After the Pope’s audience with the Superior of the Saint Pius X Fraternity
«Rapprochement by unhasty stages, but not too slow either»
Interview with Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of «Ecclesia Dei», on relations between Rome and the Lefebvrians
Interview with Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos by Gianni Cardinale
Members of the Saint Pius X Fraternity in procession toward the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica on 8 August 2000
The news of the audience granted by Pope Benedict XVI, though not published by the “Our News” feature of L’Osservatore Romano, appeared, however, in a short paragraph at the bottom of page 4 in the official newspaper of the Holy See dated 31 August.
30Days asked Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos about the hearing of August 29, at which Don Franz Schmidberger, an old collaborator of Monsignor Lefebvre and well known to Pope Ratzinger, was also present. Since April 2000 Cardinal Hoyos has been President of the Pontifical Commission «Ecclesia Dei», the Vatican body concerned with relations with the variegated traditionalist world, and has also, since 1996, been head of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Your Eminence, what was the nature of the audience granted by the Pope to the Superior General of the Saint Pius X Fraternity?
DARÍOCASTRILLÓN HOYOS: The audience is part of a process that began with a very important intervention by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who signed a protocol of agreement with Monsignor Lefebvre before the latter decided to proceed to the episcopal consecrations of 1988.
Monsignor Lefebvre did not back off…
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: Unfortunately Monsignor Lefebvre went ahead with the consecration and hence the situation of separation came about, even if it was not a formal schism.
Then there was no more official contact up to the Great Jubilee of 2000.
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: As President of the Pontifical Commission «Ecclesia Dei», learning that they were on a pilgrimage to Rome, I invited the bishops ordained by Monsignor Lefebvre to lunch, for an informal meeting, to get to know each other. Since then I have had many meetings with His Excellence Monsignor Fellay and with other members of the Fraternity. Meetings that have always taken place in a very positive atmosphere. So much so that at a certain point I believed we were really very close to a full rapprochement.
Was the Pope aware of these contacts?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: John Paul II was constantly informed of them all. Not only that. The Pontiff himself received for a brief meeting in his private chapel Monsignor Fellay and Don Michele Simoulin, then Superior of the communion of the Fraternity of Albano Laziale. There was no true and proper dialogue, but on that occasion the Pope expressed the wish that dialogue could be taken up by imparting his blessing.
Earlier you suggested that at a certain moment you thought that rapprochement was imminent; then what happened?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: I got the impression, from His Excellence Monsignor Fellay, and from his collaborators, of something like fear, as if Rome were laying a trap for them. As if the Holy See intended to absorb them so as then to close off the possibility of celebrating the mass of Saint Pius V and clamping down on their critical remarks on some developments and interpretations following Vatican Council II. So there was no rapprochement, but dialogue has continued.
In this context, in 2001, there was, however, rapprochement with the Brazilian group close to the Fraternity, the one now headed by Monsignor Fernando Arêas Rifan, who was elected in 2002 by the Holy See as bishop and titular of the personal apostolic administration of San Giovanni Maria Vianney in Campos.
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: There the situation was very different, because while the Saint Pius X Fraternity is an unrecognized association, served by bishops who declare themselves “auxiliaries”, in Brazil instead Bishop Castro Mayer when he renounced the diocese, was followed by a fifty or so priests who in fact maintained a parallel organization to the diocese. When Monsignor Castro Mayer died, one of the priests was consecrated bishop by the Lefebvrian bishops. Thanks be to God this bishop, Monsignor Rangel, and his priests, amongst whom the current bishop administrator apostolic Monsignor Rifan, at the moment of asking for rapprochement, distancing himself in this from the bishops of the Fraternity, recognized that the conditions that Monsignor Lefebvre in his time called “of necessity”, no longer existed to justify the consecration of bishops without apostolic mandate. And this because the Pope had manifested his wish of granting them the use of the Tridentine rite, recognizing their particularity. On their side there was the recognition of the validity of the new rite of the Mass and of the legitimacy of Vatican Council II, though proposing to keep up respectful and honest discussion on some less clear Council texts, on some interpretations of those texts and on some developments after Vatican II.
Do you think the solution adopted in Campos successful?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: The facts confirm it. Thanks be to God, the faithful and the priests of the diocese and of the administration co-exist in fraternal fashion, the two bishops meet frequently for the necessary coordination. Not only that. A dozen bishops from Brazil have already signed conventions with the administration to help the faithful of their dioceses who love the old liturgy.
But it was a solution that didn’t please the leaders of the Fraternity…
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: Yes, the Campos solution was a delicate moment. Because the Fraternity was annoyed. Whereas for me it was something providential because it showed a possible way for a wider solution of the question.
Darío Castrillón Hoyos
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: The audience was requested by Monsignor Fellay through the normal channels, through me as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and President of «Ecclesia Dei», given that the Saint Pius X Fraternity is a priestly body composed of priests validly ordained even if in an illegal way. The request was passed to the Pope. And the Pope decided to grant the audience. Ratzinger the theologian, Cardinal Ratzinger, with his great duties, had always kept up with the question and knew the question and the persons involved in the dialogue well. Pope Benedict XVI could add to that the special presence of the Holy Spirit guaranteed by the fact of having become Peter’s Successor.
