Society of St. Pius X

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is an international society of Traditionalist Roman Catholic priests. Its official Latin name is Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X, which means "Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X". It was founded in 1970 by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and since 1975 it has existed in a state of dispute with the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

Foundation and early history

Like the Traditionalist Catholic movement in general, the SSPX was born out of conservative opposition to the actual or perceived changes in Catholic teaching and practice 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 bishop in Africa, and served as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers from 1962 to 1968. He retired in 1968 when his order 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 seminarians from the French Seminary in Rome. 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 Hauterive and the Dominican theologian Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe to teach the seminarians personally, Lefebvre approached Monsignor François Charrière, Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, with a request to set up a religious society for priests and seminarians. Charrière granted Lefebvre's request, and, with a document predated by six days to November 1 1970, he established the Society of St. Pius X as a "pia unio" on a provisional (ad experimentum) basis for 6 years. Pia unio status represented the first stage through which a Catholic organization would pass prior to gaining official recognition as a religious institute or a 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 the seminary, followed by a further 32 in October 1972.[1]

Normally, after a suitable period of concrete experience and after asking the advice of 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 at papal level. He succeeded in obtaining a letter of encouragement from Cardinal John Joseph Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, but no approval from the Congregation competent for raising the association to the level desired by Lefebvre. Cardinal Wright's letter, dated February 18 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 Wright was still recommending propspective seminarians to apply to Ecône as late as 1973. [2]

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 Lefebvre's and who had important connections with the Vatican Secretary of State, the Frenchman Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot. Indeed, much of the tension between Lefebvre and his critics must be seen in the context of long-term theological, cultural and political divisions between the Right and the Left in French society. At the meeting of the French episcopal conference at Lourdes in 1972, the seminary at Ecône acquired the nickname "le séminaire sauvage" — the "wildcat seminary"[1] — 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.[3] By this time, the SSPX had opened additional seminaries in Armada, Michigan (1973) and in Rome (1974).

The first sign of intervention by the Roman authorities was a meeting held in the Vatican on 26 March 1974. By June 1974, a commission of cardinals had been formed to enquire 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 rigorous inspection. Their report was said to have been favourable.[2] However, while at Ecône, 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", the Archbishop wrote a "Declaration" in which he strongly attacked the liberal trends apparent in the contemporary Church, which (he said) were "clearly evident" in the Council and in the reforms that had followed it.[3] This document was leaked and published in January 1975, in the French Traditionalist journal Itinéraires. It would provide important ammunition to his opponents.

By now, Lefebvre was in serious difficulties. There was an ominous atmosphere at Ecône due to a press campaign against the Archbishop, with the seminary subjected to graffiti, nuisance phone calls, shooting of the windows and trespassers at night.[4] In January 1975, Mgr. Pierre Mamie, the incumbent Bishop of Fribourg, wrote to Rome stating his intention to withdraw the pia unio status that his predecessor had granted the SSPX. It has been speculated, without definite evidence, that this action was undertaken at the instigation of the commission of cardinals. In the same month, Lefebvre was asked by the cardinals to come to Rome. 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, the French prelate Cardinal Garrone reportedly called him a "fool".[5] 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 against this move, and he ultimately petitioned the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court of the Catholic Church, but Cardinal Staffa, the tribunal's chief judge, turned down on the instructions of Cardinal Villot. From this point onwards, the SSPX was no longer recognized as an official organization of the Catholic Church.

Lefebvre and his supporters have always maintained that he was treated unfairly by Rome, that the suppression of the SSPX was unjust, and 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 supposed official 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.[4] Archbishop (later Cardinal) Giovanni Benelli, the deputy Vatican Secretary of State, sent Lefebvre two letters ordering him not to proceed with scheduled priestly ordinations for the SSPX. Lefebvre ignored the warning, and went ahead with the ordinations on June 29 1976. Lefebvre was immediately suspended "a collatione ordinum": he could no longer legally ordain priests. A week later, Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops sent him an official communication requiring him to ask the Pope's pardon. Lefebvre responded with a letter claiming that there was "a secret agreement between high dignitaries in the Church and those in Masonic lodges before the Council". On July 22, Baggio notified Lefebvre that, since he had not apologized to the Pope, he was suspended "a divinis". He was now legally forbidden to celebrate any of the sacraments.

The 1988 consecrations

Main article: Ecône Consecrations

A central controversy surrounding the SSPX concerns the consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre (and the 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. In Catholic doctrine, only a bishop can ordain men to the priesthood. 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.[5] Under canons 1013 and 1382 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law, the consecration of a bishop requires papal approval. Consecrating a bishop without papal approval was strongly condemned by Pope Pius XII, who described the sacramental activity of bishops who had been consecrated without such approval as "gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious".[6] The Roman authorities were unhappy with Lefebvre's plan, but they began discussions with Lefebvre and the SSPX which led to the signing, on 5 May 1988, of a skeleton agreement between the Archbishop and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the future Pope Benedict XVI.

