A woman uses a missal during a traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Farmingville, N.Y., on June 17, 2012. The chapel is administered by the Society of St. Pius X. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Pope Francis tries again on traditionalist reconciliation after Benedict XVI failed

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Picking up a piece of unfinished business that consumed the energies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the Vatican under Pope Francis is again trying to repair a decades-old breach with a controversial group of traditionalist Catholics.

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, seen here in 1988, founded the Society of St. Pius X, which the Catholic Church considers "schismatic." He is seen at the Econe seminary in Switzerland; the statue behind him is of St. Pius X.

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, seen here in 1988, founded the Society of
St. Pius X, which the Catholic Church considers "schismatic." He is seen at the Econe seminary in Switzerland; the statue behind him is of St. Pius X.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who heads the Vatican body responsible for doctrine, held a two-hour meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 23) with the head of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, and other senior officials from the breakaway group.

In a statement, the Vatican said the parties had discussed “problems of a doctrinal and canonical nature” that need to be resolved before the traditionalists can be fully reconciled with the church.

“During the meeting ... it was decided to proceed gradually and over a reasonable period of time in order to overcome difficulties and with a view to the envisioned full reconciliation,” the Vatican statement said.

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre established the controversial SSPX in Switzerland in 1970. It was founded largely as a rejection of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which shelved the Latin Mass and overhauled the church's relationship with Jews and Judaism.

Relations between the two sides hit their lowest point in 1988, when the Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre and four bishops after they were consecrated without the consent of St. John Paul II.

Benedict made reconciliation with the SSPX a top priority, but was roundly criticized when one of the rehabilitated bishops, Richard Williamson, turned out to be a vocal Holocaust denier. He was later expelled from SSPX.

Three years of talks collapsed in 2012 when Fellay refused to endorse doctrinal demands sought by the Holy See; last year, SSPX appeared to harden its stance after the election of Pope Francis.

While communication remains open, there are many within the Vatican who would prefer to see a formal split between the parties but Francis appears to favor closer dialogue at least for now.



  1. Can someone explain why the Vatican has always been so eager to reconcile with the SSPX? These are the only guys in the world who answer “No!” when people say “Is the Pope Catholic?” They never have seemed to want reconciliation unless it means a total Vatican capitulation to their demands. The Vatican doesn’t seem all that interested in re-absorbing the Protestants or the Orthodox — as opposed to just having good ecumenical relations with them. So what is the deal with SSPX?

  2. Mr.(Ms.) Abuita. In my view and what I know on the subject of the SSPX, i can answer a part of your question relative to you saying the SSPX would only say yes to a ‘total capitulation to the demands of the Vatican’. While I am not taking sides here I can say that if you look at the SSPX and the Protestants in particular- the Orthodox don’t really give a ‘darn’ since this is a Western dispute between the SSPX and the “Roman” Church. The Eastern Orthodox more than likely still laugh at the Western Church and how splintered and fractured it is since the Reformation. Yes I know we had a bit of the “Hatfields and the McCoys” feud in 1053 with our Orthodox friends, but they still have Valid Sacraments and are connected to the Western Church in a close friendship especially since Venerable Paul VI kissed the feet of the Patriarch of Constantinople back in ’65. St. John Paul II did as lot to further an ever closer tie to the Church of the East. Read the Encyclical Orientalium Lumen of St. John Paul II. He wanted the Church to “breathe with both lungs” again. that is, both East and West united again. Once again, for the Orthodox, there are no Eastern Orthodox “protestants” so this is no ‘big deal’ for them. Okay finally, so the answer is that while the SSPX are in schism, they “demand” only a return to traditional Traditional Catholic practices, especially in regards to the liturgy. This is not difficult if you look at what Protestantism would demand which would be a recension of the sacraments, all of them, and everything taught by the Universal Magisterium of the Church – the only subject to teach with binding authority for the faithful. Plus, we tried to extend a hand to our seperated Protestant brethren at Vatican II. It eased tensions for a while, however, when the Anglican community started ordaining openly gay clergy, women clergy, women BISHOPS! really? Some Episcopal communities re-wrote the Creed in their local and diocesan regions over the decades following the Council disregarding some rather long standing dogmas that had been defined over 1500 years ago. Gee the list goes on, and this was with an already fairly close communion with our Anglican/Episcopal friends. Do you think our Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, and evangelical friends would ‘not’ be more of a thorn in the side of the Vatican than the SSPX? Once again we offered our seperated brethren an olive branch, and a chance to sit down at the table but our seperated brethren ‘bit that hand’ so to speak. Read the Decree on Ecumenism by Vatican II. I’m sorry, I know I have been long winded in this response. I just hope in the end, the the efforts made our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to make the Latin Mass more widely available, and that it, along with the Oridinary form of the Mass, will draw life off one another and be seen as “one Roman Rite”- see Summorum Pontificum of Benedict XVI. It is a matter of getting along and trying to have both sides sit down at the table. Benedict did this. Francis is trying to do this too, I believe. Yes the SSPX has some issues with the Holy See, but only so slight in the comparison of the Protestants. By the way, the SSPX also has valid sacraments but since they are still in schism the sacraments while valid are highly illicit. One may “not” fulfill ones Sunday obligation at a Mass held by the SSPX until all the obsticles have been overcome in regards to the SSPX especially in regards the acceptance of a validly held ecumenical council called by the Roman Pontiff; furthermore, the decrees of any said ecuminical council and that are promulgated by the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff are to accepted as binding by the faithful. Any Catholic not accepting in Christian obedience any statement of faith and morals as binding and irrevocable by the Roman Pontiff either on His own authority – motu propio, or by the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium fall under the censure of heresy as defined by the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches-sui iuris. See 1997 Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, written Motu Propio, St. John Paul II, and the Professio fidei of the same year from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Good luck and God Bless to you and your loved ones.

