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Lefebvre priests’ push spreads Malaysian Church confusion

The legal status of the SSPX ministry is confusing as the catechism teaches that a Catholic has to accept the pope’s leadership
Many young Catholics in Malaysia are gathering regularly for Sunday Masses at chapels managed by a priest of the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX)

Many young Catholics in Malaysia are gathering regularly for Sunday Masses at chapels managed by a priest of the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). (Photo: fsspx.news)

Published: July 07, 2023 12:13 PM GMT
Updated: July 07, 2023 12:33 PM GMT

In a busy commercial hub outside Kuala Lumpur, above a row of shops, sits the chapel where Elizabeth attends Sunday Mass. But the 27-year-old Catholic, who would identify only as Elizabeth, is discreet about her newfound love for the traditional Latin language Mass.

She is not alone. Some 120 Catholics gather regularly for Sunday Mass in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrated by a priest of the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

They follow the 1962 edition of the Tridentine Mass and liturgical forms used prior to the Second Vatican Council, spreading confusion among the laity about the validity of the SSPX's ministry.

“We are attracted to it because it nourishes our faith. Many young Catholics struggle with the watering down of the faith in many parishes,” Elizabeth said.

The Mass she attends is in Latin, which probably not many in her congregation understand. But they follow a book where the English translation is given to help them understand.

Elizabeth and others who prefer to attend the Tridentine Mass, which was abrogated in 2021, know that they are part of a schism started by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

The French archbishop, founder and superior general of the SSPX, on June 30, 1988, ordained four society priests as bishops without Vatican approval. For that act, the Vatican excommunicated them.

The society now has three bishops, — one died of old age — and about 700 priests worldwide, who continue attempts to spread traditionalist ideas that reject Vatican II and all the popes elected since then. They exist parallel to the local Catholic hierarchy, without having any official link with it.

But Elizabeth has her own reasons to reject her parish under Kuala Lumpur archdiocese.

“Every Mass there's a wild card — you don’t know what’s going to happen in the sermon — good or bad. The Mass here doesn’t water anything down, instead, it fills us up and is consistently beautiful and reverent,” Elizabeth told UCA News.

The SSPX chapel she attends began in the 1990s and slowly attracted followers. Of those who attend Sunday Mass, “At least 60 percent are young and families below the age of 40,” Elizabeth said.

The SSPX has two other chapels in Malaysia — one in Kuching, Sarawak that started in 2018 and another in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, established in 2004 — according to the SSPX website. Together, they have about 130 people attending Sunday Mass.

Growing influence

The SSPX influence is growing in Malaysia, according to Sherman Kuek, a Franciscan, who serves Melaka Johor diocese as a permanent deacon.

“It is particularly true among the younger generation, who are dissatisfied with the way the liturgy of Vatican II is being celebrated in their parishes. Many Catholics retreat into SSPX communities, which celebrate the Tridentine Mass. Their influence is limited, but not weak,” the deacon said.

Young people are looking for priests and peers who can provide them with a clear sense of leadership and direction, they find their place in such communities, Kuek said.

Besides, SSPX communities are small, “therefore catechesis tends to be stronger, so they learn the faith from the SSPX point of view and take as the gospel truth,” he said.

If that is the pull factor, Kuek said the push factor is “utterly weak catechism” in the mainstream Catholic Church.

“We are seeing the results. It's the elephant in the room that few want to talk about because it requires honesty about our failure to guide our next generation,” he said.

Then, there is an ill-conceived idea that young Catholics look for a “more fashionable” faith. At the parish level, attempts are often made to “reinvent Catholic life, burying old traditions.” But young people become rooted when they learn the traditions.

French Father Jean-Michel Gomis, 43, who runs the SSPX chapel near Kuala Lumpur, also claimed communities are growing around the world.

“We’ve had a few priestly ordinations across the world this last week,” he told UCA News.

However, critics dismissed the growth claim.

A "schematic sect" having a few hundred followers in Malaysia, which has 1.1 million Catholics, does not show significant growth, they said.

Archdiocesan officials, whom UCA News contacted, refused to comment on SSPX and its activities.

"The world knows about SSPX. We don't have to comment on them," one said.

"Information on SSPX is available online. People can search to find out more,” he said.

Catholics without a pope?

The SSPX claims to be valid because the excommunication of Lefebvre and the surviving three bishops was lifted in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, 18 years after Lefebvre's death.

Pope Francis in 2017 declared the confession and marriage sacraments officiated by SSPX priests "valid and licit."

However, SSPX remains cut off from the Vatican and rejects the teachings of Vatican II, including the new order of the Mass in local languages.

“We are not part of the Vatican. But that’s secondary. The main thing is the doctrine,” Gomis said adding that doctrine was their primary reason to reject Vatican II and the popes since then.

The SSPX clergy and religious are accountable to the Switzerland-based superior general. They also have local superiors overseeing districts, instead of bishops and dioceses, Gomis said.

The SSPX now has communities in 10 Asian countries including the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) and China (Hong Kong). While it has only one community in most countries, in India, it has 13 communities, 10 are in southern Tamil Nadu state.

