March 2023 Print

¡Hagan lío!: The messy relationship between the SSPX and Pope Francis

By Fr. Ian Andrew Palko, SSPX

The problem of understanding the relationship of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X with Pope Francis is perhaps best exemplified by two very different articles from Catholic News Agency. Only two months into the new Pontificate (June 27, 2013), an anonymous article declared, “Traditionalists indicate definitive break with Catholic Church.” Just under three years later (April 26, 2016), another anonymous article reads, “Pope Francis may soon offer the Society of Saint Pius X regular canonical status within the Church.”

In those two-and-a-half years, looking through headlines and articles, one would find precious little to explain this incongruity. In fact, doctrinal discussions held October 27, 2009 to April 11, 2011 found that the representatives of the SSPX and Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were unable to resolve key issues surrounding the interpretation of Vatican II texts and apparent errors in the texts that even those outside the SSPX ranks were beginning to question. The difficulties were such that movements towards a canonical structure for the SSPX stalled.

A papal resignation intervened, and seemingly out-of-the-blue, for the Year of Mercy in 2016, Pope Francis in a publicly-released letter to Msgr. Rino Fisichella,1 announced he was granting in an extraordinary manner, an ecclesial ministry to SSPX priests: the universal faculties to absolve penitents.2 SSPX critics often questioned the Society’s argument for supplied jurisdiction validating the power to absolve. With this decision, there was no longer any question of validity, and now the SSPX received a clear directive from the Pope to act as priests.3 Following the Year of Mercy, this odd method of granting faculties was more formally extended, this time indefinitely, by Apostolic Letter.4

Whereas in 2009, the later-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then Bishop of Regensburg, Msgr. Gerhard Müller, openly condemned as “illegitimate” the ordinations the SSPX planned at its Zaitzkofen seminary in Germany, Pope Francis responded in 2016 in a private letter to the Superior General of the SSPX, with permission to “freely ordain” those priests.5

For the canonical trial of a priest, the Superior General of the SSPX was appointed by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Müller, as a judge for the first-instance trial in 2015.6 The case was one that normally would be reserved to the Holy See itself.

In 2017, the same Cardinal Müller announced, as President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, that Pope Francis wished local bishops to ensure SSPX priests received the proper delegation to witness marriages, or that he send a suitable priest from the diocese as a witness with the SSPX priest offering the Nuptial Mass which followed.7 The vast majority of bishops in the world simply granted this delegation to the SSPX priest, either in individual cases, or in a permanent manner.8

Few could imagine that in four years there would be such profound changes. The SSPX had suffered from loud accusations on the part of its detractors of being in schism and conferring invalid sacraments, even at the highest levels of the Church, for nearly 35 years. Now, sacraments were unquestionably valid, it had a legitimate ministry, received marriage faculties from the local Ordinary, and confessional faculties from the Pope Himself.

How did the Church arrive at today’s situation where no reasonable argument remains to convict the SSPX of having a “schismatic mentality” or conferring invalid sacraments?

To help explain this, we will take a whirlwind tour of the history of the SSPX.

Founding in 1970 to the “Hot Summer” of 1976

Jorge Maria Bergoglio was celebrating his first anniversary of ordination when the SSPX was founded in Fribourg, Switzerland on November 1, 1970, by decree of Msgr. François Charrière, the local ordinary. Then-retired Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers Abp. Marcel Lefebvre was approached by several young men wishing a traditional priestly formation, and the emeritus archbishop agreed to assist them. The men went to study at the University of Fribourg but when even this conservative formation began to introduce modern problems into theology and philosophy, the archbishop decided to teach the men himself. This also had the advantage of providing a common life for them, something he had encouraged in his time as Apostolic Delegate in Africa, and Archbishop of Dakar. The seminary at Ecône was inaugurated soon after, and the SSPX was canonically established in the Diocese of Fribourg.

