Society of Saint Pius X

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Society of Saint Pius X
Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X
Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X
Heraldique meuble Coeur vendeen.svg
TypePious union
Legal statusCanonically irregular [1]
Headquarters Menzingen, Switzerland
971 (637 priests)
Superior General
Davide Pagliarani
Key people
Website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX or FSSPX; Latin : Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X) is an international priestly fraternity founded in 1970 by Marcel Lefebvre, a traditionalist French archbishop who later clashed with the Holy See over the society.


The society, named after Pope Pius X, whose anti-Modernist stance the society stresses, [2] is known for rejecting the indications of the Second Vatican Council in favor of their interpretation of Sacred Tradition, and retaining the Tridentine Mass and the pre-Vatican II ritual books in Latin for the other sacraments. The present superior general of the society is Davide Pagliarani, succeeding Bishop Bernard Fellay. [3]

Tensions between the society and the Holy See reached their height in 1988, when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the Apostolic Mandate and against a personal warning by Pope John Paul II, known as the Écône consecrations, [4] resulting in Rome issuing a declaration of excommunication against the bishops who consecrated or were consecrated. [5] Though the priestly fraternity denied that the bishops incurred any penalty, claiming canon law in their defense, the declared excommunication of the surviving bishops was at their request removed in January 2009 in the hope of speedily reaching "full reconciliation and complete communion". [6]

In recent years, the society has seen a growing recognition of its sacramental and pastoral activities by the Holy See. The Holy See extended, on 20 November 2016, permanent canonical recognition to confessions heard by Society priests (Misericordia et Misera, 12) [7] and later, on 4 April 2017, also allowed local ordinaries to grant delegation to priests of the society for officially witnessing marriages. [8] The significance of these recognitions is that, unique among the sacraments of the Catholic Church, both confession and marriage require canonical jurisdiction for their validity. It had been a long-standing contention by the society's critics that confessions could not be heard or marriages witnessed by a Society priest, due to a defect of form. [9] In addition, the Holy See named Bishop Fellay judge in a canonical trial against one of the society's priests. [10]

History of the SSPX

Lefebvre, the society's founder, celebrating Tridentine Mass Marcel Lefebvre 1981.jpg
Lefebvre, the society's founder, celebrating Tridentine Mass

Like Traditionalist Catholicism in general, the SSPX was born out of opposition to changes in the Catholic Church that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The founder and central figure of the society was the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had served the Catholic Church as Apostolic Delegate for French-speaking Africa, Archbishop of Dakar, and Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, a missionary order of priests.

Foundation of the society

In May 1970, shortly after his retirement as Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Lefebvre was approached by eleven members of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome who had been criticized for their adherence to pre-Vatican II interpretations of the doctrines of the Catholic Church. They sought Lefebvre's advice on a conservative seminary where they could complete their studies. [11] He directed them to the University of Fribourg, in Switzerland.

In late 1970, at age 65, urged by the abbot of Hauterive Abbey and the Dominican theologian Father Marie-Dominique Philippe to teach the seminarians personally, Lefebvre, feeling too old to undertake such a large project, told them he would visit François Charrière, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, with a request to set up a religious society. He told them, if he said to go through with it, he would see in it a sign of divine providence. Charrière granted Lefebvre's request and, with a document predated by six days to 1 November 1970, he established the Society of St. Pius X as a pia unio (Latin, for "pious, or holy, union") on a provisional (ad experimentum) basis for six years. Pia unio status was the first stage through which a Catholic organisation passed prior to gaining official recognition as a religious institute or society of apostolic life. (Since 1983, the term "association of the faithful" has replaced "pia unio".) The Society of Saint Pius X was formally founded, adhering to all canonical norms, and receiving the episcopal blessing and encouragement of the local ordinary. Some Swiss laymen offered the International Seminary of Saint Pius X at Écône to the newly-formed group, and in 1971 the first 24 candidates entered, followed by a further 32 in October 1972. [12]

Normally, after a suitable period of experience and consultation with the Holy See, a bishop would raise a pia unio to official status at diocesan level. Lefebvre attempted to bypass this stage, and contacted three different departments of the Holy See in order to secure early recognition for his society. He succeeded in obtaining a letter of encouragement from Cardinal John Wright, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, but there was no approval from the Holy See congregation responsible for raising an association to the level desired by Lefebvre. Cardinal Wright's letter, dated 18 February 1971, said with regard to the field of competence of Cardinal Wright's own Congregation, that the association "will be able to contribute much to accomplishing the plan drawn up by this Congregation for worldwide sharing of clergy." Cardinal Wright was still recommending prospective seminarians to apply to Écône as late as 1973. [13]

