Neo-Catholic Sour Grapes

SSPX and the 'Full Communion' Canard

Christopher A. Ferrara

When Gaudium et spes speaks of human freedom,

it “falls into ‘downright Pelagian terminology’"

...Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

(Posted 1/31/09
In my online article on the courageous decision of Pope Benedict XVI to annul the long-contested excommunications of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (“Triumph and Tribulation,” posted 1/26/09), I took exception to the opinions of Bishop Williamson concerning the Holocaust (“there was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers; it was all lies, lies, lies,” etc.) as aired in a November 2008 televised interview suspiciously released to the Internet days before the excommunications were lifted.  I offered a refutation of those opinions and expressed the fear that unless the Society took immediate remedial action, what should have been an unalloyed triumph for tradition could become a debacle.

The Society has taken such action.  On January 27, 2009 Bishop Fellay, in his capacity as Superior General of the Society, issued a communiqué in which he declared, in pertinent part, as follows:

Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Society, granted an interview to a Swedish network. In this interview, he also commented on historical issues, especially on the genocide of Jews by the National-Socialist regime…. Our Society claims no authority over historical or other secular matters….We view this matter with great concern, as this exorbitance has caused severe damage to our religious mission. We apologize to the Holy Father and to all people of good will for the trouble it has caused.

It must remain clear that those comments do not reflect in any way the attitude of our community. That is why I have forbidden Bishop Williamson to issue any public opinion on any political or historical matter until further notice.

The constant accusations against the Society have also apparently served the purpose of discrediting our mission. We will not allow this, but will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to offer the Sacraments in the ancient rite.

On the same day Father Franz Schmidberger, the Society’s District Superior in Germany, issued his own communiqué from Menzingen:

As District Superior of the Society in Germany, I am very troubled by the words pronounced by Bishop Williamson here in this country. The banalization of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime and of its horror are unacceptable for us.

The persecution and murder of an incalculable number of Jews under the Third Reich touches us painfully and they also violate the Christian commandment of love for neighbor which does not distinguish ethnicities. I must apologize for this behavior and dissociate myself from such a view.

Such dissociation is also necessary for us because the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a KZ [concentration camp] and because numerous Catholic priests lost their lives in Hitler’s concentration camps.

The Society has dealt with this matter decisively, and now it is time to move on. The Society deserves the firm support of every Roman Catholic who is serious about a restoration of the Church. And the Pope clearly expects the Society to have its place alongside all the other traditional societies working in the vineyard for that restoration. As the respected “mainstream” Catholic commentator Gerald Warner wrote days ago:

Benedict XVI grows in stature as his reign progresses. To the momentous achievement of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, freeing the Tridentine Mass, he has now added the sagacious and just lifting of the excommunications imposed on the four bishops of the Society of St Pius X. Although there was widespread scepticism about the validity of those censures, their lifting removes a roadblock to the restoration of the Church after the damage wrought by the Second Vatican Catastrophe.[2]

The Second Vatican Catastrophe indeed. It is long past time for all Catholics of good will to acknowledge the evidence of their senses and admit a catastrophe when they see one.  Anyone who still uses the word “renewal” to describe the post-conciliar epoch is either delusional or a liar.  We can be sure that Pope Benedict has lifted the excommunications in part because he knows that the Society is needed to attend to the victims of the worst disaster in Church history.

I wish I could say that the Bishop Williamson affair has been settled ad extra. Just as I predicted in my article, however, the entire worldwide apparatus of political correctness, clearly in a panic over the lifting of the excommunications, has seized upon the devastating Williamson interview as the foundation of a cheap, demagogic argumentum ad hominem it hopes will discredit the Society, the entire traditionalist movement and the Pope who has fostered both so courageously. The argument runs thus: Williamson = “anti-Semitic” = traditionalist movement.  Practically every major organ of world opinion has echoed the argument. I will not burden the reader with quotations from the rapidly multiplying articles and commentaries in such organs as Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Times Online, Fox News, and so forth around the globe. One example from Down Under will suffice: “Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication on Holocaust denier bishop Richard Williamson and the conservative movement of which he is a member. The action has caused an international furore.”[3] A Google search will provide all the additional examples one could possibly require.

