Special 40 years of the SSPX : Interview with Father Franz Schmidberger

Source: FSSPX News

“Today, we are being taken seriously.”

Father Franz Schmidberger is District Superior of Germany. After his entry into the seminary in Ecône in 1972, he was Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X from 1982 to 1994. On this 40th anniversary of the Society, Father recalls the religious context of the seventies and the development of the relations with Rome.

When and how did you enter the Society of Saint Pius X?

I was living in Munich and studying natural sciences in university. I met a small group of young Catholics under a philosophy professor who had been fighting since the Second Vatican Council to save Latin, stop the spreading betrayal of the Faith, and maintain Tradition. And so when I decided to become a priest, I had no doubt as to where I ought to go. I would even go so far as to say I knew where to go even before I knew whether I would go to the seminary! Ecône was the only possibility, since I did not want to be ordained by a bishop who celebrated the New Mass. That was in 1972.

So Ecône and the Society of Saint Pius X were already known in Munich, in Germany, in 1972?

Oh yes! We knew an Archbishop had just opened a seminary in Switzerland with the old liturgy. You know, in a group such as ours, after the Council, we were looking for other groups of a similar nature. So then, we were in contact with Catholics in the United States, in France, in Vienna… and thus we knew of each other’s existence. We fought for the same ideas, we were engaged in the same fight, even though it was not always as precise, as explicit as it is today. But even so, the general orientation was clear: we wanted at all costs the Mass and the catechism of all time.

What drew you so strongly then to the tradition of the Church?

In the beginning I did not really understand the whole movement started at the Council. In my family, which was deeply Catholic, we followed along at the start. But already in 1967, we grasped the importance of the Council’s reforms. From that time on, we became part of a fight and, with this group of students, we attacked the modernists head on. I remember having advertisements printed, including some against the Archbishop of Munich [NDLR: Cardinal Döpfner] who was very progressive and who played a detrimental role at the Council.

But how did you become aware of this war within the Church?

It was really due to our formation in philosophy in Munich. We had a firm foundation in the subject. We knew that truth is immutable (unchangeable). We could also see clearly that the development of civil society was going in the wrong direction. And so we were well prepared and when we entered Ecône, with Father Klaus Wodsack, we had clear ideas.

When did you meet Archbishop Lefebvre?

It was on March 12th, 1972, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, and with Father Wodsack, we served the Archbishop’s Mass, in his house in Fribourg, on Route de La Vignettaz. Then we had our meal together, and Archbishop Lefebvre then told us we were accepted into the seminary. We had already sent our enrollments; he simply wished to get a personal impression. Two weeks later, we spent a few days in Ecône. The following October, we entered the seminary.

What were your first impressions of Archbishop Lefebvre?

Very good … Very noble … An extraordinarily balanced character! A truly Catholic man. A man … of the Church! Those were only the first impressions! We discovered his entire personality in the following months.

So then, you enter Ecône in 1972. Your first commitment to the Society of Saint Pius X goes back to 1973. What state was it in at that time?

It was small! There were perhaps six priest-members. It was in statu nascendi, just in the process of being born! But there was no question about numbers. We had very strong convictions: the New Mass was not good, we did not want it, and on the contrary, we wanted the old Mass at all costs. And that was the core of our conviction. It did not matter how many people adhered to it; it did not matter! We had to work to propagate this Mass again. God had called us by his grace to the priesthood and so we thought (told ourselves) we had to work to diffuse the true Catholic Mass again in Germany. It was an apostolic, missionary desire.

So you thought then that the Society would enjoy such a wide development?

To be frank, I did not think we would spread over the whole world, to Asia, to Africa, left and right… What was really an unheard-of and completely unmerited grace was that we were able to collaborate in its spread across the world.

Archbishop Lefebvre told me one day, “If the Society remains limited to Europe, that will be a sign that it is not the work of God. For if it is truly the work of God, it must have a Catholic, a universal dimension. It must draw to itself all cultures, all languages, all social classes…” And that is what happened! The Society is truly a work of the Catholic Church. It is universal. It has been established on every continent, in every class, among intellectuals, simple folk, the rich, the poor… That is what we find in the primitive Church, in the Church of all ages. The Church is universal! It speaks to every man, to bring all souls to the Good God.

What does this fortieth anniversary inspire in you?

It gives me above all a feeling of deep gratitude towards God. It is a great joy! A profound joy to be able to collaborate in this work.

The fight continues in the same way?

We can see that our arguments prove ever stronger and more irrefutable. And that, even the progressives notice. That is why I would say we even enjoy a certain esteem among our enemies. For it is very difficult to make objections to our arguments.

I remember, when I was Superior General, I went to Rome quite often, and I must say that we were then almost despised: “You are little rascals, what has gotten into your head… How can you imagine that the Pope is not in the right line in regards to religious liberty and ecumenism? What is wrong with you that you should turn against the Pope?” We were treated a little like that. Today, we are taken very seriously. And we bear witness to the Catholic Faith in its entirety in Rome.

Our role is firstly to fight against errors, secondly to point out the way to the true solution, and thirdly to put this solution into practice a little. With the seminaries, the schools, the families gathered around our altars, retreat houses, the convents of the different religious groups who are united to us…, in this way we are rebuilding a little Christendom. That is our role. We show the way and we say clearly: the solution is priestly sanctity, it is the Mass of all time, it is the catechism of all time, it is to work for the reign of Our Lord in society. And so, we are bringing that into being. Of course, it is being done in a very limited way, but all the same we are a little army fighting for Our Lord Jesus Christ.

You can also read on the same topic :

Special 40 years of the SSPX : The Purpose of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X
Special 40 years of the SSPX : Interview with Fr. Du Chalard