Stumbling At the Finish Line:
Another Look at the SSPX’s Illogical Stance on the Pope Question
Commentary by Francis del Sarto
The strange ecclesial soap opera that is the series of on-again, off-again negotiations between Benedict XVI and the Society of St. Pius X in 2012 took yet another curious turn in mid-September 2012, when the SSPX’s Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais revealed the contents of a confidential letter sent back in the summer by Benedict to Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society.
According to Bp. Tissier:
On 30 June 2012 – this is a secret but will be revealed to the public – the Pope himself wrote a letter to our Superior General, Mgr. Fellay: “I confirm to you that in order to be fully reintegrated into the Catholic Church, you must really accept the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar teachings.”
(“Pope’s message to Fellay: ‘Want to re-join Catholic Church? Then Accept Vatican II'”, Clerical Whispers, Oct. 4, 2012)
Around the same time that Bp. Tissier was making this announcement, Father Daniel Couture, Superior of the SSPX’s Asian District, in a sermon had much to say about that turn of events (the dates given conflict with the one noted by Bp. Tissier, but it appears evident from the context and the relative closeness of the dates that it almost certainly is the same letter that’s being discussed):
Last June 13, Bishop Fellay received a letter from the Vatican telling him and all of us we have to accept Vatican II and the New Mass if we wanted to be approved. When they gave him this letter they also told him that we could not say that there were errors in the Council, but only in the interpretation of the Council. When Bishop Fellay heard this, he said: no, we cannot accept what you are asking because for sure there are errors in the Council texts themselves, the errors of ecumenism, of collegiality, of religious liberty. We cannot accept the errors of the Council and the New Mass.
That is why on June 29, Bishop Fellay said that we are back to “square one” in our relation with Rome.
(Fr. Daniel Couture, SSPX, quoted in John Vennari, “No Rome/SSPX Accord?”, Catholic Family News, Nov. 8, 2012)
Now, some readers who have only followed reports of the ongoing talks casually might ask: Accept Vatican II? What’s so exceptional about that? Isn’t it what the Vatican’s been demanding all along?
Well, yes and no. By the qualification “really accept the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar teachings” (note that here the bishop seems to be providing a direct quotation from Benedict), there is the clear implication that a complete and unequivocal affirmation must be made by the SSPX that there has been no break with the Magisterium since 1965; that is to say, to use Ratzingerian terms, that the council is not to be viewed through a “hermenutic of rupture” but a “hermenutic of continuity”.
Of course, the term “post-conciliar teachings” must necessarily include full acceptance of Novus Ordo teaching regarding the “new Mass”; namely, that it is a legitimate expression of the Church’s liturgy and the “ordinary form” of the Roman Rite. This was something emphasized by Benedict to the Conciliar “bishops” in his companion letter to Summorum Pontificum, where he speaks on the practical consequences of such acceptance:
Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.
(Benedict XVI, Explanatory Letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, July 7, 2007)
This insistence that the traditional priests not only get in line with Modernist Rome’s teaching on the “new Mass”, but also prove that they’re in line with it by “celebrating according to the new books” is nothing new. The Society should know that history better than anyone, for a provision of the 1988 “Protocol of Accord” that then-“Cardinal” Ratzinger had SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre sign (but which His Grace later renounced) was that he “recognize the validity of the Sacrifice of the Mass and of the Sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing that which the Church does and according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal and the Rituals of the Sacraments promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II” (“Protocol between the Holy See and the Priestly Society of St. Pius X”, May 5, 1988).
And subsequent to the protocol, every group of traditional Catholic priests defecting to the Novus Ordo Church without exception — from the Fraternity of St. Peter in 1988 up to the latest defectors, the former Transalpine Redemptorists in 2008 — would not only be required to accept the false liturgical reforms, but to seal that acceptance with concelebrated Paul VI/Bugnini “Masses”.
So there’s absolutely no excuse for Bp. Fellay in this regard… except that he’d been led to believe that somehow things might be different this time.
