From thearchives - Published from 1982-96, Fidelity magazine was the predecessor of Culture Wars.
The Society of St. Pius X Gets Sick
by Thomas W. Case
From the October 1992 issue of Fidelity magazine
Since the excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on July 1, 1988, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has moved further and further into a posture of shoring up its existence as a separate church. Now that its leader has gone to his reward, the Society is a body without a head, and so obeys the law of separation: schism breeds further schism, charity is lost in rancor, and the end is chaos. Especially in the United States, unanimity has never been a characteristic of the Society. But before we get into this discussion, we should say something about the history of the Society in general, since with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre we have a serious and relatively respected protest movement. It is a movement that kept communion with the Church through 20 years of struggle and diplomacy, before going into formal schism on June 30, 1988.
But the fact that it did go into formal schism, just on the verge of an accommodation with Rome, illustrates a kind of general law about schism itself. It is the problem of egoism. Once you have taken a stand in opposition to authority, once you build churches, once you have properties and benefactors and mortgages, once you pour into your people a crusading, persecuted spirit and become a kind of god to your world-wide flock once all of this has happened, it is tremendously difficult to bow your head again to the institution you have fought for so long, with the added humiliation of losing all your property and your power. It is why the Old Catholics, for example, still exist as varied dots of egoism after a century and a half, or why the Anglican Church still exists as a husk without a doctrine after four centuries.
Protest movements of any kind, once they build a separate church, take on a life of their own, even though it is a half life. Almost never do they climb back into the Church (unless they are coerced, and that kind of stuff went out after the horrors of the Thirty Years War). Instead, the first infidelity makes the next one that much easier, until in the end you have ex-Lefebvrite and sede vacantist Father Sanborn with his own tiny sect in Michigan or ex-Lefebvrite Father Clarence Kelly forming his own Society of Pius V, or ex-Lefebvrite, ex-Kellyite Father (now Thuc line Bishop, 1996) Dolan hooking up with the Mount St. Michael cult in Spokane, Washington.
Marcel Lefebvre was born in Tourcoing, France in 1905. He was ordained in 1929 and joined the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1932. The order sent him to the French colony of Gabon in Africa as a missionary, and on September 18, 1947, he was made a bishop. The next year Pope Plus XII made him apostolic delegate for all of French-speaking Africa. His driving interests according to the official (SSPX) biography: a crusading anti-communist spirit and a resolve to end religious ignorance. During his African tour of duty, he created 21 new dioceses, built seminaries and schools and printing presses, and ordained a good many native priests. It was a huge accomplishment. In 1955, he was made Archbishop of Dakar, and in 1959 he returned to France.
Two continuing events apparently accounted for Lefebvre's eventually establishing his own priestly society. First, he was elected superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1962. In that capacity, he sent promising young men for seminary training to Rome. The French Seminary in Rome became progressively more modernist after the Second Vatican Council, and complaints from his protegees came back to him with increasing frequency. The other concern was in the Council itself. Lefebvre had been appointed to the commission that wrote the papally approved documents, originally presented to the Council for deliberation. Every one of these documents was thrown out in the first Council session. Soon afterwards, Lefebvre "publicly expressed astonishment at the presence on sub-commissions of modernist theologians like Kung, Rahner, Congar and Schillebeeckx.
The alleged modernist takeover, or near takeover, of the Council, and later on, the "spirit of the Council," as revealed in the French Seminary in Rome, moved him at last to found "an International House of St. Pius X" at Fribourg, Switzerland on June 6, 1969.
A year later, the new Society moved to Econe, and in November 1970, the "Priestly Society of St. Pius X" was established canonically under the jurisdiction of Msgr. Charriere in the Diocese of Fribourg.
But the honeymoon between the Church and the Society was short-lived. Pressure from Cardinal Villot, Vatican Secretary of State and spokesman for the (mostly liberal) French bishops, as well as a general clash of ideology between tradition and aggiornamento, brought things to a head in 1975. Lefebvre was called to Rome and informally tried by a papal commission; he was forbidden to ordain any more priests, and told he must close the seminary and disband the Society.
The Archbishop refused, claiming he had been made victim of an irregular canonical procedure. He ordained some priests in June 1976; he was suspended by Paul VI a month later. From this point on he and his priests acted without faculties. Some may think this a technical point, but it is sure that since 1976 there has been a very controversial situation in the Society regarding the validity of confessions and marriages.
In his sermon, "Twenty Years of Struggle," during a retreat in 1986, the Archbishop anxiously argues his rights: "But we did not stop there [ordaining priests] with our apparently illegal actions with regards to the particulars of the law, such as the hearing of confessions, [or] the blessing of marriages performed in our presence in the dioceses. Many of the things which we have accomplished are of themselves and strictly speaking against the letter of the law, but why do we do these things? Quite simply because we believed that which was undertaken against us was illegal and that they did not have the right to suppress our Order."
There matters stood until the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, after which relations between Rome and the Archbishop warmed considerably. Right away negotiations began with the view to regularizing the Society. But throughout the succeeding 10 years, intransigent positions bedeviled the diplomacy and finally resulted in formal schism. There is no space here to go into all that passed between Rome and Lefebvre until the summer of 1988.
A few points only will be covered. A conciliatory letter from the Archbishop to John Paul II dated March 8, 1980, contains Lefebvre's assurance that he agrees with the pope's declaration that the Council "must be understood in the light of all Holy tradition, and that, though he has reservations about the Novus Ordo Mass, I have never said that it is in itself invalid or heretical."
The same two points appear in Lefebvre's letter to Cardinal Ratzinger on April 17, 1985, where a declaration of reconciliation is agreed upon: "We have always accepted and now declare that we accept the texts of the Council, according to the criterion of tradition, that is, according to the traditional Magisterium of the Church. We have never affirmed and do not now affirm that the New Order of Mass, celebrated according to the rite indicated in the Roman edition, is of itself invalid and heretical."