The establishment of the SSPX was unwelcome to a number of churchmen, most notably to the French bishops, whose theological outlook was quite different from that of Lefebvre and who had important connections with the Holy See Cardinal Secretary of State, Jean-Marie Villot. Much of the tension between Lefebvre and his critics must be seen in the context of long-term theological, cultural, and political divisions between opposing elements of French society.[ citation needed ] According to Michael Davies, a defender of Lefebvre, at the meeting of the French episcopal conference at Lourdes in 1972, the seminary at Écône acquired the nickname "le séminaire sauvage" – the "wildcat seminary", [13] and by November 1974 the French episcopate had indicated that they would not incardinate any of Lefebvre's priests in their dioceses. They also publicly criticised Catholics who remained attached to the Tridentine Mass. [14] By this time, the SSPX had opened additional seminaries in Armada, Michigan, (1973) and in Rome (1974).

The society's first seminary, the International Seminary of Saint Pius X, in Econe, Switzerland Econe Seminary.jpg
The society's first seminary, the International Seminary of Saint Pius X, in Écône, Switzerland

Canonical visitation of seminary

The first sign of curial intervention was a Vatican meeting on 26 March 1974. By June 1974, a commission of cardinals had been formed to inquire into the SSPX, and decided on a canonical visitation of the seminary by two Belgian priests, held 11–13 November 1974. Franz Schmidberger, later superior general of the society, said that their report was favourable. [15] However, the seminarians and staff at Écône were shocked by some liberal theological opinions expressed by the two priests. In what he later described as a mood of "doubtlessly excessive indignation", Lefebvre wrote a declaration denouncing what he considered liberal trends "clearly evident" in the Council and in the subsequent reforms. [16] This document was leaked and published in January 1975, in the French Traditionalist Catholic journal Itinéraires.

Lefebvre was in serious difficulties. [12] In January 1975, Bishop Pierre Mamie of Fribourg wrote to Rome stating his intention to withdraw the pia unio status that his predecessor had granted. In the same month, Lefebvre was summoned to the Vatican, meeting with the cardinals on 13 February and 3 March. Lefebvre was surprised by their hostile tone: at one point a French cardinal, Gabriel-Marie Garrone, reportedly called him a "fool". [12]

Growing tensions

On 6 May 1975, with the approval of the cardinals, Bishop Mamie withdrew the SSPX's pia unio status. Lefebvre instructed his lawyer to lodge appeals, and he ultimately petitioned the Holy See's supreme court, the Apostolic Signatura, which turned down the appeal. From this point onward, the SSPX was no longer recognised as a canonical organization.

An SSPX priest in cope and biretta. Priest St. Jude's Church (Philadelphia) Cope.jpg
An SSPX priest in cope and biretta.

Lefebvre and the leadership of the society have always maintained that he was treated unfairly by the Roman Curia, that the suppression of the SSPX was unjust, and that the procedures violated the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

The SSPX continued to operate in spite of its discountenance. In the consistory of 24 May 1976, Pope Paul VI rebuked Archbishop Lefebvre by name – reportedly the first time in 200 years that a pope had publicly reprimanded a Catholic bishop – and appealed to him and his followers to change their minds. [17]

Lefebvre announced that he intended to confer ordination on some of his students at the end of June 1976. On 12 June 1976, the Nuncio in Switzerland was given instructions to inform Lefebvre that, by special order of Pope Paul VI, he was forbidden to do so. [18] [19] On 25 June 1976, Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, the deputy Secretary of State, wrote directly to Lefebvre, confirming, by special mandate of the Pope, the prohibition to administer the holy orders, and warning him of the canonical penalties for Lefebvre himself and those whom he would ordain. [18] [20] Lefebvre ignored the warnings, and went ahead with the ordinations on 29 June 1976.

In the sermon on that occasion, Lefebvre explicitly recognized that he might be struck with suspension, and the new priests with an irregularity that could theoretically prevent them from saying Mass. [21] On the next day, 1 July 1976, the Press Office of the Holy See declared that in accordance with canon 2373 of the then Code of Canon Law, Lefebvre was automatically suspended for one year from conferring ordination, and that those whom he had ordained were automatically suspended from the exercise of the order received. It was also announced that the Holy See was examining Lefebvre's disobedience to the orders of the Pope. [18] [22]

On 11 July 1976, Lefebvre signed a certificate of receipt of a letter from Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, intimating that further penalties would be imposed in accordance with canon 2331 §1 of the then Code of Canon Law concerning obstinate disobedience to legitimate precepts or prohibitions of the Roman Pontiff. He was enjoined, within ten days of receipt of the letter, to take steps "to repair the scandal caused." In a letter of 17 July to Pope Paul VI, Lefebvre declared that he judged his action of 29 June to be legitimate. The Pope considered this response inadequate, and on his instructions the Congregation for Bishops, on 22 July 1976, suspended Lefebvre for an indefinite time from all exercise of holy orders—he could not confer any of the Sacraments, save Reconciliation or Baptism in an emergency (suspension a divinis). [18]

1988 Écône consecrations

A central controversy surrounding the SSPX concerns the consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre and Brazilian bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer of four SSPX priests as bishops in 1988, in violation of the orders of Pope John Paul II.

