THE SSPX SAYS SEDEVACANTIST MASSES ARE LESS DANGEROUS THAN RESISTANCE MASSES
1 September A.D. 2021
A few months ago, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) published a video (Episode 28 of the Society’s Crisis in the Church series) in which Fr. Robinson, as a spokesman for the SSPX, addressed whether Catholics could attend non-SSPX traditional Masses (I just discovered the video this week). While we don’t wish to downplay the crisis in the Church, particularly in light of Pope Francis’ latest assault on tradition (Traditionis Custodes), the notion that a priest with no canonical permission to say Mass could sit in judgment on whether Catholics could attend traditional Masses offered by priests with canonical mission seems odd enough. Indeed, this is evidence of the very crisis we are in.
In Fr. Robinson’s presentation, no mention was made of the necessity of canonical mission in order for a priest to licitly offer Mass, the absence of which the Church has always taught is a sacrilege. Neither was it mentioned that the absolutions of (non-SSPX) independent and Sedevacantist priests who offer the traditional Mass are invalid (during the show, both Fr. Robinson and the host of the program acknowledged, without objection, that Catholics go to confession to such priests). Fr. Robinson also cast doubt upon the validity of Novus Ordo Masses by questioning whether to attend traditional Masses where Novus Ordo hosts are distributed.
But what was most disturbing about this interview was Fr. Robinson’s statement that it is less dangerous for a Catholic to attend a Sedevacantist Mass than a Resistance Mass! You read that correctly. Fr. Robinson claims that it is more dangerous for a Catholic to assist at a Mass offered by a Resistance priest who accepts the conciliar Popes as true Popes than a Mass offered by a Sedevacantist priest who rejects the last five or six Popes and practically the entire Church hierarchy of the past 60 years. In Fr. Robinson’s own words:
Fr. Robinson: “I would like to mention that, obviously, I think there are certain things that can be said, like I think going to a Sedevacantist Mass would generally be fairly dangerous; going to a Resistance Mass I think would be more dangerous because of the scandalous situation in which they exist on a regular basis.”
Frankly, it is difficult to believe Fr. Robinson made this statement on behalf of the SSPX. The statement is not only false but entirely reckless and poses a danger to the faithful. According to Fr. Robinson, the “scandalous situation” of the Resistance priests (whose target, let’s face it, is the SSPX) is graver than that of the Sedevacantists, whose target is and has been the Church herself (her Popes and hierarchy for the last six decades). How could Fr. Robinson come to such a conclusion, when the Resistance opposes some of the SSPX’s doctrinal positions, while the Sedevacantists reject the infallible doctrines of the Church, concerning her marks and attributes? According to Fr. Robinson, there is less harm in worshiping with notorious heretics who reject the Pope (Sedevacantist clergy have openly left the Church and believe the Catholic Church is a false church, and hence are notorious heretics) than with the Resistance clergy and laity who recently broke ranks with the SSPX but still believe we have a Pope and a hierarchy.
We must ask what priest who cares for souls could possibly conclude that it is less dangerous for a Catholic to worship in the heretical milieu of Sedevacantism, whose entire orientation is against the Church, rather than with those who believe the Pope is the Pope and reject the heresy of Sedevacantism (although they embrace lessor errors)? Fr. Robinson well knows the dangers of Sedevacantism and how it leads Catholics out of the Church (after all, he endorsed our book True or False Pope? which explained these errors). And yet Fr. Robinson indicates that one’s salvation is more imperiled by attending a Resistance Mass (where the priests and faithful seek prayerful union with the Pope, albeit illicitly) than a Sedevacantist Mass (where priests omit Pope Francis from the canon and promote the heresies of Sedevacantism and the “invisible” Church, among other things, in their sermons).
For Fr. Robinson, the Resistance Mass is “more dangerous” than the “fairly dangerous” Sedevacantist Mass, which is offered by clergy who encourage their patrons to leave the Roman Catholic Church as they themselves have done. While both the Resistance and Sedevacantism are canonically irregular movements that have no mission from the Church and thus whose Masses and sacraments are illicit (and confessions and marriages invalid), to claim that Sedevacantism is less dangerous proves too much for the SSPX and belies its claim of seeking the salvation of souls.
