Some Things Are More Important than Unity

The Society of St. Pius X, or "SSPX" is a dissident group of Catholics that split off from the main body of the Church after the Second Vatican Council under the leadership of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.  Their objections were numerous, essentially all of a traditionalist variety.  In the 80s. Pope John Paul II excommunicated Lefebvre for ordaining new bishops.  In the 00s, Pope Benedict rescinded those excommunications in preparation for a deal believed to be imminent to bring them back into the fold.  That deal fell through, for reasons that vary depending on who you talk to.  Since then, they have been in a kind of limbo.

Recently, reports have surfaced that a new deal is in the works, and that reconciliation is imminent.  Based on the reporting that has been happening, and now an interview with the leader of the SSPX, it appears that a reunion will occur without any preconditions or concessions from the SSPX side.  If this does come to pass, I believe it will be a horrendous, tragic mistake, one that I fear has the potential to undo one of the great achievements of 20th Century Catholicism and Christianity.

To be clear, my problem is not that somewhere, someone believes the only valid Mass is the one in Latin.  That's theologically and ecclesiologically problematic, but at the end of the day I can just not go to that parish with those priests.  This is a big Church, with many people who believe all sorts of wacky things.  Moreover, the line taken by the SSPX on the Liturgy is not all that different from several groups that are inside the fold already, so it isn't going to move the needle appreciably.  Nor am I particularly concerned with Fellay's claim that bringing the SSPX on board will move the Church as a whole in the direction of traditionalist Liturgy.  By the time the Mass in the vernacular becomes unavailable or restricted, so many other things will have had to happen that the ship will have sailed for me far before it becomes a practical problem.

No, my concern is basically singular--the Society of St. Pius X is an organization that rejects the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, expressed in Nostra Aetate, that repudiates the long and shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism.  The SSPX has also, throughout its history, contained many vocal anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.  The very man quoted in the piece has, as late as 2013, declared Jews to be "enemies of the Church."  Former SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson claimed, "I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against -- is hugely against -- 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."  Likewise, in a speech to seminarians in the United States, he said  "There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies."  The Southern Poverty Law Center, correctly in my view, classifies the SSPX as a hate group, in line with the Klu Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations.  In fact, SPLC suggests that "'radical traditionalist' Catholics," like the SSPX, "may make up the largest single group of serious anti-Semites in America."

Anti-Semitism poisoned the Christian and Catholic faith for sixteen centuries.  Many of the most shameful horrors done in the name of the Prince of Peace were done to Jews.  One of the great triumphs of Christian life in the last seventy years has been the mostly complete purge of this poison from the Body of Christ.  As Christians we cannot go back and undo what was done in the past.  But we can make sure that it doesn't happen again on our watch.  And part of that vigilance is to be as clear as possible that such views cannot and are not acceptable, nor consistent with being a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is especially important in light of the pervasive nature of anti-Semitism within our history, providing an essentially endless supply of proof-texts and support in the tradition for anti-Semitic views.  People who are looking for reasons to pick up this torch will find it in our history and our tradition, so we must be especially vigilant in stamping it out.

To me, it is instructive that Pope John Paul II, a traditionalist in so many ways, was so unyielding and unequivocal about the SSPX.  He had absolutely no time for them and their vision of Catholicism, and I have to believe it was in large measure because of their anti-Semitism.  Karol Wojtyla was there when the doors to the death camps were opened; he carried the survivors to train stations to get them to some measure of safety.  Williamson was not just denying the truth, but the truth that Pope John Paul II saw with his own eyes and touched with his own hands.  He saw first hand what anti-Semitism can do.  And whatever you think about his views on women, or Liberation Theology, or LGBT people, no one can seriously deny that Pope John Paul II was utterly committed to making sure that the Catholic Church would give no aid and comfort to this horror ever again.  And if that meant keeping a small fringe group away from the rest of the Church, then so be it.

Unity is important.  I believe in the idea of the Kingdom of God as a big party, welcoming everyone.  But there need to be people at the entrance to your party, and sometimes you have to keep certain people out who are going to do harm to those both inside and outside the party.  To me, an SSPX that is not forced to unequivocally and unconditionally renounce their anti-Semitism is too toxic to the party to be allowed to enter.  We simply cannot run the risk that they will spread their poison back into the Church as a whole, undoing the work of the last seventy years.  The horror caused by that poison is too monstrous to take that risk.

I will not belong to a Church that views our Jewish brothers and sisters as "enemies of Christ."  Period.  And I have grave concerns about belonging to a Church that accepts and gives a privileged status to a group that believes those things.  Bringing the SSPX under the terms that have been reported in the media will no doubt empower those in the SSPX who hold those views, who will see themselves as chipping away at the walls that have been built since Vatican II.  And the move will be seen, fairly, as at least tacitly endorsing their point of view on these matters.  For all the good that I think Pope Francis has done and is trying to do, this might be a line that I cannot cross in good conscience.

Pope Francis surely does not read this blog, but I will make a personal appeal anyway.  Please, Pope Francis; please reconsider this.  If you want the SSPX back into the fold, please make them publicly repudiate their anti-Semitism.  And if they won't do that, it tells you everything you need to know about them and who they are.  Don't let them spread this poison back into our Church.  Some things are more important than unity.      


Anonymous said…
I completely agree. Nostra Aetate and the Church's rejection of Christianity's Anti-Semitic history were two things I really respected about the Church before I converted. If they back away from it now, I will definitely become Episcopalian.
Anonymous said…
I actually tweeted your blog post to the Pope. Here goes nothing.
Michael Boyle said…
I'm honored. Thank you.

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