Lefebvre goes on to "explicate" the declaration before appending his signature: (1) the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty is contrary to the Magisterium of the Church, and should undergo a total revision; (2) the liturgical reform has been influenced by Ecumenism with the Protestants, and is by this fact a very grave danger for the Catholic faith, [so] we ask that this reform be entirely revised so that it restores Catholic dogmas to their former honored status, along the lines of the immemorial Mass; (3) Communism and socialism must be formally condemned, and "Catholic states must be encouraged to recognize the Catholic religion as the only of official religion...."
On May 29, 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger replied that Lefebvre's "explications" in effect contradict the original declaration which of course they do. In fact, it takes considerable effrontery for Lefebvre to first say that the Novus Ordo Mass is valid and the Conciliar documents are acceptable in the light of tradition, and then demand a return to the old Mass and a massive revision of a Conciliar document. Less than a year later on January 20, 1986 in yet another letter, Ratzinger insists on fidelity to the Council: "Of course you can express your anxiety over certain interpretations that may have been given to various texts of the Council; you may also legitimately criticize such interpretations. But it is not possible for you to call into question the authentic doctrine of the ecumenical Second Vatican Council, the texts of which are magisterial and enjoy the highest doctrinal authority."
The line is drawn at the point of accepting or rejecting the Conciliar documents (however they are interpreted). But while this high diplomacy is going on, the Archbishop's true state of mind is a little more unfriendly. Nine days after receiving Ratzinger's letter, perhaps stung by the Cardinal's reply, Lefebvre writes a letter to the editor of the Journals Itineraires and Present:
"The plan announced in the documents of the Masonic Alta Vendita and published on Pius IX's orders, is becoming a reality day by day beneath our very eyes. Last week I was in Rome, at the summons of Cardinal Gagnon, who handed me the enclosed letter [from Ratzinger, quoted above]. A very well organized network is in control of all the Curia's activity, inside and outside the Curia itself."
"The Pope is an instrument of this mafia which he put in place and with which he sympathizes. We may hope for no reaction to come from him, on the contrary. The announcement of the meeting of world religions decided on by him for the month of October in Assisi, is the culminating imposture and the supreme insult to Our Lord. Rome is no longer Catholic Rome. The prophecies of Our Lady of LaSalette and of Leo XIII in his exorcism are coming about: Where the seat of blessed Peter and the chair of truth was set up for a light to enlighten all nations, there they have established the throne of the abomination of their wickedness so that having struck the Shepherd they may scatter the flock in turn...."
"You will see, in the reply to our letter [again, that reply of Jan. 20 quoted above], that Cardinal Ratzinger is striving once more to make Vatican II into a dogma. We are dealing with people who have no notion of Truth. We shall from now on be more and more obliged to act on the assumption that this new Conciliar Church is no longer Catholic." (Letter to Mr. Madiran, Jan. 29, 1986).
The accusation that John Paul is an instrument of a Masonic mafia "which he put in place" seemed to leave no ground for accommodation. After the Assisi conference of October 1986 (which the pope proclaimed was solely a prayerful convocation for world peace and had absolutely no bearing on the supreme truth of the Catholic Faith), the attacks from the St. Pius and other traditional groups were a constant barrage zeroing in on this "blasphemous event."
Lefebvre's deep distrust of Rome could have only gotten deeper, and the diplomacy of the last days before the excommunication should be seen in this light. In fact the Archbishop had been preparing the ground for consecrating new bishops for some time. In 1974, he had told a confidante (now an ex-Lefebvrite priest) that he would never consecrate a bishop, "for this would mean I would do what Martin Luther did, and I would lose the Holy Ghost." But by 1983 he was in the United States, sounding out his priests on the possibility of consecrating bishops. He asked each in turn for his view on the subject. Those Society superiors who had objected to what he and they knew would be a formally schismatic act, in a year's time were all removed from their positions. They were replaced by those priests who had gone along with the idea.
The groundwork was carefully laid among believers. At St. Mary's Academy in St. Mary's, Kansas every child and adult underwent a mandatory new "catechism" under the auspices of Society priests 1.5 years before the consecrations. They learned that following a false authority was evil; that the pope had lost any legal authority; that the schism and excommunication that were sure to follow the consecrations were not really schism and not really excommunication. How far-reaching was this new "catechism?" If variations of it were imposed on all believers in 1986 and 1987, it would account for the fact that so few people left the Society in the summer of 1988. On May 5, 1988, Lefebvre signed an accord with Rome that in principle gave the Archbishop most of what he wanted. He could have a bishop and thus provide for the Society's continuance after his death. The Society priests could say the Tridentine Mass. The suspension was lifted, and the Society could once again legally ordain its own clergy. Once again Lefebvre accepted the Vatican Council, "as interpreted by tradition," and the New Mass as "valid" if not welcome.
According to an interview in 30 Days (July, August 1988), during the May 5 meeting Lefebvre asked Cardinal Ratzinger when a bishop could be consecrated. June 30? No, that would be too soon, says Ratzinger. August 15? No, perhaps in November. (All of this is Lefebvre's version of events.) Later that day, the Archbishop decides that Rome is playing games: he'll never get a bishop. So he shoots off a letter to Ratzinger on May 6 threatening to go ahead and appoint a bishop on June 30, with or without Rome's mandate. On May 24 Rome said, in effect, "Okay. you can consecrate a bishop on August 15." But now (on June 2), Lefebvre rejected the concord entirely. On June 30 he consecrated four bishops, and on July 1 he and his bishops were formally excommunicated.
