Interview with the Superior General
“Current events bring to light the exceptional supernatural insight of our founder.”
THE FIFTY YEARS OF THE SSPX
Reinvigorate our ideal of fidelity to what we have received.
1. DICI: What does the fiftieth anniversary of the SSPX represent for Tradition?
First of all, this jubilee is an opportunity for us to thank Divine Providence for all that it has granted us during these fifty years, because a work that was not from God would not have withstood the wear and tear of time. It is firstly to Him that we must attribute all this.
But also, and above all, this jubilee is an opportunity for us to reinvigorate our fidelity to what we have received. Indeed, after so many years, there can be an understandable weariness. It is therefore a question of rekindling our fervour in the battle to establish the reign of Christ the King. Firstly, may he reign in our souls, and then, secondly, around us. It is on this particular point that we must work, following the example of His Grace Archbishop Lefebvre.
2. DICI: Why, in your opinion, can Archbishop Lefebvre’s legacy be summed up by this desire to establish the reign of Christ the King?
The answer seems to me very simple: it was his love of Our Blessed Lord, King, that made Archbishop Lefebvre a holy prelate and a great missionary, passionately seeking to extend around him the reign of the One who reigned first in his soul. It was this love that led him consequently to denounce forcefully all that opposed it. Now, to extend this reign and to fight its enemies, the means ‘par excellence’ is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre’s voice would tremble with emotion when he pronounced these beautiful words from the liturgy, which summed up both his love of the Mass and of Christ the King: “Regnavit a ligno Deus”, God reigns from the wood of the Cross (hymn Vexilla Regis). In a letter he wrote shortly before his death, to a former confrere of his original congregation, His Grace made a point of saying that, throughout his life, he had always worked only for the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what sums up all that he was, and all that he bequeathed to us.
3. DICI: On September 24th, at your request, the body of Archbishop Lefebvre was transferred to the crypt of the church of the Econe seminary. Despite the Coronavirus crisis, many priests, seminarians, religious and faithful participated in the ceremony. What were your feelings on that day?
As a matter of fact, this transfer had been requested by the last General Chapter, in 2018, and I am very happy that it was able to happen in the space of just two years. Even if it belongs exclusively to the Church to canonise Archbishop Lefebvre, one day, I think he already deserves our veneration, and a burial place worthy of a holy bishop. In doing it during this jubilee year, this gesture is intended to be an expression of the gratitude of all the members of the Society of Saint Pius X towards him, who Divine Providence raised up as an instrument to safeguard the Traditions of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Faith and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and to bequeath all these treasures to us. It was particularly poignant, after thirty years, to see the coffin of our dear founder again, to see our priests carrying it on their shoulders, as was done on the day of his funeral. I saw several senior confreres moved to tears.
THE LIFE OF THE SSPX
The Society of Saint Pius X must establish deeper roots where it is already present.
4. DICI: When the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X was founded, the media saw it as a “French phenomenon”, and therefore destined to remain local. Today the SSPX has a worldwide community. What does this imply for its administration?
This requires the General House to be able to coordinate a wide variety of situations. Tradition itself has been rediscovered in different countries through different means and with sensitivities that are sometimes very different. This explains why the SSPX has not developed everywhere in the same way or at the same time. It goes without saying that a work of such magnitude, as that of the SSPX, with all its different facets, is not administered by the Superior General alone. He is assisted in this task by the Major Superiors, who work in the different countries.
However, the great diversity of situations should not make us underestimate the fact that the unity of the SSPX is based on an ideal and principles common to all its members and all its faithful, without distinction. It is this unity which is our strength, despite the legitimate and inevitable differences. Moreover, it is because the SSPX is a work of the Church that it must, in a certain way, reproduce the Church’s capacity to offer the faithful throughout the world the same principles and the same faith, despite their differences.
5. DICI: After two years at the head of the Society, what is your assessment of the development of the SSPX?
The SSPX has long been present throughout the world. I don’t think that, at the present time, Divine Providence is asking us to open new houses and to expand further, which would perhaps be a lack of prudence on our part. Rather, I think that the SSPX must establish deeper roots where it is already present, in order to have stronger communities. And above all, in order for the young priests to mature and to complete their formation, which will enable us to prepare them for various responsibilities, especially the task of prior, so that, one day, they may be true fathers for their confreres and for the souls entrusted to their care.
6. DICI: Do you know all the countries where the SSPX is established? How is the “treasure” you spoke about after your election being shared by the SSPX in the current context?
Because of Covid-19, there are some districts that I have not yet been able to visit, and I regret this very much. This “treasure” is being shared by the priests of the Society in situations which necessarily differ from one another, but which always allow the expression of true priestly zeal. On this point, I have been very edified by the inventiveness of our confreres who have managed sometimes to find very ingenious solutions so as to administer the sacraments as much as possible during lockdown. More importantly, some of our priests remained isolated for several months in places where communication with other priests had become impossible. They had great merit and I congratulate them.
At the same time, I was also touched by the reaction of our faithful, who had such a desire to receive the sacraments that they did not spare their pain, and made considerable sacrifices to show their attachment to Our Blessed Lord. This crisis has certainly helped us to get out of a routine and to appreciate all the more the treasures we habitually enjoy.
On the other hand, many Catholics, who until now had been observing us from afar, were drawn to our chapels, as it was the only possibility for them to receive the sacraments. This was a fairly widespread phenomenon, and all these souls are extremely grateful to the SSPX.
7. DICI: What are your current and future projects?
For the moment, the projects are mainly of a moral nature and are therefore not necessarily projects whose implementation can be seen externally. Basically, it is a question of continuing to work as much as possible to make the SSPX strong, united, truly anchored to God, faithful to the graces that sustain it and, dare I say, as solid as an army in battle array, capable of defending, with all the means at its disposal, the treasures that God has entrusted to it. Capable also of attacking all that oppose it and capable, as an army worthy of its name, of caring for the weakest among its members, the wounded, the discouraged and those who are particularly afflicted.
8. DICI: You are the fourth Superior General of the SSPX, after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Father Franz Schmidberger and Bishop Bernard Fellay. Does your style of governing differ from theirs?
I think that each personality is inevitably different, and therefore it brings a different experience. Moreover, each period in the history of the SSPX is different, because after fifty years, the circumstances and the people are no longer the same.
Having said that, the SSPX has always remained faithful to what Archbishop Lefebvre taught us and bequeathed to us. The safeguarding of the founder’s heritage and the fidelity to his spirit is the primary concern of any Superior General, whoever he may be and whatever his personality. On the other hand, continuity is also guaranteed by the fact that each Superior General aims at the same goal: the safeguarding of the Catholic priesthood and the Traditions of the Church, for the benefit of souls and of the Church itself. This is a reality that transcends differences in style, and ensures that the necessary renewal of superiors is not a threat to the stability of the work.
For me, maintaining this continuity is all the easier, since I have the invaluable privilege of benefiting from the support of my two predecessors, Bishop Fellay and Father Schmidberger, who were elected Advisers to the Superior General at the last General Chapter. For me, their election was not a simple formality just for administrative tasks, but a welcome opportunity to rely on two former Superior Generals, who knew our founder and the life of the Society for decades, and who have devoted the best of themselves to serving it, deserving today the highest esteem. In particular, I have had the joy of benefiting from the invaluable advice of Bishop Fellay, who continued to reside at the General House for two years. I was able to admire his tremendous availability to assist me, united with a remarkable discretion. The presence of my two predecessors thus compensates somewhat for what I would undoubtedly have missed, if they were not there.
9. DICI: The SSPX Statutes give the Superior General two spiritual objectives:
1) To do everything he judges useful to preserve and increase in the hearts of the members “a great generosity, a profound spirit of faith and a burning zeal for the service of the Church and of souls”;
2) To help the members “not to lapse into tepidity, and into compromises with the spirit of the world”.
How are you achieving these objectives?
A Superior General must first of all remind himself that he cannot achieve these goals without the assistance of God’s grace. He would be badly mistaken if he thought he could achieve it simply with letters, reminders or any other purely exhortative measures.
For my part, I am firmly convinced that the key to our fidelity to these objectives lies in the virtue of poverty. Indeed, over time, it is inevitable that the members of the SSPX risk “settling down” with a certain degree of comfort and that, through this, the spirit of the world imperceptibly infiltrates our communities. If this were to happen, it would end up having repercussions on the generosity of the members and thus on the fruitfulness of their apostolic zeal.
RELATIONS WITH ROME
The Vatican itself had preferred, for the time being, not to resume the doctrinal discussions.
10. DICI: Section IV of the Statutes states: “As soon as the Society has houses in several dioceses, it will take the necessary steps to become of Pontifical Right.” This leads us to the following question: how can this desire of our venerated founder be fulfilled in the present crisis of the Church?
The SSPX Statutes were approved in 1970 at the diocesan level. It was only normal that our founder also had in mind an approval at a higher level, since the Society was destined to spread throughout the world.
