Interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay on SSPX, the Mass, Traditionis Custodes - Part 1

February 17, 2022
Source: District of the USA

In the first part of this interview, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who held the position of Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) for 24 years, responds to questions asked by Mr. Luis Román, on different topics: the consecrations of 1988, schism, the state of emergency, the value of ecclesiastical laws in times of crisis, the bull of Saint Pius V on the Mass, the New Mass, Summorum Pontificum of Benedict XVI, and Traditionis Custodes of Pope Francis.

Luis Román is the producer and host of two programs on YouTube and all podcast platforms. In his programs he shares the Gospel and delves into the beauties and riches of the Catholic Faith, with analysis of current news, interviews and more.

While some editorial adjustments have been made to this translation and transcript of the video interview, the conversational style of the conversation has been retained throughout.

Mr. Román: Your Excellency, I want to thank you for the time today to clear up doubts that many people have in the world about the SSPX; about the history and reasons why you exist, and about the situation in the Church. Thank you for accepting this offer.

Bishop Fellay: Yes, of course. A pleasure.

Mr. Román: Excellent. The first question I want to ask today is, how did you discover your priestly vocation? How did Our Lord allow you to see this?

Bishop Fellay: It's a story that has a development; it wasn’t in an instant. At various moments of my childhood and adolescence, there were times in which I saw a vocation. At age 7, at age 13, it was clear. Afterwards...I don’t say it disappeared completely, but it was not as it was at first. Then, at age 17...from that time forward it was very clear.

Archbishop Lefebvre

Mr. Román: I know that you had a relationship with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. How did he impact your life, your vocation? What kind of a man was he?

Bishop Fellay: I don't think he directly caused my vocation. But you must know that I lived at Écône. When we say Écône now we mean the seminary that Archbishop Lefebvre opened in the year 1970. But, I had lived from the year 1962 as a child at Écône.

Écône was an estate of the St. Bernard Canons, the ones with the big dogs. It was all there. There were six houses, and an electrical plant. It was for that reason I lived in that place. Afterwards when Archbishop Lefebvre came my father helped him. Everything went along naturally. I came to know Archbishop Lefebvre as a child. Then I did my seminary training there.

In 1977 when I entered the seminary, Archbishop Lefebvre was the director of the seminary. I did my first year of seminary under him. Afterwards Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais (at that time Fr. Tissier) became the director. He [Archbishop Lefebvre] went to the SSPX’s administrative center in another part of Switzerland. The SSPX began to grow, so it wasn’t good to mix the two [the seminary and administrative hub].

Afterwards in 1982 when I was ordained a priest, I was named Bursar General. I went to the house where Archbishop Lefebvre lived. For a year I lived very close to him; I saw him close up. How do I describe him?

When you see his life, his responsibilities, you could see that he was an important person, placed by the Pope as the Apostolic Delegate to all French-speaking Africa. In this charge he personally established at least 24, possibly even up to 35, dioceses (you would have to check). It’s he who did that. He was a man who had the greatest trust of Pope Pius XII.

With the election of Pope John XXIII, the situation changed a bit. He was appointed to France, to a small diocese, because of the influence of the French bishops. They did not like him. But that was only for six months. He was then named the Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers, the largest missionary congregation.

It was because of that, not because he was an Archbishop, that he was included in all the preparatory work of Vatican II. He saw all that preparation close up. After that initial preparation he began to see something concerning. However, he was very enthusiastic and hopeful about the Council.

But after that, little by little he began to see the new texts that replaced the original preparatory texts weren’t good, that they were confusing. There were omissions, ambiguities. They were scandalous too in their approach, revolutionary.

At the beginning of the Council one of the first tasks was the election of members of the various commissions. The liberals interfered in those elections, delayed them to change the lists of the members. They simply rejected two years’ preparation work, all the prepatory documents, the schemas. The only one that remained was the one on the liturgy.

Archbishop Lefebvre saw all of that. I don’t know if we will have time to see all of that, perhaps afterwards…

Mr. Román: Yes. Of course.

