France: Press conference of Bishop Fellay to the journalists for religious information

Source: FSSPX News


On January 13, 2006, Bishop Bernard Fellay was invited in Paris by the journalists of the Association of Journalists for Religious Information (AJIR). During about an hour and a half, he answered the questions of some 20 journalists specialized in religious information for the main European press agencies. The  dispatches and articles – for briefness sake –could  report all that was said during that press conference only very synthetically. This sometimes gave rather striking summaries. For instance, APIC collected bits and pieces of what Bishop Fellay said and presented them as the answers to a 3 page interview, whereas the transcript of the conference is at least 20 pages long.

You will find here below the texts of the journalists and the words of Bishop Fellay transcribed word for word from the recording of the conference. The comparison between the two is enlightening: it shows, if this was still necessary, that information which must of necessity be short, do not do justice to all the aspects of a complex situation. We must add that this kind of exercise do not allow the speaker to develop his thoughts as he would during a conference given to the faithful.


Concerning the address of the pope to the Curia on December 22 (see DICI 128), La Croix, in its January 15 edition thus summarized the answer of the Superior General of the SSPX: "It is a capital text, remarked Bishop Fellay. We see clearly that the Holy Father is trying to shed a new light on the Council. At the same time, he concedes that there had been a discontinuity, at least in the presentation". On the whole, this address "rejoices" the Superior General of the Society. "Even if I think it does not go far enough", he adds."

For its part, France Press Agency wrote: "Bishop Fellay "rejoiced" over the address of the pope to the Curia on December 22, 2005. The pope had acknowledged that "in vast areas of the Church the Council had been rather laboriously implemented", stressing that "before as after the Council, the Church remained the same Church."


Here is the full answer given by Bishop Fellay:

Journalist’s question: Concerning Benedict XVI, you are not satisfied with the way in which, in his address to the Curia, he precisely set in opposition this hermeneutic of discontinuity; there was a discontinuity between the thinking as it was before and after the Council. And he supported the hermeneutic of continuity, saying: we remain in the same tradition of the Church.

Bishop Fellay: Well, we see very, very clearly in this address an attempt to shed a new light on the Council. I do not know whether we should say an attempt to save the Council, that would be my way of looking at it; but in any case there is a positive will to set a barrier to stop an interpretation, an understanding of the Council which has now been the usual presentation of the Council for years. We see very, very clearly that the pope, under the cover of delicate words, is distancing himself from the usual presentation of the Council. So there is a will to present the Council otherwise, at least on the level of the principles. I do not know what will be the end result.

Journalist: You did present it as a rupture too.

Bishop Fellay:  Oh yes, quite so, I surely did! And besides, if you study this address closely, you will see that the Holy Father concedes that there nevertheless was a rupture, maybe not in the contents, but certainly in the way it was presented, and implemented. This is what he says when he tries to show that there would have been no discontinuity on the level of the principles, principles which he claims not to be apparent; so he speaks also of continuity in discontinuity… I think we will have there a very, very interesting subject for discussion.

Journalist: This address rather causes you to rejoice or you…

Bishop Fellay:  Its clarity, its precision, and also its will to eliminate a certain number of positions which were really causing us problems in the Church, all these cause me to rejoice; but I think it does not go far enough. But it is always a delicate matter to try and determine how far a movement is going to go. It is quite clear that he is opening a new vista. How broad will this vista be? I do not know.


 Regarding a possible Apostolic administration which would allow a regularization of the canonical situation of the SSPX, La Croix wrote: "What form would take this regularization? It could be an autonomous status, for instance a personal Apostolic administration like that created in 2001 in Campos (Brazil) for the faithful of Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, another integrist Bishop, co-consecrator at the illicit ordinations of 1988. "I am almost sure they will grant it to us, confided Bishop Fellay. Even if we do not want to be Catholics in a class of their own: we are not asking the old Mass for ourselves but for all. But maybe we will have to go though this transitory stage."


Here are the words of Bishop Fellay:

Journalist: Among the problems still pending, do you still maintain your claim – forgive me for using this trade-unionist vocabulary – for a special status for the Society within the Church?

