Helpful Texts

Link zum Mandala von Bruder Klaus
Hans-Joachim Sander {*}

The other Gallicanism

A Problem of Freedom in the Present Time


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2013, P. 14-20
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    The options of the Society of St. Pius X have a long history in the context of the French Catholicism. HANS-JOACHIM SANDER, professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Salzburg, describes their religio-political implications.


In recent months, there were two drama in the Catholic Church's headquarters of the papal curia. Both are not yet at an end. It was the Vatileaks affair, where all abysses are possibly not yet discernible, and the negotiations about a possible return of the Pius brothers. These talks have admittedly become more difficult by the internal conflicts of the Brotherhood and the appointment of the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but they are not yet at an end.

The first drama belongs to the boulevard, whereas the second is theologically relevant. It is here about a violent tug of war for an exemption that is religio-politically of considerable significance. The Pope avowedly wants to reconcile with the reactionary traditionalist Pius brothers for the sake of the unity of the Church. But they demand for it that they are exempted from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on religious freedom and unconditional recognition of human rights. Both, however, belong to the most important doctrines of this Council, and are mandatory for all faithful Catholics - so reads actually the Catholic dogmatic theory. And no pope is allowed to dispose of them according to his policy, especially if the Church's unity is at stake. The unity would then be built on sand. In a kind of last minute panic one would have paid an excessive price. What is more, this price will sooner or later anyway deflate, due to the SSPX's narrow-minded intransigence regarding Vaticanum II and / or would be inflated by similar exemptions of others for their stay in the church.


A Religio-political Question of Weight

Analogous to the financial crisis, the means for such an inflated price had to be procured by the silent majority of Catholics. This majority pays now already the true costs for these for months downright embarrassingly well-protected private negotiations with a small fundamentalist minority that admittedly behaves like the sanior pars but simply not is.



The more these negotiations come closer to a positive conclusion, the more the actual societal and religious concerns of Catholics incur societal, cultural and political isolation, in whose atria the church has got already due to the alarmingly high number of cases of abuse. Also among benevolent contemporaries, a SSPX case of the Catholic Church would create an alarmed and negative attention, which in this country is usually only focused on radical Islam.

This attention, however, is anything but indiscriminate, and cannot be rejected as anti-church. On the contrary, it is well-founded. For it is not a merely internal Catholic matter, but a religio-political question of considerable extent, perhaps even of global weight. For in such a case one would, in the middle of a large people's church and worldwide religious community, be confronted with the blending of spiritual and secular spheres of power. It would be difficult for this mingling to avoid being confused with the disastrous religio-political grammar of "Salafists." After all, the Pius brothers have not only for a long time tolerated Holocaust deniers in their highest ranks, because they attach generally the higher historical truth to clerics. They pursue rather the strategy of power politics that gives a rightful claim to power only to the 'divinations' presented by them. The State must kindly recognize this claim.


Under the Banner of the Papal Innocuousness Seal?

A few months ago, this was urgently pointed out by Cardinal Henri Schwery, the former Bishop of Sion in the Valais Canton, where the center of the SSPX is in Ecône. He had for many years the dubious pleasure of having to negotiate with the great Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The key point always was the firm rejection of that "autonomy of temporal realities" which played a major role at the Second Vatican Council. Lefebvre's complaint "They Have Uncrowned Him" proves the real intentions of the SSPX, said the cardinal:

"The Church must again seize power in the world, affirm once again her authority, and tighten the reins. The Lefebvrists are convinced of this." {1}

Already in 1988, at the last attempt to reach an agreement between the Catholic Church and the Pius brothers, the cardinal had warned against underestimating their political-theological power objectives. Also at that time he met on deaf ears in Rome. Schwery even suspects that in the Vatican high-ranking circles want to circumvent the church's due respect for the autonomy of earthly realities. That's why they do not adequately assess the political-theological contamination potential of the SSPX {2}.



