The bishop, a familiar face to traditional Catholics from among the world's diocesan bishops, was interviewed on topics related to Rome and the SSPX. Our analysis and comments follow.
On February 16th, the traditional Catholic blog Rorate Coeli, in conjunction with its sister website Adelante la Fe, released this interview with His Excellency Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana. Conducted by Adelante's Mauricio Ponce, the interview dives into several topics of importance in the Catholic Church today, but begins with an in-depth discussion of any possible agreement between the Society of St. Pius X and Rome in the future.
We are grateful to Bishop Schneider for pleading in favor of the SSPX and defending with clarity so many points of the faith and the morals of the Church. We appreciate in particular his statements on Luther, giving communion to the divorced-and-remarried, and the duty of resisting error, even when it emanates from the Supreme Pontiff.
Mirroring the Society, the Bishop points out reasons to have optimism, as well as reasons for concern for the structure of an agreement. We provide our analysis and our response to his points in the commentary below.
About the regularization of the SSPX, Bishop Schneider starts by saying that one should not talk about an "agreement" which supposes differences about the Faith, but only of a canonical recognition from the Holy See because "in this case, there is no differences in the Catholic Faith."
Bishop Schneider knows the Society well from having visited two of its seminaries in the past. We are honored by his strong testimony about the Society who "bears very evident, visible and spiritual fruit in edifying the Catholic Faith, in transmitting the integrity of Catholic Faith and liturgy and Christian life, as it was practiced during several centuries[.]"
Recognition of the Holy See
…which is, for every Catholic community, a requirement, an indispensable one to be Catholic, to have also a canonical, a visible connection to the Chair of Peter, to the Vicar of Christ. This is a basic requirement for every Catholic work in the Church."
Bishop Schneider argues that a "canonical connection" with the See of St. Peter is a requirement for being Catholic and that a canonical mission is required to have an apostolate. If he means legitimate submission to the Holy Father, we agree! The Society has never refused any legitimate submission to the Pope, nor have they severed the bonds of the liturgy and the profession of the Faith. If the canonical situation became irregular, -- and the canonical mission is missing today -- it was not the fault of the SSPX but because, as Bishop Schneider himself argues, Rome unjustly deprived the SSPX of it. Archbishop Lefebvre always claimed that the canonical sanctions were invalid because unjust; he was refused an appeal. Bishop Schneider considers (see below) the case in a hypothetical future where the SSPX -- then canonically regularized -- might have to return to canonical irregularity if pressured by Rome to abandon an essential point of what it stands for. It is then possible to be Catholic despite an apparent rupture of canonical norms! The Society has always relied on the supplied jurisdiction the Church provides in such emergency situations so that the faithful are not deprived of the grace of the sacraments.
A Matter of Justice?
The SSPX had initially the recognition of the Church as Archbishop Lefebvre founded them in 1970 but unfortunately, this recognition was taken away in 1975. Archbishop Lefebvre made an appeal against this suppression -to my opinion unjust- and his appeal was rejected.
For the Holy See to grant them now again the canonical recognition, it would be in some way the acceptance of the appeal that Archbishop Lefebvre made in 1975.”
Bishop Schneider states that canonical recognition would be a way for the Holy See to finally take account of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's appeal against the unjust suppression of the SSPX in 1975. This is a very elegant way to present the solution. And it is true. However Bishop Schneider does not ignore that the reason for this unjust suppression and persecution of the Society since then (and of traditional Catholicism as a whole) has its precise origins in disagreements on the Faith, "because of this deep crisis of Faith inside the Church," as he puts it, and its most sacred expression: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
That is the reason why Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, following Archbishop Lefebvre, demands the SSPX to be recognized "as we are." He also maintains that we must be able to continue our public rejection of, and fight against, the errors which poisoned the Church, including her liturgy, for more than 50 years.
As Bishop Fellay said during his last interview at Radio Courtoisie:
The problem is, once again, this battle of ideas. Is a Church that for 40 years has imposed a way of thinking, this modernist way of thinking against which we fight, against which, or because of which we were even declared schismatic and everything else, outside of the Church; is this Church ready, yes or no, to let us continue on our path?"
Approval of Diocesan Bishops
It is a general law of the Church, …a common practice of the church.
