June 1983 Print

Interview with Fr. Franz Schmidberger

Successor of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

Interview conducted by Phyllis Graham

Father Franz Schmidberger

Born in the little village of Göffingen, Germany, ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 1975, Father Franz Schmidberger, at age 36, will have, at this reading, pretty much taken over the reins of the rapidly expanding Society of St. Pius X, as Superior General. He succeeds the indisputably acclaimed standard bearer of Roman Catholic Tradition-Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to have been asked by The Angelus Press to do the following interview on May 3, 1983, with Father Schmidberger, then Vicar General of the Society. The interview was conducted at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Ridgefield.

Father Denis Roche, Superior of the District of Switzerland, was on hand to help with an occasional word needing translation, since Father Schmidberger is principally German-speaking. The reader is asked to bear in mind that while Father's command of the English language is very good, his communication of ideas via the Germanic mode of expression results in a sometime use of unconventional phraseology by American standards.


Mrs. Graham: Father, I would like to ask you a little bit about your education first, starting with the school you first attended as a child.

Fr. Schmidberger: First, I went to primary school in the village where my parents lived in Göffingen. Then I went to the lyceé (high school). I made maturité ... we say "maturité," you "graduation" ... and you, know, we graduate from there at a higher age than here in America ... at age 19 or 20 ... then, I went to the University of Munich for six years and received my diploma.

Mrs. G: What was your major study?

Fr. S: Mathematics. Mainly mathematics, but also some philosophy.

Mrs. G: Mathematics! Why mathematics, Father? What made you choose that?

Fr. S: Well ... it is difficult to say ... I had a certain love for exact sciences.

Mrs. G: Did you always want to be a priest? When was the first time you thought of it?

Fr. S: Well, I did have some idea of it in my youth, but I took up the idea again during my studies at Munich. The first time I thought of becoming a priest was at the First Mass of a new priest in our region.

Mrs. G: How old were you at that time?

Fr. S: Eleven years old.

Mrs. G: How did you come to choose the seminary at Ecône?

Fr. S: I had made some friends who were very much preoccupied ... very interested, you know ... very concerned with the Traditions of the Church, the Latin, etc. At this time there was not yet the New Mass ...

Mrs. G: What year was that?

Fr. S: 1968.

Mrs. G: Yes, go on Father ...

Fr. S: Well, I was studying at that time and there was this group concerned with the sad corruption of our Faith. I was very interested in this. So, by many discussions and by the increasing contact with prayer and things of the Faith, I went one step after another, little by little—the vocation slowly forming itself—and finally it came. Through the next few years, the group was in contact with other similar groups in other countries. Through them, one day, I heard of Archbishop Lefebvre.

I already knew that I did not want to be ordained by a priest who accepted the New Mass. By this time it was 1971. The New Mass was in from 1969—I never could accept it! So, my decision to enter Ecône was, in a certain manner, taken before the decision to become priest! I thought, "IF I go into the seminary, it could ONLY be the one in Ecône." It was the only place.

Mrs. G: For how many years did you study at Ecône?

Fr. S: I entered in 1972, and was ordained December 8, 1975.

Mrs. G: Only three years?

Fr. S: Yes, because I had already made studies in philosophy at the University of Munich.

Mrs. G: What work have you been doing in the Society since your ordination? What positions have you held?

Fr. S: First of all, I worked in the foundation of a German-language seminary started in Weissbad, Switzerland. The following year, I became director of that seminary. We moved from the rented house in Weissbad to Zaitzkofen, Germany in 1978 and I continued as Rector one more year after that until I was made District Superior of Germany in 1979 and that is up to the present time.

Mrs. G: And now you are to succeed Archbishop Lefebvre as head of the Society. Were you chosen by election or by appointment?

Fr. S: Well, there was election ...

Mrs. G: Did the Archbishop give any recommendation or anything like that? Did he make it known who he thought would be best?

(Father Roche interposed at Fr. Schmidberger's modesty and hesitation in answering: "Yes, Mrs. Graham, the Archbishop made nomination of him ... he is being modest ... the Archbishop named his choice and then there was an election and Fr. Schmidberger was elected!")