This "protocol"[7] is divided into in two parts. In the first part, which is of doctrinal character, Archbishop Lefebvre, in his own name and on behalf of the SSPX:
  • promised fidelity to the Catholic Church and to the Pope
  • accepted the doctrine contained in section 25 of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church’s magisterium
  • pledged a completely non-polemical attitude of study and communication with the Holy See on the allegedly problematic aspects of the Second Vatican Council and the reforms that had followed it
  • recognized the validity of the revised rites of Mass and of the other sacraments
  • promised to respect the common discipline of the Church and her laws, making allowance for special provisions granted to the SSPX.
The second (legal) part of the document envisaged, apart from the canonical reconciliation of the persons concerned, that:
  • the SSPX would become a Society of Apostolic Life with special exemption regarding public worship, care of souls and apostolic activity, in line with canons 679-683
  • the SSPX would be granted the faculty to celebrate the "old" liturgical rites
  • a special commission, including two members of the SSPX, would be set up to facilitate contacts and resolve problems and conflicts
  • it would be proposed to the Pope that a member of the SSPX be consecrated as a bishop.
This document was to be submitted to the Pope for his approval. However, Archbishop Lefebvre quickly developed misgivings. The very next day, he declared he was obliged in conscience to proceed, with or without papal approval, to consecrate a bishop to succeed him on 30 June.

A further meeting took place in Rome on 24 May. Archbishop Lefebvre was now promised that the Pope would appoint a bishop from among the members of the SSPX, chosen according to the normal procedures, and that the consecration would take place on 15 August. In return, Lefebvre would have to request reconciliation with the Pope on the basis of the protocol of 5 May. Lefebvre, for his part, presented three written requests:
  • the consecration must take place on 30 June
  • not one, but three bishops, must be consecrated (a requirement that he had already mentioned)
  • the majority of the members of the special commission must be from the SSPX
On Pope John Paul II's instructions, Cardinal Ratzinger replied to Archbishop 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 consecration of a bishop would not be granted.

On 3 June, Lefebvre wrote from Ecône, stating that he intended to proceed with the consecrations. On 9 June, the Pope replied to him 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 becoming a schismatic.

On 30 June 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre proceeded to consecrate four priests of the SSPX to the episcopacy: Frs. Richard Williamson, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Bernard Fellay. Mgr. Antônio de Castro Mayer, the retired Bishop of Campos, Brazil, assisted Lefebvre in the consecrations.

The day after the consecrations, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree declaring that Archbishop Lefebvre had incurred automatic excommunication.[8] 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.[9] 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),[10] the consecration "constitute[d] a schismatic act", and that, by virtue of canon 1382 of the Code,[11] it entailed automatic excommunication for all the bishops involved.

Lefebvre argued that the consecrations were necessary because the traditional form of the Catholic faith and sacraments would become extinct without Traditionalist bishops and priests to pass them down to the next generation. He called the consecrations "opération survie" - "Operation Survival". He cited in his defense canons 1323 and 1324 of the Code of Canon Law.[12] Canon 1323 provides that a canonical penalty is not binding when a person has acted "by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls". Canon 1324 states that, if the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls, the penalty must be diminished or replaced by a penance if the offense was committed by a person who was coerced by grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience. It also states that the penalty is to be reduced or replaced if the perpetrator erroneously, but culpably, thought that necessity or grave inconvenience existed (this would exclude, therefore, acts intrinsically evil or tending to the harm of souls). In all these circumstances, canon 1324 concludes, automatic penalties do not apply.

Non-SSPX canonists counter this argument by quoting canon 1325 ("Ignorance which is crass or supine or affected can never be taken into account when applying the provisions of canons 1323 and 1224") and stating that, in view of the clear formal canonical warnings given to Lefebvre, he could not claim to benefit from what the previous canons stated about action taken in error.[13]

Some members and supporters of the SSPX resigned or disassociated themselves from the Society as a result of the consecrations. A number of them, with the approval of the Holy See, formed a separate society called the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Present canonical status of the SSPX

On the question of whether Archbishop Lefebvre committed a schismatic act in consecrating four bishop in 1988, see Controversy over the consecration.