Given the Society’s swift remedial action, the argumentum ad hominem will ultimately fail.  It will fail in any event because the Holy Ghost will have the Church restored, and the Society will have its role to play in that restoration thanks to the courage of the Pope. But what is terribly disappointing—disgusting, actually—is the way in which liberal Catholic and neo-Catholic commentators have seized on the same dishonest and reprehensible argument in a plainly desperate bid to block not only a reversal of the Second Vatican Catastrophe, but any sort of resistance to modernity.

Overreaching hugely, the liberal George Weigel (who has somehow managed to repackage himself as a “conservative” Catholic commentator) tried to gin up the Williamson affair into an indictment of “Marcel Lefebvre’s war,” not only “against modern liturgy” but also “modernity, period.”[4] The Archbishop, Weigel sneered, actually believed that modernity “involved aggressive secularism, anti-clericalism, and the persecution of the church by godless men.” Wherever did the Archbishop get that strange idea? Perhaps he got it from the real world in which he lived and suffered with heroic virtue, as opposed to the cozy think tank in which Weigel dreams his liberal Catholic dreams of pluralist utopia, while the real world continues its rapid descent into total depravity—just as predicted by a long line of anti-liberal Popes whose insistent warnings about the errors of modernity Weigel and his fellow liberal Catholics would like us all to forget.

John Allen, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, archly suggested that the Williamson affair evidences “A troubled history with Judaism” that “has long been part of the Catholic traditionalist movement associated with the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.”[5] The whole thing is “anti-Semitic,” you see, because it is “associated” with Archbishop Lefebvre, whose “anti-Semitism” Allen simply presumes, even though the Archbishop’s own father died in a Nazi concentration camp. Well, maybe not the whole thing, Allen admitted. But there are “some traditionalist and Lefebvrite circles” which evince “open hostility toward Jews and Judaism that is anything but latent.” What did Allen mean by “some”?  He meant “some strains of traditionalist Catholicism” or, further on,  “this strain” of traditionalist Catholicism which “reaches a crescendo in Williamson…” So we have “some strains” or “this strain” of Catholic traditionalism reaching “a crescendo” in the opinions of one man. But how many traditionalists would Allen estimate are infected by the crescendo of the strain or strains? He did not say, and therein lies the effectiveness of the innuendo: it is better not to have anything to do with these traditionalist types, since the deadly virus of “anti-Semitism” circulates so freely among them.

But, unlike Weigel, Allen at least had the decency to admit that as a set of basic propositions it cannot be said that Roman Catholic traditionalism is “anti-Semitic” per se, at least according to anonymous “observers” and “experts” who have apparently reported back to him the results of their field investigation into this weird species of Catholic:

Observers of the traditionalist landscape caution people not to paint with too broad a brush, as if every Catholic attracted to the older Latin Mass or to traditional views on doctrinal matters is somehow tainted by anti-Semitism. Similarly, experts also warn that critics of Catholic traditionalism can sometimes be quick to label as ‘anti-Semitic’ attitudes that may be controversial theologically or politically, but that don’t in themselves reflect real prejudice. For example, traditionalists often uphold a robust missionary theology, insisting that the church cannot renounce its duty to evangelize any group, including Jews. Similarly, traditionalists often challenge Vatican II’s teaching on religious freedom, church-state separation, and interreligious dialogue. Neither position, observers say, necessarily conceals latent anti-Semitism.

Thus Allen allows that Catholics who (a) adhere to the traditional Latin Mass, (b) call for the conversion of all peoples to the Faith, including the Jews, and (c) “challenge” Vatican II’s teaching on religious freedom and interreligious dialogue, are not necessarily anti-Semitic. Since Allen’s description applies to every traditionalist in the world (except sedevacantists), who among us can be suspected of “anti-Semitism”? The answer Allen clearly wishes to convey is: everyone and no one, so be on your guard against these undesirables.

