19 January 2008

Bishop Williamson, the SSPX, and a New (to me) Blog

I have mixed feelings about the SSPX. Part of me wants to applaud them for their fidelity to the Truth; part of me wants to take issue with, what seems to me, their wilful refusal to contrast Vatican II with the "spirit of Vatican II"; part of me recoils at outright refusal to obey Rome; part of me is glad that they have the momentum to maintain a structure in which the Mass as always celebrated continues to be celebrated; part of me feels sorry that a consequence of this Pontificate is that the SSPX will be superseded, and will become a footnote. The SSPX has been part of a debate that has informed my religious life ever since the day I served my first Novus Ordo Mass aged about 10 and asked the priest in the sacristy how many times I should ring the bell at the Consecration: "How the bloody hell does anyone know any more?" was the irreverent but accurate reply.

One part of me has always been convinced that the SSPX's chief problem is Bishop Williamson: he has never been a Catholic other than as part of the SSPX,

Update: I got this wrong. See the combox.

and, while his risible views on everything from women wearing trousers to "The Sound of Music" reflect on him personally, his views on Rome, his close to sedevacantist views on "the Two Churches" (the Church and the SSPX), reflect on the Society itself.

I came across a new (to me) blog here and, for the first time got a better idea about what Bishop Williamson might be about, a better idea about what the man behind the daft soundbites might actually believe and be like, and an idea that a bit of Charity towards the man, if not the soundbites, might be in order.

So: until the next time he says something daft, I promise not to post anything about Bishop Williamson here, or anywhere, and will dedicate effort, instead, into praying for the formal reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome.


John said...

I too have feelings both ways about the SSPX. I have in fact been at Mass celebrated by Bishop Williamson and also, more recently, Mass celebrated by Bishop Fellay. Neither said anything untoward in my hearing. In fact I was with them both 100%.
My lasting memory of the former is him saying that unless God does something about the sinfulness of this world, and does it soon, then He is going to have to start apologising the Sodom and Gommorah for what He did to them.
Bishop Fellay seems very well informed about the background to events surrounding our present Pope and he asked all of us to pray, and pray hard, for Pope Benedict.
There is no doubt that the bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre are under the censure of excommunication. Bishop Fellay mentioned it in passing and intimated that he expects it to be lifted in the not-too-distant future.
The bit that really gets me about the SSPX is that they operate outside of the Church in whatever country they are. Take the simple matter of hearing Confession. For any priest to hear Confession in any particular location, that priest must have the permission of the local Ordinary. In no case has any SSPX priest the permission to hear Confession in any location. I took this matter up with someone you know well....a certain Clare! She quoted "Ecclesia supplet" to me. This is a Cannonical let-out clause in which, if all conditions cannot be met in a particular circumstance and the spiritual needs of someone demand attention, then "The Church supplies" an over-riding exemption for those circumstances. My concerns with this are that 'ecclesia supplet' is for exceptional circumstances only. It cannot be applied again and again and again every time someone needs to go to Confession.
The instance in which I was assured that it applied is concerning the sacrament of Extreme Unction. When a person is near to death then a priest can give the Apostolic Blessing, on behalf of the Pope, to that person and it has the plus of being a plenary indulgence for that person, under the usual conditions! But, if those conditions cannot be met, then "Ecclesia supplet". It even applies if a priest cannot be there (being one of those conditions). So, anyone on the point of death, can beg God's forgiveness and beg the Apostolic blessing themselves!
But I don't see this applying to general visits to the confessional for the sacrament of Reconciliation. I would never confess to an SSPX priest (unless I had no other choice), because I would not be convinced in my own mind, that I had indeed, had my sins forgiven.
That said, their Masses are valid Masses, their priests are valid priests and I like to go along and sing Mass in Latin from my Liber Usualis. The Lber Usualis contains the Gregorian Plainchant for the whole year, for all Masses, Vespers Compline etc..


Londiniensis said...

Ttony, I share your mixed feelings about the SSPX but can only admire from afar your Christian forbearance towards Bishop Richard Williamson. Since July 2007, he has been putting out a weekly column, Dinoscopus, which you might want to peruse. Yes, we must pray for him. Does he, I wonder, pray for us?

Anonymous said...

