Monday, September 5, 2011

The Society of Saint Pius X And Its Problem With Extremists:

Rome became aware of a serious growth of antisemitism and extremism in January of 2009.  The Holy Father had just lifted the excommunications of four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), including Bishop Richard Williamson.  As soon as this was done, Swedish Television released the tape of an interview with Bishop Williamson in which he denied the Holocaust.  Rome condemned his statements and the Society of SSPX distanced itself from the radical Bishop.  During the next weeks, a flurry of antisemites came to the fore defending their Bishop.   It now became clear to many that the traditional Catholic movement was more than just an organic objection to liberal ideology expressed after the close of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in 1965.  The movement was apparently a hot bed of extremism and antisemitism.
Bishop Williamson’s opinions expressed to Swedish Television were certainly outrageous, but they were nothing new.  He openly preached his Evolian perennialist doctrine for nearly thirty years.  Many faithful had objected to his teachings, but these warnings were disregarded by the SSPX.  Bishop Williamson was permitted to indoctrinate his seminarians with his anti-Catholic teachings. 
Now that the SSPX wishes to repair its position with Rome, it has adopted some cosmetic changes to alter its appearance of a radical antisemitic organization.  But are these cosmetic changes enough?  Is the SSPX inherently tied to political radicals, and if so, what must it do to correct the situation?

The Traditional Catholic Movement Before Vatican II
Many believe that the traditional Catholic movement began after Vatican II as a result of a diminishing of faith and orthodox religious practice during the 1960s and 70s.  Vatican II and the cultural movement of the 60s were certainly important, but they did not mark the beginning of this movement.  It all began in the years following the French Revolution.
Catholic Frenchmen had great difficulty in determining the best manner in which to counter the anti-Catholic effects that spread throughout France after the Revolution.  The political situation was in flux for decades and France saw one government after another fall apart.  The vast majority of Catholic conservatives refrained from directly participating in the Third Republic, contenting themselves to await the return of the King or a more Catholic-minded emperor.  A little over one hundred years after the French Revolution, Pope Leo XIII initiated a policy of that was derisively refereed to by its opponents as "Ralliement."  The Pope sent an encyclical letter to France instructing Catholics to participate in the Republic in order to prevent the country from falling further away from Christian ideals.
A great number of conservative French Catholics rejected the Pope’s teaching and placed their desire for a king above the Pope’s desire to keep France Catholic.  This is the beginning of a traditional Catholic paradox.  Some of the most  practicing and believing Catholics intentionally revolted against the Pope in order to back their political aims.  This fact opened the door to Catholics rebelling against the Pope while at the same time following like-minded leaders, all in the name of establishing the Social Kingship of Christ. 
To traditional Catholics, Railliement, or to rally, means to abandon one's beliefs in a spirit of compromise.  To traditionalists, the Pope committed a major wrong and showed himself to be a liberal.  According to the traditionalist paradox, the Pope "sinned" through his liberalism, and though he remained the authority in the Church, he was an authority the traditionalists did not have to obey.  This line of thought is eerily similar to the position of some traditional Catholics today, who believe the Pope is the head of the Church, but that they never have to obey him because of his supposed liberalism. 

