Interview granted by Bishop Bernard Fellay to the daily Present, on November 5, 2005

Source: FSSPX News


Excellency, you met with Benedict XVI at the end of August. Under what circumstances did this meeting take place?

Since the year 2000 we have had discussions with Rome to try and see how we could improve our relations with the official Church. But it must be said that Rome took the first step. We always affirmed that we are Catholics and showed it through the Jubilee pilgrimage in Rome, – this pilgrimage made an impression on many souls, included those within the Curia. I think it has been a decisive element in the move of the Roman authorities. However, it is certain that our analysis of the present situation of the Church differs from theirs. That is the crux of the matter. But, in the present context, we deem it useful and even necessary to manifest publicly that we are Catholics and that we acknowledge the Holy Father, by showing our deference. We also tried, seeing his concern for the crisis of the Church, to suggest that Tradition could be the solution to this crisis, - something of which we are deeply convinced on our part.


The pope has the advantage of a thorough knowledge of the dossier. In DICI, you stressed especially three points that the Holy Father mentioned in order to improve the situation: the state of necessity, which you claim, concerning your bond with the Pope; the interpretation of the Council in the light of Tradition; and the practical question of the structure in which this could be designed. Did this meeting bring a first element of the solution to your request?

We obviously have points in common. We are on the same wavelength. There are points of agreement upon which we manage to reach a mutual understanding. Otherwise, any discussion would be absolutely useless. However, and this has been our tragedy since the beginning, we meet with incomprehension on the part of Rome as to our position. Nevertheless, I do believe that, little by little, we manage to make them better understand what we are doing. We have not yet reached a full understanding, but there is obviously some progress. And in order for this progress to continue, there is, humanly speaking, no other solution than to remain on speaking terms – otherwise there will be need of a special grace infused by God into our interlocutors. Hence, and this is for us a fundamental reason, our will to discuss the problem with the Holy See, in order to solve it. This, however, does not mean solving the problem, as most people may understand it, i.e.: you sign an agreement and everything is resolved. For you may think: the SSPX is having a quarrel with the Roman authority, now this Roman authority is well disposed to negotiate and make an agreement, so just sign an agreement and that’s the end of it. This kind of reasoning presupposes that we present a problem to Rome, certainly there is a problem, but we are not the problem. We are but a sign. Our situation is but the consequence of the major problem in the Church. And up to now, we had the impression that the authorities in the Church – the hierarchy in general, not only Rome, but also the local bishops, - did not want to see this problem, which was obvious to us. There is a problem in the Church, and a major one. So, when you hear the present pope, and, in recent years, Cardinal Ratzinger, acknowledge that there is a serious crisis in the Church, in a certain way it comforts us and gives us hope again. Because, it is obvious that if you want to look for solutions, you must first acknowledge that there is a problem. This is the reason why I think we are making progress. And we must keep on this path to come to the true solution. It is true that Cardinal Ratzinger has been acquainted with the dossier for a long time. And in this respect, he is perhaps the person most susceptible of perceiving the problem.

Do you consider that this year has witnessed a sudden rise in quality with the new pontificate, or is it merely the continuation of a progress begun long ago?

It is a combination of both. I think there is a progress with the new pope. Is it in quality? I do hope so… I am not absolutely certain. But I hope so nonetheless. The Italian journalist Messori would tell a little anecdote: "Once, he said, I tried to make John Paul II confess that there were things that did not go well in the Church. And the pope banged his fist on the table as if to say that all was going fine." Whereas Cardinal Ratzinger, on his part, would acknowledge that all was not going well. I truly think that Benedict XVI wants to slow down some of the progress of the Council? Should we say stop them? I think so. Suppress them? I hope so. But where will this go? That is where I am hesitating to speak of a sudden rise in quality, because I believe that, deep down, the same principles are inspiring Benedict XVI and John Paul II. But, indeed it would seem that Benedict XVI does not want to go as far.

Up to which point does the state of necessity apply, according to you – when we see Campos, about which we know you make reservations, or more generally, the places of worship granted here and there more frequently recently? Where do you set the limit?