Mrs. G: Wonderful! Well, then, Father, you have approbation from the "top" and from the "bottom" ... and therefore from the Top "top"! Yes, I remember that when our priests came back from that General Chapter last September they were all very pleased that you had been the choice.

Now, if you please, Father, just a bit about your personal life. Do you have a particular hobby—do you know what I mean, Father? A hobby, a past-time occupation, some little diversion which you enjoy doing when you have free time?

Fr. S: Yes, yes, I understand. Well, really, these days all of my time is taken with the work of the Church, with the Seminary, with the formation of priests—it is my complete preoccupation, really.

Mrs. G: How about before?

Fr. S: Before, I was very much interested in working on my parents' farm.

Mrs. G: Are your parents both traditional Catholics?

Fr. S: Yes, the whole family, but my father is now dead.

Mrs. G: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Fr. S: Two sisters. They live in the family house in Göffingen. One of my sisters now has the farm. It is a great joy to go there when I can.

Fr. Roche: And when the Archbishop visits Father Schmidberger's home in Göffingen, each time he wants to see the 600 pigs!

Fr. S: (laughing at himself) Also, when I was at St. Mary's in Kansas the other day, I at once looked for the pigs, to see if American pigs are like European pigs!

Mrs. G: Speaking of the Archbishop, tell us what you admire most about Archbishop Lefebvre?

Fr. S: First of all, his firmness in the Faith. He is a real Confessor of the Catholic Faith! He has those virtues which every Catholic should attend to. For me, he is the exact model of a real Catholic Bishop.

Mrs. G: In what ways will your management of the Society of St. Pius X be the same as the Archbishop's, and in what ways different, if at all? After all, there are considerable differences between you: he is French and in his 70s and you are German and in your 30s; you grew up in a different era, you are two distinct personalities ...

Fr. S: First of all, I must say that immediately after my election, I declared to the General Chapter that I would continue exactly the way of His Grace: in the firmness of the Faith, in maintaining the Holy Mass of all time, and in fighting for the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. Sure, there will be some differences because we act individually, one should never copy another—purely copy—it would be silly. Each man has his own character, his own particular gifts from God, his own talents. The Archbishop is a man of great experience, which I am not. So, I will have to develop my own manner of directing the Society. But, in the basic principles, I have no other wish than to be faithful to the direction which Archbishop Lefebvre has given to us ... to the way that he has taught us. The convictions are exactly the same, no different.

Mrs. G: Father, the Society has recently suffered an internal problem concerning some of its priests in the North-East District which has resulted in their dismissal. Do you agree with the Archbishop's disciplinary action?

Fr. S: Oh, yes!

Mrs. G: It is a tragedy which has touched us very deeply—especially those of us in the North-East District. Basically, Father, or briefly, what do you think was their main flaw?

Fr. S: The present-day crises in the Church—the validity of the new rites, for example, the question of the Pope—must all be studied always in the light of theology, in the light of our Faith. These priests have studied theology and philosophy, yes, but they look at the problems with a certain tendency, a certain mentality, which is difficult to understand, and they arrive at too definitive a conclusion without sufficient proof. It is a question of applying the studies to the present-day situation in the light of our Faith. It is a principle of our Faith that we must have a superior, an authority. The Catholic Church is a hierarchy, and really, these priests have refused to work with the hierarchy. It is a personal refusal on their part against Archbishop Lefebvre.

Mrs. G: Would you clear up the question of annulments? With the Church so heavily impregnated with the enemies of the Faith, how can we accept the annulments of marriage which come from there? 

Fr. S: Yes, I quite agree that the enemies are inside the Church itself, right in the inner room of the Church; they occupy the inner room. But, remember, there exists also the hidden Church and there are decisions which come from there that we are not allowed to reject. When Faith and morality is not attacked, we must accept the decisions. The Church has always, in days before, granted some annulments. Now, when a diocese gives annulments "just like that," for no reason at all, the Catholic Faith IS attacked and we do not automatically accept them. If a diocese has three or four or five annulments in one year—as in the past—I think the presumption may be that these are in order, but if in a diocese there are some hundreds or even a thousand annulments in a year, then there is a presumption that things are quite wrong. One cannot say automatically "all valid," or automatically "all invalid"—each matter must be examined individually, in the light of Truth, in the light of the Faith.

