Sunday, October 27, 2019
Turned Away from an SSPX Retreat for Observing Lent

Earlier this year I registered to attend a retreat with the SSPX retreat house in Los Gatos, CA. This would have been my third retreat with the SSPX as I've previously visited their Ridgefield, Connecticut and Phoenix, Arizona retreat houses. My experience was not pleasant and after thinking through this experience for several months I think it's important to share what happened to me.

On February 11th I registered for a retreat that was to take place this Lent and to my surprise shortly after sending in my deposit I received a refund along with this note from the St. Aloysius Retreat Center secretary:
We received a deposit for an upcoming retreat. Father Asher asked me to please refund your deposit. We are sorry, but the Retreat House is unable to accommodate your dietary requests. Your deposit will be refunded through PayPal, as it was the original payment method.
In my registration I had asked for shellfish free meals to be prepared (for an allergy) and for no meat to be served to me for the Monday - Thursday sessions since it is Lent and I follow the pre-1962 abstinence for all 40 days. In actuality, I maintain a vegan diet with an exception for fish but for the sake of ease on the retreat house, I only asked for them to not serve me shellfish or meat. 

I asked for clarification and received a terse reply from the same secretary:
We cannot accommodate either of your dietary restrictions -- it is impossible for the Retreat House to guarantee "no cross contamination" for the shellfish nor can the Retreat House accommodate the "no Meat during Lent" restriction.
A alleged traditional Catholic community can not accommodate no meat during Lent? This is absurd. No further replies or apologies were received. I did not ask for them to make me anything special - just to not serve me meat. So in June I sent in this note to the SSPX district office to see how they would react to this clear violation of Catholic Tradition. How can a retreat house turn someone away who did not want to eat the meat they prepared? I wrote:
I have thought and prayed about this over the past few months but I can no longer support the SSPX. I was planning this year to attend my 3rd Ignatian retreat and I was turn away.  My crime?  Asking that, since it was Lent, I be served meatless meals while there. I thought that was a simple request considering it is the traditional custom of the Lenten fast to abstain from meat for 40 days. Plus, it would be cheaper too for the retreat house. But I was refused. My deposit was returned. No questions asked.
I'm going to cease my donations to the SSPX, cease attending SSPX chapels (which I've done now for nearly 10 years), and as a Traditional Catholic author and writer for several publications, I think I'm going to have to make this situation aware to others. To turn away someone for asking to have a meatless meal is unconscionable. You have it clearly on your website that dietary restrictions are honored. Yet it seems they are not in Los Gatos if that dietary restriction is in keeping with a Lenten practice that, while not in place in 1962, was certainly in place in my grandparent's time.  Please update your website to state that you do NOT honor dietary requests for traditional Catholic practices.
On June 25th I received a response from the Executive Assistant to the District Superior - another lay person and not a priest. After commenting on my request for no shellfish, she wrote:
Your request for a non-meat diet during the retreat was a secondary issue, although, being a preference and not a medically-diagnosed diet, they do have the right to refuse to accommodate such a request. Retreatants, as with all of us who are seeking a deeper spiritual life, are encouraged to accept simply what is set before them at table. If you were to look into saints’ lives, particularly those who dwelt in community with others, they put their individual preferences after the needs or common life of the community. St. Therese of the Child Jesus, for example, would “eat anything” according to her religious sisters and they never knew what she liked or disliked when it came to food. Eating one’s meals in common with others during a retreat could be compared with that aspect of religious life. On a practical note, it would be impossible for the retreat house to cater to each individual retreatant’s preferences when it comes to meals in common. This is why they restrict consideration of diet accommodations to those that are “medically prescribed”, as indicated on the registration form. We were informed that the retreat house did reach out to you by phone after receiving your deposit in order to inform you that they could not accommodate your allergy restriction and that your deposit was refund immediately after that call.
On July 12th, after having through about their email for several weeks, I responded:
While I appreciate your attempt to address these issues via email, they only underscore the need to pull my support for the SSPX: 
1. I do swear that the retreat house never called me and spoke with me. They are either lying or mistaken. There was no discussion - just a refund and a terse email that said that I basically was not welcome 
2. I do not believe my food allergy was the cause. I have attended retreats in both retreat centers in Phoenix and in Connecticut before and they both happily honored my dietary request for no shellfish and to cook the dishes separately when shellfish were served.   
3. The real issue here is that the SSPX seems to think that modernism entered the Church in 1963 and that all practices in place in 1962 were good. They were not. Pope St. Pius X rightfully condemned modernism decades before. And part of that modernism was the New Church's allowing of meat to be eaten during the 40 days of Lent. To violate that abstinence is a sin regardless of what the SSPX thinks. I am not on a crusade to force SSPX priests or Mass-goers to abide by those laws, which are surely still valid, but your refusal to allow me to keep Catholic Tradition is the real reason I was not invited. The 1983 Code is not a valid Code. And I do not violate the traditional tenets of our Faith, including the Lenten abstinence rules. This is not my personal preference - this is true Church law. 
I have already pulled my financial support for the SSPX and will not be assisting at their chapels any further. It was made manifestly clear by the retreat house and by your response that I am not welcome.
No response was ever received. 

