"Sectarian, schismatic, fundamentalist Society, excommunicated, anchored in medieval beliefs". Such judgements and similar others are heard regularly about the Society of St Pius X, known mainly for its attachment to the traditional rite of the Mass. Do those who think and speak in such manner really know the origins, goals and works of this Society? In a word do they know the real nature and status of the Society of St Pius X?

The present leaflet has been written in order to dispel errors and to give precise and historical information. It intends to give all the basic data on the SSPX, its Founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, its history, goals, status in the Catholic Church and its development after 25 years.


I - Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

Born in Tourcoing (near Lille), France, November 29, 1905. 3rd of 8 children, the 5 eldest consecrating themselves to God in the priestly or religious vocation (2 priests, 3 sisters).

Seminary training: 1923-29 in the French Seminary, Rome, Doctor in philosophy and in theology.

Ordained a priest on September 21, 1929, in Lille, France.

Curate in the parish of Marais-de-Lomme, Lille, 1929-1931.

Joined the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers, 1931.

Missionary in Gabon, first as seminary professor and director, 1932-1938, then in the bush, 1938-1945.

Rector of the Philosophy Seminary in Mortain, France, 1945-1947.

Episcopal consecration September 18, 1947.

Apostolic Vicar, then 1st Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, 1947-1962.

Apostolic Delegate (equivalent to a Nuncio) for all of French Africa (18 countries), 1948-1959.

1955: Assistant to the Pontifical Throne.

Here are some figures of the development of the Catholic Church in Dakar in the field of education during his term of office

Primary Schools
47 classes, 2000 students 282 classes, 12000 students
Secondary Schools
4 institutions, 150 students 11 institutions, 1800 students
Technical Schools
None 4 institutions, 400 students


Archbishop-Bishop of Tulle, France, 1962 January - August.

Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, 1962-1968.

Founder (1970) and First Superior General (1970 - 1983) of the Society of St. Pius X.

Died on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1991.

II - Brief History of the Society of St. Pius X

1) The Foundation

After his resignation as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers in September 1968, Archbishop Lefebvre lived a very retired life in Rome. As many disciplinary rules of the French seminary were being discarded (the wearing of the soutane, daily Mass obligatory, etc.) as well as some moral issues (contraception, etc.), some seminarians turned to him for help (he was a well known figure since the French Seminary was run by the Holy Ghost Fathers). He declined at first on the grounds of lacking all the requirements (money, building ...). Finally, under the repeated plea from these seminarians and from their parents, he agreed to do something. He rented a house in Fribourg, Switzerland. There the seminarians lived and went to attend the classes in the still reliable Dominican University nearby, while other seminarians were continuing their studies in the Lateran University in Rome.

1969-1970. The New Mass came out and gradually replaced the traditional Mass everywhere. The Fribourg seminarians, worried at the thought of having to go back after their ordination to their Dioceses in the hands of modernist bishops, begged the Archbishop to establish a religious society that would bind them together and protect their priesthood. After consulting with high ranking ecclesiastics and encouraged favourably by them, the Archbishop wrote the Constitutions of the Society of Saint Pius X. These were then approved officially by the local bishop, François Charrière, on November 1, 1970. The Society of Saint Pius X was born and welcomed into the Church as Cardinal Wright approved it in the letter of praise dated February 18, 1971.

2) The nature and goals of the Society of St. Pius X

a) Its canonical nature:

The SSPX is "a priestly Society of common life without vows, after the pattern of the Societies of Foreign Missions," and it has as its purpose "the Priesthood, whatever pertains to it and nothing but that which concerns it" (Statutes I,1; II,1).

b) Its goals:

"They include firstly all the works necessary for the formation of priests and whatever pertains thereto, whether the candidates are destined to be members of the Society or not.

Care must be taken that the training attain its chief goal: the Priest's Holiness, together with sufficient knowledge. Nothing, therefore, shall be neglected to the end that piety be directed towards and flow from the Liturgy of the Holy Mass, which is the heart of theology, of pastoral activity, and of the Church's life.

"A second purpose of the Society is to assist the sanctification of priests by providing them with opportunities for retreats and recollections.

"The Society shall seek to inculcate a sense of the greatness and nobility of the vocation of helpers in the service of the Altar and all that is related to it: participation in the Liturgy, in the Sacraments, in the teaching of Catechism -- helpers generally in all that assists the Priest, his parish ministry, the housework in rectories and Seminaries. The Society's members shall devote particular spiritual care to persons, whether religious or not, who dedicate themselves to this ideal under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph.