Gomis said SSPX is better than the mainstream Church in terms of vocations.

“Their vocations are going down, congregations are going down,”  while SSPX vocations are growing, he said.

“When young people discover the tradition, which is the doctrine and Magisterium, they discover its richness and fall in love. Let’s not make the message less deep to please people,” he said.

“We are doing exactly what we have been doing for the last 2,000 years.” 

Valid or invalid? Confusions galore

In May, Kuala Lumpur archdiocese's chancery office issued a notice saying that the two chapels in its territory were “not part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.”

The two chapels it named were — the Sacred Heart of Jesus SSPX and another with the same name, which is said to be a splinter SSPX group, which calls itself the Society of St Pius X–Marian Corps (SSPX–MC).

The chancery office said it issued the notice after receiving “several inquiries” about the SSPX chapel.

The confusion among the laity is exacerbated as the SSPX uses the same terminology as the Catholic Church. It is hard to think that with a name like the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it could be anything but Catholic.

A Catholic who attends SSPX Masses said the only reason she opted for it was “because it is close to my home.”

The SSPX ministry's legal status is confusing as the catechism teaches that a Catholic has to accept the leadership of the pope and the hierarchy led by him. However, even though the SSPX refuses to accept the pope, the Vatican allows them to hear confessions and solemnize marriages.

If they have “valid and legal” faculties to administer certain sacraments, some SSPX followers wonder how these priests can be outside the Church.

The SSPX was formed in 1970 with permission from the Bishop of Fribourg in Switzerland and only their superior, Lefebvre, and four others were excommunicated. Their excommunication was later revoked, but Catholic officials still do not accept them as part of the Church.

“In the eyes of the Catholic Church, the SSPX does not officially exist,” Kuek said. The society does not have a canonical standing in the Church and this means “they have no recognition, and therefore, no rights or responsibilities,” he said.

