Refuting the SSPX’s Claims about its Establishment and Suppression Part I


Establishment and Suppression

Part I
John F. Salza, Esq.
July A.D. 2022


          Recently (April – June, 2022), the Society of St. Pius X issued yet another study addressing the historical and canonical details surrounding its establishment in 1970 up to its canonical status today (the authors of the various sections of the study chose to remain anonymous). The title of the study is “The Virtue of Epikeia in the History of the Society of St. Pius X,” and the SSPX goes on to explain, among other things, why it believes the virtue of epikeia justifies its ability to licitly exercise the priestly ministry throughout the world, without being part of, or canonically sent by, the Roman Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, the study is replete with unsubstantiated claims, canonical errors and even outright misrepresentations. The study also comes across with a spirit of blame and sour grapes toward the Church that it has chosen to be separated from, the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it seems that the SSPX has become more aggressive (and even sloppy) recently, in the defense of its position – perhaps due to the many articles we have published at this past year exposing its many errors. These factors are obviously relevant when evaluating the SSPX’s extraordinary claims, because they go to the heart of the Society’s credibility.

To prove the point, we will address the study by directly quoting its latest questionable claims presented in the study in the order they appear, along with the subtitles of the sections, and then follow with a Reply to the respective claim. In this series, we will address the claims made in its self-titled sections “Introduction,” “Canonical Establishment,” and “The Suspensions.” 


SSPX Claim: The Society kicks off its study in the “Introduction” with the following statement: “The debate surrounding the canonical situation of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is not fundamentally about the Society itself, but rather the contradiction between two positions on the very nature and authority of the Church.” 

Reply: We could not agree more. Indeed, this debate is ultimately about whether the Society’s refusal (beginning with Abp. Lefebvre) to submit to the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is justified, and the answer will depend upon one’s understanding of this authority. While necessity can justify the suspension of human laws (which is the principle of epikeia, properly understood) and even the resistance of a Pope’s command in particular circumstances (when the command is outside the scope of the Pope’s authority and/or requires the inferior to commit sin), it never justifies a generalized withdrawal of submission to the Pope’s authority on an ongoing and perpetual basis, decade after decade, which the SSPX has done since 1975 (especially when the Pope’s particular commands were within his sphere of authority and did not require Lefebvre to sin). And it certainly never justifies the refusal to submit to divine law, namely, the law of Christ, which requires clergy to have juridical mission to licitly exercise the priesthood, the law which Abp. Lefebvre and his Society have also completely rejected.  

          Indeed, even before the Society’s lawful suppression, during which time Lefebvre was allowed to form his seminarians in the pre-conciliar rites for purposes of serving the bishop in whose diocese they were to be incardinated (incardination into a diocese was a requirement for ordination) he made clear in his infamous 1974 Declaration his “categorical refusal to accept the reform” of the Magisterium, which included not only the New Mass, but also the “new catechism” and the “new priesthood.” Again, this was before his suppression, when he was able to form seminarians as he wished. In short, Lefebvre did not merely resist liturgical or doctrinal novelties (and which were not imposed upon him or his seminarians); rather, he publicly rejected the doctrinal authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church. Note well that it was this rejection of authority, and not Lefebvre’s adherence to the pre-conciliar rites of the Church (which Rome allowed him to do), that led to his suppression and, ultimately, his excommunication.

          As a consequence of his rejection of the authority of the Church, Lefebvre completely withdrew submission to the Holy Father, as evidenced by the following acts. Lefebvre: 

  •       disregarded warnings and requests to retract his declaration to continue his apostolate
  •       disregarded the juridic effects of lawful suppression
  •       disregarded warnings not to ordain priests without permission
  •       ordained priests without permission
  •      disregarded the Church’s command to repair the damage from his illicit  ordinations
  •       sent priests to minister without incardination
  •       sent priests to minister who are under censure
  •       ignored suspension from the exercise of Orders
  •       preached in dioceses without permission of the local bishops
  •       publicly promoted hostility to the Pope and the Holy See
  •       publicly propagated false doctrines
  •       threatened the Pope with illicit consecrations of bishops
  •       disregarded the Pope’s warning that consecrations would be a schismatic act
  •       disregarded the Pope’s warning that consecrations would result in excommunication latae sententiae reserved to the Holy See
  •       performed illicit consecrations without pontifical mandate or determination of suitability by the Holy See
  •       disregarded the canonical censure of excommunication for schism and unauthorized episcopal consecration
  •       founded a substitute tribunal to perform acts reserved to the local ordinaries or Holy See (e.g., marriage annulments, lifting of excommunications, dispensing of religious vows)
  •       promoted the erection of chapels, seminaries and schools without ecclesiastical permission


These are not the acts of one who recognizes the authority of the Catholic Church and the Pope. These acts, many of which were multiple and repeated, and which carried with them canonical censures (including the gravest censure of excommunication), are not mere acts of simple disobedience. Rather, these are acts which constitute a practical repudiation of papal authority (even if one acknowledges the Pope has supreme authority over the Church). A refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff and refusal of communion with the members of the Church subject to him constitute schism (canon 751). Thus, we agree with the Society that this debate concerns “the very nature and authority of the Church.” According to the SSPX’s understanding of this authority, a bishop can perform the foregoing acts, which constitute a rejection of the Vicar of Christ, and still be in communion with Jesus Christ. The Catholic understanding of papal authority necessarily rejects this view, based on both canonical jurisprudence and divine law. 

