The SSPX from 1970 to 2004
As early as 1962, Archbishop Lefebvre, at the time Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, was receiving anguished pleas for help from seminarians confused by the degradation of priestly formation they were receiving in various houses. He began by directing them to seminaries and universities he considered to be more “traditional”. Confronted with the failure of these half-measures â€“ like the French seminary in Rome or the Lateran â€“ and finding himself free from all official duties, Archbishop Lefebvre, thus compelled by Providence, decided to open a house in Fribourg, Switzerland to receive the seminarians who continued to ask for his help. These latter were taking classes at the Catholic University.
1969-1970: It was a crucial year for the Church, on which a new Mass was imposed. In Fribourg, the beginnings were difficult: e.g., illness for Archbishop Lefebvre and the departure of several seminarians. At the same time, a group of Catholics from the Swiss canton of Valais had bought the house and property of EcĂ´ne, put up for sale by the Canons of Saint-Bernard, hoping to be able to preserve the religious character of this property. They soon donated it to Archbishop Lefebvre, who decided to use it to open a preparatory year for seminarians. In the fall of 1970, 11 first-year seminarians entered EcĂ´ne, while the others were returning to Fribourg to carry on their formation.
On November 7, Archbishop Lefebvre could announce to his seminarians that his Excellency Bishop CharriĂ¨re officially erected the Society of Saint Pius X in the diocese of Fribourg. The decree had been signed on November 1st, 1970.
Expansion and first difficulties
In June 1971, Archbishop Lefebvre blessed the cornerstone of the St Pius X building in EcĂ´ne, destined to accommodate the seminarians, already too numerous for the existing buildings.
In the year 1972-73, the SSPX carried on its apostolate only in Great Britain and in California, and was in charge of the chaplainry of a very small girls school in France.
In December 1972, the world began to hear about EcĂ´ne, thanks to a press campaign launched in France against the “sĂ©minaire sauvage” (maverick seminary).
In 1973, a new house was opened in Armada (Michigan) as the North-American seminary. Then in 1974, a former novitiate of Brothers of the Sacred-Heart was purchased in Albano Laziale, at the doors of Rome.
In October 1974, 40 newcomers arrived at the door of the seminary, bringing to 130 the number of aspirants to the priesthood, as well as five postulants for the Brothers of the SSPX.
But the storm broke out suddenly on November 11, 1974, with the coming of two Apostolic Visitors to EcĂ´ne. The report was 99% favorable. However, after the departure of Mgrs Descamps and Onclin and scandalized by their attitude1, Archbishop Lefebvre realized that he could not collaborate with this “self-destruction” of the Church. Thus he wrote his famous declaration of November 21, 1974.
On February 13, 1975, Archbishop Lefebvre was invited to “an exchange” with members of a commission of three cardinals (their Eminences Garrone, Wright and Tabera). He then learned that they were charged with investigating his caseâ€¦without his even knowing the competence of this “tribunal”. He appeared before them a second time on the following March 3. And on May 6, 1975, without any judgment, Bishop Mamie, successor of Bishop of CharriĂ¨re to the see of Fribourg, illegally suppressed the SSPX. The sentence was “to take effect immediately”. This meant abandoning at once 104 seminarians, 13 professors and the staff, and this two months before the end of the school year! It was May 8 of “the year of reconciliation”â€¦
After appealing the decision, the Archbishop took the entire seminary on a pilgrimage to Rome for the Holy Year.
During the year 1976, confronted with the calm resistance of “the iron Bishop”, more radical measures were taken. Cardinal Villot illegally blocked the appeal. The Secretary of State wrote to the bishopsâ€™ conferences of the whole world to invite the local bishops to deny candidates of the SSPX incardination in their dioceses. Lastly, Archbishop Lefebvre was threatened with sanctions if he carried out the priestly ordinations. The crux of the whole drama was the explicit acceptance of the whole of Vatican II Council, its decisions, the reforms that flowed from it, as well as the New Mass. It would have been enough for the Archbishop to concelebrate one New Mass for all the difficulties to be smoothed out.