As Allen looks down upon “the traditionalist landscape” with a kind of zoological condescension, I wonder if it has ever occurred to him that it is actually his constituency that is a zoo.  “Observers” of the “Novus Ordo landscape” survey a scene of ecclesial devastation that is almost impossible to believe: mass defections from the priesthood and religious orders, a sudden “collapse of the liturgy” (to recall Cardinal Ratzinger’s famous phrase) after 2000 years of divine worship, pandemic homosexual predation of boys by priests, plummeting Mass attendance, baptisms and marriages, overwhelming rejection by the remaining pew Catholics of the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation, a catastrophically declining birth rate,  a dwindling priesthood on the verge of extinction in most Western nations. John Paul II summed up the state of Mr. Allen’s constituency with two unforgettable words not long before he died: “silent apostasy.”

The “traditionalist landscape,” on the other hand, features Catholics with large families in which contraception is unthinkable and divorce almost unheard of, full seminaries and convents that have to turn away applicants, regular Mass attendance, and assent to the traditional teaching of the Church on all things rather than the failed novelties of the past forty years.  In short, the “traditionalist landscape” is simply the Catholic landscape as it was meant to be, a landscape that extended throughout the Church before Vatican II.  Who, then, are the oddballs and who are the normal citizens of the commonwealth of the Church?  That the critics of traditionalists somehow occupy moral high ground today is but another sign of a Church and a world turned upside down in these dying days of the post-Enlightenment empire of Liberty.

Vatican II is Not Negotiable?

Among the neo-Catholic commentators a curious new argument against the Society has developed over the past few days: Yes, the Pope has lifted the excommunications, but that’s when the “schism” really began. Funny, but I seem to recall that for about three years preceding the Pope’s decision, as if in preparation for it, the Vatican had been making it clear in one statement after another (many by Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos) that the Society was never in formal “schism” in the first place, especially not its lay and priestly adherents. How, then, could the Society’s situation be schismatic after annulment of the excommunications of its four bishops?

One “Father Jonathan” of the Millionaires—excuse me, Legionnaires—of Christ, who is also a Fox News commentator, explained this astonishing development in tones appropriate for a society gossip columnist. After noting the “hair-raising headline announcing the Vatican has ‘welcomed back’, ‘rehabilitated,’ or ‘made peace with’ an unrepentant, Holocaust-denying, anti-Semitic, schismatic bishop,” Father Jonathan provided his troubled fans with “the skinny on a complicated but important story.” The “skinny” is that Pope Benedict had merely “offered an impressive carrot to the estimated 600,000 followers of an ultra-conservative schismatic group…”[6] Those poor ultraconservative schismatic donkey bishops don’t understand that they are being led back into the Novus Ordo barn by the canonical treat dangling from the end of the Pope’s stick. But Father Jonathan, who is in the know, assured his public that “until the leaders of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X accept the Pope’s invitation to come back home… this group remains illegitimate.”

Come back home? But if the Society’s adherents are Catholics, and if none of them are excommunicated, are they not already home? Father Jonathan has the answer to this perplexing question: Home is Vatican II.  The Society cannot “come home” without “recognition of the Second Vatican Council  that officially and famously condemned all forms of anti-Semitism.” But the Society has never said it does not recognize the Council. Indeed, its own founder participated in the Council and signed its documents, including its document on the Jewish people, Nostra Aetate. Never did Archbishop Lefebvre say that the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is not to be recognized as such.  Nor does the Society say that today. Rather, to quote Bishop Fellay’s statement on the subject in the very letter to the Vatican that immediately preceded annulment of the excommunications, the Society’s adherents “express some reservations” about the Council.[7]

Well, at this point who doesn’t express some reservations about the Council? Those expressing reservations even include the current Pope himself, whose criticism of Gaudium et spes as Cardinal Ratzinger is widely known. In fact, the theologian Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, has devoted an entire chapter of her new book to a discussion of Cardinal Ratzinger’s critique of Gaudium et spes, including his view that it presents a “colorless doctrine of freedom” based upon “an unhistorical reading of Scripture but also an unhistorical and therefore unreal view of man,” which “cannot therefore stand up to theological or philosophical criticism.” The Cardinal even declared that when Gaudium et spes speaks of human freedom, it “falls into ‘downright Pelagian terminology’…”[8]  It would appear that, as Father Jonathan would have it, even the Pope has some homecoming to do.