By 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre was 81. If he had died at that point, the SSPX could have their members ordained to the priesthood only at the hands of non-SSPX bishops, regarded by Lefebvre as unreliable and non-orthodox. In June 1987, Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate a successor to the episcopacy. He implied that he intended to do this with or without the approval of the Holy See. [23] In the Catholic Church, a bishop requires the mandate of the Pope if he is to consecrate a bishop, [24] and an unauthorized consecration automatically incurs excommunication. [25] Earlier, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Ad Apostolorum principis , had described the sacramental activity of bishops who had been consecrated without papal approval as "gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious". [26] The Roman authorities were grieved by Lefebvre's plan, but they began discussions with him and the SSPX, which led to the signing, on 5 May 1988, of a skeleton agreement between Lefebvre and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the future Pope Benedict XVI.

On Pope John Paul II's instructions, Cardinal Ratzinger replied to Lefebvre on 30 May, insisting on observance of the agreement of 5 May and adding that, if Lefebvre carried out unauthorized consecrations on 30 June, the promised authorization for the ordination to the episcopacy would be withdrawn.

On 3 June, Lefebvre wrote that he intended to proceed. On 9 June, the Pope replied with a personal letter, appealing to him to abandon a design that "would be seen as nothing other than a schismatic act, the theological and canonical consequences of which are known to you." Lefebvre did not reply, and the letter was made public on 16 June. For the first time, the Holy See stated publicly that Lefebvre was in danger of being excommunicated.

On 30 June 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre proceeded to ordain to the episcopate four priests of the SSPX. Antônio de Castro Mayer, the retired Bishop of Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil, assisted in the ceremony. Those consecrated as Bishops were: Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta, and Richard Williamson.

The following day, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree declaring that Archbishop Lefebvre and the four newly ordained bishops had incurred the automatic canonical penalty of excommunication reserved to the Holy See. [27] On the following day, 2 July, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter known as Ecclesia Dei in which he condemned the Archbishop's action. [28] The Pope stated that, since schism is defined in the Code of Canon Law as "withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (canon 751), [29] the consecration "constitute[d] a schismatic act", and that, by virtue of canon 1382 of the Code, [30] it entailed ipso facto excommunication for all the bishops involved.

Lefebvre argued that his actions had been necessary because the traditional form of the Catholic faith and sacraments would become extinct without Traditionalist clergy to pass them on to the next generation. He called the ordinations "opération survie" ("Operation Survival"), citing in his defense canons 1323 and 1324 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the first of which says that "a person who acted coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls" is not subject to penalty for violating a law or precept, while the other says "the perpetrator of a violation is not exempt from a penalty, but the penalty established by law or precept must be tempered or a penance employed in its place if the delict was committed ... by a person who thought in culpable error that one of the circumstances mentioned in can. 1323, nn. 4 or 5 was present." [31]

Some members of the SSPX disassociated themselves from the society as a result of Lefebvre's actions and, with the approval of the Holy See, formed a separate society called the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

Discussions with the Holy See

Discussions between the Holy See and the Society of Saint Pius X towards an eventual reconciliation have been ongoing. For years after the 1988 consecrations, there was little if any dialogue between the SSPX and the Holy See. This state of affairs ended when the society led a large pilgrimage to Rome for the "Great Jubilee" of 2000.

Nine years later, on 21 January 2009 the Holy See remitted the excommunications of the society's bishops that it had declared at the time of the 1988 consecrations and expressed the hope that all members of the society would follow this up by speedily returning to full communion with the Church.

Discussions since then have been complex, stemming from the society's insistence that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality are inconsistent with Catholic teaching and doctrine, a claim that the Holy See views as unacceptable, but recent discussions have indicated the possibility of an understanding. In an interview on 4 March 2017 with DICI, the official news organ of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay stated: "Whether it is a question of religious liberty, collegiality, ecumenism, the new Mass, or even the new rites of the sacraments…. [...] And now all of a sudden, on these points that have been stumbling blocks, the emissaries from Rome tell us that they are open questions." [32] In the same month of March 2017, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, the prelate in charge of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the Roman Curia's organ for traditionalist societies, stated that the Holy See and the society were close to an agreement regularizing the society's status. [33] In a letter of the same month it was announced that Pope Francis authorized diocesan bishops to grant to SSPX priests faculties to officiate at a marriage valid in the Catholic Church in cases where no priest in good standing could do so. [34]

