Vatican throws down gauntlet to ultra-traditionalist SSPX

June 17, 2009

bollettinoThe Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet to the ultra- traditionalist Society of Saint Piux X (SSPX), which planned to ordain 27 new priests this month without approval from Rome. A statement by the Vatican press office today declared that the ordinations would be illegitimate. The four SSPX bishops were only readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church in January after 20 years of excommunication. If they go ahead and ordain the priests anyway, they could risk being disciplined — possibly even excommunicated — again.

The SSPX claims its fidelity to the old Latin Mass and rejection of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reforms represent authentic Catholicism as opposed to the “modernism” practiced in the world’s largest church since then. It has also claimed to be loyal to the pope, although this was always hedged with reservations about his authority because of the doctrinal dispute over Vatican II. Having won its bishops’ readmission without making any concessions, it looked set to test the limits again by ordaining priests without Vatican permission.

The Vatican statement quoted a March 10 letter by Pope Benedict to Catholic bishops saying the SSPX did not have any official status within the Church and would have to negotiate it in discussions with Rome. “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church,” he wrote.

pope-with-saturnoAfter quoting that, the Vatican statement said: “So the ordinations should still be considered illegitimate.” It added that there were “reasons to think that the definition of that new status is near” and that “doctrinal and, consequently, also disciplinary questions still remain open.”

(Photo: Pope Benedict, 17 June 2009/Max Rossi)

The statement comes at the last minute — 13 of the 21 were due to be ordained at an SSPX seminariy in Winona, Minnesota on Friday. The rest were planned in Ecône, Switzerland and Zaitzkofen, Germany on June 27. The ball is now in the SSPX’s court, to go ahead with them after all, or not.

Is Benedict listening more to his critics? His decision to readmit the SSPX bishops in January amid an uproar over Holocaust denial by one of them was a public relations disaster that reaped critical comments from several bishops’ conferences in Europe. In recent weeks, three German bishops — including Robert Zollitsch, president of their conference — openly criticised the planned SSPX ordinations and urged the Vatican to intervene. And now it has.

Several readers objected to the headline on our last post on this issue — “SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again” and suggested that calling the ordinations a challenge was only my personal opinion. One quoted the great theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas at length to try to show the SSPX was not actually being disobedient by ignoring the pope’s warning that it could not “legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.” As a reporter covering the Catholic Church, I have to assume the pope’s words carry weight. Measured against that warning, the ordination plan did indeed amount to a bid to “push the envelope against the Vatican again.” With this statement, the Vatican has identified the plan as a challenge and declared it illegitimate in advance.

Roma locuta, causa finita? (Rome has spoken, the case is closed?) — let’s see.


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It seems to me that SSPX should not ordain the priests.

The Vatican was willing to make a non-doctrinal concession for the sake of unity among the faithful. Should not SSPX do the same here? If SSPX goes through with the ordinations it simply smacks of, what’s the word.. Arrogance is too strong and disobedience has too much theological weight behind it. You get the idea.

Now don’t get me wrong. SSPX has raised a lot of very good points about the present situation in the Church. Vatican II can be, and has been in certain contexts, horribly misread. These are issues that need to be dealt with as quickly as possible (read: slowly and carefully).

For SSPX to be loyal to the Pope, as the claim, they have to meet him somewhere in the middle. The Pope has not only SSPX to worry about, but the other billion Catholics in the world who have accepted Vatican II with varying levels of misinterpretations (ranging from correct to clown Masses). Benedict is trying to reign in a lot of these problems, but it’s a slow process. It would be pastorally unwise to simply lay down the law. Rather what we see Benedict doing is electing good, orthodox bishops. What this will do is, eventually, re-educate the faithful into orthodoxy. In 100 years or so the faithful will want what SSPX wants now.

In other words, patience is a virtue SSPX somewhat lacks.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

I don’t think the Pope intends to strangle the society to death. There’s no question that the canonical situation is irregular, but it would be unreasonable to think that the society is expected to stop all its activities until doctrinal questions are settled.

