Society of St. Pius X vs. Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter


The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, a retired missionary bishop who served in Africa, in order to perpetuate the Tridentine Mass. He did not reject Vatican II, or even the reform of the Mass (he voted for the Council document that called for it), but he did reject the current rites, promulgated in 1969, though he did not argue they was invalid. He started a seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, to train priests, which he then ordained. As a bishop who was not an Ordinary (bishop of a diocese) at the time, he was not permitted to ordain priests. Pope Paul VI suspended his priestly faculties, and those he ordained, for this defiance of Church law. Time going on the movement rejected ecumenism and the statements of the Council on religious liberty, as contrary to Tradition. 

Within the Traditionalist movement, which is certainly dominated by the Society, other branches developed. For example, the SSPX uses the 1962 Missal, which includes changes made by John XXIII. Some in the movement reject any changes, and thus will use only the Missal from Pius XII's time. Others argue that the See of Peter is vacant since Pius XII (sedevacantists). Others have elected their own popes (there were, at last count, at least 3 antipopes). And so the fracturing natural to schismatics has its way. 

In 1989, Archbishop Lefebvre, fearing that he would soon die and leave no one to ordain priests for the SSPX, sought an agreement with the Holy See for the lawful continuation of the Society. After first reaching one, with Cardinal Ratzinger acting for the Pope, Lefebvre reversed himself, and in an act which was <i>ipso facto</i> schismatic ordained 4 bishops without a papal mandate and incurred an automatic excommunication, confirmed a few days later by Decree of the Holy See

In these circumstances, some number of seminarians at Ecône and priests of the SSPX, not wanted to go into schism, sought an agreement with Rome, which concluded with the founding of the Priestly (Sacerdotal) Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). This immediate erection of the Fraternity by the Holy See, without all the preliminaries of time and formality usually required of time, was a tremendous charity by the Pope toward the former members of the SSPX, who have returned it with loyalty and faithfulness, as well as the devotion to the Tridentine rites which is their proper charism. (The Fraternity, therefore, celebrates the Mass according to the Missal of 1962.) On the other hand, the SSPX has gotten more strident over time, harboring sedevacantists and others with positions more extreme than Archbishop Lefebvre would have tolerated.

The Fraternity can be located at: FSSP.ORG

Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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