In this article, my guest John Salza will be talking about the controversial topic of the Society of Saint Pius X or SSPX. He frequented their chapel for a long time and maybe lined up for a little bit with their ideology and he will tell his story here. John is a catholic apologist and the author of 12 books, the latest one being: True or false Pope: Refuting Sedevacantism and other modern errors.
Bryan: Now John, I want talk about the SSPX. It is a very sensitive topic. A lot of people have heard both sides and there seems to be a controversy in the church over them. I do not think that you were necessarily officially part of the SSPX but you were going to their chapel. Is that correct? Maybe you can just start us off by walking us through how you were involved with them.
John: Sure, I would be happy to. I wasn’t a member of the SSPX because I wasn’t a seminarian or a priest. But I did attend the chapel for about 15 years on the weekends. And it’s funny, Bryan, as I reflect way back in about 1999, I had understood that the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre was schismatic. And in fact, I’d even was trying to convince people not to go there. And then it just so happens about six years later, when I moved into a rural area and was close to the SSPX chapel that I said: “I either have an hour to continue to attend the diocesan mass, or I could go to the society chapel which was 15 minutes away.” And I briefly looked into whether I could do that, and I superficially bought the arguments of the society, that because there was a state of necessity, Catholics have the right to attend the old mass, to save their souls, etc. So that’s kind of how I got affiliated with the society. I was there only for the liturgy. I really didn’t take a firm position on their doctrinal positions. I was not really aware of these as I am today. But I did get close to them, and I did get close to a number of the priests. In fact, they knew that I was a Catholic apologist, that I was part of the so-called traditional movement to the extent that I was doing a lot of talks on Fatima, the consecration of Russia, some of the aberrations that have been occurring in the church, modernism, Freemason, etc. And so, the society priests invited me to speak a few times at their seminary and their conferences. So, I did have a public affiliation with them. But again, I would say that I was not attending the society exclusively. In fact, when I began attending the society, they asked me: “Where did you come from John?” I said: “I attend the traditional diocesan mass during the week, but I come by you guys on the weekend.” And they didn’t like to hear that.
In fact, every society pastor that I had at the chapel told me that they didn’t approve of me going to the diocesan Latin Mass. And again, this was a long time ago. And even though I didn’t know what I know today, I completely objected to that position.
Bryan: So not even the diocesan English mass, they are against you attending the diocesan Latin mass ?
John: Yes. I wasn’t attending the Novus ordo, I was attending a diocesan Latin mass, which was later taken over by the Institute of Christ the King at St. Stanislaus here in Milwaukee. They didn’t like that. I mean, they’re still on record, as of today, as dissuading Catholics from attending those traditional masses that are in communion with the local bishops. That is in fact what the society’s position is. Archbishop Lefebvre himself, when some of the society priests broke off and formed the fraternity, forbade people to go to the fraternity. So all of that was a very schismatic mentality to me. And so, I wasn’t in lockstep with their positions, but I was there for the beautiful liturgy. That was primarily my motivation and truth be told, I attended on the weekends the society chapel for 15 years while attending the diocesan masses during the week.
Bryan: I want to come back to the beautiful liturgy. Remind me if I forget, but that’s a common argument, you know: “It’s just a beautiful liturgy.” One of my sedevacantist friends makes this same argument. He’s like: “You know what? I just feel so much closer to God now since I left the Vatican Catholic Church and now I’m a sedevacantist. And it’s just a beautiful mass the way it’s supposed to be celebrated.” And I’m like: “You know what? Orthodox say the same thing. Protestants say the same thing with their guitar masses. Oh, I feel like I’m fed now.” It’s just an emotional argument, but we’ll come back to that.
What struck me is that they didn’t want you to go to a Latin mass, which is very surprising. I just had a couple people on my channel recently saying to the society that they went to a diocesan mass and the SSPX chapels were telling them that they’re not allowed to go to the Vatican Catholic Church, and I can’t seem to see how they think they’re in union with the church when they don’t even seem to agree with the church. They don’t want anyone to go to the church and think, it’s almost like in apostate church, it doesn’t make sense to me.