In July 2017 Bishop Fellay signed a document along with a number of other clergy and academics labeled as a "Filial Correction" of Pope Francis. The twenty-five page document, which was made public in September after receiving no reply from the Holy See, criticized the Pope for allegedly promoting heresy through various words, actions and omissions during his pontificate. [35] [36]

Canonical situation

The canonical situation of the SSPX and of its clergy has been the subject of controversy since the 1988 Écône consecrations. While the society is not listed in Annuario Pontificio as a recognized society of apostolic life, it has nonetheless benefited from some significant allowances normally granted only to recognized orders and societies. In the November–December 2017 edition of the society's publication The Angelus, Fr. Francois Knittel, SSPX, wrote: "The Church authorities have gradually recognized the liceity and the validity of the ministry performed by the priests of the SSPX." [37]


On 27 March 2017, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith communicated that Pope Francis had decided to grant local ordinaries the right to give to a priest in good standing the faculty to preside at the marriage of followers of the society, immediately after which they will participate in a Mass celebrated by an SSPX priest, or, if no priest in good standing can receive the consent of the couple, to give the faculty instead to an SSPX priest. Previously, in 2008, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei had stated: "The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are ... prohibited from exercising their priestly functions," going on to conclude that, in the case of matrimony, "these sacraments are invalid," since a suspended priest lacks the proper delegation from the bishop. [38]


On 20 November 2016, Pope Francis personally extended an allowance he created during the Holy Year of 2015, whereby penitents confessing to priests affiliated with the SSPX "shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins." [39]

Ordination and Holy Orders

During an interview with TV Libertes on 29 January 2017, Bishop Fellay announced that theological discussions with the Holy See had led to permission for the society to licitly ordain priests: "This summer it was confirmed that the Superior General can freely ordain the priests of the society without having to ask permission from the local bishop." [40]


In 2020, Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, reaffirmed the statement he made in 2011, before Pope Benedict granted certain faculties in favor of SSPX priests. After declaring that "the Masses celebrated by members of the Society of St. Pius X are valid but illicit, i.e., contrary to Canon Law", he said: "The mere fact of assisting at a Mass of this society is not a sin. It would only become so if a person attended this Mass with the deliberate intention of separating himself from communion with the Pope and those in communion with him. I would say, therefore, that a conscientious Catholic should not knowingly attend a Mass celebrated by a priest not in good standing with the Church." He added: "Only if there is objectively no alternative should one attend the Mass celebrated by a priest from the Society of St. Pius X. If one has to do so, then I would say that one may go in good conscience and receive Communion at such a Mass. It would also fulfill the Sunday obligation" , and explained that "alternative" is not limited to "Mass in the extraordinary form": a Catholic who seeks this form but finds none available other than the SSPX celebration "should attend an ordinary form Mass or even any Eastern Catholic celebration so as to remain in full Catholic communion". [38] [41]


When told by a journalist of InfoVaticana, a provider of religious information founded in Madrid in October 2013, [42] that what Pope Francis had decided in March 2017 was instead that, "from now on, the weddings celebrated by the priests from the FSSPX are going to be recognized," Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who had not seen the actual document, remarked: "That is a very significant action of the Holy Father, and it also indicates that in some way there must be a reconciliation of the FSSPX because basically what the Pope is saying is that the priests in this society, when they witness marriages, are exercising jurisdiction in the Roman Catholic Church." [43] In reality, it is local ordinaries, not the society, that in the document are authorized, if they wish, to delegate jurisdiction to SSPX priests to assist canonically at some marriages.

The society's view is that, before Pope Francis's authorizations, their priests held "supplied" jurisdiction (power of governance) for confessions and marriages. They received this supplied jurisdiction by law and not "by delegation or by mandate of the Sovereign Pontiff or the diocesan bishops or of regularly appointed parish priests." [44] [45] [46]

Since the grants by Pope Francis, the society says that its priests have or can have ordinary jurisdiction for the sacraments of confession and marriage. It adds that, in cases where a diocesan bishop refuses to grant delegation for a marriage, SSPX priests can still use extraordinary jurisdiction. [47]

SSPX today

As of 22 April 2018, [48] the society had 637 priests present in 37 countries and active in 35 more, 772 Mass centers, 167 priories, 123 religious brothers, 200 religious sisters, 79 oblates, 204 seminarians in six seminaries, 56 pre-seminarians in three pre-seminaries, more than 100 schools, 7 nursing homes, 4 Carmelite convents, 19 Missionary Sisters of Kenya, and 2 university-level institutes.

