Bishop Fellay on SSPX Regularization: “There is One Condition…”

Bishop Fellay on SSPX Regularization: “There is One Condition…”

“That we can stay as we are,” i.e., “that one has the right not to be in agreement [with some aspects of the Second Vatican Council, e.g., the practical “integration of Communism”; “Religious Liberty”; the “relationship between Church and State”; and the question of toleration of other religions] but still be considered to be Catholic.”

Maike Hickson January 30, 2017

In a new interview – this time with the French Catholic television station TV Libertés – Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, spoke once more about the current situation of the Society with regard to Rome.

Speaking for some 18 minutes with Jean-Pierre Maugendre for his televised program “Terres de Mission,” Bishop Fellay tries to explain on 29 January two seemingly contradictory events raised by Mr. Maugendre: namely, that Pope Francis, in November of 2017 in his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, granted to the SSPX the extension of the faculty to hear confessions; and secondly, Francis published the post-synodal document Amoris Laetitia which, in certain cases, appears to allow some “remarried” divorcees to receive Holy Communion. In reply, the Swiss prelate says that these two acts “stem from the same movement, namely the concern of the Holy Father for the rejected people […] for those at the peripheries,” adding: “we are rejected […] and marginalized, forgotten or set aside.”

When asked about the dubia of the Four Cardinals – the first high-ranking resistance since the “Bacci-Ottaviani intervention” in the late 1960s concerning the theology of the Novus Ordo Mass – Bishop Fellay says that “something is changing” and that “things are getting worse […] not on the level of principles, but that the [bad] principles are bearing fruit, are having consequences.” He does not think that we have yet reached the “ultimate consequences” of those defective principles, but he sees that the general situation is now “so bad that a certain number of bishops and cardinals in their own consciences saw that they had to say ‘that’s it’.” Fellay added that, “privately, they [these resisting prelates] are even more numerous [than the ones who have spoken up publicly].” However, in Fellay’s eyes, “it is too early to say whether this movement will grow.” The prelate explains that “one has to hope, and I dare to hope that it will continue in this sense because we are not at all doing well”; and that, “once people begin to speak out, one will be able to reflect more seriously about the [deeper] causes of the situation” concerning the current and long germinating crisis within the Church.

Mr. Maugendre, the interviewer, then also refers to the recent intervention from Bishop Athanasius Schneider who asks the SSPX to accept now the proposal from Rome for a regularization, even though things might “not be 100% satisfactory” in the Church. The French interviewer then asks Bishop Fellay whether he expects “to sign a proposal soon,” and Fellay responds with the important (though somewhat unspecific) statement that “there is one condition sine qua non, namely, that we can stay as we are.” [my emphasis] Without this assurance, says Fellay, “we will not do anything.” For, the SSPX still has some “grave criticisms” concerning what has happened “in the Church since Vatican II”; as representative topics, for example, the Swiss bishop mentions the practical “integration of Communism”; “Religious Liberty”; the “relationship between Church and State”; and the question of toleration of other religions, one of which is today is to be seen, more and more, in the context and presence of “terror.” It now seems to Fellay that “we go in the right direction” and that, by way of alleviation of the pressure, “Rome has lifted a foot for two years now.” This apparently new attitude of Rome implies that some disputed questions concerning the Second Vatican Council are not strictly related to the binding “criteria of Catholicity.” Fellay explains: “That means that one has the right not to be in agreement [with some aspects of the Second Vatican Council] but still be considered to be Catholic.”

He also stresses that the SSPX has fought against any development towards a schism, and is against “the establishment of a parallel church.” He says that he is working with Pope Francis on the practical side, and that there are certain “practical dispositions in place which practically render impossible a schism.”

Moreover, Fellay says that the SSPX has shown in the recent past and in daily acts “our submission to Rome,” that “we are recognizing Rome’s authority,” and not only by praying for the Holy Father in the Canon of the Mass. In a practical way, says the Superior General, “we have normal relationships” with Rome, inasmuch as the SSPX was told last summer that the Superior General “may licitly ordain priests of the Society without first receiving any explicit approval from the local bishop.” Additionally, the SSPX may now licitly hear confessions. Also, in other juridical, canonical fields, the SSPX Superior General has been given authority over his priests, for example if and when they commit a serious violation. He says that “the juridical, the canonical acts are already in place” which effectively “suppress the possibility of schism, but, obviously, one always has to be watchful.”

When asked what, then, is still missing, Fellay responds, with a smile: “the stamp,” and then he adds: “and the clear and firm affirmation that one will respect that guarantee [of being able to remain who we are now].” “That stamp and guarantee,” concludes the interviewer, “can only be given by the pope himself.” “Yes, it is up to the pope to do so,” replies Bishop Fellay.

