Schismatic group expels its own rebels

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre´s Society of St Pius X has been undergoing its own crisis of authority, with its leader Bishop Bernard Fellay being forced to expel two French priests who had criticised his leadership.

Bishop Felay last week announced the expulsion of Fr Philippe Laguérie, who had criticised conditions inside the Society´s seminaries.

Bishop Fellay, complaining that his critics were causing a breach of solidarity within the Society, ordered them to leave France, assigned them to new posts in Mexico. Father Laguérie refused, and was expelled.

Fr Laguérie, a pastor for 25 years, reacted to the expulsion order by charging that the SSPX leadership had indulged in an unjustified exercise of their power to stifle criticism, creating a crisis that would "put the entire Society in a very grave situation."

Catholic World News sources point out the the Vatican has no power to intervene in the dispute because there are no official ties between the Vatican and the Society.

The traditionalist group broke from Rome in June 1988, when its founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated for ordaining bishops without a mandate from the Holy See.

Controversies within the traditionalist movement have become widespread, an unnamed Vatican official noted, "particularly in the US, where small unattached congregations have formed." The crisis in France, he suggested, could demonstrate that the Lefebvrist movement has failed to establish a workable system of authority.

The Vatican, which has made two significant moves to reconcile traditionalist Catholics in recent years, has not commented. 

Taking a break from judging annulments earlier today, I visited a number of French traditionalist websites. I also had the opportunity, yesterday, to speak with a friend of mine who is a canonist from France following the situation as well as another friend who keeps tabs on the traditionalist movement in both the English and the French speaking world. Everyone agrees -- the situation has degenerated into total chaos, as nobody knows exactly what is going on with the highly-respected French SSPX clergy that have criticized what they see as the SSPX's growing rigidity. (Note to Brian Mershon, please ignore my private email to you earlier today.)

It does appear that Rome has refused to take competency over the case, more-or-less stating that the SSPX denied Rome's jurisdiction over them when Lefebvre carried out a schismatic act through the 1988 episcopal consecrations. Beyond that, Rome refuses to comment other than to say, "Our door remains open for their return to full communion."

Beyond that, the rhetoric, polemic and accusations suggest that indeed civil war is breaking out among the laity and clergy within the SSPX's French District. In fact, two websites have now popped up that are exclusively devoted to tracing all the news stories associated with the crisis. What I find personally find interesting is that every news report, commentary, polemic, etc... mentions Fr. Aulagnier's expulsion from the SSPX around this time last year.

In the months that followed, it appears that the SSPX more-or-less tried to sweep Fr. Aulagnier's expulsion under the rug. But in so doing, even the regime currently in charge of the SSPX had to admit the important role played by Fr. Aulagnier in the founding of the SSPX. This is probably why the SSPX appeared to hope the issue would go away.

Yet it is also well-known that Fr. Aulagnier was a close friend of Fr. Laguerie as well as Fr. de Tanouarn -- two of the SSPX's leading priests. (As Fr. Laguerie's assistant, Fr. Henri appears to have just happened into the situation). It is also well-known that a number of French (and some American) SSPX priests were not happy with Fr. Aulagnier's expulsion. Therefore, I will venture to guess that the current SSPX chaos is the effect of Fr. Aulagnier's expulsion coming back to haunt Bishop Fellay. As for the particular details, this is the first time in almost fourteen years of being a traditionalist that I find the fog of war too thick to reasonably discern what is going on. (What I find even more troubling is that behind the scenes, under the flag of truce, other SSPX and traditionalist commentators with whom I am in contact have admitted to having the same problem.)

So if I can end on a personal note to the moderate SSPX clergy and their supporters who follow this blog, I'm more than happy to abide by the flag of truce and keep you guys in prayer while you fight whatever battles need to be fought, but I honestly cannot make heads-or-tails of what is happening. But like Rome has said, the door is open for you return. I will pray that God gives you the necessary strength to walk through it.