Monday, 5 November 2012

O my prophetic soul!

'Where there is no shepherd, the people will be scattered ...'


When I blogged about Bishop Williamson's explusion from the SSPX nearly two weeks ago, I wrote the following:

It is possible of course he could launch his own roving ministry, not aligned with any group in particular, but available to those groups he considers faithful to the Catholic cause, much as he did when, without permission, he recently visited the traditionalist Benedictines in Brazil to give confirmations. There could emerge in the near future a kind of Williamson Federation, loosely tied together, all mutually sympathetic, willing to have his ministry, but not especially willing to tie themselves to any fixed structure.

Now, in his first post-expulsion move, a webpage appears with the following message taken from his latest Eleison Comments:

It seems that, today, God wants a loose network of independent pockets of Catholic Resistance, gathered around the Mass, freely contacting one another, but with no structure of false obedience, which served to sink the mainstream Church in the 1960’s and is now sinking the Society of St. Pius X. If you agree, make contributions to the St. Marcel Initiative; they will certainly come in useful. For myself, once my situation stabilizes, I am ready to put my bishop’s powers at the disposal of whoever can make wise use of them.

I say these comments are taken from his latest Eleison Comments; they are not quite the same. His letter on Saturday actually read:

For myself, as soon as my situation stabilizes in England, I am ready to put my bishop’s powers at the disposal of whoever can make wise use of them.

Interesting that. I note the website and the Saint Marcel Initiative appear to be based in the USA. The funding buttons you can click on at the bottom clearly favour US-based donations. My friend Dom Hugh has given this all the once over here.

Still, returning to the proposition which Bishop Williamson makes above, I am struck by a number of things. We can pass over his parsing of 'what God wants'; I'm more interested in what comes next. He is evoking the possibility of a loose federation of traditionalist groups who are united in the faith, united in the sacraments, but - so much for St Robert Bellarmine's definition of the Church! - not exactly united under a hierarchy. The benefit of this kind of organisation, he argues, is that it suffers from 'no structure of false obedience'.

I have been reflecting for some time on how the SSPX's own cause suffers unwittingly from the implications of living in a state of exception, which implications can be briefly stated thus: those who decide on the exceptions constitute thereby an authority. If I break one law for the sake of a higher law, I must subsequently agree for my exception to be sanctioned by the authority under which I live. If I refuse to accept its judgment about the exception I have made, I become a law (an authority) unto myself. Bishop Williamson's position is that since there is no higher law than the Faith, then whatever order is contrary to that Faith can be rejected in favour of the higher law. I say is contrary; I should probably say I consider contrary. Because the implication always contained in this argument seems to be that if I consider something contrary to the Faith, then it must be so.

The organisational consequence of this position, however, is now becoming clear. It is better not to have a '(false) structure of obedience' in place so as to avoid any dilemma. The problem for Bishop Williamson is then the 'structure' in which my faith risks coming under hierarchical command. It's a simple calculation: avoid the structure and you avoid the dilemma. Job's a good'un, as they say in the north of England.

But there is a problem here. God gifted the Church with the note of infallibility. But there is no corresponding note of impeccability in governance. Working out of a Thomist logic, Bishop Williamson essentially holds that all laws not for the common good do not have the force of law. But his error is to believe that from the point of view of jurisprudence, every man's mind is apt to judge what is and what is not in favour of the common good. This is a similar error in the field of law to that made by the SSPX in the field of theology: that in matters of the faith, every man's mind is apt to judge what is and what is not compatible with the faith.

I am accused of holding a sceptical position on this issue; nothing is further from the truth. It is one thing to say the human mind can attain truth. It is quite another proposition to say that the human mind infallibly arrives at the truth because it can cite an infallible premiss in its reasoning. But the very fact that in the contemporary Church we have disagrement about what exactly is compatible with the faith - or what is in fact for the common good - urges not that we abandon or temporarily suspend the providential structure of the Church, but that we back it up! False structure of poppycock, say I! It was ever thus!

