SSPX Critique of Pope’s Interviews

[It’s a long piece. Here’s the startup portion….]

A studious critique of the various interview comments made by Pope Francis demonstrates that concerning the Faith, how he is specifically promoting the ambiguities and errors of the Council.

This critique of Pope Francis recent interview comments is courtesy of Fr. Marc Vernoy, SSPX prior of St. Thomas More Priory in Sanford, Florida. To avoid repetition, the footnote references have been cited only once.

“For the letter kills, but the spirit vivifies.”

Could this scriptural quote (from II Cor. 3:6) be Pope Francis’ true motto?

Keep in mind that “talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other.[1]” We notice that he often refers to the Ignatian Discernment of Spirits, but in his own way. The latest interviews, in speaking from the heart and unveiling details on himself, show him taking risks as Roman Pontiff.

“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” “I am a sinner”[1], he answers… “I am a bit cunning,[4] a manoeuvrer,[4] but it is also true that I am a bit naïve.”[1] He is, for sure, a genuine Jesuit, former provincial of his order in Argentina during the terrible political turmoil of 1973-1979 that moreover makes a man very prudent, even cunning and apparently ingenuous. The recently published La lista de Bergoglio attests to this.

He also admits that he does “not know Rome[4].[1]” We hope that this will change and that he will accordingly love Rome.

After he has been in charge of the Holy Catholic Church for more than half a year, it is easier to understand the thought of Pope Francis. Due to many of his statements, even if we see a genuine movement in his way of focusing on our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel as the Good News, we may feel real causes of concern.


In his declarations, we seem to find running through the papal thought a kind of idée fixe, which focuses on the Pauline teaching developed by St. Augustine regarding the gift of life and the fight against what may kill it. “St. Paul,” says the Pope, “is the one who laid down the cornerstones of our religion and our creed. You cannot be a conscious Christian without St. Paul… Then there are Augustine, Benedict and Thomas and Ignatius,” who was “especially a mystic.” And “naturally Francis.[3]”

His model is Fr. Peter Faber, the Reformed Priest co-founder of the Jesuits. The Pope likes his gentleness and simplicity, his proximity to the poor and those on the margin of society, his availability and qualities of discernment and judgment.[1]

“His two preferred contemporary thinkers are Henri de Lubac and Michel de Certeau.[1]” Henri de Lubac, a founder of the New Theology, opened a theological battlefield and created a great confusion with his works on the natural and the supernatural. Moreover, he rejected the necessary ecclesial logical link, the continuity between the present beliefs and the explicit faith of the first centuries.

Would the word of the Apostle to the Corinthians: “For the letter kills, but the spirit vivifies,” help us to discern the web of his mind?

Spiritual Pelagianism

Pelagianism is a heresy which denies the consequence of original sin and professes that human beings do not need Divine grace in order to do good; the natural would of itself have access to the supernatural, and our Lord merely sets a good example of virtue.

Pelagianism is apparently the first target of Pope Francis. Nevertheless, what he calls Pelagianism and condemns is more a spiritual attitude than the theological heresy.

The spiritual expression of Pelagianism, according to Francis, would be to find a kind of external security in the Catholic life by certain practices, laws and rituals, but without any optimism in human nature… The Pope continues:

This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. (…) Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.[2]

Let us try to understand his indictment via the condemnation of St. Paul; “For the letter kills, but the spirit vivifies” is the key thought used by St. Augustine against Pelagius. St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine:

Hence Augustine says that “as the law of deeds was written on tables of stone, so is the law of faith inscribed on the hearts of the faithful” and “what else are the Divine laws written by God Himself on our hearts, but the very presence of His Holy Ghost?”(…) By saying that, the letter denotes any writing external to man, even that of the moral precepts such as are contained in the Gospel. Wherefore the letter, even of the Gospel would kill, unless there were the inward presence of the healing grace of faith. (I, q. 106, art. 1-2).

Accordingly, we cannot throw out the letter, as it is the support of the spirit, just as the body is the support of the spirit. Without the body, there is no spirit. The letter is the servant, the instrument of the spirit; it is good and necessary in as much as it leads toward the spirit.

Our Lord condemned spiritual Pelagianism in St. Matthew (5:17 & 20):

Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (…) For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

If the law teaches man externally without the Gift of the Spirit and does not inwardly transform him, it kills the spiritual life.

There is a similarity between pelagianism and pharisaism. As pelagianism attributes all success to the only human ability, so pharisaism attributes success to the practice of exterior religious actions.

Spiritual Pelagianism is an obstacle to the life and Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and to His Gospel. The letter alone kills indeed, as long as it remains an extrinsic word, a literalism. With the Pope we agree that Spiritual Pelagianism kills by its overconfidence in some external precepts and practices. For sure, contemporary Pharisees or spiritual Pelagians are nailing Our Lord on the Cross when they limit or even twist His teaching to a mere panoply of doctrinal, moral, ritual or social precepts, a code of orders and threats of chastisements, but also those who are spiritually presumptuous about human nature. Without the gifts of faith and grace, shall we add, we can do nothing good in charity.