"he has never been a Catholic other than as part of the SSPX"

That is not true. He was received into the Church by an Irish priest who is still in communion. Secondly, he tried his vocation in two separate seminaries and was thrown out both times. He returned to his Irish spiritual director in 1971 who told him: "Well, it's Econe for you then!".

There was less of a stigma about Econe during the papacy of Paul VI. The stigma was as much a product of 1980's Rome as it was of the SSPX itself. Something Ratzinger now regrets.

Fr Andrew Wadsworth said...

Although I understand where you're coming from and I largely agree with you, Bishop Williamson was a catholic before he joined the SSPX. He was for a very brief period a nibbler (postulant) at the London Oratory. The fathers there recount a story of Wiliamson at breakfast asking one of the elderly fathers if he would be prepared to die for the faith. The enigmatic answer was:"not during breakfast!".

John said...

I can see something of a parallel between Bishop Williamson and Enoch Powell. Both were classicists and Enoch would certainly have been prepared to die for his faith. I often ask myself the same question. I really do.
I hope that I would be ready to die for the Faith but, at this remove, I cannot answer absolutely. Of course, we, nowadays think that this is unlikely. But, is it???!!!


Jeffrey Smith said...

Of course the possibility of dying for the Faith is more likely than ever, but it's still not something to discuss at breakfast.
He's excommunicate. That's all I need to know.

Anonymous said...

"I can see something of a parallel between Bishop Williamson and Enoch Powell. Both were classicists ..."

Again this is not true. Williamson studied English at Cambridge after Winchester no less.

Like Lefebvre, Williamson had experience of Africa. His adopted spiritual father was an African missionary and was not a white supremacist. The late Archbishop rightly understood that Africa had to take the best of Europe - the "Faith" - but it has ended up with the worst of European culture in many cases if not all.

Bishop Williamson would enjoy Powell's civility and even company but would be appalled by his heretical and weird religious views. They became weirder as Powell grew older. Williamson is more of a Muggeridge than a Powell man but without Mugg's hypocrisy and cant.

Adrienne said...

I spent more than 7 years "up close and personal" with the SSPX, including the bishops mentioned. Things are not what they seem. They do operate as a cult and great damage is done to the people involved with them.

It took a long time to undo the psychological damage they inflicted. Now my husband and I spend time counseling those that have left this organization.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, please do not generalize certain problematic incidents that have happened within the SSPX to claim that the SSPX operates as a cult. The SSPX is not the Church and the SSPX is not perfect. I have been "up close and personal" with the SSPX for close to 10 years and I have seen nothing of what you speak of. I am aware of two websites which purport that the SSPX is nothing than a cult but frankly both sites seem to grossly exaggerate unfortunate incidents within the SSPX.

I wonder if Rome thinks the SSPX operates as a cult?

Acceptance of the SSPX's position is not required to ensure one's salvation. How in the world could I even think such a thing if I have supported the SSPX for all these years? But according to you, I am "psychologically damaged" and support a cult. A cult wishes to control every aspect of a person's life. The SSPX does not do this.

So do you still think the SSPX is a cult?

Anonymous said...

Adrienne sorry to hear about your SSPX experiences. I have never been to a SSPX Mass in my life not been involved with them "up close and personal".

My experience is that all religious/spiritual communities have a cultish element to them. There are now dedicated sites for ex-members of Focolare and the Legionnaires for example. I am sure there are others.

They often attract disturbed and lonely people to start with and I should know for I am such a case. I have joined loads of these groups, communities and societies (including 12 step fellowships!) and it's very easy for me to blame the group itself but I suspect that I was the problem in the first place.

Ultimately, I never fitted in and in way, my own ego and problems saved me from fully buying into these various programs in the first place. A strange state to find yourself in.

Not sure where it leaves me now but I still get to Mass and am trying to attend the TLM which is getting slightly easier to do in England since the SP.

Adrienne said...

anon - no, I do think it is a cult - I know it is a cult. I live close by one of the largest and most popular of their "chapels" and they do attempt to run the lives of the parishioners. They have been party to lawsuits, shootings (yes, with a gun), and all manner of unsavory stuff.