It was not very long after that suspicions and rumors made their way to the loggia in Rome, especially from among the French clergy.9 A meeting of various prelates was assembled at Rome on March 26, 1974. It included Msgr. Pierre Mamie, the successor in Fribourg, and Msgr. Nestor Adam, bishop of Sion, where Ecône is located. A report was made and a commission of three cardinals (Msgrs. Gabriel-Marie Garrone, John Wright, and Arturo Tabera) was assembled to assess the SSPX. They decided on an Apostolic Visitation of the seminary at Ecône. The two visitors, Msgrs. Deschamps and Onclin, shared some of their unorthodox opinions during the inquiry, thereby scandalizing the seminarians. The visitors spoke of married clergy being an inevitable reality for Latin clergy, the lack of an absolute truth, and their doubts about the physical Resurrection of Our Lord. In response, Msgr. Lefebvre issued a private statement to SSPX members, which became his now-famous “Declaration” of November 21, 1974. This was an assurance of his commitment to orthodoxy and an encouragement for them to maintain their attachment to “eternal Rome.” As Michael Davies indicates, portions and quotes were made public and used “in a manner [Lefebvre] could not condone,” and so the full text was given to Jean Madiran for publication in his review, Itineraires.10 While the report of the visitors was one of glowing praise for the SSPX, the commission of Cardinals seized upon this statement as a means to condemn Msgr. Lefebvre and authorize the suppression of the Society. Msgr. Mamie, present at a January 21, 1975, meeting of the cardinals, wrote three days later requesting permission to suppress the SSPX on the basis of the use of the Traditional Latin Mass. Beginning in February 1975, the SSPX was charged with refusing “the Council and the Pope,” based solely on Archbishop Lefebvre’s statement.11 The Cardinals invited him to a February 13, 1975 meeting, and a March 3 follow-up, which was, in fact, a de facto trial. Msgr. Mamie requested permission to suppress the SSPX, which the commission of Cardinals gave, and urged that it happen without delay. On May 6, 1975, Msgr. Mamie’s letter arrived at Ecône. With less than a month before the end of the school year, the Seminary was ordered to close, and 104 seminarians were to be sent away as vagabonds, with no provision for their continued studies or support, something Msgr Lefebvre could not, in conscience, do.

The archbishop made an appeal of the decision on June 5, 1975 to the Apostolic Signatura, an appeal that would normally suspend the suppression. Without documentary evidence, the appeal was rejected on June 10, on claims that the Pope had authorized the actions of the cardinals in forma specifica, making an appeal impossible. A further appeal seeking evidence was sent to the Supreme Tribunal, on 14 June 1975, and it received no reply. A letter of June 29, 1975, from Paul VI retroactively tried to legalize the unjust condemnation and suppression.

The suppression and lack of due process was a violation of natural justice. Moreover, Abp. Lefebvre had a duty in charity to preserve Tradition and provide for the clerical members of the SSPX. As such, he refused to close the seminary. Prior to 1975, ordinands were incardinated into various dioceses, though the Holy See had tacitly admitted the SSPX could incardinate its own members when religious, such as Fr Urban Snyder, joined the SSPX.12 Now, following the supposed suppression of the SSPX, and a letter from Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot, the Cardinal Secretary of State, urging bishops not to incardinate SSPX members into their dioceses, it became clear that Abp. Lefebvre would need to incardinate the priests he ordained into the SSPX for them to be able to live out their priesthood as traditional priests.

On June 29, 1976, Abp. Lefebvre proceeded to ordain his seminarians, incardinating them into the Society itself. Thus began what became known as the “Hot Summer” of 1976. On July 1, Msgr. Mamie condemned the ordinations and declared the Archbishop suspended from exercising orders for a year, and all of the ordinands also suspended. The Congregation of Bishops issued a formal suspension on July 22. At the invitation of the Association of St. Pius V, Abp. Lefebvre celebrated a Pontifical Mass in Lille, his home town, on August 29, 1976. Ten thousand faithful from around the world attended, prompting a personal audience with Paul VI. The meeting showed the depth of disinformation filtered to the Pope, who accused Abp. Lefebvre of requiring seminarians to take an oath against the Pope. Pope Paul VI asked that he and the Archbishop work together to end the abuses in the Church but he would not authorize the Archbishop’s “experiment of Tradition” or the traditional Mass.

