Michael Voris on the SSPX: not charitable, not true.

from: http://www.lmschairman.org/2015/09

The announcement by Pope Francis that priests of the Society of Pius X (SSPX) will be given faculties to hear confessions during the ‘Year of Mercy’ has stimulated Michael Voris to reiterate once again his view that the SSPX are in schism. I’ve mentioned Voris  positively over the years on this blog, and the current issue of the Latin Mass Society’s magazine, Mass of Ages, includes an interview with him, but I have to disagree with him about this, which is far from being a merely theoretical issue.

The reality is that the exact legal status of the SSPX has always been somewhat ambiguous, and as does happen in real life, it is an ambiguity which has been deliberately maintained by both sides to facilitate a positive evolution of the relationship. It is not for Michael Voris to insist on what successive Roman officials have refused to insist on.

Voris tells us that ‘In 1988, Pope St. John Paul called their movement a schism’

Not exactly. He said that Archbishop Lefebvre’s ordination of four bishops without the consent of the Holy See was ‘a schismatic act’, and later in the document pointed out the penalty – excommunication – for ‘formal adherence to schism’.

The Code of Canon Law of course would tell us the same thing. ‘Formal’ here means ‘with the intention of being in schism’, where ‘schism’ means ‘rejecting the authority of the Pope’. The document points out that the consecration of the four bishops ‘implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy’, which opens up the possibility of formal schism, but as a matter of fact the SSPX has never rejected the authority of the Pope in theory, and regularly ejects from its membership priests who do reject the Pope.

As Bishop Schneider recently remarked, having been sent by the Vatican to visit an SSPX seminary, they have pictures of the Pope on their walls and they pray for the local bishop in their Masses.

In any case, how has the SSPX been treated in the years since 1988?

In 2002, the PCED were telling enquirers that they could fulfil their Sunday obligation by attending Mass in an SSPX chapel, and could even make a contribution to the collection.

In 2007, Cardinal Castillon Hoyos insisted in an interview that the SSPX is not in schism:

The Bishops, Priests, and Faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebvre who has undertaken an illicit Episcopal consecration and therefore performed a schismatic act. It is for this reason that the Bishops consecrated by him have been suspended and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society have not been excommunicated.

Then, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI formally lifted the excommunications on the four bishops consecrated in 1988. No mention is made of any schism in this decree, although it looks forward to ‘the prompt attainment of full communion with the Church on the part of the whole Society of St Pius X’.

Now, in 2015, Pope Francis makes a new gesture to them for the Year of Mercy:

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

The position of the SSPX has always been that their confessions are valid due to what is known as ‘supplied jurisdiction’. This is a concept in canon law according to which a priest without faculties from a bishop, even one who has been suspended, can hear the confessions of – say – someone who is dying and can’t reach another priest, and the Church makes this possible by giving him, as it were, emergency faculties to hear the confession. Whether this argument works in relation to the more ordinary circumstances in which most confessions are heard by SSPX priests, is the kind of question which leads to what the Holy Father delicately calls ‘an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint’. I’m not going to comment any more on the validity of the argument, except to say that it is evident that it is made in good faith. But to settle any doubts, the Pope is personally extending to them faculties for the Year of Mercy so that there can be no question about their confessions.

But this is the moment Michael Voris has chosen to tell us that the SSPX is in schism, that all its priests are in mortal sin, and that Catholics who attend their Masses are in peril of their souls. I find this incomprehensible. It is surely absurd to imagine that the Pope has given faculties to schismatic priests for the benefit of people who should on pain of sin have nothing to do with them.

I have no authority to rule on whether the SSPX is is schism or whether anyone is in a state of mortal sin. I don’t want to insist on my personal interpretation of the facts. The point is, however, that Voris has no authority either. He has a lot to say about people lacking discretion when it comes to the SSPX, but it is he who is acting in a most reckless manner. It is reckless with regard to the good faith of those who do go to the SSPX for the sacraments, and it is reckless towards the efforts of the Holy Father and others in Rome who are doing what they can to heal a wound, as Pope Benedict put it, in the heart of the Church. I wish that Voris could take on the attitude of charity and solicitude so movingly expressed by Pope Benedict in his Letter to Bishops which accompanied the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007.