Bishop Fellay: I think Rome will grant it to us, so in this respect there is no need to claim for it. We find ourselves rather in the reverse situation, that is to say, we keep telling Rome: but we want to be normal Catholics, we have no desire for a marginalized status, if you will forgive me the comparison, in the zoo, we do not feel at all like playing the part of the dinosaur to whom a special status is granted. Because in the discussions we have been having with Rome for some time already, we are always told: very well, your special charisma will be respected. And we retort: Now, listen, this Mass we are requesting, we are not requesting it for ourselves, we are requesting it for everybody. In the past it was the Mass for everybody, the Catholic Mass, and we are asking that it be once again the Mass for everybody and not just ours. So, in this respect we are not asking for a special status, quite the contrary… maybe we will have to go through this stage, yes, it is even probable.

Journalist:  Which could be something after the kind of a prelature like for Opus Dei?

Bishop Fellay:  I think it will be somewhat different. We are talking about an Apostolic administration, which is somewhat different. What is the difference? The prelature pertains only to the members, i.e. actually the members of Opus Dei enjoy some, let us say, privileges, but only the members enjoy them, you must be a member of Opus Dei. The Society, the members of the Society strictly speaking are priests and religious, that’s all, there is nothing for the faithful. So we must find a way to include also the faithful obviously.

Journalist: That’s what happened in Campos, for instance?

Journalist: So this Apostolic administration could be granted to you, but outside of the bishops, guardians of the unity of Catholics in the diocesan territory.

Bishop Fellay: I think there would be an exemption.

Journalist: You are sure?

Bishop Fellay: I said: "I think" and yes, I am pretty sure.

Journalist: After the manner of what was done in Campos for instance, or maybe in a broader way?

Bishop Fellay:  That’s it, it is along the lines of Campos. That is to say that per force, at some point, there still are some relations, it is not a completely independent status. The status of the faithful, in such a case, is called a status of mixed jurisdiction, that is to say, Rome does not withdraw those faithful from the authority of the bishops, but it allows them to benefit from the parallel authority found in an administration.


Concerning the state of necessity which the SSPX invokes to justify the bishops’ consecrations of 1988 as well as its present apostolate, La Croix and La Libre Belgique differ. Indeed, the French daily wrote: "We are thus heading still more towards a "regularization" of the Society, rejoices Bishop Fellay, even if the question of the lawfulness of the bishops’ consecrations of 1988 remains pending. "For Rome, there was no "state of necessity" that would have justified these ordinations, deplores Bishop Fellay". Whereas the Belgian daily summed up: "The "state of necessity" invoked by the Lefebvrist to remain on the fringe of the Church would have been implicitly acknowledged by the pope, to whom the SSPX attributes the desire "to shed a new light on the Council Vatican II and to distance himself from its usual presentation".


As a matter of fact, Bishop Fellay stated that Benedict XVI did not admit the argument of the state of necessity, while conceding some reality to this state of necessity at least in two countries:

"(The terms used will be rather words like "regularization of a situation" because, actually, in this respect), there is the problem to the consecrations themselves, which are censured by Rome ; on our part, we try to explain that the censure does not apply because of the circumstances, and, let us say, on the basis of canon law. Rome will say or has attempted to say through the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Laws that our argument, i.e. the argument of necessity, was not valid in that case. To express things more pointedly, let us say that there is a code, well a canon of the new Code of Canon Law which says that if someone acts out of necessity, he does not fall under the law; and another canon says that if this necessity was purely subjective, i.e. if the necessity did not exist objectively but the person thought there was a necessity, well, he should not be punished with the maximum penalty foreseen by the law. These are the arguments we are using to say, on the one hand that we believe there is a necessity, and even an objective state of necessity; but, at least, that even if Rome does not want to acknowledge this objective state, there remains the subjective point of view; and consequently we should not be punished with the maximum penalty. There was a thesis on this subject, a master in Canon Law written on this theme, and it was received by the Gregorian University. Then the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Laws intervened to say that, in this case, they could not speak of necessity because otherwise, of course, it introduced a principle of possible anarchy in the Church.

