This letter from Fr. Karl Stehlin explains how we must be men of principle according to the proper Catholic sense.
Recently, Fr. Jean, a priest of the traditional Capuchin community in Morgon, France, gave a sermon in which he expressed the opinion that the SSPX is "going soft on Modernism" for having sought a practical agreement with Rome.
In response to this false accusation, Fr. Karl Stehlin (the superior of the SSPX's Eastern European Autonomous House), felt compelled to write to him and the Capuchin community at large, in order to give five important Catholic principles, which he has learned himself over the years as a Society priest.
We are grateful to Fr. Stehlin for allowing us to publish a translation of his letter, which dovetails perfectly with two other recent articles concerning the principles that govern the SSPX:
The footnotes in Father's letter were added by SSPX.ORG.
Fr. Karl Stehlin's letter
To Rev. Fr. Antoine, Rev. Fr. Jean, and the whole community of Reverend Capuchin Fathers:
Warsaw, February 6, 2014
Rev. Fr. Jean,
I just received your sermon from the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, and I must tell you that it deeply moved me. It reminded me of those days when I had the honor of receiving you into the Militia Immaculatae [M.I.], and of your visit to Poland to participate in our great pilgrimage to Czestochowa. What is more, you know how attached I am to you Capuchin Fathers, especially since it is through you that the M.I. spread in France, forming knights of the Immaculate willing to work for the conversion of souls. Finally, what a joy it has been for me to see Polish postulants enter your monastery and the convent of the Poor Clares.
All this to say that I read your sermon with the utmost attention, all the more so since you Fathers rarely speak “ad extra”.
How right you are to insist that we must be men of principle, and that our principles must be inflexible, with no possible compromise. I admit that I have been thinking about this very point for a long time, and wishing to be a man of principle after the example of a Cardinal Pie and an Archbishop Lefebvre, I have tried to gather together the main principles (I found five) and place them before my conscience in order to examine whether I strive to put them into practice. Allow me to expose them to you, not in hierarchical order, but as they come to mind.
First principle: the good of obedience
Reading your words as a son of St. Francis and of our beloved St. Maximilian Kolbe, I thought first of all of how much the latter insisted on supernatural obedience. You know his famous texts and you know better than I that for St. Maximilian, the only sure mark of the voice of the Immaculate is the voice of one’s superiors. This saint practiced this obedience to the point of heroism and that is the profound reason for his influence and the success of the Immaculate. I have always admired the Capuchin Fathers for being champions of the practice of this great principle. And St. Maximilian (and St. Thomas before him) tells again that only if superiors ask of us something immoral or against the Faith must we respect the greater obedience towards God and therefore refuse to obey His human instruments. Thanks to this principle, which is the essence of obedience, we have chosen the superior obedience towards God over obedience to His instruments who ask us to do or accept things against Faith and morals.
But if I am in front of a legitimate superior (see the second principle), I owe him total obedience, through which I accomplish the will of the Immaculate in perfect safety. And St. Maximilian insists that this obedience is thus supernatural because of our love for God and our submission to Him.
I admit that it is sometimes hard. And I can still hear Fr. Antoine saying during a retreat: “you have to hold on tight” to persevere on the path of obedience. And I am so happy and grateful to my superiors who not only have never asked of me (nor of anyone I know) anything bad, but on the contrary: how many times have their orders saved me, although at the time I didn’t understand, and I thought that humanly speaking such order seemed to make little sense. But the principle is formal: as long as there is no act, order, or demand against Faith and morals, complete and total obedience! How I wish the sons of St. Francis and of St. Maximilian Kolbe would remind us of this principle that is the source of all sanctity and apostolic fecundity. All of us priests ordained in Tradition made a solemn promise at the moment of our priestly ordination, and in the light of this, how painful it is to read the declaration of the priests that call themselves “the Resistance”.
Second principle: authority
Another principle linked to the first is the principle of authority in se, which alone can save us from the Protestant free inquiry. All of Tradition holds together through this principle, without which everything would fall apart, for the duty to refuse the ordinary authority in order to safeguard the Faith implies the duty to submit to the authority of extraordinary supplied jurisdiction. Tradition has survived because Providence provided this supplied jurisdiction through the founding of the SSPX to which were attached friendly communities.