Bishop Fellay: see the mind of the Church. And see in the principles the consequences. Today, for example, look at a book he wrote for confused Catholics (An Open Letter to Confused Catholics), a book he wrote in 1970. This book can be read today for today. It was so precisely written, so to the point, from an elevated viewpoint.

Mr. Román: Of course. Prophetic.

Bishop Fellay: Impressive. Absolutely impressive. What do we have, then? On the one hand, a man of the Church. On the other hand, a very humble man. He was easily accessible. He was there for everyone.

Once during vacation time at the seminary, parishioners wanted to invite Archbishop Lefebvre over because everyone else had left. They searched and searched. Where did they at last find him? Washing the dishes.

Mr. Román: Wow. As a bishop? Impressive.

Bishop Fellay: He was a very good man. There was an aura of charity around him. His episcopal motto was Credidimus Caritati, “We have believed in charity.” That was the motto of his life. He was always there to help everyone. An impressive man.

Mr. Román: Yes. I was reading a book recently, this question isn’t on the list, asking what kind of a man Archbishop Lefebvre was. He was a missionary. God gave him the gift of bringing the Gospel, as you mentioned, to 30 or more dioceses. Not everyone in the Church could do this. The Pope placed him in Africa, a place where Christianity has grown greatly, even today. I think we can attribute part of this to Archbishop Lefebvre.

He was a man who transmitted charity. The greatest proof of charity, St. Thomas Aquinas says, is to give Christ to the people. He was a great example of this.

Bishop Fellay: Yes, he was really like this. I remember well a man who saw Monsignor at a dinner tell me that normally a man who has been in a war reflects it. He ends up hardened, any gentleness ends. And he said, in him [Archbishop Lefebvre] you don’t see any of that. His meekness was very evident.

The 1988 Consecrations

Mr. Román: I’d like to ask you now a little more controversial question. Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated you and three others as bishops. That resulted in his excommunication and the excommunication of everyone consecrated that day in 1988. What can you say personally about your consecration as a bishop, and about the consequences?

Bishop Fellay: I won’t speak much about myself. Being the youngest of all I tried to escape, knowing well that there would be these lies. It had to be done for everyone, you must sacrifice yourself for others.

You must understand that the action of the Archbishop was not an act of jealousy. It was not an action trying to say, “I’m going to do my own thing.” No. It was only and totally for the Church. How can you say that? The Archbishop had an very, very refined understanding of events and of the principles causing them.

He understood that we live in a time that’s very difficult for the Church. Why? Because errors that were external entered in thanks to the Council and more so with the reforms. Principles that are not Catholic entered the Church.

The Archbishop never wanted to do his own will. He asked the good God for signs because he understood that it was a very serious thing. He said that he thought he received two signs. The first was Assisi.

What happened at Assisi? The Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, invited the leaders of all world religions to meet for pray for peace. That is completely unacceptable! Why? Our Lord is God. He is God Who came to earth, became incarnate, established one religion that he himself calls His Church: The Church of God!

The Church always is just...that there is only one road to go to God. It is Our Lord! Our Lord made His Church. His Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. What is the Church? It is Our Lord and His Church because His Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.

What is the Church? It is Our Lord who incorporated a body of the souls of the baptized. And that is the Church that we call the true Church. You must understand that, through Pius XII inclusively, when you speak of other religions you call them false religions. All false!

Be they Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, they are called false religions. Why? Because they pretend to provide an end that they’re not capable of providing. The only one that can bring us to Heaven, that has the means of doing it, is the Catholic Church.

So, to see the leader of the Catholic Church invite false religions, all of them, even the ones that don’t claim to lead to Our Lord, that is is this possible? It’s a scandal! Incredible! It deceives all! All the believers of these religions think they have value if they are invited.

The second sign that is more difficult and more theological, but for the Archbishop more important, was during the discussions with Rome. We have always had discussions with Rome. I remember it well, it was around 1984...1985.

The Archbishop was discussing matters with Cardinal Ratzinger. He was in agreement that the SSPX, that the Archbishop, present doubts about the question of religious liberty. That is what we did. Two years later, Archbishop Lefebvre received the response at the beginning of 1987.