From 1976 to the Consecrations in 1988

For the next 12 years, the SSPX operated in a quasi-limbo. It may have been officially suppressed, but this was due to several injustices. False information was being fed to the Pope Paul VI about the Society, and a private declaration made by one of its members should not have caused the whole Society to be condemned, even if liberal prelates objected to its solid orthodoxy. Meanwhile, the SSPX operated as it had before, waiting for its appeal to be addressed. According to Canon Law, such an appeal is “suspensive,” that is, the decision it is appealing against is suspended until the appeal is answered.

The continued operation of the SSPX and other priests continuing their celebration of the traditional rites obtained the indult in 1984. This allowed priests to offer the older form of Mass, provided they did not object to the new rite. The SSPX viewed this as a good start, even though flawed in its conditions. With this good start in view, Abp. Lefebvre offered a good-will gesture of submitting dubia on Religious Liberty to the Holy See.13

The dubia consisted of a heavily annotated list of 39 doubts and multiple other questions on Dignitatis Humanæ and its apparent incompatibility with traditional Catholic teachings on tolerance and religious liberty. Dubia such as these are a long-standing method of solving serious theological and liturgical questions in an official way. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received the dubia in 1985. No public response was issued, but a private anonymous response claiming to be the Congregation’s reply acknowledged the Vatican II teaching was entirely novel. The reply never addressed any of the points made by Msgr Lefebvre, but simply considered the 39 objections to be a single repetitive argument, and dismissed any concerns on the basis that the Council said it was continuous with tradition. Archbishop Lefebvre took this non-response as one of the signs he may need to consecrate bishops to maintain the SSPX and its attached religious societies beyond his own lifetime.

The year of that response, in 1986, saw Pope John Paul II’s public acts against the First Commandment at Assisi, praying with other religions and permitting overt sacrilege in the very home of St. Francis. This was yet another sign for the Archbishop of the need to consecrate bishops. His own declining health also prompted Abp. Lefebvre to ask the Holy See for permission to consecrate bishops to continue his work.

Discussions ensued, with a great deal of complication.14 Another Apostolic Visitation was performed by Cardinal Édouard Gagnon, who happily assisted at a Mass of the supposedly-suspended archbishop. He offered praise of the SSPX and there was an initial renewal of trust. At long last, a protocol of agreement was drawn up. While the Protocol did not lay out specifics, in principle Abp. Lefebvre would be able to consecrate a bishop. He had discussed planning the consecration for June 30, 1988, the fourth date set. Candidates had already been suggested to the Pope on May 3. Cardinal Ratzinger however proposed an indefinite delay of the consecration of a bishop, and that there was no real necessity for bishops. The Archbishop was told that the end of June was too soon, but was not given a fixed date. Later he would share a conversation with Cardinal Silvio Oddi, in which the retired-Prefect for the Clergy indicated there was a lack of honesty on the part of the Holy See. Confidence that the Holy See was going to keep its part of the Protocol on a bishop was lost. After a constant effort of good will to pass through official channels and accept delays, the Holy See was again changing agreements which were the basis for that good will.

In an attempt to corner Cardinal Ratzinger into a guarantee of a bishop, Abp. Lefebvre indicated, he would feel bound in conscience to consecrate bishops himself on June 30, relying on the agreement made in the Protocol, that the Pope was not opposed to bishops from among the members of the SSPX. On May 30, Cardinal Ratzinger replied that June was unacceptable, but August 15 would be a potential date. The Vatican, however, would need more and different candidates to vet.15 If two months had been too short to choose one of the four names the Archbishop had proposed, how would two months secure a candidate from far more candidates? The Archbishop judged that this was just another delay tactic, the fifth date being proposed as a stopgap only to put the consecration off even longer, and to propose that bishops were not necessary. “By rejecting the candidates proposed by Archbishop Lefebvre, Cardinal Ratzinger made clear that the Vatican was not sincere in fulfilling its proposes for a Bishop.”16 When the Archbishop insisted on the consecration happening on June 30, the Vatican refused to grant permission for that date or to name a candidate. Feeling his health declining with the stress of the negotiations and wanting to provide for the future of his society of priests that was now not going to be given canonical recognition by Rome, Archbishop Lefebvre proceeded with the consecration of four bishops on June 30.

