On SSPX and Religious Freedom

Like many of us who are Ordinariate-bound, I have an interest in the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and any moves towards this group's reconciliation with the Holy See.  I hope they are reconciled and I hope unity will not come at a great cost to them as it has to those of us who had hoped (perhaps dreaming in Technicolor) to see the Traditional Anglican Communion somehow brought in relatively intact only to see our ecclesial bonds shattered, with divisions appearing from the parish level on up.

In the meantime, I have questions about religious freedom as one of the points of contention in the reconciliation, since for me, it was easy to assume the position Catholic bishops now seem to be taking since the Second Vatican Council concerning the respect for freedom of conscience vis. a vis. the State.  I love the way the United States' bishops are standing up to the dangerous violations of religious freedom proposed by President Obama's government.  But some in SSPX might be looking on their defence of conscience rights and religious freedom in horror.  Are they?

I do not share the view some have that respect for freedom of conscience equates to a kind of religious relativism.

Yet I would like to understand more about what the underlying concerns SSPX has — in a non-polemical way.

Can any of our readers share some insight on this?

One of the things that I have noticed on some blogs and discussion forums is that a phrase will be taken out of document deemed infallible and used to beat other people over the head with.  There is no salvation outside the Church!, for example.  I hope and pray that I never become one of those "converts" who bludgeons people with phrases like that!  There are ways, sadly, that one can spout even truthful things in a way that pushes people away from that truth.

Others will run with a quote from one of the Vatican II documents as if it stands on its own or abrogates everything else the Church has taught previously.

I am reminded, sadly, of the way Protestants behave when they hurl Bible proof-texts at each other.

Just as I have come to understand that every passage in Scripture has to be interpreted in light of other passages and Tradition, is it not better to interpret various infallible documents in light of each other?

Australian theologian John R.T. Lamont has an interesting essay, via Sandro Magister, on the SSPX issues at stake.  Lamont makes some interesting observations about the points from Vatican II documents the Society does agree with, that many modernist Catholic theologians do not.  He writes:

The vast majority of theologians in Catholic institutions in Europe, North America, and Australasia would reject most or all of these teachings. These theologians are followed by the majority of religious orders and a substantial part of the bishops in these areas. It would be difficult, for example, to find a Jesuit teaching theology in any Jesuit institution who would accept a single one of them. The texts above are only a selection from the teachings of Vatican II that are rejected by these groups; they could be extended to many times the number.

Such teachings however form part of the 95% of Vatican II that the FSSPX accepts. Unlike the 5% of that council rejected by the FSSPX, however, the teachings given above are central to Catholic faith and morals, and include some of the fundamental teachings of Christ himself.

The first question that the communiqué of the Holy See raises for a theologian is thus: why does the rejection by the FSSPX of a small part of the teachings of Vatican II give rise to a rift between that Society and the Holy See, while the rejection of more numerous and important teachings of Vatican II by other groups in the Church leave these groups in good standing and possessed of full canonical status? Rejection of the authority of Vatican II by the FSSPX cannot be the answer to this question; the FSSPX in fact shows more respect for the authority of Vatican II than most of the religious orders in the Church.

Now whether he is accurate about "vast majority" or whether it is a "simple majority" or a substantial minority, I don't know.

But I would be interested in any illuminating comments our readers might have about this.

Author: Deborah Gyapong

Deborah Gyapong is a member of the Sodality of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (www.annunciationofthebvm.org) in Ottawa, a former parish of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (Traditional Anglican Communion) whose members were received individually and corporately into the Roman Catholic Church on April 15, 2012 by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast at St. Patrick’s Basilica. Under the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, the community will celebrate an approved Anglican Use liturgy and hopes to soon join with other sodalities across Canada to form the Canadian Deanery of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter under Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, Ordinary. As we wait for our priest(s) to be ordained as Catholic priests, God willing, Archbishop Prendergast will provide priests to celebrate our Sunday Eucharist according to the Anglican Use. Deborah is a journalist who covers religion and politics in Canada’s national capital, writing primarily for Roman Catholic newspapers since 2004. Her novel The Defilers, published in 2006, was not a best seller, alas. She spent 17 years at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in news and current affairs, including 12 years as a television producer.

10 thoughts on “On SSPX and Religious Freedom”

  1. Dear Deborah,

    The SSPX adduces that Dignitatis Humanae contradict several pre-conciliar magisterial pronouncements, being Quanta Cura the most important of them.

    Quanta Cura condemns the following proposition:

    "the best condition of civil society, [is that] in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require."

    Meanwhile, DH "declares that the human person has a right (…) to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits". These due limits are defined in the same document as the "objective moral order", "public morality", etc.

    In other words, some people say that under Quanta Cura, one must admit that an hypothetical catholic state has "some right" to "restrain by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion" (e.g. public non-catholic worship), even if they do not represent a danger to "public peace", meanwhile such "right" is not recognized under Dignitatis Humanae. Therein lies the contradiction for them.