SSPX Claim: The Society goes on to say: “While the pope is the supreme legislator of the Church and in a certain sense above the merely ecclesiastical laws he promulgates, he is not above divine law; on the contrary, insofar as the application of canon law is determined by the principles of natural justice, he too is bound to obey it.” 

Reply: The first problem with this argument is that the existence of the Society, as we will see, is not a matter of divine law. The SSPX was a creature of ecclesiastical law, erected for a limited time (six years) on an experimental basis, and depended entirely upon the will of the local bishop, and ultimately, the Pope, for its continued existence. The Church, and more especially the Pope, does not offend against divine law by suppressing an ad experimentum lay association headed up by a retired archbishop. To invoke divine law in defense of its position, particularly when the very authority of the Pope who suppressed the Society, comes from divine law, shows just how tangled up the SSPX is when attempting to defend the indefensible.

The second problem with the Society’s argument is that it too, of course, is bound by divine law, and this divine law requires the SSPX to be part of the Church, and it requires its bishops to be canonically sent by the Church, and its priest to be legally incardinated, in order to licitly exercise their priestly or episcopal powers. This is true irrespective of whether or not the Society was lawfully suppressed. Hence, the Society hoists itself on its own petard. As the Council of Trent declared: “If anyone saith that bishops…who have neither been rightly ordained, nor sent by ecclesiastical and canonical power, but come from elsewhere, are lawful ministers of the word and of the sacraments; let him be anathema.”[1]

The necessity of “mission” (from the Latin missio, “sending”) in the Church is regulated by canon law, but is part of the divine positive law of Jesus Christ. Just as God the Father sends Christ, so Christ sends the Apostles in His Great “Commission” (Mt 28:18-20). And just as Christ sends the Apostles, so the Vicar of Christ sends the successors of the Apostles (who send their priests), so that Christ’s mission (of teaching, sanctifying and governing) can be carried out through the sacred priesthood, according to His will. Pope Pius XII teaches that bishops without canonical mission have no authority to even teach in the Church, much less administer the sacraments or exercise powers of governance: 

Granted this exception, it follows that bishops who have been neither named nor confirmed by the Apostolic See, but who, on the contrary, have been elected and consecrated in defiance of its express orders, enjoy no powers of teaching or of jurisdiction since jurisdiction passes to bishops only through the Roman Pontiff as We admonished in the Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis[2]

        Pope Pius XII went on to harshly condemn those validly consecrated bishops who exercise the power of Holy Orders without a canonical mission, likening them to “thieves and robbers” in the words of Our Lord: “Acts requiring the power of Holy Orders which are performed by ecclesiastics of this kind, though they are valid as long as the consecration conferred on them was valid, are yet gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious. To such conduct the warning words of the Divine Teacher fittingly apply: ‘He who enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up another way, is a thief and a robber.’”[3] Hence, the necessity for clergy to have canonical mission is not simply a matter of ecclesiastical law, but is of the divine law. The SSPX, in its own words, “is not above divine law…it too is bound to obey it.” 

SSPX Claim: After this introductory appeal to divine law, the Society continues to justify its rejection of the authority of the Church by appealing to “higher law.” It says:    

“In cases when a canonical law may work against the salvation of souls, it must be corrected, and until that correction is made by the competent authority, individuals can recognize that it does not bind in conscience. In fact, one would have a moral obligation to “disobey” a defective law that is unjust and works against the common good, and in reality, this is simply obedience to higher law.” 

Reply: As stated above, the SSPX’s existence as an experimental association of faithful was a creature of human positive law, and not divine law. But its ongoing operation, following its lawful suppression, without a juridical mission from the Catholic Church, is most certainly not a matter of “a canonical law,” but rather a matter of the divine law of Jesus Christ. It is not a question of the Church’s canon law “working against the salvation of souls,” but rather the SSPX that works against the salvation of souls by violating the law of Christ, which requires His ministers to be commissioned by lawful authority. Such clergy, who are not part of, nor sent by, the Roman Catholic Church, “work against the salvation of souls,” because they ultimately lead souls out of the Catholic Church and into their sects.

Far from “disobeying a defective law” of human authority, the SSPX disobeys the divine law which clergy to be sent by “ecclesiastical and canonical power” (Trent). The SSPX is not choosing “obedience to higher law,” but rather rejecting the higher law. Of course, rejecting the divine law necessarily imperils the salvation of souls, which is certainly the case here, since formal adherence to the Society’s unauthorized ministry “is a grave offence against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church's law” (John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, July 2, 1988). 