Of course, by its own efforts the argumentatively weak divination cannot reach the goal to augment spiritual power with worldly power to such an extent that an explosive political mixture emerges. If the Pius brothers remain isolated, they remain forever a marginal note in the world of high politics. But associated with one of the globalized mainline churches and in the context of a general global crisis it might look different. In future, the cancer of anti-modernism shall spread in the church, and then - so the by no means unrealistic calculation - the subtle differences of their traditionally liturgical whitewashed self-righteousness find rich soil in times of crisis. In this modern/anti-modern buccaneering, the SSPX wants to sail under the flag of a papal innocuousness seal.


Blueprint Gallicanism

This is politically and theologically quite remarkable, because it touches the historical experiences of Catholicism and uncovers one of its dark sides. For the goals of the Pius brothers fit remarkably into a matrix of Catholicism of the modern era. It serves the Pius brothers as veritable blueprint. They act very clearly as its simple opposite, and take nevertheless from it what is best for them. With this blueprint Gallicanism is meant. In the modern era the papacy has always resolutely opposed it. Not least, the infallibility of popes has been formulated against it at the First Vatican Council. Just as this movement has simply separated the spiritual and the secular sphere of power in order to get by special liberties privileged above others and at their costs - religiously motivated political opposition was not allowed -, so the Pius brothers simply mix together these two spheres. The objective of this mixture, however, is the same as that of the supporters of Gallicanism. The point is that they loftily behave as the actually by God wanted guardians of the true power - at the expense of a general equality. They despise the latter as the aberration of modernism par excellence, and seek to destroy it.

Gallicanism was a politico-religious movement in France from the early modern period to the Restoration. It opposed the spiritual and secular authority claims of the popes in favor of national freedom of the French Catholic Church and demanded, as ceterum censeo, the Pope's subordination under the Council. The supporters of Gallicanism, however, did not for reasons of principle or ecumenical reasons put the Council above the Pope. Their sole objective was to keep out from the territory of their Catholic France his political and religious claims which he pursued on behalf of all Catholics. France is no minor matter of the historical Gallicanism. It is the place without which it would not have worked at all. And it provided the utopias for which Gallicanism entered into the historical arena.



The movement is definitely disparate. But despite all disparity it was for centuries a finely chiseled coalition of higher Catholic clergy, which did not want to pay taxes, especially not to the pope {4}, the higher Paris courts, which did not want that others interfere in their parlements by overriding principles, and the Versailles Sun Kings, who at sovereign discretion appointed bishops and abbots from their clientele and pursued an intolerant religious policy against all kinds of dissidents {5}. It was a coalition of the exempted of the Ancien Regime to the detriment of people of a different faith, in contradiction to commons in the law, and at the expense of the livelihood of the common people. It was their standing argument that they were the true Catholics before God {6}, and that they among people therefore would legitimately claim privileges.


No Inner-church Playground

The Pius brothers simply reverse the first of the old Gallican liberties: they demand, as ceterum censeo, as adamantly as uncompromisingly the superiority of the Pope over the Council. But they do so only in case of popes who privilege their policy of rejection of universal human rights, their contempt of the general religious freedom and their mockery of the universal equality of men before God - a policy that is contrary to Vaticanum II.

All the other goals of the Gallican movement are unaltered adopted by them, and extended as global standards. They see themselves as the only true Christians who have not seceded from the everlasting prophethood of the Catholic religion but continue proclaiming its absolute need for humankind's salvation from eternal perdition. They strive for a spiritually-reverend monarchy in secular affairs. Common people have to serve it and to submit their freedoms to its ritual and political sacrificial acts. They demand that their canonical divination is superior to secular law. They see themselves in a position of superiority above common civic duties - for the purpose of exercising the power to define these duties. What for the Salafism is the God-given order, which comes from the righteous ancestors of the first three generations and is loyally interpreted only by it, is for the Pius brothers a tradition that dominates the whole life. They alone determine and dispose of its true passing on.

They apparently hope now that they have found in Pope Benedict XVI a good-natured pope who promotes their other Gallicanism and gains more plausibility from their pre-democratic state variant than from the inevitably always relativizing secular society of citizens who enjoy freedom of expression and religious freedom.



