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For other uses, see SSPX .

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is an international Traditionalist Catholic organisation, founded in 1970 by the Frenchmarker archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

The society's official Latin name is Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X, meaning "Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X".

Tensions between the society and the Holy See reached their height in 1988, when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II. However, dialogue between the society and the Holy See has been ongoing for some years, and in January 2009 the Holy See remitted the excommunications of the Society's bishops that it had declared at the time of the 1988 consecrations and expressed the hope that all members of the society would follow this up by speedily returning to full communion with the Church.

In June 2009, Father Franz Schmidberger said that the SSPX is moving in the "direction of a personal prelature", somewhat similar to the situation of Opus Dei. Father Schmidberger's view has not been confirmed by the Holy See, which sees the society as still requiring "to rediscover the path to full communion with the Church ... the doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry."

Foundation and early history

Like the Traditionalist Catholic movement in general, the SSPX was born out of opposition to changes in the Catholic Church that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). The founder and central figure of the society was the French prelate Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre had spent much of his career as a missionary in Africa and served as superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers from 1962 to 1968. He retired in 1968 when his congregation began to revise its constitutions in a manner that Lefebvre considered to be un-Catholic and Modernist. Shortly after his retirement, Lefebvre was approached by French seminarians in Romemarker. It is thought that they told him that they were being persecuted for their adherence to traditional doctrines and sought his advice on a conservative seminary where they could complete their studies. He directed them to the University of Fribourgmarker, Switzerlandmarker.
In 1970, urged by the Abbot of the Abbey of Hauterivemarker and the Dominican theologian Father Marie-Dominique Philippe to teach the seminarians personally, Lefebvre approached François Charrière, Bishop of Lausannemarker, Genevamarker and Fribourgmarker, with a request to set up a religious society. Charrière granted Lefebvre's request and, with a document predated by six days to 1 November 1970, he established the Society of St. Pius X as a "pia unio" on a provisional (ad experimentum) basis for six years. Pia unio status was the first stage through which a Catholic organisation passed prior to gaining official recognition as a religious institute or society of apostolic life. (Since 1983, the term "association of the faithful" has replaced "pia unio".) Some Swiss laymen offered the seminary at Ecône to the newly formed group, and in 1971 the first 24 candidates entered, followed by a further 32 in October 1972.

Normally, after a suitable period of experience and consultation with the Holy See, a bishop would raise a pia unio to official status at diocesan level. Lefebvre attempted to bypass this stage, and contacted three different Vatican departments in order to secure early recognition for his society. He succeeded in obtaining a letter of encouragement from Cardinal John Joseph Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, but there was no approval from the Vatican congregation responsible for raising an association to the level desired by Lefebvre. Cardinal Wright's letter, dated 18 February 1971, was worded carefully, speaking of the association "as Your Excellency presents it" and saying, with regard to the field of competence of Cardinal Wright's own Congregation, that the association "will be able to contribute much to accomplishing the plan drawn up by this Congregation for worldwide sharing of clergy". It has been claimed that Cardinal Wright was still recommending prospective seminarians to apply to Ecône as late as 1973.

The establishment of the SSPX was unwelcome to a number of churchmen, most notably to the French bishops, whose theological outlook was quite different from that of Lefebvre and who had important connections with the Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State, Jean-Marie Villot. Much of the tension between Lefebvre and his critics must be seen in the context of long-term theological, cultural and political divisions between opposing elements of French society. According to Michael Davies, a defender of Lefebvre, at the meeting of the French episcopal conference at Lourdes in 1972, the seminary at Ecône acquired the nickname "le séminaire sauvage" — the "wildcat seminary" — and by November 1974 the French episcopate had indicated that they would not incardinate any of Lefebvre's priests in their dioceses. They also publicly criticised Catholics who remained attached to the Tridentine Mass. By this time, the SSPX had opened additional seminaries in Armada, Michiganmarker, (1973) and in Romemarker (1974).

The first sign of intervention by curial authorities was a meeting held in the Vatican on 26 March 1974. By June 1974, a commission of cardinals had been formed to inquire into the SSPX. The cardinals decided that a canonical visitation of the seminary should be undertaken and, from 11–13 November 1974, two Belgian priests carried out a visitation. Their report was said to have been favourable. However, while at Ecône, they expressed a number of theological opinions which were judged to be excessively liberal, and which greatly shocked the seminarians and staff. In what he later described as a mood of "doubtlessly excessive indignation", Lefebvre wrote a "Declaration" in which he strongly attacked what he considered to be liberal trends apparent in the contemporary Church, which (he said) were "clearly evident" in the Council and in the reforms that had followed. This document was leaked and published in January 1975, in the French Traditionalist Catholic journal Itinéraires. It would provide important ammunition to his opponents.