In that answer Rome conceded that yes it [religious liberty] was a novelty! But, in the Catholic Church, there are no novelties. What the Church has, what the Church guards, is the deposit of revelation that ends with the death of the last Apostle. There is no new one.

There is a famous saying Nihil novi nisi quod alicuius est: Nothing new except what is another’s. In the Church there is nothing but what is handed on, what we already have. Also, the First Vatican Council says explicitly that the Holy Ghost is not promised to St. Peter and his successors for a new inspiration or new, there is no promise of infallibility, of help, for that. He is promised for two things: to conserve constantly and to transmit faithfully, the Deposit of Faith.

And so, to say that they know there is something new in this position, this perspective, of religious liberty, that for the Archbishop was reason to say, this can’t be done.

This needs explaining. A lot of people think that when we say religious liberty this means baptism can’t be forced. We are in complete agreement. Baptism is a free act, and the Church wants that freedom. That is not what we are talking about when we say religious liberty.

It’s much more a question about the relationship between the state and the Church, that is something else. To simplify we can say, Our Lord is God. He is the Creator of all. It says this in the beginning of the Epistle to the Colossians.

What do we have here? He is the Creator of all creatures. All creatures have needs, have duties from their mission from God the Creator. And this is not just from an individual perspective, but as a society. Human society is in complete dependence on Our Lord. And this dependence ought to be expressed in the submission of its laws to Our Lord. Natural Law. The Law of God. The state cannot make laws against them.

To be more precise, it was Leo XII who said that the Church has always recognized the natural authority of the state. The people of a country will organize their political structure, will designate their leader. But power and authority comes always from God.

Every president, every king, is answerable in the exercise of their power to Our Lord Who is their judge. All...Trump, Biden, everyone...for what they have done with the power they’ve received from Him. That says everything. And today, that is never said.

Today the Church is content to say; “No, no. We only want liberty on the part of the state.” They don’t say more. No, no, this isn’t possible. They are two societies, perfect and distinct of course, not to be mixed. But the good God is their same God. Moreover, the members of the Church, who are also members of the state, have only one end, which is to go to Heaven. So, they must obey the laws that lead to Heaven.

The moment that the state makes laws which go against God’s law, that allow things that are sins, they are an impediment to going to Heaven. These states transform themselves into hells, hells on earth. All of this is important.

Archbishop Lefebvre, reading that statement from Rome, said no. That signifies such a danger in the Church that something must be done. But the first thing to do was to speak with Rome. Tell them that we need bishops. He did not do it independently, no.

This engendered a year of discussions, at which point, finally, Rome more or less agreed to give the SSPX a bishop. The conception of a bishop in the SSPX comes from these texts. That is, an auxiliary bishop at the service of the SSPX. A Catholic bishop who is deputed to the service of the SSPX.

This is important. We were consecrated in a very difficult time. We do not desire a jurisdictional power; we are only here to serve. This is a capital point as Rome accepted that we are not schismatics. We do not claim to have power that we do not have.

Afterwards it would be necessary to explain how we operate. But this is capital. We do not claim to set up a parallel Church. We are Catholics, end of story.

Mr. Román: Ok, now I have a more personal question. You were 29 when you were consecrated a bishop...

Bishop Fellay: [laughing] No! 30!

Mr. Román: [laughing] Ok, 30. I don’t know how I read 29. How did you feel that day when you were consecrated so young? And the next day you were excommunicated. I don’t know if that was officially...How did you feel? I imagine that there must have been very strong sentiments...

Bishop Fellay: I’ll tell it to you like this. The perception of the situation in the Church, of the need to do something, was so strong that the excommunication didn’t do much.

A long time after when we had contact with Cardinal Castrillon, around the year 2000, 12 years after, he told me; “Well, Pope John Paul II wants to fix things with the SSPX.” I told him, “Hopefully, that would make me happy. But we have a problem. It’s that we don’t trust you.”

“We have just seen how you have treated the Fraternity of St. Peter. We have seen how they have been treated in communications. We are ‘worse’ than they are., we don’t have confidence. Because of that we ask indications, not words, clear, effective signs with which we will be able to re-establish trust.”

