J. Matt (MJM): Thank
you for taking time to speak to us about the Vatican/SSPX negotiations,
which no doubt will have truly historic ramifications for the Church and
indeed the entire world, and are thus of paramount interest to the
readers of The Remnant.
we get started, I would like to note that though I was confirmed by
Archbishop Lefebvre and hold his memory in the highest regard, it is
nevertheless no secret that The Remnant has also supported the
Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King and the other Ecclesia
Dei communities, believing that in God’s providence a two-front
offensive was needed in the war to preserve Catholic Tradition. We’ve
not deceived ourselves, however - were it not for the Archbishop and the
SSPX, the traditional Catholic movement would likely still be in the
basement chapels and hotel conference rooms I remember as a child.
even those of us who are not formal adherents to the SSPX certainly
recognize its pivotal role in both the counterrevolution as well as the
genuine Catholic restoration. I’m thus grateful for this opportunity
to ask you for a few clarifications that I hope might dispel some rumors
while alleviating a few of the concerns Catholics on all sides of this
issue have shared with us over the past few weeks.
First of all, can you give our
readers an update on where the negotiations between the Society of St.
Pius X and the Vatican stand at this moment?
We are today in a waiting phase. During the two past years doctrinal
discussions took place between the experts of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith and those of the Society of St. Pius X. Even
though the discussions remained private, it is not a secret that the two
positions were not reconciled. There is still disagreement on doctrinal
matters, however, it is clear that the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith did not find any of our positions to be non-Catholic. Despite
this disagreement, it appears that the Holy Father is willing to grant a
canonical statute to the Society. A few weeks ago His Excellency Bishop
Fellay sent a doctrinal declaration to Rome. We are now waiting for the
answer from Rome.
What exactly would it mean if the
Society were to be granted a personal prelature?
The Society of St. Pius X was erected in 1970. Her statutes were
approved by the local bishop and even praised by Cardinal Wright in
1971. Then came the two condemnations in 1976 and 1988. For canonical
discrepancies and for doctrinal reasons we have always maintained that
the suppression of the Society was not valid and that the Society is
still a branch of the Catholic Church. In that regard, a personal
prelature will not be for us a birth as a new family in the Church but
will give us more visibility. In other words, in the essence of things
it will not change a lot but in appearances it will.
personal prelature is an institution headed by a prelate. A prelature is
like a diocese, except without territorial boundaries. The jurisdiction
of the Superior is over persons, clergy, religious and lay people,
wherever they are. It therefore seems to be a possibility for the
Society that would allow us to remain as we are and continue to grow.
And would the religious houses now
affiliated with the SSPX - the Benedictines, the Dominicans, etc. - also
be included under the umbrella of this personal prelature?
I do not wish to go into the details of the prelature, as we do not have
all of the facts yet. Many people are making all sorts of comments but
the reality is that the details of such a possibility are not yet
released. We will have to exercise the virtue of patience and wait.
on the specific point you ask, there should be not difficulties for the
other religious communities affiliated with the Society to be included
under this umbrella. I know this question is one of the concerns of
the conditions for the establishment of such a personal prelature have
not yet been agreed upon, isn’t it fair to say that negotiations are
still ongoing and that even still this is hardly a “done deal”?
The history of the Society is a reminder of how prudent and patient we
must be. Everyone remembers what happened in 1987-1988, with the visit
of Cardinal Gagnon. As an anecdote, I made my first engagement to the
Society of St. Pius X on December 8, 1987, in the hands of Archbishop
Lefebvre, with Cardinal Gagnon assisting at the ceremony from the
throne. Then came the doctrinal declaration of the protocol of May 5,
1988, it was a done deal! Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre retracted his
signature the next day because Rome would not give a specific date for
the episcopal consecrations.
principle Archbishop Lefebvre was not opposed to a practical agreement,
but it had to be “practical.” Today, like in 1988, we need some real
practical conditions that will make the work of Tradition possible.
then, accounts for the high expectations that there will be an announced
agreement forthcoming as soon as Pentecost?
Let us not jump to conclusions too soon. There are reasons to think that
the Holy Father wants to conclude the matter soon. However, only facts
will answer this question: wait and see.
One of the Internet rumors has it “on
good authority” that this “deal” between
the SSPX and the Vatican was in fact completed many months ago and that
Bishop Fellay’s team has only been working to prepare the adherents of
the SSPX for an announcement that’s been inevitable all along. Can you
comment on this?
This is pure imagination and I can certify that it is not true.
Does Bishop Fellay have an inkling
of the thinking of the Holy Father himself on all this? Has he had any
direct contact with Pope Benedict, or is everything being relayed
through Cardinal Levada?