  3. This is a great piece and we all need to pray hard for an end to this tragic schism. The SSPX is not only in schism (a refusal to submit to the authority of the Holy Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him) but they also embrace heresy: they reject the validity and legitimacy of the Novus Ordo (vernacular) Mass – the Ordinary rite of the Roman Catholic Mass. They also reject the validity of sacraments administered by non-SSPX priests. They believe that the current pope, Pope Francis, is a modernist heretic. They reject the magisterial documents of the Second Vatican Council. I could go on and on – this is just a starter. They also own hundreds of millions of dollars of assets, which they are not going to be willing to hand over to the Roman Catholic Church authorities – they will demand that they retain ownership, I’m sure. Go to the SSPX website, SSPX.org, and view how they have expanded. Be mindful that they have established parishes, schools, seminaries and ecclesiastical tribunals within the jurisdictions of Roman Catholic bishops all over the world. They have engaged PR/media/communications experts to evangelize converts to their movement – and present a fraudulent image of themselves as being fully Roman Catholic in order to attract adherents. They have taken over the publishing rights of hundreds of classic Catholic works so that any Catholic who wants to have access to these works will have to do business with the SSPX in order to obtain them. The situation has gotten way, way out of hand and should have been addressed very firmly and clearly by Rome a long time ago. This movement has been allowed to flourish without discipline or penalty for well over a quarter of a century. They have caused confusion and dissent within the Church and have driven another lance through the Sacred Heart of Our Most Blessed Lord – there are few sins worse than schism. So many souls have been lost – souls that were predestined for great holiness – like Archbishop Lefebvre himself, the founder of this schismatic movement, who died in a state of excommunication. The adherents of the SSPX believe that their founder should be canonized. They have published a documentary on his life – focusing mainly on Abp. Lefebrvre’s incredibly holy ministry for four decades with the Holy Ghost Fathers, and misrepresenting the schismatic actions and penalties that he incurred when founding the SSPX. It is a pure propaganda piece and the Vatican needs to address this work, as well, since this DVD is being circulated among Roman Catholics to entice them to leave the Church and to join the ranks of the SSPX. The fact that talks have begun again is a sign of great hope. Let us pray that all the Rosaries offered by the adherents of the SSPX will not be in vain, and SSPX Bishop Fellay will sign the profession of faith by the Holy See and return to the Mystical Body of Christ.

  4. “there are many within the Vatican who would prefer to see a formal split between the parties”

    So what that means is that there are those in the Vatican who ACTUALLY WANT A FORMAL SCHISM.

    We have priests having clown masses, gay masses, puppet masses, priests preaching heresy, refusing to preach against common moral issues of today. And then we have the SSPX who are “canonically irregular” and who disagree over minor differences. They are not heretics, they actually want reconciliation, yet those in the Vatican essentially want them kicked out. What a sad state the Church is in today.

  5. No the SSPX are not in schism, they are “Canonically irregular.” A reconciliation would simply mean giving them canonical status to preach and administer the sacraments.

    They are not heretics, they are not in schism, they are not sedivicantists. Stop spreading your lies about them if you do not understand the situation.

  6. Well, there are a lot of important details here. First, it’s a little misleading to report that the SSPX was “founded by Marcel LeFebvre” as if he just went off on his own. He was fully supported by Pope Paul VI at the founding of the order, with the specific mission of preserving the traditional Mass.