We asked for two. The first is that every priest in the world be told he has the right to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. The second, I explained like this to the Cardinal, concerns the excommunications. The excommunications are like a drop of water off a duck’s back. But bishops use it to interfere in the SSPX’s work. Therefore, please take it away.

I really think this is a good description, a drop off water off a duck’s back. Yes, there is one, but without meaning. Of course, it was not very agreeable to be prohibited from saying Mass because “You are excommunicated!”

But, how to say it? When you see it, it was a small price to pay for what was obtained. The necessity that has been in the Church even until now. It is always the same. There are periods in which there are variations. But the foundation is always the same.

I don’t know if I answered your question...

Why the Excommunications?

Mr. Román: You did. The times gave the Archbishop reasons to do what he did. I would like to ask something that you already more or less answered, but perhaps you can make it clearer. Why exactly was Archbishop Lefebvre excommunicated? Heresy? Schism? What is the reason?

Bishop Fellay: It’s very interesting. You know that for the consecration of bishops without mandate from the Holy Father in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, that is the first Roman Code, there was no excommunication, only suspension.

The suspension was for the use of a power that you don’t have. Only the pope can designate the bishops. And it was not excommunicable, only a suspension. It was only in the New Code of 1983 that the act incurs excommunication.

This comes from a historical happenstance of the Chinese. In the year 1950, the Chinese state wanted to make its own church. They forced Catholics to become integrated in the church they called the “Patriotic Church.” There, Catholic bishops who joined that schism, which was a true schism, a separation from Rome, consecrated bishops.

It is not because of making bishops but for establishing an independent church, a schismatic act, that they merited excommunication. It is because of this historical event that people had the idea that consecrating a bishop [without papal mandate] was a schismatic action.

Also, the texts talk about a schismatic action, not a schism. But the Archbishop explained very well in the sermon at the consecration that there was no intent of schism. We acknowledge the power of the pope, and in all that we do we can submit to it. Only when there are actions that endanger salvation must we not follow the pope.

But in a particular action there is no refusal of the pope’s power. It’s the equivalent of a father who tells his child, “Now, go steal!” If the child tells his father “No,” it does not mean that he does not acknowledge his father’s authority. To say no this command is completely different.

To pretend that this action [the consecrations] is sufficient to establish a schism, which Rome has never said, is wrong. There are persons who have said it, even cardinals. But in official texts there is not one that pretends all [priests of the SSPX] were excommunicated, only the bishops, which was lifted afterwards, and that is all. There is never talk of a schism. In conversations with Rome afterwards, they were convinced that we are schismatics.

Mr. Román: Exactly. To clarify, Archbishop Lefebvre, you, the Church can’t say and has never said that anything happened. You haven’t said anything incorrect about Church doctrine, you haven’t promulgated heresy. Because people think that, that you have founded a new theology.

Bishop Fellay: No, no, absolutely not.

Mr. Román: Only the consecrations without Rome’s permission.

Bishop Fellay: Yes, which is literally found in the Code of Canon Law. Afterwards in 2009...

Mr. Román: Yes, that was my next question. Forgive me, Excellency.

Bishop Fellay: No, please.

The Status of SSPX Clerics

Mr. Román: Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the four bishops, including you. The canonical situation of the bishops...and I don’t know if this is correct, I took it from an article, please correct me if it’s the same as the clerics of the SSPX, namely suspended a divinis. This is what I wanted to talk to you about, because many people use it against the Society.

This is what Pope Benedict XVI said in a letter he sent to the bishops of the world, explaining why he did what he did: “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society of Saint Pius X does not have any canonical status in the Church. Even though They have been freed from canonical sanction, they do not exercise any legitimate ministry in the Church.”

I ask you, what does this mean? Are the Masses, the sacraments, that you offer in the SSPX valid? And are they legitimate sacraments?

Bishop Fellay: No, no, it’s a very important point. But to answer in a way that the question can be understood, I want to draw close to the problem in a specific way.

Why? All these laws are disciplinary laws. The Church as a society needs these laws for the good order of the society. As with any society there are a good number of laws that explain how to organize society and such. That is good.

There are situations in which the literal application of disciplinary laws can cause harm. They are very specific situations. We are going to test this with an example.

