Three interviews of Bishop Bernard Fellay about the Motu proprio and the document of the Congregation of the Faith concerning “Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church”

Source: FSSPX News


1 – Interview published by The Remnant, July 10 2007

Q: Your Excellency. What is your personal reaction to the long-awaited and much anticipated motu proprio Summorum Pontificum? What is the general reaction you have heard from other Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) bishops and priests?

A: Since I have just returned from a trip, I haven’t heard much of anything. So I don’t have many reactions [from priests] yet.

However, I know that at least three of the four bishops are satisfied with the motu proprio. The other probably also, but I don’t know because I haven’t gotten his impression yet.

I would insist on two things. The first is the motu proprio itself. It is very clear that the motu proprio does open — much more than any expectation — the celebration of the Tridentine Mass and all of the previous liturgies. That is, not only the Mass, but the Breviary and the Rituale.

I think we have to salute and to greet this date and this motu proprio as a very significant historical event in the history of the Church and in post-Vatican II history. This has to be noted. I think it is very important.

Nevertheless, this does not mean it is perfect—especially when we link the motu proprio with the letter [to the bishops]. The letter is, if I may say it, the usual Vatican language. It is very unfortunate.

There are some interesting things in this letter like the quote where the Pope says the reason for his action is for an internal reconciliation within the Church; which means that we are not outside of the Church. That is very interesting.

But nevertheless, this letter has to be understood as a political letter which most surely does represent his personal thinking. Nevertheless, it is more than unfortunate in many ways, especially where he insists upon the necessity to recognize the value and the holiness of the New Mass. He plays both sides against each other. And the modern bishops that are progressive—they will jump on that point immediately trying to dismantle the motu proprio.

Q: With this first precondition met for the good of the Church overall—the freeing of the Traditional Mass—what is your outlook on the possible lifting of the decrees of excommunication against the SSPX bishops? Have you had any correspondence with the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei since January 2007?

A: I have had no conversations, no discussions and no relations. That is the first point.

The second point on the Roman side: as far as I know, they consider the [lifting of the decrees] of excommunication less difficult than the motu proprio. That’s the only answer I can give you.

Q: Your Excellency. This is quite surprising. What indication do you have from the Holy See that this is the case?

A: It is the word of Cardinal Castrillón [in the letter] when he sent me the motu proprio [the week before Summorum Pontificum was issued]. That is the first contact of the Cardinal with me since the 15th of November 2005.

Q: Do you believe the Holy See might possibly be awaiting a private letter or move by you on behalf of the SSPX requesting the lifting of the decrees of excommunication before they consider possible action?

A: I have no idea (chuckling). I don’t care about public or not public. Certainly, after this [freeing of the extraordinary Roman rite], there will certainly be an expectation of some contacts—definitely. But our line is very clear, so I don’t think there is much to expect new or surprising.

Q: Your Excellency, just to clarify: Based upon the letter you received last week from Cardinal Castrillón along with the motu proprio, was there any indication from the good Cardinal that he expected any follow-up action on the part of the Society?

A: No. It was just a very broad expectation that this would open the way to reconciliation, which can be understood in many ways.

Q: Just this morning, July 10, 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a document defining the meaning of “subsistit in” and the doctrinal development on the ecclesiology of the Church. The document is entitled, “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.”

The secular media is reacting like two nuclear bombs have gone off around the world within three days with the freeing of the Traditional Mass on Saturday, July 7, and today with the reaffirmation on the Catholic Church being the one, true Church, and the defects in the Orthodox Churches and Protestant ecclesial communities. This document seems to be geared specifically toward attempting to clarify some theological concerns with certain passages of the Second Vatican Council’s key documents. What is your initial reaction?

A: My reaction? In the declaration about the motu proprio, we insisted in saying that the confused excerpts of places in the letter show that the need to enter into theological discussions was reinforced very, very strongly by this document which is telling us that a circle is a quadrangle.

You have a perfect illustration of what we have said for 6 years. That is that Rome is continuing in a confusing way because they don’t seem to give much care to contradiction and non-contradiction.

This document seems to be a clarification of nothing but assuring once again that “Yes” means “No.”

Q: Your Excellency. Can you give us an example?

A: Sure. One example is precisely the question about “subsistit.” [The question is] “Why use the expression “subsistit in” and not “est”? You read the answer and you conclude nothing.

They say it is “est” and that there is an identity with the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church; and there is no change of doctrine. And then the next phrase is precisely a change in doctrine. So… It is a contradiction.

In his sermon in Ecône, Bishop Williamson said that in Rome they say something like two plus two makes four, but maybe it also makes five. And here you have a perfect illustration of that.

