ROME – On Monday, the breakaway traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X distanced itself from an Italian archbishop and former Vatican envoy to the United States accused of schism, saying his public statements have gone beyond the acts that got their own founder excommunicated.

In a decree dated June 11, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) summoned Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who served as apostolic nuncio to the United States from 2011-2016 and who has accused Pope Francis of abuse coverup, to answer to charges of schism on June 20.

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Viganò did not show up to that audience and has since indicated in social media posts and in online articles that he does not intend to present a defense, considering the allegations against him to be “an honor.”

In a June 21 post on the website for the Exsurge Domine Foundation, Viganò stated that he has “no intention of going to the Holy Office on June 28,” the deadline by which he must present a defense, before the extrajudicial process against him moves forward.

Viganò insisted that “I have not delivered any statement or document in my defense to the Dicastery, whose authority I do not recognize, nor do I recognize the authority of its Prefect, nor do I recognize the authority of the one who appointed him.”

“I have no intention of submitting myself to a show trial in which those who are supposed to judge me impartially in order to defend Catholic orthodoxy are at the same time those whom I accuse of heresy, treason, and abuse of power,” he said.

In a June 24 statement published on their news website, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) referred to arguments Viganò has made in his defense in various online posts, at one point comparing himself to their founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Lefebvre founded the SSPX in 1970 to form priests as a response to what he described as errors that had arisen in the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Its relations with the Holy See were further strained in 1988 when Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer consecrated four bishops without the permission of Pope John Paul II.

The illicit consecration resulted in the excommunication of the six bishops. The excommunications of the surviving bishops were lifted in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI amid ongoing negotiations to restore communion, however, he also clarified that doctrinal issues were still present and that until they were resolved, the SSPX had no canonical status in the Church and its ministers could not legitimately exercise any ministry.

In a sign of goodwill, Pope Francis during the Jubilee of Mercy extended to the priests of the SSPX the faculty to validly hear confessions and absolve penitents. He later extended this faculty until further notice.

In their statement, the SSPX, currently led by Father Davide Pagliarani, notes that in the decree summoning Viganò, “the crime of schism is put forward, because of certain public affirmations negating the elements necessary to maintain communion with the Catholic Church.”

Namely, Viganò is charged with denying the legitimacy of Pope Francis, of rupture of communion with him, and of rejecting the Second Vatican Council.

The SSPX notes that Viganò in his responses to the accusations defends himself “in various ways, invoking the doctrinal wanderings of the current pontificate; rejecting neo-modernist errors; and asserting his case compares to that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, also summoned in his time to the Palace of the former Holy Office.”

Viganò in a June 20 post on Exsurge Domine recalled how 50 years ago, Lefebvre was also summoned to the Vatican to answer to allegations of schism.

“His defense is mine; his words are mine; and his arguments are mine – arguments before which the Roman authorities could not condemn him for heresy, having to wait instead for him to consecrate bishops so as to have the pretext of declaring him schismatic and then revoking his excommunication when he was already dead,” he said.

Now, “the scheme is repeated even after half a century has demonstrated Archbishop Lefebvre’s prophetic choice,” Viganò said.

The SSPX in their statement said there is one point which “significantly differentiates” Viganò from Lefebvre, and this difference is that “Archbishop Viganò makes a clear declaration of sedevacantism in his text. In other words, according to him, Pope Francis is not pope.”

Viganò makes this claim in his June 20 post, on Exsurge Domine, in which he said that “Bergoglio is to the Church what other world leaders are to their nations: traitors, subversives, and final liquidators of traditional society who are certain of impunity.”

“Bergoglio’s defect of consent (vitium consensus) in accepting his election is based precisely on the evident alienity of his action of government and magisterium with respect to what any Catholic of any age expects from the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles,” he said.

Explaining what is mean by the reference to a “defect of consent,” the SSPX said in their statement that “according to Viganò, Cardinal Bergoglio considered the papacy as something other than what it really is. He accepted the pontifical office without fully consenting, and this error resulted in the nullity of his acceptance. His pontificate would therefore be that of a placeholder.”

“Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society he founded have not ventured down that perilous road,” they said.

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