What can you tell us of the audience?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: It was a meeting under the sign of charity, in the theological sense, of love of God and of His Church. It was a conversation among brothers who desire, with the help of God, to knit back the fabric of full unity. The Pope let those present speak: Monsignor Fellay, Father Schmidberger and myself. And then the Holy Father spoke, making a strong appeal for unity and expressing the wish that future rapprochement come by unhasty stages, but not too slow.
What observations were made by the Superior of the Saint Pius X?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: Monsignor Fellay, but this was known even beforehand, was able to express his fears on the state of the Catholic Church in the light of the abuses, not only liturgical, that have occurred since Vatican Council II. I believe that critical contributions of that sort that can come from the Fraternity can be a treasure for the Church, when expressed under the charisma of Peter and in charity among brethren. In the Church in fact we are all free to formulate critical observations on what doesn’t concern dogma and the essential discipline of the Church itself. On that subject I can testify that Cardinal Ratzinger was already fully convinced of the need for theological dialogue on the difficult points. In full unity there is more light to be found for studying these sensitive points.
After the audience an authoritative cardinal suggested that the Fraternity should recognize the legitimacy of the present Pontiff…
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: Unfortunately that is proof that within the Church, even at high levels, there is not always full knowledge of the Fraternity. The Fraternity has always recognized in John Paul II, and now in Benedict XVI, the legitimate successor of Saint Peter. That is not a problem. That then there are traditionalist groups that don’t recognize the last popes, the so-called “empty throne” people, is another question that doesn’t concern the Saint Pius X Fraternity.
It is known that the Saint Pius X Fraternity is asking the Holy See for a liberalization of the so-called Tridentine mass and a declaration affirming that this liturgy has never been abolished.
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: The mass of Saint Pius V has never been abolished. As for liberalization, I remember that under the pontificate of John Paul II there was a meeting of all the department heads of the Roman Curia, in which the vast majority were not against such a request. It would be dangerous to create opposition between the old rite and the new. The liturgy cannot be a battlefield. As priest, as cardinal and as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, I feel great pain in seeing the unacceptable language at times used of the wish of Jesus to give his own body and blood, and to entrust them to his Church. And this is true of some spokesmen of the Saint Pius X Fraternity, but not only them.
Are many bishops against?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: At times the pastoral anxiety of a bishop leads him to think that granting permission to celebrate the Tridentine mass in his diocese may create confusion among the people of God. And when believers who ask for this type of celebration are very few, the perplexity can be understood. Whereas when it’s a more substantial group wanting the mass, it’s up to the Pontifical Commission «Ecclesia Dei» to remind the bishop, honestly and kindly, that the wish of Peter’s Successor is of be generous in responding in favor of these believers. And I see with joy that, day after day, there are ever more who so respond.
You are well acquainted with the traditionalist world. How do you judge the personal piety of the priests who belong to it?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: Many traditionalist priests I have known have made an excellent impression on me: they have a sincere love for the mystery. Unfortunately there can also be fanatics who are bound to the old liturgy as one can be bound to a mathematical formula of which one doesn’t even understand the value in depth.
Do you think they represent the legacy of a past in any case on the way to extinction?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: At the World Day of Youth in Cologne there was a considerable group of young people attached to the traditional mass. The echoes have been positive. And it shows how short-sighted it is to consider the traditionalist phenomenon as on the way to exhaustion. Not least because in the traditionalist world, in proportion, the number of priestly vocations is decidedly superior to that of many diocese in the Church.
In September 2001 John Paul II, in a speech to the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship, praised the «very fine prayers» in the Missal of Saint Pius V. The speech was published with unusual delay by L’Osservatore Romano and has never been published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, though it usually prints papal speeches to the plenary assemblies of the Roman departments. When you then, on 24 May 2003, celebrated, for the first time after the post-council liturgical reform, a Tridentine mass in a patriarchal Roman basilica, that of Saint Mary Major, L’Osservatore Romano totally ignored the event. What do you think of these two acts of “censorship”?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos during the “Tridentine” mass celebrated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major 24 May 2003
Do you think that the above-mentioned speech of John Paul II may be finally published in the Acta?
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: If it wasn’t the explicit wish of the Pope not to publish that speech, even when it was he who made it, I think it’s a serious thing not to have done so.
The title of a piece in Corriere della Sera of 26 August, anticipating the audience of three days later, described relations between the so-called Lefebvrians and the Holy See as “the impossible peace”.
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: The newspapers can say that and a great many other things. Luckily, and I stress luckily, newspapers are not infallible.
Your Eminence, a last word for those who reproach the Fraternity with using rough language, at times verging on irreverence, towards the Holy See.
CASTRILLÓN HOYOS: It can cause distress, but at bottom I’m not surprised by the fact that words, articles, letters may appear that use a rather crude language. Including some statements attributed to His excellency Monsignor Fellay. Until there is full unity, and so full mutual charity, one can’t be scandalized if there is still some verbal intemperance. It’s always well to keep in mind Augustine’s saying: «In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas».