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The Status of the Society of St. Pius X (Part 2)

Audio only:

Jim Vogel, spokesman for the Society of St. Pius X in the United states, stopped by our offices, and we thought we’d like to hear, in their own words, what the Society sees as their current status. Our chaplain, Father Hugh Barbour, joined us in the studio for a conversation meant to tease out how the Society sees this moment, this pope, and the possibilities for regularization.


Cy Kellett: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and we continue our conversation today with Jim Vogel, who is the editor-in-chief of Angelus Press and the spokesman for the St. Pius X Society here in America. We are joined in our discussions by our chaplain here at Catholic Answers, Father Hugh Barbour, a Norbertine priest, former prior, and all around white-clad man.

Hugh Barbour: That’s right, and I won’t take that as an offense.

Cy Kellett: No, please. Okay, so the Society of St. Pius X, if you need to know more about it you can go back to episode one in this two-part series. But we spoke a bit about the current canonical situation of the Society. Jim, if I can just real quick ask you a few things?

Jim Vogel: Sure.

Cy Kellett: 1917 Code of Canon Law, the current Code of Canon Law, what do you see as the law of the Church if you’re a member of this society?

Jim Vogel: The 1983 Code of Canon Law is what we see as the current law of the Church, because it is the current law of the Church. It doesn’t mean that… again, it’s not that we don’t have certain criticisms of the 1983 code, because some of the ecclesialogical debates surrounding Vatican II find their way into the new code. You’ll see this for instance… I’m not even going to try to name which canon it is, but the canon that talks about the reception of communion by people outside the visible bonds of the Catholic Church.

Jim Vogel: We would… Let’s say we use the 1917 code as a way to interpret things which we might find vague in the 1983 code, and Canon Law is not my field of expertise, so again, we could probably do a whole podcast on the new code, but I think that’s a messier question for me personally to answer.

Jim Vogel: But to answer your question, I think it’s… Or what I think is behind your question is; do we recognize the authority of the pope or the Catholic Church that presented the new code?

Cy Kellett: That’s it.

Jim Vogel: And of course we do. And even with, let’s say, the new mass, even if we have our critiques of the new mass, we recognize that it was… of course the pope’s had a legal–there’s no doubt that popes can institute whatever liturgical rites that they want to, in a certain way. But, there’s no question of the legitimate. This ties into another problem which surfaces in traditional Catholic circles, which is the question of sedevacantism.

Cy Kellett: Yes, okay.

Jim Vogel: I don’t know if you want to get into that or not but I-

Cy Kellett: Well, first of all I want to establish, are members of the society sedevacantists, and are you of warm relationship with sedevacantists?

Jim Vogel: Again to answer your question’s in order, but reminding the listeners of something that was brought up in episode one, the members of the Society are-

Cy Kellett: Are the priests.

Jim Vogel: Right so, when I say that the members are not sedevacantists, I can’t speak to the laity who might attend particular chapels, but it’s true that the society of St. Pius X actually has, I would say, problems with sedevacantism as a doctrinal theory. It is really, at most, it’s just that, it’s a doctrinal theory.

Jim Vogel: But Archbishop Lefebvre felt so strongly about this question that, I believe it was in the early 1980s, he made it necessary for the priests at his society before ordination to make a kind of vow that they recognized the polity of the new mass, at least if the mass is celebrated by the books, and to recognize the Holy Father as the head of the Catholic Church and to pray for him in the liturgy, and if they were not willing to make those commitments, they could not be members of the society of St. Pius X. And that did not arise out of a theoretical desire to clarify things; there were priests at the time in the society of St. Pius X who, at the very least, were flirting with sedevacantism, or privately had espoused sedevacantist views. Archbishop Lefebvre felt it necessary not only to expel certain priests for holding those opinions, but to ensure that in the future there would be no question of the priests of the Society of St. Pius X’s…

Cy Kellett: The pope is the pope.

Jim Vogel: The pope is the pope. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have our criticisms, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have our objections. But, to the Society, I would say that sedevacantism doesn’t even make sense as a theory. It creates more problems than it solves, because if there is no visible head of the Catholic Church for long periods of time, then you get into other, muddier theological waters that affect the notions of infectability and visibility of the church itself. Archbishop Lefebvre, I think, was very strong on this question, historically.

Hugh Barbour: Well the fact is that sedevacantism, as a notion, a theological notion, is simply impossible. There have been in the Church’s history anti-popes, where you have more than one claimant to the seat of Peter.

Jim Vogel: Such as the Great Western Schism.

Hugh Barbour: Right, the Great Western Schism But, that isn’t the question of doctrine. Everybody holds to the paper primacy, but the question is, who actually has it? And that’s a question that is resolved canonically in the Church at a certain point. But, the notion that the Catholic Church can go for long periods of time without a visible head is super questionable, especially when there is a visible head, who has been generally accepted by the unified episcopate of the entire world. That isn’t a question of his doctrine or personality, but just the fact that you can’t have a man accepted as pope, and ratified as such by the whole of the episcopate and the cardinals and everything, and have him not be the pope. It’s just not reasonable.