"Schools, truly free and unfettered, able to bestow on youth a thoroughly Christian education, shall be fostered and, if need be, founded by the members of the Society. From these will come vocations and Christian homes.

"Parish ministry, and the preaching of parish Missions, without restrictions of place, are also works to which the Society devotes itself. These ministries will be matters of contract with local Ordinaries, in order to enable the Society to exercise its apostolate in accord with its own particular grace.

"The Society will willingly come to the assistance of aged and infirm priests, and even of those who have not been faithful." (Statutes III, 1 - 6)

3) The struggle for the Catholic Priesthood and for the Traditional Mass

Having decided from day one to form priests that would only say the old Latin Mass, the Archbishop knew that sooner or later there would be a confrontation with those who were pushing the "up-dating" of the Catholic Church, especially through the liturgical reform.

At their annual meeting in Lourdes in 1972, the French Bishops called the seminary of Ecône "un séminaire sauvage", "a wild-cat seminary." The persecution begins.

November 11 - 13 1974. At the request of the same French Bishops, 2 Apostolic Visitors arrived at Ecône for 48 hours. They questioned seminarians and priests, observed the discipline, sat in classes. Having come to investigate the doctrinal rectitude of the seminary, rather they themselves cast doubt on the physical resurrection of Christ, on the immutability of truth and on priestly celibacy.

November 21, 1974. Indignant by such a procedure, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote his famous declaration: "We adhere with all our heart to the Eternal Rome..."

February 1975. He is "invited for a discussion" by Cardinals Tabera, Wright, and Garonne.

March 1975. Meeting with the three Cardinals . In fact it was a hidden trial, a direct condemnation of his Declaration of Nov. 21. No mention whatever of the Apostolic visit of the previous November.

May 6, 1975. Archbishop Lefebvre is asked to close his seminary. The Society of St. Pius X is "suppressed" by the new Bishop of Fribourg, Mgr Mamie. However, according to Canon Law (1917), c. 492, when a religious society has been approved in a diocese, only Rome can subsequently suppress it. As modern seminaries were closing everywhere and more and more disillusioned young men were asking for admission at Ecône, the Archbishop decided to continue.

March - June 29, 1976. Every attempt was made to prevent the ordination of June 28 by numerous visits, letters, telephone calls and telegrams. The Archbishop asked: "Why? Don't we need priests?" The answer came a few days before the June ordination: "Say the New Mass on June 29, and all will be normalised." The real issue was the rite of Mass.

June 29, 1976. Priestly ordinations of 12 candidates. In his sermon, his Grace appealed to the Bull Quo Primum of St. Pius V explicitly stating that any censure against the Old Mass would be invalid. "By virtue of Our Apostolic Authority We give and grant in perpetuity that... this Missal may be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgement or censure, and may be freely and lawfully used. Nor shall Bishops... and other secular priests... be obliged to celebrate Mass otherwise than enjoined by Us." (Quo Primum)

July 11, 1976. The Congregation of Bishops issued a censure: Archbishop Lefebvre was "suspens a divinis" (i.e. forbidden to administer the Sacraments). However, 1) the act, signed by the secretary, was canonically invalid; 2) the Archbishop made an appeal "in forma surpensiva" which meant that the act was suspended until a juridical decision was issued. This has never come.

Summer 1976. With all the publicity around Ecône, the news travelled around the whole world that there was a bishop in Switzerland training priests for the Old Mass.

September 1976. Meeting with Pope Paul VI.

November 18, 1978. Archbishop Lefebvre met Pope John Paul II for 45 minutes.

1979 - 1984. On a number of occasions, Archbishop Lefebvre went to Rome and faced long interrogations (cross-examinations) on his work, the question of jurisdiction, conditional confirmations, Vatican II, etc. But he was never accused and condemned for having erred in the Faith.

June 29, 1987. Archbishop Lefebvre announced that he was going to proceed to the consecration of some bishops.

November - December 87. Visit of Cardinal Gagnon. On Dec. 8, the Cardinal assisted officially, at the Pontifical High Mass said by Archbishop Lefebvre, a so-called "suspended" Archbishop, during which Mass, 25 Seminarians joined a "so-called" "suppressed" Society of St. Pius X. The Cardinal's presence was a tacit approbation of the attitude and work of the Archbishop and the official recognition of the canonical existence of the Society. (See above, May 6, 1975 and July 11, 1976)

June 30, 1988. Consecration of 4 Bishops as "auxiliaries" of the Superior General.