Though the Holy See speaks of the bishops involved in the Ecône Consecrations as having committed a "schismatic act", it does not regard the Society as such as being in formal schism, as for example, the Old Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy. Nor does it necessarily regard all of the SSPX's members and supporters as formally schismatic.
  • The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, appointed by John Paul II for the Holy See observe relations with the Society of St. Pius X and other traditionalist Catholic clergymen in a state of dispute with Rome,[14] has expressed, in letters signed by its Secretary Monsignor Camille Perl, the judgment that "many in authority" in the Society do conform to the definition of schism,[15] and that those who attend SSPX Masses might be in danger of "imbib[ing] a mentality which separates itself from the magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff", leading over time - according to Perl - to a "formal adherence to the schism".[16] The second of these letters also declares that attendance at SSPX Masses, since they are celebrated by priests suspended from priestly functions, is for Catholics "morally illicit" in normal circumstances.<ref name="status1" />
On the question of the Society as a whole:
  • Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, stated in a 2005 press interview that a "situation of separation" had come about as a result of the illicit episcopal consecrations, "even if it was not a formal schism."[17] In a television interview the same year, he also stated: "It cannot be said in correct, exact, and precise terms that there is a schism. There is a schismatic attitude in the fact of consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate. They are within the Church. There is only the fact that a full, more perfect communion is lacking – as was stated during the meeting with Bishop Fellay – a fuller communion, because communion does exist."[18] In yet another interview he said: "The bishops, priests and faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. By the illicit episcopal consecration Archbishop Lefebvre performed a schismatic act. For this reason the bishops consecrated by him are suspended and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society are not excommunicated. They are not heretics. I share Saint Jerome's fear that heresy leads to schism and vice versa. The danger of a schism is great, for instance through systematic disobedience to the Holy Father or denial of his authority. It is a question of a service of charity (love of neighbor) through which the priestly society obtains full communion with the Holy Father and recognizes the holiness of the new Mass."[19]
  • Father Gerald E. Murray of the Archdiocese of New York, now working for his Canon Law doctorate, received his license in Canon Law from the Gregorian University, in June 1995 with a thesis entitled, "The Canonical Status of the Lay Faithful Associated with the Late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of Saint Pius X: Are they Excommunicated as Schismatics?" In his interview he said:[20]
"I have received a license in canon law and I've studied this topic, the excommunication of Archbishop Lefebvre, for my license thesis.... They're not excommunicated as schismatics, as far as I can see, because the Vatican has never said they are... I come to the conclusion that, canonically speaking, he's not guilty of a schismatic act punishable by canon law. He's guilty of an act of disobedience to the Pope, but he did it in such a way that he could avail himself of a provision of the law that would prevent him from being automatically excommunicated(latae senteniae) for this act."
"In the case of the Society of Saint Pius X lay people or the priests, the Vatican never declared any priest or lay person to have become a schismatic."
"As far as I can see, the Holy See has never stated that the mere attendance at a Mass said by a priest in the Society of Saint Pius X constitutes a schismatic act... Let's say that you knew that the priest at your parish was teaching things contrary to the moral law or Catholic doctrine. Let's say he's denied the existence of hell, or taught that divorced and remarried people could receive Communion. Could you go to a Society of Saint Pius X chapel to receive good doctrine? That seems better to me than hearing truly heretical sermons."

The Holy See views the four SSPX bishops as validly consecrated but excommunicated. It regards the priests ordained by them as ordained validly but illicitly, with the result that they are by law suspended from exercising their priestly functions.[21][22] No decree of excommunication has been issued against the priests or other religious of the Society (which does have lay members in the " Third Order"), and an attempt by a Bishop Ferrario, diocesan bishop in Hawaii, to excommunicate, on 1 May 1991, some followers of the SSPX, for supporting the SSPX and attending its Masses. Cardinal Ratzinger,now Pope Benedict XVI, declared that the decision "lacks foundation and hence validity." Bishop Ferrario's attempted excommunication of SSPX followers was overturned by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, on June 28, 1993, he said:

"From the examination of the case, conducted on the basis of the Law of the Church, it did not result that the facts referred to in the above-mentioned Decree, are formal schismatic acts in the strict sense, as they do not constitute the offense of schism; and therefore the Congregation holds that the Decree of May 1, 1991 lacks foundation and hence validity."[23]

The SSPX considers itself faithful to the Catholic Church and all its infallible teachings, while rejecting what it sees as novelties in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It has officially recognised Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI as Popes.

One of the Society's four bishops, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, has declared that Pope Benedict XVI "has professed heresies in the past! He...has never retracted his errors. When he was a theologian, he professed heresies, he published a book full of heresies."[24] In the same interview Bishop Mallerais said of the Second Vatican Council: "You cannot read Vatican II as a Catholic work. It is based on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. ...I will say, one day the Church should erase this Council. She will not speak of it anymore. She must forget it. The Church will be wise if she forgets this council."<ref name= "truerestore" />

Similarly, Bishop Richard Williamson has said of Pope Benedict XVI: "His past writings are full of Modernist errors. Now, Modernism is the synthesis of all heresies (Pascendi, Saint Pius X). So Ratzinger as a heretic goes far beyond Luther's Protestant errors, as Bishop Tissier de Mallerais well said." Williamson added that the documents of the Second Vatican Council "are much too subtly and deeply poisoned to be reinterpreted. The whole of a partly poisoned cake goes to the trash can!"[25]

The four SSPX bishops do not claim ordinary jurisdiction over those who receive sacraments from SSPX priests and bishops. An appeal is made to canon 144 §1 ("In common error, whether of fact or of law, and in positive and probable doubt, whether of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and the internal forum") and canon 844 §2 ("Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ's faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, may lawfully receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid") of the Code of Canon Law in regard to the sacraments of penance and matrimony, for whose validity ordinary jurisdiction is normally required, to justify their actual exercise of a jurisdiction alleged to be supplied extraordinarily, not only for these sacraments,[26] but even for marriage dispensations and annulments.[27]