The head of the German bishop’s conference is a public heretic (he denied the atonement). Frankly, he should be the one under threat of excommunication.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive


Here is a copy/pasted response from the Rector of the SSPX seminary in Zaitzkofen, Germany regarding the necessity of proceeding with the priestly ordinations (original can be found on the Rorate Coeli blogsite):

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Press Release regarding the Priestly Ordinations
The Seminary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, regarding the Ordinations to the priesthood planned for 27 June, 2009, declares the following:

1. These ordinations are bestowed with the intention of serving the Catholic Church. We bestow these priestly ordinations because we wish to express our unity with the Church of Rome. This unity consists of the same doctrine, the same sacraments, and the holy sacrifice of the Mass of all times. The newly ordained priests, as well as all of the members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, recognize the office of the Pope and the authority of the Church. Just as all other clergy of the Fraternity, the candidates for ordination will pray by name for the reigning Pope as well as the local Ordinary – an expression of solidarity, which theFraternity has practiced since its founding more than 30 years ago. We do not want a parallel Church, but instead wish to preserve the incalculable treasure of Catholic Tradition within the one true Catholic Church.

2. When Rome, on January 21, 2009, repealed the decree of excommunication that had been declared against the 4 bishops of the fraternity, the Holy Father surely intended it as a provision of life, and not of death. The generous gesture was primarily intended to be a confidence-building measure for the coming theological discussions with representatives of the Holy See, in which, through difficult negotiations, the difficulties which still remain will presumably be eliminated.

3. An emergency requires and justifies corresponding emergency measures. Is there an emergency in the Church today? We refer to an appendix attached to this declaration, in which representative statements from popes, cardinals, bishops, and theologians are documented. Pope Paul VI, for example, speaks of the “self-destruction of the Church”, Pope John Paul II speaks of “silent apostasy”. Additionally we give two numerical examples: In 1950 in Germany, 13 million Catholics regularly attended Sunday Mass. Today it is less than 2 million – a reduction of more than 85 percent. The number of priestly ordinations in German dioceses in 2008 reached a record low of less than 100.

It is a question of the existence or the dissolution of Christianity in Europe. Should the ordination of these new priests, who have been formed on the solid foundations of Catholic tradition and who are so necessary for the survival of the Church, be postponed? Instead, as true vocations become more and more uncommon, should we not with great devotion thank God for the grace of such vocations? There can be no talk of an insult to the unity of the Church and most certainly not of a rebuff of the outstretched hand of the Holy Father, for whom we pray daily.

4. The bishops, in their fury, continuously invoke canon law. But consider an analogy: a valuable building is burning down, a group of courageous young men rushes to the blaze to extinguish the fire, or at least to contain it and then afterwards to begin with the rebuilding. But they are detained by law enforcement for having exceeded the speed limit. Isn’t the last canon of the 1983 code of canon law still valid today, according to which the highest law of the Church is the salvation of souls?

5. Since the current problems are not of a disciplinary nature, the discussion has to be conducted at an entirely different level; in particular, at the level of faith. When Pope Benedict XVI, in his letter to the bishops of March 10, 2009, made the dramatic declaration that the faith is in danger of being extinguished in many parts of the world, is it not urgent that we together make every effort to ascertain the causes of this crisis of faith and to utilize the means at our disposal to remedy this crisis? In this spirit we renew our readiness to engage in dialogue with the German bishops in an atmosphere of peace and intellectual honesty, far removed from all polemics and unhelpful accusations.

Zaitzkofen, June 13, 2009
Father Stefan Frey, Rector of the Seminary

Posted by Sean Johnson | Report as abusive


The pot is certainly calling the kettle black in Rome and Germany.

The entire drama between Rome and the SSPX is the result of the Second Vatican Council and the so-called reforms which issued in its name following 1965 (Many of the propositions of which had been condemned by all the popes since the French Revolution until that council).

It is interesting, then, to note the press calling the SSPX “rebels” for staying true to the unchangeable Catholic dogmas of the Faith, whereas Rome (since the Council) has chased after oft-condemned novelties in an attempt to remain “relevent” in the modern world.

The effect of this attempt has been the emptying of the seminaries, convents, churches, and a marked loss of faith in every quantifiable statistical segment of Church demographics, and for simple reasons: The boast of the Church has always been that doctrine (as opposed to disciplines, which can change to meet modern circumstances) can never change, since God’s revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle.

Who then are the rebels? The traditionalists who believe precisely what the pope believed as a boy? Or that 93% of so-called Catholics who have never studied an iota of doctrine, and were so easily led astray by the liberal reforms at and after the Council, like lemmings over a cliff?