    But obviously, things aren't as simple as that. The right interpretation of Quanta Cura is being debated since the very moment it was promulgated. About this, there is an excellent series of posts by Keith Gurries in his blog Opuscula (http://opuscula.blogspot.com.ar/2009/08/intervention-of-mgr-dupanloup-part-i.html).

    A good and recent debate between many important scholars was published by Sandro Magister in his website. But the (imho) best and definitive intervention so far has been posted in rorate-caeli by Dr. Thomas Pink, a professor of philosophy at King's College (London). This post in rorate (http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com.ar/2011/08/on-religious-liberty-and-hermeneutic-of.html) links to all the interventions reported by Magister and to that of professor Pink.

    But, again imho, the "best of the best" material about this was produced by several spanish theologians which wrote about it immediately after the council; Fr. Eustaquio Guerrero S.J., fray Victorino Rodriguez O.P., et al. If you speak spanish, this blog (http://lalibertadreligiosa.wordpress.com/) is an outstanding resource about them (start from the first post).

    Well, I hope that helps!

    Best regards from Argentina.

  2. Deborah:

    Here is a link to a recent article by an SSPX priest explaining the Society's general status at this moment in time. Near the end of the article he explains and defines the Society's theological view of 'religious freedom' (as a theological, not political term) and 'religious tolerance', with the latter term being more in line with the freedom of religion ideas in the US Constitution.

    Here's a link to the article at The Remnant: http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2012-0418-laisney-sspx.htm

    You can also find documents with a fuller discussion of those ideas at the Society's US web-site: sspx.org


    (Welcome to the Catholic Church!)

  3. Hello

    Q: " But some in SSPX might be looking on their defence of conscience rights and religious freedom in horror. Are they?"
    A: No. (if I understood what you meant).

    Q: "Yet I would like to understand more about what the underlying concerns SSPX has — in a non-polemical way. …Can any of our readers share some insight on this?"
    A: Yes. Maybe. Ummmm….

    I suggest that it is most important (wise and intelligent too) to read the Vatican II Council document DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – DIGNITATIS HUMANAE – PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON DECEMBER 7, 1965, to start with. Then read it again, study it and its references deeply and so forth, think about it, and pray. Read what other Popes and other Church authorities had to say in encyclicals and other documents, etc. Read about the Catholic Church's 2000 year history of relations with states and various forms of government, and so on. As for authoritative interpretation, I would not start with the SSPX, that would be at the moment a mistake in method and procedure if nothing else.

    But if you need to know (not vain curiosity), then you must. I am not arguing that so-called 'catholic traditionalists' do not have anything to say that is interesting or important, but I think that the complex issue of religious liberty needs to be approached at least historically and non-polemically (as a basis). And with due respect to everyone, one needs to be informed and not add confusion /darkness where issues of the Holy Faith, Catholic unity, Mother Church, personal sanity and spiritual health are concerned (not to mention loving our neighbors, living in peace, toleration…etc.). Please do not think I am criticising you (perhaps not even them). Since you are a 'new' Catholic, I suppose I worry for you, in Christ.

    I would not allow this conflict /disput become a stumbling block or source of scandal and gossip, undermining your Catholic Faith. The Church has problems undoubtedly, not sure how high this one ranks. Also, I would suggest you keep in mind that you live in Canada in the 21st century, not in a Catholic state in the 19th or earlier. I wish I could remember what Anne Roche Muggeridge, a Canadian and no friend of 'liberal catholicism', had to say about the issue of Religious Liberty in the present era; – something to the effect that given where and how we (i.e. Canadians and Americans) live, our political culture, etc., on this subject we are all 'liberals' now, so to speak (I hope I did not distort or misattribute this to her!). What you wrote: "I do not share the view some have that respect for freedom of conscience equates to a kind of religious relativism", seems to show, in my opinion, that you have basic grasp of what is going on.

    Christ is King!


    Anyways, here are some non-SSPX links of various quality that might be of interest:






  4. Debra,

    Your first point:

    "There is no salvation outside the Church!, for example. I hope and pray that I never become one of those "converts" who bludgeons people with phrases like that! There are ways, sadly, that one can spout even truthful things in a way that pushes people away from that truth." Nothing like taking a truth of the faith and pummeling others with it like an attorney in a deposition. I have done that and, yes, it can cause more harm than good.

    "Others will run with a quote from one of the Vatican II documents as if it stands on its own or abrogates everything else the Church has taught previously." This reminds me of Chesterton's story about someone who takes a truth of the faith as an idol, to the exclusion of all other truths. We've all experienced this! An easy example is the fact that the majority of books printed on the mass in the last thirty years act as if nothing existed before Vatican II, such as Mediator Dei.

