Catholic Family News
A Monthly Journal Preserving our Catholic Faith and Heritage

Archbishop Lefebvre

Rome-SSPX: Background
to the Doctrinal Discussions

By John Vennari

Pope Benedict XVI’s withdrawal of the alleged “excommunications” is good news for the entire Catholic world.[1] Perhaps the cause for greatest rejoicing is that the “excommunications” were lifted without the Society of St. Pius X compromising the Faith one inch; without compromising their principles and their open resistance to the Council and its disastrous liberal reforms. Long may this steadfast refusal to compromise continue.

Both Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, and Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, SSPX, stated that next on the program is doctrinal discussion regarding Vatican II and the crisis in the Church. Bishop Fellay always refrained from using the word “negotiations” in this regard, since, “there is nothing to negotiate. You can not negotiate the faith”.[2]

Bishop Fellay mentioned these doctrinal discussions in his initial response to the lifting of the excommunications on January 24: “Consequently we wish to begin these ‘talks’ -- which the decree acknowledges to be ‘necessary’ -- about the doctrinal issues which are opposed to the Magisterium of all time. We cannot help noticing the unprecedented crisis which is shaking the Church today: crisis of vocations, crisis of religious practice, of catechism, of the reception of the sacraments…”[3]

Likewise, Bishop Tissier de Malleriais noted in a February 1 interview, “There will be doctrinal theological discussions regarding doctrines of the Second Vatican Council between the delegates of the Holy See and us … We do not change our positions, but we have the intention of converting Rome [to our positions], that is, to lead Rome towards our positions."[4]

The issue of doctrinal discussions is not new. The Society of St. Pius X made clear on numerous occasions their desire for any form of regularization to take place according to the following program:

1) Obtaining the two preconditions, which are the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication and the freedom of every priest to celebrate the Mass of Saint Pius V;

2) The resolution of doctrinal questions regarding the Council and the new orientation since the Council;

3) The search for the most adequate canonical solution after the doctrinal questions are resolved.[5]

The motu proprio freeing the Old Mass and the January 21 lifting of the “excommunications” fulfills the first of the three-point outline. The SSPX now appears headed toward a stage in the proceedings that will be fraught with interest: the doctrinal discussion regarding Vatican II.

It is true that Archbishop Lefebvre said he was prepared to accept Vatican II in light of Tradition, but the issue goes beyond a mere interpretation of texts laden with ambiguities and crucial omissions. In his correspondence with Cardinal Ratzinger in the mid-1980s, Archbishop Lefebvre stated his position that the criterion for interpreting Vatican II in light of Tradition comprises three elements:

1) He and the SSPX would accept anything in Vatican II that is clearly consistent with Tradition;

2) Any ambiguous texts of Vatican II must be interpreted strictly according to Tradition; according to the consistent teaching of the Church throughout the centuries;

3) Anything in the Council that cannot be interpreted according to Tradition should be revised.

The Archbishop laid this out explicitly in his letters to Cardinal Ratzinger in 1982 and 1985.

In his letter of July 21 1982 to Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Lefebvre speaks of “The necessity of judging the Second Vatican Council in light of Tradition and the unchanging Magisterium of the Church, so as to correct the texts that are either incompatible with Tradition or equivocal.”[6]

Again, in a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger of April 17, 1985, the Archbishop is even more specific. After explaining that he and the SSPX were ready to accept the texts of the Council “in accordance with the criterion of Tradition”, that is, “according to the Traditional Magisterium of the Church”, the Archbishop states clearly what this criterion demands. Archbishop Lefebvre writes:

“Considering that the Declaration of Religious Liberty is contrary to the Magisterium of the Church, we ask for a wholesale revision of the text.

“We consider likewise indispensable noteworthy revisions of documents like ‘The Church in the Modern World’, ‘Non-Christian Religions’, ‘Ecumenism’, and clarifications of numerous texts presently tending toward confusion.
“Similarly on several points of prime importance, the new Code of Canon Law is unacceptable by it opposition to the definitive Magisterium of the Church.”[7]

The Dubia

There is another important historic fact often buried that should be brought back to the surface.

In the 1980s, as the disorientation of the Church was accelerating due to an increased application of the most radical aspects of the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre prayed for a sign from Providence whether or not to consecrate bishops for the SSPX.

