An Interview With Bishop Fellay
One Thousand German Priests Request Latin Mass Training DVD; SSPX Rosary Crusade Nets 2.5 Million Rosaries for Holy Father

Brian Mershon

(A Remnant Exclusive)


"Vatican II is like plastic."

...Bishop Bernard Fellay

(Posted 1/15/07 After a plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) December 12, 2006, Jorge Cardinal Medina told reporters that the Commission had discussed two documents for a total of four hours. The first was the long-awaited, and reportedly much edited, motu proprio expected to be forthcoming that will ease restrictions to offer the Traditional Roman rite of Holy Mass.

The second document that was discussed, according to Cardinal Medina, was a canonical structure for the eventual reintegration of the Society of St. Pius X, whose four bishops, along with Archbishop Marcél Lefebvre and Bishop Antộnio de Castro Mayer, incurred latae sententiae excommunications according to the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, issued July 2, 1988 by Pope John Paul II. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was at the heart of the discussions with the late Archbishop Lefebvre, and now as  Pope, is intimately familiar with the case and the historical circumstances surrounding this unfortunate incident.

Since the year 2000, shortly after the Society of St. Pius X conducted a Roman pilgrimage with several thousand of its Catholic faithful, Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay met briefly in a private audience with Pope John Paul II. After exchanging greetings and praying the Pater together, the meeting ended, which later lead to a meeting with three of the Society’s four bishops.

Bishop Fellay and two other Society priests met with Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Castrillón for 35 minutes. In the September 2005 30 Days, both Bishop Fellay and Cardinal Castrillón were interviewed separately to discuss their meeting and a path forward to possible eventual canonical regularization.

In his interview, Cardinal Castrillón publicly proclaimed for the first time that although the consecration of four bishops without papal mandate was illicit and caused a separation, he said “it was not a formal schism.” This proclamation was reiterated by the Cardinal later in 2005 on Italian television.

These consistent and public statements by the Holy See’s arm responsible for traditionalist concerns was a reaffirmation of a statement by then Una Voce International President Ralf Siebenbürger, who after a private audience with Cardinal Castrillón March 13, 2004, said, “The Cardinal underlined that Archbishop Lefebvre had never founded a proper structure of his fraternity that could be considered as a concrete act of schism.”

So while the Society of St. Pius X’s canonical situation in the Church continues to be irregular and a formal canonical structure is now maturing, the language used by the PCED is much more measured in 2007 than in 1988.

The following is the most recent and exclusive interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay, re-elected Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X to another 12-year term in July 2006, for which he received a letter of congratulations from the Holy See recognizing his re-election.

Q: It was announced on your news site that the faithful attached to the Society chapels prayed 2.5 million rosaries for Pope Benedict XVI, which you presented with a letter to him. Have you sent this spiritual bouquet and can you tell us any of the contents of the letter?

A: The letter has not yet been published. It has been sent, but it has not been published, so I cannot say much. But of course, with such a letter, when you offer a bouquet, you cannot say much about other recommendations than the ones you have when you give the bouquet. So it is a limited message, you might say. But the intentions of this crusade or bouquet are very clear and precise.

When you speak of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, you of course have in mind Fatima. You also have in mind the big, big, big fight announced by the Blessed Virgin Mary—the fight between the devil, the forces of evil, and the Church—the fighting which we are (engaging in). We believe that particularly Fatima deals with that fight. If we mention that, we intend to include the present situation and crisis of the Church in that battle in this enormous battle. And we do see the outcome of the victory in doing what the Blessed Virgin Mary has asked for.

Then when we speak of the Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is a very clear message. It is not only the “Our Father,” “Thy Kingdom Come,” but it is also Quas Primas. It is again the whole fight, the whole crusade of the Church that has to spread the Gospel not only to souls, but to the natural social societies in which mankind is involved, which is the human society. We want Christian states. But it is not only we, but the Church has always wanted that.

So we are giving him a bouquet, but in the bouquet, there are some flowers with some messages. And of course, more immediate, there is the Mass. But when we say the Mass, it is not just to have permission to say the Mass. We know the Tridentine Mass has a tremendous power in itself. It has a power of restoration of the Church—a power of killing the viruses that have been introduced into the Church by Vatican II.

All of this is present in this bouquet in our intentions. Part of this is said, and part of this is not said, but which is definitely there.

Q: So it is a re-emphasis on these points of Catholic doctrine that have been lost or ignored in the last 40 years?

A: Yes. Of course.