Then came the summer of 1976, called also the “hot summer”. After the priestly ordination of twelve priests on June 29, Archbishop Lefebvre was sentenced with a “suspens a divinis”, a sanction that, as he noted with some humor, prevented him from saying the New Mass! Then there was the Mass in Lille and its Catholic sermon that was front-page news.
After some painful departures, Archbishop Lefebvre took upon himself the charge of rector of the seminary of EcĂ´ne, with a teaching body renewed and entirely made up of members of the SSPX for the opening of the year 1977.
The SSPX continues.
In 1975, in Weissbad in the canton of Appenzell, a German-speaking seminary was opened with Fr Schmidberger as its rector. In October 1977, the SSPX numbered 40 priests, 150 seminarians, 20 houses and three seminaries (EcĂ´ne, Weissbad and Armada).
In 1978, the seminary of Weissbad moved to Zaitzkofen, in Germany.
1979 saw the foundation of the seminary of Buenos Aires with 12 first-year seminarians. The seminary of Armada moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, 100 miles from New York. At that point, Archbishop Lefebvre gave up his charge of rector and was replaced by Fr Tissier de Mallerais. The Archbishop moved to Rickenbach (canton of Soleure). The suspens a divinis of 1976 had not brought to an end the contacts with Rome. Received in audience by Pope John-Paul II, Archbishop Lefebvre suggested the formula: “The council in the light of tradition”, the Pope would seem to have been satisfied with this, were it not for the unfortunate intervention of a cardinal.
A new Superior General
In June of 1983, during the sermon on the occasion of the ordinations, the Archbishop announced that Fr Schmidberger would replace him from this day on as Superior General of the SSPX.
Fighting the scandals in the Church â€“ expansion
In 1983, a new stage was reached: confronted by the scandals given by the pope, Archbishop and Bishop de Castro-Mayer wrote him an open letter dated November 21, 1983. They did this in the spirit of Saint Paulâ€™s resistance to Saint Peter.
In 1985, the book Open Letter to Confused Catholics was released. In clear language, accessible to everyone, Archbishop Lefebvre explained the reasons for his resistance to the reforms.
The year 1986 was the year of Assisi and of the grave acts of the pope. On December 2nd, Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer reacted.
In France, a seminary was opened in Flavigny to accommodate the seminarians too numerous for the facilities at EcĂ´ne.
That year also witnessed an impressive geographical expansion with foundations in Gabon, Chile, New Zealand, the French Antilles, Zimbabwe and India.
As of March 1987, the SSPX was present on every continent.
The measure of the apostasy of conciliar Rome being full, Archbishop Lefebvre had announced on the occasion of the ordinations of 1987 that he would not hesitate, if God requested it, to consecrate bishops to take his place, so that the work of the SSPX might be carried on.
Rome reacted by sending Cardinal Gagnon and Mgr Perl to visit the houses of the SSPX, thus acknowledging the illegitimacy of the sanctions and suppressions accomplished previously. The Cardinal even attended the Mass of the â€śsuspendedâ€ť Archbishop on December 82. Consequently, the Archbishop delayed the date for the consecrations, hoping for an acceptable settlement. But the report of the Cardinal, though favorable, was suppressed. To this day it still has not been published.
The Archbishop nevertheless signed a not-too-satisfactory doctrinal formula after a new meeting in Rome on May 5, 1988. But as early as the next day, the Archbishop requested new guarantees concerning the consecrations and the Roman secretariat that would be in charge of Tradition.
The refusal of these indispensable conditions led the Archbishop to decide to consecrate four members of the SSPX as bishops on June 1988. The consecration was justified by the case of necessity in which the Church found herself, and which rendered illegitimate the explicit refusal of the consecrations on the part of the Pope. Indeed, the pope must have the habitual will to give to the Church the necessary means to its common good. For more information on the legitimacy of the consecrations of 1988, see the theological study .
