Quo Vadis, SSPX? Part III: Ad Romam, for better or worse

Despite diplomatic protestations from both Rome and Menzingen that things are still in "stages," those who are monitoring the airwaves and who have been studying these matters for some time believe that an announcement of a new canonical status for the SSPX is imminent, possibly as early as this Wednesday.

I will discuss some of the issues I mention below on my radio show tomorrow.  I will be joined by Durendal’s Nicholas Wansbutter and Quidlibet’s Fr. Anthony Cekada.  You are welcome to listen in and call or tweet with your questions.  I hope that this article can provide a primer to that show.  You can read it along with Nicholas' piece and Fr. Cekada's.  You can also download the free podcast of our first show on the topic here.
It has become well-known to almost everybody in the Traditional Catholic world that recently there was an exchange of letters between Bishops Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta, and Richard Williamson and Bishop Bernard Fellay, Fr. Nely, and Fr. Pfluger.  More than one reader has commented to me that he had thought that such divisions were “exaggerated” in the past and was quite disappointed that the rumors were actually true.  While I was not surprised at this exchange of letters, either in content or tone, I completely understand that many faithful, blissfully “in the pew,” as more than one reader has emailed me, are disturbed.  Let me try to explain.
I’ll go back to 1988.  The Archbishop picked 3 candidates for episcopal consecration, mostly for the various language groups: English, Spanish, and French.  Bishop Bernard Fellay was not on this original list.  Perhaps it was because the then-Fr. Fellay had no real “parish” practice – he had been in the General House from the beginning and had his Mass circuit like any other SSPX priest, but he was young and did not have any “trench” experience and did not add a language not spoken by the three other bishops (who combined speak French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, English, and Italian) nor did he bring any special education or background (Bishop Tissier comes from the nobility and was the SSPX canon law expert, Bishop Williamson is extremely well educated and had been a professor in Econe and in America).
However, in a concession to a long-standing benefactor of the SSPX, who reminded the Archbishop of what a special role that Switzerland had played in the foundation of the Society, the Archbishop added Fr. Bernard Fellay, a Swiss, to those who were to be consecrated.
The Archbishop and Fr. Schmidberger, at numerous points, made the case that it was important to note that a priest should be the Superior General of the SSPX, as the Bishops did not play a particular role within the consecration of the SSPX.  They were, in some ways, sacramental machines until such time as their role within the Church was formalized and they became “full” bishops: bishops with a mission.  Bishop Tissier echoed this same line in a 2006 interview I conducted with him:
S.H. My lord, the General Chapter of the Society is this summer…
H.L. Ah, yes.
S.H. There is some confusion among the faithful as to whether someone who has been the General Superior may be elected again. For example, Fr. Schmidberger has been Superior General – can he be so again?
H.L. Yes, there is no limitation.
S.H. Yes, Fr. Schmidberger was Superior General after you were consecrated, so you, as a bishop, had to report to a priest. I think the feeling among the faithful was, that once Bishop Fellay was elected, that a bishop would continue on in that position, as opposed to a simple priest. Is this true? Well, let me be more specific without asking you for a prediction. Is it likely that the condition of having a bishop be the Superior General will continue?
H.L. No, it is not normal. Actually, the most normal thing would be for a simple priest to be Superior General.
S.H. Why do you say that, my lord?

H.L. Because it is in our constitutions, and because the existence of bishops within our Society is something extraordinary – not foreseen. It is not normal – so I think it would be very normal for a simple priest to be Superior General, and I would be ready to obey, to submit, to him.

