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 Fr Cekada answers Fr. Scott's assertions on former SSPX 
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New post Fr Cekada answers Fr. Scott's assertions on former SSPX
The Legal Status of SSPX
and Its Former Members
by Rev. Anthony Cekada

What type of organization is the Society?
Do priests who leave it become public sinners?

QUESTION: The Rev. Peter Scott was recently asked, “What is one to
think of priests who have left the Society of St. Pius X?” Fr. Scott
gave a variety of reasons for condemning such priests, including the

(1) The “engagements” which priests make when joining the Society are
“not in any way essentially different” from the vows one takes to join
a religious order.

(2) These engagements bind members to SSPX “under pain of mortal sin,
just as a religious is bound by his vow of obedience.”

(3) Priests who leave SSPX after making a “perpetual engagement” are
“public sinners” and are to be equated with “a married person who has
broken his vows and fallen into adultery.” One may not receive
sacraments from such priests “except in danger of death.”

(4) Priests who have made “temporary engagement” in SSPX are morally
bound to join a diocese “or another religious community.”

(5) A priest who leaves SSPX has also broken the “public vow of
obedience” included in the ordination ceremony.

(6) Such a priest also violates the pre-ordination Oath of Fidelity
prescribed by canon law, and becomes “a hypocrite and a public sinner.”

(7) An SSPX priest makes a “declaration of fidelity” to the “positions
of the Society” (on the pope, New Mass, John XXIII Missal, etc.),
declaring his desire to “show the obedience binding me to my superiors,
as also the obedience binding me to the Roman Pontiff in all his
legitimate acts,” so that no priest can leave SSPX if he becomes a
sedevacantist, etc.

( 8 ) And that for all the foregoing reasons, priests who have left SSPX
“are to be avoided at all costs.”

What is your opinion of Fr. Scott’s reasoning?

ANSWER: Father Scott’s starting point for all these condemnations is a
hidden assumption: that the Society of St. Pius X enjoys the canonical
status of a “society of the common life without vows” — an entity in
canon law akin to a religious order. (Familiar examples of such
societies include the Maryknoll Fathers, the Paulist Fathers, and the

Joining such a society brings with it canonical obligations (Fr.
Scott’s argument goes), and so by abandoning SSPX, a priest violates
these obligations, becomes a public sinner, etc., etc.

Well, as regards canon law, at least, Fr. Scott is living in

1. What Is SSPX? Just what kind of canonical entity is SSPX? Is it
indeed something like the Maryknollers or the Paulists? We need only
look back to its foundation.

On November 1, 1970, the Bishop of Fribourg, Switzerland issued a
Decree establishing “The International Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius”
as a "pious union" (pia unio), whose stated purpose was to form
priests and re-distribute clergy to places where they were needed, in
conformity with the Vatican II Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatum

In the Code of Canon Law, a pious union is simply an approved
association of the faithful — laymen or clerics — engaged in some pious
or charitable work (canon 707).

Some familiar examples of pious unions: The Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine (teaches catechism), the St. Vincent de Paul Society
(charitable work with the poor), and the Near East Society (supports
poor Catholic clergy in the Near East). The rules for these
organizations tend to be very simple; they are easy to join and easy to
resign from.

Obviously, the devout ladies who teach CCD to the public school kiddies
and the affable old Vincent de Paul grandpas who collect clothing for
the poor don’t belong to a church organization on the same canonical
plane as the Maryknoll Missioners or the Paulist Fathers.

And it takes only five minutes of research to confirm this impression
with other evidence, as well: The Code of Canon Law treats societies of
the common life without vows in its section on religious orders (Book
II, Part 2, cc. 673–81). Pious unions, on the other hand, the Code
treats in its section on the laity (Book II, Part 3, cc. 707–719).

Nor is this all: A pious union, it turns out, is the lowest creature in
the ecclesiastical food chain. It is not merely classified under
“Laity” — canon 701 puts it dead last in order of precedence. Thus even
Third Order Sodalities (lay Carmelites, Franciscans, etc.) and
Archconfraternities (Rosary, Blessed Sacrament) outrank a pious union.

How likely is it that member who leaves such an organization incurs all
the blood-curdling canonical and moral consequences that Fr. Scott
summons up?

2. What Rules Bind Members? In any religious institute recognized by
the Church — be it an order, a congregation or a society — rules and
constitutions set forth the obligations a member assumes through his
vows or promises. These laws obtain binding force only after they
receive official approval from an ecclesiastical authority possessing
ordinary jurisdiction — either the Diocesan Bishop or the Pope, acting
through the Roman Congregations.

Which set of laws supposedly created the obligations for members of the
Society of St. Pius X, and how did these laws obtain their binding

In 1970 the Society submitted its proposed Statutes to the Bishop of
Fribourg. In his Decree of Foundation, the Bishop approved these
Statues for an experimental period of six years. They would then be
renewable for another six years. After this, the Decree provided, SSPX
could become definitively established, either in his diocese or by the
competent Vatican Congregation.