Sifting through the Vatican’s earlier mixed signals
Considering what had transpired earlier in the year, the hard-line letter from the “Pope” must have been something of a head-scratcher. In the spring, Modernist Rome seemed at times to be dangling the proverbial carrot in front of the Society, with hints that it could join the Novus Ordo “Church” without embracing Vatican II errors.
Fr. Couture, in the sermon cited above, noted the discrepancy between the hard-line letter Bp. Fellay had received from Benedict XVI and some earlier intimations of a more conciliatory approach from the Vatican:
…if for a few months—because of some information he had received from the inner circle of the pope—Bishop Fellay had believed that the Holy Father was willing to accept us exactly as we are, without having to accept the errors of the Council and the New Mass, it is now clear that such is not the case, that the Holy Father wants us to accept Vatican II.
Indeed, less than a month prior to receiving the aforementioned letter, Bp. Fellay sounded quite optimistic that a deal could be hammered out without all the embarrassment of complete capitulation regarding the Council, telling the official SSPX news organ DICI:
It must be acknowledged that these discussions have allowed us to present clearly the various problems that we experience with regard to Vatican II. What has changed is the fact that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution. Today, in Rome, some people regard a different understanding of the Council as something that is not decisive for the future of the Church, since the Church is more than the Council.
(Bp. Bernard Fellay, SSPX, in “Interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay on relations with Rome”, DICI, Aug. 6, 2012)
There appeared a column by John Vennari in Catholic Family News that alluded to this seeming softening of stance, where he warned about rumors circulating of what he perceived as devious signals emanating from Modernist Rome: Rumor had it that the SSPX would no longer be forced to agree to Vatican II teachings or the Novus Ordo liturgy, the two major bones of contention stifling any agreement:
We now hear unofficially – that is, not directly from Pope Benedict himself – that for “regularization,” the SSPX will not be required to accept the Second Vatican Council and the New Mass. We hear the Pope is ready to grant this because he wants the SSPX to help him correct the crisis in the Church.
Indeed, as I have said in the past: if it is true the SSPX does not have to accept the Council, this could be a real game-changer. It could mark the effective end of Vatican II. For it is impossible that one group of Catholics in the world could be considered “exempt” from embracing the Council, and other Catholics are still bound to accept it.
It is for this reason, however, that I believe we will never see Pope Benedict XVI give a written guarantee that the SSPX does not have to accept the Council. And if such guarantees are not carved in stone, publicly for all to see, then any agreement is fraught with peril.
None of us can predict the future, and I will be happy if proven wrong. But if I were a betting man, I would place my little stack on Benedict protecting Vatican II to the end.
(John Vennari, “Is the Vatican using Jiu-Jitsu on the SSPX?”, Catholic Family News, n.d.)
As Benedict’s subsequent letter would bear out, Mr. Vennari’s instincts proved to be much sounder in this than Bp. Fellay’s wishful thinking. Unfortunately, Mr. Vennari’s opinion counts for nothing in the Society of St. Pius X while Bp. Fellay’s counts for everything, and his intention is to resolve any difficulties with the Vatican, if at all possible.
Bishops at odds
The traditional Catholics who believe the assimilation of the SSPX into the Vatican II sect is a foolhardy venture, see it as the end of the group in any meaningful way as an outspoken opponent to the Conciliar Church, as its auto-destruction.
Opinions of those Catholics about Bp. Fellay run the gamut from those who see him as a starry-eyed naïf who truly believes Benedict XVI is someone trying to lead the Church out of the post-conciliar wasteland, to a Judas bent on a sellout of Tradition in exchange for receiving the red hat. But, motives aside, in the final analysis it matters precious little whether the person who is willingly strapped into Dr. Death’s suicide machine believes that the fluid being fed into his arm is providing nutrients or poison, as the lethal results are exactly the same.
Far from sharing Bp. Fellay’s optimism in the proceedings was Bp. Tissier, who along with the two other SSPX bishops has been highly critical of the Society’s official policy of appeasement. On June 14, right around the same time Benedict was crafting his all-or-nothing letter, the Rorate Caeli blog carried the translation of an interview the cautious bishop had given that day in France.