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14 Comments on this Story
MICHEAL THOMPSON
The excommunication of the SSPX bishops was oveturned by the Vatican. The SSPX do NOT reject the Popes after Vatican II and pray for the Popes at Mass.If some question a small amount of Vatican II, all Catholics are allowed to do that - it is not a police state !The Tridentine Mass was NOT abrogated in 2021, according to Benedict XVI (and Pius V) it cannot be. They are not now and never have been schismatic _ sloppy reporting !
EDITOR, JUDAISM.IS
Practicing Catholics are bound to every TRUE Pope and are equally bound to oppose all ANTI-Popes, dozens of which the Church has suffered through the millennia. (Catholic Encyclopedia https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01582a.htm). While Catholic doctrine can and does develop, it cannot legitimately develop into its diametric opposite. “Further, by divine and Catholic faith, ALL those things must be believed at which are contained in the written Word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the church, either in a solemn pronouncement [ex cathedra extra ordinary Magisterium ], or in her ordinary and universal teaching power [a.v., “what has ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE been taught,” ordinary Magisterium ], to be believed as a divinely revealed.” Vatican Council, Session III Dogmatic Constitution Concerning the Catholic Faith (April 24, 1870) in Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, §1792 For example, "sodomy is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance" cannot develop into "sodomy? no problem!" "Marxism must be rejected because of its inextricable rejection of private property" cannot develop into "We can promote Marxism because a papal claimant supports Marxism." "The gods of the pagans are devils" cannot develop into "Pachamama worship is welcome in the Vatican churches." "The synagogue of Satan, those who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie (Apocalypse 3:9)" cannot develop into "Talmudic Jews are our elder brothers in the Faith." The Vatican Council was perfectly clear on this: “For the Holy Ghost was promised to the successors of Peter NOT so that they might, by His revelation, make known some NEW doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or Deposit of Faith TRANSMITTED BY THE APOSTLES.” the Vatican Council, Pastor Aeternus §4 “In addition, that if ever at any time it shall appear that any… Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church… or EVEN THE ROMAN PONTIFF, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy: (i) the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals, shall be NULL, VOID, and WORTHLESS…those thus promoted or elevated shall be deprived AUTOMATICALLY, and WITHOUT NEED FOR ANY FURTHER DECLARATION, of all dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power.” Pope Paul IV, Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, Feb. 15, 1559, §6 (Roman Bullarium Vol. IV. Sec. I, pp. 354-357) NEVER ABROGATED!
JOHNN MASCARENHAS
the catholic church once upon a time went converting people left, right and centre. the goal was have the largest number of followers...sheep! in the bargain, quality in the values, and teachings of christ was lost and quantity was gained. those who were in the church were forced to follow and not ask questions, which have left many dejected. the crimes committed by church leaders and not investigated by the church hierarchy have left parishioners demoralised. most of the local parish priests do a fantastic job, but the bishops act like the pharisees in the old testament, have lost their moral authority due to greed and living lavish lifestyles, besides covering up crimes of their priests. many youth in the catholic church are bribed by the pentecostal churchs to join, and they enjoy the music infused gatherings, rather than attend boring catholic church masses. those (specially the older generation) who attend the latin rite masses do not understand the liturgy. they are just dumb sheep from the catholic church and are there ONLY BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN TOLD TO ATTEND SUNDAY MASS, OR IT IS A SIN! how many catholics would attend sunday mass if they were told NOT ATTENDING SUNDAY MASS WAS NOT A SIN???? yes go to church on sunday or any other day to give thanks to god, your creator, to worship him/her and to ask for forgiveness. DO NOT GO TO CHURCH OUT OF FEAR of the church leaders or SHAME from your neighbours/relatives. you are just another DUMB SHEEP!
CHRISTINA DEARDURFF
It cannot be correct to say that the SSPX is not recognized by the Church because Pope Francis himself granted SSPX priests permission to hear confessions and give absolution during the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy, and then at the end of 2016, continued that permission indefinitely. He could not have done so if they were not "part of the Church." They have an "irregular" standing but are nevertheless in communion with the Holy See -- not schismatic -- and definitely "part of the Church."
SUZY EMMANUEL
What a sloppy report by vanitha??? Kindly refrain from spreading falsehoods about SSPX being Schism since the late Pope Benedict has already granted the Bull Quo Primum within the Traditional Catholic community?? Stop again spreading your misinformation without knowing the sufficient knowledge of the ultimate truth.
JOHN GEORGE
New to this order of catholic mass and wish to attend and learn
CYRIL
One of the most balanced articles about the SSPX from a former official of the Pontificial Commission Ecclesia Dei, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf can be read here: https://wdtprs.com/2020/04/ask-father-whats-the-truth-about-the-sspx/
ANAND
The 13 venues mentioned for India get a very minimalist service,barring the main center in Tamil Nadu. This is further exacerbated by regular travels by the two priests stationed there, and that the third Indian priest who could assist the venture refuses, for presumably personal reasons, to work there. The SSPX has not endeavored to obtain an equitable solution to this issue that would help it's followers in that country. The splinter group, SPX-MC also operates several venues in the country but have the exact opposite spirit of service than that of their SSPX rivals.
RYAN
This article makes no sense so you say SSPX is outside the Church yet you admit the pope is ok with their marriages and confessions. But one thing was made clear, now I understand why Asian Catholics are confused about SSPX. It is because of poor articles like this one.
IRFAN
entah kenapa banyak kalimat yg 'tidak berdasar' dan cenderung 'ngawur'. please, do some research first before you write it down. masalah2 seperti ini juga berkaitan dgn masalah kanonik dan teologi, jangan sembarangan. don't mislead people.
SAYONARA
Now we know many young people and families attend Traditional Latin Mass. I definitely would attend Mass there in Malaysia soon! Seems very interesting! One question to the writer : "WHY WOULD VATICAN GIVE FACULTIES TO SSPX PRIEST TO HEAR CONFESSIONS AND SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGES IF YOU CLAIMED THAT THE SSPX ARE SCHISMATICS?? " Wouldn't that be saying Vatican definitely recognise Sspx? Are you saying Vatican is comitting error?? Please answer these questions as you are making me more confused than ever.
JOHN PAUL
Clearly, the author of this article showed no effort to even give a balanced review on the matter. The SSPX is growing, slowly but surely. I would like to suggest people interested in the SSPX to discover what Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who is in good standing with the Vatican, has to say about them. All I can say is that the SSPX has been very consistent and level-headed since day one. Hopefully, their differences with Rome will be meted out one fine day. But until then, I believe they are doing good work and should not be ostracized. If we can treat Protestants and other religions nicely in our diocesan programs and the like, why can't we extend the same hand to these Traditionalists who are trying to be faithful to the Apostolic teachings? Go figure.
JOHNNIE
The priest in overall charge resides in Singapore and believes that the SSPX in the main is a priestly society, meaning the interests of it's priests come first. The ordinary people are there to pay, pray and obey. Vanitha did not approach the original SSPX chapel in KL, also named Sacred Heart Chapel, to ask it's faithful who are now aligned with the SPX-Marian Corps, why they dispensed with the services of the SSPX. As a former stooge of this organization, I will freely grant them this motto: LIVE IN STYLE, TALK IN STYLE, TRAVEL IN STYLE.
CYRIL
Actually the liturgy during Vatican II is the Traditional Latin Mass. In fact Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium called for the pre-eminence of the Latin language and Gregorian chant over the vernacular and other forms of music, but this thing called the "spirit of Vatican II" seems to oppose what was approved or promoted by Vatican II itself! 36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. The man in charge of all liturgical reforms was Cardinal Lercaro. On 2 March 1965, Lercaro published an article in l’Avennire d’Italia in which he strongly condemned liturgical abuses, providing concrete examples of practices he considered “fanciful” and “deplorable.” What were these deplorable abuses? (a) Communion in the hand; (b) a Celebrant reciting the Canon in an audible voice. Furthermore, in a letter (25 January 1966) to the bishops’ conferences, Cardinal Lercaro called female altar servers “a grave infraction.”
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