An Interview with Bishop Fellay

-SSPX Superior General Expects Clarifying Theological Discussions

-Says Even Some Cardinals See "Devil at Work" in Recent Media Firestorm

Brian Mershon

-Exclusive to The Remnant-

(Posted 2/18/09 In this exclusive interview for The Remnant since the lifting of the excommunications of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), General Superior Bishop Bernard Fellay emphasizes that the path forward would be determined by what he expects to be extensive but, hopefully fruitful, theological discussions on the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

In addition to the SSPX’s desire to have more explicit theological precision as to the authority and teachings of the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Fellay revealed the following:

-  The lifting of the excommunications could be attributed in great part to the million Rosary Crusade.

-  The full extent of the media attacks upon the SSPX and Holy Father were unexpected.

-  Certain Vatican cardinals believe the Devil was at work in the ensuing media onslaught.

-  Theological points need to be resolved before moving forward.

-  Theological discussions should take place out of the media spotlight.

Mershon: The Vatican, in a letter dated January 21, 2009, from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, dissolved the 1988 decree of excommunication of the four Society Bishops. Faithful Catholics associated with the Society, as well as many Catholic worldwide who identify with your cause, attributed this at least in part to the recent 1.7 million decades of the rosary which were offered for the lifting of the excommunications. To what extent do you attribute the Holy Father’s decision to this spiritual bouquet?

Bp. Fellay: All is in God’s hands and God knows best. The interaction between God’s plan for the world and men’s doing is a great mystery of the Faith. I am sure that without the Rosary Crusade, the decree of January 21 would not have been issued. God knew both the Rosary Crusade and the Holy Father’s decision. Every prayer had its part in God’s plan.

Mershon: In several public statements over the past few years, you predicted that if the Holy Father were to dissolve the excommunications of the Society bishops there would be a large internal battle and perhaps some dissent from bishops and even cardinals within the Church. What do you hear regarding that battle not only against the SSPX, but the Holy Father as well?

Bp. Fellay: In fact, I do not have much feedback from what is happening at the Vatican right now. I just see that there is a fight, with some supporting the Pope, and others using the present situation to put pressure on the Pope and his friends.

Mershon: Did you ever think this would result in so much negative publicity and attacks from the secular media?

Bp. Fellay: Definitely not. In fact, I had no specific idea what the reactions of the media or the bishops’ conferences would be. It is obvious, and this has been going on for years, that there is a strong opposition against us among the progressivists, but it was impossible to imagine that they would have used such weapons against us as they have now been doing for weeks.

And unfortunately, Bishop Williamson provided them with an unhoped-for weapon to launch their attack against us. And so the secular world and the progressivists together were able to attack us and create tremendous pressure upon the Pope about something that has nothing to do with the Faith. It would seem that several cardinals were able to discern in that turmoil and storm that the Devil was at work. Let us hope that they will go further in their conclusions.

Mershon: What is next? Do you have a specific timetable for the theological discussions on the difficult points of Vatican II? Can you tell us who will participate in these talks from the SSPX and from within the Roman curia?

Bp. Fellay: We have no timetable yet. We shall see with Rome in the upcoming months how things will develop with these necessary talks about doctrine and also important elements of Christian life. We will reveal in due time the names of those who will participate in these talks.

It is obvious that part of these discussions must take place in a peaceful atmosphere, far away from the media, in order to be fruitful. We will certainly give the necessary information to our faithful. But all this must first become a concrete reality.

Mershon: Your letter to your Catholic faithful said, “We are ready to write the Creed in our own blood, to sign the anti-modernist oath, the profession of faith of Pius IV, we accept and make our own all the Councils up to the Second Vatican Council about which we accept some reservations.” In subsequent interviews by Cardinal Castrillón and yourself, it was claimed that perhaps Vatican II was not as large as stumbling block as many suspected. Cardinal Castrillón said that you had already accepted it “theologically.” And in your interview with Monde & Vie, you indicated that sufficient clarification was needed, but not necessarily an exhaustive list of theological points that could carry on endlessly. Could you clarify for us the specific points, presumably on the Decree on Ecumenism and Declaration on Religious Liberty over which you will seek clarification? Perhaps Gaudium et Spes also?

Bp. Fellay: First of all, if someone thinks that I have watered down our position, he is wrong. Our position remains exactly the same. And when I said that sufficient clarification is needed and not necessarily an exhaustive list of theological points, I mean that all the essential points and principles which have led the Church into the present crisis need to be solved; but of course, not all the conclusions that would take too long and could be an endless task. Once the principles are sound the conclusions will follow by themselves.

