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Articles: SSPX: Society of St. Pius X

Letter to Bishop Bernard Fellay
Rev. Robert L. Neville
A young priest outlines his reasons for the SSPX Superior General.


Your Excellency:

      Since the departure of several priests to the Society of St. John, I have been thinking more seriously about certain things which were never really clear in my mind. Lately I have been thinking about authority and infallibility, as well as their respective relation to the Society of St. Pius X and to the Church. I have come to the conclusion that the Society has many inherent errors and contradictions and I will attempt to enumerate them.

      I believe that I am correct in saying that the Society maintains that John Paul II and the hierarchy in communion with him have authority and jurisdiction. If this is the case, then one must logically conclude that their ordinary universal magisterium and disciplinary reforms are infallible. One is also forced to conclude that this authority must be recognized as such, not only theoretically, but also in practice.

      Either we can save our souls by accepting Vatican II and following its changes, or we cannot. If we can save our souls by following Vatican II, then we as Catholics must accept it, along with the various reforms which ensued from it. If this were the case there would then be no real reason to resist these changes, and the work which the Society of St. Pius X does would not be necessary. If we cannot save our souls by following Vatican II and its changes, then it is impossible that they proceed from the authority of the Church, which is infallible in her ordinary universal magisterium and universal disciplines. Thus the position of the Society of St. Pius X is equally wrong, because it recognizes an authority from which come false doctrines and disciplines.

      Either John Paul II is the pope or he is not. If he is the pope, then the masses offered by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X mentioning his name in the Canon are schismatic, because they are offered outside of and even against his authority. If this is the case, the Society is raising its altars against the altar of the Vicar of Christ, which is certainly a schismatic act. If he is not the pope, then the same masses are still schismatic, since they are offered outside the Church and in union with a false pope.

      The Society’s practice of “sifting” or picking and choosing with regard to the magisterium, law, and disciplines of the Church is not supported by the Church herself nor by her theologians. This has rather been the practice of heretics and schismatics, such as the Gallicans and Jansenists. In such a case, the reason for adhering to any given teaching, law or discipline is not because the Roman Pontiff has himself decreed that it is to be adhered to, but rather because the Society of St. Pius X has “sifted” it. The “golden sifter” of the Society has in effect replaced the infallible magisterium of the Church.

“What good is it to proclaim aloud the dogma of the supremacy of St. Peter and his successors? What good is it to repeat over and over declarations of faith in the Catholic Church and of obedience to the Apostolic See when actions give the lie to these fine words? Moreover, is not rebellion rendered all the more inexcusable by the fact that obedience is recognized as a duty? Again, does not the Authority of the Holy See extend, as a sanction, to the measures which We have been obliged to take, or is it enough to be in communion of faith with this See without adding the submission of obedience, a thing which cannot be maintained without damaging the Catholic Faith?…

In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this see), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.” (From the encyclical Quae in patriarchatu of Pope Pius IX, September 1, 1876, to the clergy and faithful of the Chaldean Rite.)

      Inconsistency in the Society’s position can be clearly seen in its liturgical practices. On the one hand, the Society claims to adhere solely to the rubrics of John XXIII, and it condemns those who do not. On the other hand, the Society does not itself follow the rubrics of John XXIII. It has rather mixed together a wide array of liturgical practices that no pope would recognize either before or after Vatican II. This was more than obvious at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary during Holy Week. This practice of picking and choosing is typical of a non-Catholic sect.

      The inconsistency of the Society’s position may also be seen in its attitude toward sedevacantism. The Society considers it to be schismatic, yet it is well known that many of its priests are in fact sedevacantists, and that they do not mention the name of John Paul II in the Canon of the Mass. This makes no sense. If John Paul II is the pope, then these priests are schismatics, and they should be corrected or else expelled.

      I clearly remember the rector of the seminary saying that, “One day we might have to be sedevacantists.” We were discussing the latest theological aberrations of John Paul II. Who is to decide when we are to be sedevacantists? There is really no difference between him deciding in the future and anyone else deciding right now. The Magisterium of the Church should decide for us, not the “sifter” of the Society of St. Pius X.

