A recent video homily by “Mission Preacher for the New Evangelization,” Fr. Paul Nicholson, claiming that the Society of St. Pius X has “become protestant” is making the rounds.
The operative part of the homily begins at the roughly 3:50 mark in the video below, but here’s a partial transcript:
There are Catholics today, who are manifestly ignorant, and invincibly proud, who might, not outwardly, but inwardly suggest that the primacy of the pope and the supremacy of his jurisdiction are not essential. They say things like, “As long as we have the Latin Mass, and have the sacraments according to the old books, then we don’t need to worry about submitting to the pope.” These people duplicitously say that they can recognize the pope, but at the same time they will not submit to the pope. The SSPX is just such an organization … they have become protestant. Their Protestantism is a result of their refusing to submit to the Holy Father’s jurisdiction.
While I don’t know him very well, I have met and spoken with Fr. Nicholson in person in the past, and I’ve had the pleasure of participating in traditional Masses that he has celebrated. We also shared airtime on my friend Christine Niles’ radio program shortly after Pope Benedict announced his abdication, all of which were pleasant experiences.
Naturally, I reached out to Father for some feedback before writing this post, but he was kind enough to let me know that his travel schedule is such that it wouldn’t be possible.
So, without the benefit of his clarifications, I have to say that this latest homily isn’t his finest moment.
As most readers here know, I’m not a member of the SSPX, but I am sympathetic to their position; one with which I am fairly familiar.
For the last two years, I’ve attended their annual Angelus Press Conferences as a media guest. At both events, Bishop Fellay and any number of priests of the Society gave extensive presentations that leave little doubt as to what they hold to be true. I also had plenty of opportunities for private conversation with their clergy and lay members, and in 2012, I was able to speak with Bishop Fellay essentially one-on-one over breakfast about his thoughts on the Society’s situation.
So, when Fr. Nicholson says, “They say things like… ‘we don’t need to worry about submitting to the pope,'” I must conclude that he simply hasn’t availed himself of the opportunity to discover firsthand what they truly believe, either that or he’s engaging in some rather extreme hyperbole.
One thing I can say with certainty is that I’ve never heard such things from the Society’s leadership, nor do I have any reason to believe that they “inwardly suggest that the primacy of the pope and the supremacy of his jurisdiction are not essential.”
In my experience, the Society, and specifically their Superior General, Bishop Fellay, finds the status quo extremely painful. I think it’s fair to say that he “worries” quite a bit about the current state of affairs, the demands made on the Society, and its place in the life of the Church, even as his trust in the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary trumps all concerns.
In any event, I’m more interested in what it means to submit to the pope, as this applies to every Catholic.
I had hoped to ask Fr. Nicholson if he imagines there being any limit whatsoever to said submission. Surely he must.
In other words, if the pope asked him to sign a pledge of fidelity to a set of propositions that either oppose our Holy Catholic faith directly, or are so ambiguous as to invite grave error, in either case demonstrably doing great harm to the faithful, would he do it?
I think it’s safe to say, apart from ignorance, he would not sign such a pledge.
I can only imagine, in charity, therefore, that Fr. Nicholson is unaware of the fact that the text of Vatican II contains just such propositions (like the offensive notion in NA 4 that says that the children of the Church are one with those who deny the divinity of Christ, to name but one), and further that he must also be unaware that the canonical regularity of the SSPX is being held hostage to their pledging fidelity to just such falsehoods.
That brings me to the accusation that they are “protestant.”
To be honest, I find this difficult to take seriously. Surely Fr. Nicholson knows the difference between heresy (the state of actual protestants who deny that which must be believed with divine and catholic faith) and schism (the state of those who refuse submission to the Roman Pontiff).
Since I am fairly certain that no one can point to even one heretical position on the part of the SSPX, I suspect that he may have meant to say that they are schismatic. He would be wrong (for reasons explained here), but maybe that’s what he intended. Only he can say for certain.
So, what is the takeaway from Fr. Nicholson’s poorly chosen words?
A priest vilifying the SSPX today is like a comedian cursing before a teenaged audience; it’s not exactly thought provoking stuff, but hey, it does guarantee a standing ovation from the under-nourished choir.
If somehow this regrettable video earned Fr. Nicholson some “New Evangelization” street cred, opening the door to carrying out more missions in the many godforsaken, foot stomping, quasi-protestant parishes that dot the North American landscape, the outcome could probably be worse. He still has something to offer in that arena, provided he take the time to become more familiar with the situation at hand before commenting on the SSPX any further.
Perhaps when his schedule clears, God willing, we can have that conversation.