"SSPX Not in Schism"
Rome Has Spoken

Michael J. Matt
Editor, The Remnant

In its No. 9, 2005 issue, the highly respected 30 Days featured an interview with Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission.  The interview dealt with relations between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as well as other related matters.  It can be found online at: http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo_stampa.asp?id=9360

The interview is fast emerging as a major event since it contained several long-awaited admissions on the part of the Vatican with respect to the status of the late Archbishop Lefebvre’s priestly fraternity as well as the old Mass.

The Remnant has often been accused of riding a “dangerous trajectory towards schism” for remaining friendly with the SSPX and defending them against the charge of schism.  Our contention since the early 1990s has been that, while the SSPX certainly has an irregular standing vis-à-vis the Vatican (resulting from an in-Church dispute over the disastrous Second Vatican Council and the New Mass), this does not rise to the level of formal schism. Happily, the President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission has made that contention official. The pertinent excerpt from 30Days speaks for itself:

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. (Emphasis added)

Just like that, a highly contentious issue that’s been dividing Catholics since 1988 was settled. And it’s impossible to believe that a man in the Cardinal’s elevated position, with his closely guarded reputation for discretion, could have acted in this regard without the Pope’s foreknowledge.

But, there’s more.  We’ve all grown accustomed to the neo-Catholics charging all traditionalists with “closet sedevacantism”, especially the priests and bishops of the SSPX.  Cardinal Hoyos put the lie to that as well:

After the audience [between SSPX head Bishop Bernard Fellay and Pope Benedict on August 29, 2005) 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.

Next, the coup de grace.  His Eminence conceded a point that traditionalists have been contesting for 35 years—that the old Mass was abrogated and, as such,  requires a special permission or “indult” for use:

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…

That is, Pope Paul VI never actually abrogated the Tridentine Mass!  It’s still there just as it always has been, and the “option” called the Novus Ordo Missae is just that—an option, which Catholics are free to reject.

End of story! Traditionalists win!  We don’t pretend to know why Cardinal Castrillón elected to make these statements which are now part of the permanent record, but, clearly, the debate is over.  It is up to us now to try to use them to mend fences with those neo-Catholics whose polemic against traditionalism has just been totally annihilated. Perhaps this startling development will also lead to a ceasefire between traditional Catholics, allowing us to direct our ideological weaponry away from each other and toward the myriad enemies of the old Faith that need so desperately to be driven out of our Church. 

Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos is to be credited and heartily thanked for his refreshingly honest clarifications.

Bishop Fellay in St. Paul

On November 5, 2005, Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel (SSPX) in St. Paul played host to the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who delivered a  report on the negotiations between the SSPX and the Vatican. 

In the wake of the Aug. 29 meeting between Bishop Fellay, Fr. Schmidberger, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, and Pope Benedict XVI, which lasted 35 minutes and took place at Castle Gandolfo, rumors began to fly about an imminent split inside the SSPX over a Campos-style capitulation.  Catholic World Report went so far as to claim that Bishop Richard Williamson was reduced to playing the part of spoiler out of protest:

But Bishop Richard Williamson, the most outspoken member of the SSPX hierarchy, is no diplomat.  In a mid-summer Internet message to his followers, Bishop Williamson revealed the plans for Bishop Fellay’s meeting with the Pope—making it clear that he was not pleased  by the prospect.  As the news of Bishop Williamson’s revelation filtered out, Vatican officials—always speaking under the cloak of anonymity—confirmed that the meeting had been scheduled.

(The Catholic World Report, October 2005, p. 22)

As I listened to Fellay’s 3-hour presentation here in St. Paul, however, it became evident that the rumors were just that—rumors.  He categorically denied that there is any split whatsoever inside the SSPX. 

In addition, a source close to Bishop Williamson confirmed the same thing to us, suggesting that rumors of an alleged split between Bishops Fellay and Williamson may even have been the concoction of certain entities which resent the Society’s singular position as the non-compromising traditionalist heavyweight of the world.

For three hours, a forthright Bishop Fellay discussed the history of the SSPX negotiations with the Vatican, beginning with the early meetings between Archbishop Lefebvre and Pope Paul VI, and culminating with details of Fellay’s own Aug. 29 meeting with the new Pope. 

