Interview with Bishop Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X

Source: FSSPX News


We quote here large excerpts from the interview granted by Mgr. Fellay during the symposium on the work of St.Pius X, held in Paris on 30th March 2003.

Fr. Lorans: Supposing, Monseigneur, that you had the possibility of restoring Tradition in the Church, do you imagine it as a step back into the past, does the Society function as a machine to go back in time?

Bishop Fellay: The reproach is sometimes leveled at us: “You think that everything was wonderful before, before the Council it was the golden age. But, the truth is, you are fossils!” This is what a cardinal said about us. In answer to a bishop who wished to return to Tradition, and asked him, “What would you think if I went to see the Society of St. Pius X?” “Whatever you do, don’t do that, they’re fossils!”

This reminds us of Cardinal Ratzinger, who often asks himself very good questions on the catastrophic situation which he acknowledges. But when he comes to answers, his conclusion is: definitely not a step backwards. In fact, his thought is based on a false principle. When Archbishop Lefebvre said to him: “Dignitatis humanae contradicts Quanta cura,” he replied: “But Monseigneur, we are no longer living in the time of Quanta cura!” The Archbishop replied: “If that’s the case, I’ll wait for tomorrow.”

We could say to them today: Vatican II is outmoded, it’s no longer topical, it’s no longer modern, we are already in the “post-modern” era. For us, it’s not about going back to a period in history which is passed. As St. Pius X so rightly used to say: the Christian civilisation is no longer something to be invented, it has already existed. It isn’t about wishing to revive an epoch in history; our wish is to recall and apply the eternal principles; they have the potential to solve all current problems.

Fr. Lorans: In your latest letter to friends and benefactors, you come back to an expression you have already used, you say that it is not you who represent Tradition, it isn’t YOUR Tradition that you are defending, but “Rome must come back to HER Tradition.” What exactly do you mean by this possessive pronoun?

Bishop Fellay: We mean that it is the Church that possesses Tradition, or should possess it. We could say that we are the Church, provided we are not exclusive; the Church is obviously bigger than us. But as we adhere to the Church, we are part of it. The fidelity to the Tradition of the Church is justly called Tradition. It is the common good of the whole Church, which, by an infathomable mystery, rests almost, I emphasise the word almost, exclusively in our hands. It is not that we have sought it; we have remained faithful to what the Church has always taught, the others have abandoned it. But for all that, the treasures of the Church have not become exclusively ours; it is the great treasure of the Church, that is why I say HER Tradition. We do not wish to impose ourselves on the Church, it is the Church which must retake possession of her common good, all her truths of the faith, the priesthood, the Mass.

For the moment, people have the impression that it is our story; this word “Tradition” is bound up closely to a particular context, that of our relations with Rome, where they are saying to us today: “You have your own charisma, which is that of Tradition.” We positively refuse this expression, because it is not true that it is our own charisma, it is the universal charisma of the Church. This Mass is not our Mass, it is the Mass of the Church. The whole Catholic world has the right to benefit from it.

Fr. Lorans: Two years ago, Monseigneur, you asked Rome for this right to the Mass. Is it therefore in this perspective that you consider the Mass, as not the patrimony of the Society, not our private hunting ground, is it, then, in this spirit that you ask, indeed implore, that every priest be granted the power to celebrate the Mass?

Bishop Fellay: Quite. It is impressive to see how many priests, and also lay people are grateful to us for our request. In the entire Church there is a thirst for tradition; it is not always well expressed, but it is real. We come across it everywhere and sometimes in surprising places. A missionary in Amazony told me this: he had been saying the New Mass up until then and one day the elders said to him: “don’t say this Mass, say the other one, because that’s where the mystery is.” That says everything. Or the lady in Singapore, whom Bishop Manat asked: “But what is the difference between the two Masses?” and after a few moments reflection, the young lady replied in one word: holiness. Or the priest in Kenya who had never seen the Mass of all time, who came to me and said: “I am the curate at the cathedral, and people say to me:

- Why do you no longer say the Mass like before? Please say it for us.

- I would be very happy to, but I don’t know it.

If you open a chapel here, you will empty the cathedral.”
At present there are two young priests, one of whom has never seen the true Mass, the other has seen me celebrate it once. These two priests have become apostles of the true Mass, which has caused quite a stir in the diocese.

