A presentation given by Fr. Ramon Angles in Kansas City, MO, on the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the SSPX and reprinted from the January 1996 issue of The Angelus.
A short history of the SSPX: Part 1
The history of the Society of St. Pius X begins, of course, in the mind of God. But do not believe that its temporal origin is to be found solely at the time of the post-conciliar crisis. The Society of St. Pius X was made possible by the providential foresight of an extraordinary man, Fr. Le Floch, superior of the French Seminary in Rome, who in the 1920’s formed a group of future prelates and priests who, having been warned by him of the dangers of the Modernist infiltration in the Church, remained faithfully attached to her traditions in the neo-Protestant Revolution. Fr. Le Floch announced in 1926:
The heresy which is now being born will become the most dangerous of all; the exaggeration of the respect due to the pope and the illegitimate extension of his infallibility."
A grateful Archbishop Lefebvre often spoke of his great teacher, and we will see how in this historical recollection appear again and again figures of ecclesiastics close to the Society of St. Pius X who studied with our founder under the exemplary guide and example of Fr. Le Floch.
April 11, 1968, Maundy Thursday. In the little Swiss village of Saxon, Alfonse Pedroni is in the town’s cafe. He hears a pompous business man bragging that in a few months he will be able to dynamite the chapel and old farm of Econe. The contract is going to be signed shortly. Before the day is over, Alfonse and Marcel Pedroni and their friends, Gratien Rausis, Roger Lovey and Guy Genoud, decide to buy the property, once owned by the Canons of St. Bernard, and containing the shrine of Our Lady of the Fields. They visit Bishop Adam of Sion to let him know of their intentions.
The bishop congratulates them but says that the Church is in crisis of vocations and there is no hope for Econe to be saved and used as they would like as a house of formation. During the week that follows, these Catholic gentlemen learn that the businessman intends to build in Econe a complex of nightclub, restaurant and motel.
On May 31st, Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the canons sell Econe, not to the disappointed developer but to Alphonse and his friends, who have obtained an emergency loan from the bank. They are happy, but they do not know exactly what they are going to do with the property they have saved from desecration.
Also in 1968, the General Chapter of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost revises its Constitutions in the spirit of the Council. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Superior General, protests before the Sacred Congregation of Religious in Rome and he is invited to take a break and to go on vacation. He presents his resignation and retires as chaplain to a convent in Rome.
In May 1968, in the French Seminary of Rome, the Communist flag hangs from the main balcony in support of the revolutionary students in Paris. A minuscule group of seminarians, still dressed in their cassocks and being shunned by the rest of their comrades and teachers, turn for help to Archbishop Lefebvre. He directs them to the still conservative University of Fribourg in Switzerland, encouraged by the Abbot of Hauterive and the Dominican theologian, Fr. Philippe. The Archbishop told us about this early endeavor:
I said to these gentlemen that wanted to force me to do something for the seminarians, asking me to take care of them personally, 'I’m going to see Bishop Charriere; if he tells me, 'go ahead,' then I will see in it a sign of the will of God.' I said this because I really didn’t want to; I felt old and I was sure that I could not undertake such a work. When you are 65 years old you do not undertake a work like the one of the Society. Had somebody told me the number of priests and what the Society would be today I would just have smiled sweetly. So I didn’t want to, but Bishop Charriere insisted, 'Il faut, il faut, you must, you must; faites, faites, do it, do it! Do something, rent a house, don’t abandon these seminarians. You know what’s going on in the Church. We need absolutely to keep the good traditions.' This was the sign. The Society is therefore not a personal work; it would never have been blessed by God as it has been. It was definitely a work of God.
And then, as a supplementary proof that the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg wanted us to exist, on November 1, 1970, he approves and confirms the constitutions and proceeds to the canonical foundation of the International Priestly Society of St. Pius X in his diocese. (See The Angelus, November 1995)
Meanwhile, the Swiss laymen offer the property of Econe to Archbishop Lefebvre via a local parish priest, Fr. Bonvin, confrere of the Archbishop in the French Seminary at Rome. The seminarians leave the rented 12 rooms of the Don Bosco House in Fribourg and in September 1970, the first year starts at Econe with the warm approval of Bishop Adam of Sion.
The Archbishop expected to wait a long time before the second canonical step, the approval of Rome, was effected. Only 4 months elapse until February 18, 1971, when Cardinal Wright, prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, officially approves and encourages the Society. The Roman document recognizes the Society’s international character and the fact that many bishops from the world praise and approve it. The cardinal is happy that the Society will contribute to the distribution of the Catholic clergy in the world.
Much to the surprise of our founder, his small work of faith receives a further encouragement. When a few priests from the outside wish to join him in the Society’s work, the Archbishop submits the case to Rome, and the Roman Curia, anticipating his desires, detaches totally these priests from their bishops and even from their religious orders to make them depend exclusively from the Society of St. Pius X. This official act of Rome recognizes the right of the Society of St. Pius X to incardinate its members.