The minute we reject this authority, we endorse terrible consequences:
Without it there is no unity. Look at the 20 sedevacantist sects, look at “the Resistance” after less than two years: no principle of unity except that of fighting against the SSPX. Among them there are already a good number of formal sedevacantists, one preaches that today a priest has to be a bit of an anarchist, etc. Look at your sermon and your tract: it is your interpretation, it is your point of view, and you have no way of giving any other credit to your text besides the arguments you offer. You quote the bishops of the Society, criticizing them for each having a different point of view on the situation. Look at your own beautiful monastery: perhaps one priest has another vision of things, and yet another comes to a sedevacantist conclusion. And then what will become of the Father Guardian? For in the name of safeguarding the Faith, all the Fathers will “put their priesthood at the faithful’s disposition” and do what they want. Please, Father, by refusing legitimate authority one destroys one’s own authority. At this point I would like to draw your attention to Bishop Williamson. You know well that we have been trying for years to prepare the conversion of a good number of Protestant pastors. Well, their testimony is interesting. They say that in reading Bishop Williamson’s Kyrie Eleison, they are strangely reminded of the “prophets of the 19th century” in the Lutheran church, who shared their apocalyptic interpretations, always with the conclusion that the world is going to end and it is all over. All there is left to do is wait for the last day. Each one believed he held the true Gospel according to the principle: objectivity is me!
Third principle: “One must not use bad means for a good end.”
You see, Father, once in my life I went around this principle, and if it hadn’t been for the intervention of Providence through my superiors’ firm hand, I would have fallen never again to get back up. Ever since that experience I have a profound horror of anything that violates this principle.
However, seeing the procedures of the so-called Resistance, I cannot help being deeply shocked by the constant violation of this principle, especially because of the internet, which spreads these things throughout the whole world, most of them to people who have no way to check the truth of what they are told.
But the worst of all bad means is to spread “half-truths”, to present the probable as certain, to judge important things without knowing the circumstances and all the facts. Seeing the declaration of the confused priests that you esteem so highly brings tears to my eyes. I personally know the real story of about half of those who signed, the real reasons for their criticism and departure. I do not know a single one of whom I can sincerely say: it is only in order to safeguard the whole Faith. And with these facts before my eyes, I have the right to ask that the slogan “to safeguard the Faith” not be used as a means to avenge themselves, justify themselves, or show that they were right.
I also know of Fr. Chazal’s correspondence with his confrere concerning the situation in Asia; I know Fr. Pfluger’s conference in Flavigny and what the great media of the Resistance made of it. It is always the same thing as in the text of the declaration: tendentious or distorted presentations (e.g., calling the confidential text drawn up for discussion on April 15, 2012, a “declaration”; presenting this text as the actual position of the superiors of the Society of St. Pius X, while ignoring the decision of the General Chapter). I know well that you do not do this, but I deplore the credit you grant to these people.
Fourth principle: Ad majorem Dei gloriam
We come now to the principle of principles that you evoke: “Everything here below is ordained to the glory of God,” and you would surely have nothing against adding “and the salvation of souls.” “Salus animarum suprema lex.”
You see, this great principle directs my whole missionary life and certainly that of all my confreres. I wish every second, every thought, word and action of my life to be entirely directed to this and nothing else. I beg this of the Immaculate every day. How I wish for all souls to be inflamed by this principle and live by it.
So it is all the more painful for me that in the name of this principle the Resistance puts all the superiors of the Society on trial. I will come back to this point later; allow me just to finish my presentation of the principles first.
Fifth principle: Filius Ecclesiae
This principle makes me understand that I am a son who has a mother, thanks to whom I have received everything from God. Every ordination begins with the words: “postulat Sancta Mater Ecclesia”. This principle tells me to love the Church as Christ loved her. However there is only one visible Church founded upon the Apostles. She is a great mystery, for she is at once divine and human, holy and composed of members who are almost all sinners. Meditating on St. Teresa of Avila, I Am a Daughter of the Church, (title of a book by Fr. Eugene, OCD), Fr. Emmanuel, Dom Grea, Cardinal Billot, Cardinal Journet, “The Church of the Word Incarnate”, St. Maximilian Kolbe, I have realized with terror that my mother became an abstraction, a fiction, and when I think of her present representatives on earth, an object of horror. I loved the Faith, the sacraments, the holy treasures of the Church, but I was no longer interested in the Church herself. In thinking “the Church”, I thought only “the conciliar Church” with all its aberrations and abominations. It was as if there were two Churches for me: the traditional Church (our little traditional world) and the conciliar Church, which de facto no longer existed for me. But there is only one Church, Spouse of Christ, Mystical Body of Our Lord. As you mentioned Our Lady at the foot of the Cross at the end of your sermon, I thought about how She accepted as her children all these horrible people that we are and all those who continue to crucify Our Lord.