Q: Some Catholics of good will today may desire to attend regularly the Traditional Latin Mass, including those in your chapels on a regular basis for peace and tranquility of soul and mind and worship and to escape the post-Conciliar chaos and nonsense, but are dissuaded from doing so due to the Society’s irregular status within the Church.

a. Do you believe if the Holy See lifts the decrees of excommunication, even if full canonical agreement and regularization hasn’t occurred initially, that the Society chapels may be overrun by many new Catholics desiring peace and tranquility?

b. Has this possibility been discussed between the Society of St. Pius X bishops, priests and leadership? Do you have a plan to deal with this possible phenomenon?

A: We definitely have thought about it.

Personally, I do not think things will happen that way. I do not see the big heat wave immediately after the publication of greater permission for celebration of the Mass.

Why? Because we are still considered the black devil (chuckling). I don’t really know what kind of name we have to use to qualify us as the devil.

Of course, if the decree of excommunication is taken away, then it will be an open door. But once again, over time. I don’t think that there will be an immediate flow of faithful. With time, I think it is possible. I don’t know. It is definitely a possibility we have to envisage. So we definitely have to be open to that possibility—probably in some places more than in others we will see things like that.

Q: What do you mean by that? In some countries?

A:  In some countries, cities and towns. I see it as a long process—when I say long—some years—some years. At the very start, you will see a big fight of the progressives who will try to bring it down.

And then little by little, things will settle down, and the faithful will come to it, and some priests will celebrate it, and then you will have this comparison between the new and the old. And of course, the new can’t stand it.

But I don’t see it as an immediate effect. I see it rather as a process. It will take time. We surely have a plan, but I don’t think it would be realistic to think it will happen immediately.

Q: How has the Society prepared to assist many priests who may desire to learn to offer the Traditional Roman rite of Holy Mass once the motu proprio is promulgated? How many priests in other areas of the world do you believe desire to offer the Traditional rite?

A: It is obvious there is a great expectation. It is very difficult to then qualify with the numbers these expectations with priests. In Germany, which looks so progressive, we have been impressed with the number of priests who have asked to receive the DVD [Ed. Note: Training video for priests to learn how to offer the Traditional Roman rite]. There have been more than 1,000 requests, while we sent the DVD offer to only one-third of all the German priests.

It shows that even in such countries, we have a great expectation. I’m sure that especially among younger priests, this expectation is there. There remains the possibility, and that will depend upon what is, or will be, in this famous motu proprio.  And there I cannot say much because I have no idea what it is.

There is an expectation. And just speaking about the possibility of having a motu proprio is spreading the appetite around. I’m pretty sure there will be an interest everywhere. Also, there will definitely be some priests getting in tight with us—more so than there are now. It will open doors, there is no doubt.

Q: In a December 11 interview with the French newspaper, Nice-Matin, you said the Society of St. Pius X has already asked for the removal of the decrees of excommunication several times from the Holy See, including formally in writing. Did Cardinal Castrillón ask you to provide this formal request from the Holy Father? Something like “all the Pope awaits from you is your letter”?

A: Since the year 2000, we have started with two preconditions. We have asked the Holy See because we said, “We don’t trust you.” We have asked for some gestures to start to increase the trust. And one of the points was the lifting of the decrees of excommunications. And this fact has been put in writing several times.

I have asked the Holy See and the Pope several times, even before the audience (August 29, 2005 with the Holy Father) for Rome to perform these acts. That is why I said I am not going to write one more letter. I said that in one of the interviews. This is because I have already asked for this several times. In fact, between August and October 2005, I think I have asked three times. It is a request we have always had.

And it is not exactly, “All the Pope awaits from you is your letter.” That is wrong. Rather, (it is,) “Write the letter, and then we’ll see…” something like that. And I say, “I don’t need to write a letter. I have asked you several times for it.” You see?

I don’t want to say it is like a dog running after its own tail. It is not exactly that. It is “What do you ask? What is this for?” We have definitely asked for this as a precondition—that the decrees of excommunication be lifted.

Q: Again, in the recent Nice-Matin interview, you said that although there has been no further formal meeting since your August 2005 meeting with the Holy Father, the Society of St. Pius X and the Holy See have exchanged letters since then.

a.     Can you share with our readers any of the contents of those letters?

b.     Did the letters contain theological discussions regarding the official magisterial interpretations of religious liberty, ecumenism and/or collegiality?

A: There are two things. We met the Holy Father on the 29 of August [Ed. Note: for 35 minutes] and with Cardinal Castrillón on the 15th of November [Ed. Note: for 4 hours]. That is all. Those are the only meetings I have had with Rome.

There are not so many letters. In fact, let me think… There is one letter of Cardinal Castrillón. And then of course greetings for my election [Ed. Note: Bishop Fellay’s re-election as Superior General in July 2006]. I don’t know if you want to count that or not. There is nothing more than that. And then I answered this letter of Cardinal Castrillón.  It [Ed. Note: The letter Bishop Fellay wrote] is more like “Why don’t you answer? Why don’t you move?”

