Head of the SSPX sees a papal reset with Pope Francis

Head of the SSPX sees a papal reset with Pope Francis

In November 2013, the superior general of the Society of Saint Pius X granted an interview in French, which was recorded on video and posted at www.dici.org together with a complete transcript and an English translation.  Bishop Bernard Fellay’s opening remarks are about the new pontificate. 

The arrival of a new pope can be rather like resetting our odometers to zero.  Especially with a pope who distinguishes himself from his predecessors by his way of acting, speaking, and intervening and makes quite a contrast.  This can cause people to forget the preceding pontificate….  It is certain that the first interventions of the pope have caused a lot of haziness….

The SSPX bishop cites the recent measures taken to discipline the Franciscans of the Immaculate (FFI) as an example of the attempt to “consign to oblivion” the liturgical restoration begun by Benedict XVI with the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.  According to Fellay, it is “useless” to argue that there is continuity between the pontificate of Pope Francis and that of his predecessor. 

The approach, the definition of the problems that affect the Church is not the same!  This idea of introducing reforms that are even more extensive than anything that has been done thus far.  In any case, you don’t get the impression that they will just be cosmetic, these reforms of Pope Francis!

Many of the Holy Father’s offhand comments, the Swiss prelate notes, have been surprising, and offensive to “almost everyone, not just us, but all conservatives in general.” 

What the pope thinks personally does not interest us; what we expect from him is that he be the voice of Christ and therefore the voice of God, who repeats to us what God has said!  And God did not say, “Who am I to judge?” 

Even when the Pope’s impromptu remarks are “explained correctly” later on, “this creates a climate of confusion; people are thrown off balance: they necessarily expect clarity about morals, and even more about the faith; the two are connected.” Fellay is very happy that Pope Francis often makes “statements that explain very forcefully and very clearly that no one can go to heaven without true contrition for one’s sins, no one can expect mercy from the Good Lord unless one seriously regrets one’s sins…. But unfortunately they have already lost much of their force because of the contrary statements.”  This, in the superior general’s opinion, has “spoiled [Francis’] credibility.”  “I think that he talks too much…. You can no longer tell what is a private opinion and what is doctrine….” 

Fellay recognizes “many disparate elements” in the present pontiff and therefore hesitates to draw conclusions.  Clearly, though, “Pope Francis is not a man of doctrine, he is a man of action, of praxis.  He is an extremely pragmatic man, very close to the ground.  You see that in his sermons; he is close to the people and that is perhaps what makes him very popular.”  While it is unclear how this will affect the Church, “you can tell that [the progressives] would like to take advantage of it,” Fellay said.  At some point though, he thinks, they “will change their tune and say that this is not what they were expecting.” 

The Church at large

What has not changed, the SSPX prelate insists, is “the real situation of the Church,” which is “sickened by the lethal virus of the modern world.”  The post-conciliar fault lines “remain the same,” he says, and those in power still repeat the party line:  “The Council is a reinterpretation of the Gospel in light of contemporary or modern civilization—the pope has used both terms.”  To Fellay, this is worrisome.   

I think that we should begin to demand very seriously a definition of what contemporary, modern civilization is.  For us and for average mortals, it is quite simply the rejection of God….  We see it in the case of the European Union which in its Constitution refuses to acknowledge its Christian roots.  We see it in everything that the media propagate, in literature, philosophy, art….  Then how can we reread the Gospel in that light?   

When the new pope mentions the liturgical reform as one of the “marvelous fruits of the Council,” “obviously that sends a chill down our spine, since the liturgical reform was described by his immediate predecessor as the cause of the crisis of the Church,” Fellay said.  “For the moment, nothing has been done to remedy the situation of deviance, of decadence in the Church, absolutely nothing, no measure that affects the whole Church.” 

At this point Fellay returned to a topic that he has often preached on:  the apparent contradiction between Our Lord’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, and the current crisis in the Church.  He explains that, just as Jesus suffered in his Passion, so too the Church is now suffering.  The idea is scriptural; St. Paul speaks about the “son of perdition,” the Antichrist.  “This means that alongside the proclamation of the promises” that the Church will never fail, there are “announcements of a terrible time for the Church.”  The dire messages of Our Lady in her apparitions in La Salette are a modern reminder of this New Testament teaching.  “I think that this will be one of the proofs of the divine origin of the Church,” Fellay said. “When all human efforts are over, exhausted…that is precisely the moment when [God] will act.” 

Turning to the trials of today’s Catholics, Fellay repeats St. Paul’s message: “stand firm in faith.”  “It is not enough to attack or condemn errors.”  Faith is not “merely theoretical” but must be “informed by charity.”  Furthermore, the faithful must do “their duty in their state of life.”  This “will enable them to avoid discouragement, bitter zeal and spite, and instead to experience joy, the Christian joy that consists of knowing that God loves us so much that He is ready to live with us, to live in us through grace.”

The raison d’être of the SSPX

The duty of the Society of Saint Pius X, on the other hand, is to be true to the aims of its founder, Fellay said. 

Its primary concern is truly what keeps the Church alive:  the Mass….  The Mass really is the pump that distributes throughout the Mystical Body the graces merited on the Cross….  By taking care of this heart, we take care of the whole life of the Church. 

If we want a restoration of the Church, and certainly we do want it, that is where we must go.  To the source, and the source is the Mass.  Not just any liturgy, but rather, I mean to say, an extremely holy liturgy. 

Bishop Fellay declares that he is “profoundly indebted to Pope Benedict XVI for having reinstated the [Traditional Latin] Mass.  That was [and] is of capital importance.”  In order to promote the Mass of all ages, the SSPX also has to promote the priesthood, “to form priests, to help priests.”

Fellay concludes the interview by recalling the promise of Our Lady of Fatima:  “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”  “This is a certitude,” he said. “This is not a question of faith; it is a word given by the Blessed Virgin, and so we know very well what her word is worth!”

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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.