The society is divided into two classes of territorial units called districts and autonomous houses, each headed by a superior. An autonomous house may become a district after three priories have been established within its jurisdiction. [49] The most recent organizational addition of the society is the Autonomous House of Central America and the Caribbean, formed from territory taken from the District of Mexico, erected on 1 October 2017. Over 120 (>20%) of the society's priests are stationed in the District of France. [50]

Currently, the society is sub-divided into 14 districts, and 5 autonomous houses: [51]

District or Autonomous HousePrioriesChapelsSchoolsRetreat
District of Africa7232
District of Asia6392
District of Australia
(also Oceania)
District of Austria416
District of Belgium-Netherlands381
District of Canada63031
District of France44109474
District of Germany132941
District of Great Britain
(also Scandinavia)
District of Italy4161
District of Mexico-Guatemala
District of South America8303
District of Switzerland101761
District of United States20103263
Autonomous House of Brazil312
Autonomous House of Eastern Europe
District of Ireland25
Autonomous House of Spain and Portugal
Autonomous House of Central

America and the Caribbean


The first seminary founded by the society (St. Pius X Seminary) is located in Écône, Switzerland. Its largest, [52] however, is located in the United States (St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary: Dillwyn, VA), and having outgrown its previous facilities, recently relocated from Winona, Minnesota; the former seminary complex continues to house the novitiate of the religious brothers. [53] Other seminaries are located in France (Flavigny-sur-Ozerain), Germany (Zaitzkofen), Australia (Goulburn), and Argentina (La Reja). The society also runs pre-seminaries for prospective priestly vocations in Italy (Albano Laziale), and the Philippines (Santa Barbara).

If the society's canonical situation were to be regularized, it would be the Church's 4th largest society of apostolic life (similar to a religious order, but without vows), according to the three criteria published annually in Annuario Pontificio: number of erected houses (median 31; SSPX 167), number of members in the society (median 229; SSPX 971), and number of priests in the society (median 149; SSPX 640). [54]

Allies and supporters

The SSPX has received explicit support from the following diocesan bishops:

Bishop Mayer resigned canonically on 20 August 1981; he later participated in the 1988 Écône consecrations, declaring "my presence here at this ceremony is a matter of conscience: It is the duty of a profession of the Catholic Faith before the entire Church." [55] After his retirement, Bishop Mayer founded the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney, [56] which remained closely associated with the SSPX until 2001, when it reconciled with the Holy See.

The society now has close links with the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat, led by Father Basil Kovpak, a priest formerly of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who was definitively excommunicated from the Catholic Church in November 2007 [57] after having Bishop Richard Williamson, then of the SSPX but expelled from the society five years later, [58] illicitly ordain two priests and seven deacons for his society in violation of canons 1015 §1 and 1017 of the Code of Canon Law.

In May 2019, the SSPX announced that Vitus Huonder, Bishop of Chur, Switzerland, as per a long stated intention, had retired to one of the society's houses in order "to dedicate himself to prayer and silence, to celebrate the traditional Mass exclusively, and to work for Tradition, the only way of renewing the Church." [59] He was warmly received by the SSPX: "The Society of Saint Pius X appreciates Bishop Huonder’s courageous decision and rejoices to be able to provide him with the spiritual and priestly surroundings that he desires so deeply. May this example be followed by others, so as to 'restore everything in Christ'." [59]

Several religious institutes, mostly based in France, are associated with the society. A specific article, SSPX-affiliated religious orders, is devoted to them.

Notable groups that have split from the SSPX

There have been two major kinds of splits from the SSPX. Two notable splits of the first kind involved priests who viewed the SSPX as too liberal and who use the form that the Mass had before Pope John XXIII. The other kind involved groups who have reconciled with the Holy See and who, like the SSPX, use the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal.

Groups which broke with the SSPX and are not recognized by the Holy See include:

Groups which broke with the SSPX and reconciled with Rome include:



After Bishop Richard Williamson, the subject of the complaint by the Anti-Defamation League, denied the use of Nazi gas chambers to massacre Jews in a 2009 interview, the superior general of the society said that, if he repeated his denial, he would be expelled. [61] His actual expulsion in 2012 was for refusing to show due respect and obedience to the SSPX authorities and calling on the superior general to resign. [62] Williamson was later convicted of Holocaust denial by a German court. [63] The society condemns Nazism,[ citation needed ] following the principles in Pope Pius XI's 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, which explicitly denounces Nazi principles and policies [64] and "condemns racial theories and the mistreatment of people because of their race or nationality but does not refer to Hitler or the Nazis by name". [65]

The society is selective in the papal encyclicals that it observes in that it ignores, for instance, the encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis of Pope Pius XII, which states: "The power of jurisdiction [...] comes to bishops [...] only through the successor of Peter, to whom not only the faithful but also all bishops are bound to be constantly subject and to adhere both by the reverence of obedience and by the bond of unity" and that "Acts requiring the power of Holy Orders which are performed by ecclesiastics of this kind, though they are valid as long as the consecration conferred on them was valid, are yet gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious." [26] However, it publishes in its magazine The Angelus a collection of quotations praising his work in saving Jews from Nazi persecution [66] and in condemning Nazi principles.

