The Society of Saint Pius X has a location in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. It’s called St. Pius V Church. But should Catholics go there?

The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. Within a few years, the new order was suppressed by Rome and its priests were suspended. The SSPX continued its work anyway, opening chapels around the world without the approval of Rome or local bishops. Today, there are over a hundred SSPX chapels in the United States alone.

From 1970 to 1984—fourteen long years—the only place you could go to find a traditional Latin Mass was an SSPX chapel. The old Mass was treated by Catholic bishops as contraband. In dioceses like Milwaukee anyone who wanted it was treated as subversive or just plain wicked. Pope John Paul II eased restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass in 1984. But finding one said weekly, within driving distance, and with the permission of your bishop, remained difficult. 

I have sympathy for Catholics who attended SSPX chapels during the years of the “ban” (1970-1984). I won’t argue here that these Catholics did the right thing. But I will say this: they were in a tough spot. Abandon the old Mass, or rub shoulders with an order that is operating without your bishop’s approval? Now add to this dilemma the following: your bishop is a heterodox man in the business of wrecking Catholic tradition, punishing orthodox Catholics, and promoting liberal dissent (think of Rembert Weakland); the Novus Ordo Masses said in your area are marred by music that distorts Catholic doctrine, preaching that never gets around to the subject of Catholic doctrine, and abuses that flout both the immemorial customs of the Church and Rome’s current liturgical law; the traditional Latin Mass was never formally abrogated (as traditionalists have long argued, and Benedict XVI has confirmed); and the SSPX priest in your area teaches sound Catholic doctrine, is reverent, and is a devoted to the sacramental life of the Church. Now make your choice. I thank God I’ve never been in that position. My sympathy goes out to all those who have. 

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that Catholics who went to SSPX chapels in the ’70s did the right thing. Suppose they had to go. It was the only way to attend the traditional Latin Mass, to avoid participating in Masses full of liturgical abuse, and to guarantee that their children would be taught Catholic doctrine instead of heresy. Even if all of this was true in the ’70s (remember we’re just assuming it for the sake of argument), what about today? The 1970s have passed. The Catholic landscape has changed. Why would you think that it is OK to receive the sacraments from a priest who operates in your diocese without the consent of your bishop in 2019?

Today the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated all across the country by priests in good standing with their bishops. In Milwaukee, the Latin Mass is celebrated by the priests of the Institute of Christ the King with the consent of Archbishop Listecki. These priests celebrate the Mass with great reverence, teach orthodox Catholic doctrine, and train their parishioners in traditional Catholic devotional and spiritual life. Why not go to the Institute’s Masses rather than SSPX Masses? This choice, unlike the choice of Catholics during the ’70s, is not gut-wrenching. It’s a choice between the traditional Latin Mass on one hand and the traditional Latin Mass on the other; reverence on one hand and reverence on the other; Catholic doctrine on one hand and Catholic doctrine on the other. The big, glaring difference between the Institute of Christ the King and the SSPX is that one operates with the consent of the bishop and the other without it. No small difference.

The authority of a priest to provide sacraments in a diocese comes from the bishop of the diocese. This is just basic Catholic ecclesiology. It’s the way the Church has been set up from the beginning. Take the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch (35 – 107 A.D). Here are some choice quotes:

“Let all things therefore be done by you with good order in Christ. Let the laity be subject to the deacons; the deacons to the presbyters; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans; Ch 9)

“Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. […] Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. […] Whatsoever [the bishop] shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans; Ch 8)

“Some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered together according to the commandment.” (Letter to the Magnesians; Ch 4)    

So, if you have the option of receiving sacraments from a priest who is operating with the recognition/consent of the bishop, why not do it? Even if a bishop were heterodox (as some SSPX attendees claim), why not work with his authority rather than against it? Isn’t it the Catholic thing to do? Today, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we can go to the Latin Mass at St. Stanislaus and receive wonderful Catholic formation, with the full consent of the Archbishop. Thank God for that. Let’s take full advantage of it.