After the audience given by the Pope to the Superior of the Saint Pius X Fraternity
«We don’t want to impose any diktat»
An interview with Monsignor Bernard Fellay. The Superior of the Lefebvrians tells of his meeting with Benedict XVI and states: «We don't want to impose previous conditions on the Holy See»
interview with Monsignor Bernard Fellay by Gianni Cardinale
«Today S. E. R. Monsignor Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Saint Pius X Fraternity, met the Holy Father Benedict XVI in his residence at Castel Gandolfo. On leaving the audience he made the following declaration: “The meeting lasted around thirty-five minutes, in a tranquil atmosphere. The audience was the occasion for the Fraternity to show that it has always been attached and will always be so to the Holy See, Eternal Rome. We recalled the serious difficulties already known in a spirit of great love for the Church. We agreed to go ahead by stages in the attempt to resolve the problems. The Saint Pius X Fraternity prays that the Holy Father may find the strength to put an end to the crisis of the Church by setting all things in Christ.”»
Monsignor Bernard Fellah
So the Saint Pius X Fraternity announced the audience given on 29 August by Benedict XVI to the Superior Monsignor Fellay. 30Days had a telephone conversation with the successor of Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre in the headquarters of the Fraternity, in Menzingen, Switzerland.
Monsignor Fellay, what is the significance of this audience?
BERNARD FELLAY: It was a meeting that fitted in, I would dare say normally, with the colloquy between us and Rome that began in 2000 and that has developed, perhaps slowly, but is well in line with what both we and the Holy See desire: a normal relation from Rome toward its Tradition and consequently of the Fraternity toward Rome, in such a way that the Fraternity can continue its apostolate without the shadows of today.
What reasons pushed you to ask for an audience?
FELLAY: First of all love for the Church. And then the fact that there is a new Pontiff, and it was natural for us to ask for an audience to reverence and pay homage to the new Successor of Peter, our Pope. That was the first reason. Then in the wake of the dialogue over these last five years we also wanted to try to grasp what might be expected for the future. And to present to the Pope what we see as the status quaestionis... The problem set by the Fraternity will naturally resolve itself in rapprochement of the current Church with its past. «I have the conviction», Pope Pius XII said, «that the Church of Peter must claim its past; otherwise it will dig its own grave» [cf Georges Rooche and Philippe Saint Germain: Pio XII devant l’histoire, Paris 1972, pp. 52-53, ed.]
Did you have occasion to repeat your conditions for shortening the time for a full rapprochement?
FELLAY: We don’t want to set the Holy Father previous conditions. It is not our intention to impose any diktat. That is not our position. We only say that if we want to build a bridge, we should necessarily think first of the piers that must support it.
The first pier would be liberalization in the use of the so-called Tridentine mass.
FELLAY: What interests us is that in the Church the climate of generalized hostility, at times persecutory, should change toward all that is considered traditional, toward all that is tied to the Tradition. And this at present makes normal life impossible for those Catholics who are tied to the Tradition. Our suggestion for changing this climate is that what is already a situation of existing law be formally declared, and that is that the mass of Saint Pius V has never been abolished and hence can be freely celebrated by all. It doesn’t seem an exorbitant request to us. It would be very useful in changing the hostile climate surrounding the whole traditionalist world.
The second pier would be then the revocation of the excommunications given out by the Holy See in 1988.
FELLAY: In our group there is mistrust of the ecclesiastical authority because of sufferings undergone in the past and down to today. And to overcome this mistrust the revocation of the so-called excommunication would be a very timely solution, given that, furthermore, it is founded on an alleged schism that in reality doesn’t exist.
Are you satisfied with how the audience went?
FELLAY: It went well. Certainly it left a little bitterness in one’s mouth because there wasn’t time to say everything. But on the other hand that was impossible in a thirty-minute audience. One couldn’t expect more than what happened. It’s important that the Pope received us and it’s a good sign that he gave us all that time with benevolence. The atmosphere was tranquil, even though the existing problems did not remain unspoken.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, you did not hide your satisfaction because at bottom he was your “preferred candidate” among the so-called “papabili” of the Sacred College.