French Nazi collaborator and war criminal Paul Touvier was arrested in an SSPX priory. The superiors of the priory had granted him asylum as "an act of charity to a homeless man". [67] They had no knowledge about the man's background when he first appeared in the priory, and Touvier was indeed homeless at the time. On his death, in 1996, an SSPX Requiem Mass was offered for his soul, upon his request. [68] [69]

On 16 October 2013, the society offered to perform a funeral for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke. Priebke had been baptized in a Protestant denomination, but in post-war years he converted to a form of Catholicism with his wife and had his children baptized. [70] On the occasion of the public audience in front of the Military Tribunal of Rome held on 3 April 1996, he read a letter in the presence of the families of the victims, in which he manifested his grief, deploring the horrible act of obedience that he had had to perform in those circumstances:

From the depths of my heart I feel the need to express my condolences for the sorrow of the relatives of the victims of the Ardeatine Caves. ...As a believer I have never denied this tragic fact; for me the order to participate in the action was a great personal tragedy. ...I think of the dead with reverence and I feel united with the living in their sorrow. [71]

He rejected the cult of race as a “mistake that led down a path of no return.” [70] Despite all of that the ceremony did not take place due to protests by some 500 people, mostly unaware of the circumstances of his personal life, outside the society's Italian district house in Albano, near Rome. The local authorities of the Catholic Church had refused him a public funeral, citing a rule of canon law that, unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, a public funeral must be refused to manifest sinners to whom it cannot be granted without public scandal of the faithful. [72] [73]

In spite of controversies surrounding Nazism, the society mentioned that Archbishop Lefebvre's own father, René Lefebvre, met his death in the concentration camp at Sonnenburg in February 1944, three years after his arrest by the Gestapo; he died, "his rosary in hand, a victim of Nazi insanity." [74]

Alleged cover-up of abuse

On 5 April 2017, Uppdrag granskning, a Swedish television program focused on investigative journalism, alleged that four members of the SSPX—three priests and a former seminarian—had molested at least a dozen young people in several countries. [75] [76] [77] The program also stated that evidence of abuse was kept secret by the SSPX and that the priests were allowed to continue in ministry. [75] [78] Nonetheless, three of the four had been expelled from the society by the time that the program was aired.

Kevin Gerard Sloniker, the former seminarian and the only person accused by name in the program, was expelled from the society's St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in 2005, and began serving a life-sentence in 2015. [79] [80] The remaining three accusations regard priests whose names have been withheld (referred to in the program as Fathers P, S, and M); their accusers have likewise remained anonymous. Nonetheless, P was the subject of a canonical trial presided over by Bishop Fellay, authorized by the Holy See in 2013; he was found guilty, and subsequently ordered to retire to a monastery. Crux reports "P refused to go and, according to officials of the SSPX, joined [Bishop] Williamson's Resistance." [81] He along with "Father S" were expelled from the society, and are now affiliated with Williamson's group. "Father M" is currently serving in France, though no criminal charges have been brought against him and the society denies that they are aware of any credible accusations of abuse against the priest.

In May 2020, the U.S. state of Kansas started an investigation against SSPX groups affiliated with, though not overseen by, the state's four Roman Catholic Dioceses. [82] SSPX members in Kansas were accused of either perpetrating or covering up clerical sex abuse in the state. [82] For many years, the SSPX St. Mary's Rectory in Kansas faced numerous sex abuse allegations. [83]

SSPX priests sentenced for abuse

Mexican SSPX priest and former headmaster Fr. Uribe Silviano Bernabé was sentenced in September 2004 by a Bordeaux criminal court to one year for sexual assaults on a grown up woman and a 13-year-old girl. [84] He appealed the sentence and lost on 17 March 2005. [85] He then brought the case to the Court of Cassation in Paris, which upheld the sentence on 26 April 2006. [86]

On 13 December 2017, Fr. Frédéric Abbet was sentenced to 5 years by a Brussels appeal court for sexual abuse on a young boy in an SSPX boarding school. He had already faced accusations in his native Switzerland in 2005 but had been acquitted by an unofficial SSPX tribunal. [87] [88]

On 16 February 2018, former school headmaster Fr. Christophe Roisnel was sentenced to 19 years by the Nanterre criminal court of appeal for multiple counts of rape and acts of torture on female school teachers. [89] [90] [91]

See also

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Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre was a French Roman Catholic archbishop. In 1970, he founded the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) as a small community of seminarians in the village of Écône, Switzerland, with the permission of Bishop François Charrière of Fribourg. In 1975, after a flare of tensions with the Holy See, Lefebvre was ordered to disband the society, but ignored the decision. In 1988, against the expressed prohibition of Pope John Paul II, he consecrated four bishops to continue his work with the SSPX. The Holy See immediately declared that he and the other bishops who had participated in the ceremony had incurred automatic excommunication under Catholic canon law, a status Lefebvre refused to acknowledge to his death three years later.

