Frequently asked questions
WHAT IS THE SOCIETY OF ST PIUS X?
The Society of St. Pius X is a priestly fraternity, founded by His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consisting of 575 priests in 2013 and over 100 brothers and nuns worldwide. The Society ministers to souls in over 600 chapels and churches in over twenty-five countries including: Australia, Belgium, Holland, Canada, France, Switzerland Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Italy, Sri-Lanka, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and the United States. Recently, there has been strong expansion into central and eastern Europe, with particular success in Poland. The Society also has a strong presence in South America, the Philippines and Japan.
Who was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and what were his qualifications for founding a priestly congregation?
Marcel Lefebvre was born (November 1905) in France into a firmly Catholic family (five of the eight children would become priests or nuns). He was ordained a priest in 1929. In 1932, he entered the Holy Ghost Fathers, one of the largest missionary congregations in the world, and became a missionary in Gabon, Africa. In 1947, he was consecrated a bishop and was appointed as Apostolic Vicar of Dakar, Senegal. From 1948-1959, Bishop Lefebvre was the Apostolic Delegate of Pius XII for 18 African countries. In 1955, he was made the first archbishop of Dakar. In 1962, His Grace returned to France to be the Bishop of Tulle. The same year he was elected as the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. He filled this position until 1968, at which point he resigned rather than assist in the changes that his Congregation would force him to implement. In 1969, Archbishop Lefebvre founded the Society of Saint Pius X and acted as its Superior General for the following twelve years. His Grace ensured that the Society would be able to continue without him by consecrating four bishops in 1988. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre died three years later on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.
Is the Society an authentically Catholic Organization?
Most definitely, from both a legal and doctrinal point of view. Archbishop Lefebvre founded the Society in strict conformity with Canon Law on Nov. 1st, 1970. Legally, the Society of St Pius X erected according to canonical norms under Bishop Charrière, bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg. Doctrinally, the Society rests on the foundation of Catholic Tradition unblemished by neo-modernist errors. Founded as a refuge from the torrent of errors propagated by liberals at the Second Vatican Council, the Society is one of the few havens left for those seeking the Catholic Faith in all its integrity.
What is the main purpose of the Society?
Archbishop Lefebvre founded the Society in light of a twofold purpose: the preservation of the Priesthood and Tradition, and the sanctification of souls. "At the hour of my death, when Our Lord asks me: 'what have you done with your episcopate, what have you done with your episcopal and priestly grace'? I do not want to hear from His lips those terrible words, ‘You have helped to destroy the Church along with the rest of them'" ( Open Letter to Confused Catholics , p.163).
Does the Church hierarchy in Rome and in the dioceses throughout the world support the Society?
No. On the contrary, the Conciliar Church has strongly resisted the apostolate of the Society. This resistance is due to the neo-Modernism that permeates the Church hierarchy and which is radically opposed to Tradition. This opposition is all the more striking when one contrasts it to the all-embracing ecumenical spirit that governs church policy today. How can a Pope who kisses the Koran, and bishops who share their churches with heretics, be so obstinately opposed to an organisation that merely preserves Tradition? Sadly, it is not too extreme to state that there are some in the hierarchy who are not only indifferent to the Faith, but who actively seek to destroy It.
Why does this same hierarchy persecute the Society?
The persecution is carried on because the Society dares to speak out on the issues that the hierarchy would like to keep buried - namely: the humanistic orientations and false principles of the Second Vatican Council, condemned by previous popes; the unprecedented Apostasy following in the Council’s wake; the abandonment of the Traditional Rites of the Sacraments; the serious flaws and ambiguities in the Novus Ordo Missae; and the unbridled false ecumenism practised in the Church today. The Society's critique of the innovations of the Second Vatican Council cannot help but disturb the hierarchy which is bent on continuing its "reforms". As Archbishop Lefebvre wrote in 1974: "The Council was nothing other than an attempt to assimilate to the Church the principles of liberalism, an attempt to unite the Church to liberal principles" (Archbishop Lefebvre, Liberalism p.3)
What are the main methods used by the hierarchy to persecute the Society?
The hierarchy resorts to an assortment of weapons with which to beat the Society. Excommunication, schism, unlawful and invalid Sacraments, and suspension a divinis of priests are only some of the accusations used to intimidate and frighten people away from receiving the Traditional Sacraments. Such persecutions ought neither to surprise nor discourage the faithful since the Church has survived such persecutions before. Saint Pius X himself, at the beginning of the last century, warned good Catholics what they may expect: "... we need not be surprised that the modernists pursue those Catholics who fight energetically for the Church, with all their malice and harshness. There is no limit to the insults they will heap on them". (Pascendi )
Are the members of the Society excommunicated?
No, the Society is not excommunicated. A brief history of the events surrounding the Consecrations of 1988 are in order, since it is from here that these rumours of excommunication arise.
On June 29,1987, due to failing health and with no other way of ensuring the continuation of a traditionally Catholic priesthood, Archbishop Lefebvre announces that he will consecrate bishops, even if the Pope does not grant his approval.