Benedict's antimodern reserve, however, has its reason not in an anti-modernist attitude but comes from an Augustinian view of history, which was sparked off by the decadence of late antiquity. In addition, it is noticeable that he has a certain distance to France and its complex history. But according to my view, the real problem seems to be that it is difficult for this pontificate to confront the all too human, but unfortunately selfish political-theological quest for power of the Pius brothers. Whether there will be a change in this attitude in the Curia, due the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has yet to be seen.

The current claim to freedoms that are modularized in the way of Gallicanism by the SSPX corresponds by no means to an illusory ideality that is long since gone. According to Gallicanism, freedom was granted only to those who have a higher theological and political right to it. Nobody was allowed to take legal action in order to obtain it - for the sole reason that the person has a dignity before God. That's why the supporters of Gallicanism were also deeply anti-revolutionary. But according to the by Pius brothers incriminated Second Vatican Council, just this dignity is especially owed to those who must struggle for the recognition of this dignity. This Council respects a close proximity to the Christian gospel in the modus of the signs of the time especially for those people who find it hard to enjoy the civil liberties which legitimate their dignity. For these signs are set by such current developments in which people must fight or are already fighting for the societal recognition of human dignity. Accordingly, the dispute with the Pius brothers and the church's imperative distance from their contempt of the Council is not an internal church playground. It is about nothing less than the currently all-important process: how can you rightly distance yourself from those who grant privileges to themselves in order to promote their own freedoms at the expense of other freedom.

In France, the resistance of Gallican modern anti-enlightened attitude was politically broken with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the Revolution. But in it this habit has not come to an end. In France it has religiously survived in the reactionary political-theological intransigence, of which the founder of the SSPX, Marcel Lefebvre, is a product. He was on intimate terms with the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom he directly supported in 1976. A priory of the SSPX has hidden for years Paul Touvier, a Nazi collaborator of the Vichy regime, who as the first Frenchman was convicted of crimes against humanity. In 2007 the French District Superior of the Brotherhood compared during a pilgrimage to the grave of Marshal Petain, the authoritarian and dictatorial chef de l'Etat of the Vichy collaboration, his battle for France with Lefebvre's battle for the Catholic Church. For the relations between the extreme Catholicism and the extreme political right, the Benedictine monastery of Le Barroux in the Vaucluse is important. It entered into an agreement with the Curia Commission "Ecclesia Dei" already in 1989.



Elitist Habit

The Gallican grammar regarding the use of freedom is unfortunately not only common among Pius brothers. And its elitist habit is not limited to reactionary Catholics or cannot be reduced to an intellectual contempt for the by Immanuel Kant formulated maxims of the general use of one's own freedom in favor of the freedom of others. If this would be the case, then you could dismiss the exemption of this religious minority as a Catholic special path (Sonderweg). This habit is all too present in today's degrees of freedom of the capital that is free-floating around the globe. With the highest validity claims, it is looking for policies that are attentive to it, in order to be privileged at the expense of the general public, and to hand over its risks to other, politically inferior people, groups, and nations. What power this habit may have in connection with politically assertive powers can be marvelled at the fever chart of the many Euro-bailouts.

With regard to the SSPX question, it seems that the Curia has not yet gained clarity about this context. Such being the case, there is good reason to confront the within the Catholic Church debated religio-political request of exemption of the Pius brothers with precarious political and theological questions which cannot be ignored within the church.

By what right could a Pope exempt from the universal recognition of human rights? By what authority could a Pope have a Council at his disposal as a subject of negotiation and fall behind its universal claim to validity, with which it for the first time gave the Gospel its proper significance as a general human resource for human dignity and equal rights of all people? With what truth should a papal privileging of inner-church unity in the name of the Catholic Church's dignity come up, if it behaves to the disadvantage of the unity of mankind in the name of dignity and immutable universal rights? How should a Pope remain a moral authority in a general crisis of the globalized civilization which is increasingly caused by a few privileged persons at the expense of the great mass of today's people, if he would not even within his own church prevent privileging to the detriment of other freedom and at the expense of freedom possibilities to which everybody is entitled?

