Interview with SSPX Superior Bishop Bernard Fellay on the Talks with Rome
Below is the second of a two part interview with the Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X Bishop Bernard Fellay on progress or lack of progress with Rome on the talks concerning Pope John Paul II's motu proprio "Ecclesia Dei" in 1988. The interview was conducted by Father de Tanouarn and translated by Father Emily in his most recent newsletter.
Father de Tanouarn:
This meeting, then, did not have any immediate consequences?
No. On January 13th I summoned an expanded general council, with the assistants, the bishops, and a priest, Fr. Rifan, of the diocese of Campos, Brazil, representing Bishop Rangel. On January 16th, I orally communicated our decision to Cardinal Hoyos: we requested two preliminaries: the retraction of the decree of excommunication, and the Mass for all the priests of the Latin rite. On February 12th, Fr. Simoulin, who is the Superior of the Society in Italy, was informed that the second preliminary as such could not be granted, but that it was necessary to trust the Holy Father. The 19th, in reply to this response, I delegated Fr. Selegny, co-author of the recent book on the liturgical reform, to say that we were withdrawing from the talks since we had not obtained the two preliminaries. At the same time, he offered the book, then just recently published, to Cardinal Hoyos in order to help him to find another, more doctrinal, subject of discussion. [This book has been published by Angelus Press in English titled, The Problem of the Liturgical Reform. Price : $9.95.-Ed.]
We can say that since then, the discussions have not really resumed, each side maintaining its positions. On March 13th, there was another telephone call between the Cardinal and Fr. Simoulin following a plenaria of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, which governs the Fraternity of St. Peter. My feeling is that since then, the die is cast. They announced a plenaria of the Curia (a meeting of all the Roman cardinals) solely to discuss our case. Cardinal Hoyos said that they would give us everything at the same time, but not as a preliminary. "The Pope will speak of the Mass, but only at the time of the (new) motu proprio, in order to set off just one bomb at a time." On the 19th of March, I wrote to him to reaffirm the necessity of the preliminaries as unequivocal marks of Rome's good will, underlining that a purely practical solution without treating of doctrinal matters was impossible.
On Good Friday, April 13th, Fr. Simoulin received a telephone call to confirm that it was not possible to agree to the preliminary on the Mass: "It is not possible to disavow the work of the Council and of Paul VI by freeing the traditional Mass." "Opposition from the cardinals is too strong; the Pope cannot not take it into account." Certainly, the traditionalists "can make theological remarks on particular points," but criticism of the Council is not allowed.
From this moment, then, there has been a change in tone?
There has been a change of tone, and I think that the root cause is the cardinals' refusal (to the point of public disobedience, if need be, as I told you). While paying a call at the Vatican on May 2nd, Fr. Rifan and Fr. Simoulin heard this strange word, which gives some insight into the state of the Church: "Just as the Society does not want to be divided, so the Pope cannot divide his cardinals." I think that this sentence takes us to the heart of the problem: a good agreement does not depend just on the good will of both parties. The bureaucracy of the Conciliar Church is very influential, and the fierce hostility of a certain number of the cardinals prevents Rome from contemplating a real reform of the Church.
Today, in any case, hope wanes...
Cardinal Hoyos, even as he was refusing the preliminaries, asked us for trust: "The question of the Mass will be resolved simultaneously with that of the Society. Trust us." Which meant: no preliminaries, you will be given everything at once. Our entire problem was to know whether, beneath the words, we understood the same thing. From reading the last letter of the Cardinal, dated May 7 [See pp.5,6 in this issue-Ed] and written with the advice of the cardinals of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, I can say that we do not. Take, for example, this judgment of Cardinal Hoyos, justifying himself for not being able to accord the permission sought for all priests of the Latin rite: "With respect to the first condition, a certain number of cardinals, bishops, and faithful believe that such a permission ought not to be granted " This reticence surprised me because we did not speak with a certain number of cardinals, bishops and faithful, but with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos himself. And now this is the response he gives us. In the beginning he said, that the Pope is in agreement, he will grant everything. And now it is no longer possible. One no longer knows who governs the Church.
Then, in the same letter of May 7th, here is another phrase: "…for such a permission could create a confusion in the minds of many people, who would understand it as depreciating the value of the Holy Mass as it is celebrated in today's Church." As I told you at the beginning, we come back to the Vatican's classic discourse as soon as the question of the traditional Mass is discussed. "It is not possible to disavow the work of the Council by freeing the traditional Mass" (Cardinal Hoyos). Or take this passage on the Council: "It is not permissible,...to fall into the error of reading it in a 'free' manner, or of having recourse to interpretations that are not authorized...[T]he Council's language has since been improved and made more precise on several points, thanks in particular to the addresses and teachings of Pope]ohn Paul II." So, then, there is only one authorized way to understand the Council: not according to Tradition, but according to the current pope's teaching. I feel like answering: "Well, then, if one were to follow the Holy See's own directions, one would end up at Assisi in the midst of a prayer meeting of religions, or in the sacred forests of Togo, in the synagogue or a mosque-who knows? If those are the clarifications that one can expect,…"
One even finds reiterated in this letter the famous reproach of the motu proprio of 1988, couched in a more benign expression, certainly, but it still says: "I am sure that on this point [on the point about interpreting the Council] we shall be able to arrive at an agreement once we understand the deepest needs of the Church [so, one does not understand them], needs that must be understood in a larger historical perspective." He cites St. Vincent of Lerins and the idea of the progress of tradition. Stated otherwise, according to Rome, we do not have a correct concept of Tradition; we retain a congealed notion, and an agreement can only be reached once we become unstuck, if you will permit the expression. In other words, the Council has to be rightly understood, and Rome understands it well whereas we understand it badly. That is what the Cardinal writes to us. Is it because one reads authors that are not good (who are out-of-date in the Conciliar Church)? Is it because one has not understood that there is a legitimate evolution of thought? In any case, in this last letter, our critique of Vatican II is disqualified in advance.