It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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16 Responses to Michael Voris on the SSPX: not charitable, not true.

  1. I think that Voris should update his information about the SSPX to coincide with the Cardinal Muller, head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and Bishop Schneider who was recently sent by Rome to talk with the SSPX. There has been movement since 1988 as your article explains.
    (The Summorum Pontificum was in 2007, not 1988 as in text above.)


  2. Gertrude says:

    Thanks for the correction regarding Summorum Pontificum. I have corrected the date, but have to add that it is most unusual for Joseph Shaw (who wrote the article) to make such a mistake!


  3. ginnyfree says:

    Hello Gertrude. “The position of the SSPX has always been that their confessions are valid.” Um, the ONLY position that matters is the Pope’s. The Anglicans think their version of a confession is valid too as do the Baptists and all the other Pastors who counsel people all the day long telling them they are forgiven after listening to their tales of woe. Does their belief validate their forgiveness? Does it institute a Sacrament? Even if they deny that is what they are trying to do, yet tell their members they are forgiven, are they?

    Communion with the Pope is necessary for validity and without faculties, no priest can licitly absolve without these unless there really is a eminent danger of death. That doesn’t change by denying it. If denial of a truth was all it took to change a truth then all those Protestants would be 100% correct all the time. Think about it. The SSPX doesn’t have to be formally charged with schism for them to be guilty of the sin of schism. It would be like cheating on one’s taxes each and every year but only considering it actual cheating when one gets caught and charged with it and the charges stick. It isn’t shoplifting till you get caught? Or worse, the thief who believes he isn’t guilty of any crime at all and is entitled to the goods he steals. That is the real position those in the SSPX are in. If their Sacraments were valid all along, why would the Holy Father feel a need to give his permission to them for a time? Anyone who calls the Mass evil has lots wrong with his theology in both theory and practice. Hope you can tolerate a contrary opinion. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  4. ginnyfree says:

    P.S. Gertrude, how many schismatic acts does one need to commit publically before one is considered in schism? Consider this opinion of a past Pope: “such disobedience – which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy – constitutes a schismatic act.” ” this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter” “the rejection of the Roman primacy” and as if that weren’t enough, ” the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last” and since they were formally warned not to proceed and did, they “have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.” There ya go. And that is a Pope talking. And just so you can decide again anew, “I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfil the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offence against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church’s law.’ So, take his (St. John Paul II’s) advice and cease to support the SSPX and if you are involved with them Gertrude, cease. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  5. ginnyfree says:

    If they were not in schism, St. John Paul II was wrong to warn everyone that formal adherence to the ——– is a grave offence against God and carries a penalty of excommunication! Are you suggesting Gertrude that not only is Mr. Voris wrong, but also Pope John Paul II? God bless. Ginnyfree.


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    The analogy Ginny offers between SSPX and people ‘cheating’ on their taxes has to be qualified because the line between cheating (tax evasion) and not cheating (tax avoidance) can be a very fine one. Right now, the very reputable accountancy firm, KPMG, is under criminal investigation by the Canadian Revenue Agency for perhaps crossing that line, but until there is a formal judicial ruling, the firm enjoys the benefit of the doubt and is allowed to carry on. I think everyone concerned with where SSPX stands in relation to the line between schism and non-schism has to acknowledge the answer is not clear, and because there is doubt, SSPX should be afforded the benefit thereof, which is what (I think) JP2, Benedict and Francis have endeavoured to do.

    Good counter-comment by Ginny, but I think Gertrude’s excellent analysis is more persuasive.


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    Dear Ginny has made two more comments (19:24 and 19:27) since her original one at 19:10 that I was responding to. All I wish to add is that Gertrude’s third last paragraph in her original post (“But this is the moment Michael Voris has chosen to tell us that the SSPX is in schism…””), is the telling one. Orthodox Catholics, such as Voris – and Ginnyfree – should not be poisoning the well when it comes to ongoing efforts to bring SSPX back to where it belongs: at the front and centre of the Church instead of at the periphery.