Bishop Williamson will defend all this by saying that it is in defence of the Faith and, therefore, justified. Surely he should reflect on the fact that all those traditionalist groups out there - those with whom he mostly disagrees on whether there is even a pope now - justify their own position as a defence of the Faith!

So, to whom shall we go, my masters? Which one is actually defending the faith for real? Is it Bishop Williamson or is it Bishop Williamson's old colleague Bishop Sanborn? Is it Pope Pius XIII? And if not, why not? They all defend their position on the grounds of holding to the Faith! Is my old seminary colleague Bishop Robert Neville actually defending the faith? Crikey, could it even be Pope Michael in Kansas who is the real deal? And if not, why not? He's only defending the Faith!

Please, please stop this silliness now, my Lord, before you break something irreparable!


K Gurries said...

Ches, seems like classic protestantism at work. I think you are right that Bishop W's error is simply a practical extension of the SSPX's theological error. At the end of the day they will need to come to grips whether or not the Church was divinely constituted with a visible and hierarchical structure -- and that this has practical consequences for all of the faithful.

J. Christopher Pryor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ches said...

Thanks, Keith.

Chris, yes, who'd have thought it! It could yet get even more ludicrous. If Bishop Williamson does not sort hiself out, he will most probably consecrate his own bishops at some point ...but who?

Floreat said...


Insofar as your experience of the SSPX dates from a time when Bp Williamson was, effectively, the SSPX in the US, I understand why you believe that Pfeiffer, Urritogoity et al are fruits of the SSPX.

Bp Williamson has worked tirelessly to associate the SSPX with his strange beliefs and activities and there are undoubtedly those who share them within the Society.

These individuals have been a source of division and discord within the Society for years. That they now follow their master into oblivion can only be to the good of the Society and its mission to preserve Catholic tradition for the Church.

If the Society can continue its work in full Communion then all to the good. If not, it will continue as currently constituted and should not be attacked for doing so.

The SSPX is rather larger than the US and the three remaining bishops, priests and laity are cut from rather different cloth than Williamson and his cohorts.

J. Christopher Pryor said...


I believe your ultimate conclusion is correct. If the SSPX does what Christ requires of Catholics, and obeys Rome, its many problems will likely correct themselves over time. I hope for this.

But do not be naive to think Bishop Williamson was an exception. He trained many priests who, although are smart enough not to get kicked out, believe in Williamsonism. They have no other context for their religion. As recently as 2005, I sat in Fr. Fullerton's office, the U.S Superior at the time, and he was angry at me for opposing Bishop Williamson's Holocaust denial. He also told me that he had Fr. Gardner investigate the ITP and related organizations and Fr. Gardner found them to be good and Catholic. Some people can convert, and others will just want to keep their jobs, but we do not need to be naive.

Also, the French SSPX has its own version of Catholicism that is very bizarre as well. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais and Fr. Le Roux are not exactly your normal Catholics. They are obsessed with the French king and fail to realize that Christ can work through any form of government. Just read a recent letter from the American SSPX seminary. Fr. le Roux believe Satan is trying to become incarnate through democracy and the internet. It is not a Roman spirit. They have an obsessive fixasion on democracy.

Although I wish you were right, that the SSPX will finally obey Rome, I have to agree with Ches that it is highly unlikely. I just listened to a conference where Bishop Fellay says he was misled by Rome and that the Pope is wrong. I fear the SSPX will never change. But I hope it does. I did, by the grace of God.

J. Christopher Pryor said...

I mentioned above meeting with Fr. Fulerton in 2005. It was actually March of 2007.

Richard said...

The title should have been "Have Mitre, Will Travel."

I'm also reminded of a Texan phrase, "All hat and no cattle."

Ches said...

Comment from Chris Pryor


Is it not scary to look at the people we knew and see how they ended up? It is so hard to believe that I ever took them seriously, but I did.

I recently spoke layman very close to the SPX leadership. I tried to explain that Bishop Williamson was not an aberration, but a fruit of the SSPX. Chazal, Pfeifer, Urritigoity are all fruits of the SSPX. Williamson is just putting into practice the teachings of the SSPX, as you have so clearly pointed out.

May the Year of the Faith bring some enlightenment to these poor souls.