Mrs. G: I live in the North-East District. Although the Archbishop and the rest of the Society have been using the rubrics of Pope Pius XII, signed by Pope John XXIII, we, in the North-East District have only had the Mass according to the rubrics of St. Pius X and, quite frankly, Father, I myself am somewhat confused about this. Are the two missals so different?

Fr. S: No! First of all, in the Mass itself there is practically no difference. But there are some differences in the feastdays. For example, following the St. Pius X rubrics, you may have on a certain Sunday the feast of an apostle, but following the rubrics of Pope John XXIII, it would be the regular Sunday Mass. Also, in the one case, the color of the vestments would be white, while in the other it would be red. These things do not endanger our Faith.

Mrs. G: So it's essentially a calendar change?

Fr. S: Yes. Also in Holy Week there were some changes made.

Mrs. G: What were they, for instance?

Fr. S: For instance, instead of having eleven lessons on Holy Saturday, there are only four. On Good Friday, the faithful were allowed to take Communion, while before they could not. On Palm Sunday, there is a processional with red vestments (in the St. Pius XII rubrics) but before, the vestments were violet. The Preface before the Benediction of the Palms was omitted, also the Benediction of the Palms was simplified ... These are all minor changes.

Mrs. G: And these are the changes which the North-East priests have refused to accept?

Fr. S: Yes, they say that this is "the beginning of the end." They make conclusions too strongly, based on too little. One may always discuss, for or against, on one or another detail. I agree. One may say that one change is for the better, another is not. But, there is a main point which these priests are dangerously forgetting: If Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII were real Popes, then we are obliged to accept changes when there is no danger to our Faith in those changes themselves.

Mrs. G: But, Father, could not one argue that we do not accept the changes of Pope Paul VI?

Fr. S: It is easy to answer this: The changes of Pope Paul VI were against the Faith, they were a direct destruction of the Faith—a great danger! If we accept Pope Paul VI's Novus Ordo Missae, the New Mass, we accept an ecumenical liturgy which in itself puts our Faith in great danger.

Mrs. G: Are plans being made to provide the people of the North-East District with Mass centers in those places which were being serviced by the priests who have been dismissed?

Fr. S: Surely. We will undertake all that it is possible for us to do, so that we can provide Holy Mass for those who call us.

Mrs. G: They must first call?

Fr. S: Yes. For the time being, we are fewer in the North-East District and so it will be difficult for us, but we will do all we can.

Mrs. G: Of the priests to be ordained at Ecône this June, will any be sent to the North-East?

Fr. S: Surely, one or two, to the Seminary at Ridgefield and they will be able to service the Mass centers from the Seminary.

Mrs. G: Only one or two?

Fr. S: Well, they are not all priests of the Society, you know. There are French Benedictines, Dominicans, and I believe some of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration.

Mrs. G: So there are other seminaries which are training traditional priests?

Fr. S: Oh, yes. There are quite a lot of other Orders. There are also Capuchins. One Capuchin was ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre last year in Argentina and already he has recruited ten vocations! And there are quite a lot of Sisters in France who are traditional: three convents of Dominicans, two convents of Benedictines, also Franciscans—all maintaining the Tradition of the Church.

Mrs. G: Do you foresee any decree coming from the Vatican which will be favorable to the Tridentine Mass in the near future?

Fr. S: Well, you know that there was a decree which was prepared in favor of the Tridentine Mass for the whole Church. We waited and we waited—it was promised for Christmas or the beginning of this year—but it did not appear, so I do not know ...

Mrs. G: Who promised it?

Fr. S: Some Cardinals in the Vatican.

Mrs. G: Don't they expect something in exchange?

Fr. S: Well, yes. The Vatican wants to get something from the Society. It seems that they do not want to lose face in the world and they are trying to get some compromise from the Archbishop, precisely that he recognize the New Mass as Catholic, non-schismatic, and not moving into heresy, also that he not put obstacles before those who want to go to the New Mass. But these conditions are impossible to meet. And not only us, but also the priests of Brazil, of the Diocese of Campos, where Msgr. Castro de Mayer was Bishop, and all other priests who remain faithful to Tradition.

