Bishop Fellay speaks about the situation in the Catholic Church and the response of the SSPX's priests, who have the duty to ensure the salvation of souls.
This interview of Bishop Bernard Fellay (SSPX Superior General) was originally published in the April-May 2014 issue of the Swiss District's newsletter, Le Rocher c’est le Christ (The Rock Is Christ). SSPX.ORG thanks DICI for allowing us to reprint this important piece.
Bishop Fellay gives some news about the Church and the SSPX
During his visit to Oensigen (Switzerland) on January 20, 2014, we were able to hear what Bishop Fellay had to say on the current questions concerning the Church and the Society.
Le Rocher: Your Excellency, in this war for souls that our Society has been waging for over forty years, what is our relationship with this Church that no longer seems to take this combat seriously; what can we do with the progressivists?
Bishop Fellay: To tell the truth, we cannot do much. For now, we manage here and there to obtain permission to say a Mass in a church, but not much more. We will never be able to agree with the real progressivists. But not everyone is modernist. And if we can keep some things going forward, it is a good work we must do. We have to try, but with much prudence. Our Lord did not send His apostles out into a well-kept wheat field; He sent them into the world.
Le Rocher: So it is your care for souls—and not only the souls that come to the Society—that drives you to act?
Bishop Fellay: Yes, we must care for souls. And in our relations with Rome that question, the question of the salvation of souls, is what motivates us. Our only care is to bring them back to Tradition. That is why I spoke of “the return of Tradition to the Church.”
Le Rocher: Some understood this expression wrongly.
Bishop Fellay: I spoke according to the common meaning of the terms. Some say that the Church cannot be separated from its “Tradition” since it is one of the foundations along with Holy Scripture, of Revelation; to say that the Church is separated from Tradition is a heresy. But that is not what I said. Others say that “Tradition” is us; so by saying that we must pray for the return of Tradition to the Church, I would be asking the works of Tradition to return to the Church. That is not what I said, either. But because of a false interpretation, priests have left us!
Le Rocher: They took what you said on a theological level, and univocally?
Bishop Fellay: A district superior told me that this formulation would create problems. I answered him: dear Father, if we continue like this, we will soon be declaring heretical the sentence, “the sun sets”, because according to the principles of physics and astronomy, the sun does not set! So if we say “the sun sets”, it is an error, it is false. So must we stop saying that the sun sets? This expression is a part of our common language. Let us keep our feet on the ground, let us be realistic. It is true that if we wish to speak on a theological level, strictly speaking, it makes no sense to ask for the return of Tradition to the Church, I agree. But that is not what I meant. Archbishop Lefebvre, in his sermon for the consecration of the bishops in 1988, declared: “when Tradition will have regained all its rights in Rome.” It is the same as saying “spring has returned”. These are expressions of ordinary language.
Le Rocher: After all, life is full of analogies, it is not univocal; that is to say, we use the same terms in different ways.
Bishop Fellay: An analogy is “in se, diversa, secundum quid unum”: when we speak of an analogy, we speak of two things that are different in themselves, but that resemble each other on one point. Obviously, there are several meanings to the word “tradition”. We can say that “we are Tradition”, yes; but we also speak of Tradition in a much broader sense when we speak of “the Tradition of the Church”. And we can also speak of “Tradition” as the oral part of Revelation. It is an analogical term. If we lose this sense of analogy, we are lost in today’s crisis.
Le Rocher: Then we must be careful not to let that spirit enter into us.
Bishop Fellay: That is what Benedict XVI did with his “hermeneutics of continuity”. Up until Benedict XVI, it was clear: there was the past—Tradition—and then there was Vatican II. Everyone agreed that there was a rupture, and no one contested the fact. Benedict XVI declared that the Church couldn’t do without the past, that she must keep it, and that the present is “integrated” into the past. For Benedict XVI, Vatican Council II is part of Tradition. It is a total equivocacy. When Vatican II says the opposite of what was affirmed until then, there are no “hermeneutics of continuity”. But Benedict XVI insisted on this because he wanted to save the Council, to salvage the Council by saying something true, and that is what caused the confusion: “the Church cannot break from her past.”
