Extract from the Sermon of Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX, on Candlemas Day, 2012, at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Winona, Minnesota. (In the following transcription, reviewed by His Excellency Bishop Fellay, we have retained the quality of the spoken word.)
The Society of St. Pius X has been founded by the Church and in the Church, and we say this Society continues to exist, despite the fact that there is a pretense that it does not exist; that it was suppressed in 1976 (but obviously with total disrespect of the laws of the Church itself). And that’s why we continue. And our dear Founder insisted many, many times on the importance of this existence of the Society. And I think, as time evolves, we must keep this in mind—and it is very important that we keep this Catholic Spirit.
We are not an independent group. Even if we are fighting with Rome, we are still, so to say, with Rome. We are fighting with Rome; or, if you want, against Rome, at the same time with Rome. And we claim and we continue to say, we are Catholic. We want to stay Catholic. Many times I say to Rome, you try to kick us out. And we see it would be much easier for us to be out. We would have many more advantages. You would treat us much better! Look at the Protestants, how they open the churches to them. To us, they close them. And we say, we don’t care. We do things in front of God. We suffer from the Church, fine. We don’t like that, of course. But we ought to stay there in the truth. And we have to maintain that we do belong to the Church. We are Catholics. We want to be and we want to stay Catholic, and it is very important to maintain that.
It’s also important that we don’t finally imagine a Catholic Church which is just the fruit of our imagination but which is no longer the real one. And with the real one we have problems. That’s what makes it even more difficult: the fact that we have problems with it. That does not allow us, so to say, to shut the door. On the contrary, it is our duty to continuously go there, knock at the door, and not beg that we may enter (because we are in) but beg that they may convert; that they may change and come back to what makes the Church. It is a great mystery; it is not simple. Because at the same time we have to say, yes, we do recognize that Church—that’s what we say in the Creed: I believe in the Catholic Church—so we accept that there is a pope; we accept that there is a hierarchy—we do accept that.
Yet practically, at many levels, we have to say no. Not because it does not please us, but because the Church has already spoken about that. Even many of these things it has condemned them. And so, in our discussions with Rome we were, so to say, stuck there. The key problem in our discussions with Rome was really the Magisterium, the teaching of the Church. Because they say, “We are the pope, we are the Holy See,” and we say, yes. And so they say, “We have the supreme power,” and we say, yes. They say, “We are the last instance in teaching and we are necessary”—Rome is necessary for us to have the Faith—and we say, yes. And then they say, “Then obey.” And we say, no. And so they say to us, you are protestant. You put your reason above the Magisterium of today. And we answer, you are Modernists. You pretend that the teaching of today can be different from the teaching of yesterday. We say, when we adhere to what the Church has taught yesterday, we, by necessity, adhere to the teaching of the Church today. Because the truth is not linked to time. The truth is above it. What has been said once is binding all times. These are the dogmas. God is like that; God is above time. And the Faith is adhering to the truth of God. It’s above time. That’s why the Church of today is bound and has to be like (not only like) the Church of yesterday. And so when you see the present pope say that there must be continuity in the Church, we say, of course! That is what we have said at all times. When we talk about tradition, that’s precisely the meaning. They say, there must be Tradition, there must be continuity. So there is continuity. Vatican II has been made by the Church, the Church must be continuous, so Vatican II is Tradition. And we say, beg your pardon?
It goes even further, my dear brethren. That was during the discussion. At the end of the discussion comes this invitation from Rome. In this invitation there is a proposition of a canonical situation that is to regularize our situation. And I may say, what is presented today, which is already different from what was presented on the 14th of September, we can consider it as all right, good. They fulfilled all our requirements, I may say, on the practical level. So there is not much problem there. The problem remains at the other level—at the level of the doctrine. But even there it goes very far—very far, my dear brethren. The key is a principle, which they state: “This you must accept; you must accept that for the points that make difficulty in the Council—points which are ambiguous, where there is a fight—these points, like ecumenism, like religious liberty—these points must be understood in coherence with the perpetual teaching of the Church.” “So if there is something ambiguous in the Council, you must understand it as the Church has always taught throughout the ages.”