The state of necessity is a state in which you are obliged to resort to extraordinary means in order to survive. In other words, if by following the orders given to us in the canonical structure they would be kind enough to offer us, we would harm the good of souls in the realm of faith, or of the liturgy, etc., this is called a state of necessity. There will no longer be a state of necessity once the priests and faithful attached to Tradition are able to live normally and develop their Catholic life normally. This does not mean that there will no longer be any disorder in the Church. But it is first a matter of right: if the principles are clearly established in the Church – if, for instance, the pope says: Tradition has the right to live-, in this case we will no longer be able to speak of a state of necessity. Does a canonical statute like that granted to Campos suppress the state of necessity? I am not sure… Because this statute is subject to conditions and the conditions are always the same: to accept the new Mass and the Council… That is the problem. For let us face it: why do so many faithful come to us? Most of them come because they are scandalized by conciliar liturgy. They have taken a step that cost them much, because they were shocked. Now, they have found peace again, thanks to the traditional liturgy, and you would come and tell them: we are going to regularize your situation, you will be able to have this Tridentine Mass, but you will have to accept the other which hurts you. In other words, if you want to have a normalized situation, you must accept as a norm that you may be hurt. This is hard to take.

But if you accept the present discussion, cannot the solution, from a human point of view, come through cohabitation? It seems difficult that you may obtain all at once a completely reversed situation… And in one house, the rule must be common to all. Otherwise you have two separate houses.

Exactly so. I distinguish between the principle and its usual consequences. For instance, there is a gas leak in a house which fuels up a fire. Once you have turned off the gas, the fire will still last a while longer, but it will eventually go out. This is what we request: that they go to the root of the problem that they turn off the gas. Even if there is still a fire going on at that point, we will be ready to cooperate; but the destructive principle must be identified and the gas must be actually turned off.

But this is a mere analogy…

Oh no, not at all… It is much more than an analogy. The principles of Tradition must be re-established. As long as these principles are not re-established, we cannot cooperate. It would mean cooperating with the fire by leaving the principles of destruction untouched.

At least there is an enormous difference in viewpoint. These principles, which you denounce, are those they consider as habitual; and not as a gas leak…

Precisely. We must take advantage of these discussions to bring the Roman authorities to evaluate the situation differently. The difference of viewpoint is not total; there are men in positions, in Rome and among the bishops, who have perfectly well understood this situation and its causes. In plain talk: things are going wrong in the Church, there are no longer many vocations, they do absolutely what they please with the liturgy, catechesis no longer exists, you can search well to find Catholic schools… All this means that Catholic life is moribund today. And there are causes for this. So we say: as long as you leave the causes in existence, it is useless to cooperate. Let us agree. Let us work to suppress these causes. If we sense on the part of Rome such a will, we will immediately answer yes if they call upon us. As long as Rome will tell us: come and work, but allow yourselves to be cut off from the principles of Tradition; this is not possible for us.

The issue of the Mass, which is the easiest point of your requests, looks to you as if it could be partially liberalized. Why are you so optimistic that you think there will be something done? And so pessimistic that you think it will not be fully done? And what do you mean by partial liberalization?

I base my thinking upon what has happened up to now. It is quite clear that Rome – the pope and some prelates – has perfectly understood that the old Mass cannot be forbidden, that there are no theological reasons, no canonical reasons which could enable them to forbid this Mass. It’s a matter of a right. And since Rome knows it, we come to the conclusion that sooner or later, there will be some freedom.  Because if they deny it when it is a matter of a right, that is an injustice. So why not a complete liberalization? Because these same authorities, who on the one hand acknowledge this principle, are on the other hand very much embarrassed by the attitude of the progressives, and they fear a reaction that may perhaps cause them to lose their control over the Church. These are their very words. Hence, a permission more easily granted than today, because they do realize that the indult is presently much too dependent upon the bad will of the bishops to be even called a permission. More freedom is needed, but not too much freedom, in order not to stir up the anger of the progressives. It is a compromise.