Nevertheless, and this is very interesting too, during the private audience with the pope, the pope re-used the argument saying: "You may not justify your activity by referring to a state of necessity" giving as explanation: "I am trying", he said, "to solve the problems", such were his very words. It is at the same time an avowal: it means that there are problems; if he tries to solve them, it is because the problems still exist. And a few minutes later, in his explanation, he himself said: "We should see if there is not a state of necessity in France and in Germany." This shows that after all our argument is not so bad. Well this was just a very small development to say that…

Journalist: In what would there be a state of necessity in France and in Germany?

Bishop Fellay: He did not tell me, he did not say it. First I wondered why these two countries? Now this is a pure… it is a personal explanation. I think that the Holy Father, at that point, was referring to the liturgical problems and the opposition the freedom for the old Mass can meet in these two countries. I am not sure this is it, it is my attempt at an explanation. Because if I compare France and Germany with the other countries in the world, truly I, for my part, cannot see much difference. It is true that from the liturgical viewpoint in the United States, for instance, there is much more freedom, many more bishops, there are at least 150 dioceses where the Tridentine Mass is celebrated, it is called the Indult Mass, i.e. the bishop give the permission. But when we speak of a state of necessity, we consider something else. There is not only the liturgy, there is all the life of the Church, there is the teaching of the faith…


Concerning the determination to proceed by slow or rapid stages, in the relations between Rome and Ecône, La Croix reported: "The integrist leader, who met Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Ecclesia Dei commission on December 15, states that he can even feel from the Vatican a determination to solve the problem as quickly as possible. "Rome wants to go fast, but we are not so sure that we want to go that fast!", nevertheless tempers Bishop Fellay, who considers that "if we were to sign today, all our faithful would not follow us".


The exact questions and answers were as follows:

Journalist: Did you set a date line with Rome ?

Bishop Fellay: We are working on it. I cannot say it already exists. The only thing I can say is that precisely Rome would like to go fast, and it seems to us that we cannot go that fast.

Journalist: Rome would like to go fast, that means that they did set a date line?

Bishop Fellay: No. At the very beginning, in the year 2000, I met Cardinal Castrillon on December 29. At that time he said: the pope would like that everything be settled for Easter, so for Easter 2001; and see, we are now in 2006.

I think we are making progress, but slow progress. This is due to several elements, I think that the element… one of the elements that is slowing things down is the psychological element. I tried to explained that to Rome saying: listen, the people who come to us are persons that have been hurt, scandalized and who, at a given time, took a step that cost them a great deal. That is, they found themselves before a choice, and the choice was either to carry on with a situation that was scandalizing them or  to join us knowing that they would find themselves under Church censures. And that is never pleasant to find yourself censured by the Church. Nevertheless, they rather took that step than remain in the situation they were in. Now, how can you imagine, how can you think that these faithful find themselves again in their previous situation if nothing has happened in between? That is one thing, and there is also what I would designate under the word "mistrust". In our circles we – in quotation marks – "do not trust" Rome and it takes quite something to overcome this mistrust, to take stocks of the present situation to see what did move, what changed, in which direction it is heading. And all this takes time".


A whole bunch of questions prevented Bishop Fellay from completing his answer. He was about to add what is summed up in the following paragraph taken from his conference of December 11, 2005 at Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet: With the Roman authorities, I concluded saying: "If you want to regain our confidence, words will not suffice, it will require acts. You must regain control. You must condemn what must be condemned, the heresies, the errors. Whether they pertain to the faith, to morals, to discipline, to the liturgy, these acts of condemnation must be known. Now, there must also be positive acts. Catholic life which is presently made impossible in the official Church, the normal, traditional life must be made possible again. And this can be done only by fostering Tradition."

 At the very beginning of the conversation with the journalists, Bishop Fellay had already declared:

"On Rome’s part, we can feel a desire to settle the problem, if I may say so, the problem created by the Society, as soon as possible. This is certainly what the pope, the Holy Father wants. Concretely, what does this mean? It means that Rome advocates a regularization relatively soon.

On our part, for once, if I may use this term, we somewhat put on the brakes. This does not mean that we will oppose a regularization, but we would not like to short-circuit on important issues which would remain… which would cause problems later on, it is better to try and solve the problems before rather than after."

 After the conference, to a journalist who privately asked him if he nevertheless foresaw a date for a reconciliation with Rome, Bishop Fellay answered, maybe jokingly: "Yes, in ten years from now.