John: Not at all. See, they don’t understand the threefold bond of unity, which makes one a Catholic. That is the profession of faith, the worship, and the governance.
Now, the profession of faith simply means you’ve been formally received into the Catholic Church. This is a common misunderstanding among traditional Catholics. They think the profession of faith is those who orally articulate the faith correctly. That’s not what it means. It means that you have been formally received through baptism, and the profession that either you made or your Godparents made, forms the juridical bond that makes you a member of the Catholic Church.
Then you have the worship, well, the worship has to be in communion with the church, with the local bishop whose subject to the Holy Father.
And then you finally have, Bryan, the governance of the church. It’s a matter of divine law that one must be subject to the governance of the church. And if you think about it: The faith, the worship, and the governance are all based upon the authority that Christ has given to his church. And so you cannot use the argument that I want a specific form of worship, which then justifies me from withdrawing from the governance of the church. You see, it doesn’t make sense. You either have the threefold bond of unity, or you do not. You can’t use a matter of faith or worship to justify separation from the church’s governance.
Bryan: Yeah, very interesting. And I just want to point out right off the bat, just because you don’t agree with the SSPX and you don’t think they are in communion with the church, you clearly are not against Tradition, right? You said you’re a traditional Catholic because I feel like one of the arguments comes up: “Why are you attacking traditional Catholics? We just want to have our traditional Catholicism. We just want to worship the way we want to worship.” And they think that by disagreeing with the SSPX, we are disagreeing with Catholic Tradition. Does that hold up?
John: It’s absurd. First of all, there’s a presupposition that the SSPX is traditional and Orthodox, and that’s simply not true. That’s the false premise here. The society is not traditional. The society of St. Pius X holds heresies and doctrinal errors against the faith.
So let’s clear that up and I can get into a number of those issues. But being a traditional Catholic is what St. Pius X called it, right? It is simply a Catholic who follows what the church teaches, who is in union with the church’s faith, worship, and governance. So that’s how I would define a traditional Catholic. Not one who subjectively interprets Tradition, independently of the Magisterium, who is the sole repository and authentic interpreter of Tradition. That’s what a traditional Catholic is.
Bryan: Yeah. Some people have been trying to make the argument to me recently that the Latin mass is a lot older than the new mass, so we should go with the Tradition of the church. And I was saying, well, that doesn’t make sense because there are masses that are older than the Latin Mass, and the Latin mass is not the original mass. So by that logic, we shouldn’t even be going by the Latin mass. It doesn’t make sense.
John: Well, it begs a more fundamental question in my mind and that is the fact that the Pope is the supreme authority in the church, and so he has the authority, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also on discipline and governance of the church. Now, whether or not one subjectively thinks that he’s abusing his authority is not relevant to the fact that one must be in submission to that authority and leave the rest to God. You see? So there again, there’s error within the traditional movement that is attempting to divorce the faith from the governance and the worship from the governance. Again, it’s a threefold bond of unity, based on faith and charity, that exists without which one’s not part of the Catholic Church.
Bryan: Now you were part of the SSPX chapel, going to their masses for 15 years. They tried to dissuade you from going to the Latin diocesan mass, which is surprising. At some point you must have started to see some of the problems, in addition to that objection that was concerning. What would you say some of the biggest problems with the SSPX movement are?
John: Well, it’s funny, Bryan, how it happened. You mentioned, we wrote this book: True or False Pope, Robert Siscoe and I’m the co-author. As I began working on the second edition, I was tackling the concepts of canonical mission and supplied jurisdiction. I began writing a new chapter on those key topics, and it’s there where I discovered that, wait a minute, all of the arguments that prove that the sedevacantists are not part of the Catholic Church, are the very same arguments that are now beginning to show me that the society is not part of the Catholic Church. And it goes to the issue of what’s Pius XII called juridical mission. It’s a matter of divine law that a Catholic minister must be sent by lawful authority. This goes to God himself: As the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Apostles, and the source of all mission on Earth is the Holy Father who sends the bishop and then the bishop sends the priests. And this has been repeated throughout the church’s history because it’s a matter of divine law. And you know, I began reading encyclicals from Pius XII who says, those bishops who haven’t been lawfully sent, he calls them thieves and robbers and their sacraments are criminal and sacrilegious.