To see how important this concept of Railliement was in shaping traditional Catholic discourse, one can look at the biography of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais (Marcel Lefebvre).  In the translator’s footnote on page 533 of the English edition we find the term “Railliement” defined.  Footnote 15 states:
The fact that traditional Catholics had decided to publicly renounce the Pope’s efforts deprived them of what French Catholics always had, a strong devotion to a moral leader.  Since they rejected the Pope, at least on moral issues involving French politics, they turned to an anti-Christian leader who would give them the social doctrine for which they were looking.  They turned to Charles Maurras.
The French word “Railliement” (rallying) has a particular connotation in French traditional Catholic circles, recalling as it does the Church’s appeal to French monarchists in 1890 to take part in the democratic process of the French Republic.  “Railliement” meant the royalists giving up trying to re-establish the monarchy, and banding together with moderate Republicans to defeat the influence of the anti-clerical Radicals and Socialists in the French parliament.  However, this involved putting aside monarchist objections to the Republic which saw it as an embodiment of the anti-Christian Revolution.  To traditional French circles, “Railliement” has, therefore, always represented political opportunism and coalition at the expense of principles.
Maurras combined French monarchism with his own unique blend of cultural tradition, agnosticism and antisemitism.  Maurras solidified the French traditionalists, who were already inclined to reject the French Republic.   Maurras taught that the French Republic was not the product of Frenchmen, but rather the result of a Jewish conspiracy.  He then founded Action Française (AF).  This periodical attracted many French Catholics, including Jean Ousset, a traditional Catholic author who served as Mauras’ personal secretary.  Ousset would later become a major figure in the post-Vatican II traditional Catholic movement.  After working for Marshall Petain in the Vichy Government, Ousset became a traditional Catholic community organizer and authored several books, one of which included and introduction by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
AF was condemned by Pope Pius XI in 1926.  Catholics were forbidden to participate in the organization or reading AF.  Four of Maurras' books were also placed on the Index, a list of heretical or immoral books Catholics were forbidden to read.  AF lost most of its political base, as many French Catholics obeyed Rome’s condemnation and to this day, traditionalists describe Pope Pius XI like they do Pope Leo XIII, as a political liberal. 
Traditional Catholics often go out of their way to argue that Pope Pius XI was merely being political and that Pope Pius X, his predecessor, chose not condemn AF.   This is seen in the biography Marcel Lefebvre on pages 47 and 48.  The traditional Catholic narrative is only partly true.  It was Pope Pius X’s administration that actually drafted the condemnation of AF.  Also, Pope Pius X was so opposed to anti-Christian statements made by Maurras that the Holy Father refused Maurras’ request for an audience.
AF floundered after its condemnation in 1926. Catholic followers of AF, including Jean Ousset, would eventually gravitate to the Vichy Government during World War II.  Maurras was so pleased with Vichy that he described it as a “divine surprise.”  The Vichy Government was not overly influenced by its Catholic following.  Despite its Christian component, Vichy deported 75,721 Jews to death camps.  
Again, many French Catholics found themselves in opposition to the Pope.  In this case, Pope Pius XII was completely opposed to Vichy’s collaboration with Hitler and deportations of Jews, most of whom were killed in the camps.  Rabbi David Dalin, Ph.D. describes Pope Pius XII’s efforts in his article, A Righteous Gentile, Pope Pius XII and the Jews,  Rabbi Dalin wrote:
In his 1940 Easter homily, Pius XII condemned the Nazi bombardment of defenseless citizens, aged and sick people, and innocent children.  On May 11, 1940, he publicly condemned the Nazi invasions of Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg and lamented "a world poisoned by lies and disloyalty and wounded by excesses of violence."  In June 1942, Pius spoke out against the mass deportation of Jews from Nazi-occupied France, further instructing his Papal Nuncio in Paris to protest to Marshal Henri Petain, Vichy France's Chief of State, against "the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French occupied zone to Silesia and parts of Russia." 
Traditional Catholics continue to look highly upon Marshall Petain despite his crimes against humanity and the subsequent papal rejection of his actions. (See, Marcel Lefebvre p. 116-117 and 146-147.)
The SSPX Today
The history of the French Catholics is important to understanding SSPX’s current behavior.  A large and influential faction of the traditional Catholic movement came from the French resistance to the Republic and the Pope.  This historical fact goes a long way to explaining the dual mentality of the the traditionalists.  They are often opposed to their governments and their Pope.  Whether or not the traditioanlists have ever heard the name Maurraus, they share his outlook on the world.  They act as if the purpose of the Catholic Church is to assist their political goals.  Then when they fail at their goals, they place the blame on a Jewish conspiracy.