By now, Lefebvre was in serious difficulties. In January 1975, Monsignor Pierre Mamie, the Bishop of Fribourg, wrote to Rome stating his intention to withdraw the pia unio status that his predecessor had granted. In the same month, Lefebvre was asked by the cardinals to come to the Vatican. He met with them twice, on 13 February and 3 March. To Lefebvre's declared surprise, the meetings were hostile in tone: at one point a French cardinal, Gabriel-Marie Garrone, reportedly called him a "fool".

On 6 May 1975, with the approval of the cardinals, Bishop Mamie withdrew the SSPX's pia unio status. Lefebvre instructed his lawyer to lodge appeals and he ultimately petitioned the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court of the Catholic Church, which turned down the complaint. From this point onwards, the SSPX was no longer recognised as an organisation within the Catholic Church.

Lefebvre and the leadership of the society have always maintained that he was treated unfairly by the Roman Curia, that the suppression of the SSPX was unjust and also that the procedures followed in its suppression violated the provisions of the Code of Canon Law.

The SSPX continued to operate in spite of its dissolution. In the consistory of 24 May 1976, Pope Paul VI rebuked Archbishop Lefebvre by name – reportedly the first time in 200 years that a pope had publicly reprimanded a Catholic bishop – and appealed to him and his followers to change their minds. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Giovanni Benelli, the deputy Vatican Secretary of State, sent Lefebvre two letters ordering him not to proceed with scheduled priestly ordinations for the SSPX. Lefebvre ignored the warning, and went ahead with the ordinations on 29 June 1976; he was immediately suspended "a collatione ordinum" meaning that he was no longer permitted to conduct ordinations. A week later, Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops sent him an official communication requiring him to ask the Pope's pardon. Lefebvre responded with a letter claiming that there was "a secret agreement between high dignitaries in the Church and those in Masonic lodges before the Council". On 22 July, Cardinal Baggio notified Lefebvre that, since he had not apologised, he was suspended "a divinis". He was now legally forbidden to celebrate any sacraments whatsoever.

1988 consecrations

A central controversy surrounding the SSPX concerns the consecration by Archbishop Lefebvre and a Brazilian bishop, Antônio de Castro Mayer, of four SSPX priests as bishops in 1988 in violation of the orders of Pope John Paul II.

By 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre was 81. In Catholic doctrine only a bishop can ordain men to the priesthood. At that point, if Lefebvre died, the SSPX would have become dependent upon non-SSPX bishops to ordain future priests - and Lefebvre did not regard them as properly reliable and orthodox. In June 1987, Lefebvre announced his intention to consecrate a successor to the episcopacy. He implied that he intended to do this with or without the approval of the Holy See. Under canons 1013 and 1382 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law, the consecration of a bishop requires papal approval. Consecration of bishops without papal approval had been condemned by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, who described the sacramental activity of bishops who had been consecrated without such approval as "gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious". The Roman authorities were unhappy with Lefebvre's plan, but they began discussions with him and the SSPX which led to the signing on 5 May 1988, of a skeleton agreement between Lefebvre and Cardinal Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the future Pope Benedict XVI.

On Pope John Paul II's instructions, Cardinal Ratzinger replied to Lefebvre on 30 May, insisting on observance of the agreement of 5 May and adding that, if Lefebvre carried out unauthorised consecrations on 30 June, the promised authorisation for the ordination to the episcopacy would not be granted.

On 3 June, Lefebvre wrote from Ecône, stating that he intended to proceed. On 9 June, the Pope replied with a personal letter, appealing to him not to proceed with a design that "would be seen as nothing other than a schismatic act, the theological and canonical consequences of which are known to you". Lefebvre did not reply and the letter was made public on 16 June. For the first time the Holy See stated publicly that Lefebvre was in danger of being excommunicated.

On 30 June 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre proceeded to ordain to the episcopate four priests of the SSPX. Monsignor Antônio de Castro Mayer, the retired Bishop of Campos dos Goytacazesmarker, Brazilmarker, assisted in the ceremony.