Understanding the Gravity of Sedevacantism
Perhaps Fr. Robinson does not truly understand the gravity of the errors and heresies of Sedevacantism as we thought he did. After all, Sedevacantists also reject the ordinations of some of Fr. Robinson’s fellow SSPX priests, that is, those who were ordained in the Novus Ordo and not conditionally ordained in the old rite (a position that both Fr. Robinson and the Resistance reject). Most recently, Fr. Mauro Tranquillo of the SSPX erroneously claimed that Sedevacantist priests receive supplied jurisdiction to validly absolve in the sacrament of confession (an error that I thoroughly refute in my article on the topic). These positions recently advanced by the SSPX suggest that they believe Sedevacantism is merely a theological opinion, albeit an erroneous one, but nevertheless one that is less dangerous than those held by non-Sedevacantists (e.g., Resistance, Novus Ordo priests), and not a grave sin against the Faith.
The truth is just the opposite. Sedevacantism, which rejects the man the Church has universally accepted as Pope – is indeed a grave error and sin against the Faith, and far graver than the errors promoted by the Resistance or even Novus Ordo priests who are trying to remain faithful to the Church. Moreover, as traditional theologians like John of St. Thomas and Suarez teach, this rejection of the reigning Pope constitutes a heresy. This is based on the definition of Pope Martin V who, in his bull Inter Cunctas (1418), required those suspected of heresy to profess that the currently reigning Pope (his proper name being given) is the successor of St. Peter with universal jurisdiction over the Church. Based on this definitive question, which those suspected of heresy had to answer to demonstrate that they professed the true faith, John of St. Thomas explains that the legitimacy of the currently reigning Pope is a matter of Faith. Commenting on the definitive profession of faith required by Pope Martin, he wrote:
These words do not speak of the truth of that proposition [whether he is the legitimate Pope) as understood in a general sense—namely, that whoever is lawfully elected is the Supreme Pontiff—but in the particular, concerning whoever is Pope at the time, giving his proper name, for instance, Innocent X [who was reigning at the time]. It is of this man, whose proper name is given, that the Pope [Pope Martin] is bidding the person suspect in faith to be asked, whether he believes that such a person is the successor of Peter and the Supreme Pontiff: therefore this pertains to the act of faith—not to an inference or a moral certitude; for neither of the latter two is a matter of faith. (Corpus, n. 13)
This means that the legitimacy of the reigning Pope accepted by the Church is de fide, the rejection of which would constitute a sin against the Faith, which is the very position of today’s Sedevacantists – whose Masses the SSPX says are less dangerous than those of the Resistance who accept the reigning Pope as Pope.
John of St. Thomas further explains that it would be contrary to the special providence of God for a man, who does not meet the required conditions for papal election, to be accepted as Pope by the Church. He wrote:
[I]t is not merely a pious belief, but a theological conclusion (as we have stated), that God will not permit one to be elected and peacefully accepted by the Church who in fact does not meet the conditions required; this would be contrary to the special providence that God exercises over the Church and the assistance that she receives from the Holy Ghost.
Cardinal Billot teaches the same:
[T]he infallible providence of God will prevent it from ever happening that the whole Church adhere to a false head; consequently, no one will ever be accepted as supreme pontiff who does not meet all the conditions necessary to be a member, whatever those conditions may be. That visibility, therefore, by which the true Church is recognizable as such, is in no way imperiled.
John of St. Thomas proceeds to explain precisely when the universal acceptance becomes sufficient to prove that the man is a legitimate Pope. Note well that John compares this moment of acceptance with a definition of faith promulgated by a council (underscoring how they both pertain to the faith as objects thereof). He wrote:
All that remains to be determined, then, is the exact moment when the acceptance of the Church becomes sufficient to render the proposition de fide. Is it as soon as the cardinals propose the elect to the faithful who are in the immediate locality, or only when knowledge of the election has sufficiently spread through the whole world, wherever the Church is to be found?
I REPLY that (as we have said above) the unanimous election of the cardinals and their declaration is similar to a definition given by the bishops of a Council legitimately gathered. Moreover, the acceptance of the Church is, for us, like a confirmation of this declaration. Now, the acceptance of the Church is realized both negatively, by the fact that the Church does not contradict the news of the election wherever it becomes known, and positively, by the gradual acceptance of the prelates of the Church, beginning with the place of the election, and spreading throughout the rest of the world. As soon as men see or hear that a Pope has been elected, and that the election is not contested, they are obliged to believe that that man is the Pope, and to accept him.
Again, note that the Cardinals’ election and declaration “is similar to a definition given by the bishops of a Council legitimately gathered,” which is then “confirmed” by the rest of the Church through its “acceptance” of the election. The universal acceptance is considered to exist when the election becomes known and is not contested by the Church, and is accepted by the prelates. While more could be said on the de fide doctrine of Pope Martin V and peaceful and universal acceptance, the point has been made that the Sedevacantists’ rejection of the doctrine is a far graver danger to the faith than the errors promoted by the Resistance, who reject the heresy of Sedevacantism. Contrary to the claims of Fr. Robinson and the SSPX, Sedevacantist chapels, in which traditional Masses are offered, pose a greater danger to souls.
