When the SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) became separated from the Post Conciliar Church, it was a scandal that has continued to reverberate until today. In one sense I understand the excommunication because of the illicit installation and consecration of new bishops without papal approval. On the other hand I have much sympathy for the position of the group as a whole. The excommunication has been lifted by the Pope recently as a peace offering for a possible resolution to this schism.
The Second Vatican Council was a pastoral council that evaluated where the Church wanted to go from here, the plans and practices that would be applied to get us there etc. It did not issue any new teaching on faith or morals; that is they did not add to or subtract from the de fide teachings of Catholicism.
The Council was extremely divided with Cardinal Ottaviani, Bishop Marcel Lefebvre and many supporters who were appalled at some of the changes being proposed as well as the inclusion of non-Catholic (Protestant) advisors invited to make suggestions. At one point Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani muttered to Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini (later Pope Paul VI): “I pray to God that I may die before the end of the Council—in that way I can die a Catholic.” The seriousness of their disagreements is obvious from the above quote.
On the other side of the aisle we had figures like Karl Rahner, Hans Kung and others, often accused of being modernists (a named Heresy of the Faith) who fought for more radical and novel changes. As things ended up, this group won out in much of what was proposed, though the Holy Spirit did preserve the teachings of our de fide teachings. The documents themselves must be read as orthodox suggestions for improving how the Church might go forth in the modern world and be more relevant in the rapid changes taking place. Therefore a right sense of the documents is entirely dependent on the reader to interpret these documents according to our tradition and the defined truths of the Church. After all, there was a time when the Church was the biggest influence on world culture and the tables began to be reversed where modern secular thought was and still is, to a great degree, a major influence upon the Church. We had lost the first skirmishes for the moral development of our changing societies. A New Evangelization will obviously be needed if we are to win the war.
A new Mass was introduced to the Council by Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, the architect of the Mass, who remains a very controversial figure to this day. He was later accused of being a Freemason though definitive proof was never released by the Church. Pope Paul the VI effectively put him in exile for his final years by giving him a post in Iran. However, this Novus Ordo Mass is now the preferred Mass of the Church.
The introduction of this Mass to the world caused many priests and religious to leave the Church as well as many ordinary, obedient Catholics who found the changes unbearable (an estimated 6 million in the U.S. in total). Nuns and priests began removing their habits and clerical clothing and dressing as ordinary laymen. It was at this time that Bishop Marcel Lefebvre began his journey that eventually got him and his group of followers excommunicated from the Church.
It is true that the modernists and progressives of the Church, used the argument “in the Spirit of Vatican II” to introduce far more changes to the Mass than what was originally intended. Abuses of the GIRM (General Instruction for the Roman Missal) were rampant. To this day we still see the footprints of their “novel” ideas all over most celebrations of the Novus Ordo Mass. I only bring this up to set-up the confusion among the faithful and what all of this uncertainty conjures up in the minds of us who have watched this storm approach and then engulf us from the close of the Council. Some being witnesses, as it were, to the chaos which, though greatly diminished, exists right through to our day. Some valiant attempts are being made to right the situations and our last 2 Popes have been steadfast captains of the Bark of Peter during this turbulent storm.
Back now to the dilemma in evaluating the situation with the SSPX:
So here’s the dilemma many ordinary people have when they look at the fruits of the New Mass and the Post Conciliar Church as opposed to that of the flock of the SSPX: Note I speak of the flock because we are now into the second generation of SSPX leadership. I am more interested in looking at their practice and culture and comparing them to the flock that have remained in the Bark of Peter as they ought.
On one hand those who stayed within the Post Conciliar Church abiding by all the changes were faced with a diminishing clergy, religious, and laity who have become extremely lax; some were simply being obedient to any and all changes, good or bad (novelty or not), when they were introduced by their parish priests. By 1992 only 30% of the Novus Ordo laity believed in transubstantiation. See my footnote on a recent post, here.
On the other hand, the SSPX, who were now in schism with the Church, has gained priests and religious, have been schooled in solid theology and their laity hold steadfast to all the de fide teachings of the Church. Their laity, in unison, would respond almost 100% in affirming the Catholic doctrine on transubstantiation. In this manner, one cannot equate their schism as being anything like that of Martin Luther whose Protestant heresy created a brand new religion with new teachings: rejecting nearly all of our de fide teachings.
By contrast, the SSPX looks and feels more like a small Catholic island community that was cut off from the rest of Catholicism for these past 47 years.
So for their acts of disobedience and rejection of new Catholic practices (which they felt undermined the de fide teachings of the Church), the SSPX is still viewed with great disdain among many of today’s Catholics and Catholic clergy. However, it sometimes appears ironic to anyone who might compare their acts of disobedience to the disobedience of many within the Novus Ordo, Post Conciliar Church who remain ‘Catholics in good standing.’