Traditionalist Catholicism Movement of Catholics in favour of restoring many or all of the liturgy, practice, and beliefs of Catholics from before the Second Vatican Council

Traditionalist Catholicism is a set of religious beliefs and practices comprising customs, traditions, liturgical forms, public and private, individual and collective devotions, and presentations of Catholic Church teachings that were in vogue in the decades that immediately preceded the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). It is associated in particular with attachment to the 1570–1970 form of the Roman Rite Mass, which traditionalist Catholics call the Traditional Latin Mass or TLM or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

Daniel Dolan American Sedevacantist bishop

Daniel Lytle Dolan is a sedevacantist Traditionalist Catholic bishop.

Richard Williamson (bishop) Former SSPX bishop

Richard Nelson Williamson is an English traditionalist bishop formerly in communion with the Catholic Church who opposes the changes in the Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He was originally a member of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). He was subsequently excommunicated; this was lifted in 2009, but Williamson was convicted in German courts of denying the Holocaust and incitement related to those views, and the excommunication was reimposed by the Pope. Due to other actions, Williamson was expelled from the society in 2012 and once again excommunicated in 2015.

The Society of Saint Pius V, is a sedevacantist society of priests, formed in 1983 and based in Oyster Bay Cove, New York. The priests of SSPV broke away from the Society of St. Pius X over liturgical issues, and hold that many in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church no longer adhere to the Catholic faith but instead profess a new, modernist, Conciliar religion. SSPV priests regard the questions of the legitimacy of the present hierarchy and the possibility that the Holy See is unoccupied (sedevacantism) to be unresolved. The SSPV is led by its founder, Bishop Clarence Kelly, and named after Pius V, who promulgated the Tridentine Mass.

Ecclesia Dei is the document Pope John Paul II issued on 2 July 1988 in reaction to the Ecône Consecrations, despite an express prohibition by the Holy See. It said that the two consecrating bishops and the four priests they consecrated were excommunicated. John Paul called for unity and established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to foster a dialog with those associated with the consecrations who hoped to maintain both loyalty to the papacy and their attachment to traditional liturgical forms.

Bernard Fellay Swiss bishop

Bernard Fellay, SSPX is a Swiss bishop and former superior general of the Traditionalist Catholic priestly fraternity Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). In 1988, Pope John Paul II announced that Fellay and three others were automatically excommunicated for being consecrated as bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, an act that the Holy See described as "unlawful" and "schismatic". Archbishop Lefebvre, and Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer who co-consecrated these four bishops, were also excommunicated. At that time, he was the youngest bishop of the Roman Catholic Church at 29 years old.

Bernard Tissier de Mallerais Traditionalist french bishop

Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, SSPX is a French Traditionalist bishop of the Society of Saint Pius X.

Alfonso de Galarreta Spanish bishop

Alfonso de Galarreta Genua, SSPX, is a Spanish-Argentine bishop of the Society of Saint Pius X. He was declared excommunicated latae sententiae by Pope John Paul II because of his unauthorized consecration by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, deemed by the Holy See to be "unlawful" and "a schismatic act". The SSPX denied the validity of the excommunication, saying that the consecrations were necessary due to a moral and theological crisis in the Catholic Church. The automatic excommunication was remitted by the Holy See on 21 January 2009.

International Seminary of Saint Pius X seminary

The International Seminary of Saint Pius X in Écône, Valais, Switzerland is the premier seminary of the Roman Catholic Traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X. The seminary is one of the six houses for formation for the future priests of the Society of Saint Pius X. The Seminary was founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and his tomb can be found there.

Antônio de Castro Mayer Catholic bishop

Antônio de Castro Mayer was a Brazilian prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. A Traditionalist Catholic and ally of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, he was Bishop of Campos from 1949 until his resignation in 1981.

The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei was a commission of the Catholic Church established by Pope John Paul II's motu proprioEcclesia Dei of 2 July 1988 for the care of those former followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who broke with him as a result of his consecration of four priests of his Society of St. Pius X as bishops on 30 June 1988, an act that the Holy See deemed illicit and a schismatic act. It was also tasked with trying to return to full communion with the Holy See those traditionalist Catholics who are in a state of separation, of whom the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is foremost, and of helping to satisfy just aspirations of people unconnected with these groups who want to keep alive the pre-1970 Roman Rite liturgy.

