Vatican Efforts to Reconcile with the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX)

On January 21, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Vatican Congregation of Bishops, lifted the excommunications of four bishops who had been ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). These ordinations, which occurred on June 30, 1988, were conducted in violation of directives to the contrary by Pope John Paul II. Consequently, all the parties were excommunicated by the him the next day. The Society, founded as a repudiation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, rejects the ecumenical and interreligious outreach of the Council, which it believes contradicts its understanding of Catholic "Tradition."

The four bishops—whose ordinations were valid but not licit—are Richard Williamson, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Bernard Fellay and Alphonso de Galarret. The controversy generated by the pope's action was intensified by an interview given by one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, in which he reiterated his denial that the Shoah (Holocaust) had resulted in the deaths of six million Jews in gas chambers.

On March 10, 2009, Pope Benedict sent an extraordinary letter to the world's Catholic bishops in which clarified that his outreach to the SSPX was part of the papal work of unity and that he was unaware of Richard Williamson's attitudes toward the Holocaust. The Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" would discuss with the SSPX the Society's doctrinal difficulties with the Second Vatican Council in an effort to reconcile it with the Catholic Church. The ensuing conversations between the Vatican and the SSPX have been unsuccessful in achieving reconciliation.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their illicit ordination as bishops, on June 27, 2013, the three remaining SSPX bishops issued a statement that definitively rejects the documents on the Second Vatican Council, apparently ending any hope of rapprochement.

This page charts the relevant developments.


