Interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay on relations with Rome
DICI: Are you concerned about the delay in the response from Rome, which could enable those who are against a canonical recognition to alienate some priests and faithful from the Society of Saint Pius X?
Bishop Fellay: Everything is in God’s hands. I place my trust in the Good Lord and in His Divine Providence; He knows how to manage everything, even delays, for the good of those who love Him.
DICI: Was the pope’s decision adjourned, as some magazines have said? Did the Holy See tell you to expect a delay?
Bishop Fellay: No, I have had no information about any calendar whatsoever. There are even some who say that the pope will deal with this matter at Castel Gandolfo in July.
A canonical solution before a doctrinal solution?
DICI: Most of those who are opposed to the Society’s acceptance of a possible canonical recognition allege that the doctrinal discussions could have led to this acceptance only if they had concluded with a doctrinal solution, in other words, a “conversion” by Rome. Has your position on this point changed?
Bishop Fellay: It must be acknowledged that these discussions have allowed us to present clearly the various problems that we experience with regard to Vatican II. What has changed is the fact that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution. Today, in Rome, some people regard a different understanding of the Council as something that is not decisive for the future of the Church, since the Church is more than the Council. Indeed, the Church cannot be reduced to the Council; she is much larger. Therefore we must strive to resolve more far-reaching problems. This new awareness can help us to understanding what is really happening: we are called to help bring to others the treasure of Tradition that we have been able to preserve.
So the attitude of the official Church is what changed; we did not. We were not the ones who asked for an agreement; the pope is the one who wants to recognize us. You may ask: why this change? We are still not in agreement doctrinally, and yet the pope wants to recognize us! Why? The answer is right in front of us: there are terribly important problems in the Church today. These problems must be addressed. We must set aside the secondary problems and deal with the major problems. This is the answer of one or another Roman prelate, although they will never say so openly; you have to read between the lines to understand.
The official authorities do not want to acknowledge the errors of the Council. They will never say so explicitly. Nevertheless, if you read between the lines, you can see that they hope to remedy some of these errors. Here is an interesting example on the subject of the priesthood. You know that starting with the Council there was a new concept of the priesthood and that it demolished the role of the priest. Today we see very clearly that the Roman authorities are trying to rehabilitate the true concept of the priest. We observed this already during the Year of the Priest that took place in 2010-2011. Now, the Feast of the Sacred Heart is becoming the day consecrated to the sanctification of priests. For this occasion, a letter was published and an examination of conscience for priests was composed. One might think that they went to Ecône to find this examination of conscience, it is so much along the lines of pre-conciliar spirituality. This examination presents the traditional image of the priest, and also of his role in the Church. This role is what Archbishop Lefebvre affirms when he describes the Society’s mission: to restore the Church by restoring the priest.
The letter says: “The Church and the world can be sanctified only through the sanctification of the priest.” It really places the priest at the center. The examination of conscience begins with this question: “Is the first concern of the priest his own sanctification?” The second question: “Is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”—and that is the expression that they use, not the Eucharist, the Synaxis, or I don’t know what else—“the center of the life of the priest?” Then it recalls the ends of the Mass: the praise of God, prayer, reparation for sins…. It says it all. The priest must immolate himself—the word “immolate” is not used, but rather “give himself”, sacrifice himself to save souls. It does say that. Then comes a reminder about the last things: “Does the priest think often about the last things? Does he think to ask for the grace of final perseverance? Does he remind his faithful to do so? Does he visit the dying so as to give them the last rites?” You see how, in a clever way, this Roman document clearly recalls the traditional idea of the priest.
Of course, that does not do away with all the problems, and there are still serious difficulties in the Church: ecumenism, Assisi, religious liberty…, but the context is changing, and not just the context, but the situation itself…. I would distinguish between the external relations and the internal situation. The relations with the outside have not have changed, but as for what goes on within the Church, the Roman authorities are trying to change it little by little. Obviously, a major disaster still remains today, one must be aware of that, and we do not deny it, but one must also look at what is starting to happen. This examination of conscience for priests is a significant example.