The following day, the Congregation for Bishops issued a decree declaring that Archbishop Lefebvre had incurred automatic excommunication. On the following day, 2 July, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter known as Ecclesia Dei in which he condemned the Archbishop's action. The Pope stated that, since schism is defined in the Code of Canon Law as "withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (canon 751), the consecration "constitute[d] a schismatic act", and that, by virtue of canon 1382 of the Code, it entailed automatic excommunication for all the bishops involved.

Lefebvre argued that his actions had been necessary because the traditional form of the Catholic faith and sacraments would become extinct without traditionalist clergy to pass them on to the next generation. He called the ordinations "opération survie" - "Operation Survival", citing in his defense canons 1323 and 1324 of the Code of Canon Law.

Some members of the SSPX disassociated themselves from the Society as a result of Lefebvre's actions and, with the approval of the Holy See, formed a separate society called the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Canonical situation

The canonical situation of the SSPX has been subject of much controversy since the 1988 Ecône consecrations.

SSPX today

According to its own figures, the Society had (as of November 2009) 510 priests present in 31 countries and active in 32 more, 725 Mass centers, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters, 200 seminarians in six seminaries, 88 schools, and 2 university-level institutes. The SSPX's main seminary is in Ecône, Switzerlandmarker; others are located in the United Statesmarker (Winona, Minnesotamarker), Francemarker (Flavigny-sur-Ozerainmarker), Germanymarker (Zaitzkofen), Australia (Goulburn), and Argentinamarker (La Reja). The largest proportion of the SSPX's priests (over 120) are stationed in Francemarker.

In the past, the SSPX received support from the following diocesan bishops:

In addition, the Society was supported by retired diocesan bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, who on 20 August 1981 had resigned at the age of 77 from the governance of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Campos, Brazilmarker and who participated in the 1988 Ecône consecrations. After his retirement, he founded the Priestly Union of St Jean-Marie Vianney, which remained closely associated with the SSPX until 2001, when it reconciled with the Holy See.

The Society now has close links with the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat, led by Father Basil Kovpak, a priest formerly of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who was definitively excommunicated from the Catholic Church in November 2007 after having Bishop Richard Williamson of the SSPX illicitly ordain two priests and seven deacons for his society in violation of canons 1015 §1 and 1017 of the Code of Canon Law.

Archbishop Lefebvre, who as superior general had been unable to impose his will on the representatives of the Holy Ghost Fathers at their September 1968 general chapter, gave the Society a statute that excludes elected representatives from SSPX general chapters, in which the only participants are office-holders (appointed personally by the superior general) together with (in a more limited number) the most senior members. There are similar restrictions within the Districts into which the Society is divided.

Negotiations with the Holy See

For a number of years after the 1988 consecrations, there was little if any dialogue between the SSPX and the Holy See. This state of affairs ended when the Society led a large pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee in the year 2000.

Controversies and criticism

The SSPX has been criticized for allegedly supporting "reactionary" political positions in France, and statements by some of its members have been widely interpreted as "antisemitic": see Controversies surrounding the Society of St. Pius X.

Notable groups that have split from the SSPX

In chronological order:

  • Servants of the Holy Family -- A religious order of priests and brothers founded in Colorado Springs, CO in 1977 by Rev. Anthony Ward, who soon after his 1973 ordination became Archbishop Lefebvre's first personal representative in the US and founder of the first SSPX seminary in the US, in Armada, MImarker. Ward took most of the seminarians with him to Colorado in February 1977, and they became the first members of a religious community under his leadership. Ward split from the SSPX for unclear reasons, perhaps partly because of his strong anti-sedevacantist views, in contrast with the prevailing currents in the SSPX at that time. According to the local Diocese, the Servants of the Holy Family continue to be in schism.
  • Society of St. Pius V -- In 1983, nine U.S. SSPX priests broke with or were forced to leave the SSPX's Northeast USA District partly because they were opposed to Lefebvre's instructions that Mass be celebrated according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal issued by Pope John XXIII. Other issues occasioning the split were: Lefebvre's order that Society priests must accept the decrees of nullity handed down by diocesan marriage tribunals; the acceptance of new members into the group who had been ordained to the priesthood according to the revised sacramental rites of Pope Paul VI. The nine priests went on to form the Society of Society of St. Pius V.
  • Istituto Mater Boni Consilii -- or the Institute of the Mother of Good Counsel is a traditionalist congregation of priests that follows the Sedeprivationist school of thought. The founders of the institute seceded 1985 from the Society of St. Pius X under the leadership of Fr. Francesco Ricossa, onetime faculty member of the seminary at Econe.
  • Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter -- The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was established in 1988 after the Ecône consecrations. Responding to the Holy See's declaration that these constituted a schismatic act and that those involved were thereby automatically excommunicated, twelve priests left the Society and established the Fraternity, in full communion with the Holy See.
  • Institute of the Good Shepherdmarker -- The Institute of the Good Shepherd (Institut du Bon-Pasteur, IBP) was established as a papally recognised society of apostolic life on 8 September 2006 for a group of SSPX members who maintained it was time for the Society to accept reconciliation with Pope Benedict XVI.
  • The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer joined the Holy See in June 2008.