Bishop Williamson also held this line.
When, in July 1994, Fr. Schmidberger’s term was at an end, there was a school of thought that postulated that a bishop should be the SG, and Bishop Fellay, who was open to having such a position, was also in the position to cultivate the contacts necessary in order to secure support.  The election was very close, and against rules of the Chapter, Fr. Schmidberger and Bp. Fellay conferred privately before settling that Bp. Fellay would become SG.  No significant protest was raised.
All SSPX priests, when sent to their first assignment as priors, are told not to change anything for at least 6 months.  This makes sure there is continuity and so the faithful don’t get anxious.  So too, the first 6 years of Bishop Fellay’s first term was very much a “listening” time.  He felt out what a post-Lefebvre, post-Schmidberger Generalate was like.  As his term wore on he began to make strategic appointments, cultivate and promote men who obeyed devotedly and unquestioningly, and develop his own “style” of Generalate.  As the second term came on, in 2006, he became much more comfortable with his unique iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove leadership of the SSPX, a style completely camouflaged by his blinding 10,000 watt smile (a senior SSPX priest once told me that “Bishop Fellay runs the SSPX with more authority than that with which the Pope rules the Church.”).  He shut down all commentary from all priests, banning blogs, interviews, articles, etc. that were not expressly vetted by him or his appointed surrogates.  "He, and he alone," (we saw this same phraseology in a recent letter of US District Superior Fr. Rostand) would be the voice of the SSPX (for those who doubt this, Fr. Paul Morgan, District Superior of Ireland and England, was forced to remove his own commentary about the Albano meeting from the UK District’s website at the express command of the General House).
I want to pause here for a moment.  Think about any of the great religious congregations: the Oratorians, the Redemptorists, the Jesuits, etc.  Can you see St. Philip Neri telling the Oratorian Fathers that he, and he alone, would be the voice of the Oratory?  St. Alphonsus with the Redemptorists?  St. Ignatius Loyola wanting St. Francis Xavier to run sermons by him before they were preached or policies before they were implemented in the missions?  There is a paranoia that informs such a style of leadership, but it is ego too.  It is ego that will *not* be opposed.
I also want to note that for those who study Church history, politics is nothing new.  Ambition does not disappear from the heart of the cleric when hands are laid upon his tonsured head.  To note that Bishop Fellay is ambitious is not unjust, it is simply true.  And, ambition, in and of itself, is not a sin.  But where some might see the point of departure is that Bishop Fellay has always wanted to succeed where (he perceived) that the Archbishop “failed.”  That, far more than any Cardinal’s-Hat-Conspiracy-Theory, is his reason.  So too, when Joseph Ratzinger took the name of Benedict XVI he claimed that the major defeat of his time as Head of the ex-Holy Office was the failure of 1988, the failure of the May 5thProtocol, and that he vowed to rectify it almost immediately after “Habemus Papam” sounded out over St. Peter’s Square.  These two men are willing partners, for their own personal and political reasons.   To pretend that politics and ambition has nothing to do with what is going on in the SSPX right now is naiveté in the extreme and ostrich Catholicism at its worst.
Some years ago Bishop Donald Sanborn, a man ordained a priest by Archbishop Lefebvre and who was part of the original SSPX vanguard in America, penned a piece in which he argued that most of the SSPX faithful would stay put given a deal.  When I pressed him for a quantitative estimate, he replied "95%."  I reacted strongly to that, as I was attending SSPX Masses at the time and I still held out hope that people would study, reflect, pray, and really figure out what was going on.  Surely more than 5% would leave rather than join the Novus Ordo church!  Surely they would realize that Benedict XVI could not be head of the “Conciliar Church” (Imposter) and the “Catholic Church” (Authentic) at the same time.  That to say or believe such a thing is at best heresy.  They would be confronted with their latent sedevacantism and follow the consequences.  But, in the end, I think 5% is high, at best.
That's because it turns out that most SSPXers have fallen into Latin Massism and cult-worship of Bishop Fellay, their sainted prophet who has never done ill and can never do ill, because he’s perfect.  That is not an overstatement.  And that brings us back to the original raison d’etre of this primer and our lead into the radio show tomorrow:
Bishop Fellay does not mind that his reply to the three bishops was leaked because he has so successfully waged a PR campaign that HE is the DECIDER in the SSPX that most SSPX faithful are willing to toss 3 bishops into the dustbin and follow Bishop Fellay into history and into the loving arms of the “Holy Father.”  As I noted above, the dark humor is that Bishop Fellay was not part of the original 3 picked by Archbishop Lefebvre.  He wasn’t even the one name the Archbishop submitted to Rome in 1988 for consecration (that name, I’ve confirmed through 3 different sources, was Fr. Richard Williamson).  He was the accountant who became King.  The faithful, who mostly don’t know this, and frankly don’t care anyway because they do not perceive that Bishop Fellay could *ever* be wrong about *anything,* will go along with his moves.
Bishop Fellay is such a king of PR (I once watched him take a picture on his smartphone of the audience at an Angelus conference.  He is a huge advocate of technology and knows how to use it to his advantage.) that he would *never* have emailed his response to the three bishops were he not supremely confident that, even if leaked, the faithful would side with him, not the other bishops.  The main cogent reasons?
Who is known best?  Will faithful follow the man who has been the “face/heart/mind” of the SSPX for two decades (Fellay)?  Or the bishop they don’t know, because he rarely speaks in English and deals with the religious congregations (de Galarreta), the fiery one who preaches hard-line anti-conciliar rhetoric, but is always brought into line by “obedience” to the SSPX (de Mallerais), or the one who everyone ran over in a tank, followed by 17 buses, the one abandoned by his alleged “brothers” and sons in the priesthood (Williamson)?
There is no significant counter-Fellay movement among the clergy outside of the 3 Bishops.  I mentioned this in my last article, but the priests of caractère have been removed from positions of authority and their banishment has spoken silent rebuke to those who would do other than follow the “party line.”  Others are simply broken-down old war horses –God bless them, they worked hard – who are too tired to fight anymore.  The vast majority of SSPX priests – good men though they be – I personally know over 25 of them – simply do not have the financial means or the courage to leave the SSPX.  And God bless them too, the SSPX may have need of Nicodemuses before too long.
Inevitability.  I also mentioned this reason in my last article and I quoted La Croix: “if the SSPX does not make a deal now it will never make a deal.”  All signs point to go, at the behest of Benedict XVI, and at the willingness of Bishop Fellay.

