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The Subjective Nature of the SSPX's Ministry

Updated: Apr 23


On the State of Necessity


On August 24th, 1996, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts stated in a decree regarding the SSPX:

“As far as the state of necessity in which Mons. Lefebvre thought to find himself, one must keep before one that such a state must be verified objectively, and there is never a necessity to ordain Bishops contrary to the will of the Roman Pontiff, Head of the College of Bishops [emphasis added].”[1]

This state of necessity that Lefebvre invoked is the defense for their entire ministry today. So this begs the question: what is the identifiable, objective factor that is generating the “state of necessity” (or “emergency,” or “crisis,” or whatever term they interchangeably use) that permits the SSPX (and all independent traditionalist groups) to operate as they do? How can this state be verified objectively, and who determines the criteria that dictate that?


Let’s start with the easiest answer: the Mass. Let's propose that the crisis is caused by the Novus Ordo, and once the 1962 missal is reinstated as the norm and the missal of Paul VI is abrogated, the state of emergency is over. But this falls apart when we realize that the SSPX discourages or forbids their followers from attending any other Latin masses today, on the basis that the priests or communities offering them "accept Vatican II" and are therefore "compromised," so even if every priest in the world was saying it, it wouldn’t change their outlook.


Not to mention, the idea that a certain form of the mass has some inherent property of holiness that protects against the errors of the age is simply false. If the Latin mass held this power, we might have avoided half a century (and counting) of drama stemming from a certain dissident German cleric, as well as the heresies of Jansenism and Gallicanism, the schism of the Old Catholics, and others. (Lest we forget, the errors of modernism were first identified and condemned in the 19th century, when the missal of Pius V was in use.) As James Likoudis and Kenneth Whitehead state in their book The Pope, The Council, and The Mass:

“The “Mass of Saint Pius V,” with all its admirable features, which Paul VI and others have often remarked on, was no barrier to the doctrinal deviations that have been the true cause of the decline of Catholic faith and practice in the Church in the twentieth century. The root causes for the present “crisis of faith” and “crisis of authority”—crises which affect both Church and society—lie far deeper than which Mass is being celebrated, and it would be a profound mistake to think otherwise.”[2]

So let's look further. The council? Is it when Vatican II is nullified and removed from the history books? We need not be that unrealistic; Bishop Fellay is on record saying 95% of the content in the documents of Vatican II is fine, and it's just 5% that is problematic. So do we then just need to remove that 5%? If so, would their supplied jurisdiction be nullified as soon as that was done? Obviously again, the answer is no. The idea that the crisis will magically disappear after a few words or phrases are edited in documents that the vast majority of Catholics have never read, nor care to read, is naïve at best.

Is it when the rites of the sacraments are reverted to the old form, and all priests ordained under the new rite die out, removing any doubt about the sacraments' efficacy or whatever other issue the SSPX finds with them? Well, no, because then you still have the issue of literature, theology, church architecture, etc. reflecting the development of the church since the council. Again, if priests today who offer sacraments according to the old form, like the FSSP, should be avoided because they “accept Vatican II,” how would the situation change if every priest in the world offered them?


And, when all is said and done, none of the above propositions matter at all, because then the second question is: who determines this? The SSPX? The church is not the one determining it, so that places the SSPX as its own authority in this scenario. The problem with dictating the criteria themselves lies in the fact that they would have to acknowledge that, once a certain action was taken (an action that has yet to be identified), they no longer have the supplied jurisdiction they claim. This would then necessitate an immediate cease and desist of their own accord, lest they be subject to the penalties for improper use of priestly faculties that apply when no state of necessity is present.


It is the same convoluted situation that the sedevacantists face. If there is no pope, when and how does a legitimate pope take office, and who determines how that happens? And if a solution is presented, where did that specific group or person who presented it receive the authority to do so?


This introduces a further conundrum for the SSPX, similar to the sedevacantists’. What happens if there is a dispute amongst the leadership as to when the crisis is over? What if, in Bishop Fellay’s opinion, the crisis has been resolved, but in Bishop de Galarreta’s opinion, it has not? Can he then continue to operate with whatever priests side with him? Or does Bishop Fellay’s opinion hold more weight, making the matter final? (Bishop Fellay’s election to Superior General has no bearing on this, as he was elected by subordinates and not appointed by an authority.) None of the three bishops hold any more authority than the other, so if there was a disagreement, there does not seem to be a legitimate way to resolve it. And so if one decided he did not want to relinquish his supposed authority, he need only claim there is still a state of necessity. Denying this would only introduce further confusion, as they would need to provide some quantifiable metric as to why one was right and the other was wrong, bringing the issue full circle and demanding that there be some objectively verifiable criterion.


