Where do we stand with Rome?
On November 1, 2012, on the feast of All Saints, Bishop Bernard Fellay celebrated Mass at the seminary in Ecône. During his sermon, after recalling the spiritual meaning of this feast, he explained the status of the relations of the Society of Saint Pius X with Rome. – The title and subtitles are by the editors of DICI.
… Why is there a Society of Saint Pius X? Why do we become priests? It is not just for the pleasure of celebrating the old Mass. It is in order to go to Heaven; it is in order to save souls! Certainly, while preserving the treasures of the Church, but with the purpose of saving souls, of sanctifying them by snatching them away from sin, by leading them to Heaven, by leading them to Our Lord.
Where do we stand with Rome? Allow me to explain two points. First, a look at what has happened. Then, a look at the present and perhaps at the future.
First: at what has happened. One trial, perhaps the greatest that we have ever had, was due to a conjunction of several factors that occurred at the same time and created a state of confusion, of rather profound doubt that leaves injuries—and of the more serious wounds, indeed, the one that causes us enormous pain: the loss of one of our bishops. This is not a trifle! This is not due solely to the current crisis. This is a long story, but it finds its conclusion here.
Two contrary messages from Rome
Well, what happened? I think that the first factor is a problem that has been around for several years and that I have mentioned at least since 2009. I said that we find ourselves confronting the contradiction in Rome. And there has been a manifestation of this contradiction in our relations with the Holy See for about a year, since September, inasmuch as I received through official channels some documents that clearly expressed the willingness on the part of Rome to recognize the Society, but it was necessary to sign a document that we could not sign. And at the same time there was another line of information that I received, and it was impossible for me to doubt its authenticity. This line of information really said something different.
This started in mid-August, whereas I did not receive the official document until September 14, 2011. Since mid-August, a person at the Vatican has been telling us: “The Pope will recognize the Society and it will be as it was with the excommunications, in other words, without anything [required] in return.” So it was in this frame of mind that I got ready for the September 14 meeting by preparing arguments, by saying: “But have you carefully reflected on what you are doing? What are you trying to do? That won’t work.” And in fact, the document that was presented to us was completely different from what was announced to us.
But I didn’t have just one source, I had several notifications that said the same thing. One cardinal declared: “Yes, it is true, there are differences, but it is the pope who wants it.” This same person who had given us this information told us, after we received the official document: “This is not what the pope wants.” Contradiction!
What were we to do? Given the seriousness of the information indicating to us that the pope wanted to do something—but to what extent?—I was obliged to verify it. But it was impossible to communicate that to the faithful. This came through channels that were informal but very close to the Pope. I will quote to you some of the statements that were conveyed to me. First this one: “I know very well that it would be easier both for me and for the Society for things to remain as they are.” Which clearly shows that he knows that he himself will have problems, and we will too. But how far does he want to go?
Other statements by the Pope: “Let the Society know that resolving the problem of the Society is at the heart of the priorities of my pontificate.” Or this: “There are men at the Vatican who are doing everything they can to put down the Pope’s projects.” And this one: “Do not fear; afterward you will be able to continue to attack as much as you want, just like now.” And this other statement: “The Pope is above the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; even if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes an unfavorable decision in your regard, the Pope will overturn it.”
This is the sort of information that reached me. Obviously it is not clear, when on the one hand you have official documents to which you have to say no, because they are asking us to accept the Council and that is not possible, and when on the other hand such reports are communicated to you. Nevertheless I made an initial response in which I said no. Someone telephoned me to tell me: “Could you not be a little more precise?” I wrote a second time. They were no more content than the first time. And so we come to March 16, when they presented to me a letter, saying, “This letter comes from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but it is approved by the Pope.” If I had in my hands nothing but this letter, our relations with Rome would be finished, because this letter said that no one has the right to set the past Magisterium against the Magisterium of today. Therefore no one has the right to say that today the Roman authorities are in contradiction with those of yesterday. It also said that rejecting the September 14 document which was explicitly approved by the Pope was tantamount in fact to rejecting the authority of the Pope. There was even a reference to the canons that talk about schism and about excommunication for schism. The letter continued: “The Pope, in his kindness, is allowing you another month to reflect; if you wish to change your decision, tell the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about it.” Then it’s clear! There is nothing left to do. This letter that came to me by the official channel concludes the debate. It is over. But at the same time, I received informal advice that told me: “Yes, you will receive a harsh letter, but remain calm,” or actually: “don’t panic.”
Because there were interventions of this sort, I made so bold as to bypass the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to write directly to the Pope. And also because I realized that the most delicate point in our relations was the following: the Roman authorities were persuaded that we were saying in theory that we recognized the pope but in practice we were rejecting everything. They are persuaded that for us, since 1962, there is nothing left: no more Pope, no more Magisterium. I thought that I should correct that, because it is not true. We reject many things, we are not in agreement with many things, but when we say that we recognize him as pope, that is the truth, we truly recognize him as pope. We recognize that he is quite capable of performing papal acts.
