Bishop Bruskewitz to the Society of St. Pius X: 'You can't have it both ways!'

Author: St. Joseph Foundation


Charles M. Wilson

The Foundation has received more compliments on the lead article in the last issue than any article which has appeared in CHRISTIFIDELIS since the newsletter began publication in 1984. The Diocese of Lincoln has received thousands of letters expressing support and gratitude for Bishop Bruskewitz's action and only an insignificant number criticizing him, so I am not surprised that our readers would react as they did. Even so, there is one category of criticism received by the Diocese of Lincoln and the Foundation which deserves a response. I am referring to the members and sympathizers of the Society of St. Pius X (hereafter the Society or SSPX) who objected to the Society's being named at all and its being lumped together with such groups as Call To Action, Catholics for a Free Choice, Planned Parenthood and the Freemasons.

For an organization to be included in Bishop Bruskewitz's legislation three conditions must be present: (1) It must have members in the Diocese of Lincoln; (2) membership therein is deemed by the bishop to be perilous to or incompatible with the Catholic faith; (3) it asserts falsely that membership does not contradict membership in the Catholic Church.

Let me state my position right off the bat. There is no doubt in my mind that conditions (1) and (3) apply to the Society and there is persuasive evidence that condition (2) also applies. I support Bishop Bruskewitz's action and offer the following article in support of my conclusions.

Archbishop Lefebvre

Over 90% of the people who will read this article are Americans. Yet I hope that our good readers in Canada and other countries outside the United States will appreciate the use of some analogies drawn from American history which seem singularly on target. In the first place, some incidents associated with the birth of our country might give rise to a certain special sympathy for the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. We revere Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and many, many others who stood up to their lawful king, his ministers, his legislature and his army and navy rather than compromise their principles. The signers of our Declaration of Independence mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in a cause history would now regard as a foolhardy rebellion against a duly constituted regime which by eighteenth century standards was most benign, had it been General Washington instead of Lord Cornwallis who was forced to surrender at Yorktown in 1781. It is then understandable that we would instinctively feel some degree of admiration toward a man who in our own time stood up for what he sincerely believed was right in the face of powerful opposition.

Faithful Catholics of all nationalities who embrace the teaching of the Church and love the beauty of her traditional liturgy are as well inclined to have feelings of sympathy and gratitude toward Archbishop Lefebvre. We sympathize because we agree with much of what he said and we are grateful because the celebration of the traditional Mass would not be possible and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter would not exist save for him. Furthermore, in our constant and frustrating struggle against the kind of atrocities we see in "Straws in the Wind," we know that Archbishop Lefebvre was equally horrified. As the old Arab maxim goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Still, the sympathy, admiration and gratitude we may have toward Archbishop Lefebvre must not blind us to our duty toward the Church. It may be all right to consider the archbishop something of a latter day Patrick Henry, but only if we keep in mind that it was not George III who our Lord Jesus Christ was addressing when He said: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" and "He who hears you hears me." Similarly, some have cast Archbishop Lefebvre as a modern St. Athanasius, suffering for his opposition to modernism much as the fourth century Doctor of the Church endured persecution and exile for fighting Arianism. This comparison falls short because the historical conditions are not analogous. Most of St. Athanasius' persecutors were themselves heretics, usurpers or intrusive emperors. One exception was, of course, Pope Liberius, who under duress condemned Athanasius in 357. By contrast Archbishop Lefebvre has defied legitimate holders of ecclesiastical office, including Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. It is beyond question that John Paul II is the legitimate successor of Peter and was not acting under duress when Archbishop Lefebvre manifestly violated the Holy Father's express, personal command by ordaining four bishops without the required mandate of the Holy See in 1988. Whether the act constituted schism in the strict sense of the word does not change this, nor do the differing opinions proffered by learned canonists.

The SSPX Today

Returning again to the American analogy, what that loose confederation called the United States of America would become was by no means certain when the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783. There is not much doubt that Washington would have been crowned king had he wanted the job or that he and his generals could have easily established a military dictatorship. Conversely, the nation might just as easily have come apart, as it almost did 77 years later, and what is now the territory of the 48 contiguous states would contain a collection of smaller nations. What the United States was in 1783, what it was at various times between then and now or what it might have become is completely beside the point when one considers domestic or foreign policy matters in 1996. Likewise, what Bishop Bruskewitz had to consider was not what the Society was when Archbishop Lefebvre founded it in 1970 nor what it was when he illicitly ordained the four bishops in 1988 nor what it was at the time of his death on March 25, 1991, but what it is in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska in 1996. It is from this perspective that we consider whether or not the SSPX meets the three criteria set forth in Bishop Bruskewitz's legislative act of March 22, 1996.