They go even further and say, “One must reject whatever is opposed to this traditional teaching of the Church.” Well, that is what we have always said. Amazing, isn’t it? that Rome is imposing on us this principle. Amazing. Then, you may wonder, then why don’t you accept? Well, my dear brethren, there is still a problem. The problem is that in this text they give two applications of what and how we have to understand these principles. These two examples that they give to us are ecumenism and religious liberty, as they are described in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which are exactly the points for which we reproach the Council.
In other words, Rome tells us, we have done that all the time. We are traditional; Vatican II is Tradition. Religious liberty, ecumenism, is Tradition. It is in full coherence with Tradition. You just wonder, where do we go? What kind of words will we find to say, we agree or we don’t? If even the principles which we have kept and said, they say, yes it’s OK, you can say that because this means what we mean, which is exactly the contrary of what we mean.
I think we could not go further in the confusion. In other words, my dear brethren, that means that they have another meaning with the word “tradition,” and even maybe even with “coherence.” And that’s why we were obliged to say no. We’re not going to sign that. We agree with the principle, but we see that the conclusion is contrary. Great mystery! Great mystery! So what is going to happen now? Well, we have sent our answer to Rome. They still say that they’re reflecting on it, which means they’re probably embarrassed. At the same time I think we may see now what they really want. Do they really want us in the Church or not? We told them very clearly, if you accept us as is, without change, without obliging us to accept these things, then we are ready. But if you want us to accept these things, we are not. In fact, we have just quoted Archbishop Lefebvre who said this already in 1987—several times before, but the last time he said it was in 1987.
In other words, my dear brethren, humanly speaking, it’s difficult to say how the future will look, but we know that when we deal with the Church, we deal with God; we deal with divine providence, and we know that this Church is His Church. Humans may cause some disruption, some destruction. They may cause turmoil, but God is above that, and He knows how to, out of all these happenings—these human happenings—these odd lines, God knows how to direct His Church through these trials.
There will be an end to this trial, I don’t know when. Sometimes there is hope that it will come. Sometimes it is like despair. God knows when, but really, humanly speaking, we must wait for quite a time before hoping to see things better—five, ten years. I am persuaded that in ten years things will look different because the generation of the Council will be gone, and the next generation does not have this link with the Council. And already now we hear several bishops, my dear brethren, several bishops tell us: you give too much weight to this Council; put it aside. It could be a good way for the Church to go ahead. Put it aside; forget it. Let’s go back to the real thing, to Tradition.
Isn’t that interesting to hear bishops who say that? That’s a new language! It means that you have a new generation which knows that there are things that are more serious than Vatican II in the Church, and that we have to go back to this more serious, if I may say so. Vatican II is serious because of the damage it has caused, yes it is. But as such it wanted to be a pastoral council, which is over now. We know that someone who is working in the Vatican wrote a thesis for his academic grades, and it was about the magisterium of Vatican II. He himself told us that nobody in the Roman universities was ready to take that thesis. Finally a professor did, and the thesis is the following: the authority of the magisterium of Vatican II is that of a homily in the 1960’s. And he passed!
We shall see, my dear brethren. For us it’s very clear. We must stick to and hold to the truth, to the Faith. We are not going to give that up—whatever happens. There are some threats, of course, from Rome now. We shall see. We put all these things in the hands of God, and in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Oh, yes, we have to continue our crusade of rosaries. We count on her, we count on God. And then whatever happens, happens. I cannot promise a beautiful spring. I have no idea what’s going to be in this spring. What I know is that the fight for the faith will continue, whatever happens. If we are recognized or not, you can be certain that the Progressives will not be happy. They will continue, and we will continue to fight them too. (Source: DICI)
Die Welt: In Rome there are increasing signs that a full reconciliation with the SSPX may at last take place, and that it should soon have its own personal prelature, which is not unlike the status of Opus Dei. It is also mentioned, however, that negotiations between the Vatican and the SSPX have failed. Can you clarify it?
