Interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay : The Society of St. Pius X and the Doctrinal Preamble
Why is the Doctrinal Preamble that Cardinal Levada delivered to you on September 14 still surrounded by so much secrecy, both on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by the Society of St. Pius X? What is this silence hiding from the priests and faithful of Tradition?
This discretion is normal for any important proceeding; it ensures the seriousness of it. It so happens that the Doctrinal Preamble that was delivered to us is a document which can be clarified and modified, as the accompanying note points out. It is not a definitive text. In a little while we will draw up a response to this document, noting frankly the doctrinal positions that we regard as indispensable. Our constant concern since the start of our talks with the Holy See—as our interlocutors know very well—has been to present the traditional position with complete loyalty.
Discretion is required on Rome’s part also, because this document—even in its present state which needs many clarifications—runs a great risk of arousing opposition from the progressives, who do not accept the very idea of a discussion about the Council, because they consider that this pastoral council is indisputable or “non-negotiable”, as though it were a dogmatic council.
Despite all these precautions, the conclusions of the meeting of the superiors of the Society of St. Pius X in Albano on October 7 have been divulged on the Internet by various yet consistent sources.
There is no lack of indiscretions on the Internet! It is true that this Doctrinal Preamble cannot receive our endorsement, although leeway has been allowed for a “legitimate discussion” about certain points of the Council. What is the extent of this leeway? The proposal that I will make in the next few days to the Roman authorities and their response in turn will enable us to evaluate our remaining options. And whatever the result of these talks may be, the final document that will have been accepted or rejected will be made public.
Better to point out the difficulties and solutions
Since this document, in your view, is not very clear, wouldn’t the simplest thing be to send its authors a flat refusal?
The simplest thing, perhaps, but not the most courteous. Since the note that accompanies it foresees the possibility of making clarifications, to me it seems necessary to ask for them instead of refusing them a priori. This in no way prejudges the response that we will give.
Since the debate between Rome and us is essentially doctrinal and mainly concerns the Council, the clarifications that we do or do not obtain will have the not insignificant advantage of making more evident where the difficulties are and where the solutions are; this is true also because this debate concerns not only the Society of St. Pius X but the entire Church as well. This is the spirit that has constantly guided our theological discussions during these past two years.
This document serves as a preamble to a canonical statute; doesn’t this implicitly abandon the marching orders that you had defined, which foresaw a doctrinal solution first before any practical agreement?
It is indeed a doctrinal pre-amble, the acceptance or rejection of which will then determine whether or not some canonical status is obtained. Doctrine is by no means being put in second place. And before committing ourselves to an eventual canonical status, we are studying this preamble minutely with the criterion of the Tradition to which we are faithfully bound. For we have not forgotten that there are many doctrinal differences at the origin of the dispute between Rome and us these past forty years; setting them aside in order to obtain a canonical status would expose us to the danger of seeing the same differences crop up inevitably, which would make the canonical status not just precarious but quite simply unlivable.
Therefore basically nothing has changed after these two years of theological discussions between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X?
These discussions have enabled our theologians to present straightforwardly the principal points of the Council that cause difficulties in light of the Church’s Tradition. In parallel with and perhaps thanks to these theological discussions, during the past two years voices other than our own have made themselves heard formulating critiques of the Council that second ours. Thus Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, in his study Ecumenical Council Vatican II: A Much-Needed Discussion, insisted on the different degrees of authority of the conciliar documents and on the “contrary spirit” that crept into the Second Vatican Council from the start. Similarly Bishop Athanasius Schneider had the courage, during a conference in Rome in late 2010, to ask for a Syllabus condemning the errors in interpreting the Council. Along the same lines, the historian Roberto de Mattei has nicely demonstrated the contrary influences exerted on the Council, in his most recent book, The Second Vatican Council: A History Never Before Written. We should mention also the Petition sent to Benedict XVI by those Italian Catholic intellectuals who are calling for a more in-depth examination of the Council.
All these initiatives, all these interventions clearly show that the Society of St. Pius X is not alone in seeing the doctrinal problems that Vatican II poses. This movement is extending and it can no longer be stopped.
Yes, but these university studies, these learned analyses do not contribute any concrete solutions to the problems that this council poses hic et nunc [here and now].
These studies highlight the doctrinal difficulties caused by Vatican II and consequently show why adherence to the Council is problematic. This is an essential first step.
In Rome itself, the evolving interpretations given to religious liberty, the modifications that have been made on this subject in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the Compendium of it, the corrections that are currently being studied for the Code of Canon Law… all this shows the difficulties that you run into when you try to abide by the conciliar documents at all costs, and from our perspective this nicely shows the impossibility of adhering in a stable way to a doctrine in motion.