Hugh Barbour: The limitations that might obtain there–that is, if he’s not sound in his teaching or in his judgements–well, that we deal with the way we deal with any human prejudicial situation. That is, the pope is simply… if it gets really really bad, then his councilors and the other fellow bishops and the cardinals, they simply resist or try to mitigate the limitations of his judgement. But there’s no question of his office, and that’s clear in the code. It’s in the old code, new code; the first see is not judged by anyone. So, you have to wait it out. If there’s a pope that’s not sound, it’s not that he’s not pope, we’re not papists in that sense; we just recognize that the Church will continue, and our teaching will remain sound, and the bishops who have responsibility will present themselves to the Holy Father and assist him in his office, so that he won’t make as many errors that he might have made otherwise. But there isn’t any question of his not being pope.

Jim Vogel: It’s a very interesting answer, Father. And something that’s related to that, that might be of interest to your listeners, is that this whole question of the history of the Society of St. Pius X, or the question of sedevacantism as a doctrinal theory, relate to the notion of the limit to nature of magisterial authority. Really, if you wanted to elevate this discussion to a high level and not get into the particularities of religious liberty or communism, it’s the question of … you know, we obviously know, and Catholic Answers does a good job of explaining, that everything the pope says is not necessarily infallible. And that’s easy enough to say as a broad principle; but then how to apply that question to different levels of magisterial authority and to what level those distinctions are understood by people, especially the layman in the pew, gets to be a particularly thorny question. And a lot of the particular debates that surround the Society of St. Pius X have there root in this general question of what the limits are of papal authority as expressed through encyclicals and magisterial statements and…

Hugh Barbour: Airplane interviews.

Jim Vogel: Airplane interviews! This is also historical interesting question, because of course now in the modern world we have access to the Holy Father in a way that most believers in history did not have. And I think that has to be taken into account, because now it’s pretty much every day that the Holy Father does something.

Hugh Barbour: That’s been true since the ’40s of this last century. I mean, Pius XII commented on everything.

Jim Vogel: Right.

Hugh Barbour: People get the expectation that the pope’s going to say something about every issue. And that isn’t necessarily his office.

Jim Vogel: Right.

Cy Kellett: No. And that’s for another time, the modern celebrity pope, whether that’s good or bad for the Church… that’s actually something we should actually have a Focus on. But, so I go to a chapel, and you call them chapels, not parishes?

Jim Vogel: We do that on purpose, in fact, because the word “parish” has a canonical importance that the world “chapel” does not have. We want to always give the impression that we are not a parallel church, that we do respect Canon Law, and even though, canonically, to call our chapels “parishes” would make sense to everybody who attended them, we try to make a point to say that they are not parishes, because we don’t want to give the impression that they have a canonical status that they don’t have.

Cy Kellett: I go there, then, to a chapel of the society of St. Pius X on a Sunday, what’ll I experience there?

Jim Vogel: Practically, you are going to experience the same thing you are going to experience in almost any place that offers the traditional Latin mass, whether that’s a chapel of the Fraternity of St. Peter or a diocesan chapel. It’s going to be the mass offered according to the liturgical books of 1962, which is the vast majority of Latin masses in the world today. You’re going to hear a sermon, probably on something related to the salvation of your soul. Probably, if you accidentally went into a chapel of the Society of St. Pius X and didn’t know that, the mere attendance at mass, maybe with the exception of what’s in their book store, would not give you any indication that it was different from the diocesan-approved like mass.

Cy Kellett: And the epistle and the gospel would be read in Latin, or…?

Jim Vogel: They would be read in Latin, at least in America that’s been the custom since before Vatican II, so…like other Latin masses, we try to have missals and things on hand that help you follow.

Hugh Barbour: They don’t read them again in English before the sermon?

Jim Vogel: That’s customary.

Hugh Barbour: Yeah, customary, right.

Cy Kellett: Read them again, in English.

Jim Vogel: Yeah.

Cy Kellett: Okay, the issue for Archbishop Lefebvre was not the vernacular? That wasn’t the essential-

Jim Vogel: That was certainly not the primary question.

Cy Kellett: And he would have been okay with the traditional mass in the vernacular?

Jim Vogel: I think, if you had to arrange on a hierarchy the questions that Archbishop Lefebvre found important, or willing to fight over, the vernacular was actually not very high on that list.

Cy Kellett: He was a missionary.