In March 1988, the sixth seminary, Holy Cross Seminary, was opened in Australia. And in September of the same year the North American seminary moved to Winona in the beautifully restored buildings of a former Dominican novitiate.
On November 19, 1989 at Le Bourget (a Paris suburb), Archbishop Lefebvre celebrated the jubilee of his 60 years in the priesthood before 23,000 faithful.
In 1990, the SSPX celebrated its 20 years of existence.
Death of Archbishop Lefebvre and of bishop de Castro Mayer â€“ Consecration of a bishop
On March 25, 1991, Archbishop Lefebvre fell asleep in the Lord. Visiting EcĂ´ne, and recollecting himself before the tomb of the founder of the SSPX, a Cardinal whispered: “Thank you, your Grace!”
In 1992, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais assisted by Bishop Williamson and Bishop de Galarreta as co-consecrators, consecrated His Excellency Bishop Rangel for the Society St John Mary Vianney in Campos, Brazil. The Society had been founded by the valiant defender of the faith, His Excellency Bishop de Castro Mayer, to enable the faithful to continue to live according to the two thousand-year tradition of the Church.
In 1992, The SSPX opened a house in the Philippines. At the same time, the apostolate in the countries of Eastern Europe, which had begun after the fall of the Iron Curtain, was developing.
On March 25, 1993, the first Mass was celebrated in Schloss Schwandegg, which accommodated the General House of the SSPX and the novitiate of the Oblate Sisters until the increasing number of vocations compelled the Sisters to move their novitiate to Salvan in the Valais.
General Chapter, elections
In July 1994, Bishop Fellay was elected Superior General in place of Fr. Schmidberger, who was elected First General Assistant.
End of the century
During the years 1994-1999, the Society experienced a peaceful increase. Tradition3 as a whole was on the increase thanks to the “operation survival” willed and accomplished by Archbishop Lefebvre. The growing number of priests, religious men and women as well as faithful was demonstrating by the very facts the validity of the choice of the “rebellious” bishop. The geographical expansion is an expression of the needs of souls today, no matter under what longitude or latitude they are living. While the religious spirit, under the crushing effect of the council, becomes anemic and tends to disappear, the “experience of tradition” seems indeed to be successful!
Pilgrimage to Rome in the year 2000
For the Jubilee Year, Bishop Fellay decided to take the SSPX to venerate the Apostles in Rome and thus to show our attachment to the center of Catholicity, to the papacy, as well as our refusal to let ourselves be locked in the schismatic category. Thus over 5,000 people â€“ a record for the Holy Year â€“ came in the midst of August in Rome to make the pilgrimage to the major basilicas. A newspaper printed the headline: “Five thousand excommunicated people in St Peter Basilica!” underlying by this mild irony a striking character of the present crisis: those who try to keep the faith and fight against the enemies of Catholicism are banished from the Church.
“Contacts” with Rome
The appointment of Cardinal CastrillĂłn-Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy at the head of the Ecclesia Dei Commission4, marked the establishment of closer “contacts”. A solution was suggested, however without any concrete formula being proposed. But once again, the limited comprehension of todayâ€™s members of the hierarchy as far as “tradition” is concerned, showed clear limitations. Unfortunately, eyes have not yet opened to the depth and the origin of the formidable crisis that has been shaking the Church for 40 years already. Like Archbishop, we must repeat that the time seems not yet to have come for a full collaboration.
The doctrinal combat â€“ The Problem of the Liturgical Reform
From the very beginning of his combat for the Faith, Archbishop justified and explained in conferences, articles and books the reasons for his stand. He never ceased as time went on to denounce evil and to propose remedies to heal the open wound caused by the recent council. Many authors, ecclesiastics as well as laymen, also placed their intelligence and their pen at the service of the defense of the faith as soon as the first signs of the present disaster appeared. It would be too long to name them all. In order to carry on this necessary activity, the SSPX created press agencies, organized symposiums and congresses, it has given its support to reviews, to say nothing of all the publications aimed at the catechetical and doctrinal formation of the faithful.