SSPX Claim: The Society continues:


“When a lower law, or at least its application in a particular case, conflicts with a higher one, the moral theologians McHugh and Callan respond: “The greater obligation prevails, and the lesser obligation disappears.” This has to do with the principle of epikeia, usually translated as “equity” in English, which can be defined as “the benign application of the law according to what is good and equitable, which decides that the lawgiver does not intend that, because of exceptional circumstances, some particular case be included under his general law.” The more specific a law is, the more likely it is to fail in extraordinary circumstances, and so epikeia is necessary to save the law itself when this occurs, by setting aside its letter in favor of the spirit.” 

Reply: The problem with the Society’s appeal to epikeia is that while epikeia operates by suspending the obligation to obey the letter of the law (human positive law) in the case of unforeseen circumstance, it never suspends the obligation to obey divine law, which foresees all things. Thus, epikeia does not act to suspend the divine law which requires its ministers to have juridical mission. Moreover, epikeia does not supply what is lacking in the SSPX to meet the requirements of divine law (namely, it does not give a juridical mission from the Church). Epikeia does not provide SSPX clergy a canonical mission or the faculties to baptize, preach or say Mass. Thus, the Society’s appeal to epikeia is self-defeating and only highlights the grave errors in its position. 

SSPX Claim:  The Society continues: 

“One who legitimately applies epikeia is not breaking the law but simply avoiding the legalistic attitude of the Pharisees. Nevertheless, it is not an excuse or free license to ignore laws according to one’s personal, subjective whims, because to do so would amount to simple disobedience. One must apply the letter of the law to the extent to which it is possible, even in the face of extraordinary conditions, and only set aside what is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the spirit of the law. If there is any doubt, ordinary means of resolving the situation must be consulted first; if they do not suffice, then one may conclude that there is a state of necessity in which recourse to epikeia may be made.” 

Reply: Notice that the SSPX attempts to define epikeia, but it does not actually apply the principle to its particular situation, as if its explanation of the virtue is sufficient to convince the reader that the principle “legitimately applies” to the SSPX and we can all move on. The SSPX frequently engages in this type of argumentation. For example, in its recent Crisis series of podcasts, priest after SSPX priest correctly professed that the Church is a visible hierarchical institution, but none of them explained why the Society does not have to be legally part of this institution (the Roman Catholic Church) to have a legitimate ministry. The Society does the same thing, as we will later see, when it correctly explains the virtue of obedience, but without explaining why it is justified in disobeying the Pope when he acts within the sphere of his authority and does not command sin. The Society uses the same approach in its appeal to epikeia, which, we have already shown, does not confer what is needed to legitimize the illicit ministry of its clergy. 

SSPX Claim: After wrongly focusing on human law and not the divine law which it violates, the SSPX then warns of the error of “legal positivism.” It goes on to say: 

“This error poses a particular danger to the faithful and devout soul by conflating true obedience with a false replacement of it, which consists of deferring to an authority even when that authority exceeds its purview by issuing a command contrary to the will of God. It is precisely this attitude, which has always been reprobated by the Church, that has led many Catholics, even those otherwise sympathetic to the SSPX, to wrongly condemn it.” 

Reply: As I have already mentioned here and demonstrated in detail in many other articles, a Catholic does not conflate true obedience with false obedience by 1) deferring to the Divine Law which 2) requires her ministers to have juridical mission, and 3) by rejecting those clergy who have not been “sent by ecclesiastical and canonical power.” To the contrary, by obeying Divine Law, a Catholic conforms himself “to the will of God, and rightly condemns the contrary attitude, held by the clergy of the SSPX, which has always been reprobated by the Church.” 

Canonical Establishment 

SSPX Claim: In this next section on Canonical Establishment, the SSPX claims that it was erected as a “society of common life” (which was a juridic person under the 1917 Code of canon law) as opposed to a “pious union” (which canonists have described as a lay association without juridic personality). The SSPX says: 

“Worried about the possibility that the seminarians, once ordained, would not be permitted to exercise their ministry in the dioceses due to their traditional ways, Abp. Lefebvre resolved to establish a formal canonical institute for them—and so the Society of St. Pius X was erected with the approval of Bp. Charrière on 1 November as a priestly society “of common life without vows, in the tradition of the Foreign Missionaries of Paris.” 

Reply: Now, whether the SSPX was erected as a society of common life (cn 673-674) or a pious union (cn 707) is not relevant to the SSPX’s lack of canonical status or mission in the Catholic Church today. It simply makes no difference. But the SSPX’s claim flies in the face of the facts, and this is important because it raises the question of the SSPX’s own credibility when one has to evaluate its case. 