But, even supposing the SSPX did lay out a specific set of criteria to be met, what is to say they couldn’t simply change their mind? How would their own declarations bind them? They would be submitting to their own subjective conclusions, not to any authoritative judgment from a superior, and so it would hold no actual weight.


Yet another consideration: why would one independent traditionalist group be able to determine when the crisis is over, but not another? All of them operate under the “crisis” and “supplied jurisdiction” justification, and so their faculties are all bound to its continuation and cessation. But if we do not know when, how, and why the crisis is over, and there is no answer for who has the final say in this matter, why would the decision of one group bind another?


One response I have received when posing this question is that the crisis is over when the members of the hierarchy renounce their modernism and return to tradition. But what does that mean? How would that happen? A simple declaration or signature is obviously not sufficient; they would need to act on it. And again, this needs some objectively verifiable criterion. It again becomes a matter of a group placing their own judgements and authority over those of the Church.


There will come a time when the SSPX will need to admit the state of necessity is gone. Even they must acknowledge that the church does not and cannot exist in a perpetual and indefinite state of emergency. It must end at some point. So when does it? And at that time, they would essentially have to voluntarily surrender their entire ministry, as they would no longer have a justification for offering sacraments without the authorization of the local bishop. As Pope St Paul VI stipulated to Lefebvre in 1976, reconciliation with the Church would require that the SSPX’s chapels, seminaries, and other institutions be handed over to Rome, and their future usage (or closure) would be dependent on the local bishop’s decision in whichever diocese they were established. Is this something they are prepared to do?


On Supplied Jurisdiction


From apologist Dave Armstrong:

“There are a host of causes for the present crisis in the Church, going back to Protestantism (even elements of the Renaissance and the earlier nominalism), the “Enlightenment,” materialistic evolutionism, the utopian ideal of Progress, massive secularization, Marxism, philosophical relativism, political and theological liberalism, the sexual and feminist and unisex revolutions, idolatrous wealth and all the myriad temptations of modern American life, the disintegration of the family, the incessant propaganda and brainwashing of TV and movies and advertising, lack of education and catechesis, etc.”[3]

Not to mention, we have undergone two world wars, the Industrial Revolution, vast advancements in technology including instant global communication, and other societal upheavals of the 20th century. As Fr Yves Congar so plainly stated, “I still maintain that the principal cause of the present crisis lies in the impact which the questions, struggles and changes that affect world society have had on the People of God.”[4] Pope Benedict XVI affirms this conclusion in his book Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, which quite directly diagnoses the crisis as one of an increasingly scientific and rational culture, always growing more self-absorbed in its own accomplishments and discoveries, but tossing spirituality by the wayside as a result. He writes,

“Moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science; on the contrary, it has diminished, because the technological mentality confines morality to the subjective sphere. Our need, however, is for a public morality, a morality capable of responding to the threats that impose such a burden on the existence of us all. The true and gravest danger of the present moment is precisely this imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy.”[5]

This is the cause of the crisis. Not a missal, or a council, or new forms of theology. The SSPX often points to the lack of faith, poor catechesis, and other tragedies as proof of this crisis. Fair enough, but again, when is it over? When a certain percentage of the faithful express belief in the Real Presence again? When the number of vocations matches or exceeds pre-Vatican II numbers? This method of thinking is nonsense; the Church is not a database of statistics, and the faith is not measured by polls and tallies. How can we bypass all the aforementioned issues, which have been permeating and festering in society for centuries, and blame the Church for this?


When the SSPX is defining the state of emergency, they would also have to define when and how it ends. Would that not allow them to move the goalposts as they please in order to retain their supplied jurisdiction they claim to have? In 100 or 200 years, when the church is flourishing (and this will certainly happen, if we follow the trajectory of previous councils and their aftermaths), will they still be appealing to a "state of emergency"?