The example is of a traffic light. There is a red light, good. Normally on a red light, you stop. It's the law. You must stop on red. But the state also knows that there are certain vehicles that can pass, without problem. They may need to make certain sounds, but they pass. It's red, but they pass. Why? Because there is a greater good that comes into question.

The other example is a fire. Say there is a house on fire. Those who are official, who have the responsibility of taking care of the fire, are the firemen. It's normal, they are firemen. But say the firemen don’t make it. Each one is capable and has a duty to do what they can to stop that fire.

That is the point. The law says, “No, no! Only the firemen are responsible!” If at this moment they are not present, it transforms into another situation.

If you look at the situation in the Church after the Council, it is a little like that. If you look at the totality of the situation of the Church, you can understand that the situation of the Church is what we call “a state of emergency.”

It's a little like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans that destroyed everything. The water comes in...the police...the firemen...the one can do more. All are paralyzed, and each of the people in New Orleans are saved as they can be.

It is very clear in this moment that to apply the normal laws does not work. You must look higher. That is what happens here. From the beginning Archbishop Lefebvre talks about the exceptions that must exist.

There is an example that can illuminate it that is very interesting. It is the danger of death. The normal law of the Church says that a priest, for example, an Orthodox priest who is not Catholic, should not be approached for anything sacramental. He is outside the Church. He is outside of the Church, yet he is a true priest.

But the same Church tells us that if there is a danger of death...there’s an accident in the street and someone is there about to die and there is an Orthodox priest that moment for the salvation of his soul he can go to this man who is schismatic, prohibited from exercising a priestly ministry, to be given extreme unction. That is totally legitimate.

Then in that moment to save a soul the Church takes away all those restrictions that are necessary during normal times. But here it isn’t normal. So, all that is forgotten. What counts is saving a soul.

It is this example that we use to clearly show that there is a danger of death today that is not physical but moral, spiritual, because of the negligence of the ministers that is very strong and very widespread.

Pope John Paul II during his time, I think it was in 1981, said that heresy is spread throughout the whole Church by the hands of good people. Heresy spread throughout all places. But heresy kills. Kills! Therefore, it’s very important in any situation that people receive the truth.

Also, this is true for the sacraments. There are many priests who no longer believe in the Real Presence, who don’t believe the Mass is a true sacrifice. And what do those ones do? What do they tell souls?

Then souls die. They are hungry, hungry for grace that they don’t receive, or they receive very little. There are souls who are completely scandalized by what the priests do at the altar that they can’t go to those priests anymore. They are isolated, lost.

They come to us and ask for help. We need to help them. Again, one needs to do what one can. Good, good, we recognize all those normal laws of the Church. But you must see situations in which the state of emergency applies.

Mr. Román: Exactly

Bishop Fellay: Also, in speaking with Rome I gave the example of the Good Samaritan. Our Lord says that there is an injured person. There is a Levite. A priest. They are the people who have all the powers. What do they do? They pass. They don’t concern themselves.

The one who helps is the one who is a complete foreigner. He takes care of the injured man. That is what we do.

That is why always until now we have always said we do not invent a mission. We only go to the people who ask for us. It is the principle for all that happens with the SSPX. We have never planned to go anywhere, to any country. There is always a request, we see if it is true, correct, and then we go as we are able to those places.

Really it is a strict application of all that: Help those who die of hunger in the Church. We well know that we don’t have ordinary power, but we go to those in need. It's very important.

It's also tied to the question of a mission in the Church. It is legitimate because in danger of death, the Church says that the law that is primary, that dominates everything, is the salvation of souls.

It may seem to be disordered, but it’s a disorder that is needed to address the major disorder that Church is in today. The situation is catastrophic. More and more, the confusion of today is enormous. And it grows worse.

Mr. Román: Yes. What we see today is 100,000 times worse than it was in 1980.

Bishop Fellay: Yes, yes of course. But they are consequences. For us they are not new. It is not with a greater intensity, graver, no. It is only the more or less regular application of the principles of Vatican II or its reforms. Nothing more. This suffices to explain what’s happening.