III - Neither schismatic, nor excommunicated, nor disobedient.

1) The key issue: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The key issue behind this whole history is the right to have the traditional Latin Mass, and the constant refusal of the new rite of Mass. In his bull Quo Primum (1571), Pope St Pius V clearly established the three grounds upon which stands the tridentine rite of Mass:

1. It is a general law of the Church, (everyone must use this missal);

2. It is a privilege (everyone may use this missal);

3. And it is an centenary and immemorial custom: the Mass was "restored to the rite of the Fathers".

Pope Paul VI in 1969 did not remove, or abrogate, any of those three grounds, he merely derogated from them i.e. modified one of the clauses of Quo Primum (which forbade the use of any other Missal less than 200 years old) by issuing a new rite of Mass. In 1976, Archbishop Lefebvre was told that all his problems would be solved if he ordained his priests in the new rather than in the old rite of Mass (see above March - June 1976). He justly refused, relying on Quo Primum, which said that any censure issued to prevent this Missal from being used, was null and void.

In the period 1977 - 1983, the Vatican authorities gradually softened their requests by demanding first that the Archbishop say the New Mass just occasionally, then just once.

In 1984, they only asked him not to speak against the New Mass, to accept its doctrinal soundness and legitimacy. This became the first condition of the "Indult" of October 3, 1984.

2) The Consecration of Bishops

It is imperative to know the sequence of events that led to the consecration of Bishops on June 30, 1988.

a) In the early 70's, the Archbishop decided to hold on fast to the traditional rite of Mass.

b) In order to have the Mass, priests are needed. Thus, he proceeded to perform the priestly ordinations especially from 1976 onwards, in spite of the (invalid) prohibition to do so.

c) But no priests can be ordained without a bishop -- that is the reason for the consecrations of Bishops of 1988 to assist the aging Archbishop, whose health was deteriorating. Ill health made it no longer possible to travel around the world to the six Seminaries to perform the various ordinations as well as the innumerable ceremonies of confirmation.

3) The State of Necessity

The Church's Canon Law explicitly states that a censure (such as excommunication) is not incurred if one acts out of necessity or thinks he is in a state of necessity.

Every code of law, civil and ecclesiastical, provides for cases of emergencies, since laws are made for the common good which, at times, admits exceptions. St Thomas Aquinas teaches that "a circumstance gives the species of good or evil to a moral action, in so far as it regards a special order of reason" (I-II, q.18, a.10) and, "that circumstance is the most important of all which touches the act on the part of the end, viz., the circumstance why " (I-II, q.7. a.4). For instance, the law will condemn as vandalism the breaking of a window by a thief, but will praise the same act done to free one caught in a house on fire.

The Church knows well these principles and provides for them in its Code of Canon Law (1983). In the introductory canons dealing with sanctions in the Church, it is clearly spelled out. Canon 1323:

"No one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept: (...) 4o acted (..) by reason of necessity (...); 7o though, through no personal fault, that some of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in nn. 4 or 5."

Archbishop Lefebvre "acted by reason of necessity" when he consecrated four bishops in 1988: firstly, because of the tragic shortage of priests (of which we hear regularly in the media); secondly, for having heard the cries of innumerable Catholics world-wide, abandoned, if not betrayed, by their shepherds. "The little ones have asked for bread (i.e. the catechism, the sacraments) and there was none to break it unto them" (Lament. IV, 4). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. X, 30-37), the priest and the Levite passed by the injured man, stripped, wounded, lying half dead. It was a good Samaritan who, moved with compassion, went up to him, bound up his wounds and took care of him, although that was unlawful... We are told to "go and do in like manner" (v. 37). Alas, some are scandalised by this good deed.

If one denies blindly the objective state of necessity at present in the Church, at least subjectively the Archbishop thought there was one, and in this case canon 1323 n. 7o quoted above applies and renders the penalty null and void. As long as the SSPX holds on to its Constitutions approved by the Church and does not act contrary to doctrine or moral issues, its claim to be fully in the Catholic Church is truly justified.