And so I made so bold as to write. It was obviously a delicate matter, because it was necessary to say at the same time that we are in agreement and that we are not in agreement. This extremely delicate letter seems to have been approved by the pope and even to have been approved afterwards by the cardinals. But in the text that was presented to me in June, everything that I had removed because it could not be accepted had been put back.
When this document was delivered to me, I said: “No, I am not signing this; the Society is not going to sign.” I wrote to the Pope: “We cannot sign that,” explaining: “Until now—since we are not in agreement about the Council and since you wish, it seems, to recognize us—I had thought that you were ready to set aside the Council.” I gave an historical example, the one of the union with the Greeks at the Council of Florence, where they did not reach an agreement on the question of marriage annulment by reason of infidelity. The Orthodox think that this is a reason that can annul a marriage, the Catholic Church does not. They reached no agreement. What did they do? They left the problem to one side. One can see very clearly the difference between the Decree to the Armenians, where the question of marriage is mentioned, and the case of the Greek, where it is omitted. I made this reference while saying: “Perhaps you may do the same thing; perhaps you think it is more important to recognize us as Catholics than to insist on the Council. But now with the text that you are delivering to us, I think that I was mistaken. Tell us, then, really what you want. For among us these questions sow confusion.”
The Pope replied to me in a letter dated June 30 in which he sets three conditions:
- The first is that we must recognize that the Magisterium is the authentic judge of Apostolic Tradition—this means that the Magisterium is the one to tell us what belongs to Tradition. That is true. But obviously the Roman authorities want to utilize that to say: you recognize that, and therefore now we decide that the Council is traditional, and you have to accept it. And that, incidentally, is the second condition.
- It is necessary for us to accept the fact that the Council is an integral part of Tradition, of Apostolic Tradition. But here we say that everyday observation proves to us the contrary. How could one say all at once that this Council is traditional? To be able to say such a thing, it is necessary to have completely changed the meaning of the term “Tradition”. And in fact we realize clearly that they have changed the meaning of the word “Tradition”; for it is not insignificant that at the Second Vatican Council they rejected the definition by Saint Vincent of Lérins, which is the altogether traditional definition: “That which was believed by all, everywhere, and always.”
“That which was believed” is an object. Now, for them, Tradition is something living, it is no longer an object, it is what they call the “subject Church”, it is the Church which grows. That is Tradition, which from age to age makes new things and accumulates; and this accumulation is a Tradition that develops, that increases. This sense is true also but it is secondary.
- As a third point, it is necessary to accept the validity and the liceity of the New Mass.
I had sent to Rome the documents of the General Chapter, our final Declaration which is clear, and our conditions for eventually, when the time comes, reaching an agreement about a possible canonical recognition. These are conditions without which it is impossible [for the Society] to live; that would quite simply be self-destruction. For to accept everything that is being done today in the Church is to destroy ourselves. It is to abandon all the treasures of Tradition.
Why are there these contradictions in Rome?
The proposed reconciliation, in fact, amounts to to reconciling us with Vatican II. Not with the Church, not with the Church of all ages. Besides, we do not need to be reconciled with the Church of all ages; we’re there. And Rome says: “We have not yet received your official response.” But three times I replied that we could not, that we were not going down that path.
Not long ago, we had a position statement from the President of Ecclesia Dei, who is at the same time the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asserting that the discussions with the Society were over. And last Saturday, a new declaration from the Ecclesia Dei says: “No, we must allow them some time; it is understandable that after thirty years of debate they should need a certain amount of time; we do see that they have an ardent desire to be reconciled.” I have the impression that they have it more than we do. And we wonder: what is happening?
Obviously this is once again sowing confusion, but we must not allow ourselves to be troubled. We continue on our path. Quite simply. You have here, once again, a manifestation of the contradiction that is found in Rome. Why is there contradiction? Of course, because there are people who want to continue along the modern way, down the path of destruction, of demolition, and then you have others who are beginning to realize that that is not working and who wish us well. But can we put our trust in them? That depends on the circumstances; it is not enough to wish us well.
In all these discussions, I have arrived at the conclusion—and I think that this explains what is happening now—that the pope really, very seriously would like to recognize the Society. However the conditions that he sets are impossible for us. The conditions that are found in his letter are for us quite simply impossible.
To say that the Council is traditional! Whereas everything tells us the contrary! Fifty years of Church history say the contrary! To say that the new Mass is good! Here too one only has to open one’s eyes to see the disaster. The experience that we have had in recent years with priests who come to see us is instructive. I again had one of these encounters, quite recently. I was in Argentina, where I made the acquaintance of a relatively young priest who knew absolutely nothing about Tradition, who was discovering the Mass. This was the first time that he saw a Traditional Mass: until a short time ago he did not even know that it existed. What was his reaction? He said that he was terribly frustrated, angry at those who had hidden this treasure from him! Here is his reaction: “This is the Mass? And they never told us that!”