Those familiar with the Society’s internal disputes on how to deal (if at all) with Modernist Rome will find nothing out of the ordinary in his comments; as the blog prefaced it: “Between the sentiments expressed here by Bishop Tissier and those expressed by Bishop Fellay in his recent interviews and sermons, there is a wide gulf hard to ignore”. (This, we argue, unfortunately is overstating the differences, which are more of degree than of kind.)
Bp. Tissier made a number of significant points. He strongly objected to the notion that the SSPX needed to be “reintegrated” into the Church, and drawing on the words of Christ, he said the practical consequence of such a move would be for the Society “to place our lamp under the bushel for our integration in the Conciliar world”.
Then he struck hard at the Novus Ordo claim that the Society is somehow “irregular”:
The irregularity is not ours. It is that of Rome. A Modernist Rome. A Liberal Rome that has renounced Christ the King. A Rome that had been condemned in advance by all Popes up until the eve of the [Second Vatican] Council. On the other hand, the experience of the priestly societies that have joined current Rome is that all, the ones after the others, included Campos and the Good Shepherd, have been constrained to accept the Vatican II Council. And we know what has become of Bp. Rifan, of Campos, who now has no objection to celebrating the new mass and who has forbidden his priests from criticizing the Council!
(“Bishop Tissier de Mallerais: ‘The irregularity is that of Rome, a Modernist Rome'”, Rorate Caeli, June 13, 2012)
Here he reminds his readers that the practical consequences of compromise with the Modernists is that the creeping rot of gradualism is ever the same: first, the imposition by a group’s leader of a gag rule to squelch all objections to the subversion of the Church, as if it never happened; then, just as insidiously, to begin thinking and behaving like Conciliar “conservatives”, even to the point of presiding over the sect’s false worship service.
Further commenting on the notion of the SSPX being “regularized”, Bp. Tissier stressed: “But we are currently in a state of war in the Church. It would be a contradiction to wish to ‘regularize the war’.” And this war is between two diametrically opposed visions of what the Church is and should be, stemming from “the attempt by the Vatican II Council of conciliating the doctrine of the faith with the liberal errors.” Ultimately, this has led to the creation of “a new religion that is not the Catholic religion.”
On the other hand, while Bp. Tissier rejects the counterfeit church as something that’s clearly non-Catholic, he believes that Benedict has shown himself to be genuinely friendly to Tradition in some ways. Nevertheless he warns: “But Pope Benedict XVI, while he is Pope, remains Modernist.”
Trying to make heads or tails of a thoroughly confusing position
So, while Bp. Tissier disagrees with Bp. Fellay when it comes to getting too cozy with the Novus Ordo Church, they still see eye to eye on the essential issue: The problem lies not with the SSPX, but with Modernist Rome, and it’s the duty of the Society not to hide its lamp under a bushel, when it can be used to illuminate the benighted leaders of the Conciliarists and return them to sound Catholic doctrine. On that point there’s no dispute between them.
However preferable Bp. Tissier’s “no negotiations with Modernists” position assuredly is over Bp. Fellay’s series of talks with them (as though the Faith were negotiable!), when his position is analyzed more closely, it’s seen to be built on the same shaky logic. The difficulty in that position is summed up rather well by Robert Marshall, a Rorate Caeli reader commenting on the interview, and his take on this fatal deficiency is worth noting:
I’m trying to boil Tissier’s position down. It seems to me he believes the following:
1. Rome is modernist.
2. A modernist is a heretic.
3. A heretic is a non-Catholic.
4. Authentic Catholics must have no union with heretical non-Catholics.
4[sic]. Therefore the SSPX must have no union with contemporary Rome.
And to make this point more clear he refers to two separate Churches, two separate religions, the Conciliar and the Catholic:
5. The Catholic Church is comprised of traditional Catholics such as the SSPX, who have kept the unchanging Catholic religion.