Jim Vogel: He was a missionary, and he also worked on the preparatory commission for the second Vatican Council. And one of the things that he was in favor of, even before Vatican II, was, for instance, having the epistle and gospel read in the vernacular as standard practice. So that might scandalize some traditional Catholics, but in fact, you will see very clearly in the writings of the Archbishop that it was, again, something much deeper than the question of the language to him. It was, to him more, especially when it came to the liturgy, a question of the prayers of the missal itself.

Hugh Barbour: If Archbishop Lefebvre scandalizes you, you are not in the center. You are way over.

Hugh Barbour: Do you know what I mean? If he scandalizes you for being too liberal, I mean, then you…

Jim Vogel: You said, it not me.

Cy Kellett: Okay! So the pope is the pope. The canon law is the canon law. The mass is the mass. But, what if I go to your chapel on a Sunday and don’t go to my parish. Will I have met my Sunday obligation, in your understanding?

Jim Vogel: Yes.

Hugh Barbour: Yes.

Cy Kellett: I will have?

Jim Vogel: Is it fair to say that, in a way, the new code benefits the society of St. Pius X, because I believe that the restrictions on how to fulfill one’s Sunday obligation are actually fewer in the new code then they would have been in the old code.

Hugh Barbour: It says “any Catholic rite.” Tells you right there.

Cy Kellett: So okay, then at a certain point in the history, there were priests of the society of St. Pius X who formed another society of St. Peter… or how did that work?

Jim Vogel: There have actually been several occasions were priests have left, or have been expelled in the case of sedevacantist, who were originally members of the society of St. Pius X and formed another organization. The Fraternity of St. Peter is probably the most famous and they’re certainly the largest. And that came out of the events of 1988. The priest and religious who did not feel able to go along in conscience with the episcopal consecrations approached the Roman authorities and asked for some kind of new organization, where they could continue offering the same liturgy. But, without some of the doctrinal consternations which had surrounded the society.

Jim Vogel: The Fraternity of St. Peter was born out of the events of 1988. So at this point, certainly, most of their members now have historically to do with the Society of St. Pius X.

Cy Kellett: Because they’d been ordained–

Jim Vogel: Exactly, but the founders were from the Society of St. Pius X.

Cy Kellett: So are you frenemies? Or how do we–

Jim Vogel: That’s pretty good. Has it made its way into canon law yet?

Cy Kellett: Your canonical frenemies?

Jim Vogel: Yeah. That’s a funny way of putting it actually. But in fact, so the liturgy we say is the same. If there is a difference that you would see, it would be the degree to which, or the extent to which, they’re institutionally willing to critique certain elements the Society has a problem critiquing. But other than that, I don’t think you would… again, to the man in the pew, I don’t think you would notice much of difference on an average Sunday.

Cy Kellett: Okay.

Jim Vogel: Is that fair?

Hugh Barbour: That’s totally fair.

Cy Kellett: Okay, so we have to talk about ways forward then.

Jim Vogel: Sure.

Cy Kellett: From the perspective of the society, what is an acceptable way forward? I mean, Father mentioned at the beginning Opus Dei. Is that what the society would like, to be a personal prelature of the pope, or…?

Jim Vogel: I think a personal prelature… it’s actually interesting because it’s a relatively new canonical structure.

Cy Kellett: It’s brand new.

Jim Vogel: They’re the only ones, as far as I’m…

Hugh Barbour: Well, the Anglicans have them. The Anglican ordinariate.

Cy Kellett: Oh, the ordinariate is a personal prelature?

Hugh Barbour: Yeah.

Cy Kellett: Oh I see, okay.

Jim Vogel: Again canonically, that could be a very elegant solution. But of course, the problem is not, in a way, primarily canonical, and in a way that depends on Romes decision to decide how they would like to eventually clarify the question. I don’t think… you can’t look at the society of St. Pius X as demanding–I certainly don’t want to give the impression they’re demanding a certain kind of canonical status or authority.

Jim Vogel: Again, Canon Law’s not my expertise. But, the problem between… if there is a problem concretely between the authorities in Rome and the society of St. Pius X, its not haggling over a canonical structure. I don’t think that’s the question.

Cy Kellett: It’s just “Resolve these underlying doctrinal issues.”

Jim Vogel: That would be, to me, the fundamental question. In a way only Rome can… we’re very open with our opinions and what we say about certain things, but that’s not going to resolve some of the questions on their own.

Cy Kellett: As history progresses, this may be a worry of mine, do new problems present themselves? I’m just thinking of an example… Okay, so the Catholic Church now has signed an agreement on justification with Lutherans, for example. I’m just taking that out of the hat. But, as things go forward, is there a danger that there’s an accumulation of disagreements?

Jim Vogel: There probably is a danger. But if so far as there’s a danger, I don’t see how that’s limited to just the Society of St. Pius X.

Cy Kellett: Fair enough.