Isn’t the Creed sufficient identification for a Catholic?
In your view, what is doctrinally stable today?
The only doctrine ne varietur [safeguarding against change] is quite obviously the Creed, the profession of the Catholic faith. The Second Vatican Council was intended to be pastoral; it did not define any dogma. It did not add to the articles of faith: “I believe in religious liberty, in ecumenism, in collegiality….” Wouldn’t the Creed still be sufficient today to identify someone as Catholic? Doesn’t it still express the whole Catholic faith? When people renounce their errors and join the Catholic Church, are they now required to profess their faith in religious liberty, ecumenism or collegiality? As for us, the spiritual sons of Archbishop Lefebvre, who always refrained from setting up a parallel Church and always intended to be faithful to Eternal Rome, we have no difficulty in adhering fully to all the articles of the Creed.
In this context, can there be a solution to the crisis in the Church?
Short of a miracle, there can be no instantaneous solution. Wanting God to give the victory without asking armed men to engage in battle, to quote St. Joan of Arc, is a form of desertion. Wanting an end to the crisis without feeling concerned or involved is not really to love the Church. Providence does not dispense us from the duty of our state in life, wherever it has placed us, or from assuming our responsibilities and responding to the graces that it grants us.
The present situation of the Church in our formerly Christian countries is a tragic decline in vocations: four ordinations in Paris in 2011, only one in the diocese of Rome for 2011-2012. This is an alarming scarcity of priests: think of the pastor in Aude (department in south-central France) who has 80 worship sites. These dioceses in France are anemic to the point where in the very near future they will have to be regrouped just as the parishes have already been regrouped…. In a word, the ecclesiastical hierarchy today is heading structures that are much too large for the constantly decreasing numbers of personnel, which is strictly speaking an unmanageable situation, and not just on the economic level…. To use an image, it would be necessary to maintain a convent designed for 300 nuns while there were only 3 left. Can things continue that way for another ten years?
Some young bishops and priests who are inheriting this situation are becoming more and more aware of the sterility of 50 years of openness to the modern world. They do not place the blame exclusively on the secularization of society; they are asking about the responsibility of the Council which opened the Church up to a world that was becoming completely secularized. They wonder whether the Church could adapt to modernity to that extent without adopting its spirit.
These bishops and these priests are asking themselves these questions, and some of them are asking us… discreetly, like Nicodemus. We answer them that, confronted with this scarcity, one must find out whether Tradition is Catholic: is it merely an option or is it a necessary solution? To say that it is an option is to minimize or else deny the crisis in the Church and to try to be content with measures that have already proven ineffective.
Opposition from bishops
Even if the Society of St. Pius X obtained a canonical status from Rome, it nevertheless could not offer any solution on the ground, because the bishops would oppose it, as they did with the Motu Proprio on the Traditional Mass.
This opposition against Rome by the bishops was expressed in a muted but effective way with regard to the Motu Proprio on the Tridentine Mass, and it continues to be manifested stubbornly by some bishops with regard to the pro multis in the Canon of the Mass, which Benedict XVI, in keeping with Catholic doctrine, wants to have translated “for many” and no longer “for all”, as in most liturgies in the vernacular. Indeed, some bishops’ conferences persist in keeping that incorrect translation, again quite recently in Italy.
Thus the pope himself is experiencing this dissent by some bishops’ conferences, on this topic and on many others, which makes it possible for him to understand easily the ferocious opposition that the Society of St. Pius X will no doubt encounter from the bishops in their dioceses. They say that personally Benedict XVI wants a canonical solution; he would also have to be willing to take the measures that will render it truly effective.
Is the seriousness of the present crisis the reason why you have launched a new Rosary crusade?
In asking for these prayers I wanted above all the priests and the faithful to become more closely united to Our Lord and to His Holy Mother by the daily recitation of the Rosary and by profound meditation on its mysteries. We are not in an ordinary situation that would allow us to be content with routine mediocrity. An understanding of the current crisis is not based on rumors spread via the Internet, nor will solutions come from political astuteness or diplomatic negotiations. One must look at this crisis with the eyes of faith. Only constant reliance on Our Lord and Our Lady will make it possible for all the priests and the faithful who are devoted to Tradition to maintain this unity of outlook that supernatural faith procures. In this way we will be united during this period of great confusion.
In praying for the Church, for the consecration of Russia, as the Blessed Virgin requested at Fatima, and for the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, we are lifting our minds above our all-too-human aspirations, we are surpassing our all-too-natural fears. Only at that height can we really serve the Church, in carrying out the duties of the state of life that is entrusted to each one of us.
Menzingen, November 28, 2011
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Interview mit Bischof Bernard Fellay, Generaloberer der Priesterbruderschaft St. Pius X
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