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# Article Title Date Author
1 German court quashes appeal by Holocaust-denying bishop September-23-2013 Agence France-Presse
2 Italian SSPX: Pope Francis in Lampedusa July-19-2013 Mauro Tranqillo
3 Declaration on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the [SSPX] episcopal consecrations June-27-2013 SSPX Bishops
4 The pope’s unfinished business: Outreach to traditionalist SSPX March-05-2013 RNS: Alessandro Speciale
5 CCCB comment on reported remarks by Bishop Fellay January-17-2013 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
6 "Unthinkable" to Question the Council January-15-2013 Cardinal Kurt Koch
7 Letter to Members of USCCB Catholic-Jewish Dialogues January-15-2013 Bishop Denis J. Madden
8 Calling Jews 'enemies' is 'unacceptable,' Vatican spokesman says January-08-2013 CNS: Carol Glatz
9 ADL Calls Head of Catholic Sect an 'Unrepentant Anti-Semite' After He Declares Jews 'Enemies of the Church' January-08-2013 Anti-Defamation League
10 SSPX head says Vatican sent mixed messages during reconciliation talks January-07-2013 CNS: Carol Glatz
11 SSPX USA on Bishop Fellay's comment "enemies of the Church" January-05-2013 SSPX USA DIstrict
12 SSPX head on Jews as "enemies of the church" December-28-2012 (SSPX) Bishop Bernard Fellay
13 The Permanent Value of Nostra Aetate November-08-2012 Cardinal Kurt Koch
14 Declaration of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" October-27-2012 Ecclesia Dei Commission
15 ADL Welcomes Expulsion Of Holocaust Denying Bishop From Traditionalist Catholic Sect October-24-2012 Anti-Defamation League
16 Pope's Bid to Win Over Catholic Rebels Seems at Dead End September-30-2012 Reuters: Tom Heneghan
17 A new chapter in the Society of St. Pius X saga July-02-2012 Lisa Palmieri-Billig
18 Traditionalists and Rome strike contrasting notes on Jews May-15-2012 CNS: Francis X. Rocca
19 Communiqué on the Society of St. Pius X March-16-2012 Holy See Press Office
20 Jews worried by Vatican gesture to traditionalists September-16-2011 AP: Nicole Winfield
21 Communique concerning the Society of St. Pius X September-14-2011 VIS press release
22 Traditionalist bishop: Vatican talks show little progress February-22-2011 John Thavis, Catholic News Service
23 New Information about the SSPX episode August-27-2010 John Allen, NCR
24 AP: Bishop convicted for denying Holocaust April-16-2010 Verena Schmitt-Roschmann
25 Reuters: "Bishop Williamson says Vatican-SSPX talks 'dialogue of the deaf'” January-19-2010 Tom Heneghan
26 "Embarrassment for the Catholic Church: Bishop Williamson Unrepentent in Holocaust Denial" January-02-2010 Peter Wensierski and Steffen Winter
27 Bishop Williamson: "Difficult Discussions" April-18-2009 Richard Williamson
28 The Tablet: "German SSPX shuns Pope's updated prayer " April-17-2009 The Tablet
29 Letter to Catholic Bishops on the Remission of the Excommunication of SSPX Bishops March-10-2009 Benedict XVI
30 NY Times: "Vatican Calls the Apology of a Bishop Insufficient" February-28-2009 Rachel Donadio
31 ANSA: "Bishop Fellay rejects Vatican Council" February-27-2009 ANSA
32 Statement of Regret February-26-2009 Richard Williamson
33 Statement of Toronto Area Sisters of Sion February-25-2009 Toronto Area Sisters of Sion
34 Reuters: "German Catholic leader wants Williamson response now" February-15-2009 Reuters: Erik Kirschbaum
35 Tablet: "SSPX and German bishops square up for battle over Vatican II reforms" February-14-2009 Christa Pongratz-Lippitt and Robert Mickens
36 Address to Delegates of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations February-12-2009 Benedict XVI
37 Spiegel Interview with Bishop Richard WIlliamson February-09-2009 Spiegel Online
38 Society of Saint Pius X Distances Itself from Holocaust Denial February-09-2009 Spiegal Online
39 AP: Argentina orders Holocaust-denying bishop out February-09-2009 AP: Debora Rey
40 Reuters: "Holocaust-denier removed from Argentine seminary" February-08-2009 Reuters
41 ADL: "A Major Positive Step Forward" February-04-2009 Anti-Defamation League
42 AJC Welcomes Vatican Statement on Holocaust Denier February-04-2009 American Jewish Committee
43 Note from the Vatican Secretary of State February-04-2009 Vatican Secretariat of State
44 "Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Governance, and of Communication" February-04-2009 Sandro Magister
45 WJC President Welcomes Vatican Move Calling on Bishop Williamson to Recant February-04-2009 World Jewish Congress
46 Spiegel: "Losing Touch: A German Pope Disgraces the Catholic Church" February-04-2009 Spiegel Online
47 Reuters: "Top cardinal says Vatican botched Holocaust affair" February-03-2009 Reuters: Philip Pullella
48 Statement of Cardinal Francis George, President of US Conference of Catholic Bishops February-03-2009 Francis George
49 "The Unity of the Church is a Great Good" February-01-2009 Gebhard Fürst
50 "The Anti-Semitism of the Society of St. Pius X" January-31-2009 James Martin
51 Interview: "Cardinal Schönborn criticises Vatican" January-30-2009 Kath.Net
52 "It is never too late to Arise!" January-30-2009 Seán O'Malley
53 "Zero-Tolerance for Holocaust Denial in the Catholic Church" January-30-2009 Reimund Bieringer and Didier Pollefeyt
54 Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI January-29-2009 International Council of Christians and Jews
55 "ADL Welcomes Pope's Condemning of Holocaust Denial and Affirming of Vatican II" January-29-2009 Anti-Defamation League
56 "What the Pope Should Do To Reassure the World" January-29-2009 SWC: A. Cooper & Y. Alderstein
57 Statement of University of Freiburg Professors January-29-2009 Theological Faculty of Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg
58 Open Letter to Members of the Swiss Bishops' Conference January-29-2009 Swiss theologians and pastoral workers
59 Reuters: "Elie Wiesel attacks pope over Holocaust bishop" January-28-2009 Reuters: Philip Pullella
60 CNS: "Pope condemns Holocaust denial, reaffirms solidarity with Jews" January-28-2009 CNS: Carol Glatz
61 Statement Regarding the Crisis in Catholic-Jewish Relations January-28-2009 Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation
62 Statement on the Lifting of the Excommunications January-28-2009 Permanent Council of Bishops of France
63 Talking Points: Lifting of Excommunications of the Four Bishops of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X January-28-2009 SEIA, US Catholic Bishops
64 General Audience: On lifting excommunications; Remembering the Shoah January-28-2009 Benedict XVI
65 Letter from Bishop Williamson to the Vatican January-28-2009 Richard Williamson
66 Statement on the revocation of the excommunication decree January-28-2009 Faculty of Catholic Theology of Münster
67 Declaration January-28-2009 Department of Catholic Theology at Goethe-University Frankfurt
68 Petition: "For the full recognition of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council" January-28-2009 Norbert Scholl
69 Note of the District Superior for Germany of the SSPX January-27-2009 Franz Schmidberger
70 USHMM Press Release on Richard Williamson January-27-2009 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
71 Communiqué of the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X January-27-2009 Bernard Fellay
72 Letter from the Director General of the Israeli Rabbinate to the Holy See January-27-2009 Oded Weiner
73 Communiqué: Denial of the Holocaust cannot be accepted January-27-2009 Swiss Bishops Conference
74 The Lifting of the Excommunication of the Society of Pius X January-26-2009 Belgian National Catholic Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews
75 Lefebvre movement: long, troubled history with Judaism January-26-2009 John L. Allen, Jr., NCR
76 Editorial: Iudicium perversum January-26-2009 Jerusalem Post
77 Statement of the Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference Subcommittee for Religious Relations with Judaism January-26-2009 Heinrich Mussinghoff
78 Yad Vashem Comment regarding Bishop Williamson January-25-2009 Yad Vashem
79 Healing Schism, Pope Risks Another January-25-2009 New York Times
80 Editorial: Vatican II and the Pope's peace-making gesture January-25-2009 L'Osservatore Romano
81 Letter of the Superior General of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X January-24-2009 Bernard Fellay
82 Press Release of the Superior General of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X January-24-2009 Bernard Fellay
83 Vatican Acceptance of Holocaust Denier Bishop “Shameful” January-24-2009 American Jewish Committee
84 ADL Disappointed in Pope's Decision to Rehabilitate Holocaust Denier Bishop January-24-2009 Anti-Defamation League
85 Statement on the Lifting of the Excommunications of Four SSPX Bishops January-24-2009 Jean-Pierre Ricard
86 Decree from the Congregation of Bishops January-21-2009 Giovanni Battista Re
87 SVT Television Interview with Bishop Richard Williamson January-21-2009 Richard Williamson