The Talks in Rome: Several Perspectives
Interview with the His Excellency Bernard Fellay published in Fideliter, the magazine of the Society of St. Pius X in the District of France.
Thank you, Your Excellency, for agreeing to respond to our questions. What is the difference between these doctrinal talks and the previous exchanges that took place while Archbishop Lefebvre was alive, for example, concerning the Dubia?
Previously the exchanges were rather informal, except on a few rare occasions, for instance at the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II. Although Archbishop Lefebvre presented the main objections to the novelties and vehemently protested against the scandals that were rocking the Church, he was seeking at that time a practical [rather than a doctrinal] agreement: he thought that Rome could allow him to perform “the experiment of Tradition” by regularizing the Society of St. Pius X canonically before any in-depth debate. After 1988 he clearly indicated the path to follow: bring the discussion onto doctrinal grounds and onto the very essence of the crisis that is so devastating. Today the Holy See has famously and officially granted us these doctrinal talks asking nothing in return. This will be our opportunity to witness to the faith and to repeat the teaching of 2,000 years of Tradition, and we will not hesitate to return to certain studies, for instance the Dubia [doubts] concerning religious liberty, which had not received a satisfactory response.
Only the Society has been privileged to participate in such serious, almost solemn talks. No community affiliated with the Ecclesia Dei Commission has had this privilege. In your opinion, is this a sign of the cogency of our stance of resistance and refusal to compromise or to accept ambiguous canonical recognition, or is it a sign that in the final analysis the Ecclesia Dei communities no longer have much that distinguishes them from the conciliar trend?
No doubt it is a sign of both.
Your Excellency, can you give us an exact list of the topics being discussed?
You can find them in the press release that followed the first meeting on October 26 of last year: “In particular, the questions due to be examined concern the concept of Tradition, the Missal of Paul VI, the interpretation of Vatican Council II in continuity with Catholic doctrinal Tradition, the themes of the unity of the Church and the Catholic principles of ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions, and religious freedom.”
Will modern philosophy and new concepts such as “witness, dialogue, openness, engagement, experience, etc.” be on the agenda for these discussions?
All these subjects underlie many of the problems regarding the new ecclesiology, and it seems inevitable that they will be mentioned in the course of these talks which, I remind you, revolve around the Council and its aggiornamento.
Is it possible to conduct these conversations in complete secrecy? Haven’t some rumors already leaked out?
Not to my knowledge, unless you mean certain secondary aspects regarding the general organization of these conversations.
Why are the Vatican and the Society so intent on maintaining secrecy surrounding the doctrinal talks?
It is very important that the climate for these discussions be peaceful and calm. We live in a day of constant media coverage and universal democracy where everyone judges everything and gives his opinion about anything. So much is at stake in these questions of theology that it is preferable to let matters proceed in secrecy. When the time comes, if necessary, it will always be possible to publish an account of them.
It is often said that Rome and the Society do not understand each other because they do not speak the same language. Is this true of our current interlocutors in Rome? What should be done so as to speak the same language?
It is too early to say. In any case, we are dealing with brilliant minds with whom we should be able to exchange ideas. Thomistic philosophical training is obviously the best way to proceed.
In your opinion, are the theologians chosen by Rome representative of mainstream theology in the Church today? Or are they closer to a particular trend? Does their way of thinking align with that of Benendict XVI?
Our interlocutors seem to me to hold very closely to the Pope’s positions. They belong to what we may call the conservative line, in that they advocate the most traditional possible reading of the Council. They desire the good of the Church but at the same time wish to save the Council: that is like trying to square the circle.
Are the theologians chosen by the Vatican Thomists? Are they Thomistic in the traditional sense?
We will see. In any case, we are dealing with a Dominican—granted, an expert on Saint Thomas Aquinas—but also with a Jesuit and a member of Opus Dei.
In the talks, what will be the points of reference, besides Revelation, Scripture, and Tradition? The Magisterium before Vatican II exclusively? Or Church teaching since then also?
The problem concerns Vatican II. Therefore in light of the previous Tradition we will examine whether or not the post-conciliar Magisterium is a rupture.
Some people fear that our theologians, taken with the atmosphere of the Vatican offices, might lower their guard during the talks. Can you reassure them?
We go to Rome to testify to the faith, and the atmosphere of the offices is of little concern to us. Our theologians will meet every two or three months in a large room of the Palace of the Holy Office, not in the offices… .
As to the duration of these talks, considering the difficulty of most of the subjects, each needing at least a year or two, could they last any less than five or ten years?
I hope that it will not be so… in any case, when one addresses with someone, whoever it may be, the question of the Mass, of religious freedom, or of ecumenism, one does not need all that time to convince him!
Do you not fear that, in the course of these discussions, Rome will finally end up responding to our objections (concerning religious freedom or the new Mass) with the argument from authority: Rome has decided, and Rome cannot be wrong, etc?
We might fear that, of course, but in this case, it would show that Rome did not really have the intention of participating in discussions. And yet, the debate over Vatican II is incontrovertible. The recent book by Msgr. Gherardini, a well-known Roman theologian, proves it enough. Vatican II can be discussed; it must be.
Shouldn’t we fear that these talks might end in joint declarations, in which the parties agree on common points, but do not resolve the underlying debates, somewhat like the Joint Declaration with the Lutherans on justification?
Joint declarations are out of the question.
Let us suppose that one of the Roman theologians can be convinced to side with one traditional thesis or another as a result of these discussions, for example, to consider religious liberty as not in keeping with Tradition. What could happen next?
Whatever Providence wills. Then we shall see what the appropriate course of action is. We have not reached that point.
The faithful have prayed the Rosary for the recognition of the Traditional Mass and the lifting of the excommunications; now they are praying for the consecration of Russia [to the Immaculate Heart of Mary] by the Pope. Do you have the sense that they are praying also for a good result of the doctrinal talks?
It is worthwhile praying for that intention, as the children of the Eucharistic Crusade did during the month of January. Our testimony of faith can bring about a great good for the Church…. Indeed, it seems to me that the objectives of these Rosary crusades are interconnected; there will be no triumph of Our Lady without the restoration of the Church and therefore of the Mass, along with the teaching of the faith.