... It is not -to my opinion- a problematic issue…"
One issue addressed by Bishop Schneider concerns the status of Society chapels should regularization be granted. As he notes, the traditional practice of the Church is that the local bishop must approve in advance all places of worship within his canonical jurisdiction. This is a cause of concern insofar as many bishops remain opposed to the SSPX and Tradition. However, Bishop Schneider maintains that, based on his understanding, if the Society were offered a Personal Prelature, its current chapels could remain without approval from the local ordinary. Permission would only need to be sought for future establishments. In Bishop Schneider’s opinion, this is not problematic insofar as the SSPX already has more work than it can currently handle and that there are already plenty of bishops in the world who would gladly accept the Society into their respective dioceses.
Bishop Fellay, commenting on the possibility of Personal Prelature, said on January 26: "The problem is not a canonical structure which would not be acceptable." On the contrary, even though “there are details that need improving…[and] matters that still need to be discussed,” the Personal Prelature “is adequate and suits our needs.” Further, while we agree with Bishop Schneider that the Church cannot be approached as a mere human institution, but rather must be seen as a supernatural entity, Bishop Fellay continues to insist that the Society be given guarantees that it will not be required to profess the errors of the Second Vatican Council and, indeed, still have the freedom to fight them. Here are his words:
We have told Rome, very clearly, that, just as Archbishop Lefebvre used to say in his day, we have a sine qua non condition: if this condition is not met, then we will not move. And this condition is for us to be able to remain as we are, to keep all the principles that have kept us alive, that have kept us Catholic."
What Does the Holy Father Want?
Another point of concern are the intentions of Pope Francis. Given the Pope’s intervention into the affairs of the Franciscans of the Immaculate (an order that often celebrated the Tridentine Mass), why would he be so eager to extend a hand of friendship to the SSPX? On this point Bishop Schneider cautions against prejudging the intentions of the Holy Father while also conceding that “the [present] circumstances” in the Church “can induce us to presume that [the Pope’s] intention would not be good.” And if the Holy See were to pressure the Society to change or be abolished, here is what Bishop Schneider has to say.
It would be on them [the priests] to resist and to preserve their identity….[I]t is a hypothetical case: we cannot preview the future…, [but] in this very extreme situation when in some future or years after the erection of the Prelature, the Holy See would ask to change something against their identity. They [would] have to resist [and say:] 'This is unjust, it goes against our intention when we accept the Prelature, it would destroy our charism.’...Then they [would] have to say...with all respect to the Holy See, ‘You can take away the Prelature, we do not need it; the most important is to preserve our identity for the benefit of the Church, not of us but of the Church.’ This is a hypothetical case they have to renounce the Prelature and continue as they are. Therefore they have nothing to lose. It is upon them to preserve their identity."
It would seem that Bishop Schneider agrees that what the SSPX has done for more than 40 years, namely, preserve Catholic Tradition against unjust accusations and actions from the Holy See, is legitimate. And, just as importantly, he appears to recognize that Archbishop Lefebvre's fight against the suppression of the SSPX was just.
Vatican II - A Pastoral Council
The [Second Vatican] Council was stated by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI primarily and repeatedly a pastoral council, not a doctrinal nor dogmatic one. It was the intention of the Church not to give with the documents a definitive teaching. When there is not definitive teaching, there can be still some development on these issues or some corrections."
As for the Second Vatican Council and the errors and ambiguities present in some of its texts, Bishop Schneider insists on the fact that Vatican II is only pastoral and that these points of controversy cannot be imposed; they remain open for discussion. He offers as an example the matter of the sacrament of the priesthood which was first presented by the Ecumenical Council of Florence, but was only infallibly defined by Pius XII contrary to the original thesis presented at Florence.
We rejoice to see Bishop Schneider insisting on this fundamental point of the "pastorality" of the Council as well as denouncing the excessive "papolatry" which has exacerbated the crisis for more than half a century. Nevertheless, one must also recognize that the propositions of this "pastoral" Council have been pushed on the faithful as dogmas. The objections of the Society against the Council are not about doctrines which had never been clarified by the Church, but rather about errors already clearly and infallibly condemned by the Magisterium of the Church [see: "A New Magisterium"]. So long as these errors continue to be promoted by the Church's hierarchy and priests, the Society must continue to fight, regardless of its canonical status or structure.
Source: Rorate Coeli / Adelante la Fe