An initial evaluation of the outcome of the talks with Rome: Fr. Davide Pagliarani

Interview granted to Marco Bongi by the SSPX’s District Superior of Italy concerning the Society’s theological discussions with Rome, the present cultural state of the world of Catholic Tradition, and also a concise commentary on the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae. 

Marco Bongi: The theological talks between the SSPX and the Roman authorities are coming to a close. Even though no official communiqué has been issued yet, there is no shortage of commentators who, based on leaks, are convinced that they have failed. Can you say something more about the subject ?

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: I think that to consider the talks unsuccessful is an error based on prejudice. This conclusion is drawn perhaps by those who expected from the talks some result foreign to the purposes of the talks themselves. The aim of the talks never was to arrive at a concrete agreement, but rather to compile a clear and complete dossier that would document the respective doctrinal positions of the two sides and to submit it to the Pope and the Superior General of the Society. Since the two commissions worked patiently, touching on essentially all the topics on the agenda, I do not see why anyone would have to regard the talks as unsuccessful.

The talks would have failed—this is a reductio ad absurdum argument, now—if the representatives of the Society had composed reports that did not correspond exactly to what the Society upholds, for example if they had said that collegiality or religious freedom are adaptations to the modern world that are perfectly consistent with Tradition after all. Although a certain discretion was maintained, I think that I can say that there was no risk of arriving at that unsuccessful outcome. Anyone who does not adequately grasp the importance of such testimony on the part of the Society and of what is at stake, for the good of the Church and of Tradition, will inevitably formulate judgments that fit into other perspectives.

Marco Bongi: In your opinion, what perspectives could be misleading?

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: In my humble opinion there is one somewhat heterogeneous Traditionalist sector which, for various reasons, expects something like a canonical regularization of the Society’s situation.

  1. Of course there are those who hope for positive repercussions for the Universal Church; I would tell these friends, however, whom I consider sincere, not to have any illusions; the Society has neither the mission nor the charism to change the Church in a day. The Society simply intends to cooperate so that the Church can reclaim her Tradition in its entirety, and it will be able to keep working slowly for the good of the Church only if it continues to be, like any work of the Church, a stumbling block and a sign of contradiction: with or without a canonical regularization, which will come about only when Providence judges that the time is ripe. Besides, I do not think that a hypothetical regularization—at the present moment—would abolish the state of necessity which continues to exist in the Church and which until now has justified the action of the Society itself.
  2. On another, diametrically opposite side there are groups that I would describe as conservative, in a somewhat bourgeois sense of the word, who are anxious to say that the talks have failed while lumping them together with an attempt to arrive at an agreement: the ill-concealed intention is to prove as quickly as possible that Tradition, as the Society embodies it, will never be able to have the right of citizenship within the Church. This haste is prompted not so much by a disinterested love for the future of the Church and for the purity of her doctrine, but rather by a real fear of the impact that Tradition properly speaking might have, given the flimsiness of the conservative or neo-conservative positions. In reality this reaction reveals a slowly growing awareness—which is not acknowledged, however—of the inconsistency and the intrinsic weakness of those positions.
  3. Above all, however, it seems to me that this shows the existence of groups and positions that expect some benefit from a canonical regularization of the Society, without however being willing to make Society’s battle their own or to assume the burdens and the consequences of it. There are in fact in the diversified Traditionalist archipelago a number of “commentators” who, while expressing their essential disagreement with the Society’s line of thinking, watch with the greatest interest current developments in our cause, hoping for some positive repercussions on the institutes with which they identify or on the local situations in which they are involved. I am impressed by the palpitations experienced by these commentators every time the slightest rumor about the future of the Society crops up. I think however that the phenomenon can be explained easily.


Marco Bongi: Why?

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: We are talking about a category of believers or priests who are basically disappointed and rightly feel a certain sense of instability about their future situation. They realize that most of the promises in which they believed are scarcely being maintained and implemented. They hoped that with Summorum Pontificum first, and then with Universae Ecclesiae, full rights of citizenship and freedom had been granted to the Tridentine rite and effectively safeguarded, but they realize that this is not going to happen peacefully, especially in relation to the bishops.