Basil Kovpak is a Ukrainian Traditionalist Catholic priest and the founder and current head of the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat. Formerly a priest of the Archeparchy of Lviv of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Kovpak was excommunicated by the UGCC in 2007.

The Écône consecrations were a set of episcopal consecrations that took place in Écône, Switzerland, on 30 June 1988. They were performed by Catholic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Meyer, and the priests raised to the episcopacy were four members of Lefebvre's Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). The consecrations, performed against the explicit orders of Pope John Paul II, represented a milestone in the troubled relationship of Lefebvre and the SSPX with the Church leadership. The Holy See's Congregation for Bishops issued a decree signed by its Prefect Cardinal Bernardin Gantin declaring that Lefebvre had incurred automatic excommunication by consecrating the bishops without papal consent.

Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat

The Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych (SSJK) is a society of traditionalist priests and seminarians originating from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church which is led by the excommunicated priest Basil Kovpak. It is based in Riasne, Lviv, Western Ukraine. In Lviv, the society maintains a seminary, at which currently thirty students reside, and takes care of a small convent of Basilian sisters. The SSJK is affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X and Holy Orders are conferred by the latter society's bishops in the Roman Rite. The SSJK clergymen, however, exclusively follow a version of Slavonic Byzantine Rite in the Ruthenian recension.

Philippe Laguérie is a French Traditionalist Catholic priest. He is the Superior General of the Institute of the Good Shepherd, which upholds the Tridentine Mass.

For a number of years after the 1988 consecrations, there was little if any dialogue between the Society of St. Pius X and the Holy See. This state of affairs ended when the Society led a large pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee in the year 2000.

The canonical situation of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a group founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is unresolved.

<i>Marcel Lefebvre – Archbishop in Stormy Times</i> 2012 film

Monseigneur Lefebvre, un évêque dans la tempête is a 2012 documentary film by French director Jacques-Régis du Cray, primarily based on the biography A biography of Archbishop Lefebvre written by Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais.

Donald Sanborn American bishop

Donald J. Sanborn is an American sedevacantist bishop, known for his advocacy of sedevacantism and sedeprivationism. He currently serves as rector of the sedevacantist Most Holy Trinity Seminary in Brooksville, Florida. He was ordained a priest in June 1975 as a member of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Canonical recognition of the SSPX had been controversially withdrawn by the local Roman Catholic bishop in May 1975, one month prior to Sanborn's ordination, and this move would later be upheld by the Vatican. In 1983, he broke ties with the SSPX, and established the independent Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Martinez, California in 1984. He was consecrated a bishop by the traditionalist bishop Robert McKenna in 2002.


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  2. Society of Saint Pius X, District of the USA: "Pascendi exposes Modernist tactics"
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  11. The Wanderer Interviews Fr. Aulagnier, SSPX, Luc Gagnon, 18 September 2003
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  16. The 1974 Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre,21 November 1974
  17. Nos igitur iterum adhortamur hos Nostros fratres ac filios, eosque exoramus, ut conscii fiant gravium vulnerum quae secus Ecclesiae illaturi sunt. Invitationem ipsis iteramus, ut secum recogitent gravia Christi monita de Ecclesiae unitate (Cfr. Io. 17, 21 ss.) ac de oboedientia erga legitimum Pastorem, ab Ipso universo gregi praepositum, cum signum oboedientiae sit quae Patri ac Filio debetur (Cfr. Luc. 10, 16). Nos eos aperto corde exspectamus apertisque bracchiis ad eos prompte amplectendos: utinam humilitatis exemplum praebentes, ad gaudium Populi Dei rursus viam unitatis et amoris ingredi valeant! (Consistory for the creation of twenty new cardinals, 24 May 1976)
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  19. Text given in English translation in M. Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, p. 194
  20. English translation in M. Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, p. 197-199
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  22. English translation of the statement in M. Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, pp. 215-216
  23. "The situation is such, the work placed in our hands by the good Lord is such, that faced with this darkness in Rome, faced with the Roman authorities' pertinacity in error, faced with this refusal to return to truth or tradition on the part of those who occupy the seats of authority in Rome, faced with all these things, it seems to us that the good Lord is asking for the Church to continue. This is why it is likely that before I give account of my life to the good Lord, I shall have to consecrate some bishops" (Sermon on 29 June 1987)
  24. "No bishop is permitted to consecrate anyone a bishop unless it is first evident that there is a pontifical mandate" (Code of Canon Law, canon 1013
  25. "A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See" (Code of Canon Law, canon 1382).
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  39. "Letter".
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