For some years now works and publications have been delving deeper into the analysis of the causes and consequences of the spirit and letter of the council. The SSPX has especially produced a very strong work on the liturgical reform, and more specifically on the Novus Ordo MissĂ¦, which takes up again the criticisms leveled at this neo-protestant rite. Addressed to the Holy Father and several cardinals as well as many bishops, it has not, to this day, been seriously refuted.
From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy
In mid-January 2004, Bishop Fellay and his two Assistants (Fr Schmidberger and Bishop de Galarreta), with whom were associated the other two bishops (their Lordships Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, and Bishop Williamson) sent to all the cardinals a letter on the ecumenical disaster, accompanied by a document entitled: From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy â€“ 25 Years of Pontificate (link). Originally, this document was destined to be given to the Pope on the occasion of his jubilee. But the state of his health made the Superior General decide to address it instead to all the cardinals. Bishop Fellay presented the document in a press conference, attended by some forty Vatican-watchers, who listened to him with attention, on February 2, 2004, in Rome.
Once again, this rigorous demonstration did not receive any noteworthy answer nor has it been refuted. And yet the subject is all-important; if according to the very words of the Sovereign Pontiff a “silent apostasy” can be diagnosed, especially in Europe, it must have a cause. Certainly, there is not only one cause, but it is not difficult to understand that ecumenism as it is conceived and practiced to day unavoidably engenders an indifferentism5 that leads precisely to this apostasy.
- These two prelates were not ashamed to tell the seminarians, during their conversations that “the ordination of married men was normal” adding that they “did not admit an immutable Truth”, saying lastly that they “had doubts about the traditional manner of conceiving the Resurrection of Our Lord”.
- Let us recall that the penalty of “suspens a divinis” forbids someone from the public celebration of the sacraments. The fact that the Cardinal attended this Mass publicly, in choir attire and in the sanctuary, introduces, to say the least, a serious doubt as to the validity of the previous sanctions.
- The word “tradition” must be well understood, because it has various meanings. It first means one of the two sources of the Revelation entrusted to the Church by her Founder, the other being Holy Scripture. It is defined by the very fact of being non-written. These two sources are equal in dignity, but Tradition is anterior in time, and besides, Holy Scripture comes from it. In this first meaning, the word is written with a capital T. â€“ Secondly, the word means the traditions coming from the Apostles and passed on through the ages. They do not have the same dignity as the first, but must be respected with veneration. They may occasionally be put aside in certain circumstances, according to the judgment of those in authority, if they have become useless or misunderstood. â€“ Lastly, the word means the different elements of the life of the Church, formed in the course of the centuries under the influence of the other two. This tradition reflects the faith of the Church living from Revelation that causes, through the power of the grace of the Holy Ghost, various manifestations of this faith, and divine life. These elements are not immutable, may change or may be transformed with time. However, they must be treated with respect and caution because they represent the expression of the Faith at a given time, and their elimination or their transformation accomplished without discernment will unavoidably cause a weakening of that Faith. â€“ The word “tradition”, with or without a capital T, is also sometimes used nowadays to designate those who want to live it, and cannot reconcile themselves to the loss of a treasure sold off by modernism, nor to accept the doctrinal and religious disintegration which has ensued.
- Commission established in 1988 by the motu proprio of the same name and destined to receive those who would keep tradition while being “reintegrated” within the bosom of the Church. The SSPX refuses adamantly to be attached to this institution, because it considers that it has never and in no manner whatsoever left the bosom of Holy Mother Church.
- Doctrine that holds that belonging to a particular religion is of little importance for salvation, but that all religions may bring salvation to men.