Membership And Activities

St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Lincoln is not a building but an association formed for the purpose of providing for the celebration of the Traditional Mass. Ironically, the building it has used is a cemetery chapel which is also the site of Masonic and Buddhist ceremonies. The fact that the SSPX has recently conducted public worship there was acknowledged by the Society's District Superior, Father Peter R. Scott, in his letter to Bishop Bruskewitz, dated March 27 and since published by the Society.

The subject of membership is less simple. The SSPX does not have lay members in the strict sense of the word and none of its priest-members reside in the Diocese of Lincoln. If being formally enrolled as a member of the Society is what is necessary to incur the penalties legislated by Bishop Bruskewitz, then it is clear that no one in the Diocese of Lincoln has incurred interdiction or excommunication for being a member thereof. However, the obvious intent of the legislation was to deter Catholics from becoming so closely associated with any of the twelve organizations named that they would risk accepting those beliefs and practices which are in conflict with the Catholic faith. This means that what is really at issue is not formal enrollment but adherence. For example, if one were to regularly attend meetings and other public activities of Call to Action, participate in its illicit liturgies, subscribe to its publications, applaud its leaders and support it financially, then one could be considered an adherent and subject to the penalties established by law. The same could be said of the SSPX, so we must then proceed to determine if adherence to the Society is perilous to the faith and if it has claimed that such adherence by Catholics does not contradict their membership in the Church.

Perilous To Or Incompatible With The Catholic Faith?

Some 35 years ago, I worked in the purchasing department of a large corporation. One day we attended a training session where a company lawyer was to instruct us on the discriminatory pricing sections of the Robinson-Patman Act. To do this in an hour was quite a challenge, so he began by saying, with tongue in cheek, "This is a subject on which thousand-page books have been written and most of them are regarded as terse and superficial." Now that I am going to try to deal with a subject far more complex than the Robinson-Patman Act in a few paragraphs, I know just how he felt.

That which God has made known to us in order to be saved is referred to by the Church as Divine Revelation or the Word of God. This Revelation is to be found only in sacred Scripture and that teaching of the apostles which was not recorded in writing at the time. The latter is called sacred Tradition. "Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church...But the task of giving authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it." (Vatican II, <Dei Verbum>, No. 10.) The Magisterium can be exercised in several ways. A solemn definition by the pope alone as well as a definition of a lawfully convened ecumenical council confirmed by the pope are protected by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, infallible. Also infallible is a teaching of the entire college of bishops, even while scattered throughout the world, in union among themselves and with the successor of Peter, when they agree that the teaching must be definitively held.

Anything which contradicts or seriously distorts this Word of God as faithfully interpreted and handed down by the Magisterium can surely be regarded as perilous to or incompatible with the Catholic faith.

The primary charge is that the SSPX contradicts or seriously distorts the Word of God as interpreted by the Magisterium appears to rest on its alleged non-acceptance of at least three of the sixteen pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, <Sacrosanctum concilium>, the Decree on Ecumenism, <Unitatis redintegratio>, and the Declaration on Religious Liberty, <Dignitatis humanae>. The secondary charge is that, by its defiance of the rightful authority of the pope and the bishops in communion with him, the Society has challenged the doctrine of papal primacy and the rightful authority of the bishops as lawful shepherds of their particular churches.

Bishop Bruskewitz has the authority to judge whether or not these charges are true insofar as they apply to what the Society and its adherents do within the Diocese of Lincoln. I have no such authority at all, either in the Diocese of Lincoln or anywhere else, so all I can do is express a private opinion.

Archbishop Lefebvre engaged in a lengthy dialog with the Holy See over the proper interpretation of Vatican II. Finally, in May, 1988, he signed an agreement with the Holy See in which he accepted Vatican II if interpreted in accord with sacred Tradition. In my view, that is the only way Vatican II or any other ecumenical council could possibly be interpreted. Unfortunately, Archbishop Lefebvre subsequently repudiated his

agreement and an examination of recent public statements of the SSPX, including the current exchange of correspondence between Fr. Scott and Bishop Bruskewitz, leads me to conclude that the Society has gone beyond castigating the distortions and spurious interpretations of the Council and has, for all practical purposes, rejected the Council itself.

As far as I am concerned, there is no argument that the SSPX has considered itself absolved from any obligation of submission to the pope or any diocesan bishop. It conducts public worship and administers the sacraments wherever it chooses without so much as a nod in the direction of the competent authority. It reserves the right to alienate itself from the teaching authority of the pope

and, in effect, has instituted its own canons of orthodoxy.

If I were serving on a jury trying to decide the Society's guilt or innocence, the evidence I have seen thus far would cause me to be inclined to vote guilty on the primary charge but I would want to see some more before casting a final vote. As to the secondary charge, I say guilty.