What should be our attitude toward the doctrinal problems?
DICI: You acknowledge that some serious difficulties remain with ecumenism, religious liberty…. If a canonical recognition came about, what would be your attitude with regard to these difficulties? Would you not feel obliged to be somewhat reserved?
Bishop Fellay: Allow me to answer your question with three inquiries: Did the novelties that were introduced during the Council start a trend of growth in the Church and an increase of vocations and religious practice? Do we not observe, to the contrary, a form of “silent apostasy” in all the countries of Christendom? Can we be silent when faced with these problems?
If we want to make the treasure of Tradition fruitful for the good of souls, we must speak and act. We need this twofold freedom of speech and action. But I would mistrust a purely verbal denunciation of doctrinal errors—a denunciation that would be all the more polemical because it was only verbal.
With his characteristic realism, Archbishop Lefebvre recognized that the Roman and diocesan authorities would be more responsive to numbers and facts presented by the Society of Saint Pius X than to theological arguments. And so I would not hesitate to say that, if a canonical recognition were to come about, the doctrinal difficulties would still be emphasized by us, but together with a lesson taught by the facts themselves, tangible signs of the vitality of Tradition. And for that to happen, as I already told you in 2006, concerning the stages in our dialogue with Rome, we must have “faith in the Traditional Mass, the Mass that demands in and of itself integrity of doctrine and of the sacraments, the assurance of all spiritual fruitfulness in the service of souls”.
DICI: The year 2012 is not 1988, the year of your episcopal consecration. In 2009 the excommunications were lifted, in 2007 it was officially acknowledged that the Tridentine Mass had “never been abrogated”, but now some members of the Society lament the fact that the Church has not yet converted. Is their a priori refusal of a canonical recognition due to forty years of an exceptional situation, resulting in a certain inability to understand submission to authority?
Bishop Fellay: What is happening these days clearly shows some of our weaknesses with regard to the dangers that are created by the situation in which we find ourselves. One of the great dangers is to end up inventing an idea of the Church that appears ideal, but is in fact not found in the real history of the Church. Some claim that in order to work “safely” in the Church, she must first be cleansed of all error. This is what they say when they declare that Rome must convert before any agreement, or that its errors must first be suppressed so that we can work. But that is not the reality. It is enough to look at the Church’s past: often, and almost always, we see that there are widespread errors in the Church. Now the reforming saints did not leave the Church in order to combat these errors. Our Lord taught us that there would always be weeds until the end of time. Not just the good crop, not only the wheat.
At the time of the Arians, the bishops labored in the midst of errors to convince those who were mistaken about the truth. They did not say that they wanted to be outside, as some say now. Of course, we must always be very careful about these expressions, “inside”, “outside”, because we are of the Church and we are Catholic. But can we for that reason refuse to convince those who are in the Church, on the pretext that they are full of errors? Look at what the saints did! If the Good Lord allows us to be in a new situation, in close combat in the service of the truth…. This is the reality that Church history presents to us. The Gospel compares Christians to yeast; and do we want the dough to rise without us being in the dough?
In this situation, which some currently depict as an impossible situation, we are being asked to come and work just as all the reforming saints of all times did. Certainly that does not do away with the danger. But if we have sufficient freedom to act, to live and to grow, this must be done. I really think that this must be done, on the condition that we have sufficient protection.
DICI: Do you think that there are members of the Society who, consciously or not, espouse sedevacantist ideas? Are you afraid of their influence?
Bishop Fellay: Some may indeed be influenced by such ideas; that is nothing new. I do not think that there are that many of them, but they can do harm, especially by spreading false rumors. But I really think that the main concern among us is rather the question of trust in the Roman authorities, with the fear that what might happen would be a trap. Personally, I am convinced that that is not the case. In our Society we distrust Rome because we have experienced too many disappointments; that is why some think that this could be a trap. It is true that our enemies may plan to use this offer as a trap, but the pope, who really wants this canonical recognition, is not proposing it to us as a trap.
