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|Society of St. Pius X|
|Motto||Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat (Christ Conquers, Christ Reigns, Christ Rules)|
|Type||Catholic priestly society|
|Superior General||Bernard Fellay|
|Key people||Marcel Lefebvre — founder|
The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) is an international traditionalist Catholic organisation, founded in 1970 by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The society's official Latin name is Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X, meaning "Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X".
Pope Benedict XVI has declared that, for doctrinal rather than disciplinary reasons, the SSPX has no canonical status in the Catholic Church and, because of that lack of canonical status, the ministries exercised by its ministers are not legitimate in the Church. However, the society maintains that the Holy See is pursuing a two-pronged policy (an official de jure policy contradicted by de facto actions) and that the Holy Father has taken concrete actions that run contrary to the written statement, oftentimes recognizing the legal and valid existence and ministry of the Society priests.
Tensions between the society and the Holy See reached their height in 1988, when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II, resulting in a declaration of excommunication against the bishops who consecrated or were consecrated, an excommunication remitted for those still alive in January 2009 with a hope expressed that all members of the society would quickly return to full communion.
Like the Traditionalist Catholic movement 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 prelate Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre had spent much of his career as a missionary in Africa and served as superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers from 1962 to 1968. He retired in 1968 when his congregation began to revise its constitutions in a manner that Lefebvre considered to be un-Catholic and Modernist. Shortly after his retirement, Lefebvre was approached by French seminarians in Rome. It is thought that they told him that they were being persecuted for their adherence to traditional doctrines and sought his advice on a conservative seminary where they could complete their studies. He directed them to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
In 1970, urged by the Abbot of the Abbey of Hauterive and the Dominican theologian Father Marie-Dominique Philippe to teach the seminarians personally, Lefebvre approached François Charrière, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, with a request to set up a religious society. 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" 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".) Some Swiss laymen offered the seminary at Ecône to the newly formed group, and in 1971 the first 24 candidates entered, followed by a further 32 in October 1972.
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 Vatican departments in order to secure early recognition for his society. He succeeded in obtaining a letter of encouragement from Cardinal John Joseph Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, but there was no approval from the Vatican congregation responsible for raising an association to the level desired by Lefebvre. Cardinal Wright's letter, dated 18 February 1971, was worded carefully, speaking of the association "as Your Excellency presents it" and saying, 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". It has been claimed that Cardinal Wright was still recommending prospective seminarians to apply to Écône as late as 1973.
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 Vatican 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. 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" — 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. By this time, the SSPX had opened additional seminaries in Armada, Michigan, (1973) and in Rome (1974).
The first sign of intervention by curial authorities was a meeting held in the Vatican on 26 March 1974. By June 1974, a commission of cardinals had been formed to inquire into the SSPX. The cardinals decided that a canonical visitation of the seminary should be undertaken and, from 11–13 November 1974, two Belgian priests carried out a visitation. Their report was said to have been favourable. However, while at Écône, they expressed a number of theological opinions which were judged to be excessively liberal, and which greatly shocked the seminarians and staff. In what he later described as a mood of "doubtlessly excessive indignation", Lefebvre wrote a "Declaration" in which he strongly attacked what he considered to be liberal trends apparent in the contemporary Church, which (he said) were "clearly evident" in the Council and in the reforms that had followed. This document was leaked and published in January 1975, in the French Traditionalist Catholic journal Itinéraires. It would provide important ammunition to his opponents.
By now, Lefebvre was in serious difficulties. In January 1975, Monsignor Pierre Mamie, the Bishop 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 asked by the cardinals to come to the Vatican. He met with them twice, on 13 February and 3 March. To Lefebvre's declared surprise, the meetings were hostile in tone: at one point a French cardinal, Gabriel-Marie Garrone, reportedly called him a "fool".
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 Apostolic Signatura, the highest court of the Catholic Church, which turned down the complaint. From this point onwards, the SSPX was no longer recognised as an organisation within the Catholic Church.
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 also that the procedures followed in its suppression violated the provisions of the Code of Canon Law.
The SSPX continued to operate in spite of its dissolution. 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.
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. 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. Lefebvre ignored the warnings, and went ahead with the ordinations on 29 June 1976.
In the sermon that he delivered on that occasion, Lefebvre explicitly recognised the possibility that he himself would be struck with suspension and the new priests with an irregularity that should theoretically prevent them from saying Mass. 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 Holy Father that were communicated by the above-mentioned letters of the Secretariat of State dated 12 and 15 June 1976
On 11 July 1976, Lefebvre signed a certificate of receipt of a letter from Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, intimating to him a canonical warning that further penalties would be inflicted on him 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, unless within ten days of receipt of the letter he took 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.
