Interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay, Roodepoort (South Africa), September 15th 2009
With the lifting of the decree of excommunication, the doctrinal discussions will be taking place between Rome and the Fraternity of St. Pius X. What is the goal of these discussions?
The goal that we wish to achieve with these doctrinal discussions is an important clarification in the teaching of the Church in recent years. Indeed, the Fraternity Saint Pius X, in union with its founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, had serious objections to the Second Vatican Council and we hope that the discussions will help to dispel the errors or the severe ambiguities that have since been spread with full hands throughout the Catholic Church, as John Paul II himself recognized.
How long will these discussions last? What are the main points that will be addressed and in what fashion?
I have no idea how long the discussions will last. It will certainly depend on the expectations of Rome. They could take a long time. This is because the topics are very broad. Our main objections to the Council, such as religious liberty, ecumenism, and collegiality are well known. However other objections could be raised such as the influence of modern philosophy, liturgical novelties, the worldly spirit and its influence on modern thought which has run rampant throughout the church.
Both rosary crusades have borne fruit. With regards to the Motu Proprio of July 2007, what should our attitude be towards the priests who celebrate the traditional Mass now, even if not exclusively, since they say the New Mass regularly?
Basically, whenever a priest wants to return to the traditional Mass, it is our duty to approach that with a positive attitude; we should rejoice in it and hope that the Mass produces its fruit. Today we already see that this is what happens most of the time. There are also, of course, priests who remain indifferent to the ancient rite. Time will show who is serious about it and who is not.
What advice can you give to the faithful concerning these priests? What should be the approach of the laity be towards them?
The faithful must be very cautious and not get themselves into embarrassing situations. They should consult our priests before approaching these priests. The circumstances are so variable: every priest is different and until it is clear that the attitude of the priest toward the Mass is authentic, the faithful must remain gracious while maintaining a cautious position.
To your knowledge, is there now a greater number of priests who celebrate the Mass of all time exclusively?
It is difficult to give an exact answer because there is no official record and because many of those who would like to celebrate the old Mass dare not. In many countries there is a strong pressure from the hierarchy to prevent its return. Many priests have to say it in secret out of fear. However I believe that the number is growing modestly.
The crisis of the Church is a crisis of faith. It will take some time until all priests say only the “old” Mass. Is it correct to say that even if, through the doctrinal discussions Rome returned to the fullness of truth, there would always be much opposition about the Mass and Vatican II?
We must be realistic. The return, the restoration of the church will take time. The crisis in the Church has affected all aspects of Christian life. To come out of this situation will take more than a generation of constant effort in the right direction – perhaps a century. This means that we must expect resistance. But let’s hope that the worst has passed and that the signs of recovery we see today are the seeds of reality and not just a dream …
Collegiality has been a disaster for the Church. Can we not see in spite of everything, a slight “crack in the wall of collegiality” with the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI and more recently with the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication?
Indeed, these decisions are really his. There is a way to correctly understand true collegiality. Paul VI added a “preliminary note” to the document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, that collegiality is to be understood properly. The problem is that this note seems to be forgotten. The general idea that has been propagated and that falsely reduces significantly the powers of the sovereign pontiff is a real danger to the Church and makes governing it impossible. Thus, the various acts of the Pope given “motu proprio” are good signs of a willingness to govern the Church personally and not corporately.
There have been so many comments – both for and against – the decisions of the Pope that he was obliged to write a letter of explanation to the bishops. Is this a good thing that the pope finds himself “up against the wall”, so to speak?
It actually depends on the point of view. The authority of the Pope was truly shaken by the tumult at the beginning of the year. It can only be regarded as a good thing due to the opposite effect that it would bring upon Rome, which will allow us to understand who loves the Church and works to build it and who does not.
For the first time in 40 years we see the supreme authority of the Church recognize that there are problems both theological and doctrinal. Does the Pope not realize that the “conciliar church” (to use the words of Cardinal Benelli), and its reforms are doomed and that a return to tradition is necessary?
I’m not sure everyone sees the doctrinal discussions in that way. I would say that for most of the hierarchy these discussions are necessary, not for the Church, but for us and our “return to full communion” to adopt the new ways. In fact, I feel that we are facing a very delicate situation. The reality of the crisis is acknowledged, but not the remedies. We say, and it is proven by the facts, that the solution to the crisis is a return to the past. Benedict XVI said the same thing: He emphasizes the importance of not breaking with the past (the hermeneutic of continuity), but he maintains the improvisations of the council as though they are not a break with this past. According to him the only ones which are wrong and break with the past are those which go beyond the council. It is a very sensitive issue.
The Pope’s position on ecumenism does not seem to be as enthusiastic as that of his predecessor. Is it because he sees ecumenism as something more theological as opposed to “ut unum sint” with its dire consequences for the Church?
I do not think the Pope sees ecumenism as a bad thing. He cherishes the fact that the Church continues in this direction and he even said that it was irreversible … but he seems to want to differentiate between the various faiths and favor those who are nearer such as the Orthodox rather than the Protestants.
This year we celebrate 25 years of the presence of the Society in Africa, specifically the Priory of Our Lady of Sorrows in Johannesburg. What advice or encouragement can you give our parishioners and to all the faithful of the district of Africa?
Thank God for this wonderful anniversary. Given the length of the crisis, 25 years is a great achievement for which we must give thanks. It also demonstrates great loyalty from the faithful. Loyalty is a true glory. It involves the preservation of faith, steadfastness, and perseverance in the battle. So, the best wish I could offer them – to all of us – is that they would be more faithful than ever.
(Source : Tradition n°3, september 2009. – Father Marc Vernoy : Priory Our Lady of Sorrows
P.O. Box 878 ZA – 1725 Roodepoort – Afrique du Sud)
On October 12, Apic agency published as a header to story about this interview: “For Bishop Fellay, the only solution is ‘to go back to the past’.” It is a rather hasty judgment, but this very haste is revealing. The context from which this sentence has been isolated shows a more qualified opinion: “(…) I have the impression that we are in front of a very mixed situation. The reality of the crisis is recognized, but not the remedies. We say and prove in the facts that the way out of the crisis is in a return to the past. Benedict XVI says something different: insisting in the necessity of not cutting with the past (the hermeneutic of continuity), he nevertheless insists in keeping the novelties of the council, considering that they are not a rupture with the past. Only those who want to go further than the council would be in error and in rupture with the past. This is a most delicate problem.”
Shortly before the doctrinal discussions with Rome, Bishop Fellay points out where is the point of convergence: the common acknowledgement of an unprecedented crisis in the Church. Yet he also shows where comes the divergence: the necessity of a return to Tradition to remedy the crisis, because Vatican II is not in full and complete continuity with this two-thousand year old Tradition.
To shorten this into a quick: “the return of the past” presented as “the only solution” to the crisis, is to suggest how simplistic is the analysis of the Society of St. Pius X. And it gives to understand that it naively believes to be able to resolve everything by a simple turn back. We might quote here some progressive motto: “nostalgic tension”; “illusory effort to go back in time”; “pathetic attempt to stop the course of history”… These caricatures have the power to bring cheap re-assurance to those who use them. Let us certainly not trouble their tranquility!
But for those interested in reality, two questions arise:
When you realize you have gone the wrong way is it wise or not to turn back in order to start again on the right track?
When you do not think with the revolutionaries: “let us put the past behind us”, is it ludicrous to return to this doctrinal and spiritual heritage which is called Tradition to ensure for the Church a future which is not that of a “boat taking in water at every side”?