The latest issue of the Letter to Our Brother Priests (No. 82, June 2019), addressed to the clergy of France by the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), contains an interesting response to a frequent objection. Here are the most significant extracts.
A reader designated by his initials, Fr. RH, writes, “[Criticism] is more than a habit with the Society of Saint Pius X, it is the very structure of your identity, the way your legitimize yourself depends on it....The day you no longer find anything to criticize will be the day when you will have no reason to exist. Maybe you could look for another reason for being?”
The Letter to Our Brother Priests answers him:
This is an easy criticism, but yet one which does not in the least correspond to reality.
The reality is this: “The Society of Saint Pius X is made up of 650 priests, 130 brothers (religious), 80 Oblates (sisters), and is assisted by the 200 sisters of the congregation of women associates, the “Sisters of the Society of Saint Pius X.” All of these members minister every day to hundreds of thousands of faithful from 180 Society houses exercising the SSPX's apostolate in 60 countries throughout the world.
It can be said that 99% of the time the members of the Society of Saint Pius X are devoted to the works of the priestly apostolate, such as preaching and teaching the Faith (sermons, catechisms, etc.), celebrating the liturgy and the sacraments, visiting the sick and the poor, helping families with the education of their children through a network of Catholic schools, and especially (the primary mission of the congregation) fostering vocations and forming them in seminaries (the SSPX currently has 200 seminarians).
So, when the need arises, the Society of Saint Pius X publicly confesses the Catholic Faith about a text or an event that puts this Faith in question, as required by holy baptism and confirmation, that certainly constitutes an activity of the Society of Saint Pius X, but certainly not its sole essence.
Following are two arguments reproduced in full:
-The existence of the Society of Saint Pius X is not bound to criticism
On this point, in issue No.74 of the Letter to our Brother Priests (June 2017), which succinctly presented the Society of Saint Pius X, it was explicitly stated, “It should be noted from the outset that the Statutes of the Society of Saint Pius X do not specifically refer to a doctrinal or liturgical crisis, and do not contain direct criticism of contemporary errors or deviant practices. Each line of the Statutes is oriented towards the sanctification of the members and, consequently, towards the influence of their apostolate.”
In other words, even if the crisis in the Church suddenly ceased, the Society of Saint Pius X would continue its apostolate without any difficulty.
Without desiring to compare ourselves to these prestigious congregations, it is obvious that, historically, the Dominicans were founded to fight the Cathar heresy, as were the Jesuits to fight the Protestant heresy. That does not prevent them, centuries later and in a completely different context, from continuing their apostolate in the Church, because the criticism of Catharism or Protestantism does not in the least or exclusively constitute their identity.
Similarly, at its own modest level, the Society of Saint Pius X has an identity of a “society of apostolic life” completely independent of the current crisis in the Church.
- Is the Society of Saint Pius X the only one making criticisms today?
Moreover, Fr. RH neglects to point out, which after all is part of the question, that the Society of Saint Pius X is far from being the only one today, among Catholics, criticizing the Church’s current direction. Recently, there has been an increase in the publication of public documents on various important points of dogma and morality by lay people, priests, notable groups of theologians and academics, bishops, and cardinals.
We note here the following examples, all of which are readily available online and in printed Catholic publications:
—The request by Bishop Schneider, then Auxiliary Bishop of Karaganda, at a theological conference in Rome in December 2010, for a new Syllabus which would clarify certain ambiguous passages of the Second Vatican Council and correct the heterodox interpretations which came from it;
—The publication, on June 29, 2016, of the “Declaration of Fidelity to the Church’s Unchangeable Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline,” notably signed by Cardinals Jānis Pujats, Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Leo Burke, by Bishops Athanasius Schneider, Andreas Laün, Juan Rodolfo Laise, Taras Senkiv, and many other ecclesiastics and theologians;
—The “Dubia” concerning Amoris lætitia given to the sovereign pontiff on September 19, 2016 by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner;
—The letter to the pope by the same Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner on April 25, 2017;
—The “Correctio filialis” addressed to Pope Francis on August 11, 2017 and signed by more than 250 ecclesiastics, university professors, and theologians;
—The publication, on December 31, 2017, of the “Profession of the immutable truths about sacramental marriage” by Archbishop Tomash Peta of the Archdiocese of St. Mary in Astana, Archbishop Jan Pawel Lenga of Karaganda, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Mary in Astana, joined afterwards by Cardinal Jānis Pujats, Archbishop Emeritus of Riga, Carlo Maria Viganò, titular Archbishop of Ulpiana, Bishop Louis Negri, former bishop of Ferrara, Bishop Andreas Laun, former auxiliary bishop of Salzburg, Bishop Marian Eleganti, auxiliary bishop of Coire, Bishop René Gracida, bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi, and Bishop Elmar Fischer, bishop emeritus of Feldkirch;
—A letter published by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to Washington, dated October 26, 2018, followed by a second letter dated September 29, 2018;
—The “Manifesto of Faith” published by Cardinal Ludwig Müller on February 8, 2019;
—The book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Evening Approaches and the Day is Now Far Spent, (Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse) published by Fayard on March 20, 2019, in which the cardinal affirmed in a public interview on April 5 with Imedia agency, “It is true that currently the crisis is located at the highest level [of the Church]. If we are no longer capable of teaching doctrine or morals, or setting an example and being role models, then the crisis has become extremely grave.”
—The Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church signed by 20 university professors and theologians, and published on April 29, 2019, etc.
Is the fact that so many different people, who are in no way tied to the SSPX, are also publicly expressing their criticisms on the doctrinal and moral situation of the Church not one of the “signs of the times,” of which people so readily spoke about in the 1960s? And as the Second Vatican Council said in Gaudium et spes 4, has there not always existed a “duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel”?
Therefore, it would be useful to stop paying attention to the few criticisms made by the Society of Saint Pius X and question the significance of this burst of criticism coming from within the ecclesiastical structure itself, and to do it honestly and courageously, without turning into an ostrich, nor being told over and over again that everything is for the best today in a booming Church.