The specific points: we are confronted with a huge mountain. First, there is a spirit, which we may call modernism. There is also a very ambiguous language that has been used along the pattern of the language of modern philosophy. This gives the false spirit which permeated the whole Council. The fact that there are so many ambiguities leads to several interpretations of the texts, and even Pope Benedict XVI condemned the extremist interpretations of the ultra-progressivists.

Next, we have the whole question of the relations between the Church and the world. In the Council, a very positive and human-centered vision spoils everything, especially in Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium. There is a much too positive way of considering the other religions, which at the time, were still called “false religions.” Now this term has been dropped. Does it mean that they would be truer now?

Religious liberty is a fundamental element of modern thinking and of modern philosophy. Of course, you may find some good points in other religions, but the true doctrine must be found in profound and necessary distinctions.

Let us take human rights, for instance. The Church has always defended and protected many human rights. The Church says that these rights flow from men’s duties toward their Creator. They are not absolute; they are always dependent upon the true and the good. You will never find a right which is based on error or evil.  Therefore, to place the emphasis upon the human person, as it is done now, may lead to profound error. And this does not mean that there is not a true and necessary use of human conscience, for instance. ... Indeed, we have an enormous task lying ahead of us.

Mershon: The present Holy Father (in his letter to the Bishop of Chile in 1988), as well as Pope Paul VI himself, both said the Second Vatican Council was primarily pastoral, with no note of dogmatic declarations from the Extraordinary Magisterial level. With this in mind, what type of decisions do you expect to reach with the Holy See?

Bp. Fellay: We will present to the Holy See our questions, our problems. We hope they will be phrased clearly enough so that the right and appropriate answers will be given. We definitely expect from the Holy Father and the Holy See a true clarification of the Council. What needs to be corrected must be corrected. What needs to be rejected must be rejected. What needs to be accepted must be accepted.

Mershon: The Institute of the Good Shepherd was reportedly allowed to retain their theological opinions while continuing to engage in discussion over the disputed points of Vatican II, without polemics, at the heart of the Church.  Do you foresee a similar mission for the Society of St. Pius X? How might it differ from that of the Institute of the Good Shepherd?

Bp. Fellay: There is no comparison between the Institute of the Good Shepherd and the work we are beginning. Indeed, in the document of their constitutions there was a mention of engaging into discussion about disputed issues. But up to now, where are those discussions? I don’t know of any. We are in a completely different situation in our relation with the Holy See because the Holy See recognizes the necessity of engaging in doctrinal studies and talks with us.

Mershon: Of course the Society recognizes the Second Vatican Council as a Council of the Church. Do you believe that you will be expected to adhere to more than that—with the understanding that you adhere to the documents with the same theological authority and certitude in which the Church herself holds them?

Bp. Fellay: If we go by the last statement from the Secretary of State, we may fear that Rome might like to impose upon us a full acceptance of Vatican II. But again, what does this mean? What is the real Vatican II when there are so many different interpretations?  Even within the last 40 years, what was Vatican II? It is, according to its own definition, a pastoral, and not a dogmatic Council, and so it cannot be suddenly interpreted as fully dogmatic. And regarding the authority of the documents, because we do not find any kind of clear pronouncement of their authority, there is great confusion on this issue. Very clearly, its authority cannot be greater now than what the Council itself meant it to be. And the Council did not want to be infallible.

Mershon: Do you foresee any oversight by territorial diocesan bishops once the Society is regularized?

Bp. Fellay: That would be our death. The situation of the Church is such that once the doctrinal issues have been clarified, we will need our own autonomy in order to survive. This means that we will have to be directly under the authority of the Pope with an exemption. If we look at the history of the Church, we see that every time the Popes wanted to restore the Church, they leaned upon new strength like the Benedictine Cistercians whom the pope allowed to act as best as possible during the crisis, in a status of exemption, in order to overcome the crisis.

Mershon: Do you expect a personal prelature or perhaps an Apostolic Administration for the SSPX, reporting directly to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei?

Bp. Fellay: It would seem that the project Rome has in store for us is going in that direction. But I am not certain.

Mershon: You have spoken in the past about some bishops, cardinals and maybe even Curia members, who are friendly to the SSPX and its cause.  Can you name them or give us a clue as to who they are and how many?

