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Question 3
Wasn't the SSPX lawfully suppressed?

November 1, 1970

The SSPX is lawfully and canonically founded (question 2).

1971 - 1974

International Seminary
of St. Pius X in Econe, Switzerland

Nevertheless, the French bishops, balking at Econe’s pre-Vatican II ways, and notably at its non-acceptance of the Novus Ordo Missae (question 5), calumniate it as sauvage (outlaw, wildcat). One of them, Pope Paul VI’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Villot, deceives the Holy Father into believing Archbishop Lefebvre had his priests sign a declaration against the pope (Archbishop Lefebvre, Fideliter, no. 59, pp. 68-70).

November 11 - 13, 1974

An apostolic visitation of the seminary at Econe takes place. This is in itself normal procedure; its conclusions, though never published, were “very favorable,” according to Cardinal Garonne, “except that you don’t use the new liturgy, and there’s a somewhat anti-conciliar spirit there.” (Ibid., p. 67.) The visitors, however, scandalized everyone by their unorthodox views, prompting Archbishop Lefebvre’s so-called Declaration.

February 13 and March 3, 1975

Archbishop Lefebvre meets with an improvised commission of three cardinals, nominally to discuss the Apostolic Visitation but in fact as a lone defendant before a tribunal attacking his Declaration. Having been given no warning as to the nature of these “trials,” he has no lawyer and is never allowed a copy of the recorded meetings, though that at least is promised him.

May 6, 1975

The irregular commission of cardinals condemns Archbishop Lefebvre, finding his Declaration “unacceptable on all points.” They write to Bishop Mamie (successor of Bishop Charriere at Fribourg) telling him to withdraw his predecessor’s approval of the SSPX, something quite beyond his power (once a bishop has approved a religious congregation, only the pope can suppress it; cf., 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).

5, 1975

Archbishop Lefebvre submits an appeal to the Apostolic Signature in Rome, in substance: would be for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to determine whether my Declaration were at fault. Please provide evidence that this commission of cardinals had been expressly mandated by the pope (who by his own authority can bypass the Congregations) to decide as has been done.* And if I be at fault, of course I can be censured, but not the Society which was founded in due canonical form.

*This evidence was never produced. A doubt about the validity of a law excuses from observing it (principle 10a).  How much more does doubt about the authority of the legislator!

Cardinal Villot arranges that the appeal is not accepted. Cardinal Staffa is threatened with dismissal if he dare to accept an appeal from Archbishop Lefebvre. (Vatican Encounter, pp. 85 and 191 [appendix 2])

29, 1975

Pope Paul VI is convinced to write to Archbishop Lefebvre that he approved of all the actions of the commission of cardinals, however, it is impossible that mere papal approbation in June could empower this commission which had met the previous February [principle 10b].

On this whole process, Archbishop Lefebvre observes:

...we have been condemned, without trial, without opportunity to defend ourselves, without due warning or written process and without appeal. (Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 150)

Over and above the canonical question, there remains that of natural law. Must one observe a censure when no crime can be pointed out or when the very authority not to mention the identity of the judge is unsure?

More on this topic
Christendom issue #5
Archbishop Lefebvre and the "Hot Summer of 1976" [DICI source]

Get the full picture
about the SSPX with this select group of informative conferences and articles.

The Role of the Priestly SSPX in the Heart of the Church
This 1981 Buenos Aires, Argentina conference by Archbishop Lefebvre shows the SSPX's place in the Church to form priests and in combating Modernism. He also speaks about the struggles of the traditionalists against liberals during Vatican II © 2013                    home                    contact