Tell me about the SSPX: An interview

Rev. Fr. Robert Brucciani, District Superior

My dear Faithful,


As passengers in a runaway train come to an understanding of their impending doom by stages, serious Catholics are beginning to see that the Conciliar Church is careering out of control. The emergency brake cable that was the “Ecclesia Dei communities” has been all but severed, and the fast-approaching Synod on Synodality might well be that gaping void where the train will meet its destruction.

Sixty years ago, Archbishop Lefebvre tried to warn the Pope and the bishops of this impending catastrophe, but was shunted into a non-ecumenical siding for his pains. The Archbishop died in 1991, but the Society that he founded lives on. Desperately casting about for a solution to the crisis, a new generation of Catholics are discovering the Society of St. Pius X for the first time. This edition of Ite Missa Est is meant for them. Herein is reproduced a series of questions and answers formulated for a recent interview to make Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society better known. May it give faithful Catholics new hope, and encourage them to support our efforts to be that junction box that will switch the train on to the gentle heavenward line of Catholic tradition.

1. What was the sequence of events between 1969 and the ordinations by Archbishop Lefebvre?

The Council

To understand what happened from 1969, we really need to understand what happened at the Second Vatican Council 1962–5 and afterwards.

The Second Vatican Council was hijacked by a well-organised group of liberals (modernists) who made it a vehicle of revolution—a revolution which, to this day, is working to change the Catholic Religion from being the religion that worships the One True God in the way that He wishes, to being a religion by which man worships himself. It is a revolution that attempts to deify man and the world without reference to the One True God.

The Novus Ordo Missae was a fruit of this revolution. It was a liturgy that favoured a revolutionary doctrine:

  • salvation without the Cross,
  • salvation without conversion,
  • salvation without the Faith,
  • salvation without supernatural grace and Charity,
  • salvation without the Church, even without Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t only the Mass that changed—everything changed: all the liturgy changed (sacraments, divine office, music), philosophy, theology, morals, canon law, the structure of the Church, religious life, clerical life, parish life, every Catholic institution changed—especially the seminaries; and all to the detriment of the Church.

Holy Ghost Fathers

Archbishop Lefebvre had been on the frontline in the council, fighting its innovations—particularly the errors of religious liberty, ecumenism, and collegiality.

After the Council, he returned to the Mother House of his religious order, the Holy Ghost Fathers, to continue fighting the same liberal revolution which had erupted there, but, despite a spirited rearguard action, he was forced to resign as Superior General at the hijacked General Chapter in 1968.

The Society—beginnings

Left alone and practically retired, he was then approached by a handful of young seminarians searching for someone to form them along the traditional Catholic lines.

In 1969, he established the embryo of a seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland, sending the seminarians to the Catholic University of Fribourg.

In 1970, Bishop Nestor Adam of Sion then gave him permission to open a house at Ecône in Valais, Switzerland; not a seminary, but a house of spiritual formation for a year prior to entering seminary.

On 1 November 1970, Bishop Charrière of Fribourg, approved the Society’s statutes and gave the Society juridical existence as a Pia Unio—the first step on the ladder of juridical recognition.

On 26 December 1970, Bishop Adam gave oral permission for Ecône to be a seminary. The seminarians then came trickling in, but the trickle soon turned to a flood.


The French episcopate became alarmed at the growth of this seminary where “the Latin Mass” was still celebrated, the cassock worn, a strict rule followed, and “pre-conciliar” training given.

At a meeting in Lourdes, on 30 October 1972, they decided that henceforth they would not ordain seminarians formed at Ecône.

By 1973, Bishop Nestor Adam was feeling uncomfortable with Ecône. After clarification from Rome, he insisted on obedience to his demand that the Novus Ordo Missae be celebrated at Ecône. Archbishop Lefebvre refused saying that fidelity to the faith was more important that complying with a misunderstood disobedience. Meanwhile, the seminary kept growing; by 1974, one in seven new French seminarians went to Ecône.

On 11 November 1974, Pope Paul VI intervened, sending two canonical visitors to Ecône, who shocked the seminarians with their heterodox ideas about a married priesthood, the mutability of truth and the physical Resurrection of Christ.

On 27 November 1974, indignant at the doctrinal deviations of the visitors, Archbishop Lefebvre made an uncompromising profession of faith condemning neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies in Rome.

He was called to Rome and interrogated by three Cardinals on 13 February and 3 March 1975.