Since it is agreed that SSPX priests are not "non-Catholic ministers", canon 844 does not apply to their situation. But canon 144 clearly does apply in some cases of sacramental absolution, so that someone who confesses to an SSPX priest without knowing that he lacks the faculty to exercise the power of order (cf. canon 966 §1) will be validly absolved by him.<ref name="unavoce1" /> Its application to a marriage contracted before an SSPX priest who clearly has no link with the local Ordinary or parish priest (cf. canon 1108 §1) is much less certain, and is still more difficult to uphold with regard to dispensations from marriage impediments and especially to marriage annulments, a reason which has induced some priests to abandon the Society.[28][29]

The SSPX today

On 1 January 2007, the Society had, according to one of its websites,[30] 473 member priests established in 31 countries, 68 brothers, 157 religious sisters, 74 oblates, 190 seminarians in six international seminaries, 3 minor seminaries, 159 priories, more than 720 Mass centers regularly-served, nine retreat houses, 14 major schools, and at least 70 connected to priories or chapels, along with 2 university institutes. The priests based in its priories also travel to many other centres to offer Tridentine Mass. The SSPX main seminary is in Ecône, Switzerland; others are located in the United States (Winona), France (Flavigny-sur-Ozerain), Germany (Zaitzkofen), Australia (Goulburn), and Argentina (La Reja).

In the past, the SSPX received support from the following diocesan bishops: It was closely associated with the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney, founded by Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, until this group reconciled with the Holy See in 2001 under the direction of Bishop Licínio Rangel.

It now has close links with the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat, led by Father Basil Kovpak, a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church whom Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Major Archbishop of that Eastern Catholic Church, declared to have "ceased to belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church in general",[31] an excommunication that the Sacra Rota Romana, to which Fr. Kovpak appealed, declared null on procedural grounds. The SSPX has links also with various other "unattached" priests and religious who say they share its Traditionalist Catholic emphasis on law, liturgy and catechism.

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,[32] 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.

Negotiations with the Holy See

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 year 2000 Jubilee. Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos of the Ecclesia Dei Commission approached the SSPX bishops during the pilgrimage and told them that the Pope was prepared to grant them a personal prelature without territorial limits — the same canonical structure as that enjoyed by Opus Dei.[33] The SSPX leadership responded with distrust,[34] saying that Castrillón was vague on how this structure would be implemented and supported, and considering what they regarded as objectionable conduct on the Vatican's part at the time of the 1988 consecrations and in relation to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.[35] They required two preliminary "signs" before continuing negotiations: that the Holy See grant permission for all priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, and declare null its earlier declarations that the 1988 consecrations had resulted in excommunication.[36]

Cardinal Castrillón refused to grant interviews on the matter, in order, as he said, "to maintain the privacy of the details of our dialogue". This silence was broken when his letter of 5 April 2002 to Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, was later published.[37] The letter contained the text of a protocol summarizing the meeting between the two men held on 29 December 2000, a document that Bishop Fellay accepted at a further meeting the next day. The protocol envisaged a reconciliation on the basis of the protocol of 5 May 1988; the excommunications of 1988 would be lifted, rather than declared null. In his letter, the Cardinal proposed continuing negotiations with Bishop Fellay by means of personal meetings.

In keeping with Cardinal Castrillón's desire to avoid counterproductive publicity, the reports of the Ecclesia Dei Commission appearing in the annual publication L'Attività della Santa Sede (Libreria Editrice Vaticana) for the years 2000 and those immediately following make no mention of these negotiations. The 2000 report merely says that the commission continued its patient work of reconciling with the Catholic Church priests, seminarians and religious communities previously belonging to the Fraternity of St Pius X. The SSPX name does not appear at all in the reports for 2001 and 2002, which do speak of the discussions that early in the latter year brought about the admission to full communion of the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney in Campos, Brazil, which was granted the status of a Personal Apostolic Administration within that diocese.

The 2003 report of the Ecclesia Dei Commission is thus the first of its 21st-century reports to speak of serious dialogue between SSPX and the Holy See:

During the year, dialogue about the canonical situation of the St Pius X Fraternity continued at various levels. In this connection, the Cardinal President had some high-level meetings and kept up an exchange of correspondence. On the Holy See's side, there has been no change in the effective proposals for regularizing the question. After examining the problems faced by priests and faithful, considering the good will of several members of the Fraternity and the recurrent problems of the faithful attached to the former liturgical tradition who take part in the Fraternity's liturgy, the full membership of the Commission studied and presented to the Holy Father a draft for restructuring the Commission with a view to… a possible return of the St Pius X Fraternity or of some of its members[38]

The 2004 report had less to say about SSPX: "Again this year, dialogue at various levels continued, though slowly, with the Saint Pius X Fraternity. The Cardinal President had meetings, some at a high level, in this regard. On the Holy See's side, the effective proposals for regularizing the situation remain unaltered."[39]