It was routine for people to be called at their homes and told what music to listen to and what clothes to wear. Parents were encouraged to "whip" their children with switches starting as young as 6 months to a year old. Thankfully, that little idea was rejected by most of the parents, but not all.

I sat in church and listened to pastors regale the congregation with personal stories of "errant" parishioners with details that were from private counseling sessions. The parishioners were told to not associate with family members that did not attend SSPX.

I saw women dressed in slacks not allowed to enter the church - these were usually unwary travelers on vacation.

Read up on the case of Father John Rizzo to see what happens when one of their own dares to cross them.

My remarks were directed an an institution and its policies, not individual members. There are some fine and well meaning people who attend SSPX chapels.

And finally, I did not call you "psychologically damaged." That's for each individual to decide. We only work with people who request help.

Poperinghe said...

Regarding Bishop Williamson:

I think quite highly of the SSPX, and I have always wondered why the reigns can't be pulled on this maverick bishop, also known as Lefebvre's greatest error.

In Williamson I see little love for the Church or the SSPX itself, with his constant histrionic statements threatening to split the SSPX itself into an Anglo-American faction and a Continental faction. Whilst Murphy-O'Connor is hardly the shepherd I want to entrust my faith too, I will say that at least he is held to some modest standard.

Lefebvre did not want the SSPX bishops having administrative powers, they were only for sacramental functioning. Fellay expelling the old guard for them having praised Campos' reconciliation in 2004 was another eye-opener that the SSPX is more interested in preserving the SSPX than the Catholic Church.

I have complete respect for Archbishop Lefebvre and the general tendency of the SSPX clerics and faithful, but if a union is not reached soon I fear the SSPX will become wholly insular and separated.

I realize that in terms of sheer practicality that Williamson is the star when it comes to raising funds for the SSPX, but he is going to destroy everything the Archbishop and many SSPX faithful worked so hard for. He doesn't care basically, he is all that matters to him. Williamson is trying to make reunion impossible.

Can someone please tell me why Williamson has not been removed of his faculties or expelled from the Society?

Anonymous said...

Poperinghe has made an interesting point: the SSPX Bishops have moved themselves beyond an exclusively sacramental role (unlike the priests of course).

The issue is compounded by liberal bigotry amongst the hierarchy of the main body of the Church. The situation is further complicated by the fact that some of the most hostile SSPX opponents are main stream trads like Archbishop Burke and Bishop Bruskewitz.

Clare said...

My ears were burning. Must be because John mentioned me in the first comment! :D

I've been attending SSPX Masses for about 8 years. I've seen some women in trousers at them (in spite of the well-known rule against them), and I've never seen any turned away from church or the Communion rails. I know SSPX-attending Catholics of long standing who are married to Novus Ordo-attending Catholics, and non-Catholics. So it would be pretty hard to get them to associate only with other SSPXers!

It's not cultish in my experience.

Moretben said...

I've been attending (and serving) SSPX Masses, on and off, for nearly a quarter century. The SSPX saved my faith. I suspect that what Adrienne is describing is not an SSPX problem - or even a Williamson problem (I'm not the man's greatest fan)- but an American problem. 'Nuff said.

I've never experienced anything remotely "cultish". Even when I parted company with them in the 90's (to pursue the possibility of a vocation with the FSSP) we remained on friendly terms and when I "came back" it was in response to a request to help serve Mass and train new servers. One of the - ahem - more eccentric laity who took it upon herself to denounce my occasional Indultery was put charitably but very firmly in her place by the then District Superior. My mostly non-practicing wife is always treated with perfect courtesy, tact and genuine warmth.

Moretben said...


They do maintain the distinction between Vatican II and the Spirit of Vatican II; what they also do is continue to insist that the magisterium address the real problems presented by the real Vatican II. This is what makes people uncomfortable. "Can't we just settle for having the Mass and forget the rest?". Well, no, actually - but the temptation is very powerful. Thank God they aren't succumbing. It's a nasty job but somebody's got to do it.

Ttony said...

I'll leave Adrienne's comments in, but I won't have any more making the SSPX out to be a cult; it isn't: even if one SSPX parish went to the bad, I've seen a New Movement parish go to the bad in an analogous way.

Moretben: one of the joys of the erection of the Institute of the Good Shepherd was the invitation for it to study Vatican II critically in the light of Tradition. We await its fruits.