Withdrawal of approval

On 6 May 1975, Bishop Mamie (successor to Bishop Charrière of Fribourg) withdrew the approval granted for the Pious Union of Society of St. Pius X. Canonically, therefore, it no longer existed. Archbishop Lefebvre lodged an appeal, on the grounds that the Bishop of Fribourg had no power dissolve the Society, that the dispute was over doctrine and so should be judged by the CDF, and that penalties should fall on himself, rather than the Society that he founded.

The appeal was not heard and, because Pope Paul VI “had taken the matter into his own hands”, a second appeal was simply filed without response.

Realising that the traditional Catholic priesthood was at stake, Archbishop Lefebvre chose to ignore the canonical manoeuvres and pressed on with his project.

2. Ultimately, why did Archbishop Lefebvre make the decision to ordain priests in 1976 when he was forbidden to do so, and to consecrate four bishops in 1988 without a papal mandate?

Ordination of priests in 1976

Following the withdrawal of approval of the Society, on 29 June 1975, the Archbishop ordained three priests and thirteen subdeacons.

In response, Pope Paul VI wrote him a letter asking for his submission to the act of dissolution of the Society and to the Council.

Archbishop Lefebvre, for the good of the Church, knew that he had to continue. The new year began in September 1975 with 127 seminarians across 3 seminaries: Ecône, Weissbad in Germany, and Armada in the USA. He explained his thinking to the seminarians:

Asking us to close the seminary at Ecône means asking us to take part in the destruction of the Church.

The Archbishop was formally forbidden to ordain priests on 29 June 1976. He went ahead with ordinations and was served with a suspension a divinis.

Archbishop Lefebvre held that this penalty had no juridical value. For him, it was clear that all they wanted was for the traditional faith to go away and canon law has no value if used against the faith.

Consecrations in 1988

The Society continued to grow in priests, brothers, sisters, oblates and third order members and spread throughout the world. It was canonically irregular, regarded as being disobedient, and even schismatic, and so was largely left alone by the hierarchy despite continued communications between Archbishop Lefebvre and the CDF.

Fast-forward ten years. Pope John Paul II ascended the throne in 1978 and continued the project of the Council. On 27 October 1986, after a series of ecumenical scandals with false religions (animists, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Muslims, etc.),

Pope John Paul II conducted an ecumenical meeting in Assisi, where ministers of false religions were encouraged to pray to false gods. It was a public sin against the first commandment by the Pope himself.

Archbishop Lefebvre saw in this scandalous meeting a first sign of Providence that, if Rome would not allow the Society to have a bishop, he should consecrate one to ensure the continuation of his vital work. He really was convinced that the Catholic priesthood, and so the Catholic religion, was at stake.

The second sign of Providence was the heterodox response to thirty-nine dubia submitted to the CDF in October 1985 concerning religious liberty. Doctrinally, Rome was on the course set by the Council.

Not wishing to leave the Society without a canonical status and without a bishop to ordain her priests, Archbishop Lefebvre accepted an “olive branch” proffered by Cardinal Ratzinger and entered into negotiations for canonical recognition and permission to consecrate a bishop.

Rome wanted to remove this open rebuke to the Council; Archbishop Lefebvre wished to secure the Society’s future without losing contact with Rome.

Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF, received Archbishop Lefebvre on 14 July 1987. The project of a protocol which would see the Society recognised and granted auxiliary bishops was discussed for months and then was signed by the Archbishop on 5 May 1988. After a night of prayer, the Archbishop wrote a letter effectively “retracting his signature”, understanding that Rome intended to delay any consecration until he died, whereupon, without a faithful bishop, the Society would have no future.

On 30 June 1988, in the full glare of the world’s media, four bishops were consecrated without a papal mandate at Ecône. In his sermon, Archbishop Lefebvre declared that the consecrations were necessary for the continuation of the Church.

3. How did John Paul II respond to the consecrations?

On 2 July 1988, Pope John Paul II published his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, declaring Archbishop Lefebvre and the four new bishops excommunicated.

On 5t and 6 July, he received Fr. Joseph Bisig and seven other priests of the Society, and approved their plan to found what was to be the Priestly Society of St. Peter. He also approved the integration Le Barroux monastery and other religious communities into what was called “full communion” with the Church. Finally, he encouraged the bishops of the world to give a “wide and generous application” of the indult of 3 October 1984.

