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With Friends Like These....

Chris Jackson
POSTED: 5/3/13

What is the key difference between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the SSPX? The LCWR is in “full communion” and holds a canonical status while the SSPX does not. This despite the fact that the SSPX holds fast to everything the Roman Catholic Church has taught and practiced for 2,000 years while, according to the National Catholic Register, the LCWR holds “‘radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith’ and dissent from Church teaching on topics including the sacramental male priesthood and homosexuality.”  So what gives, NCR?

( On April 19th Reuters posted a supposed news story entitled, “Catholic Rebel Group Criticizes Pope Francis’s focus on Service to the Poor.”  It consisted of Reuters’ Religion Editor Tom Heneghan’s rather biased and incorrect interpretation of Bishop Fellay’s March Letter to Friends & Benefactors .

On April 22, an SSPX priest and spokesman, Fr. Alain Lorans, wrote to the National Catholic Register to respond to this allegation resulting in an April 29th Register article entitled, “SSPX: We Didn’t Criticize Pope Francis; We Agree With Him.”  Thus, the Register author had a perfect opportunity to help a Catholic priest correct the record against a biased secular news agency. 

Although the first part of the article did post some of Fr. Lorans’ responses to the Reuters’ accusations, readers were then unfortunately treated to the author’s own additional critiques of the SSPX. Although the story is listed under the Register’s “Daily News” section as opposed to the commentary section, the article is dripping with bias.  For example, consider the following quote:

“It is an analysis of the current situation facing the Church, not a criticism of Pope Francis’ concern for the poor,” said Father Alain Lorans, spokesman for the traditionalist group, which holds no canonical status in the Church.

Whether relevant to the story or not, it is apparently important to remind Catholic readers, frequently lest they forget, of the only tidbit of information they need to know about the Society; namely that they “hold no canonical status in the Church.”  Of course the Protestants and the Orthodox aren’t even members of the Church, yet we never see a reminder stapled to the end of their comments in Catholic media. Can you imagine a Catholic newspaper printing the following, “…said Metropolitan Vladimir, spokesman for the schismatic Orthodox, who are outside of the Catholic Church.”  It seems that ecumenical courtesy applies to every group except the SSPX.

It is interesting to note, however, that the pejorative words today’s Catholic media uses against the SSPX have changed. In the past, they would not let a mention of the Society go by without attaching the word “schismatic” or “excommunicated.”  Now that the excommunications have been remitted and Rome no longer speaks of schism, they have been forced to soften their negative descriptors. It seems they are now reduced to “no canonical status” and “not in full communion.”  It is actually humorous to think of what qualifiers they will attach to quotations if the Society does obtain canonical status in the future. One can foresee the quotation above ending something like this “…said Father Alain Lorans, spokesman for the extreme traditionalist group, which only recently obtained a canonical status in the Church after years of schism.”

Of course the entire story Fr. Lorans is responding to is in reality a non-story manufactured by the secular press and furthered in part by the Catholic media.  Apparently this dynamic duo has been so successful at tarnishing the Society’s public image that absurd assertions like Bishop Fellay is “criticizing Pope Francis for his concern for the poor” are taken seriously.  Especially when in the very document at issue, Bishop Fellay states, “works of charity done for the poor, the needy, the infirm, and the sick have always been a true concern for the Church, and we must not excuse ourselves from it…”

As it turns out, bias against the Society is only one of the Register article’s problems. Another problem is that the author can’t seem to correctly identify who said what; a critical success factor in the world of journalism. For instance, the article attributes the following quotes directly to Bishop Fellay:

In his letter, Bishop Fellay noted other concerns that began before the pontificate of Pope Francis. He highlighted how those who adhere to Church Tradition are penalized, while “those who profess doctrines which are heterodox or who commit veritable sacrileges are in no way troubled.” He said it is “the logic of an abuse of authority”…

…He said he believes only the Successor of Peter can save the Church, and he advised the Holy Father to “surround himself with vigorous defenders of the faith.”

“Let him appoint them in the important dioceses,” he said. “Let him deign, by important documents, to proclaim truth, pursue error without fear of contradictions, without fear of schisms, without fear of questioning the pastoral guidelines of the [Second Vatican] Council”…

Although Traditionalists would agree with these statements, there is only one problem: Bishop Fellay never said them.  Instead, these are portions of an open letter to Pope John Paul II that Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Meyer penned thirty years ago. Bishop Fellay had quoted a section of this letter in his own letter to support his larger point.  However, this fact was nowhere mentioned in the Register article leading the reader to believe that Bishop Fellay was speaking directly to Pope Francis in his own words.

