The Recusant

An unofficial SSPX newsletter, fighting a guerilla war for the soul of Tradition!

Der Gerade Weg
Interview with Fr. Niklaus Pfluger


N.B. - DGW's English translation appeared in mid-February 2015. The interview originally appeared in German on 31st Dec. 2014, under the title: 

"Glaubige Eiferer vs. Eifrige Glaubige" 

("Faithful Fanatics  vs.  Ardent Faithful")

Seven questions to Fr. Pfluger The first assistant of the Superior General of the SSPX is going around the world visiting the various houses of the work of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. We can call him a fine connoisseur of the Society. So Fr. Pfluger has extensive information and does not hesitate to tackle even unpleasant questions. This is what he did in this interview with DGW on the current crisis of authority within the Society.

1. Father, it seems that the zealous protagonists of the “resistance” have become the reference concerning the life of Archbishop Lefebvre. According to them, the founder of the Society was a stubborn fanatic, not very relaxed and not very diplomatic. Is this is a falsification of history?

It is not a question of reference. On the contrary, the so-called resistance, it would rather be better to describe as “pseudo-resistance”, is already divided on this interpretation. The fiercest of them openly declare that Archbishop Lefebvre was mistaken because he did not fundamentally renounce any contact with the Holy See and a regularization of the Society’s position. It is normal to try to legitimize the present situation by history and the teachings of the latter. So we are tempted to represent past events and characters in light favorable to current theses. The “Resistance” is doing everything it can to exploit the Archbishop in favour of his ideas. However he was too Catholic, too partisan of the universal Church to enter the game of sectarianism. His thought and action were broad, as large as the world, that is to say Catholic. Father of the Council that he was, he signed in 1988, two years after the scandal of Assisi, an accord that he denounced for the sole reason that he was convinced that Rome would not respect the accords (Postponed episcopal consecrations to August 15th). Regarding the pseudo-resistance, it is not only a falsification of history. These people develop, from issues of a practical order, intelligence, and diplomacy, a matter of faith of their own creation.

2. Is it possible that insults, calumny pronounced against the direction of the Society in recent times can be attributed to a unilateral notion of sin on the part of modern man who does not consider as a sinful attitude the considering of oneself as superior to everything and everyone to his own reference?

This is well said, but I think the case is more simple. These people practice with great zeal a religion they do not understand. They think that there is sin often where there is none (there is among them moralists, Jansenists). It is strange that people, who consider themselves as the most faithful Roman Catholics, fear nothing as much as Rome. And they have only one enemy: Bishop Fellay! As we have said, it is an attitude of extreme denial of reality. Basically, they are feeding a Protestant notion of the faith. Their faith and their obedience are submitted to subjective and personal criteria. This is not Catholic.

3. The “Resistance” does not work in German-speaking areas. But is there not here something much more dangerous, a kind of “passive Resistance” without open rebellion certainly, but a comfort-type of it, “German Biedermeier”, marked by social and ecclesial isolation? 

It is certainly a problem. We have everything: our priory, our elementary school, our community, our bishop. What do we want more? The believers are often also culturally conservative who do not desire any change. That’s why we’re not as missionary as we could be, because we do not wish to welcome others who carry new ideas and experiences, as the growth of a community always amounts to change. With all the traumatic experiences lived over the past 50 years now, every innovation is considered suspicious. This is why we confine ourselves to an attitude of refusal. However, I wouldn’t establish a link between this phenomenon and that of the “Resistance”. This is a general problem that affects us all. This certainly explains the skepticism that inspired the efforts deployed in view of a regularization of the Society, but the problem is more extensive. It is fundamentally a challenge of a pastoral order. There certainly are exceptions where new communities arise, new groups such as Africa, the East (Poland), especially the Philippines, in North America, in young religious communities. But globally, we see that a sort of general malaise permeates the old, well-established traditionalist centers. It is a feeling of profound weariness, of disappointment too, of ras-le-bol as the French would say which in German is “die Nase voll” (enough is enough). This malaise affects individuals, but also families, collectivities, communities, the apostolate. But as we have said, there are also exceptions. Thus a little while ago, Fr. Udressy said, to the General Council, that in recent years a great zeal and genuine enthusiasm is developing in the KJB (Catholic Youth Organization). In the early days of the traditionalist movement, the enthusiasm was general, omnipresent. Conversions and abundant vocations, foundations and Mass centers worldwide. The highlight of this enthusiasm was the consecration of the bishops in 1988. Even the archbishop had the firm conviction at this moment that the crisis would die down quickly, that the Church would soon go back to Tradition. But the crisis continues, still continues, becoming more and more serious. Some were still dreaming of an exponential growth in the 80s; but since that time, vocations are diminishing and no longer make up for the departures and stabilizations of the communities. In two words: the reality is not as simple as many imagined it; or as the Superior General formulated a little while ago: “We have idealized our situation.”