The 2005 report states: "During the year, the Cardinal President intensified dialogue with the Fraternity of St Pius X, finding that it had somewhat improved, with more concrete prospects of reaching more perfect communion. The Cardinal President had some meetings in this regard with His Excellency Bishop B. Fellay and other members in leadership positions, and kept up an exchange of correspondence."[40]

Without having the meeting listed as one of his official audiences of the day, Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who in 1988 had in vain negotiated on behalf of Pope John Paul II with Archbishop Lefebvre, received for 35 minutes on 29 August 2005 Bishop Bernard Fellay, who had requested the meeting.[41] There was no breakthrough, but statements from both sides spoke of the atmosphere as positive. It was unofficially reported that the SSPX question was among the topics for discussion at a meeting of the Pope with Roman Curia officials on 13 February 2006[42] and one with cardinals on 23 March of the same year.[43]

Summorum Pontificum‎

On July 7, 2007 the Pope issued the Apostolic Letter "motu proprio" Summorum Pontificum‎. This document loosens the requirements on the use of the traditional Latin Mass by the Catholic community as a whole. In a letter issued alongside Summorum Pontificum, the Pope wrote that the positive reason which motivated his decision to issue the motu proprio was "coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church" and the obligation "to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew."<ref name ="Letter" /> This is generally taken as a reference to the SSPX, one of whose expectations in regard to normalizing relations with Rome was universal availability to all priests of the right to celebrate what they call the traditional mass. In Summorum Pontificum, the Pope declared that "it is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church."[44]

In the letter he sent to bishops to accompany Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, "Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness."[45] Thus, while opening the door to the Tridentine Mass, the Pope expects the SSPX to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Mass of Paul VI. SSPX Superior General, Bishop Fellay wrote, "The letter which accompanies the Motu Proprio does not hide however the difficulties that still remain." Fellay went on to indicate that the Society "wishes that the favorable climate established by the new dispositions of the Holy See will make it possible - after the decree of excommunication which still affects its bishops has been withdrawn – to consider more serenely the disputed doctrinal issues."[46]

Controversies and criticism

Alleged political extremism

There is allegedly an overlap in French society between the SSPX's constituency of support and support for political positions which are generally regarded as very conservative, or even as being on the extreme right. Archbishop Lefebvre himself openly condemned the French Revolution of 1789,[6] the legitimacy of which is almost universally accepted in present-day French culture, and in 1985 he was quoted in the French periodical Présent as endorsing Jean-Marie le Pen. Le Pen is the leader of the controversial Front National political party, and Lefebvre's endorsement was made on the basis that he was the only major French politician who unambiguously condemned abortion. In 1991, the then SSPX priest Fr. Philippe Laguérie made similar comments supportive of the Front National.[47] The SSPX's church of St Nicholas du Chardonnet in central Paris (see below) has, within its sanctuary, blue and gold fleur-de-lys hangings, a symbol of the pre-Revolution French monarchy. Support for the monarchy and opposition to the Revolution would potentially place the SSPX to the political right of the FN, since the FN accepts the legitimacy of the French Republic, at least to some extent.

On the other hand, the SSPX has French adherents who support the mainstream conservative Gaullist parties (which accept the values of the Revolution and the Republic) rather than the NF.

In the United States, the Society has been accused of spreading allegedly fascistic, un-American political ideas, and undermining American patriotism. [7] [8] On an individual level, however, many SSPX supporters are said to be highly patriotic citizens.

St Nicolas du Chardonnet

In 1977, a group of SSPX priests and laypeople led by Monsignor François Ducaud-Bourget entered the parish church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet in central Paris and celebrated Mass. They subsequently refused to leave, and the church remains in the possession of the SSPX to this day.

The older churches in France entered the ownership of the State following the 1905 Law on the Separation of Church and State, but are permitted to be used by the appropriate religious denominations. Ducaud-Bourget maintained that the SSPX were the true heirs of the Catholics of 1905 to whom use of the church had been granted. The occupation was, however, declared illegal by the French secular courts,[48] though the authorities reached the conclusion that, by comparison with forcibly evicting the SSPX, tolerating the continuing occupation would be the lesser of the two evils. It is claimed that Mass attendance at the church has consistently been very high.

An SSPX attempt in 1993 to occupy another church in Paris, that of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, was unssuccessful.

Alleged anti-Semitism

In this section we discuss some of the claims that anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism exist in important circles of the Society - an allegation that supporters of the SSPX consider offensive and incorrect, saying that the Society has members and adherents who themselves have Jewish backgrounds.[49]

The views of Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988, have been a particular source of controversy in the United States. For example, Bishop Wiliamson has written:
"Supernaturally seen, such a scenario, capable of many adaptations, represents one more in many steps of the Jewish people towards their appointment with God at the end of the world, when, maybe converted by the heroism and endurance of the Catholics undergoing persecution by their Anti-Christ, they will at last convert (Romans, XI) and discover their own true Messiah, Jesus Christ, who has never ceased to love them as his own people. However, until they re-discover their true Messianic vocation, they may be expected to continue fanatically agitating, in accordance with their false messianic vocation of Jewish world-dominion, to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem. So we may fear their continuing to play their major part in the agitation of the East and in the corruption of the West. Here the wise Catholic will remember that, again, the ex-Christian nations have only their own Liberalism to blame for allowing free circulation within Christendom to the enemies of Christ."[50]