  8. ginnyfree says:

    Hello JohnHenry. Thanks for the compliment about being orthodox. Trust me on this one: no one in the SSPX is going to hang on any words I may say not to their liking. Neither will anything I say create an environment that will prevent them from being reconciled. I’ve have “conversations” with a few over the years and for the most part they come off as snobs. Most are overly educated and are very good at memorized defenses for their positions. If you show them actual Church documents to the contrary, you find yourself quickly insulted and ignored. After that, they really find no good reason to talk to you. Most really don’t want to be reconciled to the Church. If you ask me, I think they present the Catholic version of anti-catholicism, if that makes any sense. I’ve yet to get a warm and fuzzy feeling from any of them. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  9. Tom Fisher says:

    JH on Sept. 17 @ 20:09 has 9 up-votes? — Don’t get me wrong I think it was a good comment, but 9 up-votes? That’s extremely rare on this blog, and it happened within just one day. And an earlier comment by Ginnyfree is 7 down? Although it was a silly comment. But 7 down in just over a day?

    Kathleen, is there any chance that something similar to last week is happening? Even though these down-votes are coming from ‘visitors’ you are understandably more warmly disposed to?


  10. kathleen says:

    This apropos article from Jo Shaw (LMS Chairman) brings to light the real underlying antagonism of some erstwhile apparently good Catholics – in this case, Michael Voris – towards the SSPX. Quite honestly, such an attitude as Voris’, from someone who has always taken such pains to condemn errors of liberalism and heterodoxy in the Church, completely baffles me! Why does he feel the need to censure the SSPX in this way now, precisely those who have always been “Catholic to the core” throughout all the abandonment of so much orthodox Catholicity within the Church these last 45 – 50 years since V2? In fact it is particularly at this moment, after the progress made by previous Popes towards reconciliation with the SSPX, and when Pope Francis is opening yet another door towards this end (i.e. recognising the validity of their powers to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Confession) that those like Michael Voris should be rejoicing… instead of continuing to lambaste them, accusing them of being “in schism”!

    IMHO the SSPX are simply ultra traditional Catholics who have retained the fullness of the beauty and majesty of the Sacred Liturgy and devotions of the Church, refusing to succumb to the banalities and innovations of post-V2; besides not recognising certain segments of the Council’s documents as in continuance of Catholic teaching. These difficulties could, in time, be overcome. We desperately need the SSPX in among us to help fight the growing number of enemies lining up for battle against the eternal truths of our Holy Catholic Church.

    “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).


  11. kathleen says:

    Hello Tom:
    In answer to your question about the ‘up’ or ‘down’ votes on peoples’ comments, I’m afraid we have no way of knowing who makes them. (That is, unless one of us happens to spot the give-away flag on our ‘Live Traffic Feed’ at the moment the vote is made – which is what happened sometimes with Mr. Kehoe’s continual down-votes coming from Dublin for most of us, his supposed adversaries! 😉 )
    However nobody has to be logged-in to vote either way, so unless our very busy Dr. BB changes the voting system, anyone looking in to CP&S can anonymously give their opinion on a comment if they want to by voting it up or down.

    It would be helpful if ‘down-voters’ could, sometimes at least, let us know why they disagree with someone’s comment.

    (I have been away for a week with no internet connection, and I am now trying to catch up with all the great articles my Team-mates have been posting in my absence, with all their following interesting comments. 🙂 )


  12. ginnyfree says:

    Hello Kathleen. Welcome back. Hope you enjoyed wherever it was that had no Internet????? Must’ve been a retreat or a deserted isle in the South Pacific or the North Pole. Which? Glad you survived Internet withdrawal. I’ve heard it can be rough. Now about the problem you’re having with Mr. Voris. You state this:” In fact it is particularly at this moment, after the progress made by previous Popes towards reconciliation with the SSPX, and when Pope Francis is opening yet another door towards this end (i.e. recognising the validity of their powers to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Confession) that those like Michael Voris should be rejoicing… instead of continuing to lambaste them, accusing them of being “in schism”!
    Here is a simple observation: IF the SSPX were as wonderfully Catholic as you’re inclined to see them, there would be NO NEED FOR THEM TO BE RECONCILED TO THE CHURCH. If they’re weren’t OUT of the Church, no one would be working so hard to BRING THEM BACK, Truth is, they don’t want to come back and think it is the Church that is in the wrong. If they were 100%, they wouldn’t even be in the news. They’d simply be another religious group among the many that makes up all the Orders in the Church. There is no need to return to home if you’ve never left. It is basic math. 1 + 1 = 2, leave the Church and you’re out of the Church. The SSPX has no desire to do this on the whole although many have tried to help them. Kathleen, I say this because I am a faithful Catholic. I cannot imagine the level of arrogance that some must have to actually JUDGE then CONDEMN the Second Vatican Council along with several Popes as well as the Latin Rite Liturgy! This is a blasphemy and arrogance beyond the pale. But that is only a small part of the complex number of ecclesial crimes these men are guilty of. And they are crimes. When exposed by person such and Mr. Voris and a few others, the reality of their schism is apparent. Material scism is what they are in now and they will remain there until and in spite of a formal declaration. A formal declaration of schism will eventually happen simply because it is inevitable. And when it does happen, it will be because they desire it, not because the Holy See does.
    Well, thank you for tolerating a contrary opinion. For what its worth. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  13. ginnyfree says:

    P.S. I forgot this: You’re placing words in the Holy Father’s mouth by saying he is “recognising the validity of their powers to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Confession” Kathleen, the Holy Father isn’t doing any such thing! He is GIVING then the ability to hear Confessions for the FIRST TIME in their ordained lives! And this is only extended to them as an act of mercy by the Pope and that is ONLY for the Year of Mercy. The Holy Fahter didn’t just wake up and realize what they’ve been doing all along has been okay. He hasn’t come round to their way of thinking as you’d like others to think. THAT is a sad distortion of the facts. But I don’t want to argue, just clarify, so there ya go. God bless. Ginnyfree.


  14. kathleen says:

    Well, Ginny, you’ve written quite a lot to respond to here, and (needless to say) I disagree with all your criticisms of the SSPX, and most of all the one where you state that the SSPX is not part of the Universal Catholic Church. Even Pope Francis himself, in his meeting with them before the recent lifting of the prohibition to receive the Sacrament of Confession by their priests, reaffirmed that they were “good Catholics” and members of the same Church! This is a very important point.

    It is most unlikely that after the ‘Year of Mercy’ the ban on going to Confession ministered by a priest of the SSPX will be enforced anew. I believe (and hope and pray that it will be so) that this step forward is one more towards the eventual return of this faithful-to-Catholic-tradition order into the One Church.

    It is their canonical irregularity that has left the SSPX in apparent schism, but with the lifting of the excommunication of their bishops (who had been excommunicated through disobedience of an order, not through the committing of any heresy) they are still within the framework of the Church, though appearing as if on the “periphery”, as JH mentions above.

    Pope Francis’ old friend and successor as Bishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, erected the SSPX as a society of diocesan right (meaning part of the Catholic Church) and stated:
    “[T]he “lack of full communion” attributed to the Society of Saint Pius X, even though its clergy and laity are obviously Catholics under no sentence of excommunication, is nothing but an ad hoc contrivance designed to perpetuate the unjust persecution of this group of the faithful by creating a rather silly special category of “double secret probation” in the Church applicable only to them. I have also argued that the mere issuance of a technical decree regularising the Society’s canonical status is all that is necessary to eliminate the illusory “lack of full communion”.”

    After his Vatican-authorised visitations of the SSPX seminaries, Bishop Schneider remarked:
    “To my knowledge there are no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition, meanwhile they should be accepted as they are. This was indeed Archbishop Lefebvre’s petition to the Holy See: “Accept us as we are”.”

    And what are they, Ginny? Revolutionists? Heretics? Cunning devisors of new doctrines?
    Nope, none of that. Simply faithful, traditional Catholics who could not accept the ruin of the Church’s ancient Mass of the Ages and the banal Novus Ordo replacement; the abandonment of so many beautiful Catholic traditions, devotions, pious practices; and finally having to accept some very dubious passages within some of the Vatican II documents i.e. not seeing them in line with the eternal teachings of the Church, concerning Ecumenism and (I think) the description of ‘the Church in the world’.

    Perhaps in their dialogue with Rome the SSPX could echo the words of the 16th century English martyr, St. Edmund Campion: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England.” (Substituting the words, the Catholic Church, for ‘England’.)


  15. Tom Fisher says:

    Perhaps in their dialogue with Rome the SSPX could echo the words of the 16th century English martyr, St. Edmund Campion: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England.” (Substituting the words, the Catholic Church, for ‘England’.)

