Interview with SSPX Superior Bishop Bernard Fellay on the Talks with Rome |
Below is the first 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 Tanuoarn and translated by Father Emily in his most recent newsletter.
Father de Tanouarn:
Your Excellency, what is the current state of the negotiations with Rome?
They are presently at a standstill, an impasse. I think that this stoppage results from the groundwork on which the dialogue was started. In any case, we have to recognize that, in a certain way, the current stalemate allows us to regain our positions. Currently, we hear from Rome the same kind of talk we were used to hearing from the Conciliar Church; we find the habitual ways of thinking, the usual limitations imposed on the discussions they entertain with us. We know very well the situation in which we find ourselves; we recognize the same old dilemma they impose on us: either you return to the bosom of the Church, and then they cage you or muzzle you; or else you stay outside. As for us, we reject the dilemma they are trying to snare us in again. It is very clear: we are not outside, nor we will not allow ourselves to be caged. After six months of negotiations we find that once again this is Rome's fixed position; I say that this allows us to regain our positions.
You are telling us that these negotiations are just so much sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Not nothing; on the contrary. Without a doubt, something has happened to permanently alter the climate in which future exchanges will take place. We are in a phase of withdrawal, it is true, because Rome does not want to discuss anything of substance, but at the same time there was something new. First of all, last autumn, Rome approached us in an entirely uncharacteristic way, and made us offers it is still difficult for us to completely assess. In fact, considering current ecclesiastical forms, such arrangements have never been seen before. We could never have imagined that Rome would make us such an offer. Undoubtedly you have heard about the idea of an apostolic administration. The Society of Saint Pius X would have been integrated into an apostolic administration. What does that mean? An apostolic administration is ordinarily a diocesan or quasi-diocesan organization established in time of crisis over a given territory. Well, for us, the territory was the whole world. In other words, they offered us an organizational form that encompasses the whole world, a kind of personal diocese.
Pardon me, Your Excellency, but are you talking about a personal prelature?
No, it is something more. An apostolic administration is even better than a personal prelature. First, a personal prelature is not necessarily governed by a bishop; an apostolic administration, which is a kind of diocese, usually is. What is more, the scope of an apostolic administration's action is not limited to its own members. The Opus Dei; which is the only personal prelature existing today, is not subject to the local bishop for what concerns its members, but it cannot contemplate any external action without the local bishop's approval. With an apostolic administration, we would escape that limitation. We would be able to carry out our apostolate autonomously, without needing to obtain the authorization of the diocesan bishop, since we would have a real diocese the special characteristic of which is to extend to the whole world. The fact that such a proposition was made is very important because, after all, this legal solution is unprecedented, it is "sui generis." [i.e., "one of a kind"-Ed.] Since this solution has been formulated, it can represent for us a bench mark, a point of comparison, especially since it was to the Society of Saint Pius X that this possibility was suggested, which goes to show how seriously Rome takes our resistance. Believe me, it is not boasting that leads me to say that: symbolically (it is not principally a question of our numeric size) we represent something important for Rome, and this is also new.
Your Excellency, if this proposition is so extraordinary - and it certainly seems to be - then one cannot help but ask why you didn't immediately accept this practical arrangement that was handed to you on a platter.
You're right, it is an extraordinary proposition, and if Rome desired a real reform, then the plan I just described would indeed be the one to follow. But it requires a genuine will to reform. So it is very difficult to know exactly where we would have ended had we signed an agreement on the practical level. One thing is sure: other circumstances were not favourable to concluding an agreement rapidly, without precaution. These known factors were, firstly, the way Rome dealt with the Fraternity of St. Peter, imposing the principle of celebrating the New Mass, going against their constitutions, going against the very right that Rome had conceded to them ten years ago. Then again, some priests of the Fraternity came to see us, telling us not to accept this solution, not to sign anything, that it would be to our loss Also, we saw very quickly the reaction of a certain number of bishops and cardinals: they were furious, furious to the point that some of them (I am speaking of French bishops) threatened disobedience. What would have been Rome's reaction? A formidable battle would have broken out and we would only have been able to wage it if Rome clearly supported us. It was with this in mind that we proposed two preliminaries, which we conceived as two indispensable marks of Rome's support. It was not a matter of conditions properly speaking, as has been written here and there: a Catholic cannot subject Rome to conditions! No, it was simply a question of preparing ahead for the battle that would inevitably break out by obtaining a clear sign of Rome's adherence to her Tradition. We asked for these two marks: the retraction of the decree of excommunication, and the granting of permission to all priests of the Latin rite without distinction to celebrate the traditional Mass. I think that, were these two measures to be implemented, by their very nature they would effect a change of climate in the whole Church.
Did you believe at the time that, despite the reasons for circumspection which you just related, these two preliminaries might be accepted?
Firstly, we were not in a hurry. That is the big difference between now and 1988: in 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre had to settle the future of his work quickly. Today, that future is no longer up in the air, it has become our present. We have shown for more than ten years that it is assured. Now we have the time to study the propositions that are made. For a moment we really believed that there was a real change of heart at Rome. I have to say that there was a noticeable change of language in each of our meetings from the outset. On the 13th of March, for example, they were still saying, "The Pope is in favour of this solution (the organizational solution that I described); you have nothing to fear. The Church needs you and asks you to help her in her combat against liberalism, modernism, and masonry. You must not refuse to help." Oh! It is just a way of talking; we have always wondered if words have the same meaning for the Vatican as for us. I think not.
A moment ago, you mentioned the negotiations of His Grace Archbishop Lefebvre with Rome in 1988. Can the two series of talks be compared?
They are really different from each other. In 1988, His Grace, sensing that his end was near, desired above all else to guarantee the continuation of the Society. Rome wished to avoid the consecrations conferred without its endorsement, and, by means of an ambiguous formulation, to obtain Archbishop Lefebvre’s recognition of the Council. The hasty discussion was partly on doctrinal matters. What we have been going through is something completely different. They approached us, and the doctrinal matters were avoided from the start. Rome did not want to talk about doctrine.
Would you please briefly relate the chronology of these talks?
Certainly. The initiative for the negotiations came from Rome. I received a letter from Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos dated November 18th, containing an invitation (a result of the interview published in 30 Days) to meet him in order to prepare a visit to the Holy Father. This visit took place December 29th. On the 30th the meeting with the Pope occurred: it was very brief due to a fault in planning. There was no conversation to speak of.
The Vatican press bureau Zenit said that you had assisted at the Popes mass…?
Now that's a tall tale. I saw the Pope for some five minutes at most, and for a good while we remained in his private chapel in silence. Then the Pope rose. He wished me a happy new year; we exchanged greetings; he asked if we had been able to talk. Cardinal Hoyos replied, yes. The Pope said: "I am pleased" He gave us a rosary, blessed us, and then we left.
Next Issue: The second of this two-part interview
For previous articles regarding matters that affect the Ecclesia Dei commission, see Archived installments
October 29-November 4, 2001
volume 12, no. 154
Exspectans exspectavimus Ecclesia Dei