4) Obedience

Obedience in itself is neither good nor bad. It can be an act of virtue and it can also be a vice, sinful. For instance there is the obedience of Communists to their Party. This is a very strict obedience, and it can even be spontaneous. And there are numerous cases of what happens when a fraction of the Party refuses to obey! Is it a good obedience? Of course, not. Why? Because the purpose of this obedience, the goal of the Party, is wicked. Therefore, those who collaborate to achieve the aims of the Party accomplish a sinful act. Another example: the obedience of doctors to the Governments who have legalised abortion. "We have to obey or else we will lose our job." Is that a virtuous obedience? Surely not. It is a sinful act because it is to collaborate with a sinful law, with a sinful end, destructive of Society. Other examples could be given of false, of sinful obedience.

Obedience, then to be a virtue, must stand between two opposite errors:

a) error by defect (not enough): disobedience = the refusal to submit to the lawful orders of a lawful superior. For example, the child disobeying a legitimate order of his parents.

b) error by excess (too much): blind obedience = the submission to any order, good or bad, coming from a superior, as in the examples given above.

These principles apply also inside the Church. One cannot blindly obey to priests who organise sacrilegious ‘Masses’ in their parishes, who invite their parishioners to attend non-Catholic services; one cannot obey Bishops who encourage heretical Catechisms in the ‘Catholic’ schools. And one cannot obey even Rome when orders coming from Rome lead us to abandon or diminish our Faith. "Though We or an Angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which We have preached to you, let him be anathema" (Gal. I, 8). Faith is then greater than obedience. Obedience is at the service of Faith, not Faith at the service of obedience. "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Act V, 29).

5) The Pope

The Society of St Pius X recognises the Pope as the successor of St Peter but reject his liberalism through fidelity to his predecessors. The Pope is not infallible in everything he says. There are very strict conditions which he must follow to fall under the charism of infallibility. One is that he must teach something in matters of faith or morals, another is that he must bind all Catholics to believe what he says as being divinely revealed. These conditions are to be found in the very words used by the Pope. In case of doubt, the Catholic must always refer to Tradition, following the rule of St Vincent of Lerins: it must have been believed always, in all places and by all - quod semper, ubique et ab omnibus.

IV - The Works of the SSPX 1970 - 1995

In spite of the numerous public condemnations and the continuous black-mailing in the media, in spite of going against the Conciliar tide, from an initial group of 9 seminarians who started with Archbishop Lefebvre in a rented house in September 1969, here are some figures of the growth of the Society of St Pius X after 25 years. (At the same time one should keep in mind the tragic drop of vocations world-wide.)

1) Houses

Seminaries: 6, (Switzerland, Germany, France, USA, Argentina and Australia).

Priories: 130, in 26 countries, on the 5 continents.

Schools: 3 Universities, about 20 Secondary Schools & 50 Primary Schools.

Retreat Houses: 4 full-time; many seminaries and priories are also used as

part-time retreat houses.

Nursing Homes: 3 operating and 1 in preparation.

Chaplaincy of traditional communities and schools: about 20.

2) Members

Bishops: 4

Priests: 330

Seminarians: about 200

Brothers: 50

Sisters: 110

Oblates: 50

3) Other Communities of Catholic Traditions

Alongside the SSPX a number of Communities of Catholic Tradition have emerged in the last 25 years, around the world: over 10 for men (Dominicans, Benedictines, Capuchins, etc.) and more than 17 for women (Teaching Dominicans, enclosed Carmelites, Poor Clares, The Nursing Congregation of Le Rafflay, etc.).


To Suffer for the Church

An interesting text, very appropriate and written in 390 A.D.:

"Often, too, Divine Providence permits even good men to be driven from the congregation of Christ by the turbulent seditions of carnal men. When for the sake of the peace of the Church, they patiently endure that insult or injury, and attempt no novelties in the way of heresy or schism. They will teach men how God is to be served with a true disposition and with great and sincere charity. The intention of such men is to return when the tumult has subsided. But if that is not permitted because the storm continues or because a fiercer one might be stirred up by their return, they hold fast to their purpose to look to the good even of those responsible for the tumults and commotions that drove them out. They form no separate sects of their own, but defend to the death and assist by their testimony the faith which they know is preached in the Catholic Church. These the Father who seeth in secret crowns secretly. It appears that this is a rare kind of Christian, but examples are not lacking. So Divine Providence uses all kinds of men as examples for the oversight of souls and for the building up of his spiritual people."

St. Augustine, Of True Religion, 6,11

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