Bishop Williamson's supporters counter that he has never advocated racist hatred of Jews, and that he hopes for the Jews' conversion and salvation. An article on the SSPX (USA) website by the late British priest Fr. Michael Crowdy, The Mystery of the Jews, however, claimed that it is Catholic teaching that, on confessional, not racial grounds, the rights of Jews should be curtailed:

"The relations of Christians and Jews cannot be governed by the common law of Christians, but only by an exceptional legislation which takes count of the theological status of the Jewish people. The Catholic Church’s teaching is that they should neither be eliminated from among us (as antisemitism seeks) nor given equality of rights, which leads to their superiority (as is advocated by liberalism or philosemitism).

In 1989, Paul Touvier, a former official of the Vichy regime who was wanted for war crimes, was arrested inside the SSPX priory in Nice. The SSPX stated at the time that Touvier had been granted asylum at the Priory as "an act of charity to a homeless man".[51] Touvier was convicted in 1994 of ordering the execution of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape on July 29, 1944, allegedly in reprisal for the Resistance's killing of the Vichy minister Philippe Henriot. Touvier was sentenced to life imprisonment and died of cancer in 1996.[52] A Requiem Mass was offered for the repose of his soul at the SSPX church of St Nicolas du Chardonnet. Touvier had expressed remorse for his actions and had asked for forgiveness.

The SSPX was most recently accused of anti-Semitism in a 2006 report on Traditionalist Catholicism conducted by the American Southern Poverty Law Center. Defenders of the Society of St. Pius X have pointed out what they see as grave inconsistencies in the report and accused the SPLC of using the word "Anti-Semitism" as a means of "silencing opponents of liberalism."[53] They have drawn parallels to similar accusations against conservative Jewish scholars like Dr Norman Finkelstein.

The traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church, repeated by the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,[54] teaches that all non-Christians, including Jews, should be evangelized and converted to Catholicism,[55] but does not countenance hatred of Jews.

Allegations of complicity in terrorist crimes

In 2002-2003, Jean Trouchaud (alias Florian Scheckler), a parishioner at St Nicolas du Chardonnet church in Paris, toyed with the idea of suicide-bombing a synagogue before instead planning to mount an attack on the Grand Mosque in Paris [9]. He went as far as to procure ingredients for explosives, though a test explosion was unsuccessful. At one point, he allegedly informed a priest at St Nicolas du Chardonnet, but the latter was prevented from reporting the plan to the authorities by the seal of confession. [10] Trouchaud was arrested following a tip-off and later sentenced to four years in prison.

Other Controversies

A number of groups whose following overlaps with that of the SSPX, such as the Scouts de France, have been accused of extremist leanings. [56] In 1998, the Scouts de France were subjected to international scrutiny following an accident at Perros-Guirec that claimed the lives of four marine scouts and of a sailor who died in an attempt to save them.[57] A media frenzy followed, as it was alleged that in the days leading up to the accident, the children had been exposed to a harsh disciplinary regime by Fr. Cottard, the SSPX priest who was supervising the trip. They had spent the night before their deaths forced to sleep on the pebbled beach. Despite the fact that they failed to return on time from a sailing trip, Fr. Cottard failed to call the emergency services for almost 8 hours, and had not taken basic safety precautions such as properly checking the weather forecast.

This was only one of a series of controversies linked to the Scouts de France. A few days earlier, 72 girls had been hospitalised for sunstroke sustained during an outdoor Mass in the Cantal region. A week after the Perros-Guirec incident, a 14 year old scout was allegedly left alone in a forest, without map or compass, and told to find his own way back to his camp some 18 kilometers away. This was intended as a punishment for hitch-hiking during a march.[11] A year earlier, the parent of a marine-scout who attended a camp in Brittany alleged that her son returned having learned to sing Vichy songs. Other parents however dismissed these claims as contrary to their own impressions and information.[12] This spate of incidents is alleged to have created a movement of distrust against the Scouts de France, and by association against all traditionalist Catholics in France.

