Our Hope after
with Bishop Bernard Fellay
This interview of
Bishop Fellay by Father de Tanoüarn in France has just been published
in the French bulletin Pacte Nr. 56 – Summer 2001. Bishop Fellay is drawing
some conclusions from the six months discussions with the Holy See. It
is undoubtedly a lesson of hope. After having depicted the actual deadlock,
the prelate looks clearly forwards to the future by stating that the role
of the Society of Saint Pius X is to accelerate this “inductive movement
which, from particular problems, brings back to Tradition priests and
Your Excellency, what is the
actual state of the negotiations with Rome?
We are, at the moment, in a sort
of deadlock. I think that this type of blockage results from the foundations
on which the dialogue took place. At any rate it must be recognised that
in a certain manner, the present setback allows us to recover our bearings.
Now we can hear once again at Rome the language that we’ve been accustomed
to hear from conciliar Rome, we see once more the habitual ways of thinking,
the habitual restrictions in their dialogue with us. We are well acquainted
with the situation we are in, we recognise the never-ending dilemma that
they impose upon us: either you return to the bosom of the Church, and
we put you in a cage, we muzzle you, or else you remain outside. This
dilemma in which they would like to enclose us, we will not accept. It’s
clear: we are not outside, and we will not let ourselves be put into a
cage either! Notice how after six months of negotiations, it’s once again
the hard Roman stand which opposes us; I say that this allows us to recover
You are telling
us, Your Excellency, that these negotiations were a lot of fuss about
On the contrary, they were not
useless. Unquestionably, something has taken place that has modified on
a long-term basis the atmosphere of our relations for the future. We are
in a period of withdrawal, it’s true, because Rome does not want to have
profound discussions with us, but at the same time, something new has
happened. In the first place, last autumn, Rome approached us in a manner
completely out of the ordinary and made propositions to us that are today
still difficult to evaluate completely and to estimate at their just value.
In fact, juridically, such possibilities have never been envisaged. We
would never have imagined that Rome could offer us such a proposition.
You have no doubt heard talk of this idea of an apostolic administration.
The Society of St. Pius X would have become incorporated into an apostolic
administration. What does this signify? The apostolic administration ordinarily
is a diocesan structure, or quasi diocesan, in a time of crisis, over
a given territory. Well! For us this territory would be the entire world.
In other words, they offered us a structure that covered the entire world,
a kind of personal diocese…
Excuse me for
interrupting, Your Excellency, you mean a personal prelacy…
Not at all. The apostolic administration
is better than a personal prelacy. In the first place, a personal prelacy
is not necessarily governed by a bishop. An apostolic administration,
which is quasi diocesan, normally would be. Furthermore, and above all,
the action of an apostolic administration is not limited to its members.
The Opus Dei, which is the personal prelacy that exists today,
is not subject to the local bishop in all that concerns its members, but
it could not consider any external action without the consent of the bishop.
With the apostolic administration, we avoid this restriction. We would
be able to take an autonomous apostolic action without having to ask authorisation
from the diocesan bishop, since we would have a veritable diocese, whose
distinctive characteristic is that it extends to the entire world. It
is very important that such a proposition has been made, because after
all, this juridical solution has never happened before, it is “sui generis”.
Now that it has been established, it can represent for us, from a juridical
point of view, a reference, a position of comparison. Especially since
it is to the Society of St. Pius X that this possibility has been proposed,
which shows just how seriously Rome sees our resistance. It’s not by vainglory
that I say that, believe me: symbolically (first of all, it’s not a question
of numbers) we represent something very important for Rome, and this also
if this proposition is so extraordinary, and it certainly seems to be
– we would like to ask you – why is it that you didn’t immediately accept
this practical agreement, which was offered to you on a platter?
You are right, it is an exatraordinary
proposition, and if Rome wanted a true reform, it is the way we have just
described that would have to be taken. But a true will for reform is necessary.