Sacraments Performed by the SSPX

Mr. Román: Your Excellency, I ask you if it’s correct to say, as I’ve heard people say, that in legal terminology, in your situation, in a certain sense the sacraments are valid but done in an illicit way. Is it correct to say that?

Bishop Fellay: No, it’s not correct. But why? That is a very interesting question, but never definitively answered. I will explain it to you like this.

Rome sees us, knows us, discusses with us, analyzes us, sees the work we do, and knows that the work is good. I heard this directly from a representative of Rome, Cardinal Castrillon, who was the President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission. The first time that we met him, three of the four bishops, the Cardinal told us that our fruits were good and therefore the Holy Ghost is there. The Cardinal said it like that.

Archbishop Guido Pozzo at the end, he was not like that at the beginning, at the end told someone that the Society of Saint Pius X has the means to help the Church come out of this crisis. Those are very strong words! It is a man who knows the situation, who has seen us, who is capable of saying it.

Good. What does that mean? At the purely canonical level there is an appearance of irregularity, that is the word that is used now, irregular, because we don’t have official acknowledgement. Good. That is a fact.

But at the same time, in the practical sense, the Church closes her eyes and lets it happen. A little like when the light is red and the police officer says, “Pass.” It's that kind of situation. It's clear that a pragmatic approach can never explain it because it is like a practical, pragmatic exception to the law.

I can give you some examples of that. Because there’s a lot. There is not just one element. There are very many that show that the practical relations we have with Rome develop as if we were in a normal situation.

For example, many times I was named judge for ecclesiastical matters. One time there was a nomination from the Congregation of the Faith. The Congregation of the Faith appointed me for something in which a priest appealed to the Congregation of the Faith. If I was completely “irregular,” I would not be able to do that. But Rome did it!

Another example, more precise and delicate, are the censures reserved to Rome, that is called the Penitentiary. There are sins that carry with them penalties, censures, and some of those censures for more grave sins are reserved to Rome, to the Holy Father.

Examples are a sin against the Holy Eucharist, or a priest who violates the confessional seal. They are very grave sins, and the Church punishes them with a censure. And no one can apply the censure except the pope.

Good. But in practice how does it happen? Many times, a priest who finds a case like that will give the answer. But, for validity, he needs within the month to contact Rome, and Rome will give the answer.

But we have done this, I can tell you now, for 20 years. It’s nothing new. And further back even. In that case, someone receives a punishment, a censure. Our priest gives the absolution and a penance, and writes to Rome, to the Penitentiary.

In all the cases, absolutely all of the cases, Rome answered us: “You have done well. Your absolution was licit.” Not just valid, but licit. Sometimes, they said: “Your penance was correct or not correct; you need to give more for this degree of severity.” But, each time, there was this stamp, it’s good.

That’s for confession. There was a time when officially they said, “Their confessions are invalid...etc.” But in the more serious cases? From Rome? In the context of confession, it’s a secret, as you never write the name of the person, never. Afterwards, when you receive the document from Rome, you must destroy it. There is an obligation to destroy it immediately. Therefore, there is no proof. But it’s like that in practice.

Another example. We had problems with the Bishop of Regensburg with our priestly ordinations. He, every year, even now, protests saying; “You don’t have the right to ordain priests. This is my diocese. I am in charge of my diocese. You need my permission.” All that.

Good. We discussed this problem with Rome many times. Rome intervened with this bishop and said, “Calm down.” I have a letter from Archbishop Pozzo, who was the Secretary of that Commission, who said, “You can ordain your priests without asking permission from the bishop. It’s fitting to advise him [of the ordination], but it’s not necessary.”

Another example. Every time we perform ordinations to the diaconate, to the priesthood, Rome has asked us that we give them a list [of the ordinands]. All of that signifies on our part respect to Rome’s authority, and from the other side, acceptance of this respect because they exercise power. If they say, “Good. Give us the list,” that means something.

This is all discreet, calm on the practical level, and all of this happened before Pope Francis. Pope Francis gave us the delegation of the power to hear confessions. Archbishop Pozzo says this delegation applies as well to extreme unction.