But reading the authors listed above made me understand that I must love my Mother, the Church, who is in the most terrible agony, bleeding from all sides. I understood that Providence has given me the remarkable grace of discovering the sacrosanct treasures hidden within this Mother, but almost inaccessible to the faithful. And I understood that my vocation is to approach the members of the Church, my brothers, in order to transmit to them what I have received, to reach out to the sick and dying members, and even those who are dead in order to bring them “the oil and the olive”, and thus to help my Mother that she may bleed a little less, that she may heal a little, for the more she heals, the more she will draw souls in order to save them. But if I do not do this, if I sit on my treasures and receive only the small number of healthy members, then I abandon my Mother to whom I owe my priesthood and from whom I have received everything in the order of grace.
Applying this principle to our situation, I understood Archbishop Lefebvre’s line of conduct after the consecration of the bishops, as well as the 2006 decision. As you say, and as Fr. Pivert’s book shows, it was the only way for us to keep the deposit that they were trying at any cost to make us ruin through compromise and alterations. That was the service rendered to the Church, and the strict application of this principle. And then I understood the Superior General’s line of conduct and the 2012 decision as the same service being rendered to the Church and the strict application of this same principle: for Providence used the circumstances so that we, sons of the Church, members of the religious orders of the Church, might once again do good for our Mother, agonizing in her members, beginning with the head. In fact, thanks to the papal decisions, thanks to the discussions with Rome and a certain “thawing out”, some of the deeply buried treasures have resurfaced to the great benefit of many souls. And that lasted up until the very moment when Rome once again demanded compromise and alteration. At that moment, the application of the principle required us to withdraw again and wait for better times.
At this point, please allow me to consider your interpretation of the great principle: the principle is the integral safeguard of the Faith and the freedom to propagate it, thus fulfilling the order to evangelize. The principle is the obligation to do everything possible for the salvation of souls. Therefore also to proclaim freely the only saving truth which is to denounce errors.
The principle is not the means by which we put the principle into practice. For the means can change. As you said yourself after the example of Archbishop Lefebvre: before the consecration of the bishops, after the consecration of the bishops. So by this very fact you recognize that the Archbishop considered that the means of application could change. However the means depend on the circumstances in which we live, and Archbishop Lefebvre could not foresee these circumstances, just as he could not foresee the Internet and the iPad. After the consecrations the circumstances were unbridled ecumenism, 2 plus 2 was anything but 4, so it was clear that there was no way for Tradition to make itself heard in Rome. With Benedict XVI the situation also changed, 2 plus 2 was once again 4, but also 5 and 6. From a logical point of view, this is worse because the principle of non-contradiction is abandoned, but God, who can raise up sons of Abraham from stones, clearly drew good from this situation, that the voice of Tradition might once again resound in the Church. With Pope Francis, yet another situation, perhaps the worst yet, etc.
Now, who has the right to decide on the means best suited to obtain the end? The authority!
There are the five principles that I submit for your reflection, and I thank my superiors with all my heart for the Society of St. Pius X that allows and helps me to practice them without hindrance.
Allow me again to speak of my small experience, which I believe you have always held in esteem:
Through numerous retreats, pilgrimages, days of recollection, our publications and public conferences, we apply the GREAT PRINCIPLE to the letter. I don’t know if anywhere else in the world there are as many public conferences whose goal is to defend our Faith and denounce error. The result is an ever growing number of faithful (especially youth) solidly anchored in the Faith of all times and acting against the modernist errors.
Thanks to the foundation of the traditional M.I. almost half of our faithful (about 1000) form themselves after the principles and ideals of St. Maximilian: the desire to obey the Immaculate by understanding the role of the instruments she uses to guide us. Upon discovering the betrayal and infidelity of the official clergy, and at the same time our fidelity, they cling to Tradition and live ever more in a supernatural obedience. There are only two sorts of faithful who stir up trouble to divide Tradition: the sedevacantists and the Resistance.
Looking back at the years that have gone by, I come to a whole new appreciation of the decision of the SSPX’s superiors, and the facts are there to confirm it: until 2007, there were very few faithful in Poland, but after the motu proprio, about 70 Mass centers started celebrating the traditional Mass, a good number of the priests learning to say the Mass with our help. Thanks to this event, Novus Ordo faithful discovered the Mass, and through it the treasure of Tradition. Often with the help of these priests they discovered our traditional literature, and then many of them participated in our retreats. Our chapels were even fuller after January 2009, and the number of faithful in Warsaw grew to 450. The discussions with Rome also had their echo: I was often invited to conferences to debate with modernist priests, I was able to speak in universities, and everywhere many young Novus Ordo Catholics came to listen. The voice of Tradition was heard in public and our conferences were heard sometimes by up to 60,000 people through the Internet. Above all, we came into contact with many young priests who participate in our retreats, come to our conferences, discreetly receive instruction and formation, and thus grow closer and closer to Tradition.