For the moment, it is difficult to know exactly where the signing of such
an agreement would have led us. One thing is certain: the known exterior
elements were not favourable to an agreement that was made rapidly, without
precaution. These elements are known: first of all, it is the manner in
which Rome has proceeded with the Fraternity of St. Peter, in imposing
upon them the principle of the New Mass, contrary to its constitutions,
contrary to what they themselves had conceded to this religious society
ten years ago. Besides, a certain number of priests of the Fraternity
of St. Peter have come to see us, saying: do not accept this solution,
do not sign anything, it would be your ruin… Furthermore, we have seen
very quickly the reaction of a number of bishops and cardinals: furious,
they were furious, to the point that some of them (I speak of the French
bishops) have threatened disobedience. This is not a mere nothing: France,
through the intervention of the cardinals, has made an open threat to
Rome to enter into disobedience… What would have been the reaction of
Rome? There would have been a tremendous combat and we would not have
been able to stand unless Rome openly supported us. It was with this in
mind that we proposed two preliminaries, which we understood to be as
two indispensable signs of the support of Rome. It was not a question,
properly speaking, as has been written here and there, of preconditions:
a Catholic cannot submit Rome to conditions! No, it was simply a question
of obtaining, in the battle that would not fail to ensue, a clear sign
of Rome’s adherence to Tradition.
We thus did require these two signs,
first the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication and, secondly, the
permission for all the priests of the Latin rite, without distinction,
to celebrate the traditional Mass. I believe these two steps would have
been able to create a truly new climate in the universal Church.
And did you ever believe, in
spite of the motives that kept you on guard, which you have recalled just
now, that these two preliminaries could be accepted?
First of all, we were not in a
hurry. This is, moreover, the big difference with 1988: in 1988 Archbishop
Lefebvre needed to rapidly provide for the future of his work. Today this
future is not in question, we are living it; we have shown, for more than
10 years, that it is assured. We would therefore like to study, to take
the time to study the proposals that have been made to us. For a moment,
it is true, we had believed in a true change from the part of Rome. It
need be said that a difference in the language was perceptible in all
of our interviews right from the start. The 13th of March,
for example, they told us: “The Pope holds to this solution (the juridical
solution that we have just spoken of), there is nothing to fear. The Church
has need of you and asks you to assist in its combat against liberalism,
modernism, masonry; you must not refuse your help”. Oh! It is an oral
expression; we were always asking ourselves whether the words signified
the same thing for the Vatican as they did for us. I don’t think they
You spoke just
now of Archbishop Lefebvre’s negotiations with Rome in 1988. Can we compare
the two series of conversations?
They are not at all the same. In
1988 Archbishop Lefebvre, feeling his end approaching, wished above everything
else to ensure the continuation of his Society. Rome wished to prevent
the consecrations without its support, and desired to obtain from Archbishop
Lefebvre, by means of an ambiguous formula, his recognition of the Council.
The discussion, which was hurried, was thus partly doctrinal. What we
have just gone through is something entirely different. They came looking
for us and the doctrinal problem has been expelled from the start. Rome
did not wish to speak of doctrine.
Could you briefly
recall to our minds the history of these negotiations?
Quite willingly… First of all,
the origin of these negotiations: the initiative came from Rome. I received
a letter from Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos dated November 18, which was an
invitation (which came after the interview published in “30 Days”) to
meet him in order to prepare a visit to the Holy Father. The cardinal’s
visit took place on December 29th… The 30th was
the meeting with the Pope, which was very brief owing to a lack of co-ordination:
strictly speaking, there was no conversation.
The Vatican Agency,
Zenit, said that you had assisted at the Pope’s Mass…
Then that is a tall story. I saw
the Pope, oh, something like 5 minutes in all, and for a good while we
remained in his private chapel, in silence. Then the Pope arose. He wished
me a good year, we exchanged greetings; he asked me if we had been able
to speak. Cardinal Hoyos told him yes. The Pope said, I am happy. He gave
us a rosary, he blessed us and we parted.
therefore, had no immediate consequences…
No. On January 13th,
I convoked a general extended meeting with the assistants, the bishops
and a priest of the diocese of Campos, in Brazil, representing Bishop
Rangel – Father Rifan. On January 16th, I orally confided our
decision to Cardinal Hoyos: we ask for two preliminaries, the withdrawal
of the decree of excommunication and the Mass for all the priests of the
On February 12th,
Father Simoulin, the Superior of the Society
in Italy, was informed that they could not accord the second preliminary
as such, but that we needed to have complete confidence in the Holy Father.
On February 19th,
in response to this response, I delegated Father
Sélègny, co-author of the recent book on the liturgical Reform, to simply
state that we would withdraw, seeing that we did not obtain the two preliminaries.
At the same time, he offered the book, just recently published, to Cardinal
Hoyos, as an incentive to find other grounds for discussion, more doctrinal.