There are several precedents in the Church where those clinging to traditional doctrine, even against the explicit will of the pope (and who were termed rebels at that time by him) were later vindicated by history as having been the true Catholics, in great minority, who clung to the Faith, while the rest of those calling themselves Catholics (like the 54% who voted Obama, or who go to the New Mass, or who accept in ignorance the oft-condemned propositions of Vatican II) were condemned by it.

Were you to visit Archbishop Lefebvre’s mausoleum in Econe, Switzerland (as I have while still a seminarian with the SSPX), you would be struck by the Latin inscription there, which translates reads: “I have passed on that which I have received.”

That is an inscription nobody in Rome will be able to have on their tombstones!

To call us the rebels is the height of hypocrisy.

Posted by Sean Johnson | Report as abusive

As a Catholic theologian with a special focus in Thomas Aquinas, and an interest in the SSPX, I must say that in the concrete situation, I don’t think he can legitimately be called upon to justify the SSPX’s ordaining priests without the pope’s authorization.

Posted by Joseph Bolin | Report as abusive

Joseph Bolin, I don’t think so either, but you can see for yourself in the comments to my earlier post ( 9/06/08/sspx-set-to-push-the-envelope-ag ainst-the-vatican-again/) that a reader who described himself as “a former SSPX seminarian who has great respect and filial devotion to HH Benedict XVI” tried to do just that.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

The lamestream media is blowing smoke again. Nowhere was there any warning not to ordain. This “gauntlet” you speak of only exists in the minds of anti-Catholics, heretics, and other heathens.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Lets be reasonable! SSPX priess are celebrating hundreds of Masses everyday and technically they are all illigitimate.When the Vatican states that any upcoming ordinations would be illigitimate they are just stating the obvious.

I suspect that at least some of the ordinations will go ahead. The only question is what will be the repercussions if any. The Holy Father has previously stated his view that in earlier schisms Rome perhaps acted too hastily.

This Pope is dedicated to healing schisms and I doubt that he will allow himself to be pushed around by German bishops acting out of who knows what motives. Perhaps there will be a slap on the wrist.

Posted by David M. O’Rourke | Report as abusive

Ted, there comes a point where your comments start to sound like Bill Clinton quibbling about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. If words have any meaning for you, how do you interpret these very clear phrases:

— “the ordinations should still be considered ILLEGITIMATE.”
— “doctrinal and, consequently, also DISCIPLINARY QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN OPEN.”

If you can’t provide an answer, then there’s a category for you too — lamestream commentators. It’s fascinating to see how SSPX supporters struggle to argue away what’s in front of them in black and white. Throwing around phrases like “anti-Catholics, heretics, and other heathens” can’t hide the contradiction.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Sean Johnson, your comment above presents the Zaitzkofen statement as being made today in response to the Vatican warning. If you check the original on, you’ll see it was dated last Saturday and posted on that website on Monday. Saturday’s date is mentioned at the bottom of your comment. Could you please explain why you inserted today’s date on what you claim was a simple copy/paste of a statement posted two days earlier?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

“His decision to readmit the SSPX bishops in January amid an uproar over Holocaust denial by one of them was a public relations disaster..”?

I beg your pardon, but Bishop Williamson’s holocaust denial was made public only after the excommunication was lifted. If anything, the publication of his revisionist opinions was made amid an uproar over the lifting of his excommunication.

How very revisionist.

Posted by Michael Watson | Report as abusive

Michael Watson, I beg your pardon but “how very revisionist” to reverse the well-documented dates of these events in your comment! Williamson’s Holocaust-denying interview was broadcast by Swedish television on the evening of Wednesday January 21. The Vatican decree lifting the excommunications was not issued until the early afternoon of Saturday January 24. The issue of the lifting of the excommunications did figure in the uproar between those two dates, because Il Giornale reported on Thursday January 22 that the bans were soon to be lifted. But it was the fact that Williamson had openly denied the Holocaust first that really stoked the debate (see, for example, the London Times article about this on Friday January 23 at  /faith/article5567829.ece). There would not have been half the public attention paid to this issue if the lifting of the excommunications had come first and the Holocaust denial only later.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Under supplied jurisdiction due to a state of necessity resulting from the schism in the Church created during the Second Vatican Council and the embrace of heresy and error by the vast majority of clergymen in the Church, the SSPX has been performing valid and licit ordinations to the priesthood every year for what is coming up on 40 years.