      The inconsistency of the Society’s position may further be seen in its attitude toward marriage annulments. It is a clear fact that the annulment of a Catholic marriage is reserved to the Apostolic See. Now the Society claims that this same See is occupied by John Paul II. At the very same time, the Society has established a “Canonical Commission” to render decisions regarding annulments. This commission usurps the very authority which the Society supposedly recognizes in Rome. These declarations of nullity made by the Society lack the force of law, because they proceed from the Society’s ”Canonical Commission,” which lacks the necessary jurisdiction. I would point out that the Society has declared Paul VI’s suppression of it null and void because he didn’t follow the formalities of the law, but it has not hesitated to act in the same manner with regard to annulments. The only difference is that the Society is bound to the formalities of the law. Hence these declarations are themselves null, because they have no juridical character. At the same time, the priests of the Society are expected to recognize and promote these “annulments,” use them, and administer sacraments to people who are in fact living in public sin. This is somewhat similar to the case of King Henry VIII, and I as a priest will have nothing to do with it.

      The Society operates all throughout the world without making the slightest effort to approach those whom it claims to have authority. Obviously the Society doesn’t have ordinary jurisdiction, so its apostolate must be justified by something else. The “something else” can only be the principle of epikeia, which is the favorable and just interpretation of the mind of the legislator. But epikeia cannot be invoked if the authority can be approached without difficulty. Here we see another inconsistency of the Society, that it justifies its apostolate with the principle of epikeia, even though this authority can be approached without difficulty. Furthermore, this “authority” condemns the Society as schismatic, defiant, and disobedient. The authority of the Church is the authority of Christ. If the work of the Society is for the good of souls, the authority of Christ would not condemn it. If the authority of Christ has condemned the work of the Society, then it cannot be for the good of souls. The real problem lies in the fact that they (John Paul II and the hierarchy in communion with him) have abandoned the true magisterium and disciplines of the Church, have forced harmful ones on the faithful, and have consequently lost their authority. See Denzinger 1450.

      The Society claims that its suppression and the excommunication of its bishops are invalid. The Roman Pontiff is not bound to follow the formalities of law, not even of Canon Law. The Society’s appeal is against the very authority which it claims to uphold in the post Vatican II “popes.” This defiance of authority is typical of a sect.

“…For the Catholic Church has always considered schismatic all those who obstinately resist the authority of her legitimate prelates, and especially her Supreme Pastor, and any who refuse to execute their orders and even to recognize their authority. The members of the Armenian faction of Constantinople, having followed this line of conduct, no one, under any pretext, can believe them innocent of the sin of schism, even if they had not been denounced as schismatic by Apostolic authority.

In fact, the Church, as the Fathers have taught us, “is the people united to the priest and the flock adhering to its shepherd;” whence it follows that the bishop is in the Church and that the Church is in the bishop; and if a man be not with his bishop, he is no longer in the Church.”… From the encyclical Quartus Supra of Pope Pius IX, January 6, 1873, to the Armenians.

      The Society has had in the past “negotiations” with Rome. Only one thing is to be done with regard to the authority of Rome, and that is to humbly submit to its decisions. This has been the constant practice of true Catholics throughout the ages. Only schismatics “negotiate” with Rome.

      It is impossible that someone could be at the same time a true Catholic Pope and promulgate error by means of the ordinary universal magisterium. Likewise it is impossible for a true Catholic pope to promulgate evil ceremonies, rites, or disciplines for the universal Church. But John Paul II has done this. This is evident in his approving the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which allows non-catholics to receive the Eucharist. This is evident in his having recognized an “apostolic mission” in schismatic and Lutheran bishops. All this destroys the unity of Faith. It is therefore impossible that John Paul II be a true Catholic Pope; otherwise we would have to conclude that the ordinary universal magisterium and disciplines of the Church are not infallible. But this is contrary to the Faith. See Denzinger 1683 and 1792. Also see CIC 1323.

      The ordinary universal magisterium is infallible. The Church of Christ cannot neglect the truth, much less can it persecute those who confess it. See Denzinger 1450.

