On our Facebook page, a very upset (former) reader had some harsh words for us about the recent discussion of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X in the pages of 1P5. She wrote:
Fr Paul Nicholson was correct. Very disappointed with your embrace of SSPX. I think you should go on a retreat and pray about it. Sad.
I just will not be supporting or passing along articles from One Peter Five till anymore. You give the appearance of saying to people, it’s Ok to attend. That is very, very dangerous. Perhaps you’ve become too popular, and too sophisticated (not a compliment). Lord deliver us from professional lay evangelists, and give us Holy clergy instead who will take back their jobs!!!
I support the desire for holy clergy who will teach the faith. I doubt they’ll make lay theologians and evangelists redundant, but the fewer of us who are needed, the better, as far as I’m concerned. I hope that day comes soon.
Until then, we make the most out of our circumstances. And they’re not ideal. There are a few things to address on this topic so we can move beyond it:
- Fr. Paul Nicholson’s assessment of the SSPX is that their Masses are a worse offense to God than a Satanic Black Mass. The absurdity of this position (which itself came as a reaction to something written here at 1P5 about their Mass of reparation for the Oklahoma City Satanic Mass last year) should be apparent to anyone with even the most basic grounding in Catholic theology. Fr. Paul Nicholson has also made it a point to attack, in a very public fashion, anyone who shows sympathy for the SSPX. He has done as much to me, and has blocked me from any discussion with him in any public venue on the topic. He demands total acquiescence to his personal prudential judgment on the matter. I would strongly advise people to be wary in using Fr. Paul as a source of guidance on this issue. His position is NOT the position of the Church.
- I have not EVER (nor has any article in this publication) advised that people attend SSPX chapels – and I have never attended one myself. The pope — the supreme legislator of the Church — has the authority to remedy their situation of having “no canonical status” in the Church, but until he does so, and communion is firmly, clearly, and publicly established, it is my view that it would be imprudent (and possibly even dangerous, depending on one’s personal attitude and disposition) to attend their chapels.
- My opinion is that while the pope has the God-given authority to treat the SSPX as he wishes — since any institute of religious life in the Church exists, to some extent, at his will and pleasure — the way the SSPX is being handled as somehow other than Catholic appears unjust, based on available facts. Simply because the pope has the power to do something doesn’t mean it’s a thing that should be done.
- The opinion stated in the previous point is based in my long study of Catholic theology and ecclesiology, and in my understanding that the SSPX holds and teaches nothing that is contrary to the Catholic Faith, and in many cases they are clearer and more orthodox in their expression of the faith as it has been perennially formulated by the saints, doctors, and popes of the Church. It is for this reason that I find their treatment unjust, even though I concede that their approach to the Church has not always been docile or conciliatory, and that disobedience to a pope in matters which fall under his jurisdiction is a very grave thing indeed.
- As supporting arguments for my opinions, I would present items I have previously written on the topic:
- This, on the confusion over the status of the SSPX is a direct result of an extremely unclear and at times self-contradictory approach to the subject from the Vatican.
- This, on the point that Catholics should avoid arrogating to themselves a position in relation to the Society that is more extreme than that of Pope Benedict XVI, who addressed the situation directly when he lifted the excommunications.
- This, on Bishop Schneider’s recent assessment of the SSPX (in his capacity as an official Vatican visitor) as presenting “no weighty reasons” that should keep them from being “accepted as they are” is correct: they are Catholic in every meaningful sense of the word.
I accept fully that these are my opinions and interpretations, and that further study and reflection may prompt me to reach new conclusions, whether in favor of or in opposition to the SSPX.
My position is, as I understand it, completely within the boundaries of legitimate fidelity and docility to Holy Mother Church. I disagree with certain non-binding assessments made on the Society and find their status objectionable, but I would remind the reader that Rome has been at pains not to declare them schismatic in any official capacity and certain persons charged by the Vatican to deal with the Society have flatly opposed this language. In fact, language pertaining to “schismatic” action was used in an official capacity only once that I am aware of – when Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, on the occasion of the illicit consecration of four bishops by the Society’s founder and then-head, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Of critical importance is this fact: the excommunications made public in that letter were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. With those off the table, it’s time to move beyond the issue of disobedience and into a mature evaluation of the doctrinal disputes raised by the SSPX. These, I am convinced, are the reason that they remain without status. The Church cannot condemn their positions, because they are doctrinally orthodox; but the Church cannot accept their positions, because they present an obvious conflict with the way things have been understood since the Council. This intractable dilemma has led, I believe, to a stalemate. Rome has the power to keep it that way (and it behooves them to do so) and the SSPX won’t budge from their stance that their doctrinal understandings are verifiably orthodox, so nothing changes.
As Catholics, as recipients of Church patrimony, as students of theology and defenders of the faith, we owe it to ourselves to understand the points of doctrinal and theological departure between the pre and post-conciliar ecclesial paradigms. They’re real. They matter. And they lie at the heart of not only the decades-long conflict between the Church and the Society, but the much larger crisis of faith that is even now consuming the Church from within.
I don’t have time to moderate another long and combative comment thread this week, so I’ll be closing the comment box on this one.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.