Consequently—and unfortunately—these groups are interested in the outcome of the Society’s story not so much for the sake of the doctrinal principles that support it and for the bearing it could have on the Church herself, but rather from a utilitarian perspective: the Society is seen as a breakthrough battalion of priests who now have nothing to lose but, if they obtain something significant for their congregation, will create a canonical precedent to which others will be able to appeal, too. This attitude is morally debatable and perhaps a bit selfish, yet it has two advantages:

First of all, it paradoxically demonstrates that the Society’s position is the only credible one from which something interesting could result, and that there are many who end up referring to it in spite of themselves.

The second advantage is that it proves that if priority is not given to the doctrinal path, so as to allow the Church to recover her Tradition, one necessarily slips into a diplomatic perspective made up of uncertain calculations and unstable results, and one runs the risk of tragic disappointments. 

Marco Bongi: Assuming that [if] the Vatican offered to the Society the opportunity to be structured as an Ordinariate directly subject to the Holy See, how might that proposal be received? 

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: It would be taken calmly into consideration on the basis of the principles and priorities and above all the supernatural prudence from which the superiors of the Society have always drawn their inspiration.

Marco Bongi: Couldn’t you tell us something more?

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: I can only repeat what was explained clearly by my superiors from the start: the canonical situation in which the Society presently finds itself is the result of its resistance to the errors that infest the Church; consequently the possibility of the Society arriving at a regular canonical situation does not depend on us but on the hierarchy’s acceptance of the contribution that Tradition can make to the restoration of the Church. If we do not arrive at some canonical regularization, that simply means that the hierarchy is not yet sufficiently convinced of the urgent need for that contribution.

In that case we will have to wait a few more years, hoping for an increase in that awareness, which could occur along with and parallel to the acceleration in the process of the Church’s self-destruction.

“The little good that we can do in Rome is probably more important than the great good that we can do elsewhere.” This very important statement, made by Bishop de Galarreta at the priestly ordinations in Econe, is a direct summons to our District [of Italy]. Of course it referred mainly to the theological talks, but there is no doubt that the image of the Society in Italy, because of its proximity to Rome, also takes on a very special relevance.

Marco Bongi: You are the Superior of the Italian District: how did this important statement strike you?

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: What the bishop said in Econe is consistent with a deep conviction of the Society, and the statement seems to me to be informed by a genuinely Catholic spirit: I find nothing surprising in it. I think that Bishop de Galarreta’s remark sums up perfectly the Roman spirit with which the Society wants to serve the Roman Church: to do whatever is possible so that the Church can reclaim Her Tradition, starting with Rome itself. The history of the Church teaches us that no universal, effective and lasting reform is possible unless Rome makes that reform its own and it starts from Rome.

Marco Bongi: Concerning these points many outside observers maintain that there is an internal division within the SSPX between one so-called “Roman” wing that is more inclined to dialogue with the authorities, and another “Gallican” wing that is hostile to any sort of approach to the Pope. Aside from the oversimplification, and within the limits in which you can comment, do you think that this idea is well-founded?

Fr. Davide Pagliarani: As in any human association, so too in the Society there are different nuances and sensibilities among the various members. To think that it can be otherwise would be a bit childish. Nevertheless I think that one easily falls into the oversimplifications that you just mentioned if calm good judgment is lost or one speaks on the basis of preconceived prejudices: one ends up creating parties and unthinkingly siding with some rather than others.

To the members of the Society it is clear that the identity of their own congregation is structured around a definite, precise axis that is called Tradition; upon this principle, which is universally shared within the Society, the unity of the Society itself is built, and I think that objectively it is impossible to find a stronger principle of identity and cohesion: precisely this basic cohesion on the essentials is what allows the individuals to have variously nuanced views on any matters of opinion.

I think that the impression of a certain lack of homogeneity has been given by the considerable differences in tone that Society members use in their different settings, in their different predicaments, in their different countries, and above all when confronted by the extremely diverse and contradictory positions that the representatives of the official hierarchy formulate with regard to us and about anything that smacks of Tradition. Sometimes there is a diminished perception of these facts among those who evaluate the individual statements out of context online, and reduce them to the same level in front of their computer screens.

Certainly it is a question of considerations that are not immediately evident to the outside observer.

Original interview :