And I said: “Wow.” I mean, this not only applies to the sedevacantists, but it applies to the society, it applies to the old Catholics, it applies to the independents, it applies to all of these groups that are legally separated from the Roman Catholic Church and you know, the argument that always kept coming up is, well, there’s a necessity, there’s an emergency, there’s a crisis, and therefore the society is justified in doing everything it’s doing; which by the way, begs the very question, of why we can’t we save our souls without the society in the 62 missile, which is absurd.
The problem, Bryan, with that argument is that you cannot use necessity or emergency or crisis to circumvent the divine law. The divine law of mission foresees all things, and thus, anyone who has not been sent by Christ, and by his vicar, is not lawfully sent, and whoever says otherwise, according to the Council of Trent is anathema. And this is why the church has always said, if you haven’t been lawfully sent, prove Christ sent you directly and prove that through miracles. Otherwise, you must be rejected as a thief and a robber. So the divine law of mission cannot contradict the divine law. It cannot contradict the salvation of souls because the divine law of mission exists precisely to save souls, you see?
So it’s the emergency argument that falls on its face when we properly understand that mission is a matter of the divine positive law of Jesus Christ.
Bryan: And anybody can subjectively interpret that. I mean, has there been a bigger crisis than after the Council of Nicaea for the next 75 years, when there were only a handful of good priests left in the church, the other ones were killed or exiled or heretical, you know, there were not that many good priests left, and yet God saved his church.
John: You said God saved it, which shows you’re thinking right. Man didn’t save it. We didn’t rely upon somebody who was outside the church, who was not legally united to the church to save the church. God would never will, for a minister who does not have a canonical mission from the church to save the church. On its face, it’s completely absurd.
Bryan: Yeah. And if anyone, actually wants to read it, I have, the six volume history book, the history of Christendom, and it goes into extensive length about the problems after the Council of an Nicaea. People say: “Vatican II is bad and look at the fruit.” Well, look at half the councils in the church, and you see negative fruit afterwards especially after Nicaea. It got way worse before it got better. And, Warren Carrol the author, makes it sound like the whole church was about to apostasy. But then God came in and inspired a few Saints who just poured like waterfall, converted people, especially St. Patrick in Ireland, and poured back into the Roman Empire. I mean, Jesus said in John 16, that he’s going to send his Holy Spirit to guide it into all truth, not some truth, all truth. And in Matthew 16:19, he said: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” In Matthew 28:19, he says that he will be with his church until the end of time. And I feel like some people are doubting this. Someone once said that the SSPX could be a very powerful force to fight modernism and liberalism, which we all want to do, but doing it the right way in the church, but outside the church, the way they’re doing it, they’re just adding to the problem the same way sedevacantists are.
John: Well, yes. And they start by actually rejecting the divine law, which requires ministers to be sent by lawful authority.
They reject the profession of faith of John Paul II 1989, a universal profession that’s required to be professed by all Catholics. They accuse Holy Mother Church of heresy. They accuse Holy Mother Church of giving an evil right, which leads souls to perdition. Archbishop Lefebvre repeatedly accused the Roman Catholic Church of no longer being Catholic, that is, of defecting and teaching a new religion and on and on. This is not the way we want to lead souls into the church. This only leads souls away from the church.
Bryan: So how can they claim to be in communion with the church if they clearly say that the Pope is in heresy and the church is in heresy and you can’t have the Vatican II council? That whole council just needs to go, and on and on.