These are no more than a few examples, but I could go on and tell you what is happening in the world, show you how much suffering and expectation there is in christendom, among the faithful as well as priests. Certainly the Mass is not everything, but it is capable of gathering everything else around itself. What we are seeking, in asking for the right of every priest to the Mass of all time, is this: that the Church have pity on herself, that she tear off this straitjacket that she allowed to be imposed on her at the time of the Council, which has caused her terrible suffering. We are convinced that this liberty of the Mass – a legal act to set down, in order to show that a right has been infringed upon, that the interdiction of this Mass is a grave injustice – this freedom of the Mass would open the floodgates of grace. That is the fundamental reason for our request.

Fr. Lorans: At what stage are you in your relations with Rome?

Bishop Fellay: Let us consider several points. First of all, what is the current situation regarding the permission or licitness of the Society of St. Pius X Masses? No doubt you have heard talk of the article published by the Fraternity of St. Peter, corroborated by a letter from Mgr. Perl, which said in April 2002 that it was a sin to go to the Masses of the Society of St. Pius X, that it was strictly forbidden to assist at them for whatever reason. On 27th September of the same year, the same Mgr. Perl wrote the opposite in a letter to a private individual; at the request of the Ecclesia Dei commission, this letter has been made public by Una Voce America. It touches on three questions:

1. Do I fulfil my Sunday obligation by going to a Society of St. Pius X Mass?

Answer: Yes.

2. Do I commit a sin by assisting at a St. Pius X Mass?

Answer: “If your prime intention, in assisting at such a Mass, was to manifest your desire to separate yourself from communion with the Sovereign Pontiff, and those who are in communion with him, it would be a sin. If your intention is simply to assist at a Mass celebrated according to the 1962 missal for the sake of devotion, this would not be a sin.” Let’s be serious: who would assist at these Masses, first and foremost, to manifest their refusal to recognise the authority of the Pope? To ask the question is to answer it.

3. Do I commit a sin if I give something to the collection? Answered with an entirely Roman circumspection: a modest contribution is appropriate.

Within six months, we are confronted with a complete volte-face. We have the impression of being at traffic lights which change from green to red to green…We would like them to remain on green once and for all. It is clear that with such intrigues, Rome is losing its credibility.

Here is another example of contradictory scheming: last year the bishops of the Gabon asked Rome what should be done about the registration of sacraments administered by priests of the Society of St. Pius X. The Congregation of the Clergy replied to them: everything must be registered. Even marriages? Answer: From the moment you register them, everything is in order. This is what the Congregation of the Clergy said to the Gabonese bishops. At that time, just about everywhere, the opposite was being said.

Our contacts with Rome

In April 2002, Cardinal Hoyos sent us a very disappointing reply to a letter we had sent to him nine months earlier. Following this, last January, Fr. Schmidberger had a meeting with Cardinal Hoyos on my behalf; in the course of this interview, he read a letter to him in which I reminded him that the two preconditions, set down during our meeting in January 2001, had still not been answered (Editor’s note: the Tridentine Mass granted to all priests and the lifting of all censures); that makes it two years now that we have been waiting for a positive response from Rome! The Cardinal reacted by saying that he would have made gestures in our favor, but that we refuse to move an inch, that the problems that exist in the Church are not our problems.

The taboo

In Rome, they should understand that there is a crisis in the Church and that it comes from the Council. But they won’t hear of it. In fact, those who preach the destruction of taboos have created two new ones: the Council and the New Mass. No one has the right to touch them, and this is the stumbling block, because it on precisely these two points that we refuse to move. They object that we do not have the right to contrast the present Magisterium with the Magisterium of the past. To that we reply that the opposition is intrinsic to the texts, we are not dialecticians, we do not create this opposition, it is objective, real. But they won’t hear of that. Note that it is important to grasp this point in order to understand the impossibility of agreement, so long as they stand their ground. Let me explain: the Church has always justified her teaching and, ultimately, the infallibilty of her Magisterium, looking at her past and saying: that which we teach today, Our Lord, His Apostles, the Fathers, the Councils, taught the same, we teach nothing new as regards content, we teach only what the Church has always believed and taught. With Vatican II, the Church has made it impossible for herself to make use of this justification, which is exactly Tradition. What is Tradition? It is this look to the past in order to consider the fidelity of transmission. In the definition of Tradition, it is what we call the quod semper, that which has always been believed and taught. And as the Council teaches novelty and one can no longer propose this approach, they are obliged to invent a new one.