      It is impossible that someone who has placed himself outside the Roman Catholic Church through profession of public heresy be at the very same time the head of the Church. But John Paul II has placed himself outside the Church through profession of public heresy. Therefore it is impossible that he be the head of the Roman Catholic Church. It is obvious that someone could not be the head of something of which he is not even a member. John Paul II has taught heretical things, such as the following:

        All men are saved. (Osservatore Romano, May 6, 1980)

        The Mystical Body of Christ is not exclusively identified with the Roman Catholic Church. (Osservatore Romano, July 8, 1980)

        The Catholic Church is incapable of giving credibility to the Gospel, unless there is a “reunion of Christians.” (Osservatore Romano, May 20, 1980)

        A properly ordered society is one in which all religions are given free reign to practice, proselytize, and propagate. (Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanae.) John Paul II says that this document has a “particular binding force.”

        Non-Catholic religions are a means of salvation. (Vatican II decree on Ecumenism.) This is heretical, since it is directly contrary to Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, which Pope Pius IX called a notissimum catholicum dogma. But John Paul II promulgates Vatican II. He therefore adheres to heresy, he publicly professes it, and what is worse, he attempts to impose it upon the Church.

      These are not the statements of a Catholic, especially not of one who took the oath against Modernism before his ordination. It is impossible that John Paul II be the legitimate Successor to St. Peter. Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia. If John Paul II is the infallible head of the Church, then all his actions as pope are of the Church. It is true that popes have erred on certain points of theology and made mistakes in the past, but these were isolated incidents which did not affect the whole Church. The case of John Paul II is entirely different. If one holds that he is the pope, then one must assuredly admit that he has erred in his official capacity as Vicar of Christ by imposing upon the Church an entirely new religion foreign to the Catholic Religion. He has without question implemented doctrines and disciplines which are contrary to the previous ones. This is contrary to the promise of Our Lord given to us in St. Matthew’s Gospel. A true pope cannot in his official capacity destroy the Church. “…And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven.” MT 16:18-19

      “The authority of the Sovereign Pontiff is great, but it does not destroy, it builds up; it does not suppress, it supports…” From an allocution of Pope Pius IX to the Vatican Council, July 18, 1870.

      The Magisterium of the Church is infallible both in an ordinary and in an extraordinary way. Yet the teaching of Vatican II and the post conciliar popes is full of error. It is impossible that this error come from the infallible Magisterium of the Church, either ordinary or extraordinary. Vatican II, if it were Catholic, would at the very least fall under the category of the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church. It was not an informal meeting. It was an assembly of the Pope and bishops which certainly produced teachings with regard to Faith and morals. Now Vatican II, instead of clearly teaching that the Church of Christ is exclusively identified with the Catholic Church, taught that the Church of Christ merely subsists in the Catholic Church. This is expressly contrary to Satis Cognitum of Leo XIII, Mortalium Animos of Pius XI, and Mystici Corporis of Pius XII. Who are we to believe? Since the ordinary universal magisterium is infallible, there are only two possibilities which face us. Either Vatican II was a false council or the Church has erred in teaching. There can be no middle solution. See Denzinger 1683,1792, 1449 and also CIC 1323.

      If John Paul II is the supreme authority of the Church, then all Catholics must submit to his authority. The refusal to do so would result in schism, owing to its very definition. Now the Society of St. Pius X in practice refuses to submit to the authority of John Paul II. Its priests celebrate Mass and hear confessions in defiance of the bishops who have been appointed by John Paul II. If these bishops truly have authority over the various dioceses, how can that authority be recognized, but at the same time not obeyed? If John Paul II and the hierarchy in communion with him have authority and jurisdiction, then the Society of St. Pius X is raising its altars against the altar of the Vicar of Christ.

“…all those who glory in the title of Catholic must not only be united to him in matters of faith and dogmatic truth, but also be submissive to him in matters of liturgy and discipline.” From the Apostolic Letter Non Sine Gravissimo of Pope Pius IX, February 24, 1870, to the Apostolic Delegate at Constantinople.


      I would also like to respond to some objections which might be made against my departure.

To those who will say that I am not faithful to my engagement: I answer that an engagement is a means to serve Almighty God and His Church. Where it becomes evident that I cannot serve God and His Church by remaining in the Society of St. Pius X, the engagement would obviously cease to have any obligation upon me. The Society is full of contradictions, which are never pleasing to God. This being the case, I am obliged to leave.