June 17, 1988 Cardinal Bernard Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, officially warns the Archbishop that if he consecrates bishops, without first having received a pontifical mandate, then both he and the bishops consecrated would be excommunicated automatically in virtue of canon 1382 (1983 Code of Canon Law).
June 30, 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre, together with Bishop de Castro Mayer, consecrates four bishops.
July 1, 1988 Cardinal Gantin states that the threatened excommunication has been incurred. He adds that the consecrations were a schismatic act and threatens excommunication of anyone who supports them.
July 2, 1988 Pope John Paul II reiterates Cardinal Gantin`s accusation of schism and threatens general excommunications of its adherents.
Despite these accusations, the Archbishop, and consequently his followers, did not and do not incur the penalty of excommunication.
If a person violates a law out of necessity, even
if in fact there is no true state of necessity, he is not subject to penalty according to the following conditions(canon 1323, § 4).
a) If one inculpably thought there was one, he would not incur any penalty (canon 1324, 7°),
b) Even if one culpably thought there was one, he would still not incur any automatic penalties (canon 1324, §3; §1,8°), such as those threatened by Cardinal Gantin.
2) No action incurs a penalty unless it is knowingly and willfully a mortal sin (canons 1321, §1, 1323 7°). The Archbishop made it manifest that he was bound in conscience to preserve the traditional priesthood, which would be impossible if there were no one to succeed him (He died less than three years after the consecrations). Even if he had been wrong, there was no subjective sin on his part and therefore no penalty.
3) Ecclesiastical law is subordinate to divine law just as positive law is subordinate to the eternal law. The Pope or the Roman Curia have no more authority to demand that a bishop compromise his Faith than a father has to demand a sinful act from his child. Since `the way one prays is the way one believes’ (lex orandi, lex credendi), changing the Mass and the Sacraments can only result in a change of belief. An angel from heaven would not have the power to oblige the Archbishop to act contrary to the unchanging Faith (cf Gal I:8); on the contrary, as a pastor of souls, he was under grave obligation to defend it. It should be noted that in correspondence between Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, the Archbishop continually emphasized the theological reasons that were motivating his actions. The Vatican, in turn, systematically ignored these arguments and instead demanded blind obedience.
In disobeying the Pope, did not the Archbishop and his Society by that very fact become schismatic?
Not at all. Schism denotes the refusal to recognise the Pope’s authority. But disobedience of a command does not mean that the authority of the one commanding is being denied. A simple example is that of a disobedient child. Although the child refuses to obey his parents, he is not denying that they are his parents.
Consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate would only have been a schismatic act, if, along with the full priestly powers of Holy Orders, the Archbishop had pretended to confer the power of jurisdiction, namely, the governing power over a particular flock.
As regards the standing of those faithful who attend the Mass and receive the Sacraments confected by Society priests, we refer them to a case in Hawaii in 1991. On May 1, Bishop Ferrario ‘excommunicated’ some faithful in his diocese for attending the Mass of a Society priest and receiving confirmation from a Society bishop. This decision was overturned by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
From the examination of the case "…it did not result that the fact as referred to in the above-mentioned decree, are formal schismatic acts in the strict sense, as they do not constitute the offence of schism; and therefore the Congregation holds that the Decree of May 1, 1991, lacks foundation and hence validity" (June 28, 1993).
Then is the Society still a fully Catholic congregation in good standing with Rome?
Yes, if one is referring to the Apostolic and Eternal Rome. The Society remains in the Church because it keeps the Catholic Faith in its entirety and adheres to traditional practices. But it is impossible for the Society to be in good standing with Rome, if one is only referring to a temporal city plagued with Neo-modernists who have abandoned the Faith.
Will the Society be once again recognised by Rome as a legitimate institution?
The events to come are known only to God, but we may have strong hope that history will vindicate the Society and her founder as she has vindicated so many other of her true friends over the centuries. The late Fr. Malachi Martin wrote: " In the spiritual reality of the Church, neither Marcel Lefebvre, nor his bishops and priests, nor the people who frequent the SSPX chapels suffered, or suffer excommunication. History will record that the attempt to impose such an excommunication was invalid and illicit". This is just one example of innumerable church experts who firmly supported the Society and have not been "excommunicated", censured, or punished because of it.
What is to be done in the meantime?
"Is it Tradition? Ask no more." This is the admonition of the great Church Father, St.John Chrysostom. With these words to inspire us, we must do precisely that; and by so doing we will avoid the twin errors of our times: Sede-vacantism and Neo-modernism. By holding firm to Tradition, the Society will act as a refuge for all who are looking for the Truth, pure and unadulterated, and who can find no comfort in the chaos of the Conciliar and post-Conciliar reforms. "Consequently, we must be very prudent and fight to the death, if need be, in order to deliver the Church from these enemies who are within... we must especially preserve Tradition...we must re-establish Christianity" (p.17 Archbishop Lefebvre, Liberalism ).
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