But, as everyone knows, in spite of all Archbishop Lefebvre’s efforts in this direction, in 1975, instead of receiving an approbation of Pontifical Right, he endured purely and simply the suppression of the SSPX. Since that date, the Superiors of the Society, beginning with Archbishop Lefebvre himself, have considered various solutions, but all of them have systematically come up against quite simply unacceptable doctrinal demands, on the part of the Holy See. Certainly, accepting them would have permitted its canonical recognition, but at the same time they would have destroyed its moral value. To take the most recent example, in 2017, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wanted to oblige the SSPX to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and to recognise the legitimacy of the New Mass, if the SSPX had accepted those conditions, it would have simply denied everything it stands for and everything it values and holds to, from the depths of its heart.
It appears to me therefore, as was always the attitude of our founder, it is appropriate to follow the signs of Divine Providence and not to precede them.
11. DICI: Will contacts with the Vatican therefore continue to stagnate?
That does not depend on the SSPX, or on its Superior General. The Vatican itself had preferred, for the time being, not to resume the doctrinal discussions, which the SSPX proposed in order to explain more clearly our position and to show our attachment to the Catholic faith and to the See of Peter.
Furthermore, what is astonishing is that the Vatican, at the same time, is asking us first of all to regularise our canonical situation. This creates an inextricable and intrinsically contradictory situation. The possibility of a canonical recognition of the SSPX is constantly subjected to demands of a doctrinal nature, which again and again remain absolutely unacceptable to us.
I would like to add that, regardless of one’s personal views on the subject, it is important to be careful not to become obsessively preoccupied with these very sensitive issues, as has sometimes happened. We must remember that, just as Divine Providence has guided and assisted us since our foundation, so too, when Providence decides it is the right time, it will not fail to give us sufficient and proportionate signs that will enable us to take the decisions that the circumstances require. These signs will be such that their obviousness will be easily perceptible to the Society, and the will of Divine Providence will thus appear clearly.
THE SITUATION OF THE CHURCH
Any hermeneutic effort to interpret ‘error’ as ‘misunderstood truth’ can only fail irretrievably.
12. DICI: Throughout this year, 2020, the crisis linked to Covid-19 has also affected the Church and restricted its activities. How do you view this?
It is interesting to note that with the Covid-19 crisis, the Church’s hierarchy has missed a golden opportunity to encourage souls towards a true conversion and penance, which is always much easier when men rediscover, if you like, their mortal nature. Moreover, it would have been an opportunity to remind mankind, panic-stricken and desperate, that Our Blessed Lord is “the Resurrection and the Life”.
Instead, the hierarchy preferred to interpret the epidemic in an ecological way, in perfect coherence with the principles dear to Pope Francis. In practice, Covid-19 would be nothing other that a sign of the rebellion of the earth against a humanity that had abused it through the excessive exploitation of its resources, water pollution, destruction of its forests, etc... This is appalling and incompatible with an analysis using a minimum of faith and awareness of what is sin, which is measured in relation to the offended majesty of God, and not in relation to the pollution of the earth!
In his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (Jubilee for the Earth), on September 1st, 2020, the Pope himself teaches us to what moral conclusion the pandemic should lead us: “In some ways, the current pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and sustainable lifestyles. [...] Already we can see how the earth can recover if we allow it to rest: the air becomes cleaner, the waters clearer, and animals have returned to many places from where they had previously disappeared. The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life-giving...” In short, the Covid-19 crisis is once again pushing us towards an “ecological conversion”, the cornerstone of the Laudato si’ encyclical. As if holiness could be summed up in the respect for the planet.
13. DICI: Over the last two years, there has been the synod on the Amazon, the Abu Dhabi Declaration, to which you reacted with a press release on February 24th, 2019, etc. How do you see the current situation in light of those events?
The recent teachings of Pope Francis unfortunately seem to confirm definitively the wrong direction taken at the beginning of his pontificate. In fact, on October 3rd, 2020, the Holy Father signed the encyclical Fratelli tutti, which is considered to be the beacon for the second part of his pontificate, whereas Laudato si’ was the reference point for the first part of his pontificate. This encyclical is a further development of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, from which it draws its inspiration. That declaration, we should remember, claimed to recognise the diversity of religions, as an expression of God’s will, all being called to build peace. Here we have the catastrophic outcome of ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and religious freedom, and above all, the negation of the universal royalty of Jesus Christ and his intangible rights.