    But that analogy doesn’t quite work.

    St Campion was loyal to the Church and therefore to the Pope. He was living in a country that had rejected Papal authority because of the whims of a King.
    Catholicism without full communion with the Pope is not something Campion would ever have endorsed.

    Granted, the SSPX may not be in a state of schism, but they have deliberately disobeyed Papal authority. They argue that it is the Vatican, not themselves that has erred. — This surely makes them strictly equivalent to the Anglo-Catholic movement in the C of E. They claim to be Catholic, but without the need for Papal sanction.

    Surely all the SSPX need to do is stop trying to negotiate with the Vatican. There are 1.5 Billion Catholics, they can’t all negotiate the terms of their communion with the Pope.

    It is very hard to understand the SSPX position that communion with the Pope should be a matter of debate and negotiation rather than simple obedience.


  16. kathleen says:

    Tom Fisher @ 10:07 yesterday

    Hi Tom! Apologies for not getting back to you sooner.
    Certainly I see your point that obedience to the Church and obedience to the Pope, Christ’s Vicar on Earth, should always go hand in glove. But what is a faithful Catholic supposed to do when these two pillars suddenly arise in apparent opposition to one another?
    In recent debates here on CP&S (and others I have looked in on from other traditional Catholic websites) this issue has been a recurring topic just lately under the papacy of Pope Francis!

    Without wishing to get side-tracked on other points of conflict where these two appear to clash on occasions, but instead keeping solely to the one you refer to, re the SSPX’s rejection of the order from the Pope to discontinue celebrating the ancient and beautiful Tridentine Mass in the immediate years after the fabrication of the Novus Ordo Mass, there are some important points to take into consideration…

    The True Mass goes back to Apostolic times; and it was “codified”, solidified, or set in stone by St. Pope Pius V in his Papal Bull Quo Primum Tempore on July 14, 1570. He specified the exact Mass ritual and stated that only this Liturgy or Ritual was to be used from that time “until the end of time” (for the Roman Rite). The Canon, with the exception of one short clause, inserted by Pope St. Gregory the Great, and another by Pope Leo, (a total of no more than 26 words) had remained unchanged… until, well, you know the rest!!

    The Council of Trent had accurately stated that “the Canon of the Mass is composed out of the very words of the Lord, the tradition of the Apostles, and the pious institutions of the holy Pontiffs”. Though the main parts of the Order of Mass were incorporated into the New Mass of Pope Paul VI (who many refer to as Buigini’s ‘Mass’ rather than the Pope’s) its original Canon, language, ritual, prayers, and a large etceta of such vital ramifications, such as beauty, reverence, awe, splendour, to the transcendent qualities it espoused… were more or less destroyed.

    We have all witnessed the following falling away from the Church of perhaps millions of Catholics once the lex orandi, lex crendendi, lex vivendi, had been wrecked! (Gertrude’s post yesterday deals precisely with this topic.)
    The faithful Catholics under Archbishop Lefebvre – who eventually became known as the SSPX – could not allow that to happen. They disobeyed the current Pope(s), yes, in order to obey the hundreds of other former Pontiffs and their command that the Mass was not to be tampered with.

    In the late 60’s and 70’s, most others (like my parents) obeyed the Pope and moved over to the NO Mass and all its surrounding banalities… but with great regrets and broken hearts. Only with hindsight did they admit that there were devils at work within the Church at that time, just as Pope Paul VI himself had admitted!!

    Popes can, and do, make mistakes sometimes, when not speaking ex cathedra. For example, Pope Pius VII made a grave error in 1813 over the case of a marriage annulment for Napoleon – signing a Treatise between the Holy See and the Emperor where he undersigned some conditions incompatible with Catholic Doctrine – and which he later withdrew.

    At the time of the Protestant Deformation, Martin Luther’s slogan was, “Take away the Mass, destroy the Church”. He and his heretics did just that, leading people away from the One Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the True Church.
    The SSPX saw the danger of the same thing happening in the reform of the Liturgy; only instead of “taking the Mass away” entirely, just trivialising it – making it unappealing and community-centred rather than God-centred.

    Therefore, only in my own opinion, I think the analogy of St. Edmund Campion’s last words that I mentioned above, can indeed be applied here to the thoughts and actions of the SSPX.


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