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SSPX vs. Diocesan Priest: Baptism and a Larger Issue

THE FOLLOWING post from “Tridentinist” recently appeared on FishEaters, an Internet forum devoted to issues of interest to traditional Catholics:

We attend the SSPX and also the Traditional Mass offered by my brother, who is a priest, and has come to offer the Traditional Mass in terms of Summorum Pontificum, though he still also says the Novus Ordo. We go to him when the SSPX does not have Mass at our chapel (two Sundays per month). Some SSPX faithful refuse to go, saying they would rather not attend even a Traditional Mass, than any non-SSPX Mass.

We recently had our child baptised by this latter priest. We chose him as he is the baby’s uncle, would baptise the baby in the traditional rite, and indeed was very willing to do so.

However, the SSPX priest was unhappy about this, saying we were compromising our status as “traditionalists” and forgetting the battle for Tradition. We stressed that we only asked this priest to baptise, as he was the baby’s uncle, himself often said the TLM, and would baptise in the old rite. However, the SSPX side of the family refused to attend the baptism of their grandchild/nephew (they miss Mass rather than attend non-SSPX TLMs) and told us it was their duty to shun all association with the mainstream church, old rite or not (the “Novus Ordo instition” as they term it) lest they lose their faith.

Now the baptism is done, but I’d be interested in knowing what people, especially but not only SSPXers, would do in this case. Do you think it was sinful? Or compromising? Or a betrayal of Tradition?

This post is of interest not so much for the practical question it asks (Is an SSPX priest or a diocesan priest preferable as the minister of a baptism in the traditional rite?) but for the larger issue it raises.

The various elements that coalesce in this incident reflect a fundamental problem with the SSPX apostolate that has existed from the beginning: the Society has never really given a coherent answer to the question “Is the Novus Ordo Catholic?” And by “Novus Ordo” I mean not just the New Mass, but the whole new order of doctrine, discipline and worship officially approved by Paul VI and his successors.

This was the crux of the matter in our dispute with SSPX in the early 1980s, and it continues to cause crises within SSPX and departures from its ranks.

Nearly all SSPX departures go “left,” that is, back to the Novus Ordo institution in one way or another, because if you have the idea drummed into you that sedevacantism is “schismatic” and then finally discover all those dogmatic texts insisting that subjection to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation, logic (if not fear for your salvation) will lead you to put yourself under the authority of the man SSPX has been telling you is the Roman Pontiff.

Indeed, I received an e-mail a few days ago from someone informing me that a relative of hers who is a young priest in SSPX is just about to do this. (This is not the sort of stuff that SSPX will discuss and analyze in its publications and web apostolate; the policy is strictly “NON-DICI.”)

Tridentinist’s puzzlement about the SSPX priest and laymen objecting to the baptism by the parish priest is perfectly understandable.

If the only real issue is whether a Catholic is compromising his status as “a traditionalist” or whether he is “forgetting the battle for Tradition,” who gets to say what is traditional and what is not? Why not Tridentinist, just as well as SSPX?

And why object to baptism — in the traditional rite, no less — by a priest who is “in full communion” with the pope? Isn’t the priest’s status merely one that Bishop Fellay is seeking to obtain for the whole Society?

Archbishop Lefebvre, speaking of the disconnect between Paul VI’s words and his actions, famously said “we suffer from this continual incoherence.” The same could be said of the SSPX intellectual disconnect reflected in the case under discussion.

This has been going on for decades, as may be seen from the then-Father Sanborn’s 1984 article The Crux of the Matter.

In one sense, SSPX has a winning formula: on one hand, it can tell skeptical Catholics that it does indeed “recognize” the pope. On the other hand, SSPX is spared the inconvenience of actual subjection to him whom it “recognizes.” Support then rolls in from those who lack the theological sophistication to realize that a Catholic can’t have one without the other. Cha-ching!

So, on the level of principle, the matter of SSPX’s status remains in a state of suspended animation, nourished by the IV drip of “negotiations” and endless, near-Talmudic arguments over the meaning what Bp. Fellay said THIS week.

Meanwhile, the fundamental question — Is the Novus Ordo Catholic? — goes unanswered.