Bishop Bernard Fellay (CNS photo)
What exactly is going on in the SSPX? On Wednesday last week, a“communiqué” was issued by the SSPX “General House,” which I suppose means its headquarters, condemning the circulation on the internet, two days before, of an exchange of private letters between the Superior General of the Society of St Pius X and the three other SSPX bishops. “This behaviour is reprehensible”, thundered the statement; “The person who breached the confidentiality of this internal correspondence committed a serious sin”.
This means, I assume, that the letters as circulated were authentic; they have been roughly translated (I suppose they were in French), and then tidied up on a site called The Sensible Bond, whose text I will quote here. There has been a very fundamental disagreement between the four bishops of the SSPX over the possibility of an agreement with the Holy See, involving the setting up of the SSPX as a personal prelature, in other words as a semi-independent jurisdiction responsible only to the Pope. On the one side of the divide are Bishops Tissier de Mallerais, de Galarreta and Williamson, and on the other the Superior General of the Society, Bishop Fellay, and his two assistants Fr Pfluger and Fr Nély.
The three dissident bishops seem to me to be not only talking utter rubbish but to be actually barking, positively up the wall (Vatican II, they say, represents “a total perversion of the mind, a new philosophy founded on subjectivism. Benedict XVI is no better than John Paul II in this regard… he puts human subjective fantasy in the place of God’s objective reality and subjects the Church to the modern world”; you see what I mean); Bishop Fellay’s response to this, on the other hand, was (and I never thought I would find myself saying this) measured and sensible as well as being, as one would have expected, absolutely faithful to the Catholic tradition.
I really hope, if there is to be a schism within the SSPX (as looks on the basis of these letters more likely than not) that the overwhelming majority of SSPX adherents will follow Bishop Fellay back over the Tiber; there is, and he clearly understands this, still a battle going on inside the Catholic Church between the Magisterium and the “spirit of Vatican II” secularisers; and we need everyone we can get by the Pope’s side in this great struggle for the renewal of the Catholic tradition and the cleaning up of the Catholic Church. A personal prelature doesn’t need more than one bishop; and the disappearance from the scene of Bishop Williamson would be an unlooked for bonus.
Bishop Fellay’s declaration is not merely sensible, it is positively inspiring, and I therefore quote it at length; this is a bishop whose leadership is needed within the mainstream of the Church. He begins by criticising his fellow SSPX bishops’ analysis for two faults: “lack of a supernatural view and a lack of realism”. Then he goes on, very strikingly as follows:
“Do you still believe that the Church is the Church and that the Pope is Pope? Can Christ still speak through him? If he expresses a legitimate desire or decision, should we not obey, and will not God help us?
“Your all too human and fatalistic attitude implies that we should not count on God’s help, his grace or the Holy Spirit. If Providence guides men’s actions, has it not been guiding the movement back to Tradition? It makes no sense to think God will let us fall now, especially since we only want to do his will and please him.
“Likewise you lack realism, just as the liberals make the Council a superdogma, you are making the Council a superheresy. Archbishop Lefebvre made distinctions about liberal Catholics, and if you do not make them, your caricature of reality could lead to a true schism.
“You blame all the current evils on the authorities even though they are trying to extricate the Church from them (eg the condemnation of the hermeneutic of continuity) [note: I think Bishop Fellay means the hermeneutic of discontinuity] and are thus not all obstinate in heresy. That is clearly false. Hence when it comes to the crucial question of making an accord, we do not come to the same conclusion as you.”
He continues by saying that because of the present Pope’s words and actions a real change is taking place. “Young priests and bishops are supporting us… Now, a combat within the walls is possible, though very difficult.”
Archbishop Lefebvre, he says, “would have accepted what is proposed; we must not lose his sense of the Church”. And then he comes to the central point about the situation in which we all find ourselves: “Church history shows that we only recover gradually from heresies and crises, so it is not realistic to wait until everything is sorted out. If we refuse to work in this field, we fall foul of the parable of the wheat and the cockle in which Our Lord warns us that there would always be internal conflict.” In other words, separating yourself off within a little private world in which everything is conducted precisely to your taste simply isn’t the Catholic way.
These are, it seems to me, wise and courageous words, and the vision which inspired them deserves to succeed. Whether or it does, we will have to wait and see; there are those working within the SSPX against its success. It is clear from this correspondence that, as Bishop Fellay writes to them, the other bishops “have all worked to undermine [him]”. For all our sakes, I hope they fail; and I believe we should pray that they do.
Bishop Fellay is, it seems to me on this evidence, a courageous and inspirational leader; and we could do with him back “within the walls”. This is a crucial time: we are beginning to make, under the Pope’s guidance, real progress. In this country, soon, I hope and pray, Archbishop Mennini will be recommending (when all is as it should be in the Congregation of Bishops) a clutch of new and orthodox bishops to stand by the side of Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury; perhaps Bishop Fellay, as Superior of the new Prelature of the SSPX, will make an official visit to the Shrine Church of Ss Peter and Paul and St Philomena in New Brighton, Wirral. Stirring times, if all goes well. I live in hope; please God, let nothing go wrong.