He explained he received two signs that it was necessary to proceed. The first was Pope John Paul II’s prayer meeting at Assisi. The second was a doctrinal response from Cardinal Ratzinger’s office that Archbishop Lefebvre considered even more serious than Assisi.

As for the first: Pope John Paul II’s held the first interreligious prayer meeting at Assisi in 1986, wherein Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Shintos, Jains, and various pagan religions gathered in Assisi to pray for peace, according to the rituals of their own heretical or pagan practices.

Archbishop Lefebvre denounced Assisi in strong terms. “He who now sits upon the Throne of Peter mocks publicly the first article of the Creed and the first Commandment of the Decalogue”, said the Archbishop. “The scandal given to Catholic souls cannot be measured. The Church is shaken to its very foundation.”[8]

The “second providential sign” that Archbishop saw was in the 1987 reply Cardinal Ratzinger’s office gave to Archbishop Lefebvre’s formal theological objections to the Council document on Religious Liberty.
Regarding this new doctrine, Archbishop Lefebvre explained:

“The new and liberal doctrine of religious liberty was the main objective of the Council for many [progressivist] experts such as Fr. Congar, Fr. John Courtney Murray, and many others, together with the Secretariat for Christian Unity which incorporated this idea of religious liberty into its charter. Cardinal Bea, Bishop Willebrand, and Bishop de Smet were the great proponents of this thesis, with the support of the American episcopate and the encouragement of anti-Catholic associations such as the B’Nai B’rith of New York, a Jewish and Masonic group, as well as the ecumenical Council of Churches in Geneva.”[9]

Archbishop Lefebvre quoted the progressvist Father Yves Congar, one of the most influential theologians of Vatican II and its aftermath. Father Congar admitted, “It cannot be denied that the declaration on Religious Liberty does say something else than the Syllabus of 1864; it even says just about the opposite.”[10]

Congar said further about Vatican II in general, “It is clear that the decree on ecumenism does say, on several points something else than Pius XI’s Encyclical Mortalium Animos, and the declaration on religious Liberty says the contrary of several articles of Pius IX’s syllabus, as Lumen Gentium 16 and Ad Gentes 7 do say something else than ‘There is no salvation outside the Church’…”[11]

It is also well-known that the eminent theologian Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, Editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review and true expert on the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ, had been a peritus at Vatican II. He left the Council and resigned from the American Ecclesiastical Review rather than accept the new direction of Religious Liberty.[12] As Michael Davies often noted in this regard, “Yesterday’s heresy had become today’s orthodoxy”.[13]

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the Council’s Religious Liberty came from the synagogue of Satan itself. During the Council Archbishop Lefebvre noted:

“This very year [1965], Yves Marsaudon, the Freemason, has published the book L’oecumenisme vu par un franc-macon de tradition (Ecumenism as Seen by a Traditional Freemason). In it the author expresses hope of Freemasons that our Council will solemnly proclaim religious liberty .... What more information do we need?”[14]

In October 1985, Archbishop Lefebvre submitted to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a document that contained thirty-nine doubts (dubia) concerning incongruities between Vatican II’s new doctrine on Religious Liberty and the consistent teaching of the Church from the past.

Rome replied to the Archbishop Lefebvre’s Dubia with a fifty-page document that considered none of the doubts in particular. Cardinal Ratzinger’s office admitted that Vatican II’s doctrine of religious liberty was “inconstestably a novelty”, but claimed it was the outcome of “doctrinal development of continuity,”[15] whatever that means.

To detail Religious Liberty’s effective overthrowing of the Church’s perennial magisterium on the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ is beyond the scope of this short article.[16] Suffice to say that the Vatican’s response – which was, in effect, a principled adherence to the new doctrine – shook Archbishop Lefebvre to the bone.