It does not yet deal with in-depth things. There are openings. There are invitations to go ahead and so on. And we say, “Please, first do the preconditions.” This is the kind of thing we have asked since the year 2000.

It doesn’t go very far, but I think with time, it creates a climate that probably will open to these happenings [Ed. Note: theological discussions].

I think we could be not very far from fulfillment by Rome of the two preconditions. When? It could be 2 or 5 years, or it could be tomorrow. I do not know. I have no idea.

Q: The recently erected traditionalist Institute of the Good Shepherd in France is charged with a specific mandate of engaging in deep theological reflection and criticism of certain sections of the Second Vatican Council documents it believes may be inconsistent, or less than clear, with the perennial doctrine of the Church.

a. Do you see this as a positive sign?

b. Isn’t this very similar to what the Society of St. Pius X is requesting of the Holy See?

c. Why or why not?

A: My feeling is that it is… I don’t want to say it is a joke, but it is almost that. I don’t see any specific mandate to the Good Shepherd—not at all. It is just words. It doesn’t go any further. It doesn’t impress me.

I may say, okay, probably we are going one step ahead with these things, but not much more. We can’t dream.

First, I am pretty sure it is not a specific mandate. Rome would never give to five people such an importance, which would be the case if the Good Shepherd had received this specific mandate.

Yes. That is what they claim. Definitely, that is what they say. But as I said, I don’t think so. I think it doesn’t go very far.

Q: But, Your Excellency, isn’t it a change from 15 or 20 years ago, where a Catholic was not even allowed to criticize any aspects of even the “Decree on Social Communications in the Church,” for instance, or any of the lesser important theological documents of the Second Vatican Council without being called a heretic?

It seems that by the Holy See at least opening up to some constructive theological criticisms of the Second Vatican Council documents is a significant change from the climate of 15 or 20 years ago.

A: We are living in a tremendous mess. It looks like a Russian salad. I don’t know if you have this expression. You put in every kind of ingredient.  So in the middle of everything, you have this text which suddenly says, okay, you can bring some pointed remarks about the Council. What does it really mean? What will be the effect? And there, I am very, very, very doubtful because it is not the way things will go.

We see for ourselves, I do not expect very much from doctrinal discussions, I must say. What I expect from them when they happen, is “Can we as a loud speaker bring into the Church again thoughts from the past which will help people today to think again?” Thoughts which were just forgotten.

But fighting against people who really see the Second Vatican Council as more important than Nicea, there is not much to do. And also for those who have philosophical backgrounds that are so far removed from the Scholastic, we cannot do much. I may say, it could be a dream. There could be something tricky in these theological reflections.

The Church needs to go back to the principles, to the solid. Vatican II is like plastic. It’s not solid. It’s ambiguous. It’s inconsistent. Even discussing Vatican II is not going to bring you much. We have to go back to the solid. If the discussions bring us to that point, then fine. But if the base of the discussions is Vatican II, then forget it.

Q: You delivered a more recent talk in Martínez, Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 16 where you emphatically stated the motu proprio freeing the Traditional Roman rite has already been signed by the Pope.

a.     Are you sure about this? Can you elaborate?

b.     If so, was it signed prior to the December 12 plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and if so, what do you think has happened since?

A: My knowledge is zero. I know it looks funny, but it is like that. I have absolutely no idea what they are preparing us. I see that they do prepare.

We told them, “Listen, not yet.” First, we need to discuss, and they seem to want to make a shortcut there. And so there is a big question mark there on what is going to happen in the future. They seem to be in a hurry, and we are not.

Do they want to provoke something in the Society’s movement? I really don’t know. I just look at the facts. I don’t know what will be in this motu proprio, neither when it will be published. So we play it by ear. We are in a fog trying to see our way through.

I was pretty sure before it had been signed, yes. So the fact it has been put again on the desk, it means definitely, the French bishops are mighty. That’s all I can say because I really don’t know more. But I was pretty sure it had already been signed.

Q: After the December 12 plenary meeting, Cardinal Medina said that two documents were discussed for 4 hours. One was the motu proprio freeing the Traditional Mass. The second was a juridical framework for the reintegration of the Society of St. Pius X, according to Cardinal Medina.

a.     Has the Society of St. Pius X been actively engaged in reviewing the contents or basic structure and contents of this juridical framework?

b.     If so, could you share with our readers any of the contents of this proposed juridical framework. Will it be similar to a military ordinariate or an apostolic administration?

A: No. The Vatican has never brought us any kind of blueprint of our future structure. The only thing they said in 2003, it was something between an apostolic administration, a personal prelature and a military ordinariate. So it was something in between these. They said they didn’t have a name for it. This was the only thing we know. We don’t know much, and since then, we have never had any concrete discussions on this topic.