4. In 2012, did the leadership of the Society betray its mission, the Catholic faith, and the General Chapter of 2006?

You ask me the question? As you know, some say that we betrayed them because we did not immediately make an accord with the Vatican, others because we are in talks with the Holy See. Both sides are totally convinced that they are right. This fact alone shows that we have not betrayed anything, or anybody, but that in these difficult times, we have marked our path. Add to this, and I insist, that the statements of a general chapter are not dogmatic texts. No more than a sermon of the superior general or this interview. It is not about infallible decisions; we only reply to certain situations or particular circumstances. If it was about articles of the faith, we would be able to make the same declaration every time. None of us, amongst the superiors, could have imagined in 2006 that the Holy See would remove the 1988 decree of excommunications and that by a Motu proprio, the Pope would declare that the “old Mass” was never abrogated, that it had its place within the Church. In 2006, Rome’s attitude towards us was aggressive, apodictic: you follow or you’re out! Since then something has happened. At the last meeting with Cardinal Müller and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it clearly appeared that the Holy See was facing huge difficulties. The traditionalist movement is no longer a negligible quantity, no more than the eccentricities of the Pope and the mass canonizations here and there. Six years ago, the Superior General was not allowed to celebrate Mass in Lourdes during the great pilgrimage. This year, the ordinary welcomes us and our three bishops celebrate Mass in the pilgrim Basilica. We need to keep this in mind: a Cardinal-Prefect opposes another; Cardinals of the Holy Church openly criticize the Pope, which puts moral questions into debate! Even regarding us, the policy is no longer unanimity: the Pope clearly states that we are Catholics, an ordinary decrees that we are schismatics … “Unity” is there; “Rome” is no longer a block; nobody knows what the reform of the Curia will lead to.

5. Do you understand people who, in our centers, do not feel comfortable because in many places “autonomous pastors of priories” spread a climate that is not tolerant of legalism and moralism?

Between indifferent tolerance and total liberalism, are there a tolerance and a Catholic liberality that we need to practice? Sometimes these “autonomous pastors” are the sting in the flesh, who also ensure that the atmosphere remains open, attractive and missionary. The silence of the cemetery is in effect especially dangerous. It may have its good side when things do not always move along harmoniously and when the frame creaks. Of course, I know this kind of concern, that we have views that are too narrow, too frozen; we have already spoken of this. Again, the Society was born from the resistance to the collapse of the religious life after the Council. And this fact gives rise to a mentality that refuses to live once more in such a cataclysm. I understand that. So is it better to keep everything as is and adopt a critical attitude towards novelty. In the early 70s, maintaining the phrase “amongst women” {in the Hail Mary} was as it were a sign of resistance to novelty. The translation by “Frau” instead of “Weib” (note: without object in French) resulted in a matter of faith because we saw it as a sustained attack against the dogma of the Virginity of Mary. Naturally our time is different, the smoke cleared and we cannot stand still. But we must also convince, create a climate of confidence, and encourage. I grant you, however, that the gap between what we consider to be appropriate and the actual facts widens and that this fact is not always a sign of a crumbling of the world, but can be on our part a refusal of reality. Tolerance and liberality have always been characters of the Church, which is a universal Church: great, ancient and ever young. To the extent that this Church follows the down current better, which it obviously does since the Council and its reforms, this wide dimension also disappears and there remain only small groups endowed often also with a narrow mind. Also, it is precisely the youth who should commit themselves to a Catholic liberality, that’s important. It was once spoken of as “Bavarian liberality” founded in the domain of the State, but also in that of the Church on two principles: 1. For us, this is what we always do; 2. “Live and let live”

6. Are there spiritual fruits only in the SSPX? If not, with which groups or communities of the old rite do you see a possibility of cooperation?

