Rorate Caeli

Upcoming Event: Understand
The Third Ordinary General Chapter of the SSPX
July 2006


Father Michel BEAUMONT*

The Fraternity of Saint Pius X [FSSPX/ Society of Saint Pius X - SSPX] will gather, in a few weeks, its Third Ordinary General Chapter, during which, in particular, the Superior-General for the next twelve years will be elected. What is a General Chapter? How is it held? Who takes part in it? What are the rules for the election of the Superior-General? Such are the questions which we tried to answer.
The General Chapter (which, in others institutes, may have a different name: among the Jesuits, General Congregation) is the supreme and extraordinary authority of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X (the ordinary authority being the Superior-General assisted by his Council).

The Chapter is the only [body] with the power, if the need for it is felt, to amend the Statutes. The Statutory (or "Ordinary") General Chapter meets every twelve years. Since the Fraternity of Saint Pius X was founded in 1970, the third Statutory General Chapter will take place as from Monday, July 3, 2006.

The Superior-General may convene, for exceptional reasons, an Extraordinary Chapter: the occasion for one has not yet arisen.

The Superior-General may convene a "Chapter of Affairs", which gathers only the superiors in charge and which has a merely advisory role (it is not a General Chapter in a strict sense).

The first and essential goal of the Ordinary General Chapter (as that of 2006, therefore) is the election of the Superior-General and of his Assistants. Its second goal is "to verify if the Fraternity of Saint Pius X applies the Statutes conscientiously and endeavors to preserve their spirit".

[The Composition of the General Chapter]

The General Chapter is composed initially of people designated by their "office".

By office

They are:
- the [standing] Superior-General and his two Assistants;
- the bishops;
- the former Superior-Generals;
- the Secretary-General and the Treasurer-General;
- the District superiors;
- the Rectors of the Major Seminaries;
- the Superiors of the Autonomous Houses.

[Members by Seniority]

The composition of the Chapter also includes the oldest priests, who do not have the above mentioned charges or offices, "in the proportion of one third of the [number of the] members by office".

The members of the Chapter of 2006 will be 40, 30 of whom will be present because of their office. The members by seniority, "in the proportion of one third of the members by office", are thus 10 (one third of 30) and represent the last quarter of the Chapter. These "Elders" entered the Fraternity of Saint Pius X between 1971 (the two oldest) and 1974 (the most recent two). They are not deprived of leadership experience: one finds among them, in particular, three former District Superiors and one former Seminary Rector.

A varied palette

It is necessary to note that the Chapter, which gathers men in high office or with great seniority, presents nevertheless a varied human palette, the assurance of a multiple and wise view of reality. For example, if the oldest of the Chapter members is 66, the youngest is only 32.

The oldest priest in priesthood was ordered in 1972, while the youngest was ordered only in 2001 [...]. The French account for 20 capitularies, exactly half (of which only 5 live in France).

This figure is higher than the [overall] weight of the French in the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, in which they represent a third of the manpower. In fact, the proportion is respected in the members by office: the French are 11 out of these 30 capitularies. But the members by seniority disturb this parity: the French are 9 out of the 10 "Elders", which testifies to the fact that, in its beginnings, the Fraternity of Saint Pius X recruited mostly in France.

The European dominance, on the other hand, is crushing: 32 European capitularies. These Europeans come from six countries: Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland. Eight non-Europeans include: one Australian, one South-African, two Argentinians, two Canadians, and two Americans. The Slavic world, Asia, and Africa, thus, do not have, for the moment, representatives in the Chapter. Latin America, and even the United States, are still only lightly represented.

Preparation for the Chapter

Before the proceedings, the Chapter is prepared. First of all, each member of the Fraternity is invited to present his suggestions. For their part, the Superior-General and his Council prepare the matters to be presented to the Chapter, as well as a report on the [state of the] Fraternity of Saint Pius X during the past mandate. During this time, the Secretary-General draws up, according to the Statutes, the list of capitularies, which is definitively fixed (except for any intervening death) six months before the Chapter.