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5 comments on “SSPX Critique of Pope’s Interviews

  1. “The Pope continues:
    This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. (…) Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.”

    Just how does this boldfaced text correspond to St. Paul’s warning in II Thessalonians: “Hold fast to the traditions you have received from us whether by word or our epistle.” No longer meaningful ro us? Er, ahem, I beg to differ. If only we could recover the lost past so indiscriminately assigned to the trash bin by modern-day Jesuits, we might be a heckuva lot better off.

  2. We should probably sum up this response by SSPX as, ‘Francis is not talking about us when he speaks of pelagianism. See, we know more about it than he does.’ And the article proves that they do. It’s less a criticism than a defense, and it’s certainly justified–everyone thinks he’s talking about the Society when he says it. Those who attend SSPX chapels know very well the call to real holiness is unceasing.

  3. Jan B said, “Those who attend SSPX chapels know very well the call to real holiness is unceasing.”

    In my experience it seems that the call to “real” holiness is as much a failure at SSPX chapels as the NO. SSPX chapels are great for good attire and manners, and sins of the flesh are not as obvious (although I’ve seen plenty of muck beneath the surface) – however many, many aspects of holiness are missing. I’ve witnessed as much striving for holiness at the NO.

    As for the Pope, I think he’s referring to the SSPX when he refers to Pelagianism, however I’ll say again what I’ve said before – I think Jansenism is a better fit. The true definition of Pelagianism, which was well spelled out at isn’t the best fit.

    God Bless.

  4. Pertua wrote, ‘In my experience it seems that the call to “real” holiness is as much a failure at SSPX chapels as the NO. ‘

    Perpetua, I just cannot agree, and from the rest of your comment, it seems to me that you mix up the call to holiness with a saintly response. In terms of the latter, perhaps there isn’t much difference between the two sites. But in terms of opportunity, totally not. First of all, there’s (for us) daily traditional mass, with the rosary before mass. No NO church has that, because they don’t offer the traditional mass, and I’ve only found one in Chicago that has the rosary before daily mass. Then, look at all the chances for particular pious activities at my SSPX chapel: Monthly Perpetual Help, a holy hour of reparation for the priesthood every week, weekly devotion to the Holy Face, monthly devotion to Our Sorrowful Mother, and more, and also the frequent invitation for retreat (my NO friend just went on a retreat from his parish to a protestant site). Then, there are the sermons. They are almost always practical, and by practical I mean ‘what spiritual change must I make in conclusion to this Truth?’ It’s week after week, small and significant calls to increased holiness. I don’t want to start a flame against NO parishes but the last time I went to Christmas mass at my one son’s parish, Father (actually it was a bishop, as I now recall) preached on the wonderful character of Clint Eastwood. You know darn well that simply would not fly at an SSPX chapel. And then there is the daily example of those prayerful souls who inhabit my chapel. They pray faithfully before and after mass. They are a constant reminder to me that God is present, and I’m telling you, I thirst for that as much as for anything, in this awful world we suffer, denying God on every corner. It is not hard to contrast our conduct in chapel with those of the (really nice) Polish parish near my house. I sometimes go there to pray the rosary in the early morning and then slip out before their mass. I have to wear ear plugs because some people make a point to chat, there in God’s presence. Are there some at my chapel who might be less than sinless in private? Well, that’s not the proof of the statement that they are nevertheless called often to confession and conversion. Their sins are not excused in some ‘group confession,’ or simply excused period by the doctrinal attitude of ‘who am I to judge?’ Meaning ‘I deny my responsibility to be my brother’s keeper.’ No, I will not find that in my SSPX chapel. They will measure the depth of your neckline, and I thank them for it. When I’m not mad at them for it. : ) Look, I am quite sure there are holy people at NO, and unholy ones at my chapel, but for consistent attention on the sacraments and the doctrine, one finds it more reliably at SSPX. I do not think SSPX is perfect by any means, it’s just the thread of the topic of conversation is more on spiritual life and less on superficialities, like for one the material support one gives the poor (and not even the Faith!), which is what my dear Polish neighbors dwell upon. They think to discuss the value of the rosary is at least over the top, if not downright crazy–that’s what my pastor discussed the last three Sundays. And I benefit from it. Maybe that’s the other half of the argument, if one is listening to the many invitations that are offered. Because they are there, in so many faithful, in so many spiritual practices, in the sermons, in the mass itself.

  5. Btw, I don’t mean to say that almsgiving–‘material support for the poor’–is not important, but it is only one part of holiness, especially when it is divorced from spiritual works of mercy–when you see it practiced, you have to wonder how it even counts at all. It’s like keeping the best part for yourself and handing them socks.

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