Born a “cradle Catholic” just as the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) was underway in 1962, I was blessed to grow up in a small Western Montana town that was home to the first Catholic Parish established in Montana Territory. Our small parish had a K-6 Catholic school and a convent staffed by faithful nuns in habits. Parish life seemed vibrant and stable until 1970 when it was announced that our Catholic school would be closing (after my 3rd grade year).Thank God for the SSPX! – OnePeterFive
At about the same time, our beautiful Gothic-style Church fell to the Vatican II “wreckovation.” The beautiful high altar was replaced by a table, the communion rail ripped out, the tabernacle moved to a corner, the statues removed, the walls whitewashed. In the end, our beautiful Catholic church looked more like a Protestant gathering place or community hall than a Catholic church. Catechism classes, previously taught by priests and religious sisters, were relegated to lay volunteers – the Baltimore Catechism was out, new “modern” texts that often watered down or deviated from Catholic doctrine became the norm. Of course, communion in the hand, girl “altar boys,” “eucharistic ministers,” female lectors and various other novelties soon followed.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
At the time, my dad, also a cradle Catholic and World War II era Marine, protested these things (primarily the closing of our school) rather firmly with our local pastor and our then-Bishop Raymond Hunthausen (who later became notorious as the very liberal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle). Dad’s pleas fell on deaf ears as he was told (incredible as it sounds) that the Church had decided it would be better to focus its efforts and resources on Catholic colleges (we now know how that turned out since the notorious 1967 Land O’Lakes Statement).
This and all the other changes were the last straw for my dad. He hasn’t set foot in a Catholic church (other than a few Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, weddings, and funerals) since. My mother hung on, eventually becoming involved in (falling prey to?) the “Catholic” charismatic movement in the early 1970’s. Despite all of this, and having nowhere else to turn, my mother suffered through and stood strong in her faith. My siblings all fell away from the faith after high school – all of them married outside the church to non-Catholic spouses.
The Work of Grace
By God’s grace (and mom’s example), I managed to hang in there living a nominally Catholic life. I was blessed to meet a beautiful practicing Catholic woman shortly after attending graduate school in Boston. We were married in the Church and excited about our new life together. However, in retrospect, we were both poorly catechized and didn’t know the true teachings of the Catholic Church or what was expected of us as Catholic spouses and parents. Our marriage prep classes in a suburban Boston parish (under then-Cardinal Bernard Law) consisted of a morning with other engaged couples sitting around a table led by a lay person who didn’t know much more than we did about Church teaching regarding marriage and family.
What I heard (and perhaps what I didn’t hear) that day left me somehow empty and confused although at the time I really couldn’t put my finger on what it was that was troubling me. I subsequently sought counsel from two priests and a deacon. All used the “primacy of conscience” argument to assure me that if my conscience said it was okay to use artificial contraception to delay children, it was okay in the eyes of the Church. None of them mentioned the importance of a well-formed conscience. Nor did they suggest that I read Casti Connubi or Humanae Vitae (which I didn’t know existed at the time) or even the Catechism to form my conscience about such an important matter. (Side note: I find it interesting that many/most of today’s bishops and priests are telling us we don’t have conscience rights to object to an experimental abortion-tainted “vaccine”).Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
To my shame, I proceeded to lead my lovely wife down the wrong path. At the time, my Catholic family and close Catholic friends had used or were using artificial contraception, so I went with the flow even though I should have known better. Of course, we never heard a single word about this from the pulpit or in the confessional at any of the Novus Ordo parishes we attended.
In any case we did have children and began to grow a Catholic family. But even though we attended weekly Mass and holy days of obligation, we fell into a lukewarm existence at various Novus Ordo parishes around the country (we’ve lived in 9 states since our marriage in 1993). In none of these parishes did we hear sound teaching on the critical matters of our faith. Even the few “good” priests we encountered were admittedly afraid to speak about the “hard teachings” of the Church for fear of offending their more liberal parishioners or, worse, their local bishop.
Looking back, our experience with the Novus Ordo parishes in all these places was marginally Catholic (at best) where, sadly, most of the Sunday Mass attendees rejected one or more teachings of the Church – e.g., contraception, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, gay “marriage” (doesn’t this describe Protestants?).
Roughly 12-15 years ago, we began to sense that something just wasn’t right. A pivotal moment came shortly after stumbling across an article that defended the true Catholic position on artificial contraception. It prompted me to research further and led to the discovery of how little I knew about my faith – and worse, how we had been lied to (about contraception and a myriad of other things) by the leadership of the Church (including bishops, priests, deacons, and catechists along our journey).Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
At the time, we lived in Washington State in a very liberal diocese with nothing that could be considered a “reverent” Novus Ordo parish. I became increasingly concerned about exposing my wife and kids to a weekly diet of what I came to recognize as heterodox (at best) sermons and CCD/youth group gatherings that did little to promote and teach the truths of our faith. Most critically, after speaking with our bishop and local priests about various matters, I became fearful of how our priests might instruct my wife and then-teenage children in the Sacrament of Penance.
Finally, we found a Latin Mass parish. Here the fullness of the Catholic faith was preached and catechized to our children. It was like a breath of fresh air for our souls. At that point we went Trad and never looked back.
For almost 3 years, we did our best to make a nearly 3-hour (one way) trek to attend the TLM (both FSSP and SSPX), go to confession, and the rest. Eventually, it became evident that this was not a tolerable situation for my family, so roughly five years ago I left a very good job and moved my family to a desert Southwest suburb with several TLM options nearby.
