Present: In an interview with Fideliter in 2001, you mentioned the "movement of profound sympathy from the young clergy for the Society." Has this movement grown, especially with the motu proprio in 2007?
Bishop Fellay: Without a doubt! The motu proprio gave this movement a new impetus. And it is important to insist upon Benedict XVI's interest for the liturgy in general. He truly wished to put the entire traditional liturgy, not only the Mass, at the disposition of the priests and the faithful; this did not happen because there was too much opposition. But the young priests identify with this liturgy, precisely because it is timeless. The Church lives in eternity.
The liturgy does also too, which is why it is always young. Close to God, it is outside of time. So it is no surprise that the baptismal character makes this harmony resound even in souls that have never known the liturgy. And the way the young priests react when they discover this liturgy is moving: they have the impression a treasure has been hidden from them.
The Society was officially recognized as Catholic by the State of Argentina, with the help of Cardinal Bergoglio, who has since become Pope Francis. Does this have a purely administrative importance or is it more revealing?
First of all, it has a juridical and administrative effect with no implications as far as the Society's general relations with—to put it simply—the official Church are concerned. But the secondary effects are not easy to evaluate correctly. There is no doubt that Pope Francis, then Cardinal Bergoglio, had promised to help the Society obtain the Argentinian State's recognition of our society as Catholic and that he kept his promise. So we have no choice but to think that he does consider us Catholic.
Along the same lines, you were made a judge of first instance by the Vatican for the trial of a Society priest. Can that be seen as a sign of good will?
That is nothing new; it has been the case for over ten years. It is indeed a sign of good will and of common sense. It is something that can be observed in the Roman Church throughout her whole history: her realism, her capacity to go beyond canonical and juridical problems in order to find solutions to very real problems.
In your Letter to Friends and Benefactors, you mentioned "contradictory messages" coming from Rome. What do you mean by that?
I was thinking of the way in which a society that was becoming closer to Tradition was treated—or rather mistreated: the Franciscans of the Immaculate. And of the different ways we are treated by the different Roman authorities: the Congregation for Religious, for example, still considers us schismatic (in 2011, they declared a priest who joined our Society excommunicated), but that is not the case with other congregations, or the pope himself, as we just said.
"Pessimistic", "closed to others", "thinking that only the faithful of the Society will be saved": you are sometimes referred to in these terms. How would you respond? What is the missionary spirit in your eyes?
I do not recognize myself in these quips. Firmness in doctrine is indeed necessary, for the Faith is not up for negotiation. The Faith is, as a whole, given by God, and we have no right to pick and choose among the revealed truths. Today, reminders of these requirements are unwelcome, as has always been more or less the case. The expression "the fight of the Faith" is part of the history of the Church. The missionary has to make the voice of the Faith heard outside, and at the same time seek to strengthen those who already have it. We cannot speak only to the faithful of the Society. The torch lights up the world, the light of the Faith shines with warmth. The Faith must be borne by charity: that is how I see the missionary.
A few weeks ago, the Society's seminaries were visited by Cardinal Brandmuller and Bishop Schneider. These visits are a public connection with the "official Church". Isn't that vital?
The link with the Church is vital. The manifestations of this connection can vary. The dates and places for these visits were left up to me; the Vatican chose the names. I chose the seminaries because they seemed to me to be the most eloquent and representative for the bishops.
What were the first reactions of these bishops?
They were very satisfied. "You are normal people," they told us...which goes to show the reputation we have! They congratulated us on the quality of our seminarians. There is no doubt that their conclusion after this first closer contact was that we are a work of the Church.
Have you been in contact with any bishops who support you discreetly?
Of course! When we see that priests are coming closer to us today and entering into contact with us, we can easily conclude that the same is true on the higher level...
In the 2001 interview we already mentioned, you declared: "If there is any chance at all that our contacts with Rome could bring back a little more Tradition in the Church, I think we should seize the opportunity." Is that still your position?
That remains our position, even if we cannot say it is easy, especially because of the open dissensions within the Vatican itself. These relations are delicate, but our point of view remains valid as is confirmed by the facts. It is a discreet work, being accomplished in the midst of strong opposition. Some are working in one direction, others in the opposite direction.
Is the Society's role as a counterweight within the Church important?
This role is nothing new. Archbishop Lefebvre started it, and we are continuing it. It is easy to see in the irritation of the modernists at the steps taken by Benedict XVI.
Where is the Society today? What are its strong points and its weak points? What future do you foresee for it?
I see a peaceful future. It is a work that has been entrusted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; all we have to do is remain faithful to their will. This Church is the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who remains her head and will not allow her to be destroyed.
The Society's weaknesses? The risk of separation is serious. Look at the caricature of Tradition that calls itself the "Resistance", for example: it is a non-Catholic spirit that is almost sectarian. We wish to have nothing to do with it; it is a movement that is withdrawn into itself, with people who think that they are the only good and just men on earth: that is not Catholic. It is an objective, but relative danger. Most of the Society is healthy and will not fall into these illusions. This encourages us to rely upon supernatural means. God will show us what He wants of us; He will speak through circumstances.
The strong points? The living fidelity that bears fruit and shows the world today that the Catholic life, even with all its requirements, is possible. But—another weak point—we are men of our times, and it would be a dream to pretend that we are immunized against the influence of the modern world. To be more precise, we must avoid the caricature of wishing for a Church without wrinkles or stains here below: that is not what the good Lord promised us on this earth. That is not what the "Holy Church" means; it means that she is capable of sanctifying using the means given by Our Lord: the sacraments, the Faith, discipline, religious life, the life of prayer.
What do you think of Cardinal Sarah's suggestion of introducing the traditional offertory into the New Mass?
It is not a new idea; it has been around in Rome for ten years. I am glad it has been taken up again. Some criticize the idea, saying it is a way of mixing the profane with the sacred. On the contrary, in the perspective of bringing health back to the Church, I think it would be a great step forward, because the Offertory is a summary of the Catholic principles of the Mass, of the expiatory sacrifice offered to the Blessed Trinity, offered by the priest to God in reparation for sins, and accompanied by the faithful. And that would gradually bring the faithful back to the traditional Mass they have lost.
How would you like to conclude, Your Excellency?
In my opinion, we are on the eve of important events that we cannot yet define very well. I would like to call for prayers and end with a gaze towards God, which allows us to always have hope.
Interview realized by Anne le Pape—Photo: Anne le Pape—Present, 06/27/2015.
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"Viva Cristo Rey!"