Fr. Robinson Admits His Spiritual
Advice on which Mass
to Attend is Sometimes Based on “Political Reasons”
While Fr. Robinson claims that his advice on which traditional Masses Catholics can attend is based on “doctrine,” he provides no “doctrine” in support of his position that Sedevacantist Masses are less dangerous than Resistance Masses. Rather, he makes a stunning admission in the interview, that his spiritual counsel to souls on the question of which traditional Mass one can attend is often not based on doctrine but “political reasons.” In Fr. Robinson’s own words:
Fr. Robinson: “There’s other situations where, you know, just for what we might call political reasons, I wouldn’t want to commit on saying something like, if someone asked me, they are going to Nebraska, and the FSSP [Fraternity of St. Peter] is there, Father, should I go to that Mass?…
Rather than explaining why a Catholic should or should not attend an FSSP Mass on doctrinal or canonical grounds, Fr. Robinson referred to the political landscape of the SSPX and FSSP, how “the Society of St. Pius X and the FSSP have a history,” that priests who formed the FSSP in 1988 “betrayed” Archbishop Lefebvre, how they “continue to speak against” the SSPX, and thus hold a “compromised” position.
Fr. Robinson’s characterization of the FSSP along with his admission of “political” motivations for his spiritual advice are unfortunate, to say the least. While Fr. Robinson is entitled to give his theological opinions, it does not seem proper for him, or any priest for that matter, to give spiritual counsel about where to attend Mass based on what he calls “political reasons.” If Fr. Robinson believes, on doctrinal grounds, that the FSSP would be a danger to souls, he should not convolute the discussion by making reference to “political reasons.” After all, Fr. Robinson interjected that the question of which Mass to attend “is about saving souls.” Rather, he should spell out the doctrinal or canonical grounds that form the basis of his objection, which he did not do in this case, other than say the FSSP is “compromised” for “betraying” Archbishop Lefebvre. None of this is truly helpful to the faithful.
Perhaps Fr. Robinson is simply being honest here and admitting that there are no doctrinal or canonical grounds (only political ones) for objecting to assisting at FSSP Masses, especially when the FSSP has a canonical mission from the Church and hence offers licit sacraments, while the same cannot be said for either the SSPX, the Resistance or the Sedevacantist clergy. Indeed, at the end of the discussion on the FSSP, Fr. Robinson concedes there are no doctrinal objections to assisting at FSSP Masses because he ultimately tells the faithful: “I’m going to leave that for you to decide.” Of course, if the FSSP posed a danger to souls, Fr. Robinson would not “leave it to the faithful to decide” whether to attend their Masses; he would advise them not to do so and explain why (or commit a grave sin of omission).
The Apparent Position of the SSPX:
All Canonically-Approved Traditional Masses
Leave Room for Doubt
And that might be the second biggest problem with Fr. Robinson’s interview – he casts a cloud of suspicion and doubt upon all Church-approved traditional Masses, including those offered by the FSSP and ICK. But he provides no general principles that seek to resolve the question of whether Catholics can attend them. Rather, in a very confusing, if not deceptive way, he chalks up the attendance question to the “practical details” and the “specific context” of cases, which evidently can only be definitively judged by an SSPX priest once he knows all the facts (at least that is the impression he gives). Until then, Fr. Robinson leaves the faithful with lingering doubts about whether to attend Church-approved traditional Masses, and shouldering the burden to resolve the question on their own.
Clearly, Fr. Robinson has no doctrinal or canonical basis for his objection or hesitation with FSSP Masses, at least none that he was willing to commit to explaining and defending. Again, he articulates no general principle that applies to the FSSP or ICK as a whole that would provide grounds for his reservations (other than the fact that they are not SSPX). He even admits the FSSP and ICK are in “a much more normal ecclesiastical situation” (More normal? Than those of the SSPX and their Resistance and Sedevacantist offshoots, which have no canonical mission and, ironically, all sprung from Archbishop Lefebvre?). And that means Fr. Robinson has no basis to question them at all.
