Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

The SSPX, Jews, and Authority

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 21, 2011

Since Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of Saint Pius X has yet again made a number of anti-Jewish statements, various Jewish leaders are calling for the Pope to suspend talks with the SSPX. This is an unfair reaction. The head of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has long since made it clear that Bishop Williamson’s attitudes are not those of the Society as a whole (see, for example, Roundup: angry reactions to Bishop Williamson; disavowals from SSPX, Church leaders).

During a controversy which erupted over Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust in early 2009, Bishop Fellay silenced Williamson, urged him to correct what he called “nonsense”, and removed him as rector of the SSPX’s La Reja seminary near Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, the letter Fellay wrote at that time, to which we linked at the end of our story, no longer appears on the SSPX website. But Williamson now apparently holds no jurisdiction over souls in the SSPX at all. So it is really not fair for Jewish leaders to attempt to deny doctrinal reconciliation between the Church and the SSPX based on Richard Williamson’s remarks.

In an earlier commentary, I pointed out that personal racial, ethnic and religious prejudice, while sinful, is hardly a formal impediment to membership in church or synogogue (see And Far Too Crazy). Nonetheless, there is a point of doctrinal interest here. The SSPX wisely holds that its bishops and priests should preach and speak publicly about faith and morals, keeping their private opinions on other matters to themselves, and Bishop Fellay has invoked this prudential point against Bishop Williamson. But Bishop Williamson actually appears to hold the collective guilt of the Jewish people for Deicide as a matter of doctrine, in open contradiction to Catholic teaching which goes back half a millennium or more. Judging by many messages favorable to Williamson on SSPX-related blogs, this belief seems to have at least some traction in the ranks. Some priests in the society have indicated the same. That is a cause of internal doctrinal concern if the SSPX has no formal inclination to disagree with the Church on this matter.

Moreover, it is exactly questions of this kind—where some or even many in the SSPX actually hold positions contrary to the Catholic Faith—that can cause fresh problems for the Society at the present moment. Just a few days ago, a new letter of Bishop Fellay to Bishop Williamson was leaked and made public. In this September 23rd letter, Bishop Fellay said he would invite Williamson to an upcoming meeting of SSPX Superiors if the latter would keep the negotiations with Rome secret and if he would stop publishing his well-known but highly controversial circular letter. If Williamson is disobedient, Fellay says he will have no choice but to begin a canonical process to remove him altogether from the Society

Interestingly, Bishop Fellay accuses Williamson of past disobedience as follows:

You considered that for the sake of the preaching and defence of the Faith you needed pay no attention, on the pretext that nobody had the right to stop a bishop from fulfilling his duty to preach and defend the Faith. But such preaching and defence of the Faith are inserted in concrete circumstances which may well call for superiors to intervene.

This charge is breathtaking because it so perfectly expresses what the Pope (and any faithful Catholic, really) could say of the late SSPX founder Archbishop Lefebvre, of Bishop Fellay himself, and of the Society as a whole.

Worse still, if you are so unfortunate as to read the comments posted on the various SSPX-related blogs which have made this letter public, you will find a strong sentiment that the fault is not with Williamson but with Fellay; that it is only Fellay’s desire for reunion with Rome which has caused him to turn against the prophetic voice of Williamson; and that, in any case, purer societies are available if the SSPX ceases to prove satisfactory as a haven for true believers.

The separatism inherent in all this is damning. “Separatism” is usually used to describe the common tendency of Protestants to simply separate themselves from whatever church they find themselves disagreeing with and start another one which will now represent true Christianity—and to do this again and again until there are hundreds of different groups, each one claiming to be the real deal. But it is equally applicable to those on the other side who also claim to preserve the true Faith against Rome. On both sides, it is always the “necessity” defense that is invoked, and on the basis of private judgement.

But Bishop Fellay is more right than he knows: “Preaching and defence of the Faith are inserted in concrete circumstances which may well call for superiors to intervene.” In reality, a necessity defense is certainly possible against the leaders of the Society of Saint Pius X. But no matter how much the practice of the Catholic Faith may suffer in various places around the world, it is theoretically impossible to invoke the necessity defense in doctrinal matters against the actual Magisterium of the Church of Rome. The SSPX is at a crossroads; it must beware of being hoist with its own petard.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: JimKcda - Oct. 27, 2011 1:41 AM ET USA

    An ancient Catholic saying: The Pope, is the Pope, is the Pope, is the Pope, etc. When will the SSPX understand this?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 25, 2011 9:51 PM ET USA

    The Vatican must speak with authority without equivocation either SSPX is in the Church or they're not. Either modernism is the official Catholic Creed or it's not. Souls are being lost while the Vatican twiddles their thumbs instead of leading and in the vacuum all sorts of heresies & confusion are flourishing. I support SSPX because their position is the only one that makes sense but I trust our Lord more than myself when He said "Thou art Peter". The Barque is listing, where's the Rock?

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 24, 2011 5:51 PM ET USA

    The truly damning aspect is the "separatism" that persists without separation. This modernist phenomenon puts souls at risk precisely because of the LACK of separation that has allowed so many heretical and schismatic educators to remain in good standing. Thus we find a remarkable diversity of belief WITHIN the Body of Christ that places many souls at risk. It has been tolerated long enough that many millions consider the Holy Father and Church teachings irrelevant. The Holy Father knows this.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 21, 2011 10:48 PM ET USA

    Bishop Fellay has exhibited a remarkable ability to remain focused and directed properly during this entire process. The situation in the Church for the past 5 decades has been remarkably troublesome. It is not the fault of the faithful nor of many in the clergy--on both sides of the issues these long years--that this disorientation and confusion persists.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Oct. 21, 2011 7:35 PM ET USA

    Just a note. the missing letter from the SSPX website should be retrievable from the Internet Archive at:

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Oct. 21, 2011 4:04 PM ET USA

    Re: SSPX commentators: I had my stint at a FSSP community, and the folks from SSPX community always made me wonder where they learned their religion. I frequently thought that the difference between the weirdness and rebellion in my old parish and that in the Latin Mass community might not be worth the 141-mile round trip.