In the vicissitudes of the years to come the Modernist Rome will publicly disapprove our Society, its fruits, and its spirit. It matters little when we know that the Rome faithful to tradition approved the Society and sent it in official mission to maintain the Catholic priesthood. Ultimately, this mandate of the Church constitutes the main reason and necessity for the episcopal consecrations of 1988.
On April 3, 1969, the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum presented a new order of the Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre gathered together a group of 12 theologians who wrote under his direction, A Short Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae often called the Ottaviani Intervention. Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote indeed an introduction and presented the study to Paul VI. Since no response came from the Vatican, the Archbishop announces to his small group of seminarians, June 10, 1971, that he refuses to accept this new protestantized liturgy:
How can I agree to abandon the Mass of all ages or to admit to place it at the same level as the Novus Ordo, created by Annibal Bugnini, with the participation of Protestants to make of it an equivocal supper that eliminates totally the Offertory, and touches the very words of the Consecration."
In 1971, 24 candidates enter the seminary of Econe. 32 more will join them in October 1972. But during the Christmas vacation, trouble starts. The French bishops, eager accomplices of the Modernist conspirators, are watching closely every step of the expansion of the young Society. Cardinal Lefebvre, his cousin, had already warned the Archbishop "the French episcopate will never forgive you for what you did in the Council." Jealous and worried by the unexpected success, they start a campaign of discredit.
The Archbishop knew about those jealousies and he had already proposed Cardinal Marty to meet the bishops at the coming episcopal conference at Lourdes to explain to them the situation of Econe. The cardinal insisted that there was going to be no question of Econe at this meeting. But the episcopal conference in Lourdes labels Econe as "the wildcat seminary," as if they didn’t know that its canonical situation was perfectly regular and that the seminary did not depend on their jurisdiction.
In 1973, an ephemeral pre-seminary is opened in Fribourg, but only for a few months, to be closed because of the worsening conditions in the university.
Society seminaries are opened at Armada, Michigan (1973) [cf. the July 2006 issue of the Regina Coeli Report about the formation of the United States District], and Albano, Rome (1974). The plot to close Econe continues and the French bishops put pressure on Rome to suppress the Society. They are afraid that traditional priests will return into their dioceses creating a traditional Catholic resistance.
It is probably at this point that Cardinal Villot persuades Paul VI to believe that our seminarians must take an oath against the pope. Villot will say to Cardinal Etchegaray who repeated it widely, "In six months Econe will not exist."
November 11, 1974: After breakfast, the Archbishop assembles the community to announce the arrival the same day of two apostolic visitors from Rome. They speak to the seminarians and professors, maintaining scandalous opinions such as: the ordination of married men will soon be a normal thing, truth changes with the times, and the traditional conception of the Resurrection of our Lord is open to discussion. These remarks prompt Archbishop Lefebvre to write his famous Declaration of November 21st. While Paul VI speaks openly about the auto-demolition of the Church, Archbishop Lefebvre proclaims his adhesion to the eternal Rome and his refusal of the neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant Rome of Vatican II:
To insure our salvation the only attitude of fidelity to the Church and to Catholic doctrine is a categorical refusal to accept the Reformation. We will pursue our work of the formation of priests under the star of the age-old magisterium in the conviction that we can thus do no greater service to the Church, to the pope, and to future generations.
1975 starts with a large-scale press campaign against the Archbishop. Vandalism thickens the atmosphere around the seminary; graffiti, nocturnal phone calls, shooting of the windows, night trespassing. On February 13th, 3 cardinals interrogate Archbishop Lefebvre, and one of them, French Cardinal Garrone, calls him "a fool." Against the provisions of canon law, the Society is invalidly suppressed May 6, 1975.
French Cardinal Villot, forces Cardinal Staffa to refuse the Archbishop’s rightful canonical appeal to the Supreme Apostolic Signature, the higher instance tribunal in the Church. The Secretary of State writes all the bishops of the world, asking them to refuse incardination to the members of the Society. The trap is now set: Without incardination there will be no priestly work, and since the Society is supposedly suppressed Archbishop Lefebvre can no longer ordain priests for our institute. He answers this illegal condemnation with a pilgrimage of the whole Society to gain the indulgences of the Holy Year, 1975.
Paul VI, in the consistory of May, 1976, denounces the Archbishop as "disobedient to the new liturgy." Cardinal Benelli asks the Archbishop to celebrate the New Mass at least once, promising in the name of the pope that this gesture will suffice to solve the difficulties. The Archbishop refuses and on June 29th, he ordains publicly in the field of Econe 12 priests for the Society. The 23rd of July, a suspensio a divinis forbids him to celebrate the New Mass, as the Archbishop says with humor, and also to ordain priests because the Society doesn’t exist any more.
The weeks that follow the condemnation are the opportunity for thousands of faithful to manifest publicly their attachment to Archbishop Lefebvre. More than 10,000 assemble in Lille, in the middle of summer, to show their support. (See The Angelus, November 1995—Ed.)
Instead of the excommunication joyfully announced by the media, on September 11th, Pope Paul VI receives the Archbishop privately at Castel Gandolfo. During this meeting it becomes obvious that the pope is being deliberately misinformed by dishonest collaborators.