With Bishop Fellay
Concerning His Meeting With
Pope Benedict XVI
Your Excellency, you requested the audience with Pope Benedict XVI that
took place last August 29. What was the purpose of your request?
Bishop Fellay: We wanted to meet the
Holy Father because we are Catholic and, as every Catholic, we are attached
to Rome. We wanted to show, in requesting this audience, quite simply
that we are Catholic.
Our recognition of the Pope is not limited only to mentioning
his name in the Canon of the Mass, as do all the priests of the Society
of Saint Pius X. It is normal that we should express our respect as
being Catholic and Roman. Catholic means universal, and the Mystical
Body of the Church does not just consist in our chapels.
There was likewise on our part the plan to remind once
more the Sovereign Pontiff of the existence of Tradition. Ours is the
concern to remind him that Tradition is the Church, and that we incarnate
the Church’s Tradition in a manner that is very much alive. We
want to show that the Church would be much stronger in today’s
world if it maintained Tradition. Thus, we want to put forward our experience:
if the Church desires to escape the tragic crisis that it is presently
going through, then Tradition is a response, indeed the only response,
to this crisis.
How did this audience go?
Bishop Fellay: The audience took place
in the Popes’ summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Foreseen for
11:30 a.m., it actually began at 12:10 p.m. in the Sovereign Pontiff’s
office. He generally grants an audience of 15 minutes to a bishop. For
us, it last 35 minutes. This means, so say the Vatican specialists,
that Benedict XVI wanted to show his interest in these questions.
There were four of us: the Holy Father and Cardinal Castrillon
Hoyos, Father Schmidberger and myself. The conversation took place in
French - contrary to the announcement of certain persons that it would
take place in German. It was directed by the Pope in a kindly spirit.
He described three difficulties, in response to the letter that we had
sent to him shortly before the audience. Benedict XVI was aware of this
letter, and it was not necessary to go over the points brought up in
it. We there outlined a description of the Church, quoting the “silent
apostasy” – a word of John-Paul II –, “the boat
which is taking in water from every side” and “the dictatorship
of relativism” – words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger –,
with as an appendix photos of Masses each more scandalous than the other.
We also gave a presentation of the Society with a list
of numbers and different achievements. We quoted two examples of actions
led by the Society in the present world, and the unbelievable attitude
of the local episcopacies in their regard: the law suit in Argentina
that obtained that the sale of contraceptives is now forbidden, and
which merited for us to be called terrorists by the bishop of Cordoba,
and the denunciation of the gay pride procession in Lucerne, that finished
in a Catholic church by a Protestant ceremony with total indifference
on the part of the bishop.
Finally, we expressed our requests: the changing of the
attitude of hostility towards Tradition, which attitude makes the traditional
Catholic life (Is there any other?) practically impossible in the conciliar
church. We requested that this be done by granting full liberty to the
Tridentine Mass, by silencing the accusation of schism directed against
us, by burying the pretended excommunications, and by founding a structure
for the family of Tradition within the Church.
Is it possible for us to know the difficulties raised by Benedict XVI?
Bishop Fellay: I can only evoke them.
First of all, the Holy Father insisted on effective recognition of the
Pope, linking it to the situation of necessity invoked by Archbishop
Lefebvre for the consecration of the bishops and our subsequent activity.
Then Benedict XVI pointed out that there can only be one
way of belong to the Catholic Church: it is that of having the spirit
of Vatican II interpreted in the light of Tradition, that is in the
intention of the Fathers of the Council and according to the letter
of the text. It is a perspective that frightens us greatly.
Finally, we would have to have, the Sovereign Pontiff
thinks, a structure that is appropriate for us for the traditional rite
and certain exterior practices - without, however, protecting us from
the spirit of the Council that we would have to adopt.
The Vatican Press Release at the end of the audience speaks of a “desire
to proceed in stages and within a reasonable time limit”. What
ought we to understand by this expression?
Bishop Fellay: The Pope did not want
to go into the problems in depth, but simply to outline them. But it
will be necessary first of all to respond to the requirement of the
right of existence of the old Mass so as to afterwards confront the
errors of the Council, for we see there the cause of the present evils,
both a direct cause and in part an indirect cause.
Of course, we will go step by step. We must show the council
in a different light than that which is given to it by Rome. At the
same time as we condemn the errors, it is indispensable for us to show
their logical consequences and their impact on the disastrous situation
of today’s Church, without, however, provoking exasperation, that
could cause the discussions to be broken off. This obliges us to proceed
With respect to a reasonable time limit, it is said in
Rome that documents are in preparation for communities attached to the
Ecclesia Dei Commission, that are quite new, and offering things that
have never previously been offered. “Let us wait and see!”
It is certainly true that the Pope has the desire of rapidly arranging
In order to be quite precise, I would like to add this
further detail. We must indeed consider the Pope’s difficult situation.
He is stuck between the progressives on one side and us on the other.
If he were to grant a general permission for the Mass on the basis on
our request alone, the modernists would stand up against him, affirming
that the Pope has given way to traditionalists. We learned from Bishop
Ricard that in 2000 he, along with Cardinal Lustiger and the Archbishop
of Lyon suddenly rushed to Rome to block a proposition made to the Society,
threatening that they would rebel. We know that the German bishops acted
in the same way at the time of the World Youth Conference in Cologne:
“It is us or them”. By this is meant: “If they are
recognized, then we will leave the Church and go into schism.”
It is for this reason that the Pope could not, during
the audience, give us the verbal assurance that this Fall, for example,
freedom would be given to the Mass. Any promise made by him to the Society
in this sense would infallibly expose him to pressure by the progressives.
We would then have received the opinions of a Pope against the majority
of bishops disposed towards secession. This cannot be expected in the
climate of the present debacle, even with the will of a certain restoration.
As for myself, I believe that it will only be a limited freedom for
the Mass that will eventually be granted.
The Press has published rumors concerning divisions within the Society
of Saint Pius X? What is exactly the case?
Bishop Fellay: The announcement of the
audience granted by the Pope provoked feverish talk in the media. They
have made a lot of noise, attempting to show that divisions exist in
the Society amongst its four bishops. Journalists have likewise published
the threats directed against the Pope by the progressives: “To
grant freedom to the Mass is to disavow Paul VI and the liturgical reform”.
However, I can affirm to you that within the Society of
Saint Pius X, the four bishops are united on the question of the relationships
with Rome, and that Bishop Williamson, whose name has been quoted, is
not “sedevacantist”. The media has nothing to worry about.
Alas, this is for them not newsworthy.
Your Excellency, what do you now hope for?
Bishop Fellay: Some Cardinals in Rome
hope to see Tradition recognized. We likewise hope for it. We hope,
in particular, for complete freedom to be granted to the Mass, but there
is little chance that this will be for tomorrow. It will then be a duty
to acknowledge the place of Tradition in the Church, avoiding the bad
interpretations that are often given concerning it.
We must force the Roman authorities to admit that we cannot
follow without serious reservations the interpretation that they have
given of the Council and of Ecumenism, as it is practiced. Deep down,
what we hope for is to make them understand one day the whole reason
why Tradition exists.