  1. Decree of Excommunication
  2. Pope lifts excommunications of Lefebvrite bishops
  3. Pope Benedict lifts excommunication of bishops ordained by Lefebvre
  4. Motu proprio Ecclesiae unitatem
  5. The Wanderer Interviews Fr. Aulagnier, SSPX, Luc Gagnon, September 18, 2003
  6. Short History Of The Society Of Saint Pius X
  7. Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre: chp 2: A New Apostolate
  8. "The success of Ecône provided so dramatic a contrast to this débâcle 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 authorisation of the Vatican. This appellation was seized upon gleefully by the liberal Catholic press throughout the world and soon the terms 'Ecône' and 'Wildcat Seminary' became synonymous." Volume 1, Chapter 2 Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre by Michael Davies
  9. Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre: Chapter 4: The Campaign Against Econe
  10. "Archbishop Lefebvre was told that this examination was very positive and that he just had to come to Rome and clarify some questions." Conference of Father Franz Schmidberger, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X at Rockdale, Sydney, Australia, October 16, 1990, by Father Gerard Hogan and Father François Laisney]
  11. The DECLARATION of Archbishop Lefebvre made at Econe, Switzerland on 21 November 1974. APPENDIX I
  12. Nos igitur iterum adhortamur hos Nostros fratres ac filios, eosque exoramus, ut conscii fiant gravium vulnerum quae secus Ecclesiae illaturi sunt. Invitationem ipsis iteramus, ut secum recogitent gravia Christi monita de Ecclesiae unitate (Cfr. Io. 17, 21 ss.) ac de oboedientia erga legitimum Pastorem, ab Ipso universo gregi praepositum, cum signum oboedientiae sit quae Patri ac Filio debetur (Cfr. Luc. 10, 16). Nos eos aperto corde exspectamus apertisque bracchiis ad eos prompte amplectendos: utinam humilitatis exemplum praebentes, ad gaudium Populi Dei rursus viam unitatis et amoris ingredi valeant! ( Consistory for the creation of twenty new Cardinals (May 24, 1976)
  13. "The situation is such, the work placed in our hands by the good Lord is such, that faced with this darkness in Rome, faced with the Roman authorities' pertinacity in error, faced with this refusal to return to truth or tradition on the part of those who occupy the seats of authority in Rome, faced with all these things, it seems to us that the good Lord is asking for the Church to continue. This is why it is likely that before I give account of my life to the good Lord, I shall have to consecrate some bishops" ( Sermon on 29 June 1987)
  14. (Encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, 41)
  15. Online Here
  16. Ecclesia Dei
  17. Canon 751
  18. Canon 1382
  19. Canon 1323
  20. Statistics of the SSPX
  21. These figures, adding "and thousands of lay faithful", were accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter of 10 March 2009 about his remission of the excommunication of the Society's four bishops.
  22. Figure given by the SSPX's French District.
  23. Nossa pequena história dentro da história da Igreja
  24. Ukrainian priest excommunicated
  25. "With no authorisation from the Congregation for Religious, they wanted the chapter to be presided over by a triumvirate which meant that I, the Superior General, was not to preside over the chapter at all even though it was clearly written in the constitutions that the Superior General was to be in charge of all business discussed at the General Chapter." July/August 2003 Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words, Society of Saint Pius X - Southern Africa
  26. Richard L. Cure. Keeping the Faith in Stratton. 2004. PDF document. -- A detailed memoir of the author's experiences growing up in the traditionalist Catholic movement in Colorado, which describes firsthand and in interesting detail the events surrounding Anthony Ward coming to Colorado. The author speculates on why Anthony Ward left the Society of Saint Pius X, suggesting based on his own knowledge of Ward that disagreement about the legitimacy of the Pope might have played into it.
  27. Servants of the Holy Family -- website of the Diocese of Colorado Springs
  28. Additional objections can be found at:

See also

SSPX-affiliated orders

The following is a non-comprehensive list of SSPX-affiliated religious orders:

External links

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