Le Rocher: How then does he explain this rupture?
Bishop Fellay: That is why later—in any case twice during his pontificate, at the beginning and at the end—he introduced the idea of a false council, the “media’s Council” or para-council that usurped the place of the true Council in the faithful’s reception of the Council. It is extremely subtle. He recognizes that there are errors, and that some things are not right, but he blames the false council for them. Unfortunately, this was but a trick to subtract the errors from the Council, to save the Council.
Le Rocher: We get the impression that Pope Francis has swept this “trick” aside?
Bishop Fellay: We might say that Pope Francis is the first defender of all these errors of Vatican II. His definition of the Council for example: according to him, the Council is a re-reading of the Gospel in the light of civilization and of contemporary culture. For him, the light needed to understand the Gospel today is modern civilization. But that is contrary to the Faith that says that the light we must use to read the Gospel is God. That is theology. And Francis tells us that the best fruit of the Council, the best illustration of the Council’s efficacy, is the New Mass. We agree: the New Mass is indeed the fruit of the Council. But the difference is that he says it is good and we say it is evil.
Le Rocher: We really do not know where we are going with this pope?
Bishop Fellay: We have to be very careful when we try to judge him because he does not fit into our categories. He is outside of the norm. He is a pope of the praxis: what counts for him is action, and he wants to have his hands free to act. That is why when he speaks of doctrine he is vague, very vague. There is no longer a coherency between doctrine and action. There is a little bit of everything in his sermons. What counts for him in action, is the person. If he likes someone, all is allowed. He received his rabbi friends from Argentina, and even shared a Kosher meal with them at St. Martha’s House. The picture was published on the website of the Jewish World Congress: the atmosphere was friendly; they looked like a bunch of buddies. Who cares what people will think; they are his friends.
Le Rocher: Did his election change the state of the Church?
Bishop Fellay: It changed nothing. All the practices that we have denounced continue. The only thing that has changed is that the invitations and discreet support for those who wanted a little more tradition are over (e.g., the Franciscans of the Immaculate), and there is a lot more confusion. For now, Pope Francis has taken no measures to improve the disastrous situation of the Church. Be it in religious congregations or in the seminaries, there is an end to the facilities granted to the former liturgy, but the status quo remains.
Le Rocher: Does he really understand the situation of the Church, the care for souls?
Bishop Fellay: He is modern, but he still has all his childhood catechism. He believes that today’s youth knows their catechism. That might have been the case in Argentina, maybe! He applies it, he transposes onto the whole Church what maybe still exists a little bit in Latin America.
Le Rocher: With this pope, can we hope for things to get better?
Bishop Fellay: You know the definition he gave of himself to the Jesuit who interviewed him: “Who is Pope Francis? ”—“I am a sinner, yes, I think that is the most profound answer I can give, and I am a little bit astute and manipulative.” As far as doctrine goes, things will be even less clear than before, because some sentences are clear and others are unbelievably cloudy.
Le Rocher: Pope John XXIII and John Paul II are to be “canonized” on April 27. Should we be surprised at such a decision? What can we do?
Bishop Fellay: We mustn’t be surprised; what they want is to canonize the Council and there is no easier way to do so than to canonize the Popes behind the Council. What can we do?—I would say that we have already tried everything we could, as far as acting on Rome goes; they do not listen to us anyway, and do not want to hear anything. All that is left is to pray, and to recall the arguments that we have already published. We had sent an important file to protest against the canonization of John XXIII, and we’ve done the same thing for John Paul II. They received our text, but the one who was supposed to write a report on it swept our arguments away with the back of his hand, saying that anyway, we were against the Council… There has been no serious effort to bother to take our arguments into consideration. They have been unbelievable casual about it.
Le Rocher: Are these studies—and the publications based on them—still up-to-date?