Maurras' influence on the formation of  traditional Catholic culture also helps explain how it is possible that the SSPX allowed Bishop Williamson to teach for nearly 30 years.  It was clear that Williamson's ideas contradicted the Popes and contradicted history.  But his opinions were similar in many respects to those of Maurras, as is seen in the writings and sermons the Bishop gave on the Jews, democracy, fascism, the role of women, etc..  
The leaders of the SSPX continually declare that they have nothing to do with the teachings of Bishop Williamson, just as pre-Vatican II “traditional” Catholics claimed to have no connection to AF.  However, the SSPX continues to permit Bishop Williamson and his followers to teach openly.  Caroline Fourest, a French journalist, calls this the traditional Catholic “double discourse.”  In an interview with Les Infiltrés entitled A l'Extrême Droite du Père, Fourest explained that the traditional Catholics in public will proclaim that they have nothing to do with extremists, but in private will do the opposite.  Certainly, this is not true of all traditional Catholics, but there are certain activities that cause one to question the truth of their assertions.  If the SSPX is not connected to extremism and rejects Bishop Williamson’s ideology, how does one explain the following:
      A. Bishop Williamson has been permitted to promote anti-Catholic ideas for thirty years.  (See, Traditional Catholicism and the Teachings of Bishop Williamson, The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism vol i, issue 2 p. 233.)  He also is permitted to continue his weekly letter sent via internet to thousands around the world in multiple languages.
 B. The SSPX has knowingly promoted the sale of the extremely antisemitic book, Modern Wars, in its Farmingville, NY chapel.  This book is written by Hugh Akins and Thomas B. Gabriele.  Gabriele is the principal and parish coordinator of the SSPX grammar-school in Farmingville.
 C.  The SSPX seminary in Winona promotes the collected letters of Bishop Williamson.
      D.  The SSPX U.S. publishing house, the Angelus, still sells books published by Derek Holland, a radical founder of the International Third Position.  One of the books sold by the Angelus is co-authored by Bishop Williamson and one of his followers,  Dr. Peter Chojnowski.  Dr. Chojnowski's writing for the Angelus promote Bishop Williamson's beliefs on women, economics and other issues.
Is this the behavior of an organization that is horrified at what Bishop Williamson has taught in its name? 

This article has been about a dark aspect of the traditional Catholic movement.  There is another side of the story.  There are many sincere, good people involved in this movement who only care about Our Lord and are neither extremist nor antisemitic.  The problem is that this movement is born out of a mixed marriage and still has not decided to which side it will be loyal.  One side of this mixed marriage is the extremist side, the other is certainly desirous something higher and better.  The question is not whether or not the traditional Catholic movement has unsavory characters on one side of its family tree, but rather, which side of the family it will admire and follow.  


  1. Chris,
    You imply that Archbishop Lefebvre was supportive of the Vichey Govt. Impossible. His own father was part of the French Resistance, and died in Nazi concentration camp.

  2. I did not impy that at all. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais argued for that on pages 146-147 of the biography of Archbishop Lefebvre.

  3. "A great number of conservative French Catholics rejected the Pope’s teaching and placed their desire for a king above the Pope’s desire to keep France Catholic. "

    Nowhere does Leo XIII say that the French Legitimists may not continue restoration. He only asks that Legitimists participate in the Republic, which for many, as you point out, of them constitutes approval for same.

    Moreover, I think you do an injustice to Traditionalists to suggest that it stems from this single event in one country.

    The struggle between Traditionalists and Liberal Catholics has been going on a lot longer than that.

  4. J. Christopher PryorSeptember 9, 2011 at 5:33 AM


    The point of the article was not to explain the entire traditional Catholic movement from one historical event. The point was to show that one segment of the movement already had the habit of disobeying the pope for political reasns and this group also turned to antisemitism. This is a help in explaining why so many traditional Catholics put up with the anti-Catholic teachings of Bishop Williamson for over thirty years and even now allow his ideology to spread.

  5. An excellent post. The role of Leo XIII in the Church's evolving response to the post-revolutionary world is often forgotten today. Most trads seem to prefer a simple narrative of a monolithic conservative church which more or less suddenly fell apart after Vatican II.