As one can plainly see in Bishop Charrière’s decree, he approved the SSPX as a “Pious Union” and not as “an actual society of common life.” The decree reads, in pertinent part: 

“1. The ‘International Priestly Society of St. Pius X’ is erected in our diocese as a "Pia Unio" (Pious Union).” 

Moreover, the SSPX’s own statutes of November 1, 1970 acknowledge that it has been erected as a Pious Union and not a religious society of common life.  Section IV, 1. provides:

“The Society, in its beginnings, will depend on the bishop of the place who erected it into a “pious union” and approved its statutes, in conformity with the prescriptions of canon law.” 

         The SSPX’s claim that Bishop Charrière “likely made an error in terminology” is totally gratuitous and contrary to the facts. Because its own statutes provide that “priestly formation is the first and principal goal” of the SSPX, it better coincides with it being primarily a lay association of faithful who are being formed into priests and who would eventually be incardinated into dioceses and not the SSPX, just as Bishop Charrière’s decree provides. 

SSPX Claim: “Confusion of terms aside, this is all rectified by Rome’s recognition of the SSPX as not a mere pious union, but as an actual society of common life.” 

Reply: This claim is completely false. Rome did not issue any formal recognition of the SSPX, much less a recognition that it was a society of common life, because Bishop Charrière’s erection of the SSPX in his diocese for a period of six years ad experimentum did not require approval of the Holy See. As further explained below, Cardinal John Wright, who was the Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, issued a letter of congratulations to Lefebvre (on February 18, 1971), but the Cardinal refers to the SSPX as an “Association,” which is a term commonly used to describe lay organizations and pious unions, and not “an actual society of common life.” Thus, the Cardinal in his letter says just the opposite of what the SSPX claims he said. 

SSPX Claim:Within a few months, it had already expanded outside of the diocese of Bp. Charrière, as noted by John Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, who issued a decretum laudis on 18 February 1971, thus granting it pontifical right (c. 488 3°).” 

Reply: This claim is also a complete falsehood. As mentioned above, the Cardinal merely wrote a congratulatory letter to Lefebvre, acknowledging Bishop Charrière’s approbation and expressing “hope for its success.” The Cardinal’s letter was not a “decree” from the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy granting it “pontifical right” (as if it had the Pope’s ecclesiastical approbation). As mentioned above, the erection of a pious union by a bishop in his diocese did not need the approval of a Roman Congregation. For the SSPX to say that it is an association that has been established by “pontifical right” when it has not is totally dishonest. In fact, the SSPX’s own statutes state that it was not created or approved by pontifical right, but planned to seek such right in the future, per Section IV, 2: “As soon as the Society has houses in various dioceses, it will take the necessary steps to become of pontifical right.”

 Also, as mentioned above, Cardinal Wright in his letter twice refers to the SSPX as an “Association” [Associatio] which is consistent with it being a pious association or union of the faithful under canon 707 and, hence, without juridic personality (and which the SSPX even admits, as you will see below).[4]         

Finally, while the SSPX did gain the support of a few other bishops outside Switzerland, the SSPX did not juridically “expand” outside of the territorial jurisdiction in which it was approved, since the Bishop’s decree already fixed its territorial seat. The decree provides: “The seat of the Society is fixed as the Maison Saint Pie X (St. Pius X House), 50, rue de la Vignettaz, in our episcopal city of Fribourg.” That the SSPX today operates throughout the world is contrary to its own statutes, contrary to Bishop Charrière’s decree, and contrary to the will of the bishops of the dioceses in which the SSPX’s illicit operations take place.  

The actual contents of the letter can be viewed on the SSPX’s own website 

SSPX Claim: “Although Cdl. Wright’s use of the word ‘association’ seems more in keeping with the idea of the SSPX as a pious union, this is refuted by his letter to Abp. Lefebvre of 15 May stating that the Society would have the right to incardinate priests.” 

Reply: Of course, the SSPX was never given the right to incardinate (or “ascribe” under the 1917 Code) its own priests into the Society. Cardinal Wright’s alleged “refutation” of the SSPX being a Pious Union based on some potential “right to incardinate priests” that it could be granted in the future actually refutes nothing, because even if the SSPX were a “society of common life” with a juridic personality, as an ad experimentum society, the authority to incardinate priests trained in the Society remained with the diocesan bishop – as the SSPX’s own statutes confirm! Section IV, 2, provides: 

“Consequently, as long as the Fraternity has diocesan status, the members who are destined for the priesthood must be incardinated in a diocese before the definitive commitment, unless a special indult granted by the Sacred Congregation of Religious authorizes them to be incardinated into the Fraternity.”

        Thus, the SSPX’s reference, in June 2022, to a letter a Cardinal wrote to Lefebvre in May 1971 (which it does not produce), which refers to a possible future right to incardinate priests that never materialized, because it would be based upon a special indult of a Roman congregation that the SSPX was never granted, only proves that the Society did not have, and never had, the authority to incardinate priests into its association. Such arguments, so clearly proven to be false, seem to be advanced only for the purpose of confusing and even deceiving the faithful. 