How Rome justifies the Council

Act I: Infallibility

The Pope is infallible, it no longer matters what he says, he opens his mouth, and Rome says: it’s infallible! I am not inventing anything; by way of proof we give this example. At a conference given at Munster in Germany by Cardinal Hoyos, he affirms that Bishop Fellay attacks the New Mass, saying that it is bad, but Bishop Fellay is wrong, because the New Mass has been approved by the Pope, therefore it is infallible.

The error in this consists in considering the subject only, of infallibility – the Pope –and no longer the object of infallibility – the Truth, being part of the revealed deposit of the Faith. In order for him to have infallibility, it is not enough that he speak, it is also necessary that he have an object of infallibilty, and that therefore, what he speaks of belong to the revealed deposit. But as they no longer wish to consider the object of infallibility, they have made the Pope an infallibilty machine. Their attitude is paradoxical, because on the other hand, they no longer want infallibility, and only wave this flag in their discussions with us.

Act II: introduction of an historical element to modify the Truth.

The theory is simple: what the Church does is true and good at the moment she does it. A Cardinal Ratzinger would therefore have no difficulty in affirming that in St. Pius X’s time, the anti-modernist oath was a good thing, and even less difficulty in adding that today, it is a thing of the past. The truth, therefore, is subject to historical circumstances, which are the ultimate justifications for the Church’s action. The quod semper is therefore not adequate in dealing with Magisterium. This fundamental difference in the concepts of identity and historic continuity, puts us on two different planets and makes discussion difficult, because we say to Rome: See what your innovations have produced, see the disasters! They reply: No, it’s not the Council, the world is to blame! (It is the world’s fault, all of a sudden!). They don’t want to be in the wrong, because they don’t want to come back to an unchanging Truth. This makes discussion impossible.

So, you’ll say to me: why are you still talking to them if it is proving impossible?

I think it is important to talk in order to lead them to see this impossibility. Furthermore – and above all – it isn’t only an issue of the Roman dignitaries; these discussions serve as a loudspeaker, so that our message is heard far beyond Rome, by all those distraught priests and faithful who are seeking a solution. There is nothing hopeless in tackling these apparently hopeless discussions because, in the long term, they will be fruitful. At the Vatican, there are those who agree with us and who try to do what they can, after a fashion, where they are. There are even Bishops – not only in Rome – who are interested in what we stand for, but who do not dare to say so. In the last five years there have been considerable movements at this level; for the moment, certainly, we do not see the visible fruits of this progress; but between nothing and the beginning of something, there is a whole world.

Fr. Lorans: You sent Fr. Schmidberger to Rome, you wrote to a cardinal, so you aren’t ignoring Rome?

Bishop Fellay: We are not ignoring Rome at all.

Fr. Lorans: You have been reproached, however, for not being a “good player”; Campos has obtained the Tridentine Mass, a certain freedom – wouldn’t you like that for the Society?

Bishop Fellay: Would you sit in a car, even a beautiful Ferrari, if the wheels weren’t screwed on? Would you drive such a car? I certainly wouldn’t.

Fr. Lorans: What are the missing bolts?

Bishop Fellay: Actualization, in the sense of this Tradition being made actual.This canonical formula of Campos, in theory, is splendid. It is its actualization which poses serious problems; the fundamental problem is this – I am simplifying a little: we have two opposing camps who are at war; at a given moment, one of the camps proposes peace. Rome made a peace proposal, thus: “Let’s not consider the doctrinal problems, it is too complicated for the moment, let’s move towards a practical solution.” In other words, they leave the problem aside and behave as if it doesn’t exist. This they called a solution – and Campos accepted it.

In concrete terms what are the implications? We have two opposing groups, who suddenly unite and become one. Inevitably, one will dominate the other. The stronger will dominate, and since there is a movement of submission to Rome, it is Rome who dominates, it is the present day Church.This Church is governed by principles, by a powerful group which drives the Church in a very precise direction. This direction is the immense fuzziness, otherwise known as the spirit of Vatican II. To make such an agreement, as they have, implies that they have placed themselves in the movement of Vatican II, in this floodtide which is moving the conciliar Church.

Fr. Lorans: Do you have proof of this, Monseigneur?