I correctly surmised that there would be a deal some weeks ago before it broke on Rorate that there indeed was one.  I am going to engage in some predictions again.  I’m human and not a psychic.  Take these for what they are worth, with whatever salt you want to flavor them with.

1.  I  think there will be an agreement any day now.  At the latest a month from now, at the soonest, 3 days from now.

2.  I think that ultimately Bishops Alfonso de Galarreta and Bernard Tissier de Mallerais are simply too attached to the Society of St. Pius X and believe too deeply that it is the congregation sent by God through the Archbishop to save the Church to leave that congregation.

3.  I think that if any Bishop were to leave the SSPX, it would be Bishop Richard Williamson, and he may be followed by a few priests and few faithful, but he would be a splinter of a splinter.  Worse, that group would simply carry on the distorted ecclesiology of the last 40 years of calling a man Pope, and then discarding his Code of Canon Law, his Mass, and his Catechism while pointing to a picture in a vestibule (Speaking of pictures, I was recently in the Immaculata Bookstore in Saint Marys, heart of the SSPX in America, buying a first communion gift for my nephew.  There are more framed pictures of Benedict XVI for sale than of the Archbishop and St. Pius X combined.), whereas the Neo-SSPX (the Fellay group) will actually truly finally practice what they preach: that Paul VI and his successors are true vicars of Christ, and that “resistance” to those you consider legitimate authorities has its human limits.  I extend to them the same respect that I do to the FSSP: at least they are (finally) ecclesiologically and intellectually consistent, after decades of mis-educating tens of thousands of laymen in the Church’s indefectibility and ecclesiology and the Pope’s infallibility.  Yup, the Pope actually is the Pope.  You don’t negotiate with the Vicar of Christ.  You obey him when he gives you a command.  Period.
It is often rather shortsightedly retorted, “What do sedevacantists care what happens to the SSPX?”  Passing over the inanity of such a question, I answer: all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that Church history is so often the stuff of books and dusty tomes…from Councils to heresies to anti-popes of yesteryear.  And yet, we are watching something play out now that will be talked about in Church history, should this world last for centuries ahead, for better or for worse.  What thinking Catholic could avert his eyes from these proceedings?

I have personal reasons as well: most of my family and many good friends I made in the more-than-decade I attended SSPX chapels attend SSPX Masses and so they are deeply and intimately concerned with what happens next.  I’m also, as someone who is engaged in our modern society, interested in what will happen sociologically to the SSPX.  They have lived in a bubble for so long, where they could tell women not to wear pants to Mass and tell men to wear suits and ties, where they have forbidden communion in the hand…what will happen when the Conservative Novus Ordos show up at your Masses and at coffee and donuts?  For those of you who’ve spent your lives outside of a diocese – outside of anything resembling a shadow of the Catholic Church – you’re in for a rude awakening.  From those of us who lived in the Novus Ordo church for decades: get ready for complaints to the diocesan bishop, complaints to Rome, and then directives downstream back to Bishop Fellay.  The novelty of the Personal Prelature/Apostolic Administration doesn’t change the reality of the facts on the ground.  Bishops are, by God’s design, the heads of their dioceses.  They will not take lightly to an autonomous congregation operating within their demesne.

