The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)
The Society was founded in 1970 by
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a retired missionary bishop who had served in Africa, in order to perpetuate the traditional liturgical rites of the Church. The previous year Blessed Paul VI had introduced a new missal in response to the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council. Reformed rites of the other sacraments would follow in the years following.
While Archbishop Lefebvre did not reject the possibility of reforming the sacramental rites (he had voted for the Council document that called
for it), he did reject the specific reforms of the Mass promulgated in 1969 in the Missal of Paul VI. For this reason, the Society he founded uses the 1962 Missal and the other sacramental ritual books of that era.
In 1971 Archbishop Lefebvre started a seminary in Ecône,
Switzerland, to train priests for the Society. Despite being specifically warned by the Pope not to ordain them, the Archbishop ordained the first ones to the priesthood in 1976. Those ordinations were valid, but illicit. Pope Paul VI immediately suspended the Archbishop's priestly faculties, and those
of the men he had ordained. Those suspensions remain effective, and apply to all new ordinands of the Society, until such time as the Holy See regularizes the status of the SSPX and its clergy.
In 1989, Archbishop Lefebvre, now fearing that he would
die and leave no one to ordain priests for the SSPX, sought an
agreement with the Holy See for the lawful continuation of the Society.
After reaching an agreement with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, acting for Pope St. John Paul II,
Archbishop Lefebvre broke the agreement and, in an act which was ipso
facto schismatic, ordained 4 bishops without a papal mandate. This action
incurred an automatic excommunication under canon 1387, confirmed a few days later by Decree
of the Holy See. Twenty years later (January 2009), as part of another effort at reconciliation on the part of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI lifted these excommunications. Despite this, to date reconciliation has not be achieved.
Therefore, until the status of the SSPX is regularized by the Holy See, the bishops and priests of the Society remain suspended from the exercise of Holy Orders. Their celebration of the sacraments are valid but illicit, except for those sacraments requiring jurisdiction (Penance, Marriage), which are both invalid and illicit. This means that sacramental absolution by a Society priest is invalid for lack of jurisdiction, a requirement in all circumstances but the danger of death (canon 976). Similarly, lacking jurisdiction, marriages witnessed by SSPX clergy would also be invalid, for defect of the "Catholic form", which requires witnessing by one's bishop or proper pastor or a dispensations for other circumstances (canon 1108).
For both Penance and Matrimony, while it is theoretically possible that a particular absolution or marriage might be valid due to "common error," in which the penitent or couple are ignorant of the priest's lack of jurisdiction (which the Church then supplies by law, canon 144), given the notoriety of the canonical status of the SSPX it seems highly implausible in fact that such cases exist, since willful ignorance provides no such excuse.
Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP)
In the circumstances of the 1989 episcopal ordinations, some SSPX clergy and seminarians, not wanting to go into schism, sought an
agreement with the Holy See. This request resulted in the founding of the Sacerdotal (Priestly) Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).
This immediate erection of
the Fraternity by the Holy See, without all the preliminaries of time and formality
usually required, was a tremendous charity by the Pope toward the
former members of the SSPX, who have since returned it with loyalty and
faithfulness, together with their tremendous devotion to the Traditional rites, which is
their proper charism.
The Fraternity, therefore, celebrates the Mass and other Sacraments
according to the Missal and ritual books of 1962, validly and licitly, in complete communion with the local Ordinary and with the Roman Pontiff.
More information about the Fraternity can be found at: FSSP.ORG
(revised May 2015)