It is a long document that deals with many different subjects, but with a fairly clear basic unity. This long papal encyclical develops, in a well-ordered and coherent way, around a fundamental idea, namely the illusion that there could be a true universal society even without reference, direct or indirect, to Jesus Christ and His Church. In other words, around a purely natural “charity”, a kind of vaguely Christian philanthropy, in the light of which the Gospels are reread. In fact, as we read this encyclical, we have the impression that it is philanthropy that gives us the key to interpreting the Gospels, and not the Gospel that provides us with the light to enlighten people. This universal brotherhood is unfortunately an idea of liberal, naturalist and Masonic origin, and it is on this apostate utopia that contemporary society has been built.
14. DICI: Bishops such as Mgr Schneider and Mgr Viganò have highlighted the causal relationship between the Second Vatican Council and the current crisis. How do you consider their views? Should the Council be “corrected” (as suggests Bishop Schneider) or “forgotten” (as suggests Bishop Viganò)?
It goes without saying that we are delighted with these reactions, because bishops from outside the SSPX, and having no direct link with it, finally arrive, albeit by other means and via different paths, at conclusions similar to those of the SSPX, and above all, conclusions capable of making many confused souls think and be enlightened by them. This is very encouraging.
Regrettably, I think that we cannot simply “forget” the Council ‘sic et simpliciter’, because it is a major event in history, just like the fall of the Roman Empire or the First World War. Rather, it will be necessary to examine it seriously and certainly to correct everything it contains that is incompatible with the faith and the Church’s traditions.
The Church itself will resolve the delicate question of the authority of this atypical and bizarre council, and will decide on the best way to correct it. However, we can and we must be very clear: any error, as such – and the Second Vatican Council contains several – can in no way be considered as the voice of the Church and be attributed to it. Moreover, the events of recent years, beginning with the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, have shown, to men of good will, that any hermeneutic effort to interpret “error” as “misunderstood truth” can only fail irretrievably. It is a dead-end road on which it is futile to embark.
15. DICI: Is Archbishop Lefebvre’s judgement on the Council and the post-conciliar reforms, in his book “I accuse the Council” (1976), and his letter to Cardinal Ottaviani (1966) still current?
His judgement corresponds to the current position of the SSPX. It has always been and it will always be this same position. It cannot and it will not change. We can see that as more and more current events unfold, the more they confirm this judgement and bring to light the exceptional supernatural insight of our founder.
16. DICI: Bishop Schneider, in his book Christus vincit (in Chapter 10 in the English edition), concerning the SSPX’s arguments, acknowledges that his position has changed in a positive way. How do you analyse this change, and do you think it is possible in other prelates?
Bishop Schneider has always shown a great deal of good will, the result of a spirit that is both humble and intellectually honest. What is most striking about this prelate is his gentleness, combined with his courage to speak publicly in favour of Tradition. I think that it is all these qualities, unfortunately very rare, that allowed him to make the journey that led him to the conclusions that we know.
As for other prelates, I am convinced that they too could undertake the same journey, but only insofar as they have the same moral freedom and the same love of truth. This is certainly a good prayer intention for us all.
17. DICI: The Tridentine Mass is now also celebrated outside of the SSPX, by other religious communities, something which did not exist when the SSPX was founded. Likewise, there are priests who are currently discovering this rite of Mass. How do you assess these developments?
We have seen, especially in recent years, a certain number of priests, in discovering the Traditional Mass, have begun a journey that has gradually led them to discover the greatness of their priesthood and, more generally, the treasures of Catholic Tradition. This is a very interesting development, for, in truth, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass brings everything else with it. I remember very well the testimony I received one day from a priest who had decided, despite encountering severe opposition, to celebrate only the Tridentine Mass. He pointed out to me – and even insisted on the point – how, in celebrating the Tridentine Mass, he had been led to reconsider his entire priesthood, and consequently everything else he was called to do as a priest: preaching, counselling of souls, catechism, etc. This is very beautiful and we can only rejoice in such a revival of his vocation, born in very the soul of this priest.
Having said that, it is imperative to maintain the Tridentine Mass for the profound reason that it is the expression of our faith, particularly in the Divinity of Our Blessed Lord, in His Redemptive Sacrifice and consequently in His Universal Kingship. It is a question of living the Mass, by entering completely into all these mysteries, and particularly into the mystery of charity that it contains. This is incompatible with a lukewarm, man-centred, sentimental, ecumenical faith. As it is also incompatible with a purely aesthetic appreciation of the riches of the Tridentine Rite, as is sometimes unfortunately found among those who would be tempted to dissociate the use of the Tridentine Rite from the need to live it daily, to penetrate its importance and above all, to allow themselves to be assimilated by Our Blessed Lord and by His Charity.