What had happened to ruin the proceedings on the verge of success? One thing about this matter of bishops is usually not explained. Some time around the May 5-6 disaster, Lefebvre had presented the names of potential bishops, and Rome had demurred. The selection of bishops is a touchy subject. With papal approval, it is perfectly legitimate. Without papal approval, it is a schismatic act and an excommunicable offense.
The real problem of the bishops, in this instance, was not when, but who? Who would be acceptable to the pope? Presumably the priests who eventually were chosen as bishops were on the list presented by Lefebvre.
Rome knew who these men were, and knew they held the same views Lefebvre did in his more incautious moments: the New Mass is blasphemous, the Council is heretical the popes that approve the Council are heretical, and maybe they are not popes at all.
Whatever the deliberations, it is certain that Rome had an extensive dossier on the men favored for consecration. And that is why the pope reserves to himself the right of approval and why it is such a grave act to consecrate a bishop without it. It is no technical matter, but a measure to protect the Faith. How could Rome ever approve a bishop who really believed that the pope was a tool of the Freemasons?
In truth, Pope John Paul would probably never have approved a bishop Lefebvre had chosen, and by the same token Lefebvre probably could never have been saddled with a bishop John Paul had chosen. (But now we will never know.) It goes right back to the deep division over the Faith, and the two unresolved questions: is the New Mass invalid, and are the Vatican II documents heretical?
Another revelation of what went on in and around the secret negotiations of 1988: at one point Lefebvre demanded as part of the accord that an the world's Catholic traditionalists (those who wanted the old Mass) would have to become members of the Society. It was an absurd demand, impossible to fulfill even if it had been granted, but it speaks to the condition of Lefebvre's (now feverish?) mind. Apparently in the last few years of his life Marcel Lefebvre was not always clearheaded. He was unmercifully manipulated by his lieutenants, Fathers Franz Schmidberger (superior general of the Society), Richard Williamson, and the others. When he returned from Rome after signing the May 5 accord, these bishops-to-be, perhaps seeing their bishoprics about to go down the drain, told the Archbishop that if he did not repudiate the accord with Rome the Society would split apart at the seams. There were too many in the Society (meaning Williamson and Company) who simply had no trust in Rome at all. Under that pressure, the Archbishop changed his mind and hardened his position against all possible future diplomacy with the Vatican. This was his state of mind in mid-June: "I entered these negotiations because Rome's reactions in the second half of last year had raised in me a faint hope that these churchmen had changed. They have not changed, except for the worse. Look at Casaroli in Moscow! They have spiritual AIDS, they have no grace, their immunity defense system is gone. I do not think one can say that Rome has not lost the Faith. As for an eventual excommunication, its disagreeableness diminishes with time." (Private talks quoted in Williamson's Letter from Winona, Aug. 1, 1988).
And so the new church was born, by a willful man who had created a monster he could not in the end control, either as that monster infected his followers or as it infected his own mind.
Among Pius X defenders, it is now common to refuse to admit that Lefebvre had gone into schism, or that he had really been excommunicated. Lefebvre historian Michael Davies, who at first denounced the June 30 consecrations, now defends them in a disappointing article (Angelus, December 1990). It is disappointing because Davies, for all his knowledge and intellect, descends to a swamp of special pleading to convince readers that 1) there was no schism, and, 2) there was no excommunication.
Sliding around the facts of schism and excommunication are typical for defenders of a group in schism. The same arguments were heard in the Schism of Utrecht, in the establishment of the Old Catholics, and during the creation of Protestant churches in the 16th century. Always a higher law is appealed to so that a specific law can be circumvented:
According to Martin Luther, "These [church laws] hold good only so long as they are not injurious to Christianity and the laws of God. Therefore, if the Pope deserves punishment, these laws cease to bind us, since Christendom would suffer."
According to Marcel Lefebvre, "In the Church there is no law or jurisdiction which can impose on a Christian a diminution of his faith. All the faithful can and should resist whatever interferes with their faith.... If they are forced with an order putting their faith in danger of corruption, there is an overriding duty to disobey."
Davies forgets that beyond canon law and the thoughts of Canonists interpreting that law, and beyond the thoughts of pundits interpreting the thoughts of the canonists is the court of last resort, which is none other than the Vicar of Christ.
Is there any hope that the Society will return as a whole to the Church, i.e., besides the many individuals priests and seminarians who have gone over to Rome? It doesn't look like it.
The new counter-church propels its own existence by turning up the heat on the "Conciliar" Church. In a "Letter to Friends" - of Feb. 12, 1989, Superior General Schmidberger reveals a threefold "foreign occupation" of the Church. First is the pope himself, "a prisoner of modern philosophy and modernistic theology. Second is Cardinal Ratzinger and others close to the pope who share his beliefs. Third is the conscious and determined conspiracy of the forces of Gnosticism, Theosophy. and Esoterism, headed by the Illuminati and the Freemasons, and allied with Marxist infiltration."
Well, if the Masons and/or the Illuminati run the show, then there is nothing to be gained by dealing with Rome. It's no good making a pact with the devil. It might be said in passing that diabolizing your opponent is at one and the same time to give him superhuman powers, and to provide yourself with an excuse for severing any and an connections with him.
According to Martin Luther, "The Church of Rome, formerly the most holy of all churches, has become . . . the very kingdom of sin, death and hell; so that not even the Antichrist, if he were to come, could desire any addition to its wickedness."
According to Marcel Lefebvre, in his Aug. 29, 1987. letter to the four bishops-to-be, "The See of Peter and posts of authority in Rome being occupied by Antichrists, the destruction of the Kingdom of Our Lord is being rapidly carried out even within His Mystical Body here below."
The point of such anathemas is that attempts to reform the Church from inside are futile; it is too late: and so we (Luther, Lefebvre) must go our own way and build our own true Catholic Church.