False Assertions Of Union With Rome

In a letter dated May 13 to Fr. Scott, also published by the SSPX, Bishop Bruskewitz states that the Society's chapel in Lincoln has claimed in advertisements in the local newspaper and telephone directory that it is "in full union with Rome." I would say that such a claim is deceptive, unless you go along with the Society's definition of what "Rome" is or, more important, what "Rome says." Whenever we hear the term "Rome says," we understand this to mean the official pronouncements of the Holy See. However, judging by a recent promotional leaflet distributed by the SSPX, portions of which appear at the end of this article, it seems that the Society would define "Rome says" as the private statements of current or retired officials of the Roman Curia, observations of canon lawyers living in Rome or elsewhere, dissertations written by individuals studying at pontifical universities or replies of a department of the Holy See to inquiries from members of the faithful.

The leaflet bothers me more than the newspaper or telephone directory advertisements because it went to a lot more people, most of whom live in dioceses where the bishop is not as vigilant as Bishop Bruskewitz. The leaflet's unmistakable message is that the SSPX and its priests are under no canonical sanction whatever and that the Catholic faithful are as free to attend Society Masses as they are to attend Masses celebrated in diocesan parishes. This is, at the very least, sheer balderdash and is obviously intended to entice the unsuspecting and the uninformed.

Some Difficulties With The Leaflet

The general difficulty I have with the leaflet is that it employs a non-sequitur which has nothing to do with the present case, i.e., whether or not the ordination of bishops by Archbishop Lefebvre without the mandate of the Holy See was intrinsically schismatic, and then leaps to the conclusion that the SSPX is perfectly O.K. Beyond that, I have very serious questions about the use of the statements of three individuals, none of whom has endorsed or is affiliated in any way with the SSPX.

Count Capponi did indeed make the statement the leaflet attributes to him. But he has also said publicly that, while he was a sympathizer of Archbishop Lefebvre, he was not a follower. Moreover, as the SSPX is well aware, in 1994 the "independent" traditionalist chapel of Our Lady of Fatima in Pequannock, NJ, received an offer from the Bishop of Paterson whereby the chapel would be regularized and served by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. A faction of SSPX adherents within the chapel membership wanted to reject the offer and demanded that Masses there be celebrated by Society priests, claiming that they were acting out of necessity according to c. 1323, 4 . In response and at my request, Count Capponi prepared an opinion wherein he said: 'If Bishop Rodimer's offer of reconciliation and the services of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter are refused, chose who continue to attend the Masses celebrated by priests of the Society of St. Pius X cannot any longer claim to be acting in a state of necessity as foreseen by canon 1323, 4 ."

Father Gerald Murray has written a very strong letter to the SSPX pointing out the outright errors made and quotations taken out of context in the extracts from an interview which appeared in <The Latin Mass Magazine>. The citation in the leaflet would imply that Fr. Murray sees nothing at all wrong with attending SSPX Masses, when in fact he clearly said otherwise in the same article. Incidentally, Fr. Murray has since reassessed the arguments made in his licentiate thesis (not his doctoral thesis, as erroneously stated by the SSPX) and now considers his earlier interpretation of the state of necessity as too broad.

Cardinal Ratzinger's decision reversing the excommunication of six members of the faithful in Honolulu is used in an attempt to legitimatize the SSPX. As most of you know, the St. Joseph Foundation assisted in defending the "Hawaii Six" and I can say that the status of the Society was not at issue in that case. What was at issue was the conduct of the defendants which, while admittedly blameworthy in some respects, did not constitute schism. The records of the case show that the former Bishop of Honolulu, Most Rev. Joseph Ferrario, tried to use penal law to silence chose six Catholics who were calling the attention of the public to what they perceived as the bishop's follies and misdeeds. Cardinal Ratzinger has never explicitly or implicitly approved of the actions of the SSPX.

The SSPX And The Internal Crisis In The Church

I know that the Church is undergoing a terrible internal crisis. So does the SSPX, but I think our common understanding ends there. The St. Joseph Foundation now receives requests for assistance at the rate of over 2,000 per year and we know as well as anyone else just what faithful Catholics have to endure. Still, even if we cannot help them, I am confident that the vast majority will manage to bear their sufferings without refusing "submission to the Roman Pontiff or communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (c. 751).

If I may impose on our readers outside the United States just one more time, I will close with a final American example which I personally remember. During World War II, the former heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, was drafted into the army. When the "Brown Bomber" arrived at the induction station, a reporter asked him if he did not think it unfair that he was forced to serve in the army of a country in which his people had suffered and were suffering so many injustices. Louis thought for a moment and said: "There's nothing wrong with this country that Hitler can fix."

I am by no means equating Archbishop Lefebvre with Adolph Hitler or the SSPX with the National Socialist Party, but the analogy remains an apt one. Terrible things are happening in the Church, but I don't see anything that the Society of St. Pius X can fix.

Taken from the August 22, 1996 issue of "Christifidelis". To subscribe to "Christifidelis", please contact: The Saint Joseph Foundation, 11107 Wurzbach, #404, San Antonio, TX 78230-2553, (210) 697-0717, Fax (210) 699-9439.