To this point, think of the scandalous behavior of some of our priests and Bishops in the abuse scandals; some of whom are still operating without sanction. Think of the influx of wild eyed theologians and scripture scholars who plagued us with their novel ideas, such as, Christ was not resurrected but his bones were eaten by dogs, or that Christ did not say most of things attributed to Him in scripture. They still wear their Roman collars and are interviewed on television as Catholic experts. Think of some of the most influential public political figures such as Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden who scandalously receive Holy Communion while fighting tooth and nail to promote abortion at every chance they get. They too are considered by Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl (an otherwise very traditional Bishop in America) as ‘Catholics in good standing;’ worthy to receive the Eucharist even though they bring unprecedented scandal on the Church. The consequence of his failure to deny or better yet excommunicate them tells the faithful layman that they need not agree with any de fide teaching of the Church which they might disagree with; after all, the prelates will surely give them a ‘wink and a nod’ and allow them to continue to scandalize the remaining faithful.
With this going on, is there any wonder that the laity of the Novus Ordo Church defies the Church teachings on contraception in overwhelmingly large numbers? Many have been led into apostasy or even heresy yet nothing is done. Do those in the SSPX churches act the same? It is doubtful from those whom I have met, though there is no poll that I have found to prove it.
In the same vein, the members of the Novus Ordo Church voted overwhelmingly in the last election for an avowed Socialist and the most pro-abortion presidential candidate this country has ever known. Again, I have no way to prove it, but I would say that the well educated laity of the SSPX church knows the Catholic teachings concerning socialism and abortion. The Church has repeatedly decried socialist forms of government and has spent an enormous amount of energy explaining the seriousness of the sin of abortion. John Paul II made it clear that to vote for a pro-abortion candidate was morally wrong when and if there is a pro-life candidate that could be voted for. I would wager than the SSPX members voted more in line with our Pope’s wishes than did the ‘Catholics in good standing.’
So we have the SSPX schismatic Church doing things and living in ways that we only wish our Post Conciliar Church would mimic. Meanwhile, we have a post conciliar Church getting involved in scandal almost everywhere we look. The latest being the LCWR scandal of the modernist nuns. I guess the Vatican has finally decided to discipline or sanction them.
The obvious questions for those of us who are still faithful to the Magisterium are: Why did it take so long to look into these modernist nuns? Why didn’t the Superiors of the various Orders stop this from happening? And why didn’t the Bishops of the diocese’s put an end to such behavior before now? Who is funding them? After all this is not a new problem; it has been going on for nearly 40 years now. Where have they been?
But we constantly lay blame on the SSPX (rightly so for their disobedience to the Pope). However, their followers are among the most faithful Catholics we have seen when it comes to abiding by the dogmatic teachings of the Church and avoiding doctrinal scandal. It is almost bazaar in its very nature. On one hand we have a schismatic group living the Catholic life and on the other we have the official Catholic flock that is rife with people who are living in apostasy. The choice is not that enticing.
Some hate the idea of the SSPX and are angry that the Pope wants to have them reconcile with the Church. Yet they could teach the rest of us what a truly Holy Mass looks like: something the Novus Ordo can do with much effort but still has a very hard time imitating. The SSPX can also teach us how to catechize our flock; something the Novus Ordo church is struggling with and must succeed in doing if we are ever going to reach our goals of a New Evangelization.
I think Pope Benedict the XVI knows that the reform of the reform which he desires is absolutely necessary. I also think that he is aware that he will need the help from the religious fraternities like the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter) and the SSPX in order to bring this revitalization about. These 2 groups are both very strong in the area of faithful adherence to the dogmatic teachings of the Church.
Therefore, I think we, as laymen, must keep an open mind about this era of our Catholic history. We are far too much invested in the present turmoil to be very good judges of this moment in time. It is impossible to escape our turbulent time in order to examine the outcome from afar without emotional, intellectual and doctrinal prejudice. What the future holds for the Church and the schismatic SSPX will just have to work itself out by the leaders of the SSPX and the Church.
For myself, I am going to leave this dilemma to Christ and His Holy Church and to the movement of His Holy Spirit. I have faith that our Holy Father and the Magisterium will, in the end, set the Bark of Peter aright.
My opinion again is that the rest of us need to take a deep breath and say, ‘from my perspective I admit that I am very short sighted.” Some may think me a rebel in taking a neutral stance but I refuse to take sides in this one though I will always defend defined teachings and reverent Masses.
I am personally praying for reunification and a real renewal of the Church; not more scandal and abuse like we’ve seen during these past 47 years. I pray for our Pope and His intentions and the revitalization of Holy Mother Church.
There are many of you who might disagree with me on the best way to renew the Church. I would love to know where you stand on these issues and how you might view the present dilemma with the SSPX.