Your opinion, then, is that, obviously, we cannot make concessions on questions of doctrine?
One must begin at the beginning: why are we where we are? Rome approached us, saying: Listen, you have a problem; it needs to be solved. You are outside; you must come back in, under certain conditions. Now it is our turn to respond: No, it is not like that. If we are in the situation in which we currently find ourselves (a situation of being marginalized and persecuted), we are not the cause. The cause is to be found in Rome; it was because there are grave deficiencies at Rome that Archbishop Lefebvre had to adopt certain positions in order to conserve certain goods of the Church that were being vandalized. Rome gives itself the role of hero, while in fact it is Rome that should be saying a "mea culpa" for this terrible internal crisis that is tearing the Church apart. Rome has committed an injustice in blaming us. Obviously, the solution is not to be found with us, it is to be found in Rome. Rome must put things back in their places and come back to Tradition, to its own Tradition. Then everything would right itself. There would be no more problem of the Society. "We must maintain our freedom to act for the sake of the entire Church."
Ultimately, you are asking for repentance?
It would have to be a true repentance... and that would suppose a discussion of theology. You see, I believe that in the recent negotiations we have gone in circles because the preliminary (though not expressed as such) that Rome imposed on us is "No theology." A practical agreement, a legal solution right away; as for theology, we shall see about it later on. We say the opposite: doctrine governs our practice, and it has from the start. I am persuaded that now is the time to talk about doctrine, especially to young priests, to the faithful who are beginning to be aware of the gravity of the internal crisis in the Church. In particular, there is a movement in favour of the traditional Mass that needs to be encouraged, and even pushed. We need to welcome and form all those who request it. For the time being we must especially encourage the inductive movement that is bringing a lot of people back to Tradition because of their experience of concrete problems in the Church (the Mass, ecumenism, etc.) Many people are ready to listen to us on the Mass. On ecumenism, we need to work at posing the question so that people can receive our analysis. Rome is not ready for a debate on subjects that matter?! Rome does not want to discuss anything with us?! Then we have to launch the debate so that they understand that it is not possible to close one's eyes and act as if nothing is happening while the ship has sprung leaks all over.
Your Excellency, you have spoken about the faithful who must come to Tradition, but what about the traditionalists themselves, those who are already in the house. Have they understood your approach?
Thank you for asking that question. I must tell you that very often during the last few months, before being able to speak, I have met with a certain lack of understanding among some of the faithful, who imagined that our negotiations would result in compromises, while that was never my intention. We are engaged in a warfare using every means, both conventional and unconventional. It is not a matter of concessions or compromises, or even of temperament. We are not arranging to rally the traditionalists into the Conciliar camp. We are trying to do all that we can to bring about a real reform of the Church, and because this reform is not something that we can effect, we are trying to save all that can be saved by utilizing all the means that the good Lord places at our disposition. From this point of view, I believe that in these last few months we have scored many points. We must continue; and it is for that reason that I do not want to speak of a rupture [of the negotiations]. On the contrary, we have been able to observe that there is a mutual exchange, albeit not on the same wavelength.
What about the future Your Excellency?
I would like to make a somewhat audacious comparison. The Conciliar Church is like a termite that bores away from the inside. For 30 years and more, the same principles have been applied with an imperturbable coherence, despite their catastrophic fruits. These negotiations have fomented within the Conciliar Church itself great hopes in those who, in increasing numbers, desire to turn the page of the Conciliar revolution. In this context, the propositions that were made to us six months ago led us to hope that all would be golden. On advancing a bit, we saw that in fact what they offered was a gilded cage, for our critiques were not received and they even treated us as illegitimate in the Church. So, we prefer to keep our freedom to act for the whole Church rather than let ourselves be isolated in a zoo. We must shake the Catholic world from its post-Conciliar lethargy, re-launch the debate, but without their imposed condition that any agreement can only be practical. It certainly is a long-term task; the fruits cannot be seen immediately, but we must use all the means at our disposal to bring about the change of ambiance that will allow Tradition to assume her rightful place at Rome, and Rome to rediscover her Tradition.
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For previous articles regarding matters that affect the Ecclesia Dei commission, see Archived installments
November 5-11, 2001
volume 12, no. 155
Exspectans exspectavimus Ecclesia Dei