It has been almost a year since the anti-SSPX crowd took yet another legalistic shot at the Priestly Fraternity of the Society of Saint Pius X, and it seems — at least for now — that the enemies of Archbishop Lefebvre and his priests have stopped with their griping. At the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, it seemed like it was all the rage to take shots from this angle or that at the Society, with even big-name podcasters piling on for a few clicks. When I say a “few” clicks, I mean that literally.
At least on YouTube, an SSPX podcast episode with Father David Sherry — a man I am privileged to know and to call a spiritual father — received almost 300 thousand views in an attempt to tell the truth about the SSPX. That one podcast received more than triple the amount of views than Matt Fradd’s attempt to malign the SSPX in a one-sided and scripted conversation. It was a bit funny, considering the fact that Sherry recorded his talk on a laptop with no external camera or microphone with laggy video from a Zoom call, and the Pints With Aquinas grenade was filmed in 4k with a multi-cam setup and a full-staff.
Of course — if I could give myself a shameless plug — my book, SSPX: The Defence (rightly spelled with a C) also sat atop the Amazon Catholic chart for the better part of two weeks in the Spring. I don’t say this to self-aggrandize, but it was interesting to note the phenomenon of a self-published book on the controversial topic of the SSPX sitting atop a list of books released by publishers with marketing teams and all the bells and whistles you’d expect at a real publisher.
What this showed was that no matter the effort — and money — that Catholic Inc. put into their onslaughts, the average Catholic wasn’t buying it. In addition, one only needs to look at the international interest in the new church in St. Mary’s Kansas. Upwards of fifty thousand people tuned in to watch the five-hour-long consecration of a church. I was there, and it was beautiful, but with all the things available online, I would hardly say that it was something you would consider “must-see TV.”
What does this tell us?
Well, Catholics with a traditional mindset are not fooled by tit-for-tat legal arguments and pharisaical opining about the Society and they understand with the innate Catholic sense that the SSPX will go down in Church history as a providential gift from God in the fight against Modernism that still rages on.
The arguments from the anti-SSPX malcontents, generally speaking, centre around two things: a legalist interpretation of Canon Law, and an out-of-touch understanding of the lives of Catholics the world over.
In Father Sherry’s interview — and in my book — he made it clear that, yes, there is a robust defence to be made of the SSPX using legal principles, and one can make that defence as well as the next person. But, in this war for the heart of tradition, we do well to understand the situation of the SSPX in terms of principles and the Catholic faith.
Any lawyer will tell you that you can “indict a ham sandwich” and the same is true with Canon Law. Canon Law is not a magical form of indefectible and infallible divinely revealed legal codes that emanate from divine oracles who always judge justly. No, it is a code of positive law which is of course very useful, but can be abused and used unjustly just like any code of positive law in the history of the world. Just ask any good priest who has been “cancelled” how easily it is for bishops and lawyers to use legal jiu-jitsu to condemn a good priest to the exterior darkness.
The Church is a perfect society, meaning that she contains all she needs within herself to achieve her end. She has her priests, her doctrines, and her Sacraments, and, technically speaking, she needs nothing else. But, as she operates in the world of men and nation-states, she has to deal with human and political realities. As a result, she needs a set of legal principles in order to govern justly. But we must understand that this legal framework is at the service of the mission of the Church, which is the salvation of souls.
Any use of Canon Law that works against the express end of the Church — even if technically legal in a close framework — is unjust and if one is in a position to resist such an abuse of the law for a just reason, he can do so.
Out of Touch
In addition to this basic understand of natural justice and sound principles of just governance, Catholics are also not living in Canon Law facilities where everything is in the hypothetical. Real Catholics, with real children in real situations, have to make choices about how they will get themselves and their dependents to Heaven. Sadly, Liberals have ruined the application of nuance and common sense when it comes to conversations about theology and the nature of God. Still, we can say with confidence that God will not be quizzing Father so and so or a pater familias about how he may have misunderstood the application of epikeia in relation to the complicated question of the nature of the SSPX’s canonical mission.
This is what the anti-SSPX crowd doesn’t understand. The SSPX is more than just an “option” in a time of crisis for millions of Catholics world-wide; the SSPX is more than just the “only option” in many cases; the SSPX is a God-send for those people.
I have heard it said that the SSPX in some ways is a “compromise” for people who access the Sacraments at their chapels, by which they mean that it is understandable in some cases given the crisis that some people attend their Masses. The idea is that since the SSPX doesn’t enjoy normal relations with some — not all — local bishops, that attending their Masses is but a place-holder activity for people until the FSSP or the ICKSP or some other group swoops in and saves the day.