6. The Conciliarist Church was created out of Vatican II and has a separate non-Catholic religion, the Conciliarist religion.
7. The Conciliar Church is non-Catholic and schismatic, and must therefore convert and rejoin the Catholic Church.
8. The SSPX is already Catholic and already part of the Catholic Church, therefore it need not do any converting or rejoining of any sort.
This all makes perfectly logical sense, but it gets confusing, because he also believes:
9. The Conciliarist Bishop of Rome is the pope of the Catholic Church.
It all makes sense until point 9: two separate Churches—one Catholic, one non-Catholic. But point 9 throws it out of whack.
He seems to think Benedict XVI is a member of, indeed head of, two separate Churches, two separate and contradictory religions.
I don’t understand it.
(Robert Marshall, Comment at Rorate Caeli, June 14, 2012; bold print in original; minor edits made.)
Although Mr. Marshall is far from the first to be perplexed at the Society’s illogical (and doctrinally disastrous) position, his comments neatly sum up the dilemma: That the Modernist Conciliar “Church” was created out of Vatican II and isn’t Catholic “all makes perfectly logical sense”, until Bp. Tissier tries to force a syllogistic square peg into a round hole by positing, in so many words, that “The Conciliarist Bishop of Rome is the pope of the Catholic Church.”
For Mr. Marshall to conclude “I don’t understand it” is perfectly reasonable, for there is nothing to understand here: It’s a position that’s downright silly and doctrinally dangerous, the theological equivalent of 2 + 2 = 5.
Modernist “Popes”: myth, delusion and stumbling block
“It is true that the SSPX is a ‘stumbling block’, observed Bp. Tissier in his interview, “for those who resist the truth (cf. 1 Peter 2:8) and this is good for the Church. If we were ‘reinstated’, we would, by that very fact, stop being a thorn in the side of the conciliar church, a living reproach to the loss of faith in Jesus Christ, His divinity, in His kingdom.”
Certainly, there is some truth to that, for however imperfect its theology is when it comes to fully and properly assessing the situation in Rome, it does do some good in challenging the Vatican II sect. However, whatever good it does is severely offset by its stubborn refusal to properly appraise the sede vacante status of the Holy See and its usurpation by enemies of the Church, which leads to insanities and absurdities such as “dialoguing” with them, and suggesting that the Catholic Church can institute harmful laws and disciplines binding on all Catholics (a denial of her indefectibility) and propagate erroneous teachings that contradict her extraordinary or universal ordinary magisterium (an assertion that she could fall into heresy).
“Pope Benedict XVI, while he is Pope, remains Modernist.” So maintains Bp. Tissier and his confreres at the Society of St. Pius X. Yet this very bishop at the same time speaks of Benedict as “a kind, polite, thoughtful man, a man who is discreet, but possesses natural authority, a man of decisiveness, who has solved many problems in the Church with his personal energy.”
This assessment is just startling. Bp. Tissier asserts that Benedict XVI is a Modernist “Pope” who “has solved many problems in the Church[!]”. Remember, this is the bishop who in the same interview declared: “We are currently in a state of war in the Church”. How, then, can the leader of the enemy’s army be said to solve Church problems? Could anything be more unreasonable?
All this is preposterous and one wonders why the bishop can’t see it as such. Modernists are not merely heretics, as stated by Mr. Marshall, but apostates; Pope St. Pius X called Modernism “the synthesis of all heresies” (Encyclical Pascendi, n. 39). And it was the same sainted Pontiff who issued an automatic excommunication to such miscreants:
Moreover, in order to check the daily increasing audacity of many modernists who are endeavoring by all kinds of sophistry and devices to detract from the force and efficacy not only of the decree “Lamentabili sane exitu” (the so-called Syllabus), issued by our order by the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition on July 3 of the present year, but also of our encyclical letters “Pascendi dominici gregis” given on September 8 of this same year, we do by our apostolic authority repeat and confirm both that decree of the Supreme Sacred Congregation and those encyclical letters of ours, adding the penalty of excommunication against their contradictors, and this we declare and decree that should anybody, which may God forbid, be so rash as to defend any one of the propositions, opinions or teachings condemned in these documents he falls, ipso facto, under the censure contained under the chapter “Docentes” of the constitution “Apostolicae Sedis,” which is the first among the excommunications latae sententiae, simply reserved to the Roman Pontiff. This excommunication is to be understood as salvis poenis, which may be incurred by those who have violated in any way the said documents, as propagators and defenders of heresies, when their propositions, opinions and teachings are heretical, as has happened more than once in the case of the adversaries of both these documents, especially when they advocate the errors of the modernists that is, the synthesis of all heresies.
