Status of St. Pius X Society

Author: Commission Ecclesia Dei


Msgr Camille Perl
Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

The following letter was sent to an Australian man in response to a letter he addressed to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He provided it to EWTN for use as we saw fit. The author is the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission responsible for the implementation of Ecclesia Dei, the Holy Father's letter announcing the excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and encouraging broader implementation of the Indult allowing the celebration of the Tridentine Mass.

Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

N. 343/98
Rome, 27 October 1998

Dear ______,

We wish to acknowledge receipt of your document, Statements and Allegations Made By Some Australian Members of The Society of St. Pius X, which you sent to His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger for evaluation. It has been transmitted to this Pontifical Commission as dealing with matters that come within our particular competence.

First of all, we thank God that you have been able to be Sufficiently objective about the claims of the Society of St. Pius X to leave it and return to full communion with the Church. We recognize that this has been a long journey for you and your wife and we trust that all that you have experienced has helped you to be a better Catholic, aware of the wounds of the Church in its members on earth, but even more conscious of its indefectibility.

You will have noted that we are that very Pontifical Commission referred to in Father Jean Violette's letter to you of 21 January 1995 as made up of "liberals, modernists who have infiltrated the positions of authority in the Church and who are using their authority to do away with Tradition..." We trust that you will now understand that this is not a fair description of us or of our often difficult and delicate work.

We will now attempt to address ourselves to your questions in the order in which you have raised them.

a. The Pope is the supreme legislator in the Church. In an Apostolic Letter which he issued motu proprio (on his own initiative) he declared that

Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law. (Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1382).

Those mentioned above who are still living and have not asked pardon from the Church for the ill which they have caused are still under the censure of excommunication.

b. While the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, they are also suspended a divinis, that is they are forbidden by the Church from celebrating the Mass and the sacraments because of their illicit (or illegal) ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood without proper incardination (cf. canon 265). In the strict sense there are no "lay members" of the Society of St. Pius X, only those who frequent their Masses and receive the sacraments from them.

While it is true that participation in the Mass at the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute "formal adherence to the schism", such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a schismatic mentality which separates itself from the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff and the entire Catholic Church classically exemplified in A Rome and Econe Handbook which states in response to question 14 that the SSPX defends the traditional catechisms and therefore the Old Mass, and so attacks the Novus Ordo, the Second Vatican Council and the New Catechism, all of which more or less undermine our unchangeable Catholic faith.

It is precisely because of this schismatic mentality that this Pontifical Commission has consistently discouraged the faithful from attending Masses celebrated under the aegis of the Society of St. Pius X.

b. Thus far the Church has not officially declared what Constitutes "formal adherence to the schism" inaugurated by the late Archbishop Lefebvre (cf. Ecclesia Dei 5, c), but the Code of Canon Law defines schism as "refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (canon 751). The above citation together with the other documentation which you have included in your dossier and your own exchange of correspondence with Father Violette clearly indicate the extent to which many in authority in the Society of St. Pius X corroborate that definition.

c. It may still be difficult to characterize the entire Society of St. Pius X, but the documentation which you have submitted witnesses to a consistent condemnation of the new Mass, the Pope and anyone who disagrees with the authorities of the Society in the smallest degree. Such behaviour is not consistent with the practice of the Catholic faith.

d. We reiterate what we stated above: "The Pope is the Supreme legislator in the Church." Communion with him is a fundamental, non-negotiable hallmark of Catholicism which is not determined by those who set themselves up to judge him, but by the Pope himself (cf. Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium #22-25).

e. The question of the doctrine held by the late Father Leonard Feeney is a complex one. He died in full communion with the Church and many of his former disciples are also now in full communion while some are not. We do not judge it opportune to enter into this question.

f. You want to know how authoritative our responses are. We Must indicate to you that this letter accurately reflects the practice and pastoral solicitude of this Pontifical Commission, but it is not an official declaration of the Holy See. Those declarations are fundamentally limited to Quattuor abhinc annos of 3 October 1984 and Ecclesia Dei of 2 July 1988, both of which were published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. The Holy Father does not ordinarily make detailed statements on very specific questions such as those which you have submitted. He entrusts such responses to the variou dicasteries and organisms of the Holy See which have competence in particular areas. With regard to the matters which you have brought up, the competence belongs to this Pontifical Commission.

g. The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts rules primarily on the interpretation of the law. Any more Authoritative response to your questions than the one we have given would be more likely to come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The fact that that Congregation has transmitted your dossier to us indicates that at this time our response should be sufficient. Statements of dicasteries and organisms of the Holy See which touch on faith and morals are not considered infallible, but should be taken as norms of moral certitude.

i. Our response to your questions may be made public.

With prayerful best wishes I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,

(signed) Msgr. Camille Perl