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, which applies to the Una Sancta, the Holy Church, whose size exceeds that of the SSPX! But your question is very important and unfortunately very timely. Maybe some people will think that the traditionalist movement is the Church; apart from us, the true faith does not exist, not more than spiritual fruits. This would be a temptation which has nothing in common with the nature of the Church, which cannot even be justified by the crisis or scandals occurring in the Church. It results from the fact that as much in the liturgy, and especially in religious art, as in doctrine and spirituality (customs, devotions, religious practices), it is tempting to confuse the true dimension of Tradition with traditions, that is to say, with the way they behaved in the last two centuries in matters of Church and religion. Travel at low cost, globalism and multiculturalism, as many elements of opening and expanding horizons. Traditions can be so different, precious and justified, without falling under the natural law. What is considered normal here is considered unthinkable elsewhere and vice versa. I returned from India a few weeks ago and I immediately think of the “Dhoti”, the traditional dress of men and of the “Sari” for women; in simple terms, men wear the dress and women, the pants. In Tokyo, I had to say Sunday Mass without shoes, and in the Fiji islands, I was received with some “Cava”, a traditional drink, disgusting and which, moreover, destroys the liver. Are we not tempted to label “modernist”, “liberal”, “Masonic” anything that does not conform to the routine of the 19th and 20th centuries? A tradition also erroneously conceived is not attractive, cannot convince nor indeed can we build the Church according to the image we have of it from the 50s or according to the arguments highlighted in 70s. We need a comprehensive work of formation and information, of the intelligence and of the discernment of the spirit. Clichés and sweeping statements are not constructive. On the contrary, we have to discover the vast treasure of Tradition and of Christianity. I often think that if we are not successful in the coming years, it will be very difficult to convincingly transmit Tradition. Only the Church is universal and perfect; it is not enriched from the outside, not even from other religions. However, ecclesial communities often need the Church. The traditional movement is a member of the Church, and does it need the general Church or other elements of the Church or does it simply call itself “the Church”, this is the question? If it is only a part of the Church, though one of the most important, it does not have all the treasure of the Church and its Tradition and cannot avoid having contact with other communities and take for itself other elements that it is not in possession of. It would be too simplistic to call anything that does not conform to our views sterile, heretical, or conciliar. That said, there are varying degrees of theological order in the decisions and definitions of the Church. A heresy, an error condemned by the Church, an error in our judgment and an opinion of theological order, there are so many differences! According to the ancient principle “Lex orandi lex credendi” (we believe the way we pray), we can say – what many statistics confirm – that catholicity will remain sustainable only where the liturgy and preaching are consistent with each other, there only where there are spiritual fruits and the possibility of the reform of the Church. When the prophet Elijah, beaten, wanted to die, because for many years he had unsuccessfully fought against the paganism and infidelity of the people and thought himself to be the only true believer alive, God had to teach him that there were still 70 000 who didn’t kneel in front of Baal (III Kings 19, 18). “Do not extinguish the Spirit,” says the apostle Saint Paul. We know the famous words of Christ: “He who is not with me is against me” (Mk 9: 38-40). We are part of a movement of reform drawing on Tradition, from where comes its vigor. We are an important element of it for the rescue of the Roman liturgy which, in fact, is the work of Archbishop Lefebvre, even an indispensable element. We are proud of it. It’s very special, like an election! This does not mean that all the others have less value or do not produce spiritual fruits and that he who would think this, take heed lest he fall. We can have the impression sometimes that the reform movement is failing because unfortunately it is not united. Others did not really cooperate with us because in their eyes, we are on the “outside” and our Resistance does not want to cooperate with them because they are on the “inside”. Division is never the work of Christ.

7. The Society of Saint Pius X as a “spiritual family” is having very serious problems. How can we act towards the sowers of division, mistaken laypeople as well as disobedient priests? The “normal” are they not also responsible for the current situation because – what we cannot at least blame the “opponent” – they are often less zealous and less interested in the combat of the faith?

I reject the claim that we would be confronted with very serious difficulties. It’s not that simple. Certainly there are difficulties but grace also produces wonders. And I am thinking about the propagation of the faith, fidelity in little things, the many beautiful Catholic families, souls conscious of their sanctification. In a few days I will fly to Africa to visit our missions in five countries. In Kenya, the Society has founded a new community of missionary sisters and vocations come from around the world in quantities larger than our possibilities of receiving them. I do not think that the difficulties are attributable to some departures. See, we are forming a movement coming from the refusal of the reforms established in the wake of Vatican II. We represented the lifeboat for a good number of truly pious Catholics who, in the 70s and 80s, suddenly did not feel to be part of their church and who, for this reason, attached themselves to what they already held. But now we have to explain that we are no longer living in that time, that the situation has continued to evolve and that, therefore, we must continually reposition ourselves. The believers also realize that the crisis of the Church is not resolved, that it is even worse. The result is therefore an internal contradiction between the experience and the preoccupations of some on the one side, and the expectations of the others, on the other side, outside of reality. This contradiction, I don’t try to hide it, pushes us to act. We escaped shipwreck after the Council but precisely because of that, we are facing new difficulties due to the particularity of our situation. The questions you asked in this interview clearly showed the real problems and it is not wrong because often we do not perceive the danger of religious modernism, Scylla is near Charybdis. To some extent, the problems we face are simply related to the crisis of the Church and to our specific situation, but also to the erroneous behavior of men. In these circumstances, we have to convince, argue, and be winners. I hope that we refute more clearly these spokespersons mentioned above, who declare themselves as zealous defenders of a religion, which knows no measure and fights a Church that is beyond them. This evil spirit does not really bother us. These people are not zealous believers but devout fanatics; they must realize that they do not represent the believers, but only themselves. It is to this task that all believers are invited and especially the youth. Storms continue to roar, discussions and quarrels that marked the synod of the bishops in Rome on the family are shocking, while the Superior General of the Society preaches the virtue of hope at Lourdes! No conspiracy theories, no Apocalypse, but “Spem contra spem” (Rom 4: 18), hope against all hope. That is Catholic. At the height of the May Revolution 68, three years after the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre addressed to the members of the community of which he was the Superior General an article that is good to reread again, entitled “Why we are optimistic?” And he gives two reasons: the Catholic faith that we have received from the Church, and a new youth that is enthusiastic for a Christian life.

Interview conducted by Mr. Schäppi, editor of DGW in late autumn 2014.