Pope John Paul II responded with the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei adflicta, in which he declared that Abp. Lefebvre, Msgr. Antonio de Castro Mayer and the bishops consecrated by them had automatically excommunicated themselves, even though Canon Law provided obvious exceptions to this penalty that were clearly in play on June 30, 1988.

Within days, some disillusioned priests and seminarians of the SSPX who had difficulties with the consecrations went to Cardinal Ratzinger, and with his help formed the Fraternity of St. Peter, which held itself to be the “pars sanior” or the “healthier part” of the SSPX.17

After the Consecrations up to Pope Francis

A détente of 12 years saw no formal and even few informal contacts between the SSPX and Holy See. After a major pilgrimage of a large contingent of SSPX clergy and other religious to Rome in 2000, then President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission and Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos began discussions to try to improve relations. Like their founder, who had died in 1991, the SSPX Superiors were happy to talk with Rome for the purpose of getting official authorization for the experiment of Tradition. The Superior General of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, insisted on two pre-conditions, after which doctrinal discussions could begin as a preliminary to the SSPX’s canonical recognition. The two pre-conditions were (1) that the alleged excommunications of the bishops in 1988 be declared void, and (2) that the traditional Mass be openly declared to be able to be used by any priest.

The pre-conditions were not fulfilled during the pontificate of John Paul II. They were, however, accomplished by Pope Benedict XVI. The second condition was met with the publication of Summorum Pontificum in July of 2007. The former condition was met in 2009, with the excommunications being declared as having “no longer has juridical effect.”18 The pre-conditions being fulfilled, a theological commission made up of members of the SSPX and theologians chosen by Pope Benedict met on October 26, 2009, and every two months afterwards. The discussions did not produce an agreement on the points in question, but nevertheless, in 2011, the SSPX was presented a Doctrinal Preamble by Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the CDF. Initially this document required unconditional acceptance of Vatican II and profession of the goodness of the new rites, but Cardinal Levada indicated by letter that the CDF was willing to accept suggestions for the improvement of the text. The SSPX proposed the formula of the 1988 Protocol (since these were deemed acceptable by Pope Benedict in 1988) with added professions of Faith. The Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, Msgr. Guido Pozzo, had suggested this as a solution. Clergy close to the Pope assured the SSPX that Pope Benedict was willing to accept the alternative formula. It seemed, as with 1988, that an agreement was reached, but then in March 2012, Cardinal Levada replied to the SSPX superiors that no alternatives were possible, and the Pope personally insisted on the unacceptable Preamble as it originally stood, asking far more than what was acceptable in 1988. Confused by the contradictory information, the Superior General wrote to Pope Benedict XVI who confirmed personally he had rejected any alternative or amendment. Officially, the Holy See announced it was awaiting a response from the SSPX, even though a response had been made, and relations dropped into another quasi-limbo.

Benedict resigned February 28, 2013, and Francis was elected.

Anni Francisci

Within two years of his Pontificate, Francis began official changes to the approach of the Holy See towards the SSPX by setting the question of the SSPX’s canonical status to the side, at least temporarily, and simply granting faculties to SSPX priests. As a result, by 2017, it was no longer possible to claim that the SSPX lacked some legitimate ministry, or that its confessions and marriages were invalid. Beyond these moves, however, the Pope also provided, personally, unusual assistance for the SSPX in his former see of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

While Argentina has a very liberal government, the country favors Catholicism by allowing Catholic congregations and entities legal status, which assist with obtaining visa and other legal benefits. Since coming to Argentina, the SSPX was never given official status as a religious organization but was tolerated as a cultural association for a time until the deportation of Msgr. Williamson, who had been Rector at the seminary of La Reja, in 2009. The added scrutiny that followed made obtaining visas difficult for the SSPX.