    Anyways, welcome to the fullness of the faith!

    Debra, thanks to you and all the work of other Anglo-Catholics. Your work as Anglo-Catholics has not been in vain. I recently gave the DEUS Anglo-Catholic book of Common Prayer to a Methodist who wanted more liturgical prayer life, as she grew up with, as opposed to the free flowing "Prayer and worship" services that have invaded her Church. She is quite happy with it and uses it with her family to pray.

  5. Q: "But some in SSPX might be looking on their defence of conscience rights and religious freedom in horror. Are they?"
    A: Actually, yes some of them are. Here is a snip from a recent SSPX statement:

    "for the defense and continuance of America's religious liberty the USCCB has requested: '…the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this "fortnight for freedom"—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.'

    This suggestion is astonishing because all of these saints opposed the error of religious liberty – in fact, one could say they died because of this error since they were martyred for Christ, Who is the only Way and Truth. Thus they were unwilling to compromise – either morally and more importantly, doctrinally – or to admit that any other way (“paths to salvation” as Vatican II puts it) was acceptable." (http://www.sspx.org/news/our_first_cherished.htm)

  6. Dear sancrucensis

    Thank you for that correction and the link to the SSPX in the U.S.A, the reference to their objections / complaint. I completely misunderstood what Deborah Gyapong meant, very sorry for my mistake.

    I thought she meant that "some in SSPX might be looking on" what the U.S. bishops teach, and the treatment of SSPX by the Church hierarchy, as a violation of SSPX group and individual members' conscience rights and religious freedom.

    But in fact she merely meant: "But some in SSPX might be looking on their [i.e. the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty] defence of conscience rights and religious freedom in horror. Are they?"


    My only explanation for my mistake is that I was very tired and it was late here. Again, very sorry. Thanks!

    I am not sure that "horror" is the correct word for how the SSPX look upon DIGNITATIS HUMANAE and the actions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on this matter. But I might be wrong again; some of them could be horrified. Undoubtedly some think the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is mistaken in "defending religious liberty" and the "the error of religious liberty."

  7. Dear Deborah,

    I like your approach to this business – you seem to take an approach that says "well I'm not sure that I agree with this position on the face of it, but perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye"? – Very sensible. Even the statement that "there is no salvation outside the Church" cannot be taken at face value – literalists/fundamentalist rarely see this. This statement depends entirely upon the definition of "the Church" and membership in it. St Alban the first English Martyr was baptised in his own blood after all, and never at a font.

    As to the novel teachings of the Council, if they are not consistent with previous teaching they are overruled by the previous teaching regardless of who might think otherwise. Truth can be re-expressed in the church but not changed. I hope this doesn't sound preachy.

    Congrats again on your crossing – will there be a book giving us the inside story? "The agony and the ecstasy" I expect, or some such title.
    Ever in my thoughts and prayers
    The Sybil

  8. Dear Deborah G:

    El Eremita has pointed to the problem very precisely by quoting Quanta Cura and DH and also by his further explanations.

    But even though, as he also points to, there are many attempts to re-interpet QuC and other texts so that they fall in line with the affirmation of the modern liberties (as f.e. in DH), the attempts are in vain.

    There are too many and clear texts — not only QuC — from theolgians, doctors of the Church and Popes of the last 1500 years that unambiguously condemn the modern liberties (like liberty of conscience, of religion, of press and word) and/or remind the states of their right and duty to protect the Catholic faithful by restricting the public acts of members of false religions and communities.

    Read f.e. also the Syllabus of Pius IX, read Libertas Praestantissimum of Leo XIII, read Mirari Vos, read the texts of a Saint, Saint Pius X re that, etc. etc. (or St. Thomas, or texts also of Pius XII — he is still clear on that matter.).

    So that is the problem: we have a clear, unambiguous and unanimous teaching of Popes and theologians for centuries and millennia and so an infallible, binding Church-teaching that condemns these modern liberties and teaches the right of the states to restrict the public acts of non-Catholics.

    Did you know that? And what to do with that?

    Those are the questions SSPX is asking — and if you read the above mentioned magisterial documents very rightfully so (read also what Msgr. Gheradini writes about that issue, that will surely help.). We have a problem there.

  9. "I do not share the view some have that respect for freedom of conscience equates to a kind of religious relativism."

    To make it clear: the central question of religious liberty and the problem of DH is not if the acknowledgement of religious liberty or liberty of conscience may lead to relativism or not.

    The crucial question is: has the Catholic state a right (and duty) to restrict the public expression of the non-Catholic believers in order to protect the Catholic faithful and the common good?

    The traditional answer (for more than 1500 years, including Church-doctors, Saints and hundreds of Popes) was: yes.

    DH and the modern bishops and Popes (for about 50 years now) say: no.

    There is the problem.

Leave a Reply