Bishop Fellay: By looking again at all the studies we have publish, we can show that these canonizations are not serious, even if there is still the famous problem of the infallibility that would be implied by a canonization. Know that this is a point that can still use work. On matters of Faith, the infallibility of the dogmas, there is no room for discussion. But as for the infallibility of canonizations, as they are not the primary but rather the secondary object of the infallibility, there is still room for discussion.
Le Rocher: The documents that are still in the secret archives have not yet been examined?
Bishop Fellay: It is completely imprudent. Now the material element of a canonization is the prudential act of the Church. If the elementary rules of prudence are not followed and certain documents are eliminated, then there is a real possibility of making a mistake. But anyway, they seem even to have changed the notion of sanctity. All this saddens us, but humanly speaking, we do not see what we could do to stop it. They even manage to do without miracles.
Le Rocher: There are some who claim that Bishop Fellay wants an agreement with Rome at any price.
Bishop Fellay: That makes no sense! I have never sought one myself, but I thought it my duty to examine the Roman proposal in 2011-2012. Now it would be folly. Where do they get such ideas? I do maintain, however, that we must try to do all the good we can for as many souls as possible. All the good we can do in Rome could then descend upon the whole Church and do good to thousands of souls. We have to try. It is normal; it is obvious. It is very limited for now, but it is all in God’s hands. Let us do what we can and there are still people in Rome who say that the Church will be restored with and by Tradition.
Le Rocher: Has Rome made an official approach to renew contact with you since the election of Pope Francis?
Bishop Fellay: Rome made a “non-official” approach to renew contact with us, but nothing more, and I have not asked for an audience as I did after Benedict XVI’s election. For me, things at present are very simple: we stay as we are. Some concluded from my close contact with Rome in 2012 that I regard the necessity of a canonical recognition as a supreme principle. Preserving the Faith and our traditional Catholic identity is essential and remains our first principle.
Le Rocher: Yet there are more and more discordant voices in the Church?
Bishop Fellay: Indeed, but as we do not have a Pope who puts things in order, we are going towards an ever more confused situation. The great danger is that this situation could provoke our impatience: some could have enough of it and conclude that the present pope is no longer pope. It has already begun. Some of the priests who have left us declared at Pope Francis’ election that they did not recognize the election.
Le Rocher: So, what is happening now is a mixture of impatience and worry?
Bishop Fellay: When there is mistrust, people tend to take things the wrong way, the worst way possible. One makes caricatures, lies, and after enough lies, people end up believing it. Moreover, we are facing a real campaign of disinformation.
Le Rocher: You doubtless prefer people to come to you?
Bishop Fellay: I have never reproached anyone for writing me and asking me for precisions and explanations. But publishing accusations and dialectics is serious. It makes the public the judge on the matter. It is a revolutionary procedure. They claim to be anti-liberal, and they use the principles of the revolution.
Le Rocher: What use can we make of Archbishop Lefebvre’s writing? What authority do they have?
Bishop Fellay: Archbishop Lefebvre was our founder, and in our society, he is the one who gives the principles and the spirit. This is of a capital importance; he had the grace of a founder. So he has an eminent authority in our society. What is more, we might say that today, our society is a little bit in the same circumstances as at its foundation. The events around us are the same, that is, this crisis of the Church, this questioning of Faith and morals and discipline. There are variations, of course: there is the new canon law, there are the inter-religious meetings in Assisi, but fundamentally speaking, it is the same crisis that is dealing a mortal wound to the Church, killing souls, suffocating religious societies and dioceses. The priesthood is still in just as much danger. Besides, Rome herself considers us in a particular way because of our founder. That is the way it is. Rome totally ignores the sedevacantist movements.
Le Rocher: Could not one say that since Archbishop Lefebvre said something on one occasion, he therefore affirmed it for all times?