Notable groups that separated from the SSPX

In chronological order:
  • Society of St. Pius V --- In 1983, several American SSPX priests broke with or were forced to leave the Society, principally because of Lefebvre's insistence that they use the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal and accept John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II as legitimate popes (see sedevacantism). The nine priests, who continue to be known among American SSPX supporters as "The Nine", went on to form the Society of St. Pius V.
  • Istituto Mater Boni Consilii --- or the Institute of the Mother of Good Counsel is a Traditionalist Catholic congretation of priests that follows the Sedeprivationist school of thought. The founders of the Institute seceded 1985 from the Society of St. Pius X under the leadership of Fr. Francesco Ricossa, onetime faculty member of the SSPX's seminary at Econe; the three other founders were Frs. Franco Munari, Curzio Nitoglia and Giuseppe Murro.
  • Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter --- The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was established in 1988 after the Ecône Consecrations. Responding to the Holy See's declaration that these constituted a schismatic act and that those involved were thereby automatically excommunicated, 12 priests established the Fraternity in full communion with Rome. Next to the SSPX, the Fraternity is the largest organization of traditionalist Catholic priests.
  • Institute of the Good Shepherd --- The Institute of the Good Shepherd (Institut du Bon-Pasteur, IBP) was established as a papally recognized society of apostolic life on 8 September 2006 for a group of SSPX members who maintained it was time for the Society to accept reconciliation with and full canonical regularisation from Rome.
In addition, the following group, once closely linked with the Society, later severed its relationship:
  • The Priestly Union of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney was, from its inception, in a very close relationship with the SSPX. Its founder, Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, joined Marcel Lefebvre in the Ecône Consecrations and was declared excommunicated together with him and those they consecrated. After his death in 1991, his successor at the head of the Union, Licínio Rangel, received episcopal consecration from three of the SSPX bishops. But on 15 August 2001, the Union formally requested reconciliation with the Holy See, which established for them, with effect from 18 January 2002 a separate personal apostolic administration, in which the pre-Vatican II rites would be observed. The apostolic administration is currently headed by bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan.


