Interview with Fr. Benoît de Jorna, District Superior of France for the SSPX. Article published by Anne Le Pape in the newspaper Présent on January 19, 2019, and by FSSPX.News with her permission.
On January 24, 2009, Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. For the anniversary of this event, Fr. Benoît de Jorna, District Superior of France for the SSPX, places these events back in their context:
Présent: On July 1, 1988, Rome pronounced the excommunication of Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated without permission in June of the same year. Can you recall the context for us?
In 1984, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote his Open Letter to Confused Catholics, ending with: “I hope a bishop will rise to pursue the work I have undertaken and save the priesthood for the Sacrifice of the Mass.” In 1986, the first ecumenical meeting of Assisi was held, and Archbishop Lefebvre, scandalized in the strictest sense of the word, said, “Since not one bishop was capable of rising up against this scandal, I cannot count on anyone. I shall therefore have to procure for myself the means of pursuing the work Providence has entrusted to me.” He then began to consider consecrating bishops.
Didn’t Archbishop Lefebvre go back and forth until the last minute?
Until the last minute, he continued to hope that Rome would give permission for this consecration. There was the canonical visit to Econe by Cardinal Gagnon and Bishop Perl (who died on July 21 last year).
Archbishop Lefebvre always sought to obtain permission from Rome. But he encountered a refusal on principle and without serious motives. Endless procrastination that gave the impression they were waiting for him to disappear.
The excommunications were lifted on January 24, 2009. What reason justified this decision by Pope Benedict XVI?
Simply because this excommunication was worthless. He lifted something that was unjustified. When someone is excommunicated, he has to show remorse for the sentence to be lifted. This was not the case, which proves the inanity of this sentence.
Are not Pope Francis’ decisions regarding the Society (granting the power to hear confessions and celebrate marriages) a continuation along the same lines, removens prohibens (removing obstacles)?
It is not easy to know what Pope Francis wants. But Rome doubtless sees all this as a way of showing his goodwill towards us.
They say that Bishop Huonder, bishop of Coire in Switzerland, a friend of the Society of Saint Pius X but also of Pope Francis, is going to retire to a school run by the Society in Switzerland, with the pope’s approval. Is it therefore allowed to publicly spend one’s retirement in the Society, just like in any other congregation?
Bishop Huonder has indeed voiced this intention. But he is still in charge of his diocese. Whether it will become a reality is yet to be seen, and God alone knows.
You were nominated as head of the District of France at the beginning of this school year, after having already held this position and left it to spend 22 years in Econe. What changes have you noticed in the district?
I notice a rampant decadence in the country’s sociological behavior, politics, etc., and I see it all the more clearly since I have been gone all these years. People no longer communicate with anyone but themselves, and we are living, in a way, in an autistic world.
But I do see the glimmer of youth in the district. The distance between the world in which we live, but to which we do not belong. The number of faithful is also growing.
Are there more faithful than 22 years ago?
More faithful and more children in our schools. It is a great expansion that was a pleasant surprise. 180 priests - the most we have ever had! (There were 100 of us 25 years ago).
Does the Society have many missionary priests outside of France?
Too many! At least 60. I would prefer to have them in France. We have a cruel lack of priests in our schools. This need is even greater than the need for the ministry.
As rector of the seminary in Econe, you formed most of the priests stationed in France today. Does that make things easier or harder for you?
It makes things much easier for me. My knowledge of all these priests when they were seminarians is an enormous help. And their knowledge of me helps too. Communication is excellent.
What do you see as the role of the Society today?
I see it taking the role of a bow-spur (lead ship in a fleet) in the conquest for Christ the King, that is to say, the Kingdom of Grace. The Society is a sort of flagship with small parallel ships that once in a while would like to outflank it on the right or the left. But the Society holds its position as a bow-spur, and the Ecclesia Dei communities and even the French bishops are aware of this, even though they do not say so. I know of some who remain attentive and even have a certain amount of good will. I have met with some and am going to meet with more. They receive us amiably, and some of them are not uninterested by the fact that, in certain conditions, we can present a solution to fill the diocese’s churches for example. The mayors who are responsible for these churches do not always want to keep up empty buildings. But the bishops do not necessarily wish to decommission them. We can be a solution. Some are considering this, and for us, this opens up future prospects.
How do the bishops learn of what you are doing? The website La Porte latine? The Letter to Our Brothers in the Priesthood?
Mostly by La Porte latine, which is still an excellent source of practical information. Those with whom I have met know of the local chapels that we have in their diocese. And their relations with our priests have changed a good deal. Twenty-five years ago, our priests could not have any contact with the bishops of the diocese in which they had chapels. Today, they are received upon request, like all other priests. And quite amiably. But the bishops still believe we are not “in full communion” and say so.
What are your goals as District Superior of France?
To show more clearly our doctrinal and practical coherency, in particular by starting a doctrinal review that could interest priests, faithful, and also academics. Stay tuned!