Followers of Lefebvre say that he was a saint. They point out that if not for the Society of St. Pius X, there would be no Ecclesia Dei. There would be no opportunity for Catholics to return to the old rite as they now have the increasing opportunity to do. Perhaps. But if an accord had been reached, an internal reform might have been more readily accomplished.
All that power and enthusiasm working inside the Church might have accomplished much more much quicker. But, once again, we will never know.
If Lefebvre was a saint, he was crafty and vacillating as well. He was crafty in polling Pius X superiors around the world and then getting rid of those who opposed the idea of his consecrating bishops. He was crafty in delaying the consecrations a year for mercenary reasons. It seems that Richard Williamson's new seminary in Winona, Minnesota, was just getting off the ground, and Williamson warned Lefebvre that the benefactor about to purchase the property for the seminary would withdraw his offer if he knew about any projected consecrations.
The benefactor was apparently one of those conservative Lefebvrites, who was no schismatic and would not risk "losing the Holy Ghost." So Lefebvre agreed to delay the consecrations a year until the property was secured.
Was Lefebvre a sede vacantist? It seems that it depended on his mood, or on the audience he was addressing. In 1980 he wrote to the Holy Father and protested, "I have no hesitation regarding the legitimacy or the validity of Your election. I have already had to condemn these ideas and I continue to do so in the face of some seminarians who allow themselves to be influenced by ecclesiastics outside the Fraternity." But in his various tours, the ex-Lefebvrite priest informs me, he would speak a "faithful-to-the-pope" line to conservative Catholics, and a suggestively sede vacantist line when talking to radical traditionalists. Like any politician, he played to the audience.
But he threw caution to the winds in the preface of his 1987 letter to the four bishops-to-be. Here he calls the pope an Antichrist, which is a vivid way -of saying the papal seat is empty. Moreover, there exists an audiocassette tape of a Lefebvre sermon given shortly after John Paul II's 1986 Assisi peace convocation. Basing his charges on that ecumenical gathering, the archbishop says, "I think that when a Pope or bishop honors God in this non-Catholic way, they have the intention of going to God as a non-Catholic, thereby renouncing the Catholic faith. Never has it happened in the Church before that he who sits on the throne of Peter has participated in the cult of false gods. Are we then obliged to believe that this Pope is not Pope? Because it seems impossible that a Pope could be a public and formal heretic."
The sede vacantist question brings us back to the United States. Three previously Lefebvrite priests, Fathers Cekada, Dolan and Sanborn, have now split from the Pius V Society, which Fr. Kelly had formed when he broke with Lefebvre, to become involved in varying degrees with the cult at Mount St. Michael, whose pretense to Catholicism rests on its connection to the Bishop Thuc (of South Vietnam) lineage. As Lefebvrite seminarians proposed for the priesthood back in the 1970s, these three encountered opposition because of their openly expressed sede vacantism. A delegation of American priests warned Lefebvre.
But the Archbishop. knowing their standpoint ordained them anyway. Then, in 1983, Lefebvre used that excuse, sede vacantism, to kick Fr. Kelly and the others out of the Society. The accusation must have rung hollow, given Lefebvre's own leanings. Especially since Richard Williamson, openly a sede vacantist as a seminarian at Econe, was later made bishop for North America.
The real reason for Kelly's ouster was his greed and power-mongering, and Williamson's enmity. Kelly and Cekada had put their own names on a lot of Pius X property deeds in the Cincinnati area. There are strong hints that Kelly wanted to take over the whole Society in the United States. Williamson, who eventually came out on top, had bad-mouthed Kelly as long ago as the early 70s, when the two of them walked the seminary grounds at Econe. Now Kelly has his own little sect in Oyster Bay, N.Y., along with a few Pius V Society chapels dotted around the country. Many of these are engaged in property litigation, since they were originally owned by the Society of St. Pius X.
Another mini-schism has just occurred in the SSPX. Bishop Williamson, a friend of Tridentine Rite Conference Fathers LeBlanc and Wickens, wanted to attend their Tridentine Rite Conference (TRC) meeting last year (1991) in New Jersey. He was to accept an award from the new pan-traditionalist lobby on behalf of Marcel Lefebvre. Father Terence Finnegan, a Lefebvrite priest at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Phoenix, got wind of the project and protested first to Williamson and then to Fr. Schmidberger in Germany. Finnegan's major concern was to protect the orthodoxy of the Society; he knew all about the TRC and its involvement with the odder sorts of schismatics and heretics, with the scurrilous Order of St. John, with irregular Feeneyite (Jansenist) sects, and with sede vacantists like Dan Jones in Colorado.
Finnegan was also increasingly distressed at the strange doctrines coming from the mouth of Richard Williamson. After a feverish exchange of letters between Finnegan and Father Peter Scott (pro-forma superior of the SSPX in North America), between Schmidberger and Scott, and between Scott and Williamson, Williamson was told not to attend the TRC convention. By this time Williamson was seething. Finnegan was called to Europe for an interview with Schmidberger. Finnegan again warned Schmidberger that Williamson was ruining the Society in the United States because of the latter's incautious associations and intemperate statements. For his troubles, Fr. Finnegan was told he would be transferred. The choices were Ireland and South Africa. Finnegan refused, and on April 8, 1992, he was dismissed from the Society. Our Lady of Sorrows in Phoenix now has a new Lefebvrite priest and a flock of about 80 believers; leftovers from Finnegan's tenure. Fr. Finnegan now says Mass in a private home, and on Sundays rents a hall. He brought with him the great majority of his former flock, amounting to some 200 fiercely devoted followers.
That is the significant fact. When this mini-schism occurred, the great majority of believers dissolved their union with the SSPX and followed their local leader into another independent Catholic status. This kind of thing can only happen over and over again when there is no central authority providing a sanctified unity. In other words, without a pope there is only self-will, and devotion to one strong personality or another.