If anything, the lifting of the invalid excommunications in January of this year is an indication that such ordinations are in no way an impediment to membership in the Church. The statement that they are “illegitimate” is nothing new due to what is merely perceived as a “canonically irregular” status of the SSPX within the Church.

Funny how lamestream media representative, Mr. Heneghan, won’t blog about the real schismatics and apostates in Linz and the heretical Archbishop Zollitsch.

The Ministry of Truth can’t tolerate the ordination of authentically Catholic priests.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Hello Tom:

As I said, the article posted above is copy/pasted from the Rorate Coeli blog.

If you have a timeline problem, take it up with them.

PS: Should I consider your questioning of the timeline, rather than the substance of the article posted, an admission of defeat?

Posted by Sean Johnson | Report as abusive

Sean, you cut and pasted a four-day-old statement that only repeated well-known SSPX arguments, dated it to look like a fresh response to today’s Vatican warning and now refuse responsibility for the confusion that was the only interesting part of your comment. If you think that earns you some kind of victory, go right ahead and claim it.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Ted, I’ve stopped posting your comments because you’re simply ranting now. You’re free to debate here as much as you want. We publish all kinds of opinions, as you’ve seen today. But there is a limit and calling me a Stalinist sympathiser and charging me with responsibility for child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church goes way beyond it.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive


I will claim the victory, since in two consecutive responses you (like your protege Bill Clinton) can only resort to assassinating character when you lack the tools to win the srgument.

Fortunately your (few) readers are able to go to the Rorate Coeli website themselves, and see that it was not I who changed a timeline, but as I said twice already, posted their blog which is dated today on their site. If you don’t like that their 6-17 posting contains a four day old article, again, take it up with them.

Now do you have anything intelligent to say (as a completely incompetent and untrained layman) on the complex issues regarding the “legitimacy” of the SSPX ordinations?

If so, you might as well also give us your opinions on epidemiology, astrophysics, and Greek philosophy of the 2nd century AD (as your opinions in these areas will be equally credible).

You are completely defeated. Over and out.

Posted by Sean Johnson | Report as abusive

Sean, my view about the legitimacy of SSPX ordinations is expressed in the post that started this discussion. Whether you go back and read it or not, you will write back saying you completely disagree and I’ve been utterly defeated. This is a useless ping-pong game so I agree with you on one point: over and out.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Nowhwhere in the statement from the Holy See’s press office did it state that excommunications loomed nor were imminent. So, they did not “throw down the gauntlet” as the attention-grabbing headline states.

The press office merely reaffirmed what the Pope stated in his motu proprio–and which has been the case for years–the SSPX has “illicit” or “ilegitimate” sacraments, including ordinations. This has been the case for years. So why is it newsworthy now? So that Reuters, in another story on this same subject, can continue spreading the lie that Bishop Williams was a “holocaust denier,” when indeed, in his own plain words in the original interview, he was no such thing?

Pope Benedict XVI is not “listening to his critics” when issuing this press release. He is merely reaffirming what he had already affirmed. Why does the media think that their hyperbole and misinformation influences decisions of the Pope in matters of faith and morals? Like the Pope is taking surveys, right? What pride and arrogance on the part of the media.

Boy, is the entire world going to be in for a shock when a temporary canonical solution and faculties are worked out SOON for the SSPX! What hysteria are we going to see from the world’s media outlets!!!

Posted by Brian Mershon | Report as abusive

SSPX should and must go ahead and do what it always has done: guarantee there are priests today and tomorrow following Tradition, doing what Catholics have always done for 2000 yrs before “super council” Vatican II.

Catholic libs object to the SSPX doing its Catholic duty but offering no substantive alternative…clown mass ordinations in what may be illicit and invalid rites? They also are quick to adopt protestants and all other religions but have the bogey man for Tradition.

Bishop Fellay 27, Lib Catholics 0.

