Unorthodox Catholic sect celebrates Latin Mass in BR

Daily Reveille, Louisiana State University/November 19, 2007

Chances are the average Roman Catholic has never heard of the Society of St. Pius X.

With priests in more than 25 countries, the society is the world's largest traditionalist Catholic priestly society. But many mainstream Catholics question the society's validity since the excommunication of its founder in 1988.

The Society of St. Pius X celebrates the Latin mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel on North Sherwood Forest Boulevard three times a week.

Charles Rotolo, coordinator at the chapel, argues they are part of the Roman Catholic Church, and their founder was never excommunicated.

"I have been fighting for the society since 1962," Rotolo said. "There were never any documents to support any excommunication."

Founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a French Roman Catholic bishop, the Society of St. Pius X developed in opposition to certain reforms made during the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican from 1962 to 1965. One of the main changes included administering the mass in English rather than the traditional Latin.

The Rev. Gerard Beck, first assistant in the Society of St. Pius X district office, said the society refused to accept the modernization of the new order mass and Catechism changes.

"They have gone so far as to water down church doctrine," Beck said. "The goal of Vatican II was to leave people to their own good will and no longer try to bring people to the truth. We have to change with the changing times, but Vatican II ended up hiding the truth. We fight against these changes with everything that we have. Of course, that is not the modern way, but we do it without apology."

Beck said the society counteracted the reforms of Vatican II and continues to try to hold on to what the church taught prior to the council. He said the council brought in non-Catholics to remove things that they found offensive.

"For example, the crucifix is removed or put to one side," he said. "The altar, which emphasizes that the mass is a sacrifice, was replaced by a table. The tabernacle is also removed to the side. We refused these changes to the mass."

Lefebvre consecrated four bishops in 1988, against the orders of Pope John Paul II, refusing to compromise with the pope because it was through these bishops that priests received ordination to progress the society. As a result, the Holy See, the Catholic Church's central government headed by the pope, declared the excommunication of Lefebvre from the church.

Today, the canonical authority of the excommunication continues to be a controversial issue for Lefebvre's supporters and mainstream members of the Catholic Church.

The Rev. Than Vu, pastor for Christ the King, said there is no question that the society is not in full communion with the church. But he explained despite mainstream beliefs, they were never excommunicated from the church. While their founder was excommunicated in 1988, Vu said the society did not incur the penalty of excommunication because they were not part of the church to begin with.

"They claim to be the Catholic Church of old," Vu said. "But they do not recognize anything that happened since the Second Vatican Council. So they are not in full communion with the church."

To be in full communion with the church, one must accept everything the Catholic Church teaches. Vu said the church tolerated the society until Lefebvre began ordaining bishops. He said in a sense, this put them outside of the Catholic Church.

"History is complicated," Vu said. "At what point does the society step outside of the church?"

For college students seeking to explore different religions, this conflicting information can be confusing on both parts. Vu said many theologians and priests disagree on the society's acceptance in the Catholic Church despite the society's claims to be part of the church.

Allie Solomon, psychology sophomore and reformed Jew, said that from an outsider's view, the matter seems more politically motivated than religious.

"I have never heard of this society," she said. "But religion should be more about faith rather than who is a member and who is not."

Stephanie Rios, undecided junior and Roman Catholic, said she has never heard of the society, but she thinks she may have attended one of their masses in New Orleans without even knowing it.

"I have been to a mass in New Orleans that was in Latin," Rios said. "The arrangements were different from a normal Catholic Mass. I think I would check out the society even if I may not like it."

Beck said the society is absolutely part of Catholic Church but is not always accepted as belonging to the church by many Catholics. He said the society accepts the pope's authority but refuses to go along with a changing of church doctrine that contradicts what came before.

"We are entirely part of the Catholic Church," he said. "To break from the Catholic Church, you have to refuse what the church teaches, which we do not. Or to refuse to worship with the church, which we do not. Or to not accept the authority of the church, which we do not."

Rotolo said if a student attends mass at Our Lady of Sorrows, they will "see the real thing." But Vu said their celebration is not a full expression of what the Catholic Church believes.

"Since they are not in communion with the Catholic Church, the issue of how they do the mass cannot be said to lawful or unlawful," Vu said. "Even now, in the Catholic Church for priests who are in full communion with the church and celebrate mass without observing all the rules they are celebrating it unlawfully."

Today, isolated cases persist in which local bishops strive to have the local chapters of the society excommunicated, but ecclesiastical authorities in Rome and Canon lawyers have overturned their attempts.

Vu said there continues to be a fine line between whether they are schismatic. He said most people think they are, but others disagree.

Beck said some mainstream Catholics quietly encourage the society in what they do. He said without them holding the line to stabilize the Vatican II changes, things would be crazier than they are today.

"But you will get bishops and cardinals who hate us because they are for changing what the church has always done," he said. "There is a mixed bag of opinions out there."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.