Other Pius X parishes (technically, missions) around the country have recently been squeezed out or isolated. In Post Falls, Idaho, the parish pastured by Father Rizzo has been the site of a battle royal over the sin of "Americanism." As this contention between American patriots and European fascists is ripping the Society apart, we will explore its ramifications later on when we talk about the politics of the SSPX. Fr. Rizzo has since been transferred to England. His associate pastor, Father Hunter, wrote a book defending the origin of the U.S. Government, and denying the Society's charge that it was all one, big Masonic plot. Fathers Schmidberger and Scott refuse to allow the book to be published. A new (foreign) priest will soon arrive in Post Falls to take charge of the 600-member congregation and teach them the One True Political Faith. Fr. Hunter says the congregation is demoralized and worried about what is soon to descend upon them.
In Campbell, California, the faithful are up in arms over the ill-considered funding of a retreat house out of mission funds that were intended for a new chapel and school. Violence on the church steps and criminal litigation is the upshot. The parish priest, Father Foley, has been condemned, slandered from the pulpit by U.S. Superior Fr. Scott and Bishop Williamson, and removed to Sacramento. Early this year, Foley was told to report to a mission in Minnesota. Instead, he left the Society and took a portion of the faithful with him. Now he says Mass in a private home in Walnut Creek, California. The underlying cause of the brouhaha is local displeasure over imperious control from the Society superiors. Wealthy benefactors who thought they were contributing to the creation of a parish instead see their chapel sold, their Mass schedules limited, and their money spent on an inaccessible mountaintop haven for Society bigwigs.
In Omaha, Nebraska, a former Society parish of about 50 people now attends an indult Mass. The people were tired of hearing their patriotism indicted as a sin, and especially dismayed by the "Gestapo tactics" imposed on their kids at St. Mary's under the dictatorship of Father Ramon Angles, about which more later. These concerns underlay the decision by Fr. Scott to tell the folks in Omaha that "due to the shortage of priests," they would no longer have a Society priest say Mass for them. Letters passed back and forth, Fr. Scott said there had been a misunderstanding, "a priest would be provided on certain occasions," and all would be well. But by that time the parishioners had enough.
In Phoenix, in Omaha, in Campbell, California, and in Post Falls, Idaho, a variety of causes has brought schism or division to the SSPX. These four cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
American priests, and Americans, have been mistrusted from the start by their elite European masters. Intelligent, discerning American priests, those with minds of their own, have been expelled or transferred abroad, leaving Williamson's foreign-born lackeys in charge of an increasingly demoralized laity.
Are Richard Williamson and his cohorts wrecking the SSPX by they hateful and dim-witted opinions and their denigration of American institutions? First, we should recall the twofold theology of the Society: it is faithful to Rome (no matter what Rome thinks), or Rome is the seat of the anti- Christ and the SSPX is the last repository of the true faith. Williamson's recent talks more and more support the latter view.
In his December 1, 1991 Letter from Winona, Williamson decries Cardinal Silvio Oddi's (reported) statement that the Vatican is ignoring the Society since the death of Lefebvre in March. Williamson doesn't believe Oddi. After all, "Rome cannot help keeping watch on the Society, or on any coherent group with large numbers of Catholics keeping the faith. The reason is not hard to find, such groups are the main obstacle to the advance of the Antichrist.... The One Worlders owed it to themselves to infiltrate Rome and harness it to the purposes of the anti-Christ. This with Vatican II they largely succeeded in doing.... To sweep all Catholics into the clutches of the One World Government, to switch them from followers of Christ into followers of the Anti-Christ, Rome, must deceive them....In this process. it is vital that the people should be persuaded that Catholicism is only what Rome says it is . . . [but] another form of Catholicism than that of 'Rome' is, after all, possible."
Given this malice, there is little hope for a reconciliation with Rome on any grounds. So it comes as no surprise to hear (from an ex-Lefebvrite priest whom we shall call "Father Abel") that Williamson from his early days in Econe has been a sede vacantist, that he has often said "there is no pope," and that today, in Winona, he teaches that the real Society position is that there is no pope, "but that because of the controversy this issue causes, we deny this position in public." If there is no pope and Rome's program is the program of the anti-Christ, and only the SSPX keeps the faith alive, then another Williamson teaching follows: "If you are not in the Society, you are not in the Church." This is also taught to the seminarians at Winona and the faithful at St. Mary's. Moreover, since Williamson holds the literal interpretation of the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church, it follows that there is no salvation outside the Society.
Which brings into focus the strange statement in the October 1, 1991. Letter concerning "the needs of hundreds of millions of souls in danger of eternal damnation throughout the English-speaking world." In the Letter, Williamson complains that only 18 new seminarians came to Winona in 1991, a small number considering all those souls who need saving. As for non-Christians, there is no hope at all. In the Winona publication Verbum (Winter 1992), he declares, though for dramatic purposes he lets an imaginary priest speak for him, that "other religions will only lead souls to Hell." No wonder he gets along with the Tridentine Rite Conference Feeneyites so well.
Williamson's salvation doctrine is even narrower than that. "Fr, Abel" has often heard the bishop claim that women are only good for drudge work and breeding, and that no woman can be saved. Hearing women's confessions is therefore a waste of time.
Retreats for women are worse than useless. There can be no forgiveness for the daughters of Eve. "What about the Virgin Mary?" asks "Fr. Abel. "That's her problem," says Bishop Williamson.
If Williamson's salvation doctrine is a little cockeyed, his doctrine concerning the Jews is also. Since Catholics hold a wide spectrum of beliefs concerning relations with Judaism, it will be best to juxtapose the Church s statements with those of the bishop. The reader may then deliberate on how far the one view deviates from the other. The Church believes that Christ, who is our peace, has through His cross reconciled Jews and Gentiles and made them one in Himself (cf. Eph. 2:14-16).