SSPX Claim: “After 1971, there are three examples of priests being excardinated from their former dioceses or religious orders and incardinated into the SSPX. One is Fr. Urban Snyder, who transferred from the Trappist Order to the SSPX and taught at Écône from 1972 to 1976.” [The article fails to mention the other two; note that former SSPX priest Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer says there are only two such examples, not three.] 

Reply: This claim simply cannot be true, and that is presumably why the SSPX has not produced the purported decree of incardination from the Holy See for us to corroborate it. It cannot be true, inter alia, because: 

  • ·        the SSPX was a Pious Union without juridical personality and thus incapable of receiving priests through incardination;
  • ·        even if the SSPX were a society of common life, it existed ad experimentum and thus the incardination of its priests remained with the diocesan bishop;
  • ·        the SSPX’s own statutes, as we just saw, state that its existence depended upon the diocese and thus its ordinands were required to be incardinated into dioceses and not the SSPX; and,
  • ·        Abp. Lefebvre did not have ordinary jurisdiction to incardinate priests into his association, even if the association were juridically capable of receiving them. 

Of course, even if the Holy See granted a special indult for two or three priests to be incardinated into the SSPX before its suppression [which is not possible for a pious union, since a pious union lacks ordinary episcopal jurisdiction attached, which is required for such an incardination], no such indults would have been granted after the suppression in 1975, since the SSPX at that point in time ceased to legally exist, if it had any juridical existence at all (and this condition continues to exist today; it is not possible for a priest to be incardinated into the SSPX; all SSPX priests are considered vagus which is prohibited by canon 111.1 of the 1917 Code and canon 265 of the 1983 Code).

What the SSPX is most likely referring to in the case of Fr. Urban Snyder is not a decree of incardination granted to the Society, but rather a decree of exclaustration from the Holy See granted to Fr. Snyder himself, under canons 638-640 (1917 Code). Such a decree would have been granted to Fr. Snyder, giving him permission to live outside his Trappist Order (bound by vows) so that he could live the SSPX community (a community without vows) where he could teach in the seminary. Fr. Snyder would have also presumably been incardinated into the diocese of Lausanne-Geneva and Fribourg, Switzerland, and not the SSPX. If this conclusion is incorrect, let the Society produce the decree of incardination into the SSPX for Fr. Snyder it supposedly received from the Holy See. 

The Suppression 

We now move on to the next section, which the Society calls “The Suppression.” In this section, as you might guess, the Society actually claims that the Pope’s suppression of the SSPX – a provisional, experimental association founded upon ecclesiastical law, with a pending canonical expiration date, was invalid. Why? The SSPX claims that the Pope’s suppression suffered from alleged and unproven canonical irregularities (which, if true, would actually be cured by the Pope’s in forma specifica confirmation, by virtue of his supreme and universal jurisdiction whose source is divine law), and also violated “natural justice” (even though the Pope did not take anything away from Lefebvre or the Society that they were due in justice). Let us now look at the specifics. 

SSPX Claim: “On 26 March 1974, Rome decided to compile a report on the Society. Around June, Pope Paul VI allegedly established an ad hoc Commission of Cardinals; it has not been demonstrated that this act took place in an official manner, because the decree establishing such a “Commission” has never been produced.” 

Reply: This claim is an attempt to cast doubt upon the formal ecclesiastical process that took place which led to the Society’s lawful suppression, and it is completely irrelevant to the suppression. First of all, Pope Paul VI did, in “an official manner,” state in his June 29, 1975 letter to Lefebvre that he ordered the Commission to be set up. Why does the SSPX also require a papal “decree”; isn’t the Pope’s letter “official” enough? And if there were a papal decree, in addition to the letter, does that mean the SSPX would have, only then, submitted to the Commission’s decision? The claim is nonsensical. Second, and more importantly, what difference does it make whether Pope Paul VI established the Commission “in an official manner,” on his own, or whether he “officially” approved Cardinal Tabera’s establishment of the Commission? None, of course. This claim is simply intended to poison the well to discount the subsequent actions of the Holy Father.

The fact remains that, whether the Pope initially established the Commission by himself, or merely approved its formation, he ultimately made the Commission’s decision to suppress the Society his own, by approving the decision in forma specifica. That means it does not matter whether he initially formed the Commission “in an official manner” by himself or not. His in forma specifica confirmation of the Society’s suppression was confirmed both by the Apostolic Signatura’s rejection of Lefebvre’s appeal on June 10, 1975, as well as Pope Paul VI’s letter to Lefebvre that same month, in which the Holy Father uses the term “Ours” (a reference to the Popes) by stating:  We made all and each of them [the decisions of the Commission] Ours, and We personally ordered that they be immediately put into force.”[5] Paul VI repeated the same with another letter to Lefevre on October 11, 1976, in which he stated: “Your declaration of November 21, 1974, bears witness to this spirit; and upon such a foundation, as Our Commission of Cardinals rightly judged, on May 6, 1975, one cannot build an institution or a priestly formation in conformity with the requirements of the Church of Christ.”[6]

Given that the Society insists upon the production of ecclesiastical decrees to prove certain actions were taken, we place the same burden on the Society to produce the decrees of incardination (ascription) into the Society that were allegedly issued by the Holy See for Fr. Urban Snyder and possibly others. 