The normal way of communication with Rome is through the different
Congregations. As far as I know most of the official communications are
made through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but it is
not the only contact the Society has with Rome.
Ever since his election, Pope
Benedict has made no secret of the high priority he personally places on
healing the SSPX “schism”. What seem to remain uncertain, however,
are his motives. Is it possible to ascertain the difference between the
Holy Father’s genuine desires to heal this rift for political reasons
vs. an actual papal recognition (no matter how limited) of the
legitimacy of the doctrinal objections raised by the SSPX?
The reason why the Pope wants to resolve this situation is difficult to
know. On the one hand, there seems to be a desire on his part to avoid a
so-called “schism.” On the other hand, he is aware of the dramatic
situation of the Church, which readers of your newspaper know all to
well: open heresies professed by churchmen, sometimes touching the
divinity of our Lord Himself, not to mention open rebellion, loss of
faith, and disciplinary problems, whether in Austria, America, or
Ireland… The Holy Father, I think, sees that the SSPX could be of some
assistance in helping fight these real and all-too-prevalent problems.
however, there is a mystery which I think is linked to the mystery of
the Church which is at the same time human - that is made of men with
their weaknesses and sins - but also divine that is to say that Our Lord
Jesus Christ still leads and works actively through and with men.
are obviously human reasons for what is happening today in the Church
and it is important to try to understand what the “political”
reasons are for the different moves. A supernatural view of things
however, is much more enlightening.
Given this crisis of belief in the
Church throughout the world, then, is it possible that the Holy Father
may even recognize the potential benefit of 500-plus orthodox priests of
the Society helping him regain some control of the post-conciliar
You give here a good example of the mystery we are confronted with.
Can you say something about the
letters between the four bishops of the SSPX that were recently leaked
to the press?
As I said in my recent letter:
of all, I want to denounce the immorality, as well as the revolutionary
nature, of publishing such private documents. If it can be grave matter
to read private letters, as moral theology teaches, it is even more
serious to publish or distribute them without the permission of the
authors. Furthermore, it is subversive to publish private discussions
between superiors because it puts undue pressure on them. A superior
must be able to make a decision in view of the common good and not
because of any pressures (…)
is essential to remember that letters of this kind are normal ways of
communicating between members of the Society on a very important matter.
It is normal and good that bishops or even priests of the Society should
be able to express their personal opinions in a respectful way and in a
spirit of charity. Once again it is their publication without the
consent of both parties, which is unacceptable.
people jump immediately to the conclusion that there is already a
“split” within the Society. Even though unfortunately a split is
always conceivable, we must work to avoid it as much as possible. This
exchange of opinions is one of the ways to clarify the situation and
help everyone in these difficult times. Some are using these letters to
exacerbate the situation; it is not my way of dealing with the matter.
I, on the contrary, try to communicate with many superiors and priests
of the Society and strive to resolve the possible misunderstandings.
In your opinion, if the conditions
for the personal prelature do, in fact, meet with Bishop Fellay’s
approval, might he proceed even without a consensus among all four
I think it’s important to emphasize a couple of points here. First, as
I stated before, these letters are a normal and healthy way for members
of the Society to express their opinions to the Superior General. They
do not, in themselves, point to any indication of a “schism” within
the Society. In reality, the fact that they were expressed to Bishop
Fellay shows that the other three bishops recognize that the ultimate
guidance of the Society lies with the Superior General. The second point
to make is that it is clear from the direction of Archbishop Lefebvre
that it is the duty of the Superior General alone to make decisions of
In light of the discord that was
revealed in those letters many concerned Catholics are begging Bishop
Fellay not to proceed without the support of a majority of the SSPX
bishops. They argue, even as I do, that although the canonical standing
of the SSPX must eventually be regularized, this is of far less import
at this critical moment than maintaining unity among the strongest voice
of loyal opposition in the Church today - the SSPX. Might the Vatican
itself not recognize the prudential requirement for a postponement of an
agreement in order to allow more time for Bishop Fellay and his brother
bishops to stave off a massive split in the Society?