1. ^ "The success of Ecône provided so dramatic a contrast to this débâcle that its very existence became intolerable for some French bishops. They referred to it as Le Séminaire Sauvage — the Wildcat Seminary — giving the impression that it had been set up illegally without the authorization of the Vatican. This appellation was seized upon gleefully by the Liberal Catholic press throughout the world and soon the terms 'Ecône' and 'Wildcat Seminary' became synonymous."Volume 1, Chapter 2 Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre by Michael Davies
2. ^ "Archbishop Lefebvre was told that this examination was very positive and that he just had to come to Rome and clarify some questions."Conference of Father Franz Schmidberger, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X at Rockdale, Sydney, Australia October 16, 1990 by Father Gerard Hogan and Father François Laisney]
3. ^ The DECLARATION of Archbishop Lefebvre made at Econe, Switzerland on November 21, 1974 APPENDIX I
4. ^ 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 (May 24, 1976)
5. ^ "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)
6. ^ (Encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, 41)
7. ^ Which can be found online here as a pdf. The Fraternity of St. Peter agreed to this version
8. ^ Online Here
9. ^ Ecclesia Dei
10. ^ Canon 751
11. ^ Canon 1382
12. ^ Canon 1323
13. ^ Archbishop Lefebvre and Canons 1323:4° and 1324 §1:5°
14. ^ Profile of the Pontifical Council Ecclesia Dei
15. ^ Status of the Society of St. Pius X, Letter No.343/98 of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, signed by its Secretary, Monsignor Camille Perl. The heading of the letter and its registration under a protocol number of the Commission show that this is an official letter of the Commission, not some private correspondence of Monsignor Perl.
16. ^ Status of the Society of St. Pius X Masses, Letter No. 117/95 of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, over the signature of its Secretary, Monsignor Camille Perl
17. ^ "Unfortunately Monsignor Lefebvre went ahead with the consecration and hence the situation of separation came about, even if it was not a formal schism" (30 Giorni 09/2005).
18. ^ Interview on Italian television channel Canale 5
19. ^ An English translation adjusted to conform to the original text on Die Tagespost of 8 February 2007
20. ^ Latin Mass Magazine, Fall 1995
21. ^ Letter to Joseph E. Rebbert, N.539/99
22. ^ Letter by Msgr. Camille Perl Regarding Society of St. Pius X Masses
23. ^ Apostolic Nunciature, Washington, D.C.
24. ^ My interview with His Lordship, Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais], of the Society of St. Pius X, for the print version of the Remnant] Sunday, April 30, 2006, on
25. ^ «Ses écrits passés sont pleins d'erreurs modernistes. Or, le modernisme est la synthèse de toutes les hérésies (Pascendi, saint Pie X). Donc, comme hérétique, Ratzinger dépasse de loin les erreurs protestantes de Luther comme l'a très bien dit Mgr Tissier de Mallerais.» Mgr Williamson estime encore que les actes du concile Vatican II «sont beaucoup trop subtilement et profondément empoisonnés pour qu'il faille les réinterpréter. Un gâteau en partie empoisonné va tout entier à la poubelle!».[13]
26. ^ The Validity of Confessions & Marriages in the chapels of the SSPX, A Canonical Study by Rev. Father Ramon Angles
27. ^ The SSPX & Annulments
28. ^ Letter to Bishop Bernard Fellay
29. ^ Is the Society of St. Pius X in Schism?
30. ^ Statistics of the SSPX
31. ^ Lefebvrite Priest Excommunicated from Greek Catholic Church
32. ^ "With no authorisation from the Congregation for Religious, they wanted the chapter to be presided over by a triumvirate which meant that I, the Superior General, was not to preside over the chapter at all even though it was clearly written in the constitutions that the Superior General was to be in charge of all business discussed at the General Chapter." July/August 2003 Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words, Society of Saint Pius X - Southern Africa
33. ^ John-Paul II went as far as to offer Lefebvre a personal prelature (Aspects of Contemporary France, by Sheila Perry, ISBN 0-415-13180-4, page 159); So I told all these things to the Cardinal and then he said, "So, here's what Rome proposes to you: We want a solution in which we solve the problem of bishops, bishops who would be ordinaries, that is, true bishops, maybe with dioceses, and priests and faithful." He spoke about an arrangement like that of Opus Dei, that is, a personal prelature (talk given by Bishop Bernard Fellay at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Kansas City, Missouri on March 5] 2002]). However, on an earlier occasion Bishop Fellay said that what was under consideration was not a personal prelature but an apostolic administration (Communicantes: August 2001).
34. ^ The Superior General expressed his point of view, his distrust, his apprehension (Statement of Bishop Fellay to SSPX Members & Friends January 22, 2001)
35. ^ "Rome’s failure to understand our position is such that if today we accepted their agreement, tomorrow we would have to undergo exactly the same treatment as Saint Peter’s Fraternity, which is muzzled, and being led where it does not want to go".See also.
36. ^ On January 16, there was another meeting with Cardinal Castrillon, during which the Superior General exposed the necessity of having guaranties from Rome before going ahead in the details of eventual discussions or an agreement: That the Tridentine Mass be granted to all priests of the entire world; That the censures against the Bishops be declared null (Statement of Bishop Fellay to SSPX Members & Friends January 22] 2001]); We thus did require these two signs, first the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication and, secondly, the permission for all the priests of the Latin rite, without distinction, to celebrate the traditional Mass. I believe these two steps would have been able to create a truly new climate in the universal Church ([14] Interview with Bishop Fellay, August 2001, Angelus magazine)
37. ^ Letter to Fellay
38. ^ 2003 edition of L'Attività della Santa Sede (ISBN 88-209-7583-1), page 1097
39. ^ 2004 edition of L'Attività della Santa Sede (ISBN 88-209-7752-4), page 1090
40. ^ 2005 edition of L'Attività della Santa Sede (ISBN 88-209-7831-8), page 1168
41. ^ Rarely has a 35-minute audience, one that didn't even appear on the pope's official list of engagements, made as much of a splash as Benedict XVI's "private" Aug. 29 encounter with Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the Society of St. Pius X, the body founded in 1970 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Benedict and the Lefebvrites, John L. Allen, Jr., Word From Rome, National Catholic Reporter, September 2, 2005
42. ^ Pope, Curia to discuss reconciliation with SSPX
43. ^ National Catholic Reporter, 24 March 2006
44. ^ Summorum Pontificum.
45. ^ Letter Accompanying Summorum Pontificum
46. ^ Press Release from the Superior General of the SSPX.
47. ^ "Philippe Laguérie qui établissait dès 1991 que le Front National était «le parti le moins éloigné du droit naturel»";[15] "l'abbé Philippe Laguérie qui, dès 1991, estimait que le Front national était 'le parti le moins éloigné du droit naturel', notamment en raison de son refus de l'avortement. Bien entendu, vous imaginez ce qu'ils pensent de la laïcité, de l'homosexualité, de la place de la femme dans la société";[16] "L'abbé Philippe Laguérie, curé de la paroisse Saint-Éloi, Bordeaux, curé auto proclamé et non reconnu par l'évêque de Bordeaux , et ayant par ailleurs été exclu en 2004 de la FSSPX, avait reconnu en 1991 le Front national comme «le parti le moins éloigné du droit naturel», notamment en raison de son refus de l'avortement, tous les autres partis politiques ayant toujours accepté ou toléré l'avortement."[17]
48. ^ "Le Conseil de Paris ... Emet le vœu :- que le Maire de Paris et le Préfet de police mettent tout en œuvre pour faire cesser l'occupation illégale de l'église Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet par des personnes diffusant une propagande raciste, antisémite, sexiste et antidémocratique"[18]
49. ^ For example, Don Floriano Abrahamowicz, superior of the SSPX District of Italy, is said to be a Catholic convert of Jewish descent. He is mentioned twice in Fraternità San Pio X, Italia, but not as a convert, still less as a convert from Judaism. Describing a certain Jean Trouchaud, alias Florian Scheckler as a half-Jew and a neo-Nazi militant, the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism does not exclude the possibility that people of Jewish backgrounds may be antisemitic.
50. ^ The Gulf War
51. ^ AngelusOnline Page 831
52. ^ Literature of the Holocaust
53. ^ Liberal Inquisition
54. ^ "Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved" (Lumen Gentium, 14).
55. ^ See also Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus.
56. ^ Les Petits Soldats du Scoutisme, Le Monde, 2 septembre 1998, par Roland-Pierre Paringaux.
57. ^ John Lichfield in Paris "Catholic priest 'sent four scouts to their deaths'". Independent, The (London). Oct 19, 1999. 21 July 2007.

See also

SSPX-affiliated orders

The following is a non-comprehensive list of SSPX-affiliated religious orders:

External links


Official SSPX Websites

Sites critical of SSPX

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