These measures, it seems, were enacted not for love of the traditional Latin Mass or the doctrine that it expresses; they were intended to isolate the Society of St. Pius X, which threatened their revolutionary project, or at least to bring tradition into the ecumenical pantheon — fruit of the teachings of the Council.

4. What could have been done differently to avoid canonical penalties?

If we understand the conflict between Archbishop Lefebvre and Rome (or the Conciliar Church) to be at the level of the Faith: the traditional theology of the Church against a new theology; a true religion against a corrupted religion, then the contest could only be a fight to the death.

In this perspective, Rome would use every means available to it, including the full weight of canon law. It was inevitable that it would come to this; the incurring of canonical penalties was inevitable.

Some mere canonical arguments surrounding the legitimacy of the suppression of the Society in 1975 and the excommunications in 1988, while interesting, do not account for the fact that the highest principle of law was at play (salus animarum) because the future of the Catholic religion was at stake. This makes the debate about the legality of penalties academic.

Archbishop Lefebvre was not a maverick. He had a deep respect for the Pope as Successor of Peter and visible head of the Church. He had a deep love of the Church which gave him the energy to fight as he did. He also had keen awareness that to be out of step with the Pope would scandalise many souls.

That is why, without either compromising the faith or remaining silent in the face of error, he never refused to explore every opportunity to be officially approved by the Church authorities.

He clearly did not despise the authority of the Pope or he would not have gone to so much trouble. He went to Rome whenever called by the Pope or any official of the Curia. He pleaded (rather than remonstrated) that they might see the destruction wrought by new orientation given to the Church by the Council.

In summary, the canonical penalties could not have been avoided owing to the nature of the conflict—a total and irreconcilable opposition between the new religion and Tradition.

5. How did Benedict XVI respond when he became Pope?

Pope Benedict XVI wanted to heal what he perceived as a wound that afflicted the Church. He had compassion on the Society, but couldn’t understand their difficulty. No doubt he thought Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society stubborn, but his compassionate heart was prepared to suffer on their behalf.

The Pope could also see that the Conciliar reforms were leading the Church into theological, moral, liturgical and canonical chaos, but rather than blaming the Council, he blamed infidelity to the Council (a hermeneutic of rupture with the Council).

By the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, published on 7 July 2007, Pope Benedict made a great step in his plan to bring the Society back into canonical regularity.

He also believed that the traditional Liturgy of the Church would act as a sea-anchor to point the Second Vatican Council project in the right direction again (it could never do this, however, for the traditional liturgy points to a traditional doctrine and so, perhaps unwittingly, by the Motu Proprio, a whole new life was given to traditional Catholicism in the Church).

Then came the daring lifting of the “excommunications” on 21 January 2009. This was a generous gesture, but unleashed a tsunami of opposition. Behind closed doors, the opposition came from those who thought Pope Benedict too conservative.

The project of rapprochement was advanced further by a series of theological discussions between a group of theologians from the Society and one from the CDF. This took place from 2009 to 2010. These discussions, however, only highlighted the irreconcilability between tradition and the new theology.

The situation was therefore blocked. Rome continued to look for a canonical solution. But for the Society, it was clear that a canonical solution without a doctrinal agreement would never work.

6. How has Pope Francis responded to the SSPX situation?

Pope Francis is a child of the Vatican II revolution and strives to bring the project of the Second Vatican Council to its ultimate logical conclusions.

Towards the Society of St. Pius X, however, he has been paradoxically indulgent. He personally intervened with Argentinian government so that the Society in Argentina could benefit from the privileges granted to the Church by the state. He gave all the priests of the Society faculties to hear confessions during the Year of Mercy 2015–16, and then made those faculties permanent at the end of the year. In 2017, he put in place the means by which Society priests might be granted faculties by the local bishops to witness marriages.

It would seem that these concessions have been offered with a view to bringing the Society back into canonical regularity rather than for the return of Rome to tradition. It is possible that his particular doctrine on Mercy is at the origin of these gestures by Pope Francis.

The Pope is also known to appreciate those who devote themselves to the service of souls without shying away from apostolic work.

During 2016, another attempt was made at finding a canonical solution to the problem. The project collapsed again on the stumbling block of irreconcilable doctrinal differences. Cardinal Müller insisted that the Society accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and that was not possible.

Since then, the channels of communication are always open, but a resolution of differences seems humanly impossible.