How could this partial liberalization be applied in practice?

Quite simply. We ask that the right of the Church be acknowledged. Since it is a matter of a right, acknowledge the right. Simply say: this Mass is not forbidden. That’s all. And then just wait and see what happens. Allow the experience of Tradition.

And what could cause it to be only partly liberated?

Opposition from the local bishops who, for part of them, rise up against this Mass, because they consider it as the negation of the Council and the reforms, and, who, for the rest of them, maybe from a more pragmatic point of view, see in this liberation a possible cause for chaos in the dioceses. Personally, I do not think this would be the case, but some seem to feel it likely. For us, it is not a question of winning or losing. It is much more profound. We see in the Mass the principle of a solution to get out of the crisis. It is not a mere question of liturgy: it is the sacrifice of Our Lord in a holy liturgy, it is a most powerful remedy to restore the life of grace, the Catholic principles, faith, moral demands, all things which in a relatively short time would change this pernicious atmosphere, this modern spirit in the Church which is destroying everything. This is why we are requesting the Mass. Not for us, since we already have it, but for the sake of the Church, for all those suffering souls who are thirsting and asphyxiated, so that they may breathe again. Of course, it would do us good too, but it will first do good to the Church. One again, we are not the problem. But we could bring part of the solution to the greatest problem of the Church.

If the Society were considered as a stumbling block, would you go so far as dissolving it, in order to pacify minds, if you were to obtain what you are seeking for?

I do not think that this would be the solution. As Archbishop Lefebvre used to tell us, once the pope has come back [to Catholic Tradition], we will place our episcopacy in his hands. We are quite ready to do so. But it is quite clear that Rome tries to favor us, because it sees in us a potential good for the Church. It would be counter-productive to say: for the sake of the Church we are going to destroy this potential good. It is even contradictory.

But would not this solution be limited merely to the situation of the Society? There are also the Ecclesia Dei communities, even if some points may be questionable…

When we deal with Rome, it is never in a perspective limited to the Society. We have at least in view the good of all the communities attached to Tradition. We cannot think of wishing to make a little agreement on our own, and leave the others to fight for themselves.

You say that there are no "negotiations" with Rome…

There are no negotiations in as much as we have nothing to negotiate for. Faith is simple, you cannot cut it up in little pieces, it is either everything or nothing. As for us, we want everything. And we have the right to receive everything from the Church, and this is what we claim. We want nothing more, but nothing less.

These are the "serious restrictions" which you already mentioned in relation to your discussions with Rome

Yes. We are obliged to refuse anything that would imply the least lessening of our faith.

So there is at least the issue of the understanding of the Council over which you stumble?

No doubt, this is the stumbling block.

And the pope perceives it as such?

Yes, he does perceive it as a serious stumbling block!

But as an issue over which he would accept to negotiate?

I think so. In so far as Vatican II Council is acknowledged as not belonging to the realm of what is final. It is a Council that was meant to be pastoral, which never said it was infallible, and which, by this very fact, is open to discussion. And since it is open for discussion, - it is somewhat like the old Mass which was never suppressed, and for which we ask the right to celebrate freely – well, for this Council we ask the freedom to discuss it. And we point out that the Council did mean to be pastoral or dogmatic, and hence bound to specific concrete circumstances. Historically speaking it is by its very nature meant to become outdated. We can discuss it; it must not be made into a dogma.

But in the long run, you cannot act as if the Council did not exist. We cannot turn the clock back to 1958…

No. The clock will read 2006, 2007, 2008… We will find ourselves in our present world. The Church must rise from the pitiful state in which it lies, but in this our time.

And what will she be getting out of this experience?

Firstly, she will learn that fidelity to the past is bearing fruit and secondly that love of the world is sterile… Will the Good God intervene to teach us the lesson? That is not impossible. I do not exclude it. But I am looking forward to this with fear and trembling.

And the good things, the developments that may have taken place in this general framework that you do not accept…

Well, the happy developments will be kept. The Church is wise enough, it is guided by the Holy Ghost, and it will know how to keep the good things.