I think, again, there is a presumption, heightened by internet rumors,
that a split has already occurred in the Society which will tear it to
pieces were we to conclude a practical agreement with Rome. It will only
be with time that we see if and how broad a split may be, but I believe
it is not nearly as grave as it has been made out to be. If anything, I
am thankful for the admirable unity shown by the members of the Society
in the U.S. District.
to the question of the Vatican’s willingness to postpone things, this
is obviously a question for the Holy See. For us, the path laid out by
our venerable founder is clear: He has always expressed a desire to
subordinate ourselves to the Pope, granting protection for the growth of
Tradition, the existence of the Society, and guarantees that we will not
be asked to minimize the fight, nor to compromise on the Faith. As he
said in 1987: “If Rome really wants to give us true autonomy, like we have now but with
our submission - we would like to be submitted to the Holy Father, and
we have always wished for it...if Rome agrees to let us try this
experiment of Tradition, there will no longer be any problem.” (Fideliter
no. 60, Nov./Dec. 1987)
According to the terms of an
agreement the SSPX will be guaranteed the right to continue its
longstanding and constructive critique of Vatican II and the New Mass.
But haven’t we heard this before? Isn’t it true that in every case
where this same allowance was granted to other traditionalist
fraternities that critique failed to materialize, with many good priests
even being induced to concelebrate the New Mass, endorse controversial
events such as World Youth Day, and lay aside any meaningful resistance
to the revolution unleashed by the Second Vatican Council?
There are a number of things that make the circumstances of today
different from previous times. For one, Bishop Fellay insisted upon
doctrinal discussions with Rome, and requested as preconditions for
this, two signs of goodwill: first, freedom for the traditional Mass,
and second, the lifting of the alleged excommunications. Both of these
have been accomplished.
we must not ignore the differences between the Ecclesia Dei communities
and us: they have neither autonomy nor bishops.
regarding Vatican II, other writers outside the Society, such as Msgr.
Gherardini, can now openly critique the Council as well. Of course, we
do not pretend there would be no pressure in the event of
regularization, but we must keep in mind that this pressure comes only
from certain sources, not all.
But the Vatican seems adamant that
the SSPX must, to paraphrase the late Abbe de Nantes, swallow the
Council in order to be regularized. Is this a fair assessment? And,
if it is, isn’t it at least theoretically possible that some inside
the Vatican may be seeking to neutralize the most significant opposition
to that Council left in the world today - first through excommunication
and then through regularization?
Never as today has the position of the Society been so clearly exposed
and documented in Rome, thanks to the discussions of recent years. As I
already said, these discussions have already helped others from outside
the Society to bring the same criticism.
these peculiar and unprecedented circumstances, is it unrealistic to
think that the recognition of the Society will amplify this already
hope is that this movement will be spread and the solution of Tradition
acknowledged and applied. It has to be noted here that the Society's
preoccupation is not its own good but the good of the whole Church.
it is important to understand that Catholic authorities throughout the
world have never been as divided as today. Some will certainly try to
neutralize that opposition since it is clear that not everyone sees the
recognition in a good light. But here and there, some might also be
inclined to try the path of Tradition if tolerated by the Pope.
Yes, but some would point out
that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, for example, still waits to
be given its own bishop; the Transalpine Redemptorists have not yet been
allowed to ordain their seminarians because permission to do so has been
inexplicably withheld; Bishop Rifan of Campos, Brazil has been highly
critical of traditionalist resistance to Vatican II and has himself
concelebrated high-profile Novus
Ordo Masses; and although the
Society of the Good Shepherd was also assured that it would be allowed
to raise objections to Vatican II, it does seem that those critiques
have failed to materialize. This is certainly not to criticize these
good and holy priests, many of whom are personal friends of mine and all
of whom are in the loyal service of Our Lord and His Church. But does it
not seem odd that the Vatican offers such minimal support for the
traditionalist orders and fraternities that have been regularized thus
When the Archbishop asked for at least one bishop in his discussions
with Rome in 1988, he knew that this would be a key point in the
survival of Tradition. Priests and faithful need a bishop not only for
ordinations but to confirm them in the Faith. It is inherent to their
consecration. One of the main difficulties for the Ecclesia Dei
communities is that most of them have no real episcopal power. Another
difficulty is the lack of protection from the local bishop or bishop's
for Campos, I will make three remarks. First, we were able to bring our
doctrinal objections to the authorities first, ahead of any possible
canonical agreement. Second, we are not limited by the relatively small
situation in which the Apostolic Admistration finds itself. Third, we
must admit that a canonical structure in itself does not protect against
our own personal weaknesses.
must expect a fight even with a new canonical structure. The line given
to us by our founder, started during the Second Vatican Council, has
always been characteristic of the SSPX. From 1970, through the
condemnations of the 70's and 80's, and over the past 18 years of Bishop
Fellay's term as Superior General, the Society maintained this
faithfulness. By the grace of God, we must and will continue to hold
Archbishop Lefebvre justified
his decision to consecrate bishops against the will of the Holy Father
in 1988 by citing a provision in the Code of Canon Law for extraordinary
measures during a “state of emergency” in the Church. If
rapprochement between the SSPX and the Vatican were now possible would
that mean that the Archbishop was overzealous in 1988, or has the
‘state of emergency’ simply ceased to exist?
