During this past summer, The Latin Mass Magazine 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. Here is the second part of the interview conducted by Latin Mass Magazine.
Latin Mass Magazine: So you left Rome, Your Excellency, and awaited a response. When did you get it?
His Excellency Bishop Bernard 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?
Latin Mass Mag: So you left Rome with the discussions in this state. What happened next?
Bishop Fellay: We were told that the Pope would speak in favor of the old Mass, but said he would do it at the time when he would erect the SSPX as an Apostolic Administration.
On March 29,2001 I communicated with Cardinal Hoyos. I said that we would never arrive at a solution if we don't first settle the preambles [foundational questions). Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos informed Michael Davies (President of Una Voce International) in a letter that permission to offer the old Mass would be granted only to those who have nothing to do with people who question the authority and legitimacy of the new Mass. Therefore, the only condition for people who say the traditional Mass is that they have nothing to do with us! This is a contradiction. Something is wrong.
I also told him that when he speaks with the SSPX he carefully avoids the word "schismatic." But when he writes bishops he says that we are in schism. Finally, I told him, you say that the FSSP had been chastened because of its position with regard to the new Mass. But our position is much more severe. So what will happen to us? How can we trust so many contradictions?
Some weeks later, we heard that there had been a plenary session of the major dicasteries [offices of the Roman Curia]. Two or three cardinals stood strongly against us. The majority, indeed the great majority, was in favor of reaching an agreement with the SSPX. The same majority refused, however, to consider recognizing every priest's right to offer the traditional Mass. Why? Because there would be too much opposition in the Church. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos told us, "Listen, you cannot speak against the new Mass. We are proceeding with the beatification of Pope Paul VI [who promulgated the new Mass]. You cannot speak against the new Mass."
On Apri113, 2001 we were informed that the Pope could not grant the preambles because of the opposition within the Curia. Cardinal Hoyos said to me that the SSPX's requested recognition of the equal status of the traditional Mass with the new was impossible. Such recognition would place the new Mass in jeopardy. Furthermore, he said that we could not continue attacking the Council. He admitted to me that some of the language of the Council was ambiguous, but that under the present Pontiff a greater precision was being achieved.
Latin Mass Mag: How did you respond?
Bishop Fellay: I told him that his response put us in a dilemma. We are told: "Come in and shut up, or you are outside." You tell us that we will come to an agreement on the Council when we have a broader view of the Church and her history. What's that? So, if we follow Vatican II we end up in the synagogue, and in the forests of Togo and Assisi, and we don't want to go there. How is it that all the experts of Vatican II had all been condemned under Pius XII: Congar, de Lubac, Courtney Murray, etc.? These are the major thinkers of the Council.
Latin Mass Mag: Do you continue to converse with Cardinal Castrillon?
Bishop Fellay: I have always viewed our desired rapprochement as another part of the war, not as an attempt for a peace treaty. Something has changed in Rome; the attitude has changed. The most probable explanation can be summarized in one word: ecumenism. The SSPX jeopardizes the grand scale of the ecumenism they seek. It seems that some of the Orthodox have said, "As long as you fail to solve the problem of Tradition, we stay back."
Others in Rome are desperate. They see the disaster in the Church and they look at us as a possible counterforce. But at the same time, they don't understand or they don't want to understand the depth of the crisis. To put ourselves now under them with such an agreement as they propose would hurt us. That's why we repeatedly insist that we touch the doctrinal problems. We want to address the roots of our present estrangement. We're not interested in a practical solution that is nothing more than a political game. Rome recognizes in their discussions with us that there is a problem. However, they do not want to touch Vatican II. Until we can break the taboo on discussing the new Mass and Vatican II, any talk of a rapprochement is premature.
The French bishops who threatened their own schism during our discussions well understand the problem. Last year during the meeting of their Episcopal Conference, the Bishop of Poitiers stood up and said that he had a serious problem in his diocese and he knew that he wasn't alone. He said he had twelve priests who wanted to say the traditional Mass and that he was losing control of them. The only way to deal with them, he said, was to isolate them from one another and watch them carefully. He told his brother bishops that unless something was done soon, the problem would be everywhere.
This is happening everywhere among the young priests. They question the fruits of Vatican II. They have this Catholic instinct. They now look for guidance. We must strengthen them and assist them.
Latin Mass Mag: So, Excellency, where do we go from here?
Bishop Fellay: Where we have always gone: prayer and penance. Our Lord and Our Lady will intervene. All things will be revealed.
Editor's Note: Below is the most recent statement by Bishop Fellay on the defection of the Campos group. It was released on January 16, in anticipation of the announcement two days later.
With respect to the priests of Campos, on January 18, 2002, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos will read, in the cathedral of Campos, various documents by which Pope John Paul II erects an apostolic administration for the (traditional) priests of Campos and the faithful who are associated with them. Bishop Rangel is recognized as a Catholic bishop and named as the head of the new administration. This administration will have the right to use the 1962 liturgical books, that is to say the Tridentine Mass. The censures "possibly incurred" (sic) will be lifted. The Pope accepts the offer from the priests of Campos to combat heresy in the Church.
Bishop Rangel will make a profession of Faith, in the name of everyone, and a declaration, in which he recognizes John Paul II as Pope, the bishop of the diocese as the legitimate bishop and Vatican Council II as a council of the Catholic Church. He will nevertheless state that he reserves the right to criticize in a positive way that which is not in conformity with Tradition. Likewise for the New Mass, recognized as valid in itself, but which also is subject to constructive criticism.
The Society of Saint Pius X remarks that this outcome is the fruit of a peace separated from itself. In order to obtain it, the Campos priests had to separate themselves, to some extent, from the Society of Saint Pius X. The Society takes note of the hastiness and the partially hidden character of the negotiations that preceded the present recognition. They have abandoned, for example, the condition concerning the Tridentine Mass that would have granted every priest the right to celebrate it freely. All of this is not good, for strength lies in unity. We cannot say either that by this act the crisis in the Church has been overcome. It could be a step in this direction. The future will tell us.
The Fathers from Campos affirm that they will continue the combat for Tradition. It must also be acknowledged that no substantial concession on a doctrinal level has been made. Time alone will determine how Rome permits the development of this work. With respect to this, the choice of the successor for Bishop Licinio Rangel will be of great importance. This question is not decided. The same can be said for the juridical status of the administration, also not decided.
What will be, henceforth, their relations with Rome and with us? It is again time that will determine this. The new situation that has been created will be a test for the future. The Society remains very reserved, and watches apprehensively as close as possible the development of the work, while waiting to see its fruits. It is by its fruits that a tree is to be judged.
It must be acknowledged that, for the first time, a diocesan kind of structure has been granted to Tradition. A traditional bishop is now recognized as such, as fully Catholic.
We pray that all this work together for the good of Tradition and of the Church, despite the mixed feelings that we feel for the time being. We only desire to continue our work in the spirit and according to the principles handed down to us by Archbishop Lefebvre.
On the feast of Saint Marcel,
+ Bernard Fellay
For previous articles regarding matters that affect the Ecclesia Dei commission, see Archived installments