Because there are no doctrinal reasons for favoring a Sedevacantist Mass over a Resistance Mass, or an illicit Mass over a canonically-approved Mass, all this gives the impression that Fr. Robinson and the SSPX are indeed being “political” about this grave question of whether Catholics can attend illicit traditional Masses. But that would be playing fast and loose with people’s souls. Perhaps because the Resistance is more of a threat to the SSPX than Sedevacantist chapels in terms of recruiting SSPX Mass attendees, the SSPX is telling their adherents that the Resistance poses a greater danger, to keep them in their ranks. This would indeed be a “political reason,” using Fr. Robinson’s words. The same argument would be applicable to the FSSP and ICK, who pose a greater threat of recruiting SSPX laity than do the Sedevacantists.
While Fr. Robinson claimed the SSPX’s position “it’s not about getting our numbers up and getting more money in the collection plate” (with a caption in the video that says “IT’S NOT A COMPETITION THING”), that is precisely the impression he gave. Whatever the case may be, there are no doctrinal or canonical reasons supporting the SSPX’s position on Sedevacantist vs. Resistance Masses and illegal vs. canonically approved Masses, and certainly none that Fr. Robinson attempted to explain.
When raising the question of whether Catholics can attend FSSP and ICK Masses, Fr. Robinson was careful to hedge his position by admitting, on the one hand, that if he tells people not to attend the FSSP or ICK, it would be a “schismatic mentality,” and, on the other hand, and in the same breath, questioning the prudence of attending their approved Masses (which will have the same effect as telling them not to attend their Masses, for those who look to Fr. Robinson and the SSPX for advice). In fact, this attitude does evince a schismatic mentality, because it casts doubt about whether Catholics can attend Church-approved traditional Masses and worship with those subject to the Pope and the local bishop. Fr. Robinson confirms this when he concludes that there is still a “problem” (with Church-approved traditional Masses) and “there is a difference between the Society and the Fraternity…in fact, there is a real difference.”
Of course, that “real difference,” as we have said, is that the FSSP and ICK have a canonical mission from the Church and offer licit traditional Masses while the SSPX does not, and the Church has always taught that participating in illicit Masses is sinful and sacrilegious. The real question for traditionalists is not whether they can attend non-SSPX traditional Masses, but whether Catholics are fulfilling their Sunday obligations (which is a strict legal obligation under pain of mortal sin) by assisting at non-canonically approved Masses (SSPX, Resistance, Sedevacantist) or whether they are committing grave sin and sacrilege by assisting at such Masses. The SSPX would do well to address these topics in their Crisis Series of podcasts.
 For example, Cardinal Billot wrote: “This introduction shows, first, that legitimate dispensation of the sacraments can only come from the Catholic Church, so that anyone who does not have a mission from her, by that very fact administers illicitly, and anyone who by receiving the sacrament communicates with the sin of the minister receives sacrilegiously.”; “But the sacraments are the property of Christ. Hence they can be legitimately dispensed only by those who have a mission from Christ, i.e. those to whom the apostolic mission has been transmitted.” Billot on Sacraments and Mission, https://archive.org/details /DeMembris Ecclesiae.
 Based on Fr. Mauro Tranquillo’s recent interview (Episode 34, Crisis Series), it appears that the SSPX holds the erroneous position that all priests, including Sedevacantist priests, receive supplied jurisdiction for confessions due to “the state of necessity.” I address this error in detail in my article Do Sedevacantist and “Independent” Priests Receive Supplied Jurisdiction for Confessions? John Salza Responds to Fr. Tranquillo, SSPX, August 2021.
 Fr. Robinson’s position stems from a deeper error concerning sacramental intention which started with Archbishop Lefebvre and has been promoted by the SSPX for decades and which we will address in an upcoming article.
 “Whoever would deny that a particular man is Pope after he has been peacefully and canonically accepted, would not only be a schismatic, but also a heretic; for, not only would he rend the unity of the Church… but he would also add to this a perverse doctrine, by denying that the man accepted by the Church is to be regarded as the Pope and the rule of faith. Pertinent here is the teaching of St. Jerome (Commentary on Titus, chapter 3) and of St. Thomas (IIa IIae Q. 39 A. 1 ad 3), that every schism concocts some heresy for itself, in order to justify its withdrawal from the Church. Thus, although schism is distinct from heresy, in most cases it is accompanied by the latter, and prepares the way for it. In the case at hand, whoever would deny the proposition just stated would not be a pure schismatic, but also a heretic, as Suarez also reckons [above, in the solution to the fourth objection]” (John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologicus II-II, Tome, Questions 1-7 on Faith. Disputation 8, A. 2).
 Billot, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, vol. I, Q. 7: “On the Members of the Church.”
 John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologici II-II, Tome, Q. 1-7 on Faith, Disp. 8, Art. 2.
 ICK refers to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which is a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right.