Bishop Fellay: Here is an example: Mgr. Rifan, at present the bishop of this Apostolic Administration, announces every Sunday the Mass times for Campos cathedral, where the New Mass is celebrated. The simple fact of announcing the Mass times is tantamount to an invitation to go to them. So he invites the faithful, who have made the effort to go to the Mass of all time, to go to the New Mass, without the slightest allusion to any reservations concerning the value of the New Mass. Until this point they had been fundamentally opposed by the Church, to the point of being turned out of their churches. In fact, they are selling off their thirty year battle at a knockdown price. This simple act of announcing the Mass times for the Cathedral is, in terms of principles, radically opposed to what they previously stood for. It seems like a small thing, in reality it is immense.

Another thing: for the eightieth anniversary of the diocese, Mgr. Rifan and his clergy assisted at the New Mass of thanksgiving at the cathedral. Certainly, they would say: “We didn’t concelebrate.” No, you did not concelebrate. You went there, you participated. It isn’t necessary to concelebrate, your public assistance tells everyone, and all those who would are willing to hear it, that the New Mass is not bad.

This new way of operating is beginning to provoke a reaction in Campos. One of the priests has even publicly reproached Mgr. Rifan for his new stand concerning the New Mass, as well as his new notion of the struggle fought by Bishop de Castro Mayer. Campos now explains that there were two Bishop de Castro Mayers. The first was the docile bishop, a canonist, very submissive to all the laws of the Church. The second was the bishop dismissed from his office in 1981, a hard and rebellious bishop. And Mgr. Rifan says at Le Barroux: “We have chosen Mgr. de Castro Mayer number one.” Mgr.Rifan was very effective, he succeeded in making one of the Le Barroux priests leave and join us.

The last point I want to evoke: A discussion between two members of the Apostolic Administration. The first admits that his position has changed; the second is very wary:

- On the other hand, I haven’t changed.

- My condolences!

- If I have understood rightly, the only remaining reason for you to celebrate the Old Mass is the permission the Pope has given you. What will you do on the day the pope asks you to celebrate the New Mass?

- I will say it.

This same priest now claims that those who refuse the New Mass are schismatic!

This development is spectacular. A lesson can be drawn from this: when one puts oneself, willingly and with an unguarded attitude, into an environment completely different and even contrary to one’s own principles, one ends up supporting the opposing principles. At Campos it took less than a year to arrive at this point. What the Fraternity of St. Peter did in ten years, they managed in just one.

In their seminary they are obliged, by Rome, to give courses on Vatican II and to bring in professors from outside of their administration.

However, the Ferrari was just too beautiful, and they didn’t want to check that the wheels were securely fixed.

Fr. Lorans: Monseigneur, while waiting for this discussion on the fundamental questions to take place, a discussion you are wishing for, what is the Society doing? You are back from Kenya, you were in Argentina, tell us how you see the future?

Bishop Fellay: Serenely; the Good Lord is true and He is eternal. Those who put themselves in God’s hand are never disappointed, even if it costs. The Good Lord is worth it, whatever the cost. The Society? It is solid. I see very marginal, but dangerous, attempts to make us believe that it would be so easy to make an agreement with Rome, and that everything will be fine. It’s a delusion, it’s living outside of the reality of the Church. I can’t tell you how many times this year, I have heard seminarians and priests come and say to us: “I’ve tried everything, and I said to myself: anything but the Society of St. Pius X, but there’s only you left.” How many times I have heard that! Priests come to see me and say: “I have come to you because, in the diocese, I can no longer in conscience live my life as a Catholic priest, they won’t allow me to.” That is the reality of the Church.

We also have contact with prelates who certainly say the New Mass, but who say to us: “Stand your ground! You are our only hope!”
So we simply carry on as usual. The Society continues its work with tranquility. I don’t think it is a routine, we have to be careful of that; it seems to me that the bishops around us do enough to shake us. Here and there thunderbolts drop. Last year we received about five throughout the world, from Moscow, Lithuania, Bombay, Slovenia – each time it has been excommunications; this rouses us and allows us to respond – to justify our struggle.

What we suffer from terribly is a lack of priests. The new demands flood in from all over the world and we don’t know how to respond to them. The Superior General has been obliged to take up a new sport; they give me a golf ball, eighteen holes and tell me to hit the ball into the eighteen holes at the same time. It’s not easy!!