Above: the (in)famous consecrations of four bishops in 1988.
Recently a buzz has been humming to the tune of rumours alleging that the Society of Saint Pius X is on the cusp of consecrating new bishops. Personally, I have received emails and messages from various people telling me things like: “Father so and so said to prepare for new bishops coming this summer.”
I did reach out to some people close to SSPX leadership, and was told that no such statements have been made to priests, and priests have not been told to inform the faithful that anything of the sort is happening. Also, I cannot confirm that any messages I have received are even accurate statements of what has been said by any SSPX priests. That being said, I am not saying that anyone has told me a fib, as it may very well be the case that a given SSPX priest is under the impression that consecrations are coming, even if he is mistaken.
In addition to things I have been told, there has also been some opining on Catholic YouTube and social media that consecrations are coming, and in fairness to those who have opined as such, the rumours were not presented as concrete facts but instead were more the topic of speculative conversation.
In any event, given that rumours are circulating about potential SSPX consecrations, it would be wise for us to consider the history of such speculations, and how the leadership would move ahead with consecrations if they were actually happening.
The last and only time that priests of the SSPX were ordained bishops was in 1988 at the famous — or infamous, depending on who you are talking to — consecrations that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre performed with Antônio de Castro Mayer. That day, four men were consecrated bishops, and what followed was a 35-year dispute amongst Catholics as to whether the Archbishop had crossed the line into schismatic territory.
For a long time, the mainstream narrative was that Lefebvre — however pious — had in fact crossed that line and went into schism, although in recent years as the Crisis in the Church continues to fester, more and more are coming to believe that Lefebvre was not only justified in what he did but heroic and saintly for doing so. We can leave aside that debate for the present moment, but inquiring minds can read a robust defence of Lefebvre and his priests in my new book, SSPX: The Defence. (And, in case you’re wondering, “defence” with a “C” is how it is spelt in the Commonwealth. It’s English English, not American English.)
At any rate, in 1988, the consecrations did not simply come out of nowhere but instead took place after tacit approval for at least one bishop was promised to the Society by Rome. After it seemed that Rome was going to keep stalling, likely until the great French Prelate had passed away, Lefebvre called Rome’s bluff as it were, and went ahead with the consecrations. (His wager was immediately vindicated when Rome refused to consecrate a bishop for the FSSP. This seemed to confirm that Rome really had no intention of giving the SSPX the bishop they promised, thus necessitating the consecrations.)
Since that time the Society has operated with four, then three bishops who act like auxiliary bishops, in that they do not have — or claim to have! — territorial jurisdiction, but instead exist primarily to ordain priests and provide confirmations. (This means the SSPX is not, and never has been, trying to build a parallel – i.e. schismatic – Church, but why not buy my book and get the whole story?)
In 2019, Bishop Williamson — who left the SSPX and no longer acts and speaks for them — said in a sermon that consecrations of bishops for the SSPX were imminent. Williamson was adamant that it was “pretty darn certain” that two new bishops would be consecrated for the SSPX by Swiss bishop Vitus Huonder — more on him in a minute.
Of course, no bishops were consecrated, and the rumours were just that; rumours.
Something else happened in 2019 that makes the bishop situation of the SSPX even more intriguing.
Longtime Bishop of Chur, Vitus Huonder, retired and went to reside with the SSPX on a sort of “fact-finding” mission with the explicit permission and blessing of Pope Francis. Previous to his time in residence with the SSPX, Huonder had been tasked by Cardinal Müller to interact with the SSPX and other Ecclesia Dei communities in order to find a way forward to sort out the traditionalist dilemma.
In 2021 Huonder celebrated his jubilee Mass in an SSPX chapel with the Swiss Guard present — you know, the Pope’s Swiss Guard… Must have been the Swiss Guard that is in an irregular communion with Rome…
Also in 2021, Superior General of the SSPX, Don Pagliarani, was asked at the Angelus Press conference whether the SSPX had any plans to consecrate new bishops. Pagliarani explained that if a state of grave necessity arose — namely the health of the SSPX bishops was precarious or debilitating — then the Society would follow the actions of Lefebvre and allow Providence to guide them. This would mean that if the SSPX were to consecrate bishops, it would only be after seeking approval from Rome, and if that approval was not received, it would at least show that an intention to set up a parallel Church was not an animating principle.