    So that’s one reason the SSPX is not like protestant sects or orthodox churches.

    Another reason is that the SSPX has validly ordained priests and validly consecrated bishops, and even as originally constituted could operate independently of diocesan bishops. Thus they can administer all the sacraments validly, even if irregularly. The same isn’t true of protestants. This poses a problem for the Vatican in dealing with the SSPX because the organization can draw followers away from diocesan parishes and such followers can belong to SSPX chapels in reasonably good conscience (as the Vatican has repeatedly affirmed) and still remain Catholic in every sense, but as long as their status is ‘irregular’ the Vatican’s control of the situation is quite limited.

    A third reason is that the SSPX is not a sedevacantist group, thus they recognize that the pope is a real pope and not, as some other groups (e.g., SSPV) believe, an impostor. This means the SSPX wants to become regularized and there is a basis for each side to appeal to the other because both want regularization.

    There’s no “schism”. The contention is baseless. The SSPX has never set out to create a parallel or separate church.

    The biggest problem was the declaration of excommunication directed at Lefebvre and the 4 bishops he consecrated in 1988. That problem was resolved by Benedict.

    When you get into the details of what is really going on with the SSPX, I think it’s all pretty fascinating. There’s a lot you have to know.

  7. The SSPX is not “in schism”. This is a false contention. Also, the sacraments they administer are perfectly valid and the Vatican has repeatedly affirmed that Catholics can, for example, fulfill their Sunday obligation of Mass attendance by going to an SSPX Mass.

  8. Julia you’re way, way off here. No schism, for instance.

    You do raise one good point, though. My understanding is that there is some reason to believe that the SSPX as a group does not regard the new mass as valid. It does not, contrary to your contentions, maintain that the bishops are not validly consecrated, that the priests are not validly ordained, or that the pope is a false pope. That’s the SSPV, and some other groups, not the SSPX.

    I don’t know whether the belief that the new mass is invalid amounts to ‘heresy’. It is certainly a very problematic belief for any Catholic, though. I’d certainly grant you that.

  9. The deal IS simply that the Second Vatican is corrupted and illegal.

  10. Of course it is not easy to say however is utterly unacceptable.

  11. Dear JAMES, I’m to tired tonight but I would like to give you some sources to look at. I respect you as a person an as a child of God who cares about the Church, but please look on this site tomorrow and allow me to clear some things up for you regarding your statements on the SSPX. I will get with you on your statements tomorrow, and then i would like you to reply again. To Mr. REGAN, I know you care about the church too. Please allow me to direct both you an JAMES to some information that i’m afraid will highly dispute tour arguments. it is a complicated issue between the SSPX and the Official Church I grant you, but as i mentioned i would like you to see what I have to offer, and I would appreciate your reply personally. Peace an good night if you both are still awake and still on the site. You will hear from me tomorrow for real.

  12. Dear JAMES and MR. REGAN. Sorry so late in getting back to you guys. Hey all respect on a complicated issue. Please go to Google and key in “Status of Society of St. Pius X EWTN” read the letter from the Pontifical Comission Eccleisa Dei, rescript N. 117/95 of 29 September 1995, also read the text of Cardinal Muller current prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in his visit with SSPX members. Also please Google “Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI of 10 March 2009. this is on the vatican website, you should find it. In the letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI on the remission of the excomunications of the four bishops of the SSPX, He sates that while he wants to show a Fatherly solicitude to the members of the SSPX, my emphasis, that still, until alll doctrinal issues are overcome, the Society, though now freed from the eccliastical penalties, Benedict means that they are now resored to the ecclisial community, that nevertheless, the ministers of the SSPX “have no canonical status in the Church. . . and therefore cannot excecise any legetimate ministry”. God Bless all of you. I hope you Google these things, as I think it will clarify everythimg we all need to know up- to- date on this issue. Peace.

  13. Mr. Boone:

    I’m familiar with the letter. Seen it many times.

    A couple of things. A letter from that office is not definitive. It might be persuasive but it’s not like it’s binding. That said, I think a lot of what the letter says is obviously correct. For example, the SSPX operates its chapels wholly independent of the relevant local bishop, who alone has the authority to grant or deny “faculties” to priests. Those faculties are what permit the priests to say mass, hear confessions, and so on.

    If priests do any of those things without having received faculties from the bishop, they do so illicitly. But acts can be illicit without being invalid. Every protestant baptism, for example, if done the right way is both valid and illicit.