Philip Lawler, writing in, referred to the “insightful Newsweek column” by “my friend George Weigel” and declared that “The process of reconciling the SSPX with the Holy See is far from complete.”  Since every adherent of the Society is a Catholic, and now not even its bishops can be said to be excommunicated, what exactly would this mysterious “process” involve?  Membership in the Catholic Church seems to be a very complicated affair these days, at least for traditionalist Catholics as opposed to the legions of heretics and apostates whose membership credentials are never challenged, even when they run for office as pro-abortion politicians. Lawler seems to think this “process” which is far—oh yes, far!—from complete involves “discussions leading toward full reconciliation of the SSPX.”[9]  The Society itself has requested talks with the Vatican, but not for the purpose of earning some sort of gnostic verification of its “reconciliation,” not required of anyone else in the Church. Rather, the Society wishes to address in theological discussions the problematical texts of Vatican II, and the Vatican is willing to engage in those discussions without any demand that the Society “affirm” or “embrace” any particular proposition.  I will consider Lawler’s commentary at length in a separate article.

EWTN’s story on The World Over asserted that the 1988 consecrations created a “formal schism,” a contention exactly the opposite of the Vatican’s position under Pope Benedict. But now that John Paul “the Great” is gone, who cares about what the Pope thinks anymore: this is an emergency! According to EWTN the Pope’s decision has not brought the Society “into communion” with the Church, but “those talks are expected to continue.” Clearly Catholic, not excommunicated, yet still not “in communion” with the Church.  What must a poor traditionalist do these days to possess that elusive quality of “ecclesial communion”?

The feckless French bishops, who have all but extinguished the Faith in their country, clearly took the cake with their insolent declaration that despite the Pope’s gesture “the Second Vatican Council will not be negotiable.”[10] The very survival of Catholicism in France is negotiable, but not Vatican II.  The churches and seminaries can empty, the faithful can go to blazes, but “the Council” must be defended down to the last wimpy bishop.

That says it all.  The French bishops have revealed the heart of the matter: Liberal Catholics and neo-Catholics alike will never admit that the Society is “in communion” with them until the Society becomes as they are. When the French bishops say that the Society’s acceptance of Vatican II is non-negotiable, when “Father Jonathan” says that the Society must “come home,” when Lawler says that the “process of reconciliation is far from complete,” when EWTN says that the Society is still not “in communion” pending further talks, they are all using a cipher for what they all more or less mean to say: that the Society, along with every other traditionalist, must accept the liberalization of the Catholic Church as permanent and irreversible.

But they are wrong, as every major decision of this Pope makes clearer. In less than forty years from its inception, the Novus Ordo has collapsed in a heap of scandal and liturgical decrepitude; it has no priests to replace the ones that are aging and dying.  The Pope knows the Church’s future lies in the recovery of her past, so recently abandoned, and the Holy Ghost is bringing about what He will after forty years of immense folly in the Church.  So let us have no more nonsense about “communion” and “reconciliation” from the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks of the post-conciliar revolution. The Society of Saint Pius X is home, and in fact it never left home. There has only been a great deal of confusion in the rest of the household of the Faith.



[2]Fifty years on: time to revisit and reform the Second Vatican Catastrophe,”, January 27, 2009.

[3] “No place for church renegades,” Peter Kirkwood, Australian Online, January 30, 2009.

[4]“Rome’s Reconciliation: Did the Pope heal, or deepen, the Lefebvrist schism?,”, January 26, 2009.

[5]“Lefebvre movement: long, troubled history with Judaism,” NCR, January 26, 2009.

[6]“The Pope and the Anti-Semitic Bishop — The Real Story,” Fox Forum.

[7] Letter to Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, dated December 15, 2008.

[8]Tracey Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 38.

[9]“Analysis: Why Further Talks between Vatican and SSPX Are Crucial, January 28, 2009.

[10]“Statement by the Permanent Council of Bishops of France concerning the lifting of the excommunications,” January 28, 2009.