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One comment on “Bishop Fellay on SSPX Regularization: “There is One Condition…”

  1. Interview of Bp. Bernard Fellay, SSPX, by Jean-Pierre Maugendre of TV Libertés on January 29, 2017


    Jean-Pierre Maugendre [JPM]: Thank you, your Excellency, for being with us today. Since 1994, you have been the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X [SSPX], founded by Archbishop [Marcel] Lefebvre in 1970 at Fribourg in Switzerland, where you come from. There are now 613 priests, 117 brothers, 80 oblate sisters and 215 seminarians in the Society. We know that every religious institution in the Church has a specific vocation tied to its founder’s charisms, like the Sons of Saint Francis’ poverty and the Dominicans’ missionary zeal. What is the Society’s own spirituality according to you?

    Bishop Bernard Fellay [BF]: Well, the Society’s spirituality is not to have any. Or more precisely, it has one, but not its own, but rather it has appropriated the spirituality of the Church, which is much more universal. So, what is it? Well, it’s the salvation that comes to us through the Cross of Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. So it comes down to the priesthood, because Our Lord saves us through His priesthood and by the priestly act that is the Cross, and therefore the Mass. So, that’s what the Society’s spirituality is, so we care for priests, instruct and sanctify them and then we hope that they’ll do their job.

    JPM: So, a spirituality centred on the priesthood and the Holy Mass.

    BF: Exactly.

    JPM: The apostolic letter Misecordia et Misera issued last November 21 by Pope Francis reconfirmed that SSPX priests could validly and licitly give sacramental absolution. However, the post-synodal declaration Amoris Laetitia, which allows remarried divorcees the possibility to be admitted to Communion under certain conditions is certainly not something you’re satisfied with. How do you interpret these two a priori contradictory acts?

    BF: I might be mistaken, but I think that they come from the same movement, which is the Holy Father’s solicitude for those who have been rejected.

    JPM: The peripheries.

    BF: Yes, the peripheries. Of course, we’re not exactly physically at the peripheries, we’re not rejected or in prison, but we’re still rejected by the current Church mentality. We’re marginalized in that sense. And I think, again I might be mistaken, that it comes from this desire to care for people who, I believe, the pope blames the Church for having forgotten or set aside.

    JPM: Speaking of Amoris Laetitia, there’s a number of Cardinals, Burke, Brandmüller, Caffara and Meisner who have addressed what we call in technical terms dubia, which means that they have asked some questions seeking to clarify that text. This situation, where bishops publicly call out the Pope on one of his magisterial acts, hasn’t happened in the Church for a very long time. The liturgical reform in 1969 was also a departure from previous tradition. Two cardinals, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, intervened at the time and, after voicing their confusion to the Sovereign Pontiff, went back into the fold. It seems that, for the last 50 years, there hasn’t been any organized resistance by cardinals and bishops, for example against doctrinal deviations like those in newer catechisms. Do you think that times have changed?

    BF: Yes, there’s certainly something changing. I think it’s because the situation has aggravated. Not so much at the level of principles, but these principles are now bearing their fruits or consequences. I don’t think we’ve witnessed the ultimate consequences yet, but it’s getting worse, much worse, to the point where some bishops and cardinals feel compelled to say “enough”. Not many say this publicly, but there are many more who do so privately. It’s still too early to tell if this movement will grow. I think we should hope, and I dare hope, without really being convinced, that things will develop in this way, because things are really bad. That we’re finally saying it is an opportunity to really reflect on what caused this and how we can truly remedy this.

    JPM: During your talk at the Journées de la Tradition last October 8 at Port-Marly, you mentioned a growing amount of contacts between the SSPX and some priests and bishops. Despite this, we can’t really say, at least as far as France is concerned, that the bishops are very open to requests to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and applying the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Since your travels have led you throughout the Catholic world, could you say if the French situation is specific?

    BF: Honestly, I don’t think so. There’s certainly something, and of course, the French remain French…

    JPM: What do you mean?

    BF: They like to discuss very much, ask questions and debate. But, as far as the crisis in the Church is concerned, what’s happening is, I think, really generalized. And the overall reaction in the Church is honestly still minor, but it’s generalized and also there in France. There certainly haven’t been many bishops who have contacted us or told us “we’re with you”, but it’s happening, it’s slowly happening.

    JPM: Regarding your relations with Rome, Pope Francis has offered a personal prelature to the SSPX. This canonical situation would make you totally independent from the bishops. Bishop [Athanasius] Schneider, who was here a few months ago and who visited your seminaries, urged you to accept this proposal even though, or perhaps because, he is aware that the situation in the Church is still not 100% satisfactory. Isn’t there a risk of creating a more or less autonomous church if this current situation of constant distance from Rome, from the Pope, the curia and the bishops continues? Are you waiting for a Pius XIII to appear on the Chair of Peter, which we all aspire to but which is just a possibility, before signing the proposal from Rome?