Not to mention, if the church is in such a state of emergency that the proper delegation for sacraments is not needed, couldn't any priest in the world operate under supplied jurisdiction? Forgive a brief moment of levity, but exercising priestly functions without any limitations is quite the “golden ticket,” yet it seems only the SSPX has had the intellectual clarity to take advantage of this. Can a diocesan priest or FSSP priest publicly witness marriages or offer mass in another diocese without the bishop's approval? If not, why not? Isn't there a state of emergency? Aren't his services needed? It certainly seems the SSPX supports this theory, as they state on their website that, based on a study by one of their priests regarding the canonical implications of common error, "...if a priest without jurisdiction to hear confessions sits in a confessional or puts on a purple stole indicating that he is ready to hear confessions, the Church will supply his lack of jurisdiction for every absolution he will give."[6] (The article reassures readers that this is "sound canonical doctrine" as well.) But if sacraments could be celebrated wherever and whenever a priest chose, no priest would ever be liable for unlawful use of faculties; a casual appeal to "supplied jurisdiction" would exempt him from any disciplinary action by his bishop.


Or does this unique situation of supplied jurisdiction only apply to the SSPX, since they create the situation under which it is applicable? If so, when may a priest invoke this "supplied jurisdiction" if he left his diocese and joined them? The SSPX is not granting this jurisdiction; it is not even a form that can be granted. They simply assume it onto themselves, transforming it from an exception to a rule, and rely on it for the entirety of their ministry. If this jurisdiction is something only they can claim, this newly recruited priest clearly did not have it at one point (and was subject to the authority granted by his bishop), but then upon joining them, he somehow obtained it, and apparently is no longer subject to the authority of that same bishop. What has changed? Nothing, except his interior disposition and intentions. And if he were to leave them and return to his bishop, when and how would he lose the ability to invoke it? Is it just by some vague, nebulous adherence to their theological stance? Is it by his willingness to submit to an authority or not? Again, there is no clear answer. This would indicate an unsettling instability and weakness in the Church, if jurisdiction to administer sacraments was based on such subjective grounds.


This presents two possibilities. On the one hand, if every priest in the world can legitimately invoke supplied jurisdiction at any time and in any place (seeing as how the crisis affects the entire church), it essentially denies the authority of every bishop worldwide, and reduces a diocese from the sheepfold of an apostle's successor to nothing more than a legal entity existing for tax purposes. At that point, a bishop's only role would be to function as an administrator for a geographic area, without holding any governing power over the priests under his authority. This is simply contrary to the very nature of the episcopal office. As Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Satis Cognitum regarding the office and power of the bishop,

"It is not sufficient for the due preservation of the unity of the faith that the head should merely have been charged with the office of superintendent, or should have been invested solely with a power of direction. But it is absolutely necessary that he should have received real and sovereign authority which the whole community is bound to obey.”[7]

As Romans 13:1-2 says:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

On the other hand, if only the SSPX can claim this form of jurisdiction, it becomes valid or invalid for priests joining and leaving them...somehow, in a way that does not seem to be objectively verifiable. If we cannot define when and how it is gained and lost, how can the laity know whether a priest even possesses it at all? Is it dispensed solely based on the personal intention of administering sacraments to combat the crisis? Jurisdiction is not a personal, individual power that can be enabled and disabled on a whim. It is either delegated by a lawful authority, or supplied by the Church as circumstances demand. So the circumstances were not present for a priest when serving in his diocese, but upon joining the SSPX, they are? As stated, the SSPX does not grant this jurisdiction, so in this hypothetical scenario, it seems as though jurisdiction “activates” based on a priest’s acquiescence to the existence of the necessity. This simply does not make sense. As Cardinal James Gibbons writes,

“"Neither doth any man," says the Apostle, "take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was." (Heb. v. 4) This text evidently condemns all self-constituted preachers and reformers; for, "how shall they preach, unless they be sent?" (Rom. x. 15) Sent, of course, by legitimate authority, and not directed by their own caprice.”[8]

On the topic of supplied jurisdiction, it must also be said that this only applies to the administration of sacraments, and not to preaching, granting disciplinary dispensations, building churches and seminaries, etc. The justifications for supplied jurisdiction (danger of death, common error, or positive and probable doubt) can in no way be applied to, say, the construction of a church. (Canon 1215 §1 states, “No church is to be built without the express written consent of the diocesan bishop.”) So if the SSPX functioned within its actual limits, they’d essentially have to administer sacraments when requested by the faithful on a case-by-case basis, and become a kind of “priest for rent,” without assuming residence in a chapel or establishing parishes/communities.


