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.”



  • Jackie Smieth

    The author should have better researched for this article. Please note:

    Lefebvre said that the sheet of paper that he signed and that was “passed from hand to hand among the Fathers of the Council and upon which everyone placed his signature, had no meaning of a vote for or against, but signified simply our presence at the meeting to vote for four documents.

    Thank God for Marcel Lefebvre. A man persecuted for speaking the Truth –sounds like real Christianity doesn’t it. Woe to you when the world all speaks well of you (JP2) if you have loved me they will hate you. The word of the Lord.

  • Joshua

    Religious Liberty (more so the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen type) is most certainly a condemned heresy espoused by the Second Vatican Council. Also, so is Conciliarism yet we have a conciliar Church now! We are to be Catholics first and citizens of a secular nation second. NOT ONE CATHOLIC CAN DEFEND HERESY. If you do then you are a heretic and not a Catholic. How can one be so obedient to the destruction of God’s kingdom!? How can you blame or bash the SSPX when we all see Protestants, Modernists, Communists and Jews ruin us? Humans may not be automatons and have rights; but we know that every man has his heart programed to seek the eternal and what is good. He has the free will to ignore it but never the “right”. All power in Heaven and on earth was given to Christ and He gave some of it to the Apostles. He has the power over all government, for all power is from Heaven. The politicians may have the free will to deny the Social Reign of Christ the King but never the “right”. Error and Truth cannot be made equal and since it cannot be MADE equal, we have not the right to consider them equal as well. Let me give you an example; 2in + 2in is objectively 4in, 2in + 2in is not objectively 10in. The latter of the two has no right to be in a math book. Nor is it subject to the ballot or our Constitutional rights or what have you. We, Catholics (American or otherwise), should never ever place our constitutional rights (or whatever document grants citizen’s rights) above our allegiance to God and the Blessed Virgin. Rights can be taken away with a flick of the pen, but God is with us forever (even at the hour of our death). Who will save you: The Bill of Rights or God? Yes…I am a member of SSPX.

  • Tony Saidia

    It is not surprising that this article is slanted the way it is. One needs to open themselves to a difficult reality that there are serious problems inside the Church. For most people, certainly the case in America, we want to believe strawberry fields forever. Mickey mouse and all that’s sweet etc.

    Look Sebelius wasn’t even denied to speak at Catholic Georgetown. What’s up with that?

    When all the fuddy duddy feel good put your hands up and smile goes away after the John Paul 2 mania, years later His Grace Marcel Levebre and the SSPX will be seen as the guiding force pushing the church back on track. Thank God for Monsieur Levebre. Thank God — Deo Gratias.

  • Beth

    I’m not sure how the SSPX could be undermining the US Bishops, aren’t they technically a schismatic group? By that logic, wouldn’t the Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox positions on various issues would also impact the efforts of the US Bishops. They may be contradictory, but excommunicated heretics and/or schismatics are no longer within the fold, correct? Maybe I am wrong about the current status of the SSPX.

    • Amanda

      Beth, the SSPX is not in schism. Fr. Z addresses this here:

      With all due respect, I don’t think that this article criticizing the SSPX is very helpful. Our Holy Father cares very much about unity with them. It is a very important time and the best thing we can do is pray for a happy outcome to this situation.

      • Beth

        Thank you, I have heard the SSPX described as schismatic. It is hard to find actual debate about this issue that isnt heated, and it seems like the SSPX is usually described with a fair amount of cendescending language and snark. But I really would like to examine thisin a logical way. Sigh.

  • Frank Rega

    The Council taught, in Gaudium et Spes 24:3 that man is the only creature that God will for itself. The Vatican II Catechism #356 states it this way: Man is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.” Sounds fine right? But Scripture says that “The Lord hath made all things for Himself” (Proverbs 16:4). To give just one more example from Scripture: “For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things . . . (Hebrews 2:10).
    To put it bluntly, the Vatican II teaching that Man was created for his own sake is, yes, heresy. See further proof:

  • MaxMarie, OFS

    I have a book. I picked it up at the thrift store for 50cents. It’s called the “Documents of Vatican II.” It is still in print. I have one very old fat little paperback. If you check Amazon, they’ve broken it into Part I and Part II.



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