The only positive thing [in the document] is about the Protestants which are now barred from the title of Church. Great! Besides that, it is a confirmation of what we say. This text tries to tell us that there is no contradiction between the doctrine of the Church of the past and of Vatican II. And we insist by saying that Vatican II is in disharmony—is in contradiction—is even teaching error opposed to the traditional teaching, especially on ecumenism. And here [in this new document on ecclesiology] you have both sides put together; that is, the past and Vatican II.

Q: Two traditionalist priestly societies—most recently with the Institute of the Good Shepherd in France—and the apostolic administration of the priests of St. John Marie Vianney led by Bishop Fernando Rifan, have reconciled with the Holy See. The Holy See has allowed these traditionalist groups to continue to hold fast to the expressions of the Catholic Faith used prior to Vatican II, while accepting that Vatican II was a real and valid Ecumenical Council, while allowing constructive theological study on possible ambiguities in the documents. What keeps the SSPX from doing the same?

A: This text is a confirmation of all of our reproaches against the ambiguities of Vatican II and the post-Vatican II [documents]. It is a superb example of ambiguity and maybe it has never gone so far by trying to put together what cannot be put together; by pretending that there is no position which is a clear position.

So the question of the necessity of having doctrinal discussions prior to coming to any sort of practical agreement is very well documented in this new document [as an example]. It is a beautiful expression of the necessity, of the need and the importance of dealing with these matters before going any further.

Q: Archbishop Lefebvre signed all 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council. After the Council, he was very critical of the documents and even sent a dubia to the Holy See requesting clarification on religious liberty. However, Archbishop Lefebvre never rejected all the documents of the Second Vatican Council in totality.

A: And we don’t do so either. It is not a matter of rejecting or accepting.

The questions are, “Are these documents good? Are these documents nurturing the Faith? Are they good for the survival of the Church or not?”

And the more we go on, the more we see the ambiguities in the Council—which at a certain time seemed to be reconcilable to be correctly interpreted with Tradition, not including the very obvious errors—the further we go on, and the more we see that this is an impossible job.

Q: Your Excellency. Do you believe the destruction in the Church has been caused by not following the letter of the documents or by possible errors or ambiguities in the documents themselves?

A: I would say that not all of the documents, but most of them, are full of ambiguities. The more we study them, the more we see that according to the letter, you have these ambiguities.

Ambiguities mean that you have at least two ways to understand them or to interpret them. This is terribly damaging for a document that is supposed to be from the highest solemnity in the Church—a document which comes from an Ecumenical Council. It is a great tragedy.

These ambiguities, I must say, you find them almost everywhere. In addition to these three major errors of ecumenism, religious liberty and collegiality, you have all these ambiguities everywhere.

 It is not in the Catholic spirit. It is this modern, progressive spirit which has partly been condemned by Pope Benedict XVI, but which also basically and fundamentally has been approved by him. We’re going around in circles there.

And I must say once again, this document [“Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.”] is a perfect illustration of this ambiguity and of contradictory statements.

Q: Cardinal Castrillón’s Sunday, July 8, Il Giornale interview spoke specifically about the SSPX, saying the following: “With this motu proprio, the door is widely opened [si spalanca la porta] for a return of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to full communion. If, after this act, the return does not take place, I truly will not be able to comprehend. I wish to clarify, though, that the papal document has not been made for the Lefebvrists, but because the Pope is convinced of the need to underline that there is a continuity in the Tradition, and that in the Church one does not move forward by way of fractures. The ancient Mass has never been abolished nor forbidden.” What is your reaction?

A: Certainly, this motu proprio is a step in our direction. It is most probably the will of Rome to answer to our first precondition. It is nice.

Is it enough to say, “We can now just go ahead?” Well, we can just look at this text published today [on the nature of the Church from the CDF] and you have the answer.

Look. It is a good step forward, but that does not mean that everything is solved. Absolutely not.

Q: In numerous public interviews over the past 2 years with both the secular and Catholic media, Cardinal Castrillón continues to repeat that the SSPX is not in formal schism, but that has unfortunately often fallen upon deaf ears with many Catholics within the Church. What do you think motivates this new attitude?

A: It shows that Rome wants to end this apparent split in the Church. It is a thorn in their side because on the one side, they want to have unity.

They want to work all this ecumenism toward unity, but there is an apparent division within at the closest level. So how can you pretend to make unity with people who are outside when you are not capable of doing it with those who are inside?

It’s a contradiction. And so as they try to do this ecumenism; it is a duty for them to stop this interior division. Now the problem is that the means they use are much too superficial. It’s fine if they want to use these means, but it will not end the cause of it [the division].

Q: Your Excellency. What do you mean by “superficial”?

A: If you say, “Let’s sign a paper [a practical agreement],” that is superficial. Merely signing a paper is superficial.

If you say, “Let’s agree on a formula that is acceptable to both parties, but both continue to think their own ways, that is superficial.”

The real thing is when you agree on truth. That is not superficial.