FELLAY: It’s true, and I continue to think so even after the audience. There are many points that speak in favor of the current Pope. He knows our case very well and right from the beginning, perhaps better than anyone else. He also knows very well the Roman Curia, and that is very important for the pontificate. The sacredness of the liturgy is close to his heart and he’s aware of the importance of doctrine; that, too, plays in his favor. And finally he seems to want to govern the Curia, and that pleases us.
What do you think could be the main obstacle to achieving full rapprochement?
FELLAY: The understanding of Vatican Council II. The very fact that it is said that Vatican Council II must be interpreted in the light of Tradition, means that the Council texts are not in themselves clear and that they therefore need interpretation. And that profound ambiguity cannot but be considered one of the causes of the current crisis in the Church.
Would it not be sufficient for you to remember that Vatican Council II was a pastoral Council and not a dogmatic one?
FELLAY: That is the very reason why we permit ourselves to make critical observations on some Council documents. If the Council had proclaimed dogmas, we certainly couldn’t allow ourselves. On the other hand, for what is not declared in infallible fashion by the Magisterium there should be, within the proper limits, freedom to criticize, without being persecuted for it.
So in some way you want to have the freedom to express different judgments on the historic condition of the Church...
Entry procession to a mass of the Saint Pius X Fraternity in Ecône in Switzerland
FELLAY: As for that, it happens habitually in the Church of today. How many priests, teachers and bishops do so without thereby being questioned or suspected? The paradox is that instead that possibility is denied us a priori.
Is there resistance within the Fraternity to these colloquies with the Holy See?
FELLAY: It exists, but it’s only the outcome of the mistrust in the ecclesiastical authority that I explained earlier. It’s a phenomenon that I can’t deny. And that explains the prudence with which we go ahead in dialogue. And that is why I also perfectly understand the prudence of the Holy Father. I understand that if the Holy Father does anything in our favor, he encounters obstacles and enormous resistances, that’s for sure.
What might the next stage be in this dialogue with Rome?
FELLAY: We are waiting for something from Rome in favor of Tradition, not toward us in particular, but in favor of believers tied to Tradition. A gesture that demonstrates that Tradition in the Church is a normal thing, not tied to concessions or indulgence. This is already stated in words, but the facts speak differently.
Even among ecclesiastical figures who look on the Fraternity and its link with the pre-conciliar liturgy with sincere liking, there is sometime puzzlement at statements that seem at times to evoke an unacceptable nostalgia for an ancien régime, for an alliance between throne and altar that has fallen out of history…
FELLAY: The fact that there are no longer any Catholic states means that there is no longer any protection for the Church and that laws are approved contrary to the Christian ethic. With disastrous consequences for the salvation of souls. We cannot remain silent about that.
But by now, as you yourself say, Catholic states no longer exist, given also the crisis in the Church that you denounce with force…
FELLAY: From a factual point of view that is true and hence in this field one needs to act with the necessary prudence. We know very well that the faith is communicated by the grace of God. One can’t presume to impose the faith on anybody with violence. And then who could do it today? But as a matter of principle one can’t exclude the possibility that the faith may spread in such a way that, for the salvation of souls and the good life of men, a political entity might arise that shapes its own legislation in conformity with the divine law.
Have you had any reactions from Catholic bishops since the audience of 29 August?
FELLAY: No, so far there have been none. Perhaps they are waiting to see what happens.
Monsignor Fellay, your critical stances on the ecumenicalism encouraged by the Holy See after Vatican Council II are known. But do you have contacts with other Churches or ecclesial communities?
FELLAY: There are contacts with Orthodox priests and bishops. It sometimes happens that they turn to us with sympathy because they consider us anti-Roman schismatics. We don’t like that at all. We are not schismatics and we care very greatly for the bond with Rome. And then there have been Orthodox bishops who have asked to belong to the Catholic Church through belonging to our Fraternity. To those I have always answered that they must address themselves to the Bishop of Rome, to the Pope. We are not and don’t want to be a parallel Church, and I am not an antipope!