A DICI interview with Bishop Fellay about his meeting with Cardinal Muller, the SSPX's ongoing relations with Rome, and how doctrine is the solution to the post-conciliar crisis.
On September 23, 2014, Bishop Fellay, the SSPX's Superior General, met with Cardinal Muller, after which the Vatican Press Office issued a communique. The same day, the SSPX also issued its own communique.
Now DICI has hosted an interview with Bishop Fellay about the purpose of the meeting, while explaining the "current aggravation of the crisis" and therefore how pastoral practice must follow from doctrine.
Pastoral practice must follow from doctrine
Interview with Bishop Fellay after his meeting with Cardinal Muller
DICI: You were received by Cardinal Muller on September 23rd. The communique from the Vatican Press Office repeats the language of the 2005 communique issued after your meeting with Benedict XVI, which already said that the parties would “proceed gradually and over a reasonable period of time... with a view to the envisioned full communion.” The 2014 communique, on the other hand, speaks about “full reconciliation.” Does this mean that you are starting over at the beginning?
Bishop Fellay: Yes and no, depending on the perspective that you take. There is nothing new, in the sense that both our interlocutors and ourselves, we realize that doctrinal differences still exist—which had been made quite clear during the theological discussions in 2009-2011—and that because of this we were unable to sign the Doctrinal Preamble that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has proposed to us since 2011.
DICI: But what is new?
Bishop Fellay: There is a new pope and a new prefect heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And this recent interview shows that neither they nor we want a break in our relations: both parties insist that it is necessary to clarify the doctrinal questions before there is any canonical recognition. This is why, for their part, the Roman authorities are demanding the endorsement of the Doctrinal Preamble which, for our part, we cannot sign because of its ambiguities.
Another new fact is the current aggravation of the crisis in the Church. On the eve of the Synod on the Family, serious, well-founded criticisms made by several cardinals against Cardinal Kasper’s proposals about Communion for the divorced-and-remarried are coming to light. This has not been seen in Rome since the criticisms by Cardinal Ottaviani and Bacci in their Short Critical Study on the New Order of Mass [the Ottaviani Intervention of 1969].
But what has not changed is the fact that the Roman authorities still do not take our criticisms of the Council into account, because to them they seem secondary or even illusory, given the severe problems in the Church today. These authorities do recognize the crisis that is convulsing the Church at the highest level—now among cardinals—but they do not consider that the Council itself could be the main cause of this unprecedented crisis. It is like a dialogue of deaf people.
DICI: Can you give a specific example?
Bishop Fellay: Cardinal Kasper’s proposals in favor of Communion for divorced-and-remarried persons are an illustration of what we blame on the Council. In the talk that he gave to the cardinals during the Consistory on February 20th of this year, he proposed doing again what was done at the Council, namely: reaffirming Catholic doctrine while offering pastoral overtures. In his various interviews with journalists he harps on this distinction between doctrine and pastoral practice. He says that theoretically doctrine cannot change, but he introduces the notion that concretely, in reality, there are some situations in which the doctrine cannot be applied. Then, in his opinion, only a pastoral approach is capable of finding solutions... at the expense of doctrine.
For our part, we blame the Council for making this artificial distinction between doctrine and pastoral practice, because pastoral practice must follow from doctrine. Through multiple pastoral concessions, substantial changes have been introduced in the Church, and its doctrine has been affected. This is what happened during and after the Council, and we denounce the same strategy that is being used today against the morality of marriage.
DICI: But was it only pastoral changes in the Council that indirectly affected doctrine?
Bishop Fellay: No, we are in fact obliged to note that serious changes were made in doctrine itself: religious liberty, collegiality, ecumenism.... But it is true that these changes appear more clearly and more evidently in their concrete pastoral applications, because in the conciliar documents they are presented as simple overtures, just hinted at, with much left unsaid.... which makes them, in the words of my predecessor, Fr. Schmidberger, “time bombs.”
DICI: In the proposals of Cardinal Kasper, where do you see a pastoral application that makes more evident a doctrinal change introduced during the Council? Where do you see a “time bomb?”
Bishop Fellay: In the interview that he granted to the Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli on September 18th, the cardinal says:
Church doctrine is not a closed system: the Second Vatican Council teaches us that there is a development, meaning that it is possible to look into this further. I wonder if a deeper understanding similar to what we saw in ecclesiology, is possible in this case (i.e., that of divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly). Although the Catholic Church is Christ’s true Church, there are elements of ecclesiality beyond the institutional boundaries of the Church too. Couldn’t some elements of sacramental marriage also be recognized in civil marriages in certain cases? For example, the lifelong commitment, mutual love and care, Christian life and a public declaration of commitment that does not exist in common-law marriages.”
Cardinal Kasper is quite logical and perfectly consistent: he proposes applying pastorally to marriage the new principles concerning the Church that were spelled out at the Council in the name of ecumenism: there are elements of ecclesiality outside the Church. He moves logically from ecclesial ecumenism to matrimonial ecumenism. Thus, in his opinion, there are elements of Christian marriage outside of the sacrament. To look at things concretely, just ask spouses what they would think of “ecumenical” marital fidelity or fidelity in diversity! Similarly, what are we supposed to think about a so-called “ecumenical” doctrinal unity that is united in diversity? This sort of result is what we denounce, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith either does not see it or else does not accept it.
DICI: How are we to understand the expression from the Vatican communique: “proceed gradually?”
Bishop Fellay: The mutual desire of Rome and in the Society of St. Pius X to continue doctrinal discussions in a broader, less formal framework than in the previous discussions.
DICI: But if the doctrinal discussions in 2009-2011 accomplished nothing, what good is it to resume them, even in a broader fashion?
Bishop Fellay: Because, following the example of Archbishop Lefebvre, who never refused to go to Rome at the invitation of the Roman authorities, we always respond to those who ask us about the reasons for our fidelity to Tradition. We could not shirk this responsibility, and we will fulfill it in the spirit and with the obligations that were defined by the last General Chapter.
But since you just mentioned the audience that Benedict XVI granted me in 2005, I remember saying then that we wanted to show that the Church would be stronger in today’s world if it upheld Tradition; I would also add: if it proudly recalled its bi-millennial Tradition. I say it again today, we wish to contribute our witness: if the Church wants to end the tragic crisis that it is going through, Tradition is the response to this crisis. This is how we manifest our filial piety toward eternal Rome, to the Church, the mother and teacher of truth, to whom we are deeply devoted.
DICI: You say that this is about giving witness; it is not rather a profession of faith?
Bishop Fellay: One does not exclude the other. Our Founder liked to say that the theological arguments with which we profess the Faith are not always understood by our Roman interlocutors, but that does not relieve us of the duty to recall them. Moreover, with his characteristic supernatural realism, Archbishop Lefebvre added that the concrete accomplishments of Tradition: the seminaries, schools, priories, the number of priests, brothers and sisters, of seminarians and lay faithful, also had a great value as proof. Against these tangible facts no specious argument can hold up: contra factum non fit argumentum. In the present case, we could translate this Latin adage with the saying of Jesus Christ, “A tree is judged by its fruits.” And in this sense, while professing the faith, we must give witness to the vitality of Tradition.