Traditionalist leader says group could divide over unity with Rome By Francis X. Rocca Catholic News Service
MENZINGEN, Switzerland (CNS) -- The leader of a breakaway group of traditionalist Catholics spoke in unusually hopeful terms about a possible reconciliation with Rome, but acknowledged significant internal resistance to such a move, which he said might lead to the group splitting apart.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, spoke to Catholic News Service May 11 at the society's headquarters in Switzerland about the latest events in more than two years of efforts at reconciliation with the Vatican.
The society effectively broke with Rome in 1988, when its founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, ordained four bishops without the permission of Blessed John Paul II in a protest against modernizing changes that followed the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.
In April the society responded to a "doctrinal preamble" stipulating the group's assent to certain church teachings, presumably including elements of the teaching of Vatican II, as a prerequisite for reconciliation. The Vatican has yet to respond, but the director of the Vatican press office initially described the latest position as a "step forward."
The society is hardly united behind its leader's position, however. In April, according to a letter which surfaced on the Internet May 10, the society's other three bishops warned Bishop Fellay that the Vatican's apparent offer to establish the group as a personal prelature -- a status currently held only by Opus Dei -- constituted a "trap," and urged him to say no.
"There are some discrepancies in the society," Bishop Fellay told CNS. "I cannot exclude that there might be a split."
But the bishop defended his generally favorable stance toward the Vatican's offer against the objections of his peers.
"I think that the move of the Holy Father -- because it really comes from him -- is genuine. There doesn't seem to be any trap," he said. "So we have to look into it very closely and if possible move ahead."
He cautioned, however, that the two sides still have not arrived at an agreement, and that unspecified guarantees from the Vatican are still pending. He said the guarantees are related to the society's traditional liturgical practices and teachings, among other areas.
"The thing is not yet done," the bishop said. "We need some reasonable understanding that the proposed structure and conditions are workable. We are not going to do suicide there, that's very clear."
Bishop Fellay insisted the impetus for a resolution comes from Pope Benedict XVI.
"Personally, I would have wished to wait for some more time to see things clearer," he said, "but once again it really appears that the Holy Father wants it to happen now."
Bishop Fellay spoke appreciatively of what he characterized as the pope's efforts to correct "progressive" deviations from Catholic teaching and tradition since Vatican II. "Very, very delicately -- he tries not to break things -- but tries also to put in some important corrections," the bishop said.
Although he stopped short of endorsing Pope Benedict's interpretation of Vatican II as essentially in continuity with the church's tradition -- a position which many in the society have vocally disputed -- Bishop Fellay spoke about the idea in strikingly sympathetic terms.
"I would hope so," he said, when asked if Vatican II itself belongs to Catholic tradition.
"The pope says that ... the council must be put within the great tradition of the church, must be understood in accordance with it. These are statements we fully agree with, totally, absolutely," the bishop said. "The problem might be in the application, that is: is what happens really in coherence or in harmony with tradition?"
Insisting that "we don't want to be aggressive, we don't want to be provocative," Bishop Fellay said the Society of St. Pius X has served as a "sign of contradiction" during a period of increasing progressive influence in the church. He also allowed for the possibility that the group would continue to play such a role even after reconciliation with Rome.
"People welcome us now, people will, and others won't," he said. "If we see some discrepancies within the society, definitely there are also (divisions) in the Catholic Church."
"But we are not alone" in working to "defend the faith," the bishop said. "It's the pope himself who does it; that's his job. And if we are called to help the Holy Father in that, so be it."
The question is not the Society vs Rome, I think if you see the whole thing like that it is a wrong understanding. I definitely don’t look at it this way. Since Paul VI, we may see it's in the Council, so it is not new, we may see since the Council we have this apprehension that there is something wrong with the Church, a movement, strong movement, which is going, which is no longer, let’s say, giving the Catholic line, but from people who are in positions, and so who give the impression it is the Catholic Church. Many people have an understanding of the Council which is a wrong understanding. And now we have Authorities in Rome who say it. We, I may say in the discussions, I think we see that many things which we would have condemned as being from the Council are in fact not from the Council. But the common understanding of it.
The Relgious liberty is used in so many ways and looking closer I really have the impression that not many know what really the Council said about it. The Council is presenting a religious liberty which is in fact a very, very limited one. Very limited. It would mean our talks with Rome, they clearly said that to mean that there would be a right to error or right to choose each religion, is false.
Liberty in practice
Conflict situations are not from today. The church had to deal with them a long time ago already. What she requests from the States and so on is not new. And so, we have no problem with the act you see, requesting this freedom of the Church and so being in the Middle East or in the [United] States and so on, it is rather which principle is invoked to do it. We would argue that there might be another principle which would be more accurate to justify the action. Which was called before tolerance. We have to profess our Faith and we have to show it. We are not supposed to hide it. But in certain circumstances, just life tells us that we better bow down and if there is a time of persecution for example nobody is obliged to provoke the opponent or the persecutor.
The Ideal State
Just in itself, the best situation is when you have the whole society which is going in the same way. It also helps to unity, to peace to everything. And of course, religion is a major part in the human heart. And if you are one in the religion it helps to have this peace. And I may say well that is the commandment of our Lord to his Church. We have to go to all nations and teach them what our Lord said. Now when you are in a situation which is a mixed situation which is let’s say the reality, I would say, well, that is not the ideal but that is the situation in which you are. And that is let’s say where you have to do your job, your duty, as a Christian. So we have to give this witness to the others, you must try to help them. We want everybody to have that wonderful happiness of heaven and trying to bring them to this knowledge.
The Church and the Jews
If you think of what happened to them during WWII, they do consider let’s say the Christian position towards them, as the course of what happened to them. Which we claim that is wrong. That is not true. Hitler might have been baptised but his behaviour was absolutely anti-Catholic. It was not the Catholic behaviour which he followed, by doing what he did. And I think it is not fair to put the burden of what happened to them then on the Catholic Church. If you look what Pius XII did for them, talk about 7 hundred thousand of Jews would have been saved by the Church, by Pius XII. But when you see all the comments on the Jewish side about Catholicism you see this antagonism. Which does not come first from the Catholics. I don’t think so.
The work of Pope Benedict
Personally, I would have wished to wait for some more time to see things clearer, but once again it really appears that the Holy Father wants it to happen now. The move of the Holy Father, because it really comes from him, is genuine. If this recognition happens it is thanks to him. Definitely and to him alone.
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