According to Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions promulgated on October 28, 1965, "Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during His passion. It is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ."
According to Richard Williamson's February 1, 1991, Letter from Winona, "Until [the Jews] re-discover their true Messianic vocation [by conversion to Christ], 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 avowing free circulation within Christendom to the enemies of Christ.... Remembering also that Annas and Caiaphas induced but never obliged Judas to betray Jesus, and that the Apostle's betrayal was a crime far worse than the Jews deicide, he will look at the state of the Catholic Church today and see why the enemies of Christendom are being given so much power...."
In 1989, Williamson delivered some speeches in Canada that caused some consternation, and got him investigated for possible hate crimes by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In Sherbrooke, Quebec, he said, "there was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel.... Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism."
Later he defended these statements, stating that "I was attacking the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that includes Jews, as well as Communists and Freemasons."
Williamson returned to the United States before the investigation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police got off the ground, but now the Pius X publications Verbum, Angelus and Williamson's monthly Letter are banned in Canada. A Letter from Winona (Nov. 3, 1991) quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a scurrilous document purportedly written by Jews, describing a Jewish master plan to take over the world. The document keeps popping up in Jew-hating circles as if it were a newly discovered proof of Jewish malice. It is actually a piece of disinformation written by a Russian in the employ of the Czar's Secret Police, and has been known to be a fraud by all serious historians for nearly a century.
Along with many crack-pot historical revisionists, Williamson subscribes to the big lie that Hitler had no intention, nor much success if he did have the intention of exterminating the Jewish race in Europe. To believe that, you would have to believe in an impossibly far-ranging conspiracy of U.S. Army soldiers and officers; French and English soldiers and others; numerous investigating commissions, hundreds of thousands of faked reports, faked death camp records; faked photographs; faked testimonies; and faked dead bodies. It is an insane hatred that causes such fervid denial of historical fact, and which bestows an utterly superhuman power on diabolical conspirators (Jews, Illuminati, Masons) thought to be responsible for everything that has gone wrong in the history of the world.
Williamson is probably less controversial for his religious anti-Semitism among American members of the Society of St. Pius X, than for his nutty attacks on the U.S. Constitution and Government.
In one of his Letters (July 1, 1991), he decides that the Constitutional principles of Liberty, Equality and Democracy are responsible for abortion. A taste: "Democracy, we, the people, are sovereign, so if our laws have approved of abortion, then what can be wrong with it?" This idiocy is hardly worth a response. If democracy is to blame for abortion, on what shall we blame abortion in Hungary, in the Soviet Union or in China? A venomous Zeitgeist can overwhelm a dictatorship as easily as a democracy, actually in the United States we have a constitutional republic, and in a country where the people have some voice in their government, it is easier finally to overturn that Zeitgeist.
The critique of American institutions does not stop with the denigration of our type of government. For several years, an attack on the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the "Americanist heresy" has demoralized Pius X members and brought many of them to the point of rebellion. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are branded as imbued with the doctrines of Freemasonry. The First Amendment is attacked for "religious indifferentism," because it did not provide for the establishment of the Catholic Church. Patriots are attacked as giving their first loyalty to their country instead of the Catholic Church. These attacks come from the Frenchman Father Jean-Luc Lafitte in Ridge field, Connecticut; the Spaniard Fr. Angles at St. Mary's; the Australian Fr. Scott at SSPX headquarters in St. Louis; and the Englishman Bishop Williamson at Winona. There is not one American in a position of power in the Society in the United States.
Fr. Lafitte raves against "Americanists" through his Letters from the St Ignatius Retreat House in Ridgefield. Under the heading "To idolize Our Country," he says: "This serious sin, opposed to the First and Fourth Commandment, is more and more frequent in the mind of many of our parishioners; by it, we worship our Country, our Constitution, putting our Country above the Ten Commandments of God. [It is] an infamy and a mortal sin."
Later in this Letter (Number 18, May 15, 1991) Lafitte attacks the John Birch Society as "an Americanist organization whose doctrine is in many points in open contradiction with the traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church." The list of charges against the John Birch Society is long, but most importantly it seems the organization isn't anti-Semitic enough: "[It] refuses to understand the Jewish conspiracy behind the revolution. (It is proven that the Jewish leaders have always been heading the revolution through Freemasonry and Communism.)" Along the same lines, the John Birch Society is indicted for its 1990 Resolution that its members should "Join a church or synagogue: this country was founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic." Fr. Lafitte claims that "this is pure Indifferentism; furthermore I am curious to know how the Jewish ethic, which killed Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic ethic, which worships Him, can be put on the same table."
If Jesus Christ had been born an American in 1700, and some Americans had engineered his crucifixion by the ruling British Government in 1733, Fr. Lafitte would accuse every American today of holding an "ethic which killed Our Lord Jesus Christ." He nearly does so in any case with his vitriolic condemnation of American nationalism. The practical problem of this exaggerated attack (by foreign leaders) on the John Birch Society and on American patriotism in general is that the majority of Pius X members in this country are extremely patriotic, and many are, or have been, members of the John Birch Society. Nor do people of any nationality like to hear their country run down by foreigners. One disgusted SSPX member told me that the Society seems intent on shooting itself in the foot.
The truth is that the Founding Fathers were not engaged in a Masonic plot to spread religious indifferentism: they were faced with a situation where many of the former colonies already had state-established Protestant churches of different communions. The new colonial government could not have favored one or another (Congregationalist, Quaker, Episcopal, etc.) denomination, nor the Catholic Church, without committing suicide at its very beginning. The Catholics in this country are indeed lucky that no national church was established. For such a national church might have been "indifferently" Protestant, but it would never have been Catholic, and certainly would have persecuted Catholics. The First Amendment to the Constitution should be considered as providential for Catholics. Without it, we would never have been allowed to build churches, schools, monasteries and convents; promote the Catholic truth; or make our presence felt politically and socially.
