The SSPX and Religious Liberty

As I understand it, today is when the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) meet with the Vatican in order, hopefully, to bring to a happy end the process of reconciliation started by Pope Benedict XVI. Negotiations with the society have been in play for many months now as the Vatican and the SSPX have attempted to hammer out their differences. Oddly, the details of these differences, discussed in a “doctrinal preamble,” have been kept secret from the rest of the Church.

Despite the secrecy, those familiar with the SSPX are most likely also familiar with the substance of the differences, one of which ought to be of particular significance to us in America. You see, the tension between Rome and the SSPX involves not the arcane particularities of liturgical preference. In truth the SSPX split with the Church under Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre over doctrines, and one of them of special note: the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.

Yes, the SSPX are not exactly fans of religious liberty. In fact, the U.S. District of the SSPX posted an article critical of the U.S. Bishops for their recent document “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty.” The SSPX spokesmen wrote that it’s all well and good for the bishops to defend the Church’s right to save souls and perform works of mercy,…

“However, this is a much different thing than defending religious liberty, a false notion that originated with the Protestants and condemned as an error under the generic title of ‘Liberalism.’”

Yes, that’s right, the notion of religious liberty is Protestant. Someone call up Cardinal Dolan.

In this, the American SSPX is simply living up to the example left them by Archbishop Lefebvre. The late founder of the society loathed the Second Vatican Council and was convinced that it taught out and out heresy. This is what he had to say about religious liberty in his book, They Have Uncrowned Him

In this respect, to uphold, as Vatican II does, a naturally direct orientation of all men towards God, is totally unrealistic and a pure naturalistic heresy! May God deliver us from subjectivistic and naturalistic errors!  They are the unmistakable mark of the Liberalism which inspired the religious liberty of Vatican II.  But they can lead only to social chaos, to the Babel of religions!

Thus, to defend religious liberty is to be a liberal. To defend the teaching of the Council’s texts – not the “spirit” but the texts – is to engage in heresy. You might begin to see the problem here.

Bishop Bernard Fellay is trying to gather his flock to reconcile with Rome.

According to the Society, religious liberty cannot exist because authentic liberty can only be connected with the pursuit of the good; and since the Catholic faith is the good religion, there cannot be any real liberty to pursue anything but Catholicism. Error, the SSPX likes to say, has no rights. So, private worship of this or that heresy might be tolerated. But the notion of a right to objectively erroneous public worship is nonsense.

And so it would be, if human beings were automatons and error produced a brightly colored mark upon the human face, or, like a shoe in our gears, error caused us to break down. But we’re not machines, and error is not so obvious.

Error may not have rights, but people do. You know, human beings. And sincere consciences have, so the Council teaches, the right to be free from coercion from the state, so “that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

This definition of religious liberty by the Council is a far cry from the freedoms demanded by the liberals of revolutionary France, the kind of liberties condemned by the nineteenth-century popes. But I don’t want to argue the issue here.

What disturbs me is that as the U.S. Bishops try to rally the Catholic faithful behind the banner of religious freedom, the SSPX have been criticizing the very notion of religious liberty. While seeking reconciliation with the Church on other shores, here at home the Society is undermining the work of the bishops.

I certainly do hope that the SSPX does not split up and that they accept what, by many accounts, is a very generous offer by the Holy Father to be reconciled with the Church. Still, I cannot help feeling a bit anxious about welcoming in Catholics who would so openly deny what the Council teaches and what our bishops are leaning on right now to defend the work of our Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities.

Whatever happens, I pray that in the coming Year of Faith, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council will be made more accessible to all. In that way, perhaps even the SSPX will come to agree with the great Dietrich von Hildebrand who wrote that religious liberty is “the most elementary of human rights.”



  • Alan Aversa

    God bless (Saint) Archbishop Lefebvre. If it weren’t for his Open Letter to Confused Catholic, I don’t know where I’d be.

  • Bill Henzey

    I am hoping , praying and mortifying myself that the SSPX rejoins the Roman Church. We need their perspective badly. I believe it will cause a real healing in the Church and the proper support for our Holy Father.