The Archbishop of Buenos Aires at this time was, of course, Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio. In order to seek assistance with the difficult legal status of the SSPX in Argentina, the SSPX District Superior of South America at the time, Fr. Christian Bouchcourt, went to see the Cardinal. After declaring that the SSPX was certainly Catholic, Cardinal Bergoglio agreed to try to solve its legal woes. He wrote a letter to the government, saying that the SSPX is Catholic and should be recognized legally as such, but the Papal Nuncio Adriano Bernadini had already declared the SSPX as “not Catholic.” This left the government with contradictory declarations it was legally obliged to follow. When Bergoglio became Pope, however, the contradiction no longer existed, since the Pope was now the boss of the Papal Nuncio!

Pope Francis did not lose much time making good the promises he had made to the local SSPX superiors while he was the ordinary of Buenos Aires, and even made a phone call to the SSPX District House, located in the city, to inform the superior that he was taking care of the matter. At his request, Cardinal Arelio Poli, the successor of the Pope in Buenos Aires, asked that the government consider the SSPX in Argentina as an “Association of Diocesan Right,” certifying the SSPX as a Catholic Society, to which the government was forced to agree.19 Almost immediately, this decree and its legal effect in Canon Law became widely known. In circles outside the SSPX some, such as Dom Pio Pace, questioned if it were a backdoor regularization of the SSPX.20

Msgr. Pozzo gave an interview indicating this decree should not be seen as granting any canonical status.

Quo vadis?

Because this brief history of Pope Francis’s concessions to the SSPX seems confusing in light of his general dislike of the traditional movement, it had led to a variety of explanations. All of those bantered about, however, seem to fall into one of three generic categories.

Into the first category falls a set of theories expressed by many conservative and traditional Catholics, plus the most liberal Catholics, based, at least, on the average Catholic internet commentator or journalist. These theories suggest that Pope Francis is a cunning man who has a clear and meticulously designed plan to destroy the Catholic Faith and ultimately remake the Church in a new image and likeness.

For such theorists, Traditiones custodes provides evidence that a the Pope is seeking to force compliance out of priests and faithful or, if they will not comply, to force them out of their “approved” Mass centers over to the SSPX or other groups. In doing this, these groups will become radicalized and justify the condemnation and possibly excommunication of the entire traditional movement, or at least its permanent marginalization.21 One commentator even suggested that Francis “hopes to sequester traditionalists into the Society of St. Pius X.”22

Various acts in dioceses where the bishops are devotees of Pope Francis make these theories seem palatable, but also seem to ignore Pope Francis’s other actions, both before and during his papacy.

For example, as Cardinal Bergoglio, we see the assistance he gave to the SSPX in South America, an action which not only did not assist him in any way, but also put him at odds with the Apostolic Nuncio. After doctrinal discussions had finished and the chance for any amendment to the doctrinal Preamble gone, as Pope, Francis granted to the SSPX a universal faculty to hear confessions. This came without any official request on the part of the SSPX. He, then indefinitely extended the faculty and provided a means to have delegation for marriages. These concessions were not followed up with any demands being made of the SSPX. It was a carrot, but without the stick.

The second category of theories can be summarized as denying that the Pope has any particular agenda at all, and that he is motivated either by a desire to reach out to those on the “peripheries” of the Church, or to act kindly to those with whom he feels a personal connection.

In this case, the SSPX was familiar to him in Argentina, and while it never withheld criticism of his attendance at Protestant religious services, and other clear errors, it came to him asking for assistance, showing not merely an attachment to opinions and a particular liturgy, but something Bergoglio very much liked to see, acts of the corporal works of mercy. In Buenos Aires, one finds not only an SSPX chapel; but a seminary, constructed with the help of the seminarians themselves living in difficult conditions while doing so; a school, providing for those who were not always the most wealthy; and a myriad of other fruits.

