SSPX – the Dangers of a Cult Mentality

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Take the SSPX COVID-19 quiz now!

Previously we looked at clear, plain statements from three popes (and others) that confirmed that the relationship between the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) and the Catholic Church is not one of “full communion”. Now we’ll look at how they are a good example of a group with a cult mentality.

The SSPX defence boils down to, essentially, saying that the three popes had neither the competence nor authority to make the decisions and/or statements that they made.

In other words, squaring the circle.

The facts about the SSPX

FactAuthority
Archbishop Lefebvre’s act was a schismatic actPope St John Paul II
Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended until his deathPope Paul VI, Cardinal Ratzinger
The SSPX “has no canonical statusPope Benedict XVI
The SSPX clergy “do not legitimately exercise any ministryPope Benedict XVI
The SSPX lacks “full communion” with the Catholic ChurchPope Francis

Once we have a situation like that, anything and anyone can be questioned, and declared to be false at a whim. Pope St John Paul II didn’t know what he was saying, and couldn’t excommunicate properly. Vatican II was faulty. Pope Benedict XVI was delusional about the status of the SSPX. Pope Francis granted the SSPX something he was too thick to realise they already had all along. The earth is flat.

The International Seminary of Saint Pius X in Écône
The International Seminary of Saint Pius X in Écône

Once someone go down that road, then anything goes. Mode and age of baptism are not uniform amongst Christianity as a whole. Belief in the Eucharist is not uniform. The roles of grace and free will are not uniform.

The SSPX clung to one thing – a man, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. I don’t believe they clung to tradition. Pope St John Paul II made it clear that their schism was due to a misunderstanding of what tradition is. They clung to a man who told them what tradition was. There are lots of other traditionalists, all being told by other people what tradition is, and they all differ, yet they all live stuck in the past, each at their own preferred time. And when you have a hero like that, it’s very, very hard to admit he was wrong and walk away. This is cult mentality, and fundamentalism rather than traditionalism.

The Worldwide Church of God was a good example – abandoning Herbert Armstrong and his cult ideas destroyed the group and the normal Protestant denomination that emerged was tiny, and dozens of splinter groups remained, most claiming to be the true church inheriting Armstrong’s legacy. The same is the case for Seventh-day Adventism – the basis for their interpretation of the Bible is whatever their prophetess Ellen White wrote. Likewise the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the failed prophecies of their founders, all of which were true yet never came to pass.

In order for someone in those groups to successfully return to mainstream Christianity, they need to abandon their foundation. Likewise, in order for those deep in the SSPX wonderland to return to the Catholic Church, I think it would take a tremendous psychological force to break them free of Lefebvre and the static, even dying notion of “tradition” they couldn’t bring themselves to see beyond.

SSPX denialism

FactExcuse for denialism
Archbishop Lefebvre’s act was a schismatic actDespite the evidence, Pope St John Paul II didn’t have the right authority or knowledge, and so we don’t accept the facts
Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended until his deathDespite the evidence, Pope Paul VI / Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t have the right authority or knowledge, and so we don’t accept the facts
The SSPX “has no canonical statusDespite the evidence, Pope Benedict XVI didn’t have the right authority or knowledge, and so we don’t accept the facts
The SSPX clergy “do not legitimately exercise any ministryDespite the evidence, Pope Benedict XVI didn’t have the right authority or knowledge, and so we don’t accept the facts
The SSPX lacks “full communion” with the Catholic ChurchDespite the evidence, Pope Francis didn’t have the right authority or knowledge, and so we don’t accept the facts

Some traditionalists have taken the SSPX logic further, and rejected the papacy of recent popes, and even elected their own. The modern immature neo-traditionalist movement incited by hatred of Pope Francis is all over the place with its ideas about what is reality and what is not.

Some have gone as far as having leaders with multiple wives, blessed by God because they’re special. See the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as schismatic Catholic group “Order of St Charbel”. Kamm, leader of the latter, was eventually excommunicated by Pope Francis, just as Lefebvre was excommunicated by Pope St John Paul II.

And some are even more dangerous.

Again, this is a phenomenon that has played out before in insular sects, even large fairly mainstream ones.

Examples of cult claims and odd ideas

Cult claimCult in question
Ellen White’s writings are as inspired as the Bible isSeventh-day Adventism
Herbert Armstrong’s writings may eventually be added to the BibleVarious Church of God spin-offs
Members encouraged to take jobs that permit sabbath workSeventh-day Adventism
“Escape” to live in rural areas to avoid persecution by CatholicsSeventh-day Adventism
“Escape” to live in rural areas to avoid persecution and the worldDavid Koresh
Multiple wives allowed by the leader because God wills itWilliam Kamm, Order of St Charbel
Multiple wives allowed by the leader because God wills itWarren Jeffs, FLSD
GeocentrismCatholic fundamentalist conspiracy theorists
Conspiracy theories in generalFundamentalists in general

Sometimes they become more dangerous. The Seventh-day Adventists seem normal … they gave rise to the Branch Davidians run by David Koresh.

Archbishop Lefebvre illicitly saying Mass in 1981 while suspended a divinis
Archbishop Lefebvre illicitly saying Mass in 1981 while suspended a divinis

Cults lose their objectivity once they lose their foundation in the rational world. They imagine they can have multiple wives, or that science is just one big conspiracy and the Galileo really was wrong. Once they’ve lost that foundation, anything goes. Literally anything can happen. They can become UFO cults, geocentrist quacks, insular suicide cults. Sometimes just their ideas are dangerous.