Now, I do not mean to take anything away from those groups, but this sort of mentality is historically ignorant. Simply put, if it was not for the SSPX and the actions of Lefebvre, there would be no Ecclesia Dei commission, no indult, and naturally speaking, there would be no Latin Mass available for the general public. You may disagree, and you may say that I cannot say this, but it is not I who says it, but Dom Alcuin Reid who wrote:
Let us not forget the origins of the Fraternity of St Peter or of the Institute of the Good Shepherd: they would not exist today if it were not for the conscientious disobedience of several decades ago that ensured that the Society of St Pius X continued on when it was canonically suppressed in the 1970s. People who benefit from the good work of these Institutes today… should not forget the fact that they exist today because historically their founders took conscientious decisions to ignore parts of canon law and decrees of suppression that would have otherwise brought about their death.
I have even heard other traditionalists gripe that the SSPX operates in a diocese where there is already another traditional group. The horror! I mean, why would we ever want any more good priests around? Better for the FSSP and ICKSP to be outstretched and unable to serve all the faithful in an area than to have SSPX priests helping forgive mortal sins, right? Is this really an argument that intelligent people have in an era of a priest shortage?
The man who attends the SSPX is not making a compromise in order to “get” his traditional Sacraments, and he need not jump ship when a different order rolls into town. It is the New Springtime that compromised on the Faith and Archbishop Lefebvre who said, “No!” to the revolution.
If there is a tug-of-war for the soul of the Church with the Modernists on one side and the Catholics on the other, it is Lefebvre and his priests acting as the anchor on the Catholic side, even if the others don’t want to turn around and look. In addition, if the SSPX were to metaphorically let go, all the historical validations for their existence would vanish.
God would have found another way?
One of the more common objections I hear when making arguments like this — namely that we have the SSPX to thank at least on historical grounds for the continuation of the traditional priesthood — is that “God could have found another way.” In essence, the idea is that while it is understandable that Lefebvre believed he had to act the way that he did, God would have found a way to do it without any legal doubts.
In North America, we call this playing “armchair quarterback.” We might say that Tom Brady could have thrown a different pass, or Gretzky should have shot a puck at a different angle, or Michael Jordan could have scored more points if he did XYZ. Well, these little games are fun to play, but the reality is that none of us were in those games, and none of us were or ever will be as good as they were.
In fact, if we look at Church history, we find that God tends to intervene by using human instruments, and we know these things to be true when we judge the fruits of their actions.
What are the fruits of the SSPX? The preservation of the Mass of all time; the preservation of the traditional priesthood; the preservation of traditional seminaries, etc. Has the SSPX ever pushed it “too far” and set up a parallel Church? No. Has the SSPX ever said that the pope is not the pope or that bishops have no authority? No. Has the SSPX adopted some heresy? Not a chance.
On the contrary, let us judge the fruits of your average diocese… I do not need to go into it here, but if we are judging fruits, the SSPX seems like a plentiful harvest whereas the situation for most Catholic dioceses since the council has been a drought with a run of cholera.
Lefebvre wasn’t “perfect”
Some critics find this or that quote of Lefebvre — usually if not always out of context or employed with a lack of linguistic nuance — and say, “Look, he said something that I disagree with! Must be a schismatic!”
Well, let us hope that when we stand before God at our judgement, it will be a conversation about how we weren’t perfect in the eyes of men. As if any of us could have acted with such courage and prudence in those veritably insane decades of the 70s and 80s.
When Archbishop Lefebvre is one day canonized — and he will be — he will be the first Saint in a long time who we can say is really a saint of the Old School. What I mean to say is that he will be the only Saint who really underwent a devil’s advocate, and not just in the normal sense, but an international forensic investigation into everything he ever said and did, and as Providence would have it, the Archbishop comes out every time smelling like a rose in a Church overrun with dung.
Let me say thank you to the critics of Lefebvre, as they have done a great service to the Church by allowing us to prove time and time again that Archbishop Lefebvre is one of the greatest heroes in the history of the Church.
You may think it is too strong to say that, but let me conclude with some wisdom from Dr. Kwasniewski on the sheer evil of the New Spring time. He wrote in The Once and Future Roman Rite:
The “truth” into which the Holy Spirit guides the Church includes the development of her liturgy. Hence, any significant or wholesale rejection of elements that have come to be practiced and accepted over a long period of time in the Church is, in a certain sense, a sin against the Holy Spirit, and any attempt to recast a rite from the ground up cannot but reflect a false theology of the Church and of the Trinity.
The sin against the Holy Ghost is by definition unforgivable. Is there anything more evil than a sin against the Holy Ghost? What does that say about what has happened since the Council? And, if we consider just how evil this whole operation has been, what can we say about the heroism of the man who stood against the sin contra mundum so that we could all kneel for the last Gospel, and have our sins absolved with those earth-shattering words, ego te absolvo…
Can we finally put the SSPX debate to rest and just focus on saving our souls until the fog of war is lifted?