Why the Society of Saint Pius X is not sedevacantist

March 5, 1992

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Let us get into another argument (no, not yet Flak III !). A Catholic likes using his mind on his Faith, like burnishing a treasure.

The position taken by the Society of St. Pius X in today's crisis of the Church has again come under attack. The arguments of the sedevacantists who believe the See (Sedes) of Rome is vacant have been brought forward once more in the first issue of a magazine just launched in the U.S.A. which I will call CR. The arguments are not new, but it will do no harm to explain once more why the Society acknowledges the authority of the present Church leaders, despite the damage they are doing, or allowing to be done, to the Catholic Church.

This damage is of course the reason why the so-called sedevacantists cannot accept that the recent Popes (since, say, Paul VI) have really been Popes. How could Christ’s own Vicars so betray Christ's own Church? Answer, they cannot be real Vicars! The argument is simple, and notice that it rests on truths of the Faith. If the sedevacantists did not believe in Christ, in his Vicars and in his Church, the present betrayal would be no problem. The sedevacantists believe in Our Lord and in his Church. In this respect they differ from the Liberals and are far superior to them. However, their arguments are too simple. Let us have a look at the latest version of them.

CR says that faced with this crisis of the Church we can take one of three positions, that of "Ecclesia Dei", or that of the "Lefebvrists" (i.e. the Society of St. Pius X), or that of the sedevacantists. The "Ecclesia Dei" position is at least consistent, says CR, but it means submitting to and siding with the liberals. The lefebvrist position refuses to submit to the liberals, but it is riddled with contradictions. The only non-liberal and non-contradictory position is that of the sedevacantists.

As for the futility of the "Ecclesia Dei" compromise with the official Church, the Society and the sedevacantists are agreed. No chicken with its head still on walks into the fox's den for protection! But how does CR argue that the Society is mired in contradiction? By a triple-barreled argument, or by three parallel arguments based on the Church, on the Faith and on the Papacy.

Firstly, the Catholic Church as instituted by Our Lord must be visible and indefectible. But the presently visible Church , i.e. the official Church, has gravely defected, by liberalism. Therefore either liberalism is acceptable - absurd, or the official Church is not the real Church. But the Society insists on partly treating it as the true Church, partly not treating it as the true Church, so the Society is in contradiction.

Secondly, the Catholic Faith is either integral, i.e. complete in all its elements, or it is not at all. Now the Novus Ordo system of doctrines, moral teachings, worship and discipline pertains to the Catholic Faith. Therefore it is either integrally Catholic and to be accepted entirely, or it is not Catholic at all and it is to be entirely rejected. But the Society insists that for instance the Mass of the Novus Ordo is not automatically invalid, and yet it refuses to let people attend it, so the Society is again in contradiction.

Thirdly, true Catholic Popes even outside of their solemn or extraordinary Magisterium can prescribe nothing harmful to souls in discipline or worship (Denzinger 1578). But the liberal Novus Ordo system was prescribed with the full authority of the recent Popes. Therefore either the Novus Ordo system is not harmful to souls — absurd, or these seeming Popes are not real Popes. But the Society insists on recognizing their authority while refusing their authority! And so once more the Society is caught in impossible contradiction.

Moreover, an extra difficulty for the Society is that since it is caught in contradictions, somebody has to decide what it will accept and what it will refuse. But Archbishop Lefebvre alone had the prestige within the Society to do this work of sifting, so that now that he is gone, the Society must disintegrate.

Leaving aside for the moment the last argument, it will be noticed that each of the three main arguments consists in, an either-or. Since the "either" always results in liberalism while the "or" results in sedevacantism, both rejected by the Society, then obviously the Society believes there is a third possibility which is in each case being excluded by CR. Let us take each argument in turn:

Firstly, the Catholic Church considered in her pure state as Bride of Christ is indeed indefectible. But she is embodied, by Christ's will, in human beings, churchmen, who are, as human beings, defectible. By the CR argument, no churchman should ever defect! But see how the Apostles ran away in the Garden of Gethsemane! What the Church's indefectibility requires is that at no one time should all, the churchmen defect, which has not happened, even today. Hence the Society, believing in the Church, sifts the churchmen, as Our Lord told us to do — "beware of wolves in sheep's clothing".

Secondly, the Catholic Faith must indeed be professed integrally in all its parts, and any system defective in any of those parts will not be Catholic, either as a whole or in its defective parts. But nobody can say that any of its Catholic parts, as a Catholic part, is not Catholic. For instance in the third century the Church judged, after a bitter dispute, that baptism administered by the Donatist heretics was valid. This baptism was culpably incorporated in a non-Catholic whole, but that did not invalidate it as a Catholic part. Thus the Society rejects the Novus Ordo Mass both as a whole and in all its non-Catholic parts, but it no more says that the hereticising whole necessarily invalidates all the parts; including for instance the Consecration correctly said, than that the Donatist heresy invalidated the Donatist baptism. Hence the need to sift.

Thirdly, it is true that if the Pope uses the full weight of his Apostolic authority to impose upon souls some measure of discipline or worship, that measure cannot be harmful, but from the very beginning of, for instance, the Novus Ordo Mass, a handful of wholly competent canon lawyers pointed out that Paul VI never, while instituting the New Mass, at the same time strictly abrogated or prohibited the continuation of the Old Mass. Therefore, strictly, the Novus Ordo was an option rather than an obligation. So neither the Society nor anyone else was, or is, obliged to declare Paul VI was only a seeming Pope. Providence in a sense kept him liberal even when he enforced his favorite laws! But neither the society nor anyone else is obliged to accept those anti-catholic laws, even if Paul VI was a true Pope. Hence again the need to sift.