No, the state of necessity in the Church does not depend on the Society
of St. Pius X, regularized or not. It can only be an objective situation
of the Church. Today, this state of necessity still exists, as
unfortunately too often priests and faithful cannot receive in a normal
way the true teaching of the Catholic Faith or receive the sacraments in
a safe way. You have priests and even bishops who profess open heresies,
or accept and celebrate scandalous ceremonies…
state of necessity will only cease when there will be objective reasons
to entrust our souls to the clergy and hierarchy of the Church without
any prudential protection.
Indeed, even with Summorum
Pontificum, as monumental as that was, Pope Benedict still sought to
equalize “two forms” of the Roman Rite. He himself has never
actually offered the Mass of Pius V, even as he continues to push an
agenda of full papal implementation of the decrees of Vatican II. As he
prepares to canonize Blessed John Paul II he also continues the legacy
of the Assisi Prayer Meeting - the very event that finally prompted the
Archbishop to act as he did. As much as we love and pray for the Holy
Father, while remaining forever grateful to him for SP, is there enough
evidence of a seismic shift in the papal house to argue that the
situation in the Church today has radically changed from that of 1988?
In the year 2000, when the first meetings took place between Cardinal
Castrillon Hoyos and the bishops of the Society, many considered the
conditions expressed by Bishop Fellay at that moment as unreasonable.
How could we expect that the Pope would free the Tridentine Mass? How
could we demand that the alleged excommunications be lifted? How would
it be possible to engage in doctrinal discussions? It was unthinkable
for many. It was even taken as a sign that the Society was really
schismatic because Bishop Fellay required impossible conditions, a sign
of his stubbornness. These conditions were requested as signs of good
will, signs that we could rebuild a certain confidence in the will of
Rome not to destroy Tradition, still a natural fear today. Once again,
these conditions at that time were seen as impossible.
years later, we see that these requests were granted to a certain
extent. Should we add more conditions? Should we wait until there is no
contradiction anymore? Some are of that opinion. Bishop Fellay, in a
prudential judgment, acknowledges the signs given by Rome.
are some other signs of changes in Rome. We have seen in recent years
more critiques of Vatican II from other sources than the Society. There
are some efforts to correct certain errors. I am thinking of, for
instance, the translation of pro
multis into “for many”
and not “for all.” You might say that is little in comparison with the
ecumenical actions of the Pope, the beatification of John Paul II,
Assisi III, etc. It is not so much but it is something. So has the
situation in the Church radically changed? No, but some changes have
I believe that the main signs we are all waiting for is the conditions
of the personal prelature itself. Will it be a structure that protects
us enough? This is the sign that will make the step possible or not.
What is one to make of the
argument that without the SSPX “anchor”, if you will, suspended from
the hull of the Barque of Peter, the Church will drift still further in
the direction of the rocks - thus suggesting a certain level of urgency
for the SSPX to remain precisely where it is until the storm passes?
I do not see the Society as an anchor. We are not only attached to the
Barque by a chain; we are in the Barque and we do not wish to be thrown
out… Anyway, if we want to keep the analogy of the anchor, why would
the “anchor” no longer work in a new structure?
do not believe that we can look at the Church in a political way; it is
the Barque of Peter, and Our Lord governs her.
I believe all sincere traditional
Catholics long for the day when unity will be reestablished in the
Church and the SSPX can at long last shake off the unjust stigma of
“schism”. Regardless of what happens in the days and months ahead
between Rome and the SSPX, what can we laymen do to help promote unity
within all the various camps of Tradition in a world at war with Christ
and His Church?
Pray. Pray a lot. The work that every Catholic can do is to pray for the
Pope, for the Church, for His Excellency Bishop Fellay, and the Society
of St. Pius X. There is nothing more urgent to do. Never before have
there been so many prayers, especially in the form of the
Crusades; it is very encouraging. How could God abandon us?
not be disturbed by the rumors, especially the different gossips on the
Internet, based on feelings but surely not facts. If you wish to have
information you can sign up for the updates of the Society website,
where you will be then the first informed of any development. (sspx.org)
us entrust our prayers to the Blessed Virgin, follow the design of
Providence, and beg the continued protection of the Good Lord.
Thank you, Father. May God be with you and all of your brother priests
during this critical moment in the history of Christ’s Church.