SSPX Claim: The Society goes to discuss the two Apostolic Visitors that Rome sent to the Society beginning November 11, 1974 and how Abp. Lefebvre was scandalized by some of their comments. Thus, says the Society: “This is what caused Abp. Lefebvre to pen his famous Declaration on 21 November 1974 of adherence to eternal Rome and rejection of the novelties of modernist Rome. A modified version was released without permission, and this was ultimately cited as the reason for suppressing the SSPX.” 

Reply: This is another example of poisoning the well and also playing the blame game, a spirit which is present throughout this current study. Why claim that a “modified version [of Lefebvre’s infamous Declaration, which was published in the French magazine Itinéraires] was released without permission”? Even if true, what difference would that make? And if it makes a difference, then why doesn’t the Society produce both the modified and unmodified versions, to explain how the “modified version” (that Rome evidently relied upon) differed from the unmodified version, which reflected Lefebvre’s actual beliefs? Finally, Lefebvre had every opportunity to explain (clarify, modify, retract, etc.) his Declaration (whatever version Rome was relying upon) to the ad hoc Commission of Cardinals, in order to dissuade the Commission from using it “as the reason for suppressing the SSPX.” But he chose not to.

Is this unidentified author of the SSPX actually claiming that the Society was suppressed due to an unauthorized “leak” within Lefebvre’s inner circle, who mischaracterized Lefebvre’s doctrinal positions, and Lefebvre had no opportunity to correct the misinformation? The insinuation is absurd. 

SSPX Claim: The Society continues: 

“Meanwhile, on 24 January 1975, the successor to Bp. Charrière of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, Bp. Pierre Mamie, asked permission from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, Cdl. Tabera, to suppress the SSPX. Cdl. Tabera responded on 25 April, telling Bp. Mamie that he himself had the authority to withdraw approval and invited him to write the decree of suppression himself, presumably based on the false premise that the SSPX was a mere pious union. As discussed earlier, this is most assuredly not the case, and only the Apostolic See had the authority to suppress a society of common life (c. 493); thus, Bp. Mamie’s act was rendered invalid due to his lack of jurisdiction.” 

Reply: This is another example of intentionally misleading the reader. First, Bishop Mamie was not operating “on the false premise that the SSPX was a mere pious union” because his predecessor, as we have seen, decreed that the SSPX was erected as a pious union! And, moreover, the SSPX’s own statutes acknowledge that it was erected as a pious union! On what other “premise” should Bishop Mamie have been acting, if not on the legal decrees of his predecessor bishop and the statutes of the SSPX? The Society’s claim is as ridiculous as it is unreasonable.

          Second, why does the SSPX conclude the paragraph by telling the reader that “only the Apostolic See had the authority to suppress a society of common life (c. 493)” without telling the reader that the Apostolic See did suppress the Society of St. Pius X!? Again, the SSPX is being completely disingenuous. This factual omission is clearly intended to deceive the reader into the believing that the SSPX was unlawfully suppressed, even though it was not.

Now, Bishop Mamie’s act of suppression, which was urged by Cardinal Tabera, was not rendered invalid due to a lack of jurisdiction, because Mamie had the authority to suppress a pious union without the approval of the Holy See, under canon 699 (1917 Code).  But as stated above, on the very same day Bishop Mamie suppressed the SSPX (May 6, 1975), Lefebvre received a letter from the Prefect for the Congregation for Religious (Cardinal Tabera), setting forth the decision of the Commission of Cardinals convoked by Pope Paul VI to suppress the Society. Hence, if the SSPX were a society of common life as it claims, it was lawfully suppressed by the Apostolic See in accordance with canon 493.

According to the very argument the Society makes in the Introduction section of this study, the Society admits that rescripts from the Congregation for Religious constitute approvals from the Apostolic See. Says the SSPX: 

“This was approved by rescript of the Congregation for Religious, which would have constituted approval from the Apostolic See, as the use of the term “Apostolic See” throughout the 1917 Code refers to not only the Roman Pontiff himself, but also “the Congregations, Tribunals, and Offices by means of which the Roman Pontiff is wont to transact the affairs of the Universal Church.”   

Again, the Society hoists itself on its own petard. Needless to say, we see a pattern of misleading and even factually erroneous arguments repeatedly made by the SSPX to deceive its readers. Why would the SSPX claim that Bishop Mamie’s suppression was unlawful because it wasn’t suppressed by the Apostolic See, when the Society actually was suppressed by the Apostolic See, according to its own reasoning, and which was also approved in forma specifica by the Pope? The answer can only be to mislead its readers into believing the SSPX was unlawfully suppressed.  