Williamson, according to Fr. Abel, blames America for ever separating from the British Empire. (In which case we would have an established Anglican Church?) He also calls Indians (from India) "wogs," and believes that subcontinent should also have remained under British domination. He blames Americans for the unemployment problem in England. As good colonials, we should devote our wealth and industry to the English overlords.
The bishop's attacks on Rome and on the United States have become more and more unfettered. This year he spoke to a group of the faithful in Colorado. He said that "this pope is making Rome the spearhead of the 'All Religions Church.'" He said that this "New World Church will then use the power of the State against the Society. It will be in perfect sync with the New World Order C then the police win come for you and me."
Well, the police may come for Richard Williamson and hand him over for deportation proceedings; for just afterwards, he said: "President Bush is a terrible traitor to this country. He is doing everything he can to dismantle the U.S. A. and integrate it into Russia and the New World Order, to the benefit of the Anti-Christ and to the absolute destruction of all that's best in the U.S.A."
Is it an exaggeration to say that this is the speech of a cult leader verging on paranoia? First he says "they" are going to come down on us, and a moment later he gives a reason why "they" might indeed come down on him. It won't be because his speech might be considered an incitement to political violence, and thus make him persona non grata to the Justice Department, but because "they" are the anti-Christ, necessarily out to persecute the last remnant of true believers.
Extremist politics flourishes at the Pius X Academy (the K-12 boarding school) and at the college in St. Mary's, Kansas. Since 1989, Fr. Ramon Angles has been rector of the combined institutions. The children in St. Mary's Academy learn to hate the American form of government. American icons are mocked. The Statue of Liberty is ridiculed as "a French prostitute." The only good government, the only Catholic government, is monarchy.
Democracy is evil. But Fr. Angles carries the critique further. It seems that good government comes to fruition in the anti-Semitic dictatorship of Nazi Germany. In an absurd transformation of good and evil, the mass murderer, demon worshiping, anti-Catholic, Adolf Hitler is metamorphosed into a type of Christian King. Fr. Angles has an apartment full of Nazi paraphernalia which he shows to favored boys. He shows them the Nazi ceremonial daggers worn by officers of the Third Reich. He is proud of the vintage Mercedes owned by his family, which once was owned by Adolf Hitler. A one-time student at the academy was favored by a special meeting with Fr. Angles a couple of years ago. In his private room on campus, Angles treated him and a friend to a pizza and a showing of the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.
He played the film back, stopping it in places, commenting with fervor and reading from the stack of Hitler speech transcripts he had at his side. Leni Riefenstahl, the film's producer and a chief propagandist for the Third Reich, is still alive and resides in South America. Fr. Angles visits her often (he informs his students), and boasts of the association.
St. Mary's, Kansas, is a town driven by fear and controversy. When one father of a student at the academy talked of "Gestapo tactics," he meant that a moral tyranny rules the campus, that children are intimidated, brow-beaten, and informed upon by other children belonging to a perfectionist cadre called the Children of Mary. He means that people who disagree with Fr. Angles or cross him in any way are condemned from the pulpit, shunned and even physically threatened. Thirteen Academy students were expelled or suspended in the academic year 1990-91 for various imperfections in themselves or in their parents. Another 37 were withdrawn by distraught or shunned parents. A grandmother was refused Communion because her daughter had been shunned. A child was forced to kneel in the snow in the dead of winter for an hour as punishment for some minor infraction. Informants tell Fr. Angles if they spot a Society woman wearing pants in town. She and her family are then condemned from the pulpit. Children are taught to follow the rule of the priests and not their parents. If they follow their parents' authority instead, they are told that they are going to hell. They are told that their parents have satanic minds."
If you have read previous articles describing pernicious cults, you will recognize all the marks of a cult in the fortress at St. Mary's. A 10-year-old boy was brought to the clinic for a checkup. The doctor told the mother, "if I thought it would do any good, I'd turn you in for child abuse if you send that boy back to St. Mary's." The parents removed the boy from St. Mary's and placed him in public school, even though the priests taught the children that a child sent to public school would go to hell.
Psychological tests given public school entrants revealed a boy so traumatized that he was judged unable to function in a classroom setting. The family has now left the Society and left town.
Sandy Cossette's daughter planned to marry a young man from town who was not a Society member. She was denounced publicly from the pulpit. Her family was shunned. Now that family, still living in the town, is condemned to hell, according to the priests at St. Mary's. This type of supernatural sanction, perpetrated on strongly faithful Catholics, who know there is a heaven and a hell, and who have been taught that "Father is always right," is what brings St. Mary's right into line with the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, the cult at Mount St. Michael, and all the other destructive cults that wield the stick of damnation over their flocks. "Outside the Society, there is no salvation," and anyone who crosses Fr. Angles is outside the Society. It is no wonder that one priest formerly associated with the Society describes St. Mary's as "a Jonestown waiting to happen."
A few members in the growing army of the ostracized, sick and tired of being threatened by Fr. Angles, have bought guns to protect their families. Meanwhile, a stalwart in the pro-Angles faction says that if criticism continues, "there will be blood on the streets of St. Mary's."
How have things comes to this pass? Not too long ago, a woman who had dared criticize Fr. Angles had an accident and went to the hospital. When she returned, she found her house had been burnt to the ground. There is no evidence that Fr. Angles and his henchmen were responsible, but they take a kind of spiritual credit for it. A woman caught wearing slacks received a letter from the administration saying "anyone who crosses Fr. Angles meets with tragedy," a reference to the house burning. This is the message that comes from the pulpit and spreads across the town to breed fear and, increasingly, a kind of desperate rage.