Finding out what the Roman proposal will allow de jure and de facto
DICI: Several times you have said that the pope personally wants the canonical recognition of the Society. Do you have a recent personal assurance from the pope himself that this is truly his intention?
Bishop Fellay: Yes, the pope is the one who wants it, and I have said it repeatedly. I have enough precise information in my possession to declare that what I say is true, although I have not had any direct dealings with the pope—rather, with his close collaborators.
DICI: The April 14 letter signed by the three other bishops of the Society was unfortunately circulated on the Internet; does the analysis that it presents correspond to the situation in the Church?
Bishop Fellay: I do not rule out the possibility of a development in their position. The first question for us who were consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre was the question of the survival of Tradition. I think that if my confreres see and understand that de jure and de facto the Roman proposal contains a genuine opportunity for the Society to “restore all things in Christ”, despite all the troubles that continue to exist in the Church today, then they will be able to readjust their judgment—that is to say, with the canonical status in hand and the facts on the table. Yes, I think so, I hope so. And we must pray for that intention.
DICI: Some people throughout the world, including members of the Society, have made use of passages from an interview that you granted to Catholic News Service; these passages seem to indicate that in your view Dignitatis humanae no longer poses a difficulty.
Did the way in which this interview was edited change the meaning of what you wanted to say? What is your position on this subject in relation to what Archbishop Lefebvre taught?
Bishop Fellay: My position is that of the Society and of Archbishop Lefebvre. As usual, in such a delicate matter, we must make distinctions, and a good part of these distinctions disappeared in the televised interview that had been reduced to less than six minutes. But the written report that CNS made of my remarks recovers what I said that was not included in the broadcast version: “Although [Bishop Fellay] stopped short of endorsing Pope Benedict’s interpretation [of religious liberty] as essentially in continuity with the Church’s Tradition—a position which many in the Society have vocally disputed—Bishop Fellay spoke about the idea in strikingly sympathetic terms.” In fact, I simply recalled that there is already a traditional solution to the problem posed by religious liberty, which is called tolerance. As for the Council, when they asked me the question, “Does Vatican II belong to Tradition?”, I answered, “I would like to hope that that is the case” (which a faulty French translation transformed into: “I hope so.”) This is quite along the lines of the distinctions made by Archbishop Lefebvre to read the Council in the light of Tradition: what agrees with Tradition, we accept; what is doubtful, we understand as Tradition has always taught it; what is opposed, we reject.
Relations of the Society of Saint Pius X with diocesan bishops
DICI: A personal prelature is the canonical structure that you mentioned in recent statements. Now, in the Code of Canon Law, canon 297 requires not only informing diocesan bishops but obtaining their permission in order to found a work on their territory. Although it is clear that any canonical recognition will preserve our apostolate in its present state, are you inclined to accept the eventuality that future works may be possible only with the permission of the bishop in dioceses where the Society of Saint Pius X is not present today?
Bishop Fellay: There is a lot of confusion about this question, and it is caused mainly by a misunderstanding of the nature of a personal prelature, as well as by a misreading of the normal relation between the local ordinary and the prelature. Add to that the fact that the only example available today of a personal prelature is Opus Dei. However, and let us say this clearly, if a personal prelature were granted to us, our situation would not be the same. In order to understand better what would happen, we must reflect that our status would be much more similar to that of a military ordinariate, because we would have ordinary jurisdiction over the faithful. Thus we would be like a sort of diocese, the jurisdiction of which extends to all its faithful regardless of their territorial situation.
All the chapels, churches, priories, schools, and works of the Society and of the affiliated religious Congregations would be recognized with a real autonomy for their ministry.