Fr. Franz Schmidberger: On September 14, 2011, Cardinal Levada presented Bishop Fellay, our Superior General, with a “doctrinal preamble” whose acceptance is the condition for a canonical recognition of the SSPX. We consulted extensively on the text and came to the conclusion that it was not acceptable. Finally, I myself, on December 1, brought the response of the Superior General to Rome, and, at a Roman request, he delivered a clarification of that response. Now we wait with great anticipation the response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Die Welt: The Pope said that he would not have agreed to the lifting of the excommunications of your four bishops if he had been aware of the statements of Bishop Williamson. What will happen with Bishop Williamson after the reconciliation?
Fr. Schmidberger: I am not a prophet, but I do believe that during the discussions about a canonical structure for the Society, which will certainly not be held in only one session, the participants will also talk about Bishop Williamson. Certainly, it may expect from him that he will obey the Superior General’s instructions.
Die Welt: It is said about Archbishop Lefebvre, the founder of the Society, that he “adhered to eternal Rome with all his heart.” Would he by now not already have reconciled himself with this Pope who stretches out his hand so much?
Fr. Schmidberger: Things are not that easy. During the visitation of our work by Cardinal Gagnon in 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote the Cardinal a letter and proposed a canonical structure for the Society. At the same time, he made it very clear that current ecumenism under the symbol of religious relativism, religious liberty, the fruit of which is today’s secularism, and collegiality, which paralyzes completely the life of the Church, are unacceptable for us. Alas, even today there are still differences when it comes to this with the reigning Pope.
Die Welt: What reasonable arguments does the Society in fact still have against religious liberty, the enforcement of which is key for world peace today?
Fr. Schmidberger: Religious liberty is not, in the first place, a matter of practice, but a matter of doctrine. The condemnation of religious liberty by the popes never implied the will to force others to accept the Catholic religion, but it implied that a State in which the majority of the population is Catholic should acknowledge that the Catholic religion is the religion revealed by God. At the same time, it can very well tolerate other religions and confessions and even lay those tolerances down in civil laws.
Obviously, in today’s pluralistic times, such a tolerance would have to find broad application. On the other hand, error never has a (natural) right. When, however, it comes to man being capable of recognizing God by the light of reason and of being aware of the true religion, then this is also true for statesmen; and it is exactly this that the popes, up to Pius XII, maintained by condemning religious liberty. Everything else is, in the end, agnosticism.
Die Welt: The latest popes have all committed themselves to ecumenism, even to a consolidation of the confessions, according to the word of Christ, which says: “that all may be one,” as Jesus prayed (Jn. 17:21). What would you bring forth against that?
Fr. Schmidberger: Every Sunday the faithful sing, “I believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”; the prayer of Christ does not refer to the fact that they first have to become one. Indeed, in the course of history, groups have broken away from the Church time and time again; for example the Greeks in the eleventh century, and Luther with his followers in the sixteenth century. For every sincere Christian this is a pain, and so we pray daily for the return of those who are separated from the Church to the parental home.
Die Welt: Until today every sect has presumptuously declared that it was right—and it showed a good portion of arrogance towards the majority. Archbishop Lefebvre was different. He suffered a lot from the impending division and the state of emergency of the unresolved status of the Society. Has the Society meanwhile gotten accustomed to the state of emergency—or is the awareness of the danger of a permanent separation still seen as a distress?
Fr. Schmidberger: A case of emergency is a case of emergency, it is abnormal and aspires towards normalization. How are we, however, to get to a settlement with meetings in Assisi that implicitly (not explicitly!) claim that all religions are paths to salvation? We certainly suffer from the current situation; but we suffer infinitely more from this religious indifferentism that leads uncountable numbers of souls to their perdition.
Die Welt: The Pope staked his reputation (and the unity of the entire Church) three years ago for the reconciliation with the Society. What does the Society offer for the reconciliation with the Church?
Fr. Schmidberger: When it is canonically recognized, the Society will bring a large religious potential and great religious strength into the interior of the Church. I see few ecclesiastical communities that have taken up the cause of complete unity between dogmatic theology, spirituality and liturgy, and that live by it. We bring a great treasure, for, from the very beginning, we have celebrated solely the ancient, magnificent liturgy with its charism of faith and sanctity.