John: They can claim it, Bryan, because they have a false protestant ecclesiology. They’ve embraced the ecclesiology of the church, the nature of the church, the understanding of the church, whereby the church is redefined as a body of those who simply profess the true faith. And what they mean by that is that those who attend the old mass and reject Vatican II and the new mass. This is effectively what they have reduced the understanding of the Catholic Church, to be simply a spiritual reality, if you will, of those who professed it to faith, who adhere to the 1962 missile and who reject all the reforms of Vatican II. That’s not the definition of the church. As we said, the definition of the church is a juridical, hierarchical, visible social unit to which, as you mentioned, the gates of hell will not prevail. All the promises of Christ apply to this visible, hierarchical, juridical society, which is the Catholic Church. The members come and go throughout time, but the entity, the institution, the structure itself remains the same, and it’s only through that structure that we have the Tradition of the church: the faith, the worship and the governance. They don’t believe that, at least it’s not what they practically believe. Although they may profess it, they don’t practically live it because they, by their own will, have refused submission to the Roman Pontiff and have separated from the governance of the church.
Bryan: It sounds exactly like the sedevacantist line of argumentation to me, once you get into that ecclesiology
John: It is, although it’s less consistent, because the sedevacantists are actually, in my view, heretics in the traditional sense of the word, because they reject the primacy, they reject the indefectibility and the apostolicity of the church by claiming we don’t have a pope, we haven’t had one for generations, we don’t have ordinary jurisdiction, the church and so forth. The SSPX will claim that, well, those offices exist and they’re lawfully filled, but we don’t have to obey anything they say in practice. This is a completely inconsistent position. The sedevacantists, ironically, in my view, would be more consistent because they simply do not believe that these offices are being lawfully held and hence do not have to submit. On the other hand, the society believes that the offices of the primacy and the episcopacy are lawfully held by Catholic ministers, but they are somehow justified, because of their fabrication of necessity, from withdrawing submission from their authority. And that’s entirely inconsistent, because as Vatican I clearly teaches, all men, no matter what rank, no matter what dignity, are subject to the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff, on not only matters of faith and worship, but also on matters of governance of the church.
Bryan: What are some other problems that you’ve have found with the SSPX? You know, what are some other gaping issues they have?
John: Yeah, when I was telling you Bryan, I was researching canonical mission and jurisdiction. What I discovered, which is extremely problematic, is that their arguments for the last 47 years on supplied jurisdiction are completely and totally misrepresented.
The society’s position on supplied jurisdiction is effectively that any validly ordained priest who puts on a stole and goes into a confessional will have jurisdiction supplied to him by the church because a Catholic would believe that that priest had the faculty to absolve. That is not true at all. That is not at all the way the candidates have taught what supplied jurisdiction means, and this is very significant. Because up until the point where Pope Francis granted faculties to the society for confessions, their confessions for the past 47 years have been invalid, and their marriages have been invalid. This is because supplied jurisdiction does not apply to those communities who are outside the union with the local bishop, that’s number one.
The supplied jurisdiction is triggered in general by what’s called common error. For instance, If there is common error by the Catholic community, that is by the community, who is the beneficiary of bishops and priests with mission, right? Which wouldn’t be a society chapel, but a Catholic community. If a Catholic community would erroneously believe that the priest in their church, their diocesan church, let’s say, was actually sent by the bishop, who had faculties to absolve and so forth, then the church would supply that priest’s jurisdiction, even if that priest didn’t have it, because the Catholic community is the one that’s to be protected by the church. Faithful had a concrete basis for believing that the priest who comes to a diocesan church, was of course sent by diocese and Bishop.
You see? That’s where supplied jurisdiction comes into place. The society has totally and completely misrepresented how a supplied jurisdiction operates. They look at supplied jurisdiction in a vacuum and say whoever is validly ordained and puts on a stole gets supplied jurisdiction. The truth is just the opposite.
The church is extremely strict historically, in her application of when the church would supply in circumstances where the priest actually would not have jurisdiction.