One could say that since then, the discussions have not reopened, each
camp standing their grounds…
On March 13th,
a new telephone interview between the Cardinal
and Father Simoulin, the day following a plenaria of the Ecclesia
Dei, which takes care of the Fraternity of St. Peter. I was aware
that from then on, the die was cast. They announced a plenaria of
the Curia (a reunion of all of the Roman cardinals) just for our case.
Cardinal Hoyos said that they would give us everything at the same time,
but not as a preliminary: “The Pope will speak of the Mass, but only at
the time of the (new) Motu Propio, so as to explode only one bomb at a
On March 19th,
I wrote to confirm the necessity of the preliminaries,
as unambiguous signs of the benevolence of Rome, emphasising that a purely
practical solution, without dealing with the doctrinal controversies,
would be impossible.
On Good Friday,
April 13th, Father Simoulin received
a telephone call to confirm that it was impossible to grant the preliminary
on the Mass: “It is not possible to repudiate the work of the Council
and of Paul VI, by giving entire freedom to the traditional Mass”. “The
oppositions of the cardinals are very strong, the Pope must take this
into consideration”. Admittedly, the traditionalists “may make theological
remarks on particular points”, but criticism of the Council is not permitted.
All the same,
there was a change in the attitudes from this moment…
There is a change in the tone and
I believe the underlying reason is the refusal from the cardinals (as
far as public disobedience if it were necessary, as I told you). During
a courteous visit on May 2nd, Father Rifan and Father Simoulin
heard these unconforming words, which give food for thought on the state
of the Church: “In the same manner that the Society does not wish to divide
itself, so the Pope does not wish to divide the cardinals”… I truly believe
that this sentence gets to the root of the problem: a good agreement does
not depend solely on the good will of the one or the other. The organisations
in the conciliar Church are very unwieldy and the fierce hostility of
certain cardinals prevents Rome from considering a true reform of the
In any case, hope seems today
to go away
Bishop Fellay. While denying us
our preliminary requests, Cardinal Hoyos asked that we trusted him: “The
problem of the mass will be settled together with the case of the Fraternity,
you must trust us”. That meant: no preliminary requests, we will give
you all at the same time. The problem for us was to know whether these
words meant the same thing to us and to them, and whether they were consistent
with previous statements. Reading the Cardinal’s last letter, dated May
7th , which was approved by all the Ecclesia Dei Cardinals,
we can see there is no consistency. Consider for example this judgement
of Cardinal Hoyos concerning the traditional Mass, who justifies himself
not to be able to grant the requested permission for all the priests of
the latin rite: “As regards the first condition, a number of Cardinals,
Bishops and faithful think that it should not be granted”. This reserve
surprised me because we did not discuss with a certain number of Cardinals,
Bishops and faithful, but with Cardinal Hoyos himself. And this is the
answer he gives us now. At first he had said: the Pope agrees, he will
grant you everything. Now he says: it is no more possible. One doesn’t
know who governs the Church anymore.
Then, in this same letter dated
May 7th, there is this other formula: “This permission could
create confusion in many people’s mind who would interpret it as a depreciation
of the value of the holy mass that the Church is celebrating today (the
Novus Ordo mass)”. As I told you in the beginning, we find here the classic
Vatican rhetoric when dealing with the traditional Mass.
“It is not possible to disavow
... the Council by giving full liberty to the traditional mass” (Cardinal
Let us consider this other passage,
about the Council: “We must not fall into the error of interpreting it
freely or having recourse to non authorized interpretations. The language
of the Council is being perfected and made more precise on several points
thanks in particular to the interventions and the teachings of Pope John-Paul
II”. So there is only one approved way to understand the Council, not
according to Tradition, but according to the teaching of the actual Pope.
I have a mind to answer: “Well, if one follows his authentic interpretations,
we end up with the scandal of Assisi, with the inter-religious summit,
with the pagan worship in the sacred forrests of Togo, with the visit
to the synagogue and to the mosque, or whatever. If these are the clarifications
In this letter of May 7th,
we even find expressed, although in a more soft way, but it is there,
the famous reproach of the “Motu Proprio” of 1988: “I am sure, writes
Cardinal Hoyos, that on this point (of the interpretation of the Council)
we will be able to reach an agreement when we would understand the deepest
necessities of the Church [he implies here that we don’t understand them],
necessities which must be understood basing ourselves on a broader historical
perspective”. And he quotes Saint Vincent of Lerins about the idea of
progress of Tradition. In other words, according to Rome, we don’t have
a proper notion of Tradition, we stick to a frozen conception, and there
will be no accord lest we unlock ourselves, grant me the expression. In
other words again, the Council must be understood properly, and Rome understands
it properly, but we don’t. This is what the Cardinal writes. Is it because
we don’t read good authors (which are outdated in the Conciliar Church)?