Maybe it is for my part a Catholic theological idealism to expect answers from the Pope. However that may be, these questions arise forcefully and they are embarrassing. No Catholic hierarchy will be able to elude them in the long run, because they are simply of general interest.




{1} KNA-Interview on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, in: (accessed 9. 8. 2012).

{2} In: Eberhard Schockenhoff, Versöhnung mit der Piusbruderschaft? Der Streit um die authentische Interpretation des Konzils (in: Stimmen der Zeit 228 [2010] 219-228) the author similarly expresses the fear that that the negotiations would be used as an opportunity, in the context of freedom of conscience and religion, to weaken "the fundamental shift in perspective from the 'right to the truth' to the 'right of the person' (Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde), which the Council took after long debates."

{3} See Henri Morel, L'Idée Gallicane au temps des Guerres de Religion. Aix-en-Provence 2003, 243: "C'est sur ce dernier trait que nous voudrions conclure: l'union de la France avec la papauté a été affirmée par les gallicans, c'est le thème de la dernière maxime `des Libertés de l'Église gallicane` de P. Pithou. Et ainsi, aux heures les plus tragiques de son histoire, à un moment où la Réforme menaçait de tout submerger, l'Église catholique romaine a été sauvée en France par le Gallicanisme. En Allemagne, en Angleterre, dans plusieurs pays soumis à l'obédience temporelle de la cour de Rome, existaient des Églises nationales, d'où était exclue toute liberté: la révolte de Luther y apparut comme l'annonce de la délivrance. En France, au contraire, où les libertés étaient séculaires et leur défense assurée, la Réforme ne trouva pas le tremplin nécessaire à son succès. Le gallicanisme s'était montré indispensable, non seulement au Roi et au royaume de France, mais à l'Église de Rome elle-même. Il ne pouvait pas, aux yeux de l'Histoire, recevoir plus éclatante justification." It is always about France and its political and theological priority. It is never about the Reformation, and certainly not about the Counter-Reformation. That's why in the 17th century the leading supporters of Gallicanism were also against the Council of Trent as well as against the Jesuits (see Jotham Parsons, The Church in the Republic. Gallicanism and Political Ideology in Renaissance France, Washington 2004, 98 f., 107 f., 274 ff.). Already the intellectual creator of the Gallican liberties, Pierre Pithou - in the small compilation of the maxim "Les Libertes de l'Eglise Gallicane" at the end of the 16th century - begann his career with an analysis of the reform regulations of Trent for the Church of Blois. It is primarily characterized by the fact that he gave prominence to those which violate the Gallican liberties; about Pithou see Morel, 217-236, 218.

{4} Here it was primarily about special taxes which the Pope wanted to levy from donations to the French clergy; see Morel (note 3), 227 f.

{5} In the same place 11-16 Morel distinguishes these three pillars of Gallicanism: "le gallicanisme royal", "le Gallicanisme ecclésiastique les libertés de l'Église" and "le gallicanisme parlementaire." These sometimes blocked and antagonized each other but then again mutually strengthened. They were always in agreement about the relativization of the Pope and the universal church. This meant always a confrontation with ultramontane circles in France.

{6} The argument emerged since the Great Schism of the Middle Ages and was consistently presented. See about it Parsons (note 5) 7/8: "A more complex set of ideas had their origin in the period of the Great Schism, and particularly in France's policy, starting in 1395, of withdrawing obedience from both contending popes. At this time, out of practical necessity, the prelates and the government organized the Gallican Church on a self-administrating basis. They did so, however, in a radical way, declaring that the new system was based on the ancient common law of the Church. This doctrine, associated but distinct from contemporary theories on the supremacy of Church councils, became the second pillar of Gallicanism. The two had in common at least a verbal commitment to the general reform of a corrupt and overweening Church, a reform to be based on ancient customs and mores and strongly supported, if not led, by the French king." - The historical background was the bitter struggle between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII, not least visible in the Bull "Unam sanctam." Iit culminated for the French side in the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges in 1438, the focal point of Gallicanism. Since that time, the Sorbonne was always on the Gallican side.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'