Archbishop Lefebvre saw Rome’s reply to the Dubia as “the sign that I was waiting for, a more serious sign than Assisi. For it is one thing to perform a serious and scandalous act, but quite another thing to affirm false principles that in practice have disastrous consequences”, which is the practical overturning of the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the “pantheon of all religions”.[17]

This is the background against which the doctrinal discussions between the Society of St. Pius X and the Vatican will take place. I do not pretend to forecast the outcome of these discussions, what they will accomplish or how long they will take. A conservative English-speaking Cardinal, who is glad of the lifting of the ”excommunications”, and who recently had a friendly encounter with some SSPX supporters, told them, “There is a lot that remains to discuss.”[18]

Pray a great deal…

The Society of St. Pius X credits Pope Benedict XVI for the motu proprio, and for the lifting of the “excommunications”. Indeed it is probably true that no other cardinal elected to the Papacy in 2005 would have both freed the old Mass and removed the unjust stigma laid upon the SSPX bishops.

But the SSPX primarily credits Our Blessed Mother. The Society organized two Rosary Crusades to which SSPX supporters worldwide responded with generous enthusiasm.

Two and a half million Rosaries were prayed in the first Rosary Crusade for the freeing of the Tridentine Mass. In the second, SSPX supporters offered one million, seven-hundred-three thousand Rosaries in less than two months. These are impressive numbers for those who are a minority in the Church.

The SSPX’s Father David Hewko, in his February 1 homily at Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel in South Buffalo, New York, told the congregation, “Look what Our Lady did through the Rosary in only two years!”

He urged his people to keep up the fight for Catholic Tradition, to arm themselves with the truths of the Faith and the writings of the pre-Conciliar popes, noting that we may be entering a more difficult and confusing battle.

He also urged his people to pray hard for Superior General Bishop Fellay, as he carries all 500 SSPX priests on his back, and the devil will pull out all the stops to try to make him stumble.

I am sure all of our readers will offer many prayers for Pope Benedict XVI who is taking his share of hits for his positive moves toward the Society. I am also confident our readers will offer numerous prayers, especially the Holy Rosary, for Bishop Bernard Fellay, and all bishops, priests and religious of the SSPX as they strive to maintain unswerving fidelity to the perennial magisterium and to the wise counsel of their founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.


[1] “Excommunication” is placed in quotes as the SSPX never considered these excommunications as valid. See the Society’s Media Brochure released on January 24, 2009.
[2] Bishop Fellay's Ordination Sermon at Winona, June 22, 2009.
[3] Statement of Bishop Fellay, Jan 24, 2009.
[4] Bishop Tissier de Mallerais speaks: Feb. 1, 2009.
[5] These points were outlined by Superior for the District Superior of France, Father Regis de Cacqueray, and posted on the
Rorate Caeli webpage, April 5, 2006.
[6] Apologia Pro, Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. III, Michael Davies [Dickenson: Angelus Press, 1988], p. 426.
[7] Taken from Winona Seminary Letter, April 14, 1985.
The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, Tissier de Mallarais [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2004], p. 537.
Religious Liberty Questioned, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2002], p. xiii.
[10] Congar, La crie dans L’Eglise et Mgr. Lefebvre (Cerf, 1976), 51; taken from
Religious Liberty Questioned, p. viii.[11] Essais oecumeniques (Centurion, 1984), p. 85; taken from Ibid.
[12] At a meeting during the Council on November 11, 1963, Msgr. Fenton, along with Cardinal Ottaviani, learned that the liberal position of Father John Courtney Murray would gain ascendance at the Council. Msgr. Fenton was well aware of the implications, as he had opposed Fr. Murray's liberal thesis throughout the 1950s in the American Ecclesiastical Review. Michael Davies writes, "A priest of Msgr. Fenton's moral and intellectual stature could hardly have been expected to make a complete volte-face and uphold Fr. Murray's views as authentic Catholic teaching. He [Fenton] resigned as editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review within a few weeks of the meeting."
The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, Michael Davies, [Long Prairie: Newmann Press, 1992], See Chapter 1, "A Historic Confrontation.".
[13] Ibid., p. 11..
The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, Tissier de Mallarais [Kansas City: Angelus Press, 2004], p. 328.
[15] Ibid., p 546 [emphasis added].
[16] See
Archbishop Lefebvre and Religious Liberty by Michael Davies, and Religious Liberty Questioned by Archbishop Lefebvre.
Biography of Marcel Lefebvre, p. 546.
[18] Private communication.

(originally posted February 3, 2009)
Published in the March 2009
Catholic Family News
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