For a Pope unconcerned with liturgy or doctrine, but action at the “margins” of the Church, he would find in the SSPX a group that did those works of mercy he thought embodied “Catholicism” and a marginalized group who was happy to ask for help. In other words, this theory either treats the Pope as a true Modernist, with no doctrinal principles, but only subjective and personal principles, or simply a one who likes those with whom he has a personal connection, whatever they may think.

Such a pope would not be concerned with “partial communion” or “full communion” or “communion” at all, but simply whether one is doing good, and being open and honest.

If this theory were correct, the negative view of other traditionalist groups or those who favor the traditional Mass can be chalked up to an unfamiliarity, or perhaps his sense that they also have criticism, but hide it.

A tertium datur is provided by Charles Haywood, who calls himself “Maximum Leader” at The Worthy House. In a reviewing of To Change the Church by Ross Douthat, he offers “a simpler answer that nobody seems to raise” that “the Pope is just a very stupid man who has, like Zelig or Forrest Gump, stumbled into a situation for which his talents and nature make him totally unfit.”23

It is well known that Francis has surrounded himself with figures who “ghostwrite” his speeches and it is suspected, even documents like Traditionis custodes.24 Men like Msgr. Victor Emmanuel Fernández or Prof. Andrea Grillo influence a weak man with their many different pet projects. They take advantage of his lack of vision, intelligence, and foresight to manipulate him into doing what they would like done. While the agendas vary, they are unified by their hatred of the traditional teaching and liturgy of the Church, and a drive to change the moral teachings of the Church, as well as eliminate the traditional liturgy. Thus, it is not the Pope who is driving the ship into the rocks, but those he allows to be around him.

Haywood continues explaining that “[s]uch men lack consistency, because they simply don’t have the intellectual horsepower to maintain it, while they quickly and without noticing contradict themselves if it’s needed to get shiny baubles such as the praise of those they realize to be their intellectual or social betters.”

In a sense, this is like many of the theories that try to explain the conflicted and highly inconsistent Paul VI. “I don’t dispute there are smart people who are trying to undermine Catholicism and turn it into Episcopalianism,” Haywood writes, “but Francis isn’t among them.”

This third way also helps explain the positive moves of the now-Pope Francis and once-Cardinal Bergoglio towards the SSPX. Those SSPX priests and bishops he has met have been open with him about their objections and criticism, but have also asked for assistance, and come to meet when he has asked. Without any long-term motive or vision, he acts merely on impressions, and the impression of the SSPX is good.

Regardless of which of these theories is closest to the truth, it is clear that the SSPX remains at the heart of the normalization of traditional Catholicism, that is, authentic Catholicism, within the Church. Throughout its entire history, its founder and his successors have only wanted to practice the faith of their fathers and provide that faith to as many souls as possible. They have been provided the right to do this by Our Lord Himself and the perennial teaching of His Church, but the traditional Faith is necessarily stifled when its practice is legally forbidden or otherwise hampered by those governing the Church.

Pope Francis has taken a step forward in making traditional Catholicism more mainstream by granting sacramental faculties to SSPX priests. Pope Benedict XVI’s statement from 2009 that SSPX priests while not excommunicated or suspended, “do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church,” can no longer be cited as accurate.25 In 2015, the Superior General received a legitimate ministry from the Pope, to make judgments in a Canonical case, and soon after all SSPX priests received a ministry to absolve sins and witness Catholic marriages.

At the same time, Pope Francis has taken two steps backwards by reversing the universal permission for the traditional Mass that the SSPX had requested for the Church and which had been granted by Pope Benedict XVI. The “Mass of All Time,” flourishing as it was and bringing many Catholics to the traditional practices that have long nourished souls, has now been shut down in numerous locations around the world, and there is near-constant rumor of worse just around the corner.

In such an environment, the members of the SSPX continue and will continue to work for the restoration of all things in Christ by maintaining the traditional Catholic practices in its chapels and schools, forming priests, and assisting Catholic families towards sanctity. The SSPX will also continue to pray that Pope Francis, or one of his successors, soon makes these practices mainstream within the Church.