Jim Vogel: And something I would point out is that all of the reasons I could give for why the society objects to certain statements in certain conciliar and post-conciliar documents are shared by, at this point, I would say, more priests and thinkers outside the bounds of the Society of St. Pius X. So this could present a problem of sorts to Rome, where on the one hand, lets say on the extreme side… if they condemned the Society for holding positions X, Y and Z, well that effects a lot of people. In fact, I would argue that it effects more people than just those priests who are members of the Society of St. Pius X. And to resolve those questions where there is a lack of doctrinal clarity is of interest to a far greater crowd, it seems to me, than the society. So I understand your point; I don’t know that I would look at it entirely through that lens.

Cy Kellett: Fair enough. So Father, tell me how this is all going to be concluded. How are we going to come into full communion again with one another?

Hugh Barbour: We already are in full communion. But, there is an impediment to our practice of the communion which we already share.

Cy Kellett: Okay, so how can we remove those impediments?

Hugh Barbour: Well, we have to wait on the Church’s determination. And of course, the unfolding of Church history…I mean, the problem is also, we’ve been very sweet to the society of St. Pius X people at this meeting, but they have some hard-bitten people who will resist to the end any reproachment with the holy see. They view it with a very, you know, unpleasant light, and they’re going to have to deal with that.

Hugh Barbour: But I mean, the Church is willing with open arms to establish everything within a canonical arrangement which would be completely favorable to them. But, there is always that… as Pope John Paul II said, that hermeneutical suspicion, where they think that someone is out to get them and to ruin their witness. And that we have, just by our gentleness and our love for them, real love, I mean, genuine love for them and their practice of the faith and all that. Try to overcome that so they can just be enfolded into the communion of the Church and then be a source of doctrinal clarity for everybody else.

Hugh Barbour: They have a role to play, providentially, in the Church’s history. Its very very clear. But, they need to accept the challenge and not just limit themselves to a kind of sectarianism, which could be a problem. I’m just saying, that’s my little challenge at the end.

Jim Vogel: And again, as a layman, I don’t have to deal with that question as much as the priests would. But it’s inevitable that after, if you wanted to take the position of a jaded, bitter, old traditionalist after thirty or forty years of confusion, it’s true that there can easily be a tendency to a kind of practical sedevacantism, where even if I agree that he’s the pope and I’m willing to have his picture on my wall, I just stop paying attention. But again, I would say that in 2019 that’s a problem that extends beyond the Society of St. Pius X.

Hugh Barbour: Way beyond, way beyond into episcopal chanceries throughout the United States.

Jim Vogel: And that is a problem, not to avoid the question, but I think that’s a problem, or a question, for the priests on a lot of different sides.

Hugh Barbour: Touche.

Jim Vogel: Sorry father. I allow you to gently manifest.

Hugh Barbour: Touche, you’re exactly right.

Cy Kellett: Well done, gentlemen, I apologize if I was sweet to a member of the Society of St. Pius X, I did not mean to be.

Hugh Barbour: Of course you’re supposed to be sweet.

Cy Kellett: I know. I started out by asking him what’s wrong with him. I feel like that set the tone.

Hugh Barbour: What’s the matter with you?

Cy Kellett: What’s the matter with you? I feel like I could just talk for hours with you. I would really like to understand fully. I have to say, maybe some time we can do something on religious liberty, religious tarnishes.

Hugh Barbour: Or just go to mass with him, because it’s really nice.

Cy Kellett: Well, I was in mass this morning. But, I didn’t look to see if you were there Jim, I don’t know.

Jim Vogel: I wasn’t, because Chris Check was late in bringing me to the building. So, I…

Cy Kellett: I did notice that Chris wasn’t there.

Jim Vogel: You can leave that part out of the Focus, but…I didn’t have my own vehicle.

Cy Kellett: Jim Vogel is editor-in-chief of Angelus Press and the spokesman for the St. Pius X Society here in America. If people will want to get in contact with you for any reason, Jim, hopefully good reasons, nice reasons, how would they do that?

Jim Vogel: I accept all reasons, even if they’re mean ones. But you can contact me through our website, which is AngelusPress.org. And I don’t know if you have the ability to forward features if you get questions, or…

Cy Kellett: Oh yeah, we will send them to you.

Jim Vogel: If providence arranges a follow up for us, I would welcome that. I enjoyed being here, it’s an honor to be here with Catholic Answers.

Cy Kellett: Well I know so little and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface with the two of you. So, I really appreciate that, your patience with me and your answering my questions. Thank you very much.

Jim Vogel: Honor is all mine. Thank you Cy. Thank you Father.

Cy Kellett: Thank you Jim Vogel and Father Hugh Barbour, thank you.

Cy Kellett: Thank you so much for joining us here on Catholic Answers focus, we do it every week. Please share it with other folks by letting them know they can go over to CatholicAnswersLive.com, put in their email address, and we will send them Focus every week, free of charge.

Cy Kellett: We will see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.

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