Could you now give us your feelings on the events which shook the Society, and which, if they perhaps do not have much importance in your eyes, have nevertheless made quite a commotion outside the Society?

It made a commotion, which is obvious. And I shall very readily answer you. First, globally speaking, the situation of the Society is quite sound, in spite of appearances here and there. There was trouble over some sensitive points, it is true. But seen from this my charge, they are not at all extraordinary problems. In any family, when it gets somewhat big, there are from time to time some human problems. Here the problem was blown out of proportion by the media, precisely because the priests who left us are remarkably powerful with the media. They are gifted people… It is sad to lose them.

And there is nothing that might justify their position? Is it possible to raise questions within a society like yours – even if there are no good reasons for the questions – without provoking so much ado?

Of course! This happens everyday. However, in any society, you have rules. From the football club up to the business, in any society there are a certain number of laws by which you must abide, even when there are problems. But if, when it is a matter of explaining these problems, you want to play sniper, you "go all out", this forces those in charge to protect the common good, the good of the society against these attacks. It was not a matter of mere protest: the acts were grievous in themselves. This is what called for serious measures on the part of authority.

But could it not be said that the Society, by invoking the state of necessity against Rome, pointed out the way to those of its members who, afterwards judge that there is a similar situation within your society?

It is a danger inherent to our situation. We will never claim that our present situation is a normal situation with respect to Rome. It is true that this situation in which we find ourselves may open the door to such comparisons, even if they are unjustified. I would simply like to say that we must not only look at the acts themselves, there is also the motive behind these acts. We think that, in what was done and said, there were enough elements to enable any faithful to make his own judgment.

You give the impression of being, as a rule, optimistic? Outside of your natural dispositions perhaps, what gives you this optimism?

Faith! Faith gives me certitude. God, who has promised to help his Church, will not abandon it. I see the Church afflicted, I see the Church suffering, and I know, through faith, that this state will not last, that this crisis, which harms souls, will be overcome. There will come other crises because I also know that the Church is militant, that it is in the midst of a world, which does not like her at all; so there will be other sufferings but they will also be overcome. My optimism comes really from the Lord. All our religion teaches us this when it makes us chant that our joy is in the Name of the Lord, our help is in the Name of the Lord. There you find the reason for my optimism.

And is this strengthened in practice?

I can see something like a general trend. For several years, we have been observing that we were reaching the bottom of the wave. I even think we are already beginning to go up again. Firstly, the generation of the men behind the Council is disappearing. God is calling them back to Himself. The next generation, which did not know the Council, or knew it only indirectly, does not feel attached to it, as did its predecessors. These young priests feel a void; they are searching. And they also realize that we are not experiencing this void, because we have a solution. This is something objective. We witness it daily: the number of priests, religious and Sisters who call upon us is increasing, just as the number of bishops showing us their sympathy. For the time being, these bishops remain silent; some of them are French… We are receiving testimonies from priests and faithful which clearly show that, without our being responsible for it, they are hoping in us. Not in us, obviously, but in our way of life, in what we do, what we hold dear… There are even vicars-general who tell us: hold on, you are our only hope… This is rather new… And it is increasing; it is a little like the first green shoots in the desert. It is not yet a meadow, but you have blades of grass that begin to shoot up. It is not yet springtime; there are not enough swallows. But we feel it is coming!

So there is a certain feeling of satisfaction?

If we show at least in part a still mitigated enthusiasm, it is only because we would not like priests and faithful to fall into disappointment after an excessive enthusiasm. There is a slow process going on, and it is pointing in the right direction. But if you suddenly give yourself up to over-enthusiasm and it is disappointed, it is difficult to pick yourself up again.

But you do need at least a little enthusiasm…

Of course… Once again, we are heading in the right direction. About a year ago Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos was telling me he felt discouraged. I then answered him: I am not discouraged. I observe that things are progressing well. It is slow progress, but it lies in God’s hands.

Interview granted to Olivier Figueras