Why do I share this story? 

I share this because I know for many years, especially when I was newer to Traditional Catholicism, I viewed the SSPX has the epitome of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. However, after experiencing life in their chapels for many years I can say first-hand that I've met many priests who are extremely hard to talk to, dismissive, and lacking in charity. I still believe Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a hero, but that does not mean the modern SSPX is perfect.

In recent years, the resurgence of interest in the more traditional 1954 missal, with its octaves and untouched Holy Week ceremonies, has gained popularity in many Traditional Catholic groups but not in SSPX chapels. They continue to hold firm to the semi-modernized 1962 missal and 1961 breviary with the deletion or downgrading of dozens of feasts and octaves, not to mention the liberalizing 1962 Week reforms. To assert that the 1954 Missal is wrong, as I've heard in SSPX groups, is scandalous. But what is even more scandalous is the SSPX's views that the fasting and abstinence laws of 1962, which eliminated the Lenten fast and countless of other fasts on vigils, are to be observed. And even worse, if I were to observe the pre-1962 fasting periods I am refused admission to their retreat house.

The SSPX are not the embodiment of Catholic Tradition. I have met very committed Catholics who regularly attend SSPX chapels but I've found Catholic Traditions in other chapels and communities. I would advise great caution with accepting completely everything said by an SSPX priest, especially when their statements contradict pre-1962 Tradition or result in uncharitable actions towards others. We are all called to be missionaries of Traditional Catholicism and we do not do so by only preaching with fire and brimstone. We can save many by living a pre-Vatican II (that is pre-1960s lifestyle) and doing so in a way that shows others great love and charity and concern. 

My advice: do not attend an SSPX retreat and only attend an SSPX chapel if a Mass said according to the pre-1955 is not available.

Reject the 1962 Missal. Restore the 1954 Missal. Reject the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Observe the 1917 Code. Reject the modernistic fasting that was practiced in 1962, which Pope Benedict XIV surely would have condemned. Practice the traditional fasting done by our grandfathers and their grandfathers. 

4 comment(s):

del_button October 29, 2019 at 6:13 PM
Anonymous said...

"When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but in Milan I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal." St. Ambrose

I agree with you that the pre-1962 missal and customs are the true traditional forms, but the SSPX is not the enemy. We have a battle to wage against the Modernists, and the SSPX has their part to play. If you attend their retreats, the advice of St. Ambrose will serve you well.


del_button September 16, 2021 at 10:47 AM
The Gemini Observer said...

You shouldn't think poorly of the entire SSPX just because one branch had poorly handled a concern about fasting during lent. It's not fair to have their actions equal the entire society.

del_button April 8, 2022 at 12:20 PM
Anonymous said...

Hello Matthew - Thank you for all the work that goes into your blog and for your witness to the truth. Your blog has helped me a great deal in my journey. Because of you am I now somewhat familiar with some of the fasting and abstinence patterns I've adopted personally where possible. Nothing in the world discourages me more than when fellow Catholics, whether they be peers or hierarchs dampen my zeal of practice for the faith, and it sounds like this is what happened to you during this retreat where it would not have been possible for you to maintain your observance. Worse yet it seems as though there was poor treatment toward you by the people involved with the retreat and there was an overall lack of charity. I've heard it said before that eating what is placed in front of you, especially when you don't like it, without complaining, is virtuous. I sincerely think the higher road in this case is to not let this experience turn you off from SSPX retreats but rather let it be a martyrdom and continue on. Charity bonds us all together especially when we give it where its unwarranted. I pray you have peace about this experience and not allow a lack of zeal on the part of the retreat to give you disquiet. Please pray for me!

del_button May 2, 2022 at 4:38 PM
Anonymous said...

Sad, but everyone I know who became involved with the SSPX is highly dysfunctional.

Post a Comment

Copyright Notice: Unless otherwise stated, all items are copyrighted under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. If you quote from this blog, cite a link to the post on this blog in your article.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this blog are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate, for instance, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made by those who click on the Amazon affiliate links included on this website. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”