Meet the Catholic extremists who could shatter the church

From Salon:

The Society of St. Pius X has a past of Fascist sympathy and worse. Pope Francis might welcome it back to the flock

Sunday, Nov 17, 2013

Last month, a 100-year-old convicted Nazi war criminal died in Italy and nobody wanted to bury him. Former SS captain Erich Priebke died under house arrest on Oct. 11, and that’s when the trouble started. Priebke had wanted a public funeral and Catholic burial — in contempt of the standard practice of cremating Nazi war criminals and scattering their ashes to the wind, or tucking them out of sight.

But the Diocese of Rome refused to bury him — as did Priebke’s hometown in Germany and the foreign minister of Argentina, where Priebke (who died unrepentant) lived after fleeing his war-riddled continent. Each locale worried that Priebke’s gravesite could become a shrine for roaming Third Reich nostalgics. The corpse was in limbo, until the Society of St. Pius X stepped in.

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is a fervently traditionalist Catholic sect: a Vatican breakaway with no official Church status, and the cause of much malcontent in Rome. Born in reaction to the Church’s modernizing reforms of the ’60s, the Society soon emerged as a stronghold of the way Catholicism used to be. In the towns and cities where SSPX communities popped up (SSPX claims almost half a million members, hundreds of priests, and a presence on every continent, though the numbers cannot be verified), the group is best known for its practice of the old Tridentine Mass: conducted in Latin, the priest’s back to his congregation, and heavy on the Gregorian chant.

Elsewhere, SSPX is known for other things: like its Holocaust-denying bishop; its anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering (an SSPX leader recently dubbed Jews and Modernists “enemies of the Church”); its rejection of interfaith dialogue; and its insistence that, since the 1960s, the Vatican has taken a turn for the worse. The Anti-Defamation League describes SSPX as “mired in anti-Semitism.” The Southern Poverty Law Center ups the ante, calling “radical traditionalist Catholics” (including, prominently, SSPX members) “the single largest group of hard-core anti-Semites in America.”

And yet, the Vatican wants to make amends. Though a round of official negotiations broke down last year, the Holy See still supports a Pontifical Commission called Ecclesia Dei, which has tried to lead the SSPX flock back into the fold. As recently as January, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, one of Rome’s top dogs, penned a letter to Society priests, pleading for “reconciliation and healing.”


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