Mrs. G: Father Schmidberger, how do you personally feel about this? Would you ever entertain the possibility of some compromise? Do you think it would be worth it, say, if it were to bring so many, many souls back to the true Mass?

Fr. S: No, absolutely not. Compromise is not possible. And it would work to the contrary—the souls of those who have followed the Traditions all this time would be lost, and it would not save others. Compromise is not possible.

Mrs. G: Do you have any message for Catholics who are going along with all the Novus Ordo changes (even though they may not agree with them)? You see, The Angelus is read by a surprising number of them, as far away as India and Vatican City!

Fr. S: I encourage them to return to the Tradition of the Mass, the Tradition of the Church, and to be firm in the Apostolic Faith but not in the bitterness of their hearts, to be an apostle and a missionary and to wear this missionary intention in their hearts.

Mrs. G: What parting words do you have for American friends and benefactors?

Fr. S: I was very happy to meet the American faithful. I see their good work for the Traditions of the Church and I hope they will continue this work in unity with our Society, because our Society is nothing other than to bring about a resurrection of the hidden Church. I hope these faithful will continue to maintain us and we, for our part, will do all that we can to keep strong the Catholic Faith and go on establishing Mass centers for your spiritual well-being.

Mrs. G: Father Roche, would you like to add to that?

Fr. R: Yes, thank you. We believe that, as members of the Society of St. Pius X, we are members of the Roman Catholic Church. We hope that all the faithful, together with the priests of our Society, will beat with one heart and be of one soul in praying to God to make the Church continue. If our Society is from God, then He will keep it in His Providence.

Mrs. G: Over and over again, we are asked the same question: "what will happen when the Archbishop dies?"

Fr. S: Well, there are two problems. The first problem is the direction of the Society and the second is ordinations. These two problems may be separated. The problem of the direction of the Society, well, that has now been resolved. But the problem of ordinations—well, we have worked all these years and we continue to work, to find other bishops who are with us. There are some approaches, some contacts. It is not yet a case where they are willing to ordain priests, but there are definitely some bishops who are in agreement with our work and who urge us to continue. Bishop Castro de Mayer of Brazil is one, there is also another in Germany. There is also a bishop in ............... (a country behind the Iron Curtain) who actually wrote to the Archbishop a few years ago, stating his complete agreement with our work. He is strongly anti-communist. We have very good contacts in that country. There is one priest from there presently working with us. Although he was traditional, it was quite some time until he completely understood our thinking.

Mrs. G: Will you be making the decisions on which priests will be allowed to become associated with the Society?

Fr. S: Yes, I will be making those decisions. There must be great care used in choosing collaborators because we have not the right to expose our faithful to spiritual dangers. We have gotten some priests from time to time who join us and their intentions are good but they still have "novus ordo ways" a little bit—it is some time before they fully understand our thinking. But it is not possible for us to keep priests who are not in keeping with our philosophy. It is better to have fewer priests, and only good priests, good collaborators, than to have a lot of priests who are not sure.

Mrs. G: What will be the procedure?

Fr. S: Well, first, the District Superior will study the matter and then it must be submitted to the Superior General.

Mrs. G: Will you be seeking the counsel of Archbishop Lefebvre on these matters?

Fr. S: Yes. I think that during the rest of the Archbishop's life, I will be asking him a lot of questions. It is he who has laid the foundation of the Society, and he has had great experience, not only in the Society of St. Pius X but before, also he had the direction of the Holy Ghost Fathers which had 5,000 members, and he was their Superior—an immense responsibility! In addition, under Pope Pius XII, he was Apostolic Delegate to Africa where he had sixty-four dioceses under his hand!

Mrs. G: So, you will be able to draw from the acquired wisdom of all that experience!

Fr. S: The greatest grace of my life is the gift of the Priesthood from the Good God. But there is another grace that I esteem very highly, that is the grace to be with Archbishop Lefebvre, to collaborate with him, to follow him, to work under his direction. It is a very great grace for me. I would say it is the second greatest grace of my life after the Priesthood.