Menzingen knows this, and the path has already been prepared for this clash through official SSPX sources now positively reporting on local diocesan happenings (to say nothing of the never-before-done-Novus-Ordo-bishop-confirmation-of-SSPX faithful that happened in France some weeks ago): such things never occurred before 2011.  Will the SSPX – as a self-proclaimed Cluny – really transform the Church, especially through the current, “nothing to see here, we have agreed to disagree” orientation?  As St. Thomas More replied to Cardinal Wolsey in the Bolt play: “there are precedents.”  Or, will the more plausible occur, that the Imposter Novus Ordo Religion will simply subsume the SSPX into one of its carnival side chapels to Shiva and Buddha?  Only time will tell.

What is at last finally clear, is that Bishop Fellay has set a crash course for the Eternal City, at the beckoning of the current claimant to the Papacy.  The three bishops, and all the other clergy, religious, and faithful attached to the Society of St. Pius X, will have to decide to stay in or jump out.  But the boat is not stopping for them.  The Albano meeting was a feint in order to size up his support.  Heartened, Bishop Fellay set this course.
In charity, I must advocate prayer: that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the minds and hearts of all involved in these events or who are watching from a distance, that He will guide our actions and lives in this time of unprecedented crisis, and that through all the confusion, we may ourselves reach the true Eternal City, one day.  That too, on this Mother’s Day and on the anniversary day of Fatima (the 3rd Secret of which was buried by Benedict XVI), that Our Blessed Mother may bring guidance and light to all.  This is my particular prayer for the SSPX, and for all Catholics who have not yet re-discovered the Truth.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen founded True Restoration in 2006 and served as its first President until 2023. He now lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.

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9 Responses

  1. "From those of us who lived in the Novus Ordo church for decades: get ready for complaints to the diocesan bishop, complaints to Rome,…"

    There will not be any complaints.
    no one goes to an FSSP [or ICRSS, IBP etc. Mass] and expects to recieve our Lord in the hand.
    the few rare times that it has happened the priest gently tells the communicant to recieve in the mouth and it is no problem.

    the faithful that will go to SSPX Mass's if they are regularized will absolutely not want to recieve in the hands, and if some trouble maker tries to screw with them the Society will be fully protected by the Holy See.
    If this regularisation happens it will be a huge win, win situation for the Church.

  2. PI Mom says:

    I cannot thank you enough for this! Count me in the 5%! Fellay is a Masonic infiltrator.

  3. giancarlo says:

    The naivete which "cruise the groove" reveals isn't worth addressing except to say that such people only learn their lessons the hard way. This is if the poster is sincere and is not rather a plant. Some sympathy is justified, however. They do, after all, have to have their fix of smells and bells, no matter the cost.

  4. MaryImmHeart says:

    My wife and I will also be in the 5% or more who leave the SSPX if Fellay's deal goes thru. The people I talked to after Mass on Sunday May 13th were also very upset at Fellay and so who knows maybe it will go above 5%.

  5. Father Rostand, Superior of the American district is completely behind Bishop Fellay.

    No one has anything to fear.
    The Society will go on as it has except they they can do a lot more good for the Church now.
    Deo Gratias!

  6. Aneas says:

    Ha ha! This is hilarious! Well I can tell you that me and many of my family members will help replace everyone who decides to leave. We will be going to the Society chapel near us as soon as the SSPX are regularized with the Vatican. Getting the champagne ready!

    I don't think you understand how nuts you sound.

  7. trent13 says:

    The response was submitted in April by Bishop Bernard Fellay, the society's superior general. While Bishop Fellay has been generally positive about the possibility of reconciliation with Rome, leaked letters show that the society's three other bishops have had serious reservations about the process.

    "In consideration of the positions taken by the three other bishops of the Society of St. Pius, their situation will have to be treated separately and individually," Father Lombardi said in a statement.

    ….so, apparently +Williamson definitely doesn't have a chance of staying with the SSPX if a deal goes through – at least not without coming on board re: the Jews.

    Aneas said:
    "I don't think you understand how nuts you sound."

    I'm yet amazed at the number of SSPXers who fail to see the contradiction of their position – holding that there can be two contradictory religions, both simultaneously true, within the same religion…ah, yes, you were saying about how nuts the author sounds?

  8. giancarlo says:

    Doctrine being merely secondary in their malformed consciences, all the likes of Aneas and Cruise have to cling to is comfort manifested in various forms. Let them but gaze on the glittering gold of chalices and candelabra and no end of endorphins go racing out their pituitary glands. Catholicism is for thinking people, not those looking for their next adrenalin rush.

  9. Giancarlo,

    Rather Catholicism is for all men want to go heaven.

    You need to read your Baltimore, or Penny catechism.