Nor is the Society nor any other Catholic essentially dependent upon Archbishop Lefebvre to do the sifting of what to accept and what to refuse amongst the parts of the Novus Ordo religion, always refusing it as a whole. The yardstick is Tradition, which is independent of us all. True, Archbishop Lefebvre proved himself to be an outstanding yardstick of Tradition while he lived, and all true Catholics miss him today, but he would have been the first to say that the documents and monuments of Tradition are as accessible to us now as they ever were to him.

Contrary to what many sedevacantists and liberals may think, the Society did not follow the Archbishop blindly. Had he ever made a major departure from Tradition, I am sure the Society would have split much worse than it ever did. And then, were he so indispensable, how could the Society have lasted already one year without him?

Sedevacantists will not like being told they resemble liberals, but when they, like them, exaggerate the importance of Archbishop Lefebvre's person to the Traditional movement, surely it is because they like them overestimate authority and underestimate objective Truth. That Truth is the whole strength of the so-called Traditional movement. Our Lord said that if all human voices were silenced in his defence, the very stones of the street would cry out in protest. And that is one more statement true not only because of the "Fear not, little flock ...."

However, the interesting thing with the article of CR is to attempt to discern the common pattern or mistake behind its three main arguments. Surely there is a common mistake of sedevacantists, and surely it is this: they fail in general to distinguish between the abstract and the concrete, between abstract principles and concrete people, between abstract errors and the people erring.

St. Augustine said, "Slay errors but love those who are erring'", (which is still neater in Latin: "Interficite errores, diligite errantes"). Contrariwise, liberals love the errors together with those erring, while sedevacantists slay the erring together with their errors. The Liberals' softness on people extends to softness on principles; the sedevacantists' hardness on principles makes them go hard on people. Only the Catholic in St. Augustine's footsteps keeps his balance by being firm on principles while going easy (not soft) on people.

Thus it is true that the Catholic Church, Catholic belief and the Catholic Papacy are in their abstract state free of all taint, but to save us concrete sinners, Our Lord willed that Church, belief and Papacy be embodied respectively in churchmen, believers and Popes, in which human condition all three are bound to be mixed more or less with human failings and non-Catholic elements. For, underneath the moon, what is more contradictory and mixed up than human beings?

But sedevacantists do not understand mixture. For them everything is either-or. Thus CR cannot understand how the "Conciliar Church" and the Catholic Church can overlap, and indeed as abstract systems concilliarism and Catholicism absolutely exclude one another. But in the concrete, or in real life, what is easier than for conciliar folk still to have something Catholic in them, or for Catholics still to have slack things or something conciliar, about them? To many conciliar folk surely applies Our Lord's own rule: "The bruised reed he shall not break: and the smoking flax he shall not extinguish" (Is XLII, 3; Mt XII, 20), meaning that so long as there is a glimmer of Catholicism in them, Catholics should make every reasonable effort to restore that glimmer to a bright flame, which is of course why the Society has long reached out to the erring conciliarists, believers and Popes. On the other hand, to all Catholics surely applies Hamlet's saying, "Use each man according to his deserts and who should escape whipping?"

Fortunately Our Lord looks first not upon our weak achievements but upon our good intentions; a man can be mired up to his neck and over in error, in the kingdom of slacks, in contradictions, in filth, but for as long as he still seeks God, or desires the truth, or wants to do his best as he sees it, the Good Shepherd reaches out to him and will not let him go.

Let CR go back over the words and deeds of the Archbishop and the Society. CR is entitled to judge that either of them here or there went astray in the delicate task of discerning between the error and the erring, but CR cannot make the accusation stick that the policy of slaying the error while loving the erring is contradictory. It is the Sacred Heart's own policy, fortunately for us all!

There will be confirmations this spring in the U.S.A. as follows:- by your servant in Denver(CO) on Sunday March 15 (contact Fr. Jack Adair (303) 730-6331); in Salt Lake City (UT) on March 22, in the Twin Cities (MN) and in Sturgis (SD) on March 29, in San Jose (CA) on April 4, in Sacramento (CA) on April 5, in Cincinnati (OH) on May 3, in Davie (FL) on May 10 (contact for all these, S.S.P.X U.S. H.O. at (816) 753-0073); in Lauzon (Quebec) on May 16 and Ottawa (Ontario) on May 17 (contact S.S.P.X in Canada at (418) 837-3028); in St. Mary's (KS) on May 22, in Manselona and Kalamezoo (MI) on May 24, in Armada (MI) on May 31 a.m., in Nashville (TN) on May 31 p.m. (contact (316) 753-0073); in Vienna (VA) on June 7 (contact Fr. Ronald Ringrose at (703) 759-4555). Finally His Excellency Bishop Tissier de Mallerais will confirm at St. Cloud (MN) on June 2 1, in Pittsburgh (PA) on July 5, in Buffalo (NY) on July 6, in Syracuse (NY) on July 7, in Binghamton (NY) on July 8, in Glens Falls (NY) on July 9, and lastly in Farmingville (NY) on July 12.

Amongst other flyers enclosed is one for Our Lady of Victory Home School which recently moved from California to Idaho. Last year we recommended Our Lady of the Rosary Home School based in Kentucky. The Society of St. Pius X in the U.S.A. recommends at present both of these Home Schools to Catholic parents, not because it thinks that everything that either of them does is perfect (they do not recommend one another!), but because home-schooling is becoming so important, and our best information is that each of them does much more good than harm. Heaven knows, either of them could at any point cease recommending the Society, but we recommend them.

Dear readers, may the penances of this Lent serve to diminish mightily within us the part of error, and to enable the Truth to shine ever more purely within us. The struggle will be over only when we die, or, as St. Francis de Sales said, a quarter of an hour after we are dead, but it is a sacred struggle. God bless You and keep you.

Most sincerely yours in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts,