During this past summer, The Latin Mass had the opportunity to speak with the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay. During a three-hour conversation, Bishop Fellay explained how the recent discussions between the Holy See and the SSPX developed, as well as his view of the details concerning their nature and substance. The following relates the heart of the conversation.
Latin Mass Magazine: Your Excellency, what was the genesis of the conversations between the Holy See and the SSPX?
His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay: A signal was given with comments made by Msgr. Camille Perl [of the Ecclesia Dei Commission] in May 2000. He remarked in a publication that for the sake of furthering ecumenical efforts with the Orthodox, a solution needed to be found regarding the situation with the SSPX. Remember, towards the end of April Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos had been appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. He was also made responsible for the Ecclesia Dei Commission. The naming of an active Cardinal to head this commission was a new development.
On June 1, 2000 Cardinal Hoyos sent a letter inviting the SSPX bishops to meet with him. He said, "Now that I am head of Ecclesia Dei, why don't we meet to suppress this rupture. I want you to know that my doors are open and the Pope wishes to embrace you."
At the end of June, all the bishops met during the SSPX pilgrimage to Rome. We decided to signal that if the Cardinal desired to meet, we were ready. By the way, the pilgrimage clearly revealed the hand of Divine Providence. All of Rome came to realize that Tradition was not only alive, but that it was also Catholic! The press made a point of saying that never before in the history of the Church had there been 5,000 "excommunicated" Catholics praying for the Holy Father in St. Peter's Basilica! This was pivotal in breaking the ice.
When in Rome, during the third day of the pilgrimage, our bishops received an invitation to visit Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos. When we met, the Cardinal stated, "1 am happy. The fruits are good [referring to our pilgrim- age] and hence the Holy Ghost is there." One of our bishops responded, "But Eminence, these are two religions!" I tried to bring up the subject of the Mass. The Cardinal responded, "1 am not an expert." It was clear that he did not want to discuss the matter. He agreed to receive our dubia [theological objections]. Most of the memorandum we delivered to him dealt with our dubia concerning the Mass [the ancient Mass as found in the Missal of St. Pius V]. Grant every priest the Mass, I implored.
Latin Mass Magazine: Your Excellency, why do you consider it crucial that every Catholic priest be given the opportunity to offer the ancient Mass at will?
Bishop Bernard Fellay: If this were granted, it would create a new climate in the Church and in turn would make it easier to speak of the deeper problems, such as those dealing with doctrinal matters. As a first step, this is all we ask.
Latin Mass Mag: What happened after you delivered the dubia?
Bishop Fellay: I returned to Rome to meet with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in late December 2000. When I arrived he had a proposed agreement in his hand. It was a big surprise, because I thought that many issues first needed to be thoroughly discussed. For instance, I asked him during this conversation about the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). I said, "You crushed them. How do we interpret that?" The Cardinal said that the FSSP had been preparing for its members an oath against the new Mass. The Cardinal does not understand the problem with the new Mass, so I tried to explain it to him.
Then I brought up the Roman attitude toward ecumenism. For example, I told His Eminence that in September 2000 a schismatic [Orthodox] bishop had wanted to convert. He approached the SSPX. We advised him to arrange things directly with Rome. He was put in touch with the secretary to the Pope and told him, "1 want to become a Catholic." Panic ensued. The following day, Cardinal Neves, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, said to the schismatic bishop, "Your Excellency, it is not necessary to convert. Since the Council, things have changed! There's no need to convert anymore." The schismatic bishop then asked Cardinal Neves, "What would you think if I joined the SSPX?" And he replied, "Good heavens, don't do that! They're fossils!"
Bishop Walter Kasper then got involved and told the schismatic bishop to go to Utrecht. [A Modernist segment of the Orthodox] "With all our ecumenical contacts, I have good contacts with them. I think you should join them!"
I told Cardinal Hoyos that these events reflected attitudes that were contrary to the Faith, and that we could not accept them. I pointed out that Bishop Kasper [now a Cardinal] had stated in L 'Osservatore Romano that post-conciliar ecumenism did not have as its goal the conversion of people to Catholicism as in the days of Pius XI and Pius XII. He said that, with Vatican II, things had changed from an "ecumenism of return" to an "ecumenism of reconciled diversity."
After a period of silence, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos said, "That's ambiguous."
Latin Mass Mag: Why did you bring these matters to the attention of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos at that time? Some might suggest that you were deliberately putting obstacles in the path of the agreement that you said the Cardinal held in his hand.
Bishop Fellay: Because I was getting the sense that this agreement was part of a political struggle that is presently going on in the Vatican as the Holy Father's health deteriorates. We do not want reconciliation under these circumstances. We desire a rapprochement on principle, with wide agreement among the Roman hierarchy, not as pawns in a Roman power play during the nadir of an ailing Pontiff.
Latin Mass Mag: Was there further conversation during this meeting?
Bishop Fellay: Yes. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos responded with the accusation that the SSPX regularly attacks Rome. So I told him that in a war some bullets go astray. He then said, "But we want you to fight Modernism, Liberalism and Masonry in the Church!" So then I was really puzzled. What did he mean? I again attacked liberalism. The Cardinal then said, "1 do the same." He then gave some examples of how he attacked liberalism in the Church. With these examples I realized that he meant moral liberalism. But he offered no examples of doctrinal liberalism to which he was opposed.
Overall, this meeting with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos was very interesting. The Cardinal was very sympathetic and tried his best to smooth over everything. For him it seemed very easy. He said as I left, "When you come back to Rome we'll sign the agreement and be done with it."
Latin Mass Mag: Were you offered the opportunity to meet with the Holy Father?
Bishop Fellay: Yes, but our meeting was short and uneventful. When the Pope left to attend the daily Angelus, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos remarked, "There are Cardinals and bishops with you and the Pope is with you. We want you to fight liberalism and modernism in the Church!"
Latin Mass Mag: What happened after the meeting with the Holy Father?
Bishop Fellay: I met with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos and relayed to him that all of the bishops of the SSPX agree that we are open to discussion, but that the concerns I had noted to His Eminence needed to be addressed. We do not want to return as a component of some grand design for ecclesial pluralism. I told him that a much better climate for reconciliation would be created if every priest in the world were given permission to say the traditional Mass.
Latin Mass Mag: Did the question of your excommunication ever enter into the discussion?
Bishop Fellay: Yes. We asked for the lifting of the penalty. We said that dialogue with the Orthodox would be made much easier if this were done. I told the Cardinal that, while the question of excommunication was a non-issue for us, we would ask that it be removed because bishops make use of it to prohibit people from attending our chapels.
Latin Mass Mag: I sense that you remained uncomfortable with the situation after all this.
Bishop Fellay: We are a sign of contradiction. Wherever we are, we are a source of division, not by our desire, but by force of circumstances. We suffer from the hatred of local bishops and priests. We did not create it; it comes to us because of what we represent. If we receive Rome's approval, this fight will come to Rome and be fought openly throughout the whole Church. We fear that after the agreement, Rome will say to us, "For the sake of peace, make a concession." Truth is not a matter of politics and concessions.
By the way, I learned not long after that Cardinal Lustiger had informed Rome that if the SSPX were reconciled and received the approval to work openly in France, 65 French bishops would enter into disobedience. He told this to Cardinal Sodano.
Latin Mass Mag: So you left Rome and awaited a response. When did you get it?
Bishop Fellay: It was February 12,2001. Cardinal Hoyos said, "Listen, we have a problem. The problem is this permission for the Mass. The Pope agrees to say that the old Mass has never been abrogated and that it is legitimate to offer it. Cardinals Ratzinger, Medina and Sodano all agree. But their secretaries and under-secretaries do not agree. Therefore, we cannot say what you want. Instead, we will say that every priest and every group of faithful who wants the old Mass will have the ability to ask permission from a new commission that will oversee the concerns of the traditionalists." I replied, "Well, that's Ecclesia Dei II!" When the Cardinal relayed this information, I said, "That's it. They don't care about the problem."
Nonetheless, we sent one of our canon lawyers to discuss the proposed canonical structure that we were being offered. The structure being proposed is absolutely splendid. If there were no other problems, it would be perfect. One day, and I think this day will happen very soon, Rome will use a structure of this type to reform the Church.
Latin Mass Mag: What kind of canonical governing structure was the SSPX offered?
Bishop Fellay: They offered us an Apostolic Administration, a universal diocese. This is excellent because it would preserve a part of the Church that is still sound and give it protection from those who would wish to persecute us.
In the end, I told Cardinal Hoyos that we could not sign the agreement. If Rome was unwilling to recognize openly what it knows to be the right of every priest (namely, to offer the traditional Mass), then we have no reason to trust men who permit and encourage such a deception to continue.
I repeated my discomfort that after all the assurances offered to the FSSP, they had still been forced to accept what most of them did not want [Protocol 1411]. The Cardinal then said that they had never been offered the protection that was being offered now to the SSPX. He said, "They are against the new Mass! The SSPX priests are in favor of the old Mass." What am I to think of such reasoning?
Next Wednesday: part two conclusion of this interview.