In 2022, Pagliarani met with the Holy Father and afterwards spewed the most violent schismatic vitriol I can barely stand to quote it here:
This meeting made it possible to show that the SSPX has no other goal than to serve the Church in the midst of the current crisis. Fr. Pagliarani had the opportunity to make it clear to the Pope that everything the Society does has only this service in mind. Mutual good memories of Argentina were also exchanged… Let us not fail to pray for the ecclesiastical authorities and especially for Pope Francis. Through these prayers, may Catholic Tradition regain all its rights in the Church, so that as many souls as possible may benefit and work out their eternal salvation.
Wow, these schismatics are just intolerable amiright?
Bishop Huonder recently sent shockwaves around the Catholic world as the first part in a series of videos was released detailing his “Journey to the SSPX,” wherein he expressed his admiration for Archbishop Lefebvre, and echoed Lefebvre’s sentiments about the Council and the Crisis.
In that first video, Huonder said something striking. He said: “Pope Francis spoke to me and said: They [the SSPX] are not schismatics.”
Now, it has been clear to the keen observer for some time that the SSPX is not in schism, and never has been, even if one were to disagree with the prudential decisions of Lefebvre and his priests. To be in schism, one must actually create a schism and live in that schism — something the SSPX has clearly never done.
But Huonder’s statements add credence to the position of many traditionalists that not only was Lefebvre correct — at least in intention and understanding — but was not a schismatic and neither are his priests.
We are still waiting for the pope-splaining, self-appointed magisterium to explain to us all why Bishop Huonder must be mistaken because he simply didn’t understand the Pope’s Argentine phraseology or something to that effect.
In this the 2023rd year of Our Lord, Bishop Huonder went from being honoured guest to a bishop actively performing episcopal tasks for the SSPX.
On Holy Thursday he consecrated the holy oils that will be used in European countries for the various Sacraments that require them.
This has made certain malcontents quite unhappy on the internet, as they have opined that this is something like a slap in the face to Archbishop Lefebvre who doubted the validity of some Novus Ordo ordinations and consecrations (in the face of serious liturgical abuses which he describes with horror in his book). It should be noted, that in the 70s and 80s there were many intelligent churchmen who had their doubts, and there still are today. That being said, the validity of the rites was never questioned as such, and the SSPX has always operated with caution when approaching post-conciliar ordinations, but not because they are seen as invalid per se.
Given that we know of at least one priest in the US who was not actually a priest because he was not actually baptized, can we really say that Lefebvre and others were wrong to tread with caution in this matter?
Huonder is a bishop of the Catholic Church and he has found a home in the SSPX, and his Chrism Mass activity is highly important. Huonder is a “regular” — even if retired — bishop of the Catholic Church and he publicly performed a Sacramental rite to help the SSPX administer the Sacraments of the Catholic Church — including Confirmation and Ordination.
In other words, a bishop sent by Francis to the SSPX consecrated oils that will be used for the ordinations of priests in the SSPX.
If we harken back to the thoughts of Pagliarani, it would seem that Providence has provided a bishop for the SSPX, and no one can claim there has been any schism… well, except for the anti-SSPX critics who suffer from Lefebvre-derangement-syndrome.
If and when the SSPX decides to move ahead with consecrations, it may be that a retired bishop on a mission from the Pope follows in the footsteps of Lefebvre.
Kennedy Hall is a contributing editor for OnePeterFive. He is the author Terror of Demons: Reclaiming Traditional Catholic Masculinity and Lockdown with the Devil, a novel published by Our Lady of Victory Press. He is a writer at Catholic Family News, LifeSiteNews and is the host of the Conservative talk-radio show, The Kennedy Report. He is married with four children and lives in Ontario, Canada.