To those who will call me a traitor for supporting “the nine”: I answer that my decision to leave the Society of St. Pius X has nothing to do with the events which transpired in the Northeast in 1983. It solely concerns fidelity to the Church’s teaching concerning her own infallibility and indefectibility. I would still be forced in conscience to make the same decision even if “the nine” were not around.

To those who will say that I accepted my ordination fraudulently from the Society: I respond first that I accepted ordination from God and from the Church. Secondly, I never seriously pondered these problems and the necessity to leave, until the recent departure of two priests and the Society’s condemnation of them highlighted certain ecclesiological principles, which in turn demonstrated the inconsistency of the Society’s position.

To those who will say that the discipline of the Church is not infallible: I answer that there is an intimate connection between it (discipline) and doctrine. The very word discipline is derived from discere, which means to learn. The Church efficaciously teaches through her discipline, just as we must, if we follow our conscience, act according to our beliefs. Lex orandi, lex credendi. The Church teaches the faithful especially through the sacred liturgy. If the Church were to effectively impose a liturgy which were harmful to souls, she would certainly be, in effect, teaching error.

      “Ecclesia est infallibilis in rebus fidei et morum: atqui per leges disciplinares Ecclesia, licet not doctrinaliter vel theoretice, tamen practice et effective circa res fidei et morum iudicat, easque edocet: lex enim disciplinaris iudicium doctrinale involvit. Error ergo in legibus disciplinaribus errorem circa res fidei et morum importaret ac fideles a doctrina Christi averteret…Ecclesia per leges disciplinares, licet indirecte tantum et modo practico doceat, tamen efficacissime docet: per praxim enim vel observationem legum doctrina quae in lege involuta est, mentibus hominum efficacissime quasi infigitur…” (Schultes, P. Reginaldo-Maria, O.P. De Ecclesia Catholica Praelectiones Apologeticae. Parisiis: Lethielleux, 1925. pp. 319-320.)

      It is therefore of Faith that the Church cannot, through the liturgy of the Mass, incite the faithful to impiety.

 “Si quis dixerit, caeremonias, vestes et externa signa, quibus in Missarum celebratione Ecclesia Catholica utitur, irritabula impietatis esse magis quam officia pietatis: anathema sit.” (Council of Trent, Session XXII, Canon 7.) Denzinger 954.

 “It would be beyond any doubt blameworthy and entirely contrary to the respect with which the laws of the Church should be received by a senseless aberration to find fault with the regulation of morals, and the laws of the Church and her ministers; or to speak of this discipline as opposed to certain principles of the natural law, or to present it as defective, imperfect, and subject to civil authority.” Taken from Mirari Vos of Gregory XVI.

 “Are they not trying, moreover, to make of the Church something human; are they not openly diminishing her infallible authority and the divine power which guides her, in holding that her present discipline is subject to decay, to weakness, and to other failures of the same nature, and in imagining that it contains many elements which are not only useless but even prejudicial to the well being of the Catholic religion?” Taken from Quo Graviora of Gregory XVI.

To those who will say that we do not have the right to judge the Pope: I answer by making a distinction: that we cannot judge him with juridical authority, I concede; that we cannot judge his deeds and enactments by comparing them to the teaching and discipline of the Church, I deny. The Society of St. Pius X makes these judgments everyday when it sifts the magisterium, the laws and disciplines which emanate from the Vatican, and when it carries on its worldwide apostolate in defiance of John Paul II. What the Society fails to do is to draw the logical conclusions from the disagreement which it finds between the Vatican II magisterium and practice on the one hand, and the Catholic magisterium and practice on the other.

      With these things in mind, I must in conscience resign from the Society of St. Pius X. I am willing and ready to celebrate two Masses in Redford and one in Mancelona on Sunday December 21, but please be advised that I fully intend to explain to the faithful why I have left the Society of St. Pius X.

      The Society condemned the priests who recently left to establish themselves under the authority which it supposedly recognizes. It will also condemn me for refusing to make its numerous contradictions and inconsistencies the very basis for my priestly apostolate. Be that as it may, the God of truth is my judge.

Respectfully yours in the Divine Infant,

Reverend Robert L. Neville

St. Joseph’s Church

28049 School Section Road

Richmond, Michigan 48062

December 17, 1997

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