Posted by BoMeister | Report as abusive

I’d like to inform the readers that for most sspx members like myself, opinions about what the Society should do or shouldn’t do are all but ignored. The Church is a mess. The spiritual crisis is real. SSPX Catholics have simply found a way to survive all the nonsense of the post-Conciliar era, and to maintain their true Catholic identity. That’s the long and the short of it.
Of course, whenever SSPX is discussed these days, Bp. Williamson’s alleged “holocaust denial” always comes into the picture. Could someone please lead me to a quote from this bishop indicating in unmistakable language that he has ever clearly denied the Holocaust? I find none.

Posted by tom hollingsworth | Report as abusive

Pope Benedict should just give up with the SSPX. I suspect he wants to stop them from consecrating more bishops and metastasizing. But it’s not worth coddling anti-semites just to contain the growth of a parallel church. The Catholic Church should preserve its morals and ethics rather than be tarnished by a truly questionable organization. Other churches maintain apostolic succession and remain separate from Rome. Let the SSPX wither away on its own accord.

The Latin Mass, in union with Rome, is growing and is a viable alternative. It is the classical liturgy moving in time with the modern church and her new way of seeing other people and the world. My hope is that individual SSPXers put aside their endless arguments over single words from Vatican II documents. Come home to Rome, and live within the ambiguities of today rather than yearn for a Church of the past that will never exist again.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Bp. Williamson’s should never be seen as a social man. His views about social problems may be different. But, He can be punished by pope if he is teaching some heresy which are contradictory to the catholic church’s teachings about truth and if he has no thirst on souls and if misguides his sheaps in spiritual life. But I think, he never does it. Best known to me, many catholic bishops who are attached to vatican undoubtfully, are teaching heresy which are contradictory to the catholic teaching . They teach even against the first commandment which is a truth of holy Trinity declared by the church. Even a faithful cannot doubt it. But some bishops hold all religious symbols when they take charge. And they teach against this truth. But they are never punished.And there is no uproar against them. And they themselves claim vatican punishment against SSPX and Bp. Williamson. According to me only these modern and ultra modern Bishops and clergies are tobe punished by vatican because they always go and talk against The Church’s unchangable teachings. Also catholic church is one church. Even it is one of its characteristics. It can not be considered as two ( one before vatican II and one after Vatican II).Some try to show a new religion in the name of catholic religion and saying all these are Vatican II reforms. Vatican II reforms can never change truth.This new religion makes a faithful a satan instead of making him as an angel.Through out the church the integrity and moral behaviour of faithfuls are going down. Any one who is having a true heart can easily identify this. But Bishop Bernard Bellay cleared in his letter to Pope that sspx is committed to the pope and all its teachings except Vatican II council’s confusing statements which are contradictory to earlier council’s teachings.In bestof my knowledge sspx is fully following and teaching true cathlicism. It is accepting and teaching all catholic truths. It is committed to the pope whenever he is teaching the right thing. It is praying for the Pope in the Mass it celebrates. It disobeys only when he goes wrong and goes against the original catholic teaching, which is a right thing . St Pual even conemned St.Peter when he went wrong. One can easily identify that blocking priestly ordination by vatican is just to encourage modernism(a new religion) and to destry catholism. So according to me SSPX does the right thing by its priestly ordination. There is nothing wrong.

Posted by christopher | Report as abusive

Sadly, individuals like “Mike” do not understand the only reason we have the Tridentine (Latin) Mass at all today is simply because of the SSPX.

The Moto Proprio to open the Latin Mass to all Priests without their Bishop’s approval was a pre-condition given by the SSPX to talk with Rome about Doctrinal affairs. The same was the case with the lifting of the so-called “excommunications” – it was a pre-condition stated by the SSPX before talks could begin about clearing up the problems in the Church.

Prior to the Moto Proprio the only diocese that would have a Latin Mass supported by the Novus Ordo Bishop would be diocese where the SSPX had a Church or Chapel and was giving the Latin Mass in the first place!

ALL those who appreciate, support and desire the Latin Mass must give thanks where thanks is due – to the SSPX and its four Bishops.

Posted by Dr John Smythe | Report as abusive

I just pray and hope that those in the vatican has not lost their beliefs on the “dogma”. Bishops and priests except those from SSPX seems to have weakened their faith. It can never never and never be wronged. It will be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow…just as Christ is the same yester, today and tomorrow… Satan must have been in the catholic church now… but don’t be afraid, hold on to the the ROSARY and we all will be saved… God bless us all…

Posted by mels | Report as abusive