Comparing Popes Benedict and Francis

Mr. Román: This is a later question, but we can answer it now. What is the difference between Popes Benedict and Francis? Pope Francis gave you the delegation to hear confessions throughout the world without limit. That seems to me to be a good decision. What importance does that have? What does it show?

Bishop Fellay: I’ll tell you through the example of the fire. We are trying to put out the fire. Good. What happens with this delegation from Pope Francis? It's like receiving the fireman’s uniform. Now, we are not only working, the work is the same, but we also have the uniform.

Mr. Román: Exactly. Before you had to ask permission, is that right?

Bishop Fellay: Before it was as I told you. Rome said it was licit. Others said no. But in the cases that were the gravest, we always had permission. And you must know that the Penitentiary works very closely with the pope. They present these things to the pope because it is the pope who absolves a censure. Therefore, it is the permission of the pope!

Mr. Román: Very good. This shows as well...because they told me when I refer people to the places where you are, “Oh but they aren’t in communion.”

Bishop Fellay: Yes. The idea of communion as well...I protested to Rome. Because they have said and even say now, that we are not in “full communion.” I said this to Archbishop Pozzo, “I protest,” because you’re playing with an ambiguous term.

Why? Because the head of every Catholic tells him that when you say someone is not in full communion, that they are outside [the Church].

Mr. Román: Exactly.

Bishop Fellay: I said to him, “You know that’s not true. You know very well that we are inside.” But you use this term “full communion” with a new idea. It's an idea that you see develop after the [Second Vatican] Council, the idea of the Church as a “communion.”

It's a new term, a new idea. It's what they use...let’s say the bosses, the prelates, some of them...but in a general way. That's not the idea. The idea is always the same. If you are not in full communion, you are outside.

Here there are authorities who know very well, who understand that we are inside. But, yes, there is an irregularity. They use this expression, not in “full communion,” to talk about this irregularity. But irregular does not mean outside! So, it’s a trick to use this word.

Mr. Román: Of course. And the relations that Pope Francis has with you, this is what I use to show people that you are not outside. Otherwise, Pope Francis would not give you what he does.

Bishop Fellay: Yes, yes. Personally, when I saw him, when I was invited many times, he told me directly; “I will not condemn you.” And, moreover, he said; “I have problems with people who give me problems when I concern myself with you. I tell them, ‘Look. I concern myself with excommunicated people, with Protestants. Why do you bother me? Why can’t I help these Catholics?’” He told it to me like that.

He went on to say; “And I know also that people give you problems in your circles!” In the SSPX there are people who are not content with all this. He continued to say; “ doesn’t seem good to me to pressure. We must give time, go slowly.” And that’s what happens. We go slowly.

Mr. Román: Exactly. So, the sacraments are legitimate? Baptism...

Bishop Fellay: For me, yes. I think you can explain it with the aspect of tolerance, a situation that doesn’t correspond to the law. Those who want to follow the law say, “Hey! No! It's just! The light is red!” And yes, it is red.

Mr. Román: But what about validity? When you offer a Mass, Christ is present?

Bishop Fellay: Very clearly. Oh yes.

Mr. Román: Because people ask me, why?

Bishop Fellay: Because, simply, validity depends on elements that do not consider liceity. For a valid sacrament there needed the right matter, form, and intention. When the three are present, it’s valid.

I’ll give you an example that’s horrible: a Black Mass. A Black Mass is a horrible sacrilege, but it’s with a priest. A Black Mass is valid. It’s valid. It's the worst sacrilege you can imagine. By you can understand that there are cases of validity with other elements...that yes, are valid.

Someone who is a priest...for example, an Orthodox cleric, celebrates valid masses. But they are illicit because Orthodox priests are not members of the Catholic Church. It’s like a robbery. They left the Church with her sacraments. They are sacraments of the Church.

Mr. Román: But the sacraments are a work of God. Because of that, Christ works, right?

Bishop Fellay: Yes. The problem is at the level of effectiveness, if they are effective for those who will receive them. The definition of ex opere operato is not for those placing an obstacle, for those who do not place an element of opposition. To be a schismatic, outside the Church, places such an obstacle.

Mr. Román: Yes. That is grave, very grave.

Part 2 of this interview will be published in the coming days