There was not much to the 1970 Statutes. They consisted of about
two-dozen pages of exhortations, typewritten and double-spaced —
everything from “the tabernacle shall be their television” to limited
opportunities for Novus Ordo-style concelebration. Such a document was
entirely consistent with the nature of the organization the Bishop of
Fribourg was establishing — not a Maryknoll-like society, but a pious

In 1975, however, before the six-year experimental period expired, the
Bishop of Fribourg withdrew his approval of SSPX.

At the time there was a great deal of debate over whether the Bishop of
Fribourg followed the correct procedures. Archbishop Lefebvre
subsequently launched various canonical appeals. But the appropriate
Vatican congregations and Paul VI himself upheld the suppression.

If, like SSPX, you maintain the Paul VI was indeed a true pope, he was
the final court of appeal and had the right and the power to declare
the Society suppressed.

With that the few obligations set forth in the 1970 Statutes would have
lost their power to bind members of the Society. Roma locuta est. Causa
finita est.

Time up. Game over. End of story.

Despite this, in 1976 the SSPX General Chapter adopted a new set of
Statutes. These were not much longer or more detailed than the 1970
version. (The “television” stayed, the concelebration was dropped.)

The 1976 Statutes, needless to say, did not receive the approvals from
the diocesan bishops that canon law would have required to make them
valid and binding for the members of the organization. Without such
approvals, the 1976 Statutes were canonically null.

It is therefore absurd for Fr. Scott to claim that priests who leave
SSPX commit sin. The organization was suppressed, the statutes it
subsequently adopted were invalid, and its superiors have no canonical
or moral power to bind anyone to anything.

3. “Engagement” Equals “Vow”? It is ridiculous for Fr. Scott to equate
"engagement" in the SSPX with the public vows made by members of a
religious order. Canon 1308 says that only a vow “received in the name
of the Church by a legitimate ecclesiastical superior” is a public vow.
Without this, a vow is considered private — no matter how many people
are present when you make it.

By no stretch of the imagination could one say that the “engagements”
of SSPX members are received by a “legitimate ecclesiastical superior.”

And where did Fr. Scott get this notion of equating an “engagement” to
a public vow anyway? In Naz’s seven-volume Dictionary of Canon Law, you
will not even find an entry for this term. How could its non-observance
turn the disengaged into the equivalent of adulterers?

By the mid-1980s, there were about fifty priests who had made
engagements in SSPX and then left. How many are there by now? 600?
“Spiritual adulterers” all?

4. A Simple Enrollment. The actual engagement formula used by the SSPX
when I joined was "I N.N. give my name into the Fraternity of St. Pius

This language is merely an enrollment, and was completely consistent
with the nature of a pious union: “I give my name” — call me for help
teaching that CCD First Communion Class, put me on your list for
collecting clothes and working in the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen.

Easy in, easy out — like joining the Sacred Heart Auto League.

5. Rules, Rights, Obligations. A real vow or promise in a canonically
approved religious institute, however, mentions the rule and
constitutions by which you agree to be bound — and these are usually
several hundred pages long. All these carefully written laws and
regulations prevent religious institutes from becoming dictatorships,
because they circumscribe very carefully the powers of the superiors,
limit their terms, and protect the individual subject’s rights.

Before I entered SSPX, I belonged to a real religious order, the
Cistercians. The obligations I assumed with my vows were absolutely
clear — set forth in detail and at great length in the Rule of St.
Benedict, the General Constitution of the Order, the Constitutions of
the Congregation of Zirc, and other lesser statutes. So too, were my
rights as a member (right down to the daily tobacco allowance) and the
obligations of my superiors to respect those rights.

SSPX has nothing at all like this. In the practical order, all power
resides in the Superior General — like some sort of ecclesiastical Idi
Amin, minus the man-eating crocodiles.

Get on the wrong side of the powers-that-be in SSPX — by any
independent thinking, say, or by adhering to some theological principle
that contradicts the Society’s party line du jour — and it’s malaria
shots, a white cassock, and the one-way ticket to Mumbai for you,
Monsieur l’abbé.

6. Imposing Oaths and Declarations. Finally, a canonically non-existent
organization has no power to impose canonical or moral obligations on
its members based on the canonical Oath of Fidelity.

And not even the 850-year-old religious order in which I professed vows
would have presumed, like SSPX, to impose on me a “declaration of
fidelity” to its “positions” as a condition for ordination. The only
“positions” members of the Order were required to accept were the
teachings of the Church.

* * * * *

So, from beginning to end, each “obligation” that Fr. Scott has used to
condemn priests who left SSPX is pure invention — the product of SSPX’s
creation myth.

The concepts I employed above to deal with Fr. Scott’s fantastic claims
can be found even in the most dumbed-down vernacular canon law manuals.
Doesn’t anyone in SSPX ever do any research?

And this brings up a larger question: Members of SSPX like Fr. Scott
keep on repeating the same old tall tales and ignorant arguments —
about the Society’s foundation, the “illegal” promulgation of New Mass,
the “canonized” Tridentine Mass, the “non-obligatory” character of
Vatican II, the pope as “bad dad,” out-of-context and distorted
“resistance” quotes, “operation survival,” “illegal” excommunications,
etc. — long after such notions have been repeatedly debunked with
quotes from canonists, theologians, historians and popes.