The SSPX congregation here is not uniform. Some have weirder ideas than others. Almost all believe Pope Francis is the real pope. I got the strong impression that one or two have fallen for the geocentrist theory. I was harshly reprimanded for not believing that SARS-CoV-2 was released from a Wuhan lab as part of a government plot. I remember a sermon on why women shouldn’t be educated, and if they were educated, it should not be beyond the level of nurses or teachers (which is actually also a terrible insult to nurses and teachers who often have degrees in various subjects and then choose the vocation of teaching others). A lot, however, seem quite balanced.

Fundamentalists like this are in a world where their own religion – the Catholic Church – has left them behind. No matter what the (real) pope says, no matter what the facts are about their status in the Church, they cling to a sinking ship. The world around them has gone mad, their own Church has gone mad, and their own ideas about the way things should be is all they have. Their own ideas end up being anything – literally anything – that sets them apart from “normal”. Some reach the point where, if the pope said the sky was blue, they’d insist it was green. And their obstinacy intrudes on the real world too. Conspiracy theories abound.

Cult mentality in the COVID era

SSPX chapel quarantine notice, 25 March 2020
SSPX chapel quarantine notice, 25 March 2020

So, when the world is preparing for a potentially massive pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people, the first response of many is to reject the obvious and find some other way to deal with it. So, instead of preparing for disaster, it becomes a government plot.

Instead of legitimate government regulations meant to save lives, it’s religious persecution.

Instead of encouraging people to remain isolated to avoid spreading the plague and to save lives, as the real Catholic bishops did, they want to have underground Masses.

Instead of wearing masks, they disregard the evidence and the obvious and choose not to.

Instead of not singing, they fall for their leader’s claim that it’s the devil who doesn’t want them to sing.

Pope Francis calls this adolescent behaviour, and says of the priests who have supported the Church’s fight against COVID: “They were fathers, not adolescents”.

That is how, over a few decades, a small branch of normal Catholics can go from being normal Catholics to people isolated from their own faith by insular thinking, and conspiracy theorists, immunised against external facts, who can, in apparently good conscience, not give a flying rat’s arse about who they kill. As long as they can sing, as long as they can play their underground Mass games, as long as they can feel special about not needing masks, they can go about their holy lives without a concern for the neighbours God told them to love.

Legitimate COVID-19 preventionFundamentalist response
Stay at home, save livesWe’re being persecuted! Spread the plague!
Government regulationsThe law doesn’t apply to us! The law doesn’t apply to priests!
Wear masks to prevent spreadIt’s a conspiracy theory! Masks kill most surgeons who wear them all day, it’s prooooven!
Singing spreads virus extremely wellThe devil hates our singing so we’ll sing
If people work together to take the right precautions, we can save livesWe’re special because we’re True Catholics™

It wasn’t only the Cape Town SSPX that did this

There were similar problems in Canada, and France, and Switzerland. The ordinations in Switzerland on 27 and 29 July, as ceremonies, were beautiful, but the event was simultaneously demonstrative of a disgusting cult mentality. How many masks can you spot in the pictures below?

SSPX ordinations 27 June 2020 - no masks visible
SSPX ordinations 27 June 2020 – no masks visible
SSPX ordinations 29 June 2020 - no masks visible
SSPX ordinations 29 June 2020 – no masks visible

The outcome of this mentality is sad, but not really unexpected. This is how fringe groups can end up if they’re not careful. And they never are careful, because they were always right to begin with.

Piety is one thing. Devoutness too. Losing sight of reality and becoming a fanatical cult is another. Pastoral malpractice is even one level lower.

Beware of the SSPX, and don’t believe what they tell you about the status of their schism and their suspension in the Church. Beware of the false fundamentalist traditionalism growing out of dislike of Pope Francis. Already bishops are publicly acknowledging schismatic priests who go into schism when they deny the validity of Pope Francis’ papacy. It may not end up like the Branch Davidians, but we could have multiple antipopes running around soon. And you don’t want to be around when a pope particle and an antipope particle collide. It’s quite a bang.

Further reading:

SSPX and COVID series:
Part 1 – The SSPX – when a church goes COVID cult
Part 2 – Update on SSPX sect’s evasion of lockdown
Part 3 – Is the SSPX in schism from the Catholic Church?
Part 4 – SSPX – the Dangers of a Cult Mentality
Part 5 – The SSPX – COVID and religious quackery

SSPX is generally problematic:

Police show up after Mass, warn Canadian priest of fines for allegedly breaking COVID-19 orders – LSN

SSPX church fined for Easter Vigil service – The Tablet

SSPX ordinations in Écône, Switzerland – video 1video 2 – beautiful and simultaneously demonstrative of a disgusting cult mentality

The Christian Withdrawal Experiment – SSPX in Kansas, USA – The Atlantic

Other useful links:

Cult Education Institute – Society of St. Pius X

Life in a sect? – Jeff Mirus

Claire’s Story: Life in Two Cults – Sarah Steel, Medium … The cults: SSPX and William Kamm’s “Order of St Charbel”

A word of caution about the Society of Saint Pius X – Bishop Robert Morlino, Bishop of Madison

Pope Francis accuses priests who defied pandemic safety measures of acting like ‘adolescents’ – Religion News

The Latin Mass becomes a cult of toxic tradition – National Catholic Register

Most people voted: I disagree
Your reaction to this post:
  • I agree 
  • I disagree 
  • I am not sure 
  • Awesome 
  • Interesting 
  • Boring 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.