In the end, it can be said that a Mass has become sterile if it does not lead us to live in Christ: per Ipsum, et cum Ipso, et in Ipso. It is of little use if it does not produce in us the desire to imitate Our Blessed Lord, by the offering of ourselves to Him. It is a question of generosity, which proves impossible in a context imbued with the spirit of the world, or at least inclined to compromise with it. The fertility of the Mass is all the greater in that an ardent spirit of sacrifice disposes souls to give themselves generously to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
18. DICI: Recently, the media has given considerable coverage to the scandal linked to Cardinal Becciu. What are your thoughts on this?
Obviously, it is not for the SSPX to pronounce on or to investigate the responsibilities of anyone concerned in this matter. Having said that, as children of the Catholic Church, we can only deplore this scandal which, alas, affects and humiliates the Church. Inevitably it saddens us, because it obscures the holiness of the Church. Nevertheless, we must remember that, unfortunately, scandals of this kind will always exist in the Church, and that God, in His Wisdom, mysteriously allows them for the sanctification of the just. It would therefore be inappropriate to be overly scandalised, in a Pharisaic way, like certain Protestants.
To go even further, I think it is important to take note of the attention that the secular media pay to the Catholic Church on such a subject. This attention exceeds that which they give to other events in the life of the Church, or that which the emperors of the Middle Ages devoted to the popes of their time. When you read between the lines of many of the newspaper articles devoted to this question, you can recognise a certain complacency and an unhealthy satisfaction. It seems that the secular press could not afford to miss such a wonderful opportunity to spit in the face of the Bride of Christ, to whom it has sworn indifference. This should make us think, and above all, it should wake up all those who live in the illusion that the Church today can live in peace with a world that has become in practice secular and theoretically respectful of all religions. It is not true. Behind the liberal rhetoric, there is always the desire to see the Catholic Church, not purified, but decredibilized and annihilated. There is no possible entente with this world.
THE PLACE OF THE SSPX IN THIS CURRENT SITUATION
A Mass that we truly live, which allows us to penetrate the mystery of the Cross, is necessarily apostolic.
19. DICI: What can the SSPX do, within its means, to remedy this current crisis?
First of all, on the doctrinal level, the SSPX is well aware that it cannot modify its positions. Whether you like it or not, our positions are a point of reference for all those in the Church who seek Tradition. It is therefore in a spirit of service to others, and to the Church itself, that we must keep the light out from under the bushel, without wavering.
On a practical level, the members of the SSPX must show that their attachment to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an attachment to a mystery of charity, which must reverberate throughout the whole Church. This means that a Mass that we truly live, which allows us to penetrate the mystery of the Cross, is necessarily apostolic and will always urge us to seek the good of our neighbour, even the most distant, without distinction. It is a fundamental attitude and a moral disposition of benevolence that must permeate all our actions.
20. DICI: The purpose of the Society is the Catholic priesthood and all that is related to it. That is why you are chiefly concerned with vocations, the sanctification of priests and the fidelity to the Mass of all times. What are your current concerns on this subject?
Our concerns are exactly those that you have listed. I am personally convinced that, to the extent that we succeed in maintaining these three objectives, with all our heart, then the graces and the light we need for our future and for the decisions we will have to make, will be given to us at the right time.
By maintaining the priesthood, we preserve what the SSPX and the Church hold most dear. Quite simply, each vocation has an infinite value. A vocation is undeniably the most precious grace that Our Blessed Lord can give to a soul and to His Church. Therefore, a seminary is the holiest place that can be imagined or found on this earth. In seminaries, the Holy Ghost continues His work, as He did in the Upper Room, in transforming the souls of the candidates to the priesthood into true apostles. This is why we must continue to commit all our strength and to invest our moral and human resources into seminaries. Everything that we base upon the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and everything we do to perpetuate His Priesthood, remains for eternity.
21. DICI: What encouragement do you give to the priests and the faithful attached to Tradition?
I would like to point out to them all, that Divine Providence has always guided the SSPX and has always protected it in the midst of a thousand difficulties. Divine Providence is always faithful to its promises; it is always vigilant and generous. Therefore, it cannot abandon us in the future, because it would cease to be what it is – which is simply impossible, because God cannot change. He always remains the same.
Putting it simply: after fifty years of existence of the SSPX, our confidence is even more deeply rooted in the countless signs of this Divine Benevolence, shown throughout all these years.
But I prefer to leave the final word to Our Blessed Lord Himself: “Fear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you a kingdom”. (Luke 12:32)
Menzingen, October 11th, 2020,
Feast of the Maternity of the Mother of God
Don Davide Pagliarani, Superior General