Throughout his presentation he spoke with almost childlike awe and admiration for Archbishop Lefebvre, dispelling even the faintest whiff of any inclination to change the course charted by the revered Archbishop.

He also touched upon the cautious optimism with which his Society had initially received news of the election of Cardinal Ratzinger. He referenced the many favorable-to-tradition statements uttered by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger over the years, which certainly verify that the new Pope was at least well aware of the crisis in the Church.  In light of all that, said Fellay, Catholics were right to have that “glimmer of hope” where Pope Benedict was concerned, even if renewed disappointment remained a very real possibility.

He admitted that it was the SSPX who’d initially sought an audience with the Pope.  Why?  To show the Pope and the world that “we are Catholics attached to Rome, as we’ve always been.”

He also discussed the most serious impasse to a reconciliation: The Second Vatican Council!  He made it  clear that it is the SSPX’s resistance to the New Mass and Council that is at issue.  And he explained exactly what Pope Benedict means by “interpreting the Council in light of tradition,” and warned his audience not to fall for the trap of a “changing tradition.”

Still, Fellay’s intention is to keep open the lines of communication with the Vatican.  Before the Aug. 29 meeting, he had sent a letter to the Pope enumerating the serious doctrinal questions that must be resolved if there is to be any hope for successful negotiations one day. During the meeting itself, there was some evidence of the Pope having  read the letter, as he made references to topics raised in it.  For example, during the meeting His Holiness conceded that there is indeed a “state of emergency” in the Church...a point that had only been discussed in Fellay’s preliminary letter.

In other words, Bishop Fellay’s tactics seem to be as sound as they are Catholic. The traditional Catholic world seems to have in the bishops of the SSPX able-bodied representatives who are personally taking the traditional Catholic case—not deeper into the vast wastelands of Cyberspace—but directly to the feet of Peter himself.

It is difficult to fathom why any serious traditionalist would regard this as anything less than a tremendous blessing, especially as there is no evidence of unjust  compromise in the SSPX works.

After his talk, I asked Bishop Fellay if he could assure us that the SSPX will never under any circumstances field a contingent at World Youth Day.  I was only half joking;  the Bishop’s answer was serious: No, never!  It was obvious that he knew very well what I was getting at.

Bishop Fellay’s talk prompted us to wonder if the SSPX might be inadvertently positioning itself to become one of the most significant influences on the beleaguered Vatican in the Church today. It’s already applying serious traditionalist pressure on an aging and perhaps somewhat disillusioned hierarchy.  With the Grace of God, who knows where that might lead. 

One is reminded of the story of the Nazi SS-Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler who, after using every means at his disposal to try to crush the “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican,” Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty during World War II, nevertheless found himself begging O’Flaherty (whose story was dramatized in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black) to save his family after the Nazis retreated from Rome.  O’Flaherty never gave up on Kappler, even after the latter had been imprisoned for war crimes.  In 1956 the Nazi was baptized in his prison cell by the Irish priest, and died a Roman Catholic. 

What’s the connection?  Well, and as we’ve noted in these columns before, it’s just possible that the situation in the Church has spun so far out of control that even the Vatican is beginning to see the writing on the wall.  Is it so unthinkable that some inside the Vatican would begin to envision a time in the not too distant future when the 400 priests of the SSPX could begin to resemble the Jesuits of old, capable of doing a great deal to restore some semblance of order to a chaotic Church that now faces the total disgrace of its priesthood, the disappearance of its Mass, and a veritable eruption of real schisms throughout the world? 

Could this be what our somewhat conflicted Pope has in mind? Probably not, but stranger things have happened, and, if I were pope and I found myself in charge of this monumental nightmare—it’s what I’d have in mind.

The SSPX, then, seems to be in a very good position. It is most advantageous to the Traditionalist cause (and maybe even to the Vatican itself, down the road!) for the Society, which is not in schism, to remain where it is.  As we see it, the SSPX should “stay the course”, which, from what I could gather on November 5th, is precisely what Bishop Fellay intends to do.  Pray for him!