During the COVID shutdown of the Catholic Church throughout the United States that began in 2020, the Diocese of Arlington (Virginia) reportedly had churches close their doors for nine weeks. During this time, a handful of Catholics reached out to the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and requested them to provide the Sacraments. Recently, lay faithful who regularly attend the diocesan Traditional Latin Masses in Front Royal, have heard more than one sermon with apologetics against the Society of St. Pius X, the Sacraments and their work in the area. The spokesperson for the Diocese of Arlington spokesperson and pastor of St. John the Baptist declined repeated requests to provide their insights for this story.
In 2020, the SSPX worked with local state and health authorities, as they did in many areas of the U.S. during the shutdown, and were able to offer Holy Mass and other Sacraments as requested by the Catholic laity, as is their canonical right:
If a latae sententiae censure has not been declared, the prohibition is also suspended whenever a member of the faithful requests a sacrament or sacramental or an act of governance; a person is permitted to request this for any just cause.
On July 29, 2022, Bishop Michael Burbridge reduced the number of church locations offering the Traditional Latin Mass from 21 to 8 locations with four remaining in diocesan church buildings.  “Not all of the original 21 were for Sunday Mass locations,” said Karen Hickey, of Middletown, Virginia, who frequents the Traditional Latin Mass and is a parishioner of St. John the Baptist in Front Royal, Virginia.
“Many of those who attended the Society’s fairground Masses returned to the parish Traditional Latin Masses when the diocesan churches reopened. Many of those currently at the Society in Front Royal are not from the area,” Hickey said. “Those sacraments are not valid without the permission of the Bishop. So saying that they are offering invalid Sacraments is more accurate.”
[Editor’s note: Ms. Hickey contacted us to clarify her statement regarding “those sacraments,” which was meant to refer only to the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no dispute among competent authorities that the other Sacraments of the SSPX are valid, including Confession, for which the Holy Father has granted jurisdiction to the SSPX priests universally. The SSPX does seek permission from the local bishop for the celebration of their Sacrament of Matrimony. Yet they further contend that they also receive supplied jurisdiction due to the “state of necessity,” making their celebration Matrimony valid even without permission – but this is a matter of dispute between canonists and other competent authorities.]
Meanwhile Mary Ann Kreitzer lives in Woodstock, Virginia, and she expressed thanks for the SSPX’s willingness to serve her family’s and friends’ needs during the lockdown in 2020.
“The situation in the Diocese of Arlington has been a source of grief to me personally,” she said. It seems strange to see the bishop obey the pope when he says to suppress the Traditional Latin Mass, but ignore the 2017 letter urging bishops to give jurisdiction to the SSPX to witness marriages and offer nuptial Masses,” she said. “It makes no sense.”
But Hickey had a different view. “The SSPX Priests do not have permission to say Mass or offer any sacraments in the Arlington diocese,” she said,
Our Bishop, our pastor at St. John the Baptist, and our two—soon to be three—associate Priests in our parish are providing such valiant and pastoral care to the Traditional Latin Mass community beyond what anyone nationally can even understand. Our parish Traditional Latin Mass community is growing and being showered with blessings, and yet the SSPX community actively recruits people away from their vibrant parish life and community.
But the SSPX chapel, alongside the eight diocesan-authorized Traditional Latin Mass locations is also growing, according to Kreitzer. She notes that a family just moved there from the Society’s largest church in Kansas to be closer to their family on the east coast and is now attending. There are also families flocking there from neighboring states where they can be assured of receiving the full Traditional Catholic life and all of the Sacraments.
Similar to the years since the full continuation of the SSPX in 1988, affirmed with four consecrated bishops, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), along with the local diocesan Ordinary, would often plant the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter locations near SSPX chapels in order to attempt to encourage Catholics to attend their churches instead. What has happened in many locations is that more traditionally-minded Catholic families populated the area and then attended the locations that were most convenient for their families.
In other words, Catholics families just want the Sacraments. They don’t concern themselves as much with these clerical questions. Pious Catholic families naturally unite the clans without using the label.
The analogy could be used as Ronald Reagan’s pro-capitalistic jingles such as “A rising tide rises all ships.” In other words, the more choices that Catholics have for the Traditional Mass and Sacraments convenient for their living and work situation, the more quickly the Traditional Latin Mass locations and local community grow, thereby hastening building of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Kreitzer said that she finds it “ironic” to see more criticism and hostility levied against traditional Catholics than against those who embrace Protestantism and even paganism. “How can one justify bowing to Pachamama and then treating traditional Catholics like unclean lepers not worthy to worship in the same churches with the clean children attending the Novus Ordo?” she queried.
Kreitzer said that she finds very upsetting “the internecine warfare between traditionalists.”
“The drumbeating against the SSPX with false accusations that they are stealing parishioners from the diocesan churches is upsetting,” Kreitzer said. “The SSPX priests instructed us from the beginning not to ‘recruit.’ Kreitzer said that when someone left an SSPX brochure at St. John the Baptist parish, the SSPX Priest corrected his flock and told them, “From the beginning, those who wanted to attend the chapel had to request to be invited. Those coming to the chapel choose to come from other dioceses such as West Virginia and Maryland.”
The canonical debate regarding the details around Sacrament of matrimony is a matter of differing opinions among canonists. At least one noted canonist suggests that a dispensation can be applied for with one’s diocesan bishop similar to those granted regularly when Catholics desire a spiritual good, to achieve family harmony, to obtain parental consent, etc.
Both the SSPX and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) declined to officially comment for this story. However, the SSPX position on the 2017 PCED/Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith letter can be found here.
It is noteworthy, however, that St. John the Baptist has invited Fr. Josef Bisig, a co-founder of the FSSP, after leaving the SSPX, for an April 16 presentation at the parish. The parish bulletin reads:
His story is unique and timely, as he was ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre, but then left after the illicit consecrations to form the FSSP. …and Fr. Bisig knows more than anyone else the issues and temptations that traditional Catholics are facing.”
The consecrations of the four bishops for the SSPX have always been valid, and the excommunications were remitted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009:
On the basis of the powers expressly granted to me by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, by virtue of the present Decree I remit the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae incurred by Bishops Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, and declared by this Congregation on 1 July 1988. At the same time I declare that, as of today’s date, the Decree issued at that time no longer has juridical effect (Rome, from the Congregation for Bishops, 21 January 2009).
“A rising tide lifts all boats.” And while the angst and controversy and ill will seems to be proliferating in some parts of Catholic parish life in the Arlington diocese, Karen Hickey provides this hopeful perspective:
We are being cared for by the FSSP in Front Royal regularly, our parish priests are amazing and we lack for nothing—which is incredible given current times. And we do not fear what the future brings. God bless our priests.
“Archbishop Lefebvre made it very clear that if the Society was to continue, it would be by the providence of God, words the chapel Priests use often,” said Mary Ann Kreitzer. She continued,
If the Society fails, that too would be in God’s providence. Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said he believes that Archbishop Lefebvre will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. I don’t think I’ll be here to see it, but I hope he’s right.
This post has been updated from its original version.
Brian Mershon has contributed to Catholic and other media outlets for 20 years. A professional communicator by trade, he and his wife Theresa are in their 40th year of wedded Matrimony. The Mershons have been assisting in building God’s kingdom with seven children and 13 grandchildren who are the joys of their lives. Mershon has an M.A. in Sacred Theology from Holy Apostles College & Seminary and a B.S. in News-Editorial Journalism from the University of Urbana-Champaign. He also attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and played professional baseball in the Cincinnati Reds organization.