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Interview with Bishop Fellay
about his August 29, 2005 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI

A DICI interview published on September 17, 2005.

DICI: Your Excellency, you requested an audience with Pope Benedict XVI which took place last August 29. What was the purpose of your request?

BISHOP FELLAY: We wanted to meet the Holy Father because we are Catholic and, like all Catholics, we are attached to Rome. By requesting this audience we wanted to show, quite simply, that we are Catholics.

Our recognition of the pope is not limited to the mention of his name in the Canon of the Mass, which is said by every priest of the Society of St. Pius X. It is normal that, as Roman Catholics, we should express our deference. Catholic means universal, and the Mystical Body of the Church is not limited to our chapels.

We also seek to call the attention of the Sovereign Pontiff to the existence of the Tradition. We wish to remind him that the Tradition is the Church, and that we incarnate the Church’s utterly Living Tradition. We want to show that the Church would be much stronger in today’s world if it maintained the Tradition. We want thus to bring forth our experience: if the Church wants to get out of the tragic crisis it is presently going through, then the Tradition is a solution, indeed the only solution.

DICI: How did the audience go?

BISHOP FELLAY: The audience took place in the pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Scheduled for 11:30 a.m., it actually began at 12:10 p.m., in the Sovereign Pontiff’s office. He generally grants an audience of 15 minutes to a bishop. For us, the audience lasted 35 minutes. This means - so say the Vatican specialists - that Benedict XVI wanted to demonstrate his interest in these questions.

There were four of us: the Holy Father and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, Fr. Schmidberger and myself. The conversation took place in French - contrary to the announcement by some that it would take place in German. The pope himself led the conversation in a benevolent ambiance. He spoke of three difficulties, in response to the note we had sent him shortly before the audience. Benedict XVI had obviously read the note, and it was not necessary to go over the points brought up in it.

We had, in the note, given a description of the Church, quoting "silent apostasy" from John Paul II, "the boat which is taking in water from every side" and "the dictatorship of relativism" from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and we had appended photos of certain very scandalous Masses.

We also presented the Society, quoting figures and various achievements. We gave two examples of actions carried out by the Society in the current world, and the unbelievable attitude of the local bishoprics towards them: the lawsuit in Argentina which resulted in the banning of the sale of contraceptives, and which earned for us the name of terrorists from the bishopric of Cordoba; and the denunciation of a gay pride parade in Lucerne, which ended with a Protestant service in a Catholic church - all this to the complete indifference of the bishop.

Finally, we expressed our requests: that hostility towards the Tradition, which makes traditional Catholic life (is there any other?) practically impossible in the conciliar Church, be changed. We asked that this be done by granting full liberty to the Tridentine Mass, by silencing the accusation of schism directed against us, by dropping the alleged excommunications, and by finding an ecclesial structure for the family of Tradition.

DICI: Is it possible for us to know the difficulties raised by Benedict XVI?

BISHOP FELLAY: I can only evoke them. First of all, the Holy Father insisted on effective recognition of the pope, linking it to the necessity of consecrating bishops as pleaded by Archbishop Lefebvre, and our subsequent activities.

Then Benedict XVI pointed out that there can be only one way of belonging to the Catholic Church: i.e., by having the spirit of Vatican II interpreted in the light of Tradition, that is to say according to the intention of the Fathers of the Council and the letter of the text. This is a perspective that rather frightens us….

Finally, we would have to have, thinks the Sovereign Pontiff, a suitable structure for the traditional rite and certain exterior practices - without, however, protecting us from the spirit of the Council that we would have to adopt.

DICI: The Vatican Press Release at the end of the audience speaks of a "desire to proceed in stages and within reasonable time limits." What are we to understand by this expression?

BISHOP FELLAY: The pope did not want to attack the problems, but simply to sketch them. It will indeed be necessary first of all to deal with the question of the right to the old Mass, and take up the errors of the Council afterwards, for we see there the cause of the present evils - both a direct cause and in part an indirect cause.

Of course we will go step by step. We must show the council in a different light from that which is given by Rome. In denouncing the errors, it is indispensable for us to show their logical consequences and their impact on the disastrous situation of today’s Church, without, however, provoking exasperation that could cause the discussions to be broken off. This obliges us to proceed by stages.

With respect to reasonable time limits, it is said in Rome that documents are in preparation for communities attached to the Ecclesia Dei Commission - something quite new, never seen before. "Let us wait and see!" It is certainly true that the pope wants to settle this situation quickly.

In order to be entirely fair, I would like to add this further detail. We must consider the pope’s difficult situation. He is stuck between the progressives on one side and us on the other. If he grants general permission for the Mass on the basis on our request alone, the modernists will rise up, saying that the pope has given in to traditionalists. We learned from Bishop Ricard that in 2000 he himself, along with Cardinal Lustiger and the Archbishop of Lyon, rushed to Rome to forestall concessions to the Society, under threat of rebellion. We know that the German bishops acted in the same way at the time of the World Youth Conference in Cologne: "It is us or them." By this is meant: "If they are recognized, we will leave the Church and create a schism."

So the pope could not, during the audience, give us verbal assurance that this Fall, for example, the Mass would be freed. Any promise made by him to the Society in this sense would inevitably expose him to pressure by the progressives. We would then have received the views of a pope against a majority of bishops inclined to secede. This cannot be envisaged in the midst of the current debacle, even given desire for a certain restoration. Personally, I believe that only limited freedom will perhaps be conceded.

DICI: The press has published rumors concerning divisions within the Society of St. Pius X. What is exactly the case?

BISHOP FELLAY: The announcement of the audience granted by the pope has provoked feverish talk in the media, which made a lot of noise, attempting to show that divisions exist in the Society among its four bishops. Journalists have also published the threats directed against the pope by the progressives: "To grant freedom to the Mass is to disavow Paul VI and the liturgical reform."

I can however affirm that within the Society of St. Pius X, the four bishops are united on the question of the relationship with Rome, and that Bishop Williamson, whose name has been quoted, is not "sedevacantist". The media has nothing to worry about. Alas, this for them is not newsworthy.

DICI: Your Excellency, what do you now hope for?

BISHOP FELLAY: Some cardinals in Rome hope to see Tradition recognized. We hope for that too. We hope, in particular, for complete freedom to be granted to the Mass, but there is little chance that this will come tomorrow. It will then be our duty to demonstrate the place of Tradition in the Church, avoiding the misinterpretations that are often given of it.

We must get the Roman authorities to admit that we cannot follow without serious reservations the interpretation given of the Council and of Ecumenism, as it is practiced. Deep down, what we hope for is to make them understand one day the whole reason for Tradition.

Press release about Bishop Fellay's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI

Albano Laziale
August 29, 2005

Today, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X met with the Holy Father Benedict XVI at his residence of Castelgandolfo. At the conclusion of the audience, he [Bishop Fellay] made the following declaration:

The meeting lasted about thirty-five minutes; it took place in an atmosphere of calm.

The audience was an opportunity for the Society to manifest that it has always been attached - and always will be - to the Holy See, Eternal Rome.

We broached the serious difficulties, already known, in a spirit of great love for the Church.

We reached a consensus as to proceeding by stages in the resolution of problems.

The Society of St. Pius X prays that the Holy Father might find the strength to put an end to the crisis in the Church by "restoring all things in Christ."

+ Bernard Fellay
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