SSPX Claim:On 13 February and 3 March 1975, Abp. Lefebvre met with the Commission of Cardinals, supposedly to discuss the results of the Apostolic Visitation. Unknown to him, he was actually on trial, but he was not told about this beforehand, a violation of natural justice and procedural law.” 

Reply: This claim is a dramatic exaggeration to gain sympathy for Lefebvre, and the claim is false. It is made to look as if Abp. Lefebvre was ambushed and otherwise mistreated. Abp. Lefebvre was not “on trial” in these meetings, nor did the Church say he was on trial, because he had not been summoned before a legal tribunal of the Church in a procedural finding of fact, with a judge and opposing counsel. Rather, Lefebvre was invited by the Commission to discuss the Apostolic visitation, which is common procedure in the Church, as well as his 1974 Declaration. Hence, all the SSPX’s arguments about the lack of a notary, defense counsel and other alleged procedural irregularities that would be relevant in a canonical trial are moot, since Lefebvre was not on canonical trial.

Of course, Lefebvre, as a matter of “natural justice” toward his seminarians and the Church, had an obligation to appear before the Commission (which he rightfully did) to discuss the visitation. After all, his pious union existed only ad experimentum, and he had a duty to engage in discussions with the Commission about its future. Further, Lefebvre also had a duty to defend his 1974 Declaratio, in which he declared his opposition to the current Magisterium.

There was nothing about these meetings which “violated natural justice and procedural law.” To the contrary, by declaring his refusal to submit to the Magisterium, all the while being allowed by the Church to form priests according to the pre-conciliar rites, Lefebvre was violating justice by disobeying his superiors. In so doing, Lefebvre voluntarily put a target on his back, and he had no one to blame but himself. And when Lefebvre was given the opportunity by the Commission to retract his incendiary proclamation to save his society, he refused to do so.[7] 

SSPX Claim: Quite incredibly, the Society then goes on to claim that procedural irregularities rendered the Pope’s in forma specifica confirmation of the suppression invalid! They say: 

“Paul VI had not attempted any confirmation at the time when Cdl. Staffa put Abp. Lefebvre’s appeal in suspensivo, but on 29 June 1975, he wrote to Abp. Lefebvre personally to try to grant retroactive validity to a previously invalid act.” 

Reply: This is more smoke and mirrors, and it only undermines the credibility of the Society’s position and its complete disregard for the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff. First, the timing of Pope Paul VI’s confirmation of the suppression is irrelevant; the only thing that is relevant is that he confirmed the Commission’s suppression in forma specifica.

Second, the claim that the Holy Father did not “attempt any confirmation” at the time Cardinal Staffa put Lefebvre’s appeal in suspensivo is false, because the Commission’s May 6, 1975 letter to Lefebvre reveals that Paul VI had already approved the suppression prior to Lefebvre’s appeal (on May 21, 1975). The letter states that the Commission’s conclusions were “given to the Pope together with the complete dossier of the affair so that he could judge for himself. It is with the entire approval of His holiness that we communicate the following decisions to you: […].[8]

Third, the SSPX’s claim that the Pope was “personally trying to grant retroactive validity to a previously invalid act” is mindboggling. The Society’s assertion that Bishop Mamie’s suppression was invalid has already been proven false; the bishop had the authority to suppress a Pious Union under canon 699, and moreover, the SSPX’s ad experimentum status was about to expire. But even if the SSPX were a society of common life which required suppression by the Apostolic See, it was suppressed by the Apostolic See, as we have seen. Finally, there was no finding of fact or conclusions of law which rendered the suppression illegal before the Pope confirmed it; and even if the suppression did suffer from canonical defects, they were sanated by the Pope’s in forma specifica confirmation. The Society has no case. 

SSPX Claim: The excuses which allegedly invalidate Pope Paul VI’s suppression of the Society continue: 

“For Paul VI to specifically confirm the suppression of the SSPX, he would have to take the Cardinals’ decision and render it his own, specifically confirm the illegal delegation of authority from the Cardinals to Bp. Mamie, and also specifically confirm the latter’s illegal exercise of that authority. Had he done this, any invalidity brought about by the canonical irregularities in procedure and the incompetence of the lower authorities would have been sanated, rendering an appeal impossible (c. 1880 1º). Yet in his letter of 29 June, Paul VI only writes that he ordered the Commission to be set up (though the decree establishing this is still nowhere to be found) and “made all and each of [its conclusions] Ours, and We personally ordered that they be immediately put into force.” 

