Hadn’t Archbishop Lefebvre based much of his rejection of the post-conciliar magisterium on Pope Leo XIII’s magisterium?
The authorities of the SSPX tried to do damage control as they had done with “the Nine” in 1983. Ironically, the first man to be expelled was the one who had been in charge of damage control for the first splinter group: Bishop Richard Williamson. Why was he expelled? For following the example of Archbishop Lefebvre, and refusing obedience to his superiors in the name of truth. Other priests started leaving the Society, many more than in 1983, where they coalesced to form a new “resistance”. This included my own beloved Dominicans of Avrillé. What was I to do? The Society was my family, the one true “remnant” of the Church. But so were the Dominicans in Avrillé and the priests and bishop who had left. Should I stay with the first resistance, or should I join the resistance to the resistance? The emotional pain and confusion I went through during this time is indescribable.
Dad still trusted the leadership of Bishop Williamson, and so he leaned toward the Resistance. Mom thought that the chickens had finally come home to roost for Lefebvre’s Society, and she gravitated more toward the Sedevacantist groups. I was a Trad Non-Denom. Dad invited two of the Resistance priests to come say Mass at our house. One of them was especially charismatic, and when he spoke it made me want to jump up and follow him immediately. Thankfully my head cooled after they left, and I recalled a conversation I’d had with the quieter priest at the dinner table. He’d told me that the Church’s compromise with the modern world hadn’t begun at Vatican II, but could actually be traced to serious errors in the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII. The oddity of this claim struck me with its full force. Wait…so now I had to sift through the teachings of a pope I’d thought was rock solid? Hadn’t Archbishop Lefebvre based much of his rejection of the post-conciliar magisterium on Pope Leo XIII’s magisterium? Maybe I should start looking for errors in Pope St. Pius X! The Council of Trent!
Around this time, Mom had begun listening to a lot of talks by Gerry Matatics, and recommended that I listen to them. I had generally shied away from Sedevacantism, since the Fathers of Avrillé were staunchly opposed to it. But at this point, I needed options. I had to rediscover the true remnant. And after all, had not the famous Dominican Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers, the ghost writer for the Ottaviani Intervention, become a Sedevacantist? So I began my research. An especially powerful realization came to me when I read Fr. Anthony Cekada’s article “Resisting the Pope, Sedevacantism and Frankenchurch”, where he states in conclusion that “all traditionalists, therefore, are really sedevacantists—it’s just that they haven’t all figured it out yet.” It rang true. All my life I had prayed for the pope, seen his picture in the sacristy, or heard his name in the Mass…but in reality he was just a figurehead, a “cardboard pope” as Cekada termed it. The SSPX (and SSPX-Resistance) was indeed Sedevacantist; not in theory, but in practice, definitely. They acted independently from the popes, whether the seat was vacant or not. Sedevacantism and the Recognize-and-Resist position were in reality two sides of the same coin. At least the Sedevacantists’ doctrine was consistent with their practice.
I found more contradictions throughout SSPX writings and apologetics, especially when they argued against the Sedevacantists, Feeneyites, or their own Resistance, as was seen in the letter above. Another example can be found in the treatise Is Feeneyism Catholic? by Fr. François Laisney, FSSPX, where he states that the fundamental error of Fr. Feeney was “to follow his own interpretation of the dogma [outside the Church there is no salvation], and to re-interpret the Scriptures and the documents of the popes according to his own views. In one word, it is to put his views before the Church’s teaching.” Why was this true for Fr. Feeney (who was a good Traditionalist, and would have emphatically stated that the view was not his, but that of the Tradition, I am sure!), but not true for Archbishop Lefebvre and his priests? I found another remarkable inconsistency in the writings of Michael Davies, a prolific apologist for Lefebvre and the SSPX. He wrote three enormous tomes about everything that could be imaginably wrong with the Novus Ordo Mass, only to write a little booklet directed at the Sedevacantists (I Am With You Always), where he argues that in its officially promulgated edition, Pope Paul VI’s Missal is free from error in faith and morals and protected by the Church’s infallibility in her universal disciplinary laws. Needless to say, Angelus Press does not offer this title.
While Sedevacantism seemed to bring more consistency, it certainly did not bring any consolation. In his talk “Unauthorized Shepherds: Why the SSPX, SSPV, CMRI, and Similar Post-Vatican II Traditionalist Clergy Are Not Priests of Christ’s Church”, Gerry Matatics convincingly makes the case that Traditionalist clergy can exercise no official ministry in the Church, based on the teaching of St. Francis de Sales in The Catholic Controversy. Bypassing the intricate canon law debates about epikeia and supplied jurisdiction, he challenges Traditionalist clergy to demonstrate how they have received either mediate or immediate mission. Of course, none can accept his challenge, for the simple reason that they have no proof of apostolic succession, the papal mandate (mediate mission) and they are not working miracles (immediate mission). Matatics conclusion: hopefully there is an underground Church somewhere in Asia, but in the meantime we’re stuck being “recusant Catholics” at home. Matatics is a brilliant example of intellectually honest and consistent Traditionalism. After converting to Catholicism before his friend, Scott Hahn, he then proceeded to research Tradition until he was alone in his house. I recalled what a priest had once told my parents: “When you take Protestantism to its logical conclusion, you ultimately end up alone.”