7. What would you say to the criticism that, by going outside the structures of the Church established by God, Archbishop Lefebvre ultimately didn't trust in the plan of God ?

The criticism has no value because Archbishop Lefebvre never left the “structures that God established”. He was never outside the Church. He remained in communion with the Church by believing its doctrine, worshipping with its liturgy, and following its authority—its legitimate authority that is; he was not blindly obedient to those whom he believed were destroying the Church.

In fact, one could even say the marks of the Church were more visible in Archbishop Lefebvre than in any other bishop at that time:

  • He was demonstrably one in doctrine, one in liturgy, one in obedience with the centuries that preceded him.
  • He aspired to the same holiness, not a new idea of holiness that conflates the supernatural with the natural.
  • His desire to spread the faith in space (as a missionary) and in time (by training priests for the future) made him truly catholic, in stark contrast to the Conciliar Church who did neither.
  • He strove to continue the mission of the Apostles: to teach and baptise all nations, not to implement a pseudodemocracy in “theological spaces”.

As for the accusation of not trusting in God, quite the opposite is true: by opposing the Pope and the hierarchy in their error, it seems that he placed his entire trust in God for he was almost entirely alone in his resistance to the revolution.

Even if the crisis in the Church might not have seemed acute in 1988, in the light of what we see happening today (which is in logical continuity with the Second Vatican Council), Archbishop Lefebvre’s trust in God was truly heroic.

The idea that Archbishop Lefebvre acted in a spirit of independence from the Church is preposterous to those who know something of his life. He sacrificed everything for the Church from the moment he set foot in the seminary on Via Santa Chiara in 1923 until he died 68 years later after being taken ill on a long road journey from Ecône to speak to a study group of faithful Catholics in France.

8. Pope Francis promulgated Traditionis Custodes because he saw a general problem of the divisiveness of Catholics rejecting Vatican II. Do you think that's the case? Are most traditional Latin Mass Catholics opposed to the documents of Vatican II?

As to the first question: are those who reject the novelties of the Second Vatican Council divisive? In the sense of being divided from those who are espousing modernist principles, yes, they are divisive, which is good. But in the sense of being divided from the Church, most certainly not. On the contrary, they are her faithful children—manifesting the unity of the Church.

As to the second question: are most traditional Latin Mass Catholics opposed to the documents of Vatican II? The understanding of the documents of Vatican II among those who assist at the traditional Latin Mass is always going to be varied according to the varied states of life, education, and motives for attending the traditional Latin Mass.

Newcomers are often attracted to the traditional Latin Mass on account of its mystical beauty and the way it disposes the soul to prayer; or because they are fed up with the Novus Ordo ugliness of liturgy and the emptiness of its doctrine. Only a few come to the Society because of their opposition to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Those who study the crisis in the Church, however, cannot fail to see the principal role of the Council in the crisis, but usually, their opposition to the Council is a consequence of their embracing the traditional Mass rather than its cause.

9. What does the future look like for the Traditional Latin Mass?

For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts. (Mal 1:11)

The traditional Latin Mass is that sacrifice, that clean oblation offered in every place and at all times of the day.

Many bishops, either in obedience to their Bishops' Conferences or acting individually, are making a determined effort to stamp out the traditional Latin Mass at Pope Francis’ behest, but the Vatican II revolution is running out of steam, and the bishops have too many other things on their minds.

The Church is a spiritual wasteland, and its physical structures are imploding. As more priests and faithful understand that Archbishop Lefebvre was right to do what he did, the traditional Latin Mass will be offered more widely and more fervently, and one day it will replace the Novus Ordo Missae completely.

10.What needs to happen for the SSPX to be in full communion with the Church?

For a soul, there is no such thing as partial or full communion with the Church. You are either in communion or not. It’s a binary thing. The idea of partial and full communion is a new concept derived from the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on ecumenism in Unitatis Redintregatio.

By analogy, the same can be said of a moral person (organisation): it is either in communion with the Church or not. To be in communion with the Church, one must:

  • profess the doctrine of Catholic Church,
  • worship with the liturgy of the Catholic Church, and
  • submit to the authority of the Church “in as much as it is ordered to the finality of the Church”.

The Society does all these, and so is in communion with the Church.

What the Society lacks is canonical regularity and it won’t be regularised with regards to canon law until Rome is regularised with regards to Catholic tradition!

May God grant that we live to see this day. Amen.

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