Q: Some within the Church continue to state the SSPX is in schism; how do you answer to the following question? When was the last time 6,000 schismatics prayed in Rome during the Year of the Jubilee in 2000? When was the last time schismatics sent a spiritual bouquet of 2.5 million rosaries to the Holy Father?

A: And we have an even better argument in the [Pope’s] letter that accompanies the motu proprio on the Mass where the Holy Father says it is an internal matter within the Catholic Church—in the Church.

It clearly states that it is not about a schism. It is about an interior dispute which requires an interior reconciliation within the Church.

So we have it from the word of the boss. Our Pope says it is not a schism.

Q: Many Catholics who are enamored with solely using the newer ecclesiology of “partial” and “full” communion (and call Protestants our “separated brethren” and would never dare call them “schismatics” or “heretics”) are the same people who are the first to continue to call the SSPX “schismatics” and claim they are outside the Church. But they use the pre-Conciliar juridical ecclesiology of “outside” and “inside” the Church while describing the SSPX, thus showing a notable inconsistency. Is there an irony here? Your thoughts on this, Your Excellency?

A: Exactly. For us, we still use the old weapons.

Q: In the CDF document clarifying the nature of the Church, in answer to a question about the use of the proper use of the term “Church” for the Eastern Orthodox, using the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism as a reference, the following answer is provided: “It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature.”

Taking into account how explicitly positive and encouraging this text is for the celebration of the Eucharist (and by extension, the other sacraments) for the Eastern Church, which is not in full communion with the Holy See, nor believes all the dogma or morals of the Catholic Faith, isn’t it ironic that so many Catholic bishops, priests and laymen will not extend this same positive and charitable attitude to “the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord” when offered by priests who are within the Church and believe all its Faith and morals? Can you imagine the majority of Catholics dutifully adhering to the following? “It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these SSPX chapels that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature.” Is this but another irony?

A: Sure. You could say this is an ad hominem argument. I want to state that very precisely. We could very easily say that in the Society, we have the celebration of the Eucharist. We have apostolic succession. So definitely, according to that statement, we contribute to the edification and glorification of God. Definitely.

We are in the Catholic Church—period. We have never pretended to be an independent body [in other words, a separate “Church” [in the sense used with the Eastern Orthodox].

Q: Do you have any closing remarks?

A: I think first of all, all of these documents should never be read just as an absolute. They have to be put in their context. The current context is that we still have a tragedy and a tremendous crisis in the Church.

And that means that even with something that tends toward the good that will definitely be for the good of the Church—like the document on the Mass—we cannot expect that suddenly things will be perfect. I don’t want to give any illusions.

So as we greet this courageous act of the Pope at this time, and we greet this great act. That’s the first step. At the same time, that does not mean it is the end of the fight or the crisis. What is very important is to see how this document will be applied in reality. Now that it has been said that the Mass has never been abrogated and that every priest has the right to say it; so, will they be able to? Practically speaking, who will care about granting this freedom and assuring this freedom of celebrating the Tridentine Mass? That will be very interesting. How will the bishops react?

I think this is very important for the future. If I may say here, this kind of fight is so overwhelming; the crusade of rosaries which we started and seems to bring some good fruits, has to be continued.


Interview by Brian Mershon


2. Interview published in Présent, July 21, 2007 – Excerpts


- Was the Motu proprio a surprise for you?

- Certainly! It was a surprise. Because, when we had heard about it, it was only a question of stages, of many steps to be taken, and only one at a time.

So the text seems very good to us, because it makes it possible to live the liturgy of the past integrally, not only the Mass, but the whole of it.

 - Do you think things will continue along the same lines?

- I really don’t know! The opposition facing the pope is such that he thinks his life is in danger! So, how much further does he think he can go? This is why we must continue to pray for him, so that he may receive the fortitude needed by the successor of Peter.

 - So you think he may go further…

- As far as the discipline, and the liturgy, certainly. But it is not the same where doctrine and philosophy are concerned…

 - Are you now considering the possibility of a rapprochement with the Ecclesia Dei communities?

- I am not excluding anything! My desire is the good of the Church and all the good possible. But if they continue to call us schismatics, contrary to the spirit of this Motu proprio… Because the Society is in the spirit of the Motu proprio: by remaining faithful to the Mass of all times which had never been abrogated, we were not being disobedient. We are in the Church.

So if some show positive attitudes towards us, why not? It will be nothing new… But we will try to avoid as much as possible, any ambiguity.

 - According to you, this is the point which should be stressed?

- I would especially like to emphasize that the document just issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is impressive by the negation of the principle of non-contradiction which it contains. Unfortunately, this is the line the pope wants to take!

We can see that Benedict XVI means to affirm the continuity between the Second Vatican Council and the past. Until now, it was usually said that there had been a change. Now, we are told that there is a continuity, while affirming at the same time that there is nevertheless some change. So we do not know really what to think….