Q:  Again, in your December 16 address in Argentina, you said “there was something else—another thing” in addition to the motu proprio that has been discussed and may be released.

Do you believe this “other thing” possibly may be the lifting of the decrees of excommunication against the Society of St. Pius X bishops?

A: Once again, there we are discussing the future. I have no hint, so I cannot say much about that. Everything is open. About the whole thing, for several months, the only way I recommend to deal with it is that we will believe it when we see it.

About the excommunications, they spoke about it last year in front of the Cardinals (March 2006), so I think it is an open question. I have no idea. Sometimes I thought I could guess it… After that, POOF! (laughing) Now, I’m not sure.

Q: Some Catholics read conflicting or inconsistent messages coming from you, Bishop Williamson for instance, and the recent sermon by Fr. Regis de Cacqueray, Superior of the French District of the SSPX, criticizing the Pope’s recent visit to the Blue Mosque. Are these indeed conflicting messages specifically on how to deal with the Holy See? Are public rebukes really the best method?

A: If you remain on a superficial level with a dialectical outlook, you may see conflicts or inconsistencies, which in essence, do not exist. The rest is a matter of prudence.

Q: After your initial meeting with Cardinal Castrillón and two other Society of St. Pius X bishops in 2000, you were quoted as saying that Cardinal Castrillón requested the Society to continue in its battle against Modernism within the Church.

Do you still foresee this as being a primary mission and mandate of the Society, assuming the excommunications are eventually lifted and full canonical regularization is achieved?

A: I don’t think the Church is willing to give us such a mandate. The Church does not want to look at things in terms of “battle” and “fight,” but instead as “unity.” So I don’t think they will ever say, “Go and fight modernism. Go and fight liberalism.”

More than that, I think the present Pope would be in the other camp. This is very clear for example in the question of the relations between Church and State. So I don’t expect that from him. We do definitely see that in terms of Divine Providence. We do see that we are in this very big fight.

But to say this will be a mandate coming from the Holy See? No, I don’t see that happening.

Q: But am I correct that Cardinal Castrillón had said that to the Society bishops in the past?

A: Yes, sure. But what do they mean? It is the whole problem. It is the whole problem with the perception of the whole crisis. We see in it something that goes down to the roots. They see it as something as only superficial.

They certainly want our help and our services, but their perception of how deep does it go is totally different from our position.

Q: If the two preconditions are granted by the Holy See, with the Society of St. Pius X being recognized as being in full and perfect communion with the Church by the Holy See:

a. How do you think the vast majority of the Church’s bishops around the world will react?

b. Do you think another “schism of the left” might occur?

A: If I speak only humanly, I would say there will be a reaction, and the reaction will not be good. Will it be violent? Will it be mighty? I think a few will be violent. The majority will be a kind of a passive reaction.

Strong enough to bring a schism? Probably not. Probably not. At least not open. Maybe, just as it is already now.

I think the great risk is the texts published by the Pope may have the same effect as all the texts published in the last 10 to 15 years. That is, that it will have no effect at all. That is the great danger of the inertia of the Church today. They have their ways and their vision, and I don’t know if the Pope is able, or if he is even willing to change this vision. So I think it will take time.

I don’t think there will be an immediate change in the Church even if these conditions are granted. I think it is like a seed. First, it needs to grow. For the first years, it needs to go very silently and gently just like any seed that has to grow out from the earth. That’s my vision on all of these things. Some of the bishops will go along, but the majority will probably just ignore it like before.

Q: Long term, do you think there can be a theological “ecumenism” within traditionalist priestly ranks to serve as leaven in the dough of the Church?

A: No. Why? Because the great majority of the Ecclesia Dei movement sticks to the Mass, but not to the doctrine. They have already swallowed the poison. So, I don’t see any big traditionalist ecumenism.

Q: Why is this? Is it because you believe their formation is not Thomistic enough?

A: They go from the principle that Vatican II is good. They don’t make the necessary distinctions on the magisterium, so they swallow Vatican II and the ideas of Vatican II—at least in principle.

Now, maybe in practice, it is less so because they want to be traditional. But in principle, they have accepted all of these things. And that is the big difference between Ecclesia Dei and the Society.

Q: As a final opportunity, would you like to add or clarify anything for the benefit of our Catholic readers on the Society of St. Pius X.

A: The Church is supernatural. The Church is in the hands of God and in the control of God even throughout this crisis. If we use the means He wants us to use, we will have some effect, and these means are supernatural.

We must be courageous in our Faith. We must be integral in our Faith and in our confession and profession of the Faith, and also in the morals and in all the aspects of our religion. There will be a happy ending and we want to be on the right side.


Brian Mershon has a master’s in theology and bachelor’s in news-editorial journalism. He has written for several Catholic and secular publications, both print and online.