagreement in the Church, and this disagreement reaches critical proportions, it is the Holy See which has the final say.

5. The final say on the Catholic character of the New Mass rests with the Holy See.


It is entirely a misrepresentation of the problem to reduce it to some simple mathematical equation.

This entry was posted in Catholic Orders and Congregations, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The End of the Affair? What next for the SSPX?

  1. Mr Badger says:

    I’m uncertain of how many members the SSPX has, and how widespread they are internationally, do they have a large lay membership?? They seem to loom large in debates about the Church, but is it a case of punching above their weight?
    Also has Williamson received any censure from within the society regarding his public statements about the holocaust? I saw that Pope Benedict seemed decidedly frosty when he discussed Williamson in Peter seewalds latest interview. The Pope commented that as an ex Anglican who joined the SSPX Williamson has never really been in full communion.

    Anyway I don’t know much about it and would appreciate insight. Thanks for an interesting post.

  2. Mr Badger says:

    I don’t expect any insight in the next couple of hours of course, you Brits are all asleep. Unless Whippy is still up over a fine wine 🙂

  3. JabbaPapa says:

    They seem to loom large in debates about the Church, but is it a case of punching above their weight?

    Well, yes really.

    I think that there’s a general sense that these people should get back into full communion with the Church, but also that their points about the liturgy and the traditional teachings are useful ones, and also that the extremist liberals have gone way too far in their revisionism.

    Ultimately though, most of these questions are just related to ongoing discussions about the proper implementation of Vatican II, and this SSPX thing is an annoying distraction in these discussions. Many people who have not joined that quasi-schismatic organisation have been militating towards a return to the Old Mass, and on more traditional catechesis, and so on…

    SSPX is a matter of concern, because they threaten to completely break from communion with the Church, which would be desirable for nobody except for some SSPX hardliner extremists who would like to set up an Antipope and other such lunatic nonsense ; which might nevertheless be a little bit hard to pull off with only 3 active bishops …

    Yeah, that’s right, 3 bishops — I mean, this is hardly in the same league as the Lutheran or Anglican schisms, is it… 😮

    Also has Williamson received any censure from within the society regarding his public statements about the holocaust?

    Well, unfortunately some groups within the SSPX are just straightforwardly fascistic and anti-semitic. The fact that the Catholic liturgy no longer includes ritual condemnations of the Jews is one of the “theological” “problems” that these people have with Vatican II, for instance … The SSPX as a whole is not necessarily so fascist and antisemitic, but it is nevertheless right wing generally speaking.

    If the SSPX were to condemn Williamson internally, well the thing is that they would need to condemn a fair number of SSPX groups simultaneously, which would likely be suicidal.

    The Pope commented that as an ex Anglican who joined the SSPX Williamson has never really been in full communion.

    This is an EXTREMELY good point … 😉

  4. Mr Badger says:

    A few days ago Whippy said:

    Again, I’m going outside, I may be some time………….

    and Toad said:

    Well, Toad has had enough of CP&S, for the time being, at least. (Cries of whoopee!

    (He hasn’t had enough of course, he loves CP&S)

    Well they may have a point, those of us whose comments tend to be sceptical and critical of the whole enterprise may well discourage faithful Catholics from commenting on this excellent blog for fear of the aggravation. And that would be a great shame, it’s certainly been a quiet few days. And so Badger too bows out for a bit

  5. kathleen says:

    Dear Mr. Badger,

    Well I can think of two regular commenters who might have been ‘discouraged’ by some of the hassle they received. On the whole though I think most people realise that this teasing and provocation of Wally’s and Toad’s are not done out of spite, but more for the fun of a good old bunfight :-). Hopefully they’ll all turn up again one day.

    Before you ‘bow out’ (and I really hope you don’t), there was a post on CP&S this morning about redemptive suffering you should read……. it was just the topic we were discussing on the “Freedom to Die?” thread a few days ago. Part two coming soon. Hope it helps answer some of your difficulties with this teaching of the Catholic Church.

  6. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    K, you are absolutely right. If some of us whizz off in a sulk, then that is our problem. I of all people should be in tune with that. I am, I think.

    I’m not sulking, but I do realise that to go against the grain for too long isn’t good. Better to let the mainstream do their thing without a boss-eyed irritating pest chipping in. And being contrary is tiring.

    The Catholic church is fundamentally conservative and tho’ I deeply hope for change, I am up against 2000 yrs of history. In past times I’d be for the chop.

    You are doing good work here; defend your corner against all comers!

    XX W

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    The problem I’m having myself online these days is Damian Thompson’s blog at the DT, which has become a playground for trolls, including two or three particularly obnoxious fundamentalist atheists. I mean, all fundamentalism is wrong and bad — but the fundie atheists are particularly bad, because they’re typically not even aware of the nature of their own fanaticism.

    Never seen anything like this at CP&S 🙂

    The Catholic church is fundamentally conservative

    … only in one particular sense of that word … 😉

    Ecclesial change requires a general consensus, not just some Anglican-style majority vote ripping the Church apart.

  8. kathleen says:

    Well said Jabba!
    Welcome back Wally!

    Yes Jabba, DT’s blog is a snake pit these days, and you are brave to venture in. I only read the articles now.

    And re the Holy Catholic Church, I confess to being ‘conservative’; [holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to…. religion.]

    Certainly there are always teachings to clarify and room for change in minor details – hence Councils, Bishop conferences, encyclicals, etc. – but not in the Church’s Tradition handed down through the last 20 centuries. Modernism is a heresy that has been condemned by many Popes.
    And as we are commenting on this thread, may I add that it is also one of the reasons that in spite of my love for the Tridentine Mass, I do not hold with the raison d’etre of the SSPX, who consider themselves as knowing better than the chosen Vicar of Christ.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s