Is it because we don’t understand that there is a legitimate evolution
in the thinking? In any case, in this last letter of Cardinal Hoyos, our
critique of Vatican II is being disqualified in advance.
So you think that we cannot
obviously make such doctrinal concessions?
We must start at the beginning:
why are we at this point where we are now? Rome leaned towards us saying:
listen, you have a problem, it must be solved. You are outside, you must
come back in, at certain conditions. It is to us now to answer: no, it
is not so. If we are now in this situation (a situation of ostracism and
persecution), we are not the cause of it. The cause is in Rome. It is
because there are serious deficiencies in Rome that Archbishop Lefebvre
had to back off, permitting him to keep certain of the goods of the Church
which were being muddled away. Rome gives herself here the nice role,
while on the contrary, she is the one owing a “Mea culpa” for this terrible
internal crisis tearing the Church apart. Rome acted wrongly and puts
the fault on us. The solution, of course, is not to be looked for in us,
but in Rome. Rome must put things back into order, Rome must come back
to Tradition, to her Tradition. Then everything will be without problem.
There will no more be a problem of the Fraternity. We must keep our freedom
to act for the good of the whole Church.
At the bottom line, you are
requesting from Rome a repentance?
This is it, a repentance, but a
genuine one, which supposes a theological dialogue. You see, I think that
in the recent discussions, we turned a lot in round because the prerequisite
which Rome imposed to us (without expressing it as such) was: “no theology”.
They wanted a practical accord, a juridical solution right away; theology
later. We are saying the opposite: it is doctrine that governs our actions,
since the beginning. And I am convinced that now is the time to talk doctrine
also to many young priests, and to faithful who start realizing the gravity
of this internal crisis in the Church. There is particularily a movement
in favour of the Old Mass. We must foster this movement. We must welcome
and form those who ask about it. For the time being, however, many people
come back to Tradition because of definite problems (the mass, ecumenism
...). We must foster this movement. On the subject of the Mass, many people
are ready to listen to us. On the subject of Ecumenism, we must work on
the problem so that people may understand our analysis. Rome is not ready
for such a debate at bottom? Rome doesn’t want to discuss with us? We
must then open the debate so that they understand that it is not possible
to close their eyes and to ignore the fact that the ship is springing
leaks from all around.
Excellency, you talk to us about
the faithful who still must come back to Tradition, but what about the
Traditonalist themselves, those who are already home? Did they understand
well your proceedings?
I thank you to ask me this question.
I must say that, these last months, many times, before I could speak,
I did face a misundestanding on the part of certain faithful who imagined
that our proceeding was one of compromise. But this has never been our
attitude. We are at war by any means, with any arms, conventional or not
conventional. There is no question of compromise, or concessions or
even of moderating our position. We do not negociate our rallying.
We are trying from our position all that we can to foster a true reform
in the Church. For the moment, because this reform is not in our hands,
we want to save all that can be saved with any means that the Good Lord
has put at our disposal. In this perspective, I think that we did gained
lots of ground these last months. We must continue. This is why I do not
want to talk about breaking away. We could realize that there is a mutual
expectation but we are not tuned on the same wavelenth.
And what about the future, Your
I would like to utilize a rather
bold comparison: the conciliar Church is like a termite house eating itself
out from within. Since more than 30 years the same principles are put
into practice, with an unshakeable consistency, despite the catastrophic
results. These last discussions have created within the conciliar Church
itself, great hopes in those who, more and more numerous, want to turn
the page of the conciliar revolution. In this context, the propositions
offered to us six months ago meant to have us believe that everything
would be fine. By proceeding a little forward, we realized that it would
be in reality a golden cage for us, since our criticism was not allowed
and was not even considered legitimate in the Church. So we prefer to
keep our freedom to act for the whole Church, rather than to let us put
into quarantine in the zoo of Tradition. One must shake the Catholic world
who is paralyzed by this post-conciliar lethargy. One must reopen the
debate but without this imposed preliminary requirement of an only practical
accord. Certainly this will be a long work, we don’t see the fruits of
it immediately, but we must spare nothing to change the atmosphere, so
that Tradition regains its rigths in Rome, so that Rome recovers its Tradition.