Let us consider the ramifications of these two propositions. The SSPX would likely deny that other priests could operate under supplied jurisdiction, but then the burden is on them to explain why and how this jurisdiction only applies to them. Surely even the SSPX would have the honesty to admit that there is no historical, traditional, or canonical precedent for obtaining universal jurisdiction based on intention, or based on an affiliation with a certain group or ideology. One might take their accusation that “Novus Ordo sacraments” are of dubious validity based on the priest’s intention, or potential lack thereof, and apply it back to them in the case of jurisdiction. If jurisdiction is received based on intention, how are we to know whether their intention is there? Would this not be grounds for just as legitimate a doubt about the liceity, and in some cases, validity, of their sacraments, as they have about “Novus Ordo sacraments”? If jurisdiction is required for sacraments, as they would concede, but we do not know when or how the SSPX has obtained this unique form of jurisdiction that no other priest can claim, could any lay person ever be convinced that their sacraments were actually legitimate? The idea that only SSPX priests can take advantage of this supplied jurisdiction, then, seems to be untenable.


The evidence seems to be more in favor of the first proposition, on the grounds that the SSPX does not consider themselves subject to any lawful bishop. Since their organization’s inception, they have ministered in any diocese they please without being incardinated, and continue to do so to this day. (You will not find any SSPX chapel or priest in any diocesan directory.) But this option is equally problematic. As stated before, if a priest or bishop could decide for themselves where and when to minister, based on their own private judgment, what weight does the episcopal character and the power of the hierarchy hold? Why even have bishops at all? “[J]ust as it is necessary that the authority of Peter should be perpetuated in the Roman Pontiff, so, by the fact that the bishops succeed the Apostles, they inherit their ordinary power, and thus the episcopal order necessarily belongs to the essential constitution of the Church [emphasis added].”[9] And yet, as Fr Ramon Angles says, “Nevertheless, our bishops confirm worldwide, our priests perform all the sacred actions mentioned above [absolve, baptize, preach, etc], [...] without the delegation of the diocesan prelate and often very much against his will.”[10]


There is simply no justification in Catholic tradition for ministering against the wishes of every bishop across the world, or operating as though none of them possessed any binding authority. As early as the first century, St Ignatius of Antioch was instructing the Church to “obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread,” and “not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.”[11] The mark of apostolicity is not merely titular; it carries the power of authority as well. If no bishop held any real authority to which priests and faithful must submit, the Church quite simply does not exist, because its apostolic power to teach, govern, and sanctify would mean nothing.


While it is true that the SSPX enjoys a unique form of faculties for absolving sins and for witnessing marriages, it must be remembered that the other five sacraments they administer are done illicitly, as the priests do not have the delegated faculty from the local bishop to offer them. This is something even they acknowledge (see Fr. Angles’ statement above). And liceity is not simply a secondary qualification that can be dispensed with if it is inconvenient, or if a priest feels the situation demands he circumvent the legal boundaries. One cannot hope to mend a crisis of faith by routinely offering unlawful sacraments against the will of the bishop. In a time of crisis, unity and obedience are all the more crucial. As Rev. George Agius said, “Authority and obedience are two essential characteristics in the Church of Jesus Christ. If one is wanting, the other cannot exist, and the result can only be anarchy.”[12]


One must briefly examine these facts in light of the dogma of indefectibility. If the entire church has fallen so far into corruption that irregular means are necessary to salvage the wreckage of the Barque (i.e., a full-scale, worldwide mission conducted under supplied jurisdiction, which is invoked due to a state of necessity), this would mean the Church has failed to do what she was established to do; namely, sanctify souls. The SSPX apparently holds that the entire church is compromised, even where other traditional communities have a presence, as they see their ministry as necessary anywhere and everywhere in the world. If the Church has failed in her mission, or defected, the gates of hell have certainly prevailed, something we have assurance from Christ Himself will never happen. In the words of St Francis de Sales,

“How, I ask you, should he have abandoned the Church, which cost him all his blood, so many toils and travails? He has drawn Israel out of Egypt, out of the desert, out of the Red Sea, out of so many calamities and captivities and we are to believe that he has let Christianity be engulfed in infidelity! […] Oh, how utterly vain and good for nothing would be the promises on promises which he has made of the perpetuity of this Church!”[13]

Ironically, their most-often cited defense (“the salvation of souls is the highest law”) reveals a flaw in their position. If their ministry is necessary because the Church is not providing for the salvation of souls, has she not defected? And if she has not defected, why is their ministry necessary? Do three bishops (lacking authority over any dioceses) and several hundred priests (lacking any ordinary canonical mission) presume to possess something necessary for salvation that “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) does not? To again cite St Francis de Sales, “[T]o be a pillar of truth cannot appertain to an erring and straying Church.”[14]


The SSPX has placed itself in a position whereby the justification for their ministry is dependent on personal interpretation and not the decisions of the magisterium. It seems that there is no clear answer as to 1) what objective criteria define their “state of necessity” and "supplied jurisdiction," 2) when those criteria are no longer present, and 3) who determines that, and so the PCILT's clear directive is not being met. The crisis, while very real, does not give priests carte blanche to perform any and all priestly functions wherever and whenever they please. The solution is the profound renewal of hearts and minds through Christ, not through operating independently of the juridical structure of the church and ministering against the commands of the hierarchy.