Our new home has a vibrant FSSP parish and a large SSPX Chapel (including a priory, retreat house and K-12 school). We also have access to a handful of Novus Ordo parishes that allow periodic celebrations of the TLM. For the first three years, we attended both the FSSP parish and SSPX chapel off and on. We were thrilled to find many good faithful priests and good, well-meaning faithful at both. Sadly, we also recognized some common myths and misconceptions among the FSSP and SSPX faithful about each other.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
We eventually settled into the local FSSP parish that had outgrown a small but beautiful building and needed more space to accommodate a burgeoning flock (most Sunday masses accommodated an overflow crowd in the adjacent hall with a live feed on a big screen TV). The crime rate in the surrounding neighborhood was an ongoing concern as well.
It was here that I began to see what I considered troubling dichotomies within the FSSP. For example, parish fundraising was not noticeably different than that of most Novus Ordo parishes we experienced. We were still pressured by our Pastor to support the annual bishop’s appeal(s), even though he would quietly acknowledge that money is fungible and some of these funds may go towards organizations and causes that are inconsistent with traditional Catholic beliefs. Our parish also followed the lead of our Bishop and did not publicly oppose fundraising efforts for other Catholic organizations promoted by our bishop, some of which are known to undermine Catholic teaching (e.g., CCHD). Even a portion of the weekly collection plate goes to the diocese and some of that money goes to the USCCB (directly or indirectly). Realizing these things, we had to find other ways to support the FSSP and, indirectly, our local FSSP priests.
It also became clear from conversations with FSSP priests that they had serious reservations about elements of Vatican II and the words/actions (or inactions) of the pope and many of our bishops. Yet these priests would rarely if ever address the elephants in the room publicly due to fear of reprisal from their local bishop (and others) even when it was clear that these things were causing obvious questioning and confusion among their flocks (their silence is not unlike that of better Novus Ordo priests mentioned above).
When COVID hit in early 2020, I began to hear rumblings about parish closings. At the time, I wasn’t too worried because I believed that our bishop (arguably one of our better bishops) would resist and do everything he could to keep churches open and ensure access to the Sacraments. I was shocked when he announced the closing of all churches in his Diocese (including our FSSP parish) – even though our governor designated churches as essential services. Thankfully, our local SSPX chapel worked within the confines of federal, state and local health authorities and found a way to remain fully open. After one Sunday watching mass from home on TV, we were able to participate in the full spectrum of Holy Week services at the SSPX Chapel. We’ve been (almost) exclusively attending the SSPX chapel ever since, even though it adds about 30 minutes to our commute.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
These and other things caused me to think a bit differently about the FSSP. While I believe their priests and faithful are solid Catholics genuinely trying to promote and defend the one true faith, below the surface are uncomfortable compromises. Without exception, the FSSP priests I know (inwardly) object to the errors (and the “spirit”) of Vatican II, as well as other modern errors. In this regard, their beliefs are very similar to those of the SSPX priests I know. While the SSPX has been open in opposing these errors, the FSSP seems willing to merely harbor their concerns in private in order to remain in the good graces of the Pope, their local bishops, and others. For me, this begs the question: which position is the more charitable and intellectually honest?
We recently watched in dismay as FSSP parishes around the country bowed to the bishops’ unlawful church closing orders. It begs the question: what the FSSP will do as Traditionis Custodes is fully implemented? They may soon be faced with the same dilemma Archbishop Lefebvre faced in 1988. While the Archbishop had a unique and personal “birds’ eye view” of the crisis of the church at that time, it was relatively hidden from most Catholics. Given what has transpired over the last several years under Pope Francis, it is now nearly impossible for good Catholics to deny that a serious crisis exists. I can only hope that God is allowing this to bring about a greater good and I pray that God’s will prevails for the good of His Church for the salvation of souls.
For our family, we saw from experience that the SSPX – despite any shortcomings of individual priests or faithful – has been the only group faithfully Catholic through all these years. For this reason above all, we are at home in the SSPX chapel.
Unite the Clans!
We cannot fail to mention another sad observation of our experiences with both the FSSP and SSPX. While I admire and respect the good priests and faithful in both traditional communities, even today, roughly 33 years after the 1988 consecrations and the split with FSSP, there exist myths and misunderstandings among FSSP adherents about the SSPX. Many of them even believing that the SSPX embraces sedevacantism. Most FSSP priests I’ve known seem content to let these misperceptions persist among their flocks when they know better. But to be fair, there are misconceptions about the FSSP among SSPX faithful as well.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
I admire and respect the good priests and faithful of the FSSP and SSPX. As faithful Catholics, we can’t afford to let these myths and misunderstandings perpetuate and fester any longer. Let us pray that all Catholics of good will can take up the mantles of humility and charity and begin the process of healing. We need each other now more than ever.
I would like to leave off with a hopeful and happy note. We’ve been blessed with four awesome children who remain faithful traditional Catholics, thanks be to God. Our three older children, now young adults out on their own, remain faithful while striving to live out their Catholic faith in an increasingly hostile culture while our home-schooled 10-year-old knows far more about his Catholic faith than I did as a young adult and is the first to remind his dad about our daily rosary. While there remains a gaping hole in my heart and my soul knowing what could have been since 1993, I am eternally grateful for what God has given us despite my failures.
It is my hope that, by sharing our story, others might be encouraged to do their own research regarding the SSPX, FSSP and other traditional Catholic options and put to rest some of the more common myths and misperceptions. We pray that our story might help others avoid falling prey to the errors that are all too rampant in the Novus Ordo parishes today and find their way home to a good, traditional Catholic community.