It is still true—since it is Church law—that in order to open a new chapel or to found a work, it would be necessary to have the permission of the local ordinary. We have quite obviously reported to Rome how difficult our present situation was in the dioceses, and Rome is still working on it. Here or there, this difficulty will be real, but since when is life without difficulties? Very probably we will also have the contrary problem, in other words, we will not be able to respond to the requests that will come from the bishops who are friendly to us. I am thinking of one bishop who could ask us to take charge of the formation of future priests in his diocese.
In no way would our relations be like those of a religious congregation with a bishop; rather they would be those of one bishop with another bishop, just like with the Ukrainians and the Armenians in the diaspora. And therefore if a difficulty is not resolved, it would go to Rome, and there would then be a Roman intervention to settle the problem.
Let it be said in passing that what was reported on the Internet concerning my remarks on this subject in Austria last month is entirely false.
DICI: If there is a canonical recognition, what would happen to the chapels affiliated with the Society and independent of the diocese? Would the bishops of the Society continue to administer Confirmation and provide the Holy Oils?
Bishop Fellay: If they work with us, there will be no problem: it will be exactly as it is now. If not, everything will depend on what these chapels mean by independence.
DICI: Will there be a difference in your relations with the Ecclesia Dei communities?
Bishop Fellay: The first difference will be that they will be obliged to stop treating us as schismatics. As for future development, it is clear that some will draw closer to us, since they already approve of us discreetly; some others, no. Time will tell how Tradition will develop in this new situation. We have great expectations for the traditional apostolate, just as some important personages in Rome do, and the Holy Father himself. We have great hopes that Tradition will develop with our arrival.
DICI: Again, if there is a canonical recognition, will you give some cardinals in the Curia or some bishops the opportunity to visit our chapels, to celebrate Mass, to administer Confirmation, perhaps even to ordain priests at your seminaries?
Bishop Fellay: The bishops who are in favor of Tradition and the conservative cardinals will come closer. One can foresee a whole development, without knowing the particular details. And certainly there will be difficulties, too, which is altogether normal. There is no doubt that people will come to visit us, but as for a more precise collaboration, such as the celebration of Mass or ordinations, that will depend on the circumstances. Just as we hope that Tradition will develop, we hope to see Tradition develop among the bishops and the cardinals. One day everything will be harmoniously traditional, but how much time that will take, only God knows.
DICI: While awaiting the Roman decision, what are your interior dispositions? What dispositions would you wish for the priests and the faithful who are devoted to Tradition?
Bishop Fellay: In 1988, when Archbishop Lefebvre announced that he would consecrate four bishops, some encouraged him to do it and others tried to dissuade him from it. But our founder kept the peace, since he had nothing in view but the will of God and the good of the Church. Today these are the same interior dispositions that we should have. Like its holy Patron, the Society of Saint Pius X has the desire to “restore all things in Christ”. Some say that now is not the time, while others on the contrary say that this is the opportune moment. For my part, I know only one thing: it is always the moment to do God’s will, and He makes it known to us at an opportune time, provided that we are receptive to His inspirations. For this reason, I asked the priests to renew the consecration of the Society of Saint Pius X to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on His feast day, June 15, and to prepare for it by a novena, during which the litanies of the Sacred Heart will be recited in all our houses. Everyone can join in asking for the grace to become docile instruments of the restoration of all things in Jesus Christ. (DICI no. 256 dated June 8, 2012)
Entretien avec Mgr Bernard Fellay sur l’état présent des relations de la Fraternité Saint-Pie X avec Rome
Entrevista a Monseñor Bernard Fellay sobre del estado actual de las relaciones entre la Fraternidad San Pío X y Roma
Intervista di Mons. Bernard Fellay sullo stato attuale delle relazioni della Fraternità San Pio X con Roma
Gespräch mit Bischof Bernard Fellay über den gegenwärtigen Stand der Beziehungen der Bruderschaft mit Rom