(Pope St. Pius X, Motu Proprio Praestantia Scripturae; underlining added.)
It is futile to pretend, as the Society does, that somehow “Pope” Ratzinger is simultaneously a Modernist and a Catholic— such a creature does not exist, any more than a figure could be a circle and simultaneously a square. Ratzinger’s Modernism is notorious (that is, open and well-known or manifest), else Bp. Tissier (and we all) wouldn’t be aware of it; hence Benedict is an open apostate and so not a member of the Church, ergo not Pope (in addition, he falls under the excommunication of Pope St. Pius X mentioned above).
As St. Robert Bellarmine, a Doctor of the Church and author of the foremost treatise on the Papacy, wrote: “…a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church…” (De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Ch. 30). In short, it is impossible to have a Roman Catholic Pope who doesn’t profess Roman Catholicism.
The stark reality of the situation is that the SSPX has invented a novel definition of the term “Modernism”, though they would never concede as much, for as has been noted here, it is impossible to speak of someone being both a Catholic and a Modernist, for to call a Catholic a Modernist would be a great calumny, while to call a Modernist a Catholic would be to besmirch the faithful.
In the final analysis, Bp. Tissier’s “stumbling block” allusion is also apropos of the Society’s position on the Conciliar “Popes”. As indicated above, the SSPX description of the Novus Ordo Church as a non-Catholic sect emerging from Vatican II is solid. However, as they seek to carry the argument across the rhetorical finish line, in their nonsensical attempt to somehow excuse the Chief Modernist unlawfully occupying the Chair of Peter, they stumble over their own faulty logic. Unfortunately, upon this delusion is predicated the whole basis of the “we can discuss things with the Holy Father” insanity, an insanity that attracts Bp. Fellay in much the way that a moth, heedless of the danger, is drawn to a flame; an insanity that still may lead to the auto-destruction of the SSPX.
Ultimately, if these doctrinal talks are ever brought to a successful conclusion (that is, successful according to the aims of “Pope” Ratzinger), it will bring an end to the Society in all but name (and even that could change, much in the way that the “Transalpine Redemptorists” were forced to switch to “The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer”, after they took the plunge), which will push countless souls to intimate involvement with the Modernist sect. As a result, they will undergo a gradual “reeducation” that will, at first perhaps only imperceptibly, make them embrace the phony “Catholicism” of the Vatican II religion.
Some have argued that the “Pope issue” isn’t the only important one in evaluating the crisis in the Church, and that’s true as far as it goes. But it’s also true that understanding the current status of the Holy See vis-à-vis the entire Church is the linchpin for fully understanding the nature of that crisis and how we must react to it, because without that understanding, all efforts of restoration are doomed to fail. (For what we see today is a negation of the age-old axiom of the Faith, “ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia”, or, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”) As long as the foremost leader of enemy forces is seen as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, who, although “confused” on some points of doctrine and “careless” in his choices for the top positions, still is kindhearted and works tirelessly for the good of the Church, even trying to put an end to enmity with traditional Catholics, there will be nothing but continued confusion of the most vital questions facing the faithful, and the ever-present danger of capitulating to a Modernist usurper and embracing doctrinal error. Let us pray that recent events within the Society of St. Pius X will help its leaders arise from their stumble, and henceforth avoid this logical pitfall and take a much more forthright and doctrinally sound stand against the false Vatican II religion and its equally false pontiff.