In addition, the author felt compelled to add his own rebuttal after each of the incorrectly attributed quotations. For instance, in response to the charge of an inequity of discipline between Traditionalists versus those who commit heresy and sacrilege, the author responds:

… as illustrated by the Holy Father’s affirmation of the “Doctrinal Assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Bishop Fellay’s comment would appear to be incorrect.

Ironically, this example actually demonstrates that Archbishop Lefebvre’s accusation of “abuse of authority” remains just as true in 2013 as it was in 1983. For what is the relevant key difference between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the SSPX? Surely the author knows the answer since he felt it necessary to state it previously. Indeed the answer is that the LCWR is currently in “full communion” with the Catholic Church and holds a canonical status while the SSPX does not. This despite the fact that the SSPX holds fast to everything the Roman Catholic Church has taught and practiced for 2,000 years while, according to the Register’s own news article, the LCWR holds “‘radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith’ and dissent from Church teaching on topics including the sacramental male priesthood and homosexuality.”[1] We are told that Pope Francis affirms this negative assessment of the LCWR. This is good. So what is the Vatican going to do about it? Well, unless the answer is immediate revocation of the LCWR’s canonical status until they sign a doctrinal preamble, the allegation of Archbishop Lefebvre stands vindicated.[2]

As for the Archbishop’s admonition to JPII to proclaim truth without fear of questioning the pastoral guidelines of the Second Vatican Council, the article states:

The latter comment regarding Vatican II would seem to indicate that the SSPX has set its course.

In a June 27, 2012 interview, Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, secretary of the Pontifical Council Ecclesia Dei, discussed the SSPX’s evaluation of the Second Vatican Council:

“To say [the documents of Vatican II] are not binding is sophistry. The Council contains swathes of the ordinary magisterium, which is de fide divina [of divine faith].

“[T]here’s nothing in the Council that is contrary to Tradition and … every text, or every part of it that is controversial, should be read in context of the Council — and read it in light of the Tradition. It seems to me, despite their difficulties, they should be able to do that.”

First, attempting to support the notion that the Society has now “set its course” regarding VCII  by quoting a text Archbishop Lefebvre wrote 30 years ago cannot help but be humorous. Has the Society ever had another course?  As for the quotes from Archbishop DiNoia, they convey his opinions. Opinions that are contradicted by learned theologians in “full communion” with the Church such as Mons. Brunero Gherardini.[3] In addition, the assertion that Vatican II was merely a pastoral and not an infallible Council was shared by none other than Cardinal Ratzinger himself. [4]

As we all know, it is commonplace for secular liberal news agencies to get stories wrong whether it be about the Church as a whole, or about the Society.  However, Catholic media, knowing this, needs to be as careful in examining secular claims about the Society as it is about Pope Francis or any group in “full communion” with the Church.  As the reporting on this story demonstrates, the media on all sides missed Bishop Fellay’s point, choosing instead to focus on Reuters’ sensational red herring.  The point of Bishop Fellay’s letter is that the primary mission of the Church is to save souls. To carry out this task, the Church must clearly set out the true teachings of the Church and discipline those who do not hold to them. The Church should do this not only for the sake of the erring soul, but to provide an example for other souls. 

The Church has always done and is still doing a commendable job and important work in serving the poor. However, the most important challenge the Church faces in 2013 is not the loss of souls due to physical poverty, but the loss of souls due to spiritual poverty. The frustration Bishop Fellay expresses in his March letter is at the heart of the crisis in the Church and is as valid now as it has been for the entire post-conciliar period.

Dr. von Hildebrand

It is a frustration that was also shared by a man that many Register readers greatly admire: Professor Dietrich Von Hildebrand. If those readers are not inclined to listen to Bishop Fellay, perhaps they will listen to these similar observations Dr. Von Hildebrand made as far back as 1973:

One of the most horrifying and widespread diseases in the Church today is the lethargy of the guardians of the Faith of the Church. I am not thinking here of those bishops who are members of the “fifth column,” who wish to destroy the Church from within, or to transform it into something com­pletely different. I am thinking of the far more numerous bishops who have no such intentions, but who make no use whatever of their authority when it comes to intervening against heretical theologians or priests, or against blasphemous performances of public worship. They either close their eyes and try, ostrich-style, to ignore the grievous abuses as well as appeals to their duty to intervene, or they fear to be attacked by the press or the mass media and defamed as reactionary, narrow-minded, or medieval. They fear men more than God. The words of St. John Bosco apply to them: “The power of evil men lives on the cowardice of the good.”[5]


[2] The LCWR sisters seem to be trembling in repentance and humility as a result of the Vatican assessment. Recent headlines from April 25th read, “LCWR leader to receive honorary doctorate” and LCWR president asks Pope Francis to promote women


[4] “The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.” (

[5] Hildebrand, Dietrich Von. The Devastated Vineyard. New York: Roman Catholic Books, 1973,p. 3.

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