Bp. Fellay: The situation of the Church, once again, is such that we cannot give any names. It would make life too difficult or unbearable for these churchmen. We certainly meet with more sympathy with some bishops. But as long as they do not declare it themselves publicly, it is not prudent for us to say anything.

Mershon: How extensive do you see the theological discussions taking place? What timeframe do you expect for the full canonical regularization and subsequent mission for the SSPX?

Bp. Fellay: I have no idea about the time necessary either for the work on the doctrinal questions or afterward for the establishment of the new canonical structure.  Once again, I wish to insist that the present situation shows very clearly that it is unthinkable to address the canonical question before having solved the main theological problems.

Mershon: This dialogue with the Holy See began with your meeting with Pope John Paul II during the Year of the Jubilee in which you reportedly exchanged brief greetings and prayed the Pater with the Holy Father.  How much do you attribute this potential path to full recognition to Pope John Paul II and that initial meeting?

Bp. Fellay: It is very difficult to say whether the first initiative came from the Pope or from certain cardinals’ influence upon him. We know that for years, some cardinals, and maybe even the Pope himself, had been aware of the crisis, and even of the depth of the crisis—even if we did not agree with them on every point, and especially on the causes of the crisis. At the same time, they consider us as potential helpful forces to overcoming the crisis. But I would not grant too much importance to the meeting with Pope John Paul II since we did not talk at all. I only considered it as a small step forward in a process that had already begun.

Mershon: Are there tendencies toward anti-Semitism in the ranks of the SSPX?  Is it "anti-Semitic" in your opinion, to pray and work and dialogue for the conversion of religious Jews to the Catholic Faith?  And why do you think there is such sensitivity in the media to supposed “anti-Semitism” as if it were under every rock? Do you think there is just as much anti-Catholicism from politicians, media and other decision-makers in Western society? If so, why do you believe the anti-Catholicism gets a free pass from the secular media even from most Catholic media?

Bp. Fellay: The words “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Semitism” are ambiguous. They have at least two completely different meanings. First, the word “Semite” refers to all the people who are descendants of Sem, one of Noah’s three sons. Not only the Jews, but also the Arabs belong to this branch of mankind; they are all Semites.

In this sense, the word refers to races, to people, and it has no religious connotation. Anti-Semitism is condemned by the Church as a species of racism. Racism is both an injustice and goes against the commandment of charity toward our neighbor.

There is another meaning given to anti-Semitism, which is connected to religion, and specifically, the Jewish religion. In the present situation, anyone who makes any remarks about the Jewish religion, or, for instance, says that the Jewish people should embrace the Faith, could very easily be labeled as anti-Semitic. But this is wrong. In fact, to answer your question, in the world there is much more anti-Catholicism than anti-Semitism. The problem is that anti-Catholicism remains in the religious domain, whereas anti-Semitism is almost immediately connected with the Jewish people, which is, once again, very ambiguous and imprecise.

Mershon:There are reports that Cardinal Re was not very happy with the Pope ordering him to write the letter dissolving the excommunications. Supposedly, he and others in the Curia are not pleased with the influence wielded by Cardinal Castrillón on this important matter. Can you confirm or deny these reports? How do you expect relationships to go forward with the Roman curia and other bishops, assuming canonical regularization and a juridical mission is finalized soon?

Bp. Fellay: I can neither confirm nor deny these reports. I am not in the Roman curia and what is happening inside it is unknown to me. What I see is that Cardinal Re did sign the decree, from which I assume that he obeyed the Holy Father.

Mershon: Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share with Catholics interested in this “joyful news for the whole Church”, as Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi dubbed it?

Bp. Fellay: If we look at the way these excommunications were surprisingly lifted; if we especially look at the undeniable link between this fact of the decree remitting the excommunications and the unbelievable turmoil aroused just after and based upon an incident that had nothing to do with the Faith, we cannot but see that there are forces let loose there which are not human.

I have heard from several cardinals that they believe it was the Devil that was let loose. And whenever the Devil rages with so much violence and uproar, it is a good sign. We may not yet realize all that it means. But for us, it is an invitation to pray, and sacrifice more.

The Church is a supernatural being essentially, and we cannot fully explain the Church, or even the fruits and consequences of human acts performed in the Church if we look only at the human side.

The head of the Church is, and remains, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The soul of the Church is the Holy Ghost Himself. Our Lord promised that His Church would be indefectible. So let us do our best, be faithful to our duty of state, pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and pray our rosary.

And then, everything will end well.