 - So you would feel almost more in agreement with their previous position?

- We know that the current approach comes from German philosophy and would lead to a synthesis in the Hegelian sense of the word. This is the conclusion reached by the present pope, a conclusion which is frankly explosive for the intellect.

So we must continue to pray, while acknowledging that we are going in the right direction for the good of the Church.


Interview by Olivier Figueras



3. Interview published in the National Catholic Reporter, issue of July 22 – August 4, 2007



In his explanatory letter on the motu proprio, the Pope said that neither knowledge of the old liturgy nor Latin is common among priests, indicating that it probably won’t be widely used in any case. Is this a problem for you, that there won’t be a renaissance of the old rite, which you hope for?

We have always looked on this as a long process. It’s very obvious that right now, there will be few who will take the opportunity given to them. But that’s normal because, as the Pope says, many don’t think there is an old rite, or don’t know Latin. So it’s normal that it will take time, but we are sure that if the opportunity is given to them, and there’s the appreciation of what this rite consists of, then no doubt it will come.

 And as the rite spreads, the Church will perhaps become more sympathetic to your own views. That’s how you see it?

You’re quite right. This Mass is bringing a new spirit, and a spirit that is much deeper — it goes much deeper. And well, that’s what we want.

 Are you concerned about it creating possible divisions?

I have no fear there. As I say, for the time being, it involves so few, so one cannot really talk about division. If things happen gradually, it will not divide. I don’t have great fears about that.

 Does it concern you that quite a few bishops were opposed to this?

Well we hope the bishops will have the right attitude towards the Holy Father. That’s all I can say.

 It’s said the real problem with this dispute is pride, that it’s pride among members of the Society that keeps you from coming back to the Church, and that you’re protesting in a similar way to Protestants. What do you say to this charge?

The answer is the following: The Protestant is protesting because he defends his own view. We don’t have our own view. We speak about what we have received, what we have been taught from our childhood. And so what we speak about is the teaching of the Church, the Catholic Church.

What we say to the Church authorities is: How can we square this teaching that we have been obliged to stick to with the new one that came after the council? So that’s what we say. It’s not a personal defense, but we request truth, and every Catholic, I think, has a right to that truth.

 But of course Protestants would say the same in that they would argue they’re searching for truth and doing it their own way. You don’t take that view?

No, we totally disagree with that attitude that says I want to believe from my point of view. If the Pope was to make an infallible statement dogma, we would immediately accept it because we believe in the Pope, we accept the magisterium. But we know the Council has never expressed this will to make an infallible statement [on the reforms of the Council]. So we know that the degree of adherence to this teaching is, by far, lower than the one that is requested by an infallible statement.

The council, the bishops, did ask: What is infallible in this council? And there is this famous note, the answer from the secretary of the council, in which he said what is infallible in the council is that which the council says is infallible, and you find nowhere where this infallibility is implied. All the council said was: We want to be pastoral. But if you’re pastoral, you want to speak of statements linked to circumstances and definitely, if that is so, the Church will not want to bind itself with this degree of an infallible statement or dogma.

 Yet the Church says the documents are fine, that it’s the way they’ve been interpreted that’s at fault.

The ambiguity is in the text. We say the text is the problem because it leads to another possible interpretation.

You see, the very fact that it’s said we have to “interpret” the council, that the council has to be interpreted in the light of tradition that the present Pope says, means that there are other possible interpretations.

We say the text that comes from a council should be clear enough not to need such an interpretation. It should be clear enough by itself, because if you need an interpretation, you need a second text. And then you give more value to the second text than the text of the council, which is crazy — by my reasoning.

 You don’t think, though, that these things, the meaning of the text, must evolve over time and so become clearer and less ambiguous?

You have a text. The words used were expressly used to be ambiguous. It’s recognized by so many scholars, theologians in the Church. It’s a fact and we can’t help it. It’s true, it’s there.

So it means the Church will have the duty in the future to make it clear. And this text that came out yesterday [“Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church”], we’re not very happy with it, but it is an attempt to make it clearer.[1]

Do you have any other final reflections on Summorum Pontificum?

We are really happy with it, and we do consider this the most supernatural act possible.

It’s a very courageous act of the Pope, very supernatural, and we do hope it brings many blessings on the Church, even if the blessings will not be immediately apparent.


Edward Pentin writes

from Rome

[1] Towards the beginning of the interview, Bishop Fellay said concerning the document about the doctrine on the Church: “It’s a good illustration of the Pope’s position, who tries to suppress any kind of idea of opposition between the Church of the past and Vatican II and the reforms. And he does that by saying listen, the Church cannot be in contradiction with itself, so the past and the present must be one. Well that’s fine, but is it really? So my feeling when I see this declaration is that, well, they are nice words but the reality is really confusing. I find this text very confusing.”