The same Secretary classifies and gathers in only one document the suggestions which arrived at the General House . Then, the Secretary-General sends to each one of the capitularies the list of the Chapter members and the summary of the themes and suggestions, for personal study and reflexion.

During this period, special prayers for the lights of Holy Ghost over the future Chapter are offered throughout the Fraternity. On their arrival for the Chapter, to prepare themselves to act according to the will of the Divine Spirit, the capitularies go to a spiritual retreat of at least three days.

Election of the Superior-General

After these spiritual preparations, the oath envisaged by canonical law is administered, followed by the verification of the titles of the members who are present to take part in the Chapter, the report of the outgoing Superior-General, and various preparatory meetings.

Then follows the election of the new Superior-General and of his two Assistants, with secret ballots. The Superior-General must be elected by at least two thirds of the ballots. The two assistants must be elected by at least the absolute majority of the votes. All three positions must be filled by priests who are at at least thirty years old and who are permanent members of the Fraternity Saint Pius X.

Another Superior or the current one?

Will the General Chapter reelect the current Superior-General, or it will choose another? Let us briefly study the reasons in favour of one option or the other.

The first argument for a possible renewal of the current term comes from the Statutes themselves: Archbishop Lefebvre mentioned this possibility in the first sentence which deals with the Superior-General: "the Superior-General and his two Assistants are elected by the General Chapter for twelve years. They are reelegible."

But one may interpret this same sentence of the Statutes in favor of the election of a new Superior, even if this argument is quite implicit. One may reasonably estimate, indeed, that Archbishop Lefebvre, in granting to the Superior-General a long mandate, wished to enable him to carry out a continuous policy, with the idea that, at the end of the mandate, another Superior would replace him and would follow an eventually different policy.

The second argument in favor of a reelection is that of [personal] experience. A new Superior would need one or two years to acquaint himself with all affairs, while, after twelve years at the helm, the outgoing Superior would be immediately operational and would profit from his know-how.

Against this argument, whose apparent value is considerable, one could present that of the need for a renewed approach to the problems by a new Superior, therefore of a different ability to face them and to solve them. If the argument of experience were exclusively determinant, the people in charge would never be changed, which is neither reasonable, nor in conformity with the usual practice of mankind.

The third argument in favor of reelection is that of custom. After twelve years, the qualities (and defects) of the outgoing Superior are known and everyone knows how and in which direction he will carry out his work. On the other hand, entrusting the Fraternity to another Superior would be jumping into the unknown.

A parallel argument is that of notoriety. The outgoing Superior is well known, which is an advantage in the representation of the institution. On the other hand, a "new head" would spend several years to make himself known, which would proportionately reduce much of the effectiveness of his government during this period.

However, these two arguments are not truly crucial. Admittedly, it is very human to want to preserve that which one knows well [...]. Yet, following this rule universally, without taking into account the circumstances, the people, and the need for renewal of any human society is to open the way towards routine and inactivity.

As it was seen, there is no absolutely convincing argument in a direction or the other, which is just as well, since it is the way willed by the Statutes. It will be for the capitularies, enlightened of the light of the Holy Ghost and making use of their reason, to freely choose the man (another or the current one) who will wisely guide the Fraternity of Saint Pius X for the next twelve years.

Resumption of the Chapter

After this election, the Chapter is not over. It resumes, under the presidency of the new Superior-General. The Chapter studies different questions (those related to the General House, to the members of Fraternity,those raised by the Chapter itself) and votes, in absolute majority voting, on the resolutions which will have force of law for the Fraternity of Saint Pius X.
*This text was published in the May-June 2006 issue of Fideliter, edited by the District of France of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX-SSPX). It was translated with some adaptations deemed necessary for better readability; it is reproduced here for mere documental purposes, without any judgment of any kind whatsoever.