A couple months ago, a crony of Fr. Angles purchased a shipment of 15 or 20 SKS (Chinese) automatic rifles from a local gun dealer. An observer tells me that these guns are reappearing, one by one, in the hands of devoted Society members in the town. Not long ago, a friend went target shooting out by the Kansas river and ran into a bunch of these amateur marksmen trying to hone their skills. St. Mary's is not a happy town. It is a town face-to-face with the possibility of bloodshed.
The rehabilitation of Adolf Hitler is not just an aberration of Fr. Angles. The first American priest ordained into the Society of St. Pius X was one Father Gregory Post. One day, he took a plane flight and arrived at the San Jose, California, airport dressed in the fun regalia of an SS German army officer, complete with helmet, boots and swastika arm band. San Jose Pius X members who picked him up at the airport were indignant, and the then district superior of the society had to fly out to San Jose to reprimand the priest and cool off the situation.
There is a virulent sickness of hatred and Hitlerism running through the traditional Catholic movement. Why these folks have taken on the clothes of the very devil they detest is a matter for God to sort out. The strain runs through the Society of St. Pius X in France, whose priests see Marshall Petain as a hero and his pro-Nazi Vichy government of World War II as a paragon of virtue.
Catholic traditionalism as a whole in France is imbued with extreme right-wing politics. On the one side is the historical dream of a restored Catholic Monarchy, allied with pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic fascism. On the other side is Communism, liberalism democracy, the French Revolution, the Resistance and the Free French of World War II, and Charles de Gaulle. And this odd alliance of past Catholic glory and present right-wing extremism in politics finds a home in the special education program offered at St. Mary's Academy.
Both in France and in the United States, there is a question in traditional Catholic movements whether religion is informing politics or the other way around. Early in this century, the anti-Semitic Action Franšaise supported the Catholic Church as a bastion against liberalism and socialism, but many in the Action Franšaise were simply right-wing atheists who used the Church for their own purposes. Many of the priests in the United States who were to form the kernel of the traditionalist sectarians were originally members of the Orthodox Roman Catholic Movement (ORCM). The ORCM was founded and run by Father Francis E. Fenton, who was also on the governing board of the John Birch Society. Now defunct as an organization, it was ripped apart by internal dissension, the ORCM's paranoid notions of wholesale Communist infiltration of U.S. Government and educational structures still motivates many in the traditional movement. Fenton is now a sede vacantist, while the John Birch Society has been branded an Americanist heresy by the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X. In sectarian movements, political or religious, your closest allies soon become your most dangerous enemies. Exaggerated political fears are often a deeper credo for some people than is the belief in God.
Impugning a person's religion because of his politics is a bad business, except when the religion disappears beneath the politics. This point was reached on the left when parish priests in Nicaragua took up arms for the Sandinistas, and when liberation theologians stole Catholic forms and rites and attached them to Marxist sacraments of revolutionary violence. It is reached on the right when children are taught that Adolph Hitler was a kind of saint and that his "Final Solution, if there ever was such a program, was an appropriate Christian solution to the 'Jewish Problem.'" With virulent anti-Semitism taught at St. Mary's and Winona, with other deranged doctrines concerning the U.S. Government and the Bill of Rights, with the belief that an women are damned eternally, it is no doubt true that Richard Williamson and his clique are ruining the Society.
But it might be truer to say that the Society as a whole is ruining Catholicism in its members. I've talked to several Pius X parishioners locally. After 10 or 20 years of propaganda, most are so imbued with a hatred for Rome that they seem content to remain forever in schism. They don't realize it, but they have found their identity as new Protestants.
To say "Protestant" in this connection is to say that the Society is preparing to complete its schism by establishing a fully separate church. How will this come about? Williamson suggests the way in a bulletin of October 1, 1989: "In the 1970s He [God] inspired an archbishop [Lefebvre] to give the laity a fresh start of priests, and in the late 1980s fresh bishops. There is no way all these can give themselves a new Pope, but if they stay with the Truth, God will finally give them a Pope of Truth. Within the Truth is within the Church, and without the Truth is without the Church."
The letter is certainly suggestive. Williamson is now (1992) strenuously lobbying for Fr. Schmidberger's position as superior general of the order (Note: he lost the vote in 1993 to Bernard Fellay; one of the Society's excommunicated bishops), and may succeed to that status in the next convocation. Will the convocation end up turning into a Papal Conclave? Will the pope of Truth descend from heaven? Will it be Williamson?
It will have been a meteoric rise for the Englishman. A student of languages at Cambridge, he was baptized at Econe in 1973. Three years later he was ordained a priest, and in 1988 he was consecrated a bishop. Will he soon join the club of anti-Popes that decorate the lunatic fringe of Catholicism?
My sense is that most Catholics in this country who deserted the Church for the Society of St. Pius X or other disobedient movements were not deeply concerned about any alleged invalidity of the Novus Ordo Mass or with conjectures of heresy in Vatican II documents. They were just looking for a place to pray. It was, and always is, a matter of lex orandi, lex credendi. Probably they are right in thinking that in the Old Mass there was a sense of mystery lacking in even the most reverently said New Mass. And there were, and continue to be, deplorable abuses of the New Mass in many parish churches around the world.
But now there is an opportunity to be both in the Church and to participate in the Old Mass. One hates to pop the bubble regarding Marcel Lefebvre's movement, since many pious Catholics revere him as a saint. Continue to revere him as a saint, if you must, but please come back to the Church. The more of you who come back, the sooner recalcitrant bishops will be forced to allow the indult Mass in their dioceses. If you stay outside, you will most likely divide and re-divide, and drink the gall of hatred poured out from the pulpit, and die alone and loveless.
A coda to all that has been said here comes from The Belief of Catholics, by Ronald Knox: "To believe in Catholic doctrines without believing in the existence of that infallible authority which guarantees them all is to hold, not the Catholic faith, but a series of speculative opinions. It is the first infidelity that counts."
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