Reply: This argumentation is simply bizarre. The Society expressly concedes that if the Pope had taken the Cardinals’ decision and rendered it his own, it would have sanated the alleged illegal acts of the Commission and Bishop Mamie and Lefebvre’s appeal would have been impossible. But that is exactly what happened! The Society is hoisted on its own petard once again. Evidently, the Society believes that the Pope was bound to somehow articulate, in his in forma specifica confirmation, that he was confirming illegal acts. This purely gratuitous and false assertion only underscores that the SSPX fails to accept the fact that the Pope is the supreme legislator of the Church, who already determined that the acts of the Commission and Bishop Mamie were legal, not illegal. That decision itself is not appealable.

Second, even if these acts were illegal, the Pope’s in forma specifica confirmation cures all canonical defects in the root by virtue of his universal jurisdiction, and this is a matter of divine law, not canon law. This fact rendered Lefebvre’s subsequent appeal moot, which is why it was rightly rejected by the Apostolic Signatura. All of the alleged canonical irregularities and infractions that the Society claims occurred during its suppression (which remain unproven allegations) simply have no bearing upon the exercise of the Pope’s supreme jurisdiction over the SSPX, an association that existed ad experimentum and whose existence depended upon the will of the Pope and was about to expire.  

The SSPX fails to recognize that the Pope’s decision is not appealable, not because of canon 1880; rather, the Pope’s decision is unappealable because he has supreme and universal jurisdiction over the discipline and government of the entire Church as a matter of divine law – which, unfortunately, the SSPX rejects, at least in the practical order. Once again, the Society fails to recognize the distinction between canon law and divine law, as it does with the necessity of juridical mission. There was nothing contrary to justice in the Pope suppressing (or confirming the suppression) of an ad experimentum association, that was a creature of ecclesiastical law, and whose subjects were not even those of Lefebvre but of the diocesan bishop (not to mention that Lefebvre had also already declared war against the ecclesiastical authorities he was legally subject to). 

SSPX Claim: The Society concludes this section with the following statement: 

“With the foregoing facts resolved, one can only conclude that today, the SSPX has just as much juridic personality as it did before the so-called “suppression” took place, and so its mission of forming holy priests and exercising priestly ministry, thereby participating in the Church’s three-fold mission of sanctifying, teaching, and governing, remains valid. In light of this, its members can legitimately invoke the state of necessity and the principle of epikeia to justify seemingly illicit ordinations, episcopal consecrations, and other acts which are inherent to its mission.” 

Reply: This closing paragraph repeats old errors and introduces new ones. First, as a Pious Union, the SSPX did not have a juridic personality. As one apologist for the Society even admitted: “A "pia unio," as [cc*.] 707-708 make clear, is not normally a moral person.  It means a lay association.”[9] As Woywod states, “pious unions…are not legal persons.”[10] Thus, even if the SSPX weren’t suppressed, it would have “as much juridic personality as it did before,” which is none at all.

Second, having a juridical status does not give one the right to “exercise the priestly ministry.” Rather, a canonical mission is required to licitly carry out the Church’s “three-fold mission of sanctifying, teaching and governing.” The juridical structure of the Church exists in order to carry out the juridical mission of the Church. The SSPX, as a pious union, was never part of the juridical structure of the Church, which is the first and necessary step to receive a juridical mission from her. But even if the SSPX were a juridic person within the Catholic Church (which it is not, as Pope Benedict XVI declared in 2009 and Cardinal Burke recently confirmed in 2021), that alone would not give it the right to exercise the priesthood, because its clergy do not have a canonical mission. Hence, all of its priestly acts remain unlawful (as Archbishop Pozzo recently confirmed).

Third, as we have explained, epikeia suspends human positive law in unforeseen circumstances to fulfill the will of the legislator, but it does not suspend divine law or provide what is required by divine law, here, a juridical mission. As applied here, epikeia does not provide mission or jurisdiction for the SSPX’s “illicit ordinations, episcopal consecrations, and other acts which are inherent to its mission.” The Society has no mission. Moreover, Abp. Lefebvre repeatedly acted contrary to the will of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, in carrying out his illicit ministry, which ultimately led to his excommunication. Thus, epikeia can in no way be used to justify the ministry of the Society, because since 1975 its illicit ministry has been contrary to the will of the supreme legislator of the Church and the laws he has enacted.   

 Continued in Part II

[1] Council of Trent, On the Sacrament of Orders, Session 23, Canon VII (July 15, 1563).

[2] Pius XII, Ad Apostolorum Principis, No. 39 (June 29, 1958).

[3] Ibid., Nos 41-42 (emphasis added).

[4] Fr. Charles Augustine translates Canon 707.1 as “Associations of the faithful founded to further some piety or charity, are known as pious organizations.”

[5] Davies, Apologia, Part 1, pp. 112-113.


[7] Michael Davies, Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, p. 47.

[8] Lessard-Thibodeau’s 2018 canonical study “Arriving at the Juridic Status of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X,” p. 9.

[9] Cathey, “The Legal Background to the Erection and Alleged Suppression of the Society of Saint Pius X," p. 444.

[10] Woywod, A Practical Commentary, para. 600.