FrGregACCA said...

In noting where in the States Adrienne hails from, a place relatively close to where I grew up, I suspect the problem is more particularly related to the culture of that area, rather than being an American problem in general. Northern Idaho is part of a pretty unique area which has given rise to a unique population, Catholic (of whatever stripe: conservative, SSPX, or sede), Protestant (analogous categories), or Mormon.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the issue of confessions and the SSPX, I struggled with this for a long time, and found the following article useful in this respect:


Moreover, I've also read up on Fr. Rizzo and other such pieces, but my experiences of the Society in the UK have been very positive. Yes, there are those with more extreme views, and some of the clergy are more polemical than you would wish, but from my experience, we get good solid Catholic teaching based on the Gospel Sunday after Sunday.

Regarding Bishop Williamson, I have yet to meet His Lordship, so I cannot pass judgement.

Poperinghe said...


I am curious as to your time with the FSSP, what do individuals involved with the FSSP think in regards to Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX. I have heard behind closed doors in the FSSP is very pro-Lefebvre but in public they cannot be. If you could shed any light on this I would appreciate it.

The times I have spent in SSPX chapels (I am not currently assisting at chapel staffed by the SSPX) I am very impressed by the intelligence and orthodoxy of the clergy and laity, and the SSPX is where the Catholic Church really works.

John said...

My thanks to anon for the link to Catholic International regarding Confession to an SSPX priest. I have read the article. I can certainly see the point that anyone seeing a Mass advertised etc and then taking place, would assume that it was indeed Mass and perfectly valid. I see too the point that one can confess to non-Catholic Ministers who have valed Sacraments. But I am not convinced that I could go along to an SSPX priest and plead "Ecclesia supplet"

Anonymous said...

"the SSPX is where the Catholic Church really works"

According to Williamson's own blog they are struggling for vocations.

Word from France is that Econe is now too much like the Jesuits which was the not the original purpose.

Anonymous said...

John - the issue of confessions (and marriage) within the SSPX is an issue you have to decide on one way or the other - it is hard to prove they have supplied jurisdiction, and equally hard to prove they do not have it. However, it is almost impossible to understand how they cannot have it. Priests without canonical penalties have ordinary jurisdiction; non-Catholic validly ordained priests have jurisdiction supplied; and people who approach those "in-between" are surely given supplied jurisdiction. My opinion is that they cannot claim the right to jurisdiction, supplied or otherwise, but if the faithful approach them for the sacraments, then it is supplied for them on an individual basis. If this were not they case, they would have ordinary jurisdiction.

I think it really comes down to ones perception of the case for emergency in today's Church - can we reliably approach priests given to us as ordinary means to the sacraments (i.e. your parish priest), or given the circumstances, can we go outside these ordinary structures to obtain what we need to save our soul?

Moretben said...


Generally, I have found FSSP priests very pro-Lefebvre - but not necessarily pro-SSPX. Remember that the founding contingent were all ordained by the Archbishop, and many found the parting extremely painful. The small "neo-conservative" faction which gained the ascendancy in the last years of the JPII pontificate following Card. Castrillon's removal of Fr Bisig, appears to have sunk without trace, leaving the Traditionalists in a position of unchallenged dominance today. Most speak very warmly both of the Archbishop and the SSPX.

Poperinghe said...


I would be grateful if you could tell me more about the affects of Econe and Ecclesia Dei had on individual members of the fssp? How was it for them to leave the SSPX? I imagine it would have been so painful to leave the Archbishop and align oneself with a Pope who was not particularly fond of Traditionalism. Any reflections would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I met an English ex-Econe just after the consecrations and he was in a proto-version of the FSSP in Rome (it was actually just a seminary) which has since then been superceded of course.

He was looking for a diocese in the UK and I spoke to the Westminster DoV who said and I quote, "We wouldn't touch with a barge pole". They were treated like lepers by the collapsing mainstream Church. Locally, a distinction was simply not made between those who stayed at Econe and those that left.

He adored Lefebvre (who was a very "down to earth" man by all accounts) but could not approve of his decision to consecrate - quite simple. The temporary seminary originally established by Ratzinger no less, was chaotic not made easier by a an Irish rector who couldn't speak French.