    It also seems unarguably correct to me that there is a license permitting a Catholic who is “physically or morally impeded” from attending regular mass to attend SSPX masses. Needless to say, this is a broad license, encompassing basically any Catholic with moral objections to the new masses to attend SSPX masses, just as if they were the new ones.

    So the bottom line is that any Catholic with moral objections to the new mass can attend SSPX chapels with no problems even though everything that is done in those chapels is objectively illicit.

    You can see why this is a big problem for the Vatican, which traditionally and understandably relies upon a chain of authority in which bishops are the primary link, and here you have all these masses being said and chapels operating that are validly Catholic but not under any bishop other than the three or four at the head of the order.

    The other thing that makes the SSPX practically unique and in a very strong position to just continue is that they were established formally and officially by Pope Paul VI.

    The story of Marcel Lefebvre and his courage is one of the great and most interesting episodes in Catholic history. At least I find it interesting, and while I am an SSPX sympathizer I should think that any informed Catholic would find the whole thing fascinating, and of possibly historic significance.

  14. Thank you Mr. Regan for your response. I to believe that if a person has no other options in wanting to attend Mass or the other Sacraments that an illicit situation will indeed be okay. The “Hawaii Five” is a good example. Yes a baptist baptism is valid but illicit but they are still baptised of course if that particular Baptist community uses the correct forma. Stay in touch man, thanks. I get your portion of this complicated discussion. I really do, i get it.

  15. Thanks for sharing this information. We have relatives in the SSPX and have been very worried about them. So much of their behavior is cult like. Since they joined the Pius X family there has been a big division in their own immediate family. They practice rules that seem hypoctrical. For instance they will not attend a wedding outside the Catholic Church (not just SSPX church but any Catholic Church is okay). So, if you aren’t Catholic, they won’t attend your wedding. The excuse they give is that the wedding is not valid and therefore the two parties are not truly married in the eyes of God so you are living in sin and they can’t be a witness to that. (Even if you are getting married in a Christian faith.) They will, however, be happy to attend your wedding reception celebrating your wedding?? So, they are able to celebrate the fact that you are legally living in sin in an invalid marriage…as long as they don’t go to the ceremony??? The women are not allowed to wear any type of pants. The men must always wear long sleeves and are generally dressed in business suits. Their behavior seems punative and designed to evanganlize. (ie; if you will not get married in the Catholic Church then too bad for you… we will boycott your wedding…. However, don’t you worry, we’ll be their afterward for the party) Their rules for how they must dress and praying and performing the sign of the cross in public repeatedly seems designed to “draw attention” to themselves and how “holy” they are. One of the children became a nun in the SSPX and she is not allowed to visit her family for 6 years. The whole organization seems focused on tearing familys apart unless they are all willing to take the plunge into SSPX together. They have repeatedly reached our to our non-Catholic family sending videos, books. emails & brochures (all unsolicited). Anyway, I’m not Catholic so it doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other but just want to put in my 2 cents. If I were ever planning to join a Catholic Faith, I would run pretty quickly from this one that is so judgemental and hypocritical. These members intentionally and knowingly withhold love from their own family if the family member does not comply with their beliefs. I wish they could see the irony of their behavior and that they are actually forcefully pushing people away from the SSPX rather than showing anything like love, compassion, understanding and acceptance that might make a searching person want to join and be a part of their church family. I’m no bible scholar but I can’t imagine that this is what God had in mind when he sent Jesus Christ to unite the nations and to die so that our sins may be forgiven. But I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. Hopefully when I get to Heaven all will be revealed. Although according to the SSPX I am going to have to settle for a hot tub in Hell.

  16. It is good that the SSPX is there for us. Someone has to stand up against the errors of Vatican II. They are brave souls with deep devotion to Christ and His Church. In my experience, it is not those within the SSPX who are cultish, but
    the sedevacantist priests and followers are. It can get to the point where one seriously wonders who they love more, God, or a particular form of worship ? If the SSPX and Rome can agree to full normalization, then the others will melt away. Just re-do some of the language in Vatican II documents and get rid of the Novus Ordo Mass while declaring all Masses held under its liturgy are still valid, for all ages. It’s worth it. Let’s hope this is done. The Church needs to get this behind her.

  17. Regarding the title of this article
    “Pope Francis tries again on traditionalist reconciliation after Benedict XVI failed
    ” ~ how disrespectful, rude and insulting to our dear Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He didnt “fail” anything and almost brought the reconciliation to a successful outcome…. How contradictory later in the article where the author states : “SSPX appeared to harden its stance after the election of Pope Francis.”

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