1 Msgr. Fisichella was, in 2015, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and, as such, was charged to oversee the “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.”

2 Pope Francis. (Sep. 1, 2015). “Lettera del Santo Padre Francesco con la quale del guibileo straordinario della Misericordia.

3 N.B. The SSPX has never questioned the validity of absolution by its priests. Unimpeachable justification, found in Canon Law itself, existed before 2015 to appeal to supplied jurisdiction, common error, and the legitimate requests of the faithful. The value of these actions of the Pope was to silence the arguments of opponents who, to deter faithful from coming to the SSPX, often declared its confessions “invalid.”

4 Pope Francis. (Nov. 21, 2016). Misericordia et misera. §12.

5 Cf. Interview with Bishop Fellay by Mr. James Vogel. Apr. 21, 2017. SSPX: United States District.

6 La Stampa. June 3, 2015. “Holy See puts Fellay in charge of trying one of his own priests.”

7 Müller, Gerhard. Apr. 4, 2017. Lettera della Pontificia Commissione «Ecclesia Dei» ai Presuli delle Conferenze Episcopali interessate circa la licenza per la Celebrazione di Matrimoni dei Fedeli della Fraternità San Pio X.

8 N.B. For the same reasons as with confessions, the SSPX never doubted the validity of marriages witnessed by it on the grounds of “Lack of Canonical Form” because Canon Law provides an extraordinary canonical form, or exemptions for when one is morally unable to approach a priest with delegation. As with confessions, though, opponents of the SSPX frequently proclaimed its marriages invalid, and diocesan tribunals even improperly annulled the marriages. The decree silenced critics and prevented the faithful from abusing the extraordinary situation by getting an easy but false annulment.

9 Davies, Michael. Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre., vol. 1. p. 21, “The success of Ecône provided so dramatic a contrast to this debacle that its very existence became intolerable for some French bishops. They referred to it as Le Séminaire Sauvage—the Wildcat Seminary—giving the impression that it had been set up illegally without the authorization of the Vatican.”

10 Ibid., p.38.

11 Ibid., p. 42.

12 The Congregation for Religious granted Fr Snyder, a Trappist, permission to leave his congregation into which he was incardinated, and to be ascribed to the SSPX.

13 Cf. Lefebvre, Marcel. Religious Liberty Questioned. 2001. Kansas City: Angelus Press.

14 Cf. Laisney, François. Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican. 1988. Kansas City: Angelus Press.

15 This is particularly unusual, as the normal method for choosing a new bishop is the “terna” where a Papal Nuncio (advised by other bishops) submits a list of three names, from which one is chosen.

16 Ibid., p. 85.

17 Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Jul. 2, 1988. “Clarification.” Available at:

18 Congregation for Bishops. Decree of Jan. 21, 2009.

19 Boletín Oficial de la República Argentina. Apr. 9, 2015, p. 38.

20 Pace, Pio. “The Society of Saint Pius X recognized in Argentina: what does it mean? Much more than you may think!” Rorate Caeli. Apr. 29, 2015. Available at:

21 E.g. Cf. Altieri, Christopher R. “Traditionis custodes: Best, worst, and middle case scenarios in the short term”: Catholic World Report (July 16, 2021). Available at:

22 Westin, John-Henry. July 26, 2017. “Vatican rumblings: Pope Francis aiming to end Latin Mass permission” LifeSite News. Available at

23 Haywood, Charles. Review of To Change the Church by Ross Douthat. GoodReads. (Mar. 30, 2018) Available at:

24 Kwasniewski, Peter. (Aug. 18, 2021). “Andrea Grillo: The Mind Behind the Motu Proprio” OnePeterFive. Available at:

25 Benedict XVI. Mar. 10, 2009. Lettera del Santo Padre Benedetto XVI al vescovi della Chiesa Cattolica.

Image Sources

TITLE IMAGE:’s_Square,_Vatican_City_-_April_2007.jpg (Diliff)


POPE BENEDICT: wikimedia (Tech. Sgt. Suzanne M. Day)

POPE FRANCIS: (Anthony Sajdler)