The path leading out of this crisis is quite simple. If we want to talk about a new evangelization—the terms we use are unimportant—the only way to get out of the crisis is to return to what the Church has always done. That is very simple, that is not complicated. And it is not being anachronistic or archaic. I know very well that we are living in today’s world. We are not experiencing yesterday or the day before yesterday; there is—it is true—new problems, but the Good Lord’s solutions are there! These solutions are eternal. We know that at no moment is there a situation in our life when we would be deprived of grace. Every time there is a choice, every time there is a temptation, the Good Lord gives us the grace proportioned to the situation so as to overcome it. God’s commandments are valid today as yesterday. God remains God, you see!
Therefore when they tell us that it is necessary to adapt to the world, to adopt its language… or whatever, it is necessary to try to explain things. Yes, that is true, but we don’t need to change the Truth. The road to Heaven still remains a road of renouncing sin, Satan and the world. This is the first condition that we find in the baptismal promises: “Do you renounce Satan? Do you renounce his works?” This is still the way; there is no other. People make speeches today about the divorced and remarried. Last year the German bishops said that one of their goals was to arrive at communion for the divorced and remarried. Well! The Church, and not only the Church but the good Lord tells us: no, it is necessary first to regularize this situation. The good Lord gives grace to those who are in a difficult situation. No one says that it is easy! When a marriage is broken, it is a tragedy, but the good Lord gives grace. Those who are in that state must be strong, and the Cross of Our Lord helps them, but we will not ratify [second marriages] or do as they do here in the Diocese of Sion, where they have a ritual to bless these unions. People don’t say it too loud, but it is a reality. Now to do that is to bless sin; and that cannot come from the good Lord! The priests or the bishops who do that are leading souls into hell. They are doing exactly the opposite of what they were called to do when they became priests or bishops.
This is the reality of the Church that we are facing! And how could anyone say yes to all that? This is the tragedy of the Church that we are confronting.
Now, to speak about the future, what we will try to do with the Roman authorities is to tell them that it does no good to pretend, for the sake of the faith, that the Church cannot be mistaken. Because, at the level of faith, we are entirely in agreement about the assistance of the Holy Ghost, but you have to open your eyes to what is happening in the Church! It is necessary to stop saying: the Church can do nothing bad, therefore the new Mass is good. It is necessary to stop saying: the Church cannot err, and therefore there is no error in the Council. But look at reality then! There can be no contradiction between the reality that we apprehend and the faith. It is the same good God who made both. Therefore if there is an apparent contradiction, there is certainly a solution. Perhaps we don’t have it yet, but we are not going to deny reality for the sake of the faith! Now this is truly the impression that one has with regard to what Rome is trying to impose on us today. And here we reply: we cannot. That is all.
And therefore we continue, come what may! We know very well that one day this trial—a trial that affects the whole Church—will end, but we do not know how. We try to do everything that we can. Don’t be afraid. The good Lord is above all that; He is still the boss. That is the extraordinary thing. And the Church, even in this state, is still holy, is still capable of sanctifying. If today, my very dear brothers, we receive the sacraments, grace, the faith, it is through this Roman Catholic Church, not through her faults but certainly through this real, concrete Church. It is not an image, it is not an idea, it is a reality, the most beautiful aspect of which we are celebrating today: Heaven. Well! Heaven is prepared here below. That is the beauty of the Church, this terrifying, extraordinary combat with the forces of evil in which the Church finds herself, and even in this state of terrible suffering in which she is today, she is still capable of transmitting the faith, of transmitting grace, the sacraments. And if we give them—these sacraments and this faith—it is through this Church, it is in the name of this Church, it is as instruments and members of the Catholic Church that we do so.
May the saints in Heaven, may the angels come to our aid and support us! Obviously it is not easy, obviously we are fearful. This is what today’s Gradual says. It is necessary to have fear of God. To those who fear Him, the good Lord gives everything. Let us not be afraid of having fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. May it lead us through the labyrinths of life here below toward Heaven, where the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of all saints, Queen of angels, is really our protectress, truly our Mother. If we say about Our Lord that He wants to be all in all, we must say almost the same thing about the Blessed Virgin. We have a mother in Heaven who has received from God an extraordinary power, the power to crush Satan’s head, to crush all heresies. Therefore we can also say that she is the mother of faith, the mother of grace. Let us go to her. Let us consecrate to her our lives, our families, our joys, our sufferings, our plans, our desires. May she lead us to that eternal haven so that we might always enjoy eternal happiness with all the saints, that vision of God which is the beatific vision. So be it. Amen.
In order to preserve the character of this sermon, the oral style has been retained.
(Source: FSSPX/MG – Pictures : Seminary of Ecône – Transcription and translation by DICI no. 264 dated November 9, 2012)