Furthermore, the Society will be a great support for the Pope in conquering the latent schism that is present everywhere in Europe due to centrifugal forces; see Austria, for example. Only recently an archbishop in Germany told me that also here they expect the breaking away of large communities.
Die Welt: That was not my question, however. I reminded you of what the Pope had risked for the reconciliation, and I would like to know again what you would be willing to sacrifice.
Fr. Schmidberger: We give up our relative freedom that we have used so far for the worldwide expansion of our work and we put it into the hands of the Pope. For the rest, this is not about some diplomatic agreement, but about the welfare of the Church and the salvation of souls. The problem in the Church is not the Society, but the modernist theologians and the advancing collapse of the life of the Church since the Council.
Die Welt: Now, even the Anglicans find a home in the Catholic Church. What then has prevented you from feeling home in the Church during the last decades?
Fr. Schmidberger: In fact, the same tendencies that made the Anglicans flee to the Catholic Church have, since the Second Vatican Council, spread within the Catholic Church and led to a devastating loss of faith, to a downfall of morals and to havoc in the liturgy. If you would only think for a moment of the Carnival Masses that enter the churches everywhere these days. You see, I here have the address of the Pope to the representatives of the Central Committee of German Catholics of September 24th 2011. In this address he says: “the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith. If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.” Through the Council it is not the spirit of the Church that has entered the world; it is the other way around: the spirit of the world has invaded the church.
Die Welt: I do not tell you something new when I point to the small portion in the middle (or at the edge) of the Society that will not participate in a reconciliation with the Pope. Are you prepared to let the reconciliation fail for this portion, or are you prepared to separate yourself from those?
Fr. Schmidberger: If the Roman authorities do not require something from the Society for their canonical recognition that is against the traditional teaching and the praxis of the Church, then there will be no major difficulties concerning a regularization. If, however, Rome would require that we accept the whole of Vatican II unconditionally, then I do not see a possibility for reconciliation.
Die Welt: On the assumption of reconciliation: how would you want to distinguish yourself from other groups that have also committed themselves to Tradition? After a successful reconciliation, what will be and remain specifically your own thing, that others do not have?
Fr. Schmidberger: Our special charism is the formation of priests and the care for priests. Besides that, we in the Society have specialized in the preaching of the Spiritual Exercises, the running of schools, and also simply the care of parishes, which is in a sorry state nowadays. Just think of the sacrament of penance that, for example, here in Stuttgart, is no longer offered in the parishes, with a few heroic exceptions. With that, the consciousness of sin and the need for salvation are fading away, as are prayer, the reception of the sacraments, and the spirit of sacrifice.
Die Welt: There are voices that say that the labor of the Pope for this reconciliation is but a mere pilot [project] for ecumenism as a whole. Do you share this idea, or do you fear it?
Fr. Schmidberger: If what I see is correct, then this can only apply to the Orthodox, but not at all to the different groups of Protestants. For, concerning the former, it is about the acknowledgement of the jurisdictional primacy of the pope; concerning the latter, there exists besides that a substantial deviance from the Catholic deposit of faith, as well as from the teaching and practice of the sacraments. We did not incur guilt by either one of those ways, even if, based on arguments of the faith, we had to resist certain directives—like the acceptance of the new liturgy.
Die Welt: No pope has been as considerate to you as much as Benedict XVI. He will soon be 85 years old. Do you ever fear that time might work against you?
Fr. Schmidberger: It is true that the reigning pope shows us some favor, and I hope that we will find a solution during his pontificate. On the other hand, the situation in the Church is assuming ever more dramatic shapes every day; the Pope himself speaks of the loss of faith in large regions. Would this not be related to certain statements of the Council and the post-conciliar reforms? On some prelates a light seems to dawn here and the longer the crisis acts, the brighter this light will be. And in that sense, time works in favor of us as well.
Die Welt: What gives us most hope that the danger of a new schism between Rome and the Society might be abolished by Easter?
Fr. Schmidberger: The Society has seen many crises and has emerged from all of them more strengthened than weakened. Above that, it has, together with all its members and houses, consecrated and given itself to the Mother of God on December 8, 1984. I hardly believe that God will let a work of His Mother slip away. (Source: Die Welt—translation: Rorate Caeli)