Bishop Fellay: We can look at how he acted in a similar situation, but we cannot “copy-and-paste”. Archbishop Lefebvre, for example, spoke very harsh words in 1976, during the “hot summer”, words he used only at that time. He spoke of the “illegitimate Mass”, and of “illegitimate priests”. But he never again used these expressions. Does that mean that the Mass became more “legitimate”?—Of course not, but he used these expressions during the “hot summer” in every sense of the word, but never again afterwards.
Le Rocher: One might ask: “What would Archbishop Lefebvre have done today?”
Bishop Fellay: When we wish to apply something from the past to our days, we must not forget that the present circumstances are not necessarily and absolutely identical to those our founder experienced. We can be inspired by his spirit, but we cannot do exactly the same thing. And in fact, one can make Archbishop Lefebvre say whatever one wants. We can even find what could look like a contradiction in one of his sermons. In his famous sermon for his jubilee in 1987 (40 years as a bishop), he tells the story of his meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger to whom he said: “Even if you give us bishops, we cannot work with you.” But later in his sermon, he explains to the faithful that something extraordinary had happened in Rome, that he had received an interesting proposal and he asks them to pray for it to work out.
Le Rocher: So can one make Archbishop Lefebvre say just about anything one wants?
Bishop Fellay: One can make him say just about anything one wants, for he had to face different situations and to take a stand in each one. The only solution is to place these things back in their context. We do not realize enough how important the context is. It is one of the misfortunes of our times: we make everything an absolute, every phrase becomes an absolute; it is taken out of its context and set up as an absolute principle. But reality is not like that. There are different genres: a sermon, a conference, an explanation, an illustration. One ends up losing one’s sense of nuance and intellectual honesty.
Part of the problem that we see today is that people no longer consider whether what is said is of the order of opinion or that of dogma. Everything is a dogma, an absolute. But many things that are said are of the order of opinion, that is, when we express them, we have to accept the opposite thought as possible. Let me give you some examples. The famous question of the conciliar Church: what is the nature of the conciliar Church?—It is on the level of opinion, and opinions can differ, even within the Society of St. Pius X. But we must not make a dogma of it and condemn each other for differing opinions. The same goes for what we call “the magisterial authority of the Council”. It is an open question. Rome declares that it is part of the ordinary Magisterium, but does not ask us, in the name of the Faith, to accept it as such. Archbishop Lefebvre thought that it was more on the order of day-to-day teaching, and could thus include errors.
Le Rocher: In conclusion, what advice would you give your faithful?
Bishop Fellay: In the midst of these preoccupations, the good of the whole Church must remain dear to every Catholic heart. The developments of our Society that we see unfolding before our eyes are a source of joy and thanksgiving and the proof that fidelity to the Faith and to the traditional discipline always bear the blessed fruits of grace. In a world that is ever more hostile to the accomplishment of God’s commandments, we must truly strive to form strong souls who take to heart their own sanctification and the salvation of all souls.
Statements recorded by Fr. Claude Pellouchoud.
Many thanks to the General House.
1 “I do not know what might be the most fitting description… I am a sinner. That is the most accurate definition…It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner. (…) Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute (un po’ furbo), that I can adapt to circumstances (muoversi), but it is also true that I am a bit naïve…”
2 Fr. Philippe Toulza, “Jean XXIII bienheureux?” (Blessed John XXIII?), in Fideliter, March-April 2008; The Remnant: "A Statement of Reservations Concerning the Impending Beatification of Pope John Paul II”, DICI no. 233 (4-16-2011); Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, “Doutes sur une canonization” (Doubts on a Canonization), in Le Courrier de Rome, no. 341, February 2011, DICI no. 283, 10-18-2013); “Le dilemma que pose la canonization de Jean-Paul II” (The Dilemma Caused by John Paul II’s Canonization), in Le Courrier de Rome, #372, DICI no. 290 (2-14-2014); Fr. de la Roque, “Jean-Paul II, doutes sur une beatification” (Pope John Paul II: Doubts About a Beatification, Angelus Press), Clovis, 2010.