What a joy for the missionary to be able to say that in 5 years the number of faithful who have returned to Tradition has grown so much that I do not hesitate to call it a miracle of the Immaculate.
What is more, I have several times been able to participate in meetings related to the work of Fr. Gruner’s Fatima Crusade. During these meetings, I have met many bishops and priests of the official Church. I was very impressed by their reaction to my conferences and meetings: thirsty for true doctrine, very open to getting to know Tradition better, even asking me to come preach to their priests on retreat. No one has asked me to make the slightest act of compromise or ecumenism. But these members of the hierarchy visibly discover Tradition little by little through these meetings. You see, Father, none of this would be possible without the wisdom of the superiors who do not refuse contact with Rome, without their discussions and their will to find a modus vivendi that would perfectly safeguard the principle but choose with prudence the best means for applying it.
Whereas applying the principle as you interpret it (“First on your knees and fully recognize that you were wrong, the Pope first, etc., and then we can talk.”) would have made it impossible for the modernist clergy to approach Tradition in Poland or through the Fatima Crusade. So in Poland we would still be about 100 instead of 2000.
As for “sons of the Church”, well, look at the application of the principles. What a joy for a missionary to be able to say:
O Immaculate, thanks to these discussions with Rome, thanks to the decision of the latest General Chapter, you have granted that I, your poor instrument, might make my contribution, that 20 bishops take a great interest in Tradition; I have been able to receive four priests into the SSPX in Poland in the last 3 years; and about 40 priests already call themselves our friends and are coming ever closer to Tradition. At least I have been able to help bandage a few of the terrible wounds that have torn my Holy Mother the Church. Not only have I been able to remain faithful to all the principles, but I have been able to instill them into thousands of souls."
On the other hand, a priest asks for prayers for the success of a retreat that he is preaching to the priests of a diocese, and a religious congregation whose work has been displaced. At the news of priests coming back to Tradition, a priest close to the Resistance asks if they have been re-ordained sub conditione.
I conclude: yes, Father, the Resistance really is ignoring and trampling upon principles one after another. I take you at your word: “We are still in a battle of principles. And it is a very important, an essential battle.”
Please forgive me, Reverend Father, for the length of this letter, and the many spelling and grammatical mistakes, but I assure you that these words come from a heart that holds the Reverend Capuchin Fathers in the highest esteem. I know that I am but a poor missionary, the Immaculate’s miserable broom; all the more reason for me to beg her to intervene in these painful times and save us.
Yours, deeply saddened, in Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart,
Fr. Karl Stehlin
1 The Capuchin community at Morgon, France, was founded by Fr. Eugene de Villeurbanne after the Second Vatican Council. Their desire to retain the traditional Capuchin life caused them to work with Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X.
2 “The Resistance” is a loose collection of priests and laymen who believe the Society of St. Pius X has become so liberal in recent years that they have abandoned the original vision of Archbishop Lefebvre.
3 Father here refers to the dozens of religious houses and communities that work with the Society: Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, etc.
4 Sedevacantists are those who believe there is currently not a valid pope. The term comes from the Latin term sede vacante, meaning “the seat being vacant”, referring to the papacy.
5 Fr. Stehlin is responding here not only to the sermon of Fr. Jean, but to a tract disseminated after the sermon.
6 “Father Guardian” is the title given to the superior in the Capuchin tradition.
7 Bishop Williamson's personal newsletter.
8 Fr. Niklaus Pfluger, SSPX, the First Assistant to Bishop Fellay, recently gave a retreat to some SSPX brothers in France. Some supposed notes were leaked to the Internet in which Fr. Pfluger was accused of taking a liberalizing tone towards various subjects.
9 This refers to another leaked document; in the midst of the discussions between the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the SSPX in 2012, several drafts of a possible text were produced.
10 “For the greater glory of God.” The motto of the Jesuit order.
11 “The salvation of souls is the highest law.”
12 “Holy Mother Church asks...”
13 Fr. Francois Pivert, a priest of the SSPX, published a controversial book mainly comprised of quotations of Archbishop Lefebvre related to the archbishop's line of conduct towards Rome.
14 Summorum Pontificum in 2007 and the remittance of the so-called excommunications in 2009.