  • Virtusophia

    What an interesting and necessary discussion for all Catholics! I am so thankful for the Society of St. Pius X, but I am not a part of it–just a typical practicing Catholic with much gratitude in my heart for the preservation of the beauty of the Liturgy with which we have been entrusted. I agree with them on their concern about religious liberty. If we all have the freedom to practice whatever religion we want without taking into account the objective truthfulness of each religion…then we are doomed. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of scenarios where harmful and unhealthy religions are allowed to proliferate in society such as Wicca or Islam or some gnostic religions. I agree with a number of you, Emily, Julie (I think), Amanda, Tony, Joshua, etc. that truth is truth and we must inform our societies in correspondence with the truth. If we reject truth, then we have no choice but to have a society that is informed by lies. Christ is KING! HE lives! Viva Cristo Rey!!! I just saw an interview with Siobhan Nash-Marshall talking about her book on St. Joan of Arc. St. Joan of Arc was sent by GOD to defend France–a holy nation. GOD favored France because France, for a time, heard the message of the Gospel and, as a nation, assented to the Truth of Christ and Christ’s Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The nation flourished because the knew who their TRUE KING was–it was CHRIST. It is interesting that we bring up the French Revolution because, however justified the revolutionaries were in their overthrow of the King of France, they abandoned the precious Yolk of Christ and thereby rejected the truth. Anyway, I am a BIG Fatima supporter. I am a philosophy major, so I try my best to be objective as I can be. I try to be a faithful servant of Christ the King. I am also a sinner and can be very wrong at times. But I want to say this: my suspicion of Vatican II has only increased as I interpret “the signs of the times”. I think the best guide through the landmines that have been planted ALL OVER within the Catholic Church is the current Holy Roman Pontiff–Pope Benedict XVI–who urges us to see the Second Vatican Council ALWAYS within the ENTIRE framework of Sacred Tradition. That has been helpful for me as I drift on through the rough and lonely sea of modernism and progressive ideologies.

  • Michael

    I think this discussion is un-necessarily mixing multiple types of “Religious Liberty” and it would be helpful when discussing to break them down as follows:

    – “Religious Liberty of a given Religion” allows the valid leaders of that Religion to internally delineate their Teachings & Doctrine. In the case of Catholicism the valid leader is the Holy Spirit working through the successors of the Apostles as led by the Pope who is the successor of Peter (The Magisterium).

    – “Religious Liberty of the individual” allows one to pick their Religion; This does not necessarily mean that one can claim to be a member of a given Religion but not follow that Religion’s teachings & tenets & claim the authority to change things (because at that point you have made your own religion)…

    – “Religious Liberty from the State” should be codified in Law to reinforce both of the above protecting a given Religion from being Co-opted by the State and a given individual from being forced by the State into a particular Religion;

    Mixing & matching the various human interpretations of “Religious Liberty” without clarifying them isn’t very helpful. All of the above are valid “Religious Liberties” under the tenets of free will, self determination, & freedom but that doesn’t mean an “Individual’s Religious Liberty” trumps a given “Religion’s Religious Liberty”. If anything I would argue that a “Religion’s Religious Liberty” trumps an “Individual’s Religious Liberty” and both of those trump the State. This “trumping” is limited in the fact that no Individual is forced to be a member of any particular Religion… I think people are confused if anyone is espousing that Vatican II empowers individuals to redefine Catholic Teachings and Tenets under the guise of an “Individual’s Religious Liberty” and allows those individuals to still be Catholic…

    Fundamentally an individual cannot be Catholic & practice separate from the authentic Magisterium of both the Council and the encyclical teachings of the Pontiffs. Voicing respectful concerns about specific implementations & interpretations of various teachings and requesting clarifications or exercising caution are not in and of themselves heresy.

    I don’t know enough about SSPX and their concerns to weigh in on their status but think the above is the best Frame Work within to have a discussion. I think that a given Religion’s fighting for it’s own Religious Liberty will naturally in the process recognize that other religions share that right, regardless whether they are correct. In the fight for the “Religious Liberty of a given Religion” they are allies but that recognition should NOT be interpreted as also recognizing that those relgions also represent the fullness of Truth.

    As a Catholic I understand we are to believe the Catholic Church embodies the Fullness of Truth and represents the proper way to Eternal Salvation. All other variations and separations are not the fullness of objective Truth and one can only pray that God in His Wisdom will render Mercy to as many Souls (including mine) as He sees fit under His Judgment taking into account each individual’s circumstances & most importantly the Sacrifice of His Son.

  • Erik Smitlisy

    Merci Monsieur Lefebvre. Merci



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