A central controversy surrounding the SSPX concerns the consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre and a 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. At that point, if Lefebvre died, the SSPX would have become dependent upon non-SSPX bishops to ordain future priests - and Lefebvre did not regard them as properly reliable and 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. Under canons 1013 and 1382 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law, the consecration of a bishop requires papal approval. Consecration of bishops without papal approval had been condemned by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, which described the sacramental activity of bishops who had been consecrated without such approval as "gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious". The Roman authorities were unhappy with 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 unauthorised consecrations on 30 June, the promised authorisation for the ordination to the episcopacy would not be granted.
On 3 June, Lefebvre wrote from Écône, stating that he intended to proceed. On 9 June, the Pope replied with a personal letter, appealing to him not to proceed with 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. Monsignor Antônio de Castro Mayer, the retired Bishop of Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil, assisted in the ceremony.
The following day, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree declaring that Archbishop Lefebvre had incurred automatic excommunication. 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. 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), the consecration "constitute[d] a schismatic act", and that, by virtue of canon 1382 of the Code, it entailed automatic 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 Code of Canon Law.
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 St. Peter.
The canonical situation of the SSPX has been subject of much controversy since the 1988 Écône consecrations. In his letter of 10 March 2009 concerning his remission of the excommunication of the four bishops of the Society of St Pius X, Pope Benedict XVI declared: "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." The Society claims to possess "extraordinary" jurisdiction.
For Catholics, assistance at Mass celebrated by priests of the Society is not in itself a sin. However, assistance at Mass celebrated by a priest not in good standing with the Church "deprives participation at Mass of that fullness of communion with Christ and his Church which the Mass, by its very nature and in all its forms, is called to express".
According to its own figures, the Society had (as of November 2009) 510 priests present in 31 countries and active in 32 more, 725 Mass centres, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters, 200 seminarians in six seminaries, 88 schools, and 2 university-level institutes. The SSPX's main seminary is in Écône, Switzerland; others are located in the United States (Winona, Minnesota), France (Flavigny-sur-Ozerain), Germany (Zaitzkofen), Australia (Goulburn), and Argentina (La Reja). The largest proportion of the SSPX's priests (over 120) are stationed in France.
In the past, the SSPX received support from the following diocesan bishops:
In addition, the Society was supported by retired diocesan bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, who on 20 August 1981 had resigned at the age of 77 from the governance of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Campos, Brazil and who participated in the 1988 Écône consecrations. After his retirement, he founded the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney, 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 after having Bishop Richard Williamson of the SSPX illicitly ordain two priests and seven deacons for his society in violation of canons 1015 §1 and 1017 of the Code of Canon Law.
Archbishop Lefebvre, who as superior general had been unable to impose his will on the representatives of the Holy Ghost Fathers at their September 1968 general chapter, gave the Society a statute that excludes elected representatives from SSPX general chapters, in which the only participants are office-holders (appointed personally by the superior general) together with (in a more limited number) the most senior members. There are similar restrictions within the Districts into which the Society is divided.
For a number of 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 Jubilee in the year 2000.
In 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.
In June 2009, Father Franz Schmidberger said that the SSPX is moving in the "direction of a personal prelature", somewhat similar to the situation of Opus Dei. Father Schmidberger's view has not been confirmed by the Holy See, which sees the society as still requiring "to rediscover the path to full communion with the Church ... the doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry." In May, 2011, Vatican Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi reaffirmed the March 2009 statement made by Pope Benedict XVI: "As long as the Society [of St. Pius X] does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church...Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers...do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church." 
On 14 September 2011, at the conclusion of doctrinal discussions that began in 2009 between representatives of the Society and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation gave Bishop Bernard Fellay, as superior general of the Society, a "doctrinal preamble", which if accepted by the Society would allow it to be accepted as in full communion with the Holy See and to be given a corporative canonical status within the Church. The possibility of making agreed adjustments of the wording was left open. Fellay was told on 16 March 2012 that the reply that he had submitted in January of that year was "not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems that are at the basis of the fracture between the Holy See and the society". Fellay continued to express optimism on the possibility of an agreement, but a leaked letter signed by the other three SSPX bishops showed their strong opposition to the proposal. On behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation told Fellay on 13 June 2012 that a further response that he submitted in April still needed clarification and that, if reconciled, the Society could have the status of a personal prelature within the Church. The Society's reaction was expected to be decided at a general chapter in July 2012.
Prominent members of the SSPX, including Lefebvre himself, have expressed approval or support for a restoration of an absolutist French monarchy, the Vichy government (1940–1944), and the party of Jean-Marie le Pen. On the basis of statements made by Bishop Richard Williamson, the Anti-Defamation League has accused the Society of being "mired in anti-Semitism". It was in an SSPX priory, where he had been granted asylum as "an act of charity to a homeless man", that French Nazi collaborator and war criminal Paul Touvier was arrested, and a priest of the Society publicly offered Requiem Mass for him on his death in 1996.
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.
The groups who broke with the SSPX for being too liberal include:
The groups who have broken with the SSPX and reconciled with Rome include:
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