[1] Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, The Excommunication of Followers of Archbishop Lefebvre, 24th August 1996 (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=1224&fbclid=IwAR22SyWLMs3GS4I7MiyJQt)

[2] James Likoudis and Kenneth D. Whitehead, The Pope, The Council, and The Mass (Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2006), 154

[3] Dave Armstrong, Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries (2013), 37-38, Kindle edition

[4] Fr Yves Congar, Challenge to the Church: The Case of Archbishop Lefebvre. (London: Collins Liturgical Publications, 1976), 57

[5] Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, trans. Brian McNeil(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 18 (Kindle edition)

[6] Fr. Ramon Angles, The Validity of Confessions & Marriages in the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X (https://sspx.org/en/validity-sspxs-confessions-marriages)

[7] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical on the Unity of the Church Satis Cognitum (29 June 1896) §15 (https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_29061896_satis-cognitum.html)

[8] Cardinal James Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers. (London: Washbourne, 1917), 49-50 (https://archive.org/details/thefaithofourfat27435gut/page/n51).

[9] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical on the Unity of the Church Satis Cognitum (29 June 1896) §14 (https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_29061896_satis-cognitum.html) 

[10] Fr. Ramon Angles, The Validity of Confessions & Marriages in the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X

[11] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3836

[12] Rev. George Agius, Tradition and the Church. Boston: Stratford, 1928. (https://archive.org/details/traditionchurch00agiu/page/38/mode/2up), 39

[13] St Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy, 56

[14] St Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy, 41


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Very Informative video about incultration.

This was a great introduction to Native American Incultration in the Catholic Church in case anyone is interested. https://www.youtube.com/live/WXOZnNrNLUA?si=Cy9AgV_jxXOfURSm

9 commentaires


MrsHappyCatholic
MrsHappyCatholic
13 nov. 2023

JMJ

Andrew, I'm just so impressed by this article. Thank you so much for the time you put into it! I can't wait to do a video with you on this!! (Coming soon, everybody! :D )

J'aime

Excellent treatise, and I do hope you have this published elsewhere so that it has an ever wider distribution. It’s one of the best compilations I’ve ever read. Thanks for taking the time to write it, and please try to have it disseminated further.

J'aime
En réponse à

Thanks so much for your kind words! I am very glad you found it useful. I had considered submitting it for publication elsewhere, and your encouragement might just nudge me to finally do it.

J'aime

AnafromMT
AnafromMT
17 juil. 2023

Awesome article that very definitely hits on the main problem with the SSPX. The fact that one can ask these questions and then be ignored is also very indicative of the brainwash and mind games that goes on big in the SSPX as well. So many people seem incapable of reason and logic because the whole thing is all about emotions at it’s core.

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zalcmd
zalcmd
14 juil. 2023

Thank you , Andy.

Would you allow me to copy this article to my Facebook ? SSPX followers read my postings. I hope to shed some light on what they have been led to believe by the SSPX clergy and their talking heads.

I too was deceived by them and feel called to help other souls open their hearts and minds to the true reality of the SSPX's position within the Catholic Church.

J'aime
zalcmd
zalcmd
14 juil. 2023
En réponse à

Thank you!!God bless your work.

J'aime

Tony Alongi
Tony Alongi
14 juil. 2023

Pretty astute observation. They’re also fond of goalpost-moving when it comes to identifying where exactly Vatican II teaches error. Many of their priests will flat-out state that Vatican II endorses modernist heresies, but when pressed to identify where, specifically, the documents do so, they’ll fall back on ambiguity, reading between the lines, or finger-pointing evasion toward “liberals” and “modernists”, which are really just buzzwords, over-used to the point of being deprived of meaning, to refer to anyone who disagrees with them.

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En réponse à

Absolutely. Then they find themselves in the position of either declaring that a council of the church promulgated positive error (an impossibility with the dogma of indefectibility), or that it is simply ambiguous, at which point it is up to the church to clarify that ambiguity. Again, the buck ultimately stops with the magisterium, not them.

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