It is perhaps for this reason that a Vatican cardinal once
sarcastically dismissed the Society of St. Pius X as “Port-Royal sans
intelligence” — Jansenism without the brains.

You would think that an organization that professes dedication to
preserving Catholic doctrine would at least occasionally jettison
positions that are shown to be irreconcilable with principles of
theology and canon law.

But no. In the nearly forty years of the Society’s existence, despite
all the priests it has ordained and all the resources at its disposal
throughout the world, this never seems to have happened. The Society’s
“positions” are still the same, stagnant theological swamp — a huge
protected wetlands where no new development is ever permitted and where
the same decrepit creatures forever roam in the dark.

Don your hip boots, all ye who enter there!

(Internet, 23 August 2006)

Stephen Heiner

Mon Aug 28, 2006 11:28 pm

Joined: Wed May 17, 2006 10:53 pm
Posts: 156
Location: Ohio, USA
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Forgive me for not having a more staid demeanor, but "Port-Royal sans intelligence" is truly a funny line. But only if you understand its complexity.

Mon Aug 28, 2006 11:49 pm

Joined: Sun May 28, 2006 12:28 pm
Posts: 284
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I am still laughing over that one!

Tue Aug 29, 2006 2:16 am

Joined: Fri Aug 25, 2006 11:21 pm
Posts: 56
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Fr. Cekada still can't control his serpent tongue I see.


Tue Aug 29, 2006 2:20 pm

Joined: Tue May 23, 2006 9:03 pm
Posts: 515
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Quirinus wrote:
Fr. Cekada still can't control his serpent tongue I see.

"It is perhaps for this reason that a Vatican cardinal once
sarcastically dismissed the Society of St. Pius X as “Port-Royal sans
— Jansenism without the brains."

Nor, Quirinus, can you seem to control yours. :)

Tue Aug 29, 2006 4:27 pm
Site Admin

Joined: Tue May 16, 2006 2:30 pm
Posts: 4334
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Robert Bastaja wrote:
a Vatican cardinal

Dear Robert, and Quirinus,

"Serpent" was obviously not quite the right word because it carried implications beyond mere sharpness. But Fr. Cekada's article does contain very sharp words. Sharp in a few different senses.

And it wasn't just the "Vatican cardinal" quote, which I agree was funny, although really unjust. Typical of a Modernist. No concern for justice - only a self-love which seeks admiration for its wit. Fr. Scott's comments were reprehensible too.

Can I direct readers to Laudanum's very appropriate Fr. Faber extract on kindness? :)

In Christ our King.

Tue Aug 29, 2006 7:52 pm
Profile E-mail

Joined: Tue May 23, 2006 9:03 pm
Posts: 515
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John Lane wrote:
Robert Bastaja wrote:
a Vatican cardinal

Dear Robert, and Quirinus,

"Serpent" was obviously not quite the right word because it carried implications beyond mere sharpness. But Fr. Cekada's article does contain very sharp words. Sharp in a few different senses.

And it wasn't just the "Vatican cardinal" quote, which I agree was funny, although really unjust. Typical of a Modernist. No concern for justice - only a self-love which seeks admiration for its wit. Fr. Scott's comments were reprehensible too.

Can I direct readers to Laudanum's very appropriate Fr. Faber extract on kindness? :)

Dear John,

Yes, I was referring to the term "serpent tongue". As you have said, it was not a "serpents tongue"...but it was clever. No so bad to say something clever is it?...until I read Fr. Faber's Kindness posted by Laudanum.

Fr. Faber wrote:
But there are other respects in which it is harder for a clever man to be kind, especially in his words. He has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear sometimes to border on the irresistible, to say clever things; and, somehow, clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated.

Come to think of it, If someone called my comments "clever", I might consider it was an insult...but a well deserved insult it would seem. :)



Wed Aug 30, 2006 12:39 am

Joined: Thu Jun 01, 2006 12:34 pm
Posts: 89
Location: Griffin, GA
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Yes that was an eye-opener for me, that one on "Kindness." Gave me much food for thought.
What we were told on the Ignatian retreat: "God speaks to us in Silence." True!

"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

Wed Aug 30, 2006 1:03 am

Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2006 9:19 am
Posts: 1
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Dear you all,

First of all, I have to apologize for writing very poor English. Secondly. I have to congratulate John Lane and many of you. In the third place, the "Vatican cardinal" was "Cardinal" Charles Journet.


Nicolas Magne

Wed Aug 30, 2006 12:14 pm

Joined: Sat May 20, 2006 8:21 am
Posts: 176
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Dear friend Nicolas,

Congratulations on taking the plunge despite not being a native speaker of English. Have no fear: we understand you. It makes a change for me not to be talking to you in French - one is at a curious disadvantage arguing in a foreign language: it is so much harder to make those "clever" remarks that Fr Faber tells us not to make anyway :-)

Thanks for identifying "cardinal" Journet as the acid wit - from memory he himself only used the Novus Ordo in Latin with the Roman Canon and towards the altar, describing even this as a heroic effort of obedience.

In Domino,


Wed Aug 30, 2006 7:14 pm
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