    BF: I think it’s not necessary to wait until everything is solved in the Church and all the problems are resolved. Regardless, some conditions are necessary, and the essential condition for us is our survival. I have clearly told Rome that, like Abp. Lefebvre had already said in his time, there is a sine qua non condition, meaning that we will not move if this condition is not met. That condition is that we can stay as we are. This means keeping all the principles that have kept us alive and have maintained us as Catholics… Indeed, we have several serious criticisms to what has happened in the Church since the council, some, like the way ecumenism is conducted for example, what we call religious liberty, which is a fairly complex term that encompasses the question of relations between Church and State and also the liberty that we grant, or not, and to what extent we give everybody the liberty to practice his religion. The Church used to explain that in some circumstances we have to tolerate [the public expression of false religions], but we see that today, with the pluralistic situation we have, that we must tolerate a lot, but we tolerate… and when we tolerate, we tolerate evil. We cannot say it is a good thing. There’s a certain religion, I think we needn’t even mention which one, which when it proliferates, it does so through terror. That’s something which doesn’t sit right and we have to carefully discern all this. And, regarding these questions, I think we’re going in the right direction and Rome is now less heavy-handed. This is something relatively recent, but since the last two years now they’ve been telling us that some questions that have been stated, not only questions but also declarations, by the council are not criteria for Catholicity. In other words, we can disagree with these declarations and still be considered Catholic. And these are all questions that we are still debating. That’s the first thing.

    The second thing is, is there a risk a schism, the establishment of a parallel church? We are fighting against this, and I’ve mentioned this to the pope himself, Pope Francis, and we both agree on this. There are already some concrete dispositions in place now which we can say make schism practically impossible. In our day-to-day life, we talk with Rome and show them our submission, we recognize their authority, not only at Mass by mentioning the Pope’s name and the local bishop in the Canon, but also, well, there’s the example of the Pope granting us the faculty to hear confessions and also legal acts, this is a bit complicated but if a priest were to commit criminal acts, we have contacts in Rome granting us, asking us to judge these cases, so we really have perfectly normal relations. It’s not just confession, there’s also a lot more… Last summer it was confirmed that the Superior General is truly free to ordain the Society’s candidates to the priesthood without asking the local ordinary. This text from Rome, which isn’t shouted from the rooftops, states that the Society’s ordinations are licit, that it is free to [ordain]. These various legal and canonical acts have already been done and I think that they prevent any possibility of schism. Of course, we must always be vigilant about this…

    JPM: So, what’s still missing today?

    BF: Well, the stamp of approval is missing, as well as an unambiguous promise to respect these guarantees.

    JPM: And this stamp and guarantee can only be given by the Pope.

    BF: Yes, that’s something the Pope must do.

    JPM: To conclude this interview on a hopeful note, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima this year. Can you tell us how these events are relevant to the Church and the SSPX today?

    BF: It’s not just about the Society, for the Society it’s more the consequences. We know that there is a secret of Fatima, a message and that this message of Fatima portends many difficult and terrible things. There’s a part of it that is known and another that isn’t really known, but anyway, in the end, the Blessed Virgin tells us that “my Immaculate Heart will triumph”, so Heaven’s victory is announced, the victory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which will be joined with a consecration of Russia that will see it convert, so it will be Catholic again, will be reunified and reintegrated into the Catholic Church, and there will be a time of peace granted to the Church. We can conclude that the crisis we are now in will have ended. Now, we don’t know the details but of course, if we’re saying, and we’re not alone, there’s a crisis in the Church, we can certainly hope that when this triumphant moment comes, this will be past us. I don’t know how much longer this trouble will last, but we have the assurance that, in the end, there will be a triumph, so we’re helping it along by our prayers, we’re well aware that it depends on God, but still, our prayers…

    JPM [interrupts]: You have launched a Rosary crusade to this end.

    BF: Exactly, we’re asking our faithful and all those who are willing to recite the prayer that the Blessed Virgin has recommended to us, and ask her that what she demanded be accomplished, that this triumph may come, that the consecration be made according to her demands because there have already been a few, that have already had some effect. The main thing that we’re noticing, I can’t say too much on this, is that historical events, not only in the Church but in the world, are linked, for example, the main events of World War II are also tied with the Blessed Virgin, who said that peace among nations had been entrusted to her by God. There are interventions, let’s call it the government of God over men who are real. So, asking God in His mercy to exercise that governance in such a way that men stop wrecking everything and submit to His yoke, can only be a good thing.

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