Many Western Catholics are quite aware of the Fraternal Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). It is an organization that has seen many struggles, been lauded by some, but ridiculed by most. Yet, is the Society alone in its struggle to nourish Catholic souls? What if the SSPX had a twin, perhaps on the other side of the world? Could it be possible that there is another society of Catholics out there struggling to maintain their faith in similar circumstances?
Well, in China there is an Underground Roman Catholic Church. There is also a mainstream version of the Catholic Church there that is approved by the communist government. However, the Underground Catholics are against the state-approved Catholic Church. This is because the Open Church, as it is called, refuses to acknowledge the primacy of the pope.
You see, In 1957, a parallel schismatic church was set up by Chinese communists who declared autonomy from Rome. So now, this Open Church is subject to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). The CCPA is sort of a false Church that, like the Eastern Orthodox, also refuses to acknowledge the primacy of the pope. By doing this, the CCPA abuses Catholicism with this direct abuse against the pope’s office.
Similarly, in the West the SSPX has been in opposition to soft, long-term abuses within and against the Church itself. Just as the Chinese CCPA abuses the authority of the Church hierarchy for its own Marxist ends, so does a current post Vatican II cabal abuse the hierarchy’ s authority for leftist, modernist ends. Just as China has set up its own version of the Catholic Church, so too has the main Catholic Church’s hierarchy fashioned a doppelganger counterpart: the entire Novus Ordo religion.
As a result, the Church became a bifurcated institution, with Novus Ordo followers and leadership on one side, and on the other the SSPX and every Traditional Catholic brand that later followed, all carrying the stain of being either odd or unofficial in one form or another.
Both justify themselves with a state of emergency
The utter enormity of modernist sell out in the Catholic Church was overwhelming in the immediate years after Vatican II. When it became clear throughout the 1970s and 1980s that Archbishop Lefebvre and his newly-formed SSPX were being blackballed by Church hierarchy, the reality of the Church’s emergency became clear. By 1988, the new circumstances caused by the rapid metastization of modernism, the new aggressive actions of an emboldened Novus Ordo hierarchy, and an apparent attempt to ostracize Archbishop Lefebvre–all of this objectively and subjectively forced Lefebvre into a corner that allowed him to fall back upon the 1983 Code of Canon Law, legally justifying his new appointment of bishops.
Put simply, the Novus Ordo powers in the hierarchy did not want Lefebvre’s society to thrive or grow. They kept him in the dark, neither “legitimizing” him, nor forbidding him from maintaining his society of Traditional Catholics who have kept the classic manner of Catholic society that existed before the radical Second Vatican Council. And so, he consolidated and empowered his society as best he could, going so far as to consecrated four bishops in 1986–much to the disdain of his enemies.
Similarly, in China in the early 1950s, when Bishop Kung sensed what was about to befall the Catholic Church in China, he made a mad scramble to prepare as many young men for the priesthood as he could. Pope Pius XII was already warning the Chinese laity that the communist government was anxiously seeking to establish a schismatic, mainstreamed national church.
With their persecution being imminent, Bishop Kung realized he wanted China’s Catholics to be as ready as possible. In fact, in 1954 he sought to have his priests and seminarians take a loyalty oath not to betray the Faith. Thus, the Catholic Underground was born in China.
Both the SSPX in the West and the Underground Catholic Church in China have had to fly under the radar. Shunned and persecuted by a mainstream apparatus, they are ridiculed in official circles, and the authority of their priests are endlessly questioned.
In the case of the SSPX, as many Traditionalists know, the Society has been lambasted across the board, from various circles of cardinals to parish parking lots. They are proclaimed to be outright schismatics and not-Catholics. An entire organization, the FSSP, was created in order to pick priests and laity out of the organization.
In the beginning, SSPX priests held mass at private chapels, in homes, or in hotel lobbies. They were outliers who were scorned as oddities, not taken seriously by hardly anyone in the hierarchy. Vssual cafeteria Catholics of the Novus Ordo sect who knew nothing about the Society blew it off as a gaggle of dusty fuddy duddies. And even Pope Francis has hurled insults at this brand of Catholics who struggle to hold onto their faith with everything they’ve got.
The Underground Catholic Church in China, has suffered under a similar–and much harsher–recusant lifestyle. Like the SSPX, they are delegitimized by the official machinery of their region. CCPA Bishops of the Open Church won’t even publicly acknowledge their existence. When such bishops are cornered about the Underground Church, the latter is regarded as a collection of power hungry, stubborn holdouts who refuse to properly submit. In the same style of the West’s SSPX critics, the Open Church apologists argue that the Underground is all about gaining money and control from a confused laity.
Yet unlike the Novus Ordo’ s battle against the SSPX, the CCPA in China has the power of an unrelenting, unsympathetic communist state to enforce their bias. Like the laity of the SSPX, Underground Church Catholics are not always able to celebrate Mass in a church building. Instead, these hidden Roman Catholics are forced to hold Mass in backyards, private homes, small courtyards, or other unofficial places. Many times, if the police find out about a group of Underground Catholics, people are beaten, killed, or disappear completely. It is not unheard of for a priest to be imprisoned for decades for his unwillingness to renounce the pope’s office.
Two Struggling Groups In A Post-Catholic Church
The SSPX and China’s Underground Roman Catholic Church have much in common. Both groups are justifiably opposed to an erring hegemonic system, both are justified by a state of emergency, and they are relegated to an underground status in which they are regarded as holdouts. Each recognize the reigning Church hierarchy, yet their priests are spurned and said to have no authority, as they survive by utilizing the legal loopholes discovered by their progenitors.
Considering the brutality of the forces of China’s CCPA, it can be said that the SSPX is blessed to suffer only from a soft persecution here in the West. Yet perhaps it can also be said that the Underground offers many insights and lessons for a Traditionalist movement that may yet see that level of suppression.
It is sad, but not surprising, to learn that Novus Ordo Rome has recently asked two of the Underground bishops to step down–all while courting new CCPA bishops who do not recognize the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. It is as though the Vatican has suddenly decided to side with the Eastern Orthodox in splitting from the Catholics. Another way to look at it: it is as though the Vatican is siding with King Henry VIII’ s Church of England against the remaining Catholic Recusants.
As China’s Cardinal Zen recently said about Vatican talks to recognize CCPA clergy:
The proposed ‘unification’ would force everybody into that community. The Vatican would be giving the blessing on the new strengthened schismatic Church, taking away the bad conscience from all those who are already willing renegades and those others who would readily join them.
At this point in the Church, these maneuvers are to be expected. In what increasingly appears to be a post-Catholic Church, we exist beneath the scowling gaze of prelates who now extol Martin Luther but abandon any remaining faithful Catholics.
The West’ s SSPX and China’s Underground Catholics have, in a way, both been fighting the same fight. They have sought after the True Faith promised to us by Jesus Christ. It is the hopes of this world